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By Meredith Wadman When people die from overdoses of opioids, whether prescription pain medications or street drugs, it is the suppression of breathing that almost always kills them. The drugs act on neuronal receptors to dull pain, but those in the brain stem also control breathing. When activated, they can signal respiration to slow, and then stop. The results are well-known: an epidemic of deaths—about 64,000 people in the United States alone last year. Countering this lethal side effect without losing opioids' potent pain relief is a challenge that has enticed drug developers for years. Now, for the first time, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in Silver Spring, Maryland, is considering whether to approve an opioid that is as effective as morphine at relieving pain and poses less risk of depressing breathing. Trevena, a firm based in Chesterbrook, Pennsylvania, announced on 2 November that it has submitted oliceridine, an intravenous opioid meant for use in hospitalized patients, to FDA for marketing approval. The drug, which would be marketed under the name Olinvo, is the most advanced of what scientists predict will be a growing crop of pain-relieving "biased agonists"—so called because, in binding a key opioid receptor in the central nervous system, they nudge it into a conformation that promotes a signaling cascade that kills pain over one that suppresses breathing. And in a paper out this week in Cell, a veteran opioid researcher and her colleagues unveil new biased opioid agonists that could surpass oliceridine, though they haven't been tested in people yet. "There are many groups creating [such] biased agonists. And one of them is going to get it right," says Bryan Roth, a molecular pharmacologist at the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill. "To have a drug you can't die of an overdose with would be a huge lifesaver for tens of thousands of people every year." © 2017 American Association for the Advancement of Science.

Keyword: Drug Abuse; Pain & Touch
Link ID: 24337 - Posted: 11.17.2017

By Jennifer Couzin-Frankel Rachel Loewy was an undergraduate in 1995 when she answered a flyer seeking students to assist with a research study. A couple of floors up in a psychology department building, Loewy sat, clipboard in hand, interviewing teenagers whose brain health was beginning to falter. Some heard whispers. Others imagined that their teachers could read their minds, or that fellow students stared at them and wished them harm as they walked down the halls. The teenagers had been diagnosed with schizotypal personality disorder, a condition that can precede schizophrenia. Among the most debilitating and stigmatized psychiatric diseases, schizophrenia can rob sufferers of their self and their future, often in early adulthood. Although these teens didn't have schizophrenia, the researchers believed that some would later deteriorate and be diagnosed with the disorder. But when Loewy met them they were lucid and self-aware. And they were frightened that their mind sometimes spun out of control. Doctors routinely assess a patient's risk of heart attack, various cancers, and diabetes, often intervening to slow or stop disease before it strikes. But preventing psychiatric conditions, from anxiety to depression to schizophrenia, has received scant attention. © 2017 American Association for the Advancement of Science

Keyword: Schizophrenia
Link ID: 24336 - Posted: 11.17.2017

By RONI CARYN RABIN A. Parkinsonism refers to a group of movement abnormalities — such as stiffness, slowness, shuffling of the feet and often tremor — that are classic features of Parkinson’s disease but that can also be caused by medications and other disorders with overlapping symptoms, said Dr. Michael S. Okun, a neurologist and the national medical director of the Parkinson’s Foundation. He said that he makes no assumptions about the cause of parkinsonism “until I see the patient and pinpoint the diagnosis.” Determining the cause of parkinsonism involves asking a series of questions, starting with, “Do we think this is regular Parkinson’s disease?” said Dr. Okun, who is also co-director of the Center for Movement Disorders and Neurorestoration at the University of Florida College of Medicine in Gainesville. Though a diagnosis of Parkinson’s disease strikes fear in patients, Dr. Okun said that the illness, a neurodegenerative brain disorder caused by the loss of dopamine-containing neurons and other cells, progresses slowly in many people and generally responds well to drugs that replenish dopamine in the brain. Some patients whose parkinsonism is not caused by Parkinson’s disease also respond to these drugs, but the medications are most effective for people with Parkinson’s disease, Dr. Okun said. It’s important to rule out other potential causes of parkinsonism, he said. The condition can be triggered by antipsychotic medications that affect dopamine levels in the brain, as well as by other drugs, including stimulants like amphetamines and cocaine. Discontinuing the drugs may stop the symptoms over time, though not always. Parkinsonism may also be caused by repeated injuries to the head, exposure to various toxins or brain lesions. Once doctors rule out Parkinson’s disease, they must consider several other serious neurological disorders. The three most common ones are multiple system atrophy, a degenerative disorder also referred to as Shy-Drager syndrome, which may or may not respond well to Parkinson’s medications; progressive supranuclear palsy, or PSP, which also may respond to high doses of drugs that replace dopamine in the brain; and corticobasal degeneration (CBD). Patients with a form of dementia called Lewy body dementia may also exhibit symptoms of parkinsonism, which may or may not respond to dopamine. Various other movement disorders, called ataxias or dystonias, also may display features of parkinsonism. © 2017 The New York Times Company

Keyword: Parkinsons
Link ID: 24335 - Posted: 11.17.2017

Laura Sanders In stark contrast to earlier findings, adults do not produce new nerve cells in a brain area important to memory and navigation, scientists conclude after scrutinizing 54 human brains spanning the age spectrum. The finding is preliminary. But if confirmed, it would overturn the widely accepted and potentially powerful idea that in people, the memory-related hippocampus constantly churns out new neurons in adulthood. Adult brains showed no signs of such turnover in that region, researchers reported November 13 at a meeting of the Society for Neuroscience in Washington, D.C. Previous studies in animals have hinted that boosting the birthrate of new neurons, a process called neurogenesis, in the hippocampus might enhance memory or learning abilities, combat depression and even stave off the mental decline that comes with dementia and old age (SN: 9/27/08, p. 5). In rodents, exercise, enriched environments and other tweaks can boost hippocampal neurogenesis — and more excitingly, memory performance. But the new study may temper those ambitions, at least for people. Researchers studied 54 human brain samples that ranged from fetal stages to age 77, acquired either postmortem or during brain surgery. These samples were cut into thin slices and probed with molecular tools that can signal dividing or young cells, both of which are signs that nerve cells are being born. As expected, fetal and infant samples showed evidence of both dividing cells that give rise to new neurons and young neurons themselves in the hippocampus. But with age, these numbers declined. In brain tissue from a 13-year-old, the researchers spotted only a handful of young neurons. And in adults, there were none. |© Society for Science & the Public 2000 - 2017.

Keyword: Neurogenesis
Link ID: 24334 - Posted: 11.16.2017

By JAMES GORMAN One of the biggest problems in studying animal communication is figuring out whether the animals know what they are doing. A bird may screech and another bird may understand that the screech is a response to danger. But that doesn’t prove the screecher intended to warn others. It might have been a predictable but involuntary response to something scary, like a scream at a horror movie. So scientists spend a lot of time testing animals in ingenious ways to figure out what might be going on. Three scientists testing wild chimpanzees in Uganda reported Wednesday in the journal Science Advances that chimpanzees can do something that previously had only been known in human beings. They change the way they are communicating to take into account what their audience knows. Humans do this all the time. To a fellow baseball fan you might say, “So, there’s a runner on third, one out, bottom of the ninth, and McAfee hits a sac fly.” To someone from another planet, you might say, “There was a really exciting moment in a sporting event I was attending last night.” Or you might just forget it. Catherine Crockford and Roman M. Wittig of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany, and Klaus Zuberbühler of the University of St. Andrews in Scotland were studying wild chimpanzees in Uganda, so the subject of their communication was snakes, not baseball. When a chimp saw a realistic model of a snake, the animal would make more sounds — called hoos — and make a greater effort to show where the snake was if it seemed that other chimps in the area were unaware of the danger. If it seemed other chimps already knew about the snake, it would make fewer calls and stay a shorter time at the danger. To run the experiment, the researchers put a model snake on a path chimpanzees used. When a chimp came along, before it reached the snake, they would play two different chimp calls — either a “rest hoo” or several “alert hoos.” The rest hoo would be made by a chimp that was resting, not aware of any danger. The alert hoos would indicate the chimp who made it had seen something dangerous, like a snake. So the chimp on the trail would know either that its neighbors were clueless or aware of danger. © 2017 The New York Times Company

Keyword: Consciousness; Evolution
Link ID: 24333 - Posted: 11.16.2017

Rob Stein Federal health officials Tuesday issued a warning about kratom, a herbal product being promoted as a safe alternative to opioids for pain that is also marketed for treating addiction, anxiety and depression. The Food and Drug Administration says there's insufficient evidence the supplement works to treat addiction or other problems and cited growing evidence it can be dangerous. Kratom may cause seizures, liver damage and withdrawal symptoms. "It's very troubling to the FDA that patients believe they can use kratom to treat opioid withdrawal symptoms," FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb said in a statement, adding that not only is there no reliable evidence that kratom is an effective treatment for opioid use disorder, there are FDA-approved medications that work. Calls to U.S. poison control centers about kratom, which is made from a plant that grows in Asia, jumped tenfold from 2010 to 2015, according to the FDA. At least 36 deaths are associated with the use of products containing kratom, the agency says. "I understand that there's a lot of interest in the possibility for kratom to be used as a potential therapy for a range of disorders," Gottlieb added. "But the FDA has a science-based obligation that supersedes popular trends and relies on evidence." As a result, the agency has begun seizing supplies of kratom and taking steps to prevent future shipments from being imported into the United States, the FDA says. © 2017 npr

Keyword: Drug Abuse
Link ID: 24332 - Posted: 11.16.2017

Bethany Brookshire WASHINGTON, D.C. — Helper cells in the brain just got tagged with a new job — forming traumatic memories. When rats experience trauma, cells in the hippocampus — an area important for learning — produce signals for inflammation, helping to create a potent memory. But most of those signals aren’t coming from the nerve cells, researchers reported November 15 at the Society for Neuroscience meeting. Instead, more than 90 percent of a key inflammation protein comes from astrocytes. This role in memory formation adds to the repertoire of these starburst-shaped cells, once believed to be responsible for only providing food and support to more important brain cells (SN Online: 8/4/15). The work could provide new insight into how the brain creates negative memories that contribute to post-traumatic stress disorder, said Meghan Jones, a neuroscientist at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Jones and her colleagues gave rats a short series of foot shocks painful enough to “make you curse,” she said. A week after that harrowing experience, rats confronted with a milder shock remained jumpy. In some rats, Jones and her colleagues inhibited astrocyte activity during the original trauma, which prevented the cells from releasing the inflammation protein. Those rats kept their cool in the face of the milder shock. © Society for Science & the Public 2000 - 201

Keyword: Emotions; Glia
Link ID: 24331 - Posted: 11.16.2017

By NICHOLAS BAKALAR Heart attack survivors have an increased risk for developing dementia, a new study has found. Danish researchers studied 314,911 heart attack patients and compared them with 1,573,193 controls who had not had a heart attack. They excluded anyone who had already been diagnosed with dementia or other memory disorders. The study, in Circulation, adjusted for heart failure, pulmonary disease, head trauma, kidney disease and many other variables. During 35 years of follow-up, there were 3,615 cases of Alzheimer’s disease, 2,034 cases of vascular dementia and 5,627 cases of other dementias among the heart attack patients. There was no association of heart attack with Alzheimer’s disease. But heart attack increased the risk for vascular dementia, the type caused by impaired blood flow to the brain, by 35 percent. There are several possible reasons for the link, including similar underlying causes for dementia and heart attack — among them, hypertension, stroke and having undergone coronary artery bypass surgery. The researchers had no data on smoking, and they acknowledge that there may be other variables they were unable to account for. “Dementia can’t be cured,” said the lead author, Dr. Jens Sundboll, a resident in cardiology at Aarhus University in Denmark. “What’s the solution? Prevention. And for prevention we have to identify risk factors. Here we’ve identified an important one.” © 2017 The New York Times Company

Keyword: Alzheimers
Link ID: 24330 - Posted: 11.16.2017

By Sarah DeWeerdt, Young adults with autism have an unusual gait and problems with fine motor skills. Researchers presented the unpublished findings today at the 2017 Society for Neuroscience annual meeting in Washington, D.C. Motor problems such as clumsiness, toe-walking and altered gait are well documented in autism. But most studies have been limited to children or have included adults only as part of a broad age range. “Studies haven’t focused on just adults,” says Cortney Armitano, a graduate student in Steven Morrison’s lab at Old Dominion University in Norfolk, Virginia, who presented the work. The researchers looked at 20 young adults with autism between the ages of about 17 and 25, and 20 controls of about the same age range. They put these participants through a battery of standard tests of fine motor skills, balance and walking. When it comes to simple tasks—such as tapping a finger rapidly against a hard surface or standing still without swaying—those with autism perform just as well as controls do. But with activities that require more back-and-forth between the brain and the rest of the body, differences emerge. Adults with autism have slower reaction times compared with controls, measured by how fast they can click a computer mouse in response to seeing a button light up. They also have a weaker grip. © 2017 Scientific American,

Keyword: Autism; Movement Disorders
Link ID: 24329 - Posted: 11.15.2017

Mariah Quintanilla WASHINGTON, D.C. — If it takes you a while to recover from a few lost hours of sleep, be grateful you aren’t an orb weaver. Three orb-weaving spiders — Allocyclosa bifurca, Cyclosa turbinata and Gasteracantha cancriformis — may have the shortest natural circadian rhythms discovered in an animal thus far, researchers reported November 12 at the Society for Neuroscience’s annual meeting. Most animals have natural body clocks that run closer to the 24-hour day-night cycle, plus or minus a couple hours, and light helps reset the body’s timing each day. But the three orb weavers’ body clocks average at about 17.4, 18.5 and 19 hours respectively. This means the crawlers must shift their cycle of activity and inactivity — the spider equivalent of wake and sleep cycles — by about five hours each day to keep up with the normal solar cycle. “That’s like flying across more than five time zones, and experiencing that much jet lag each day in order to stay synchronized with the typical day-night cycle,” said Darrell Moore, a neurobiologist at East Tennessee State University in Johnson City. “Circadian clocks actually keep us from going into chaos,” he added. “Theoretically, [the spiders] should not exist.” For most animals, internal clocks help them perform recurring daily activities, like eat, sleep and hunt, at the most appropriate time of day. Previous studies have shown that animals that are out of sync with the 24-hour solar cycle are usually less likely to produce healthy offspring than those that aren’t. |© Society for Science & the Public 2000 - 2017.

Keyword: Biological Rhythms; Evolution
Link ID: 24328 - Posted: 11.15.2017

Patricia Neighmond A study published Tuesday in the journal Clinical Psychological Science finds that increased time spent with popular electronic devices — whether a computer, cell phone or tablet — might have contributed to an uptick in symptoms of depression and suicidal thoughts over the last several years among teens, especially among girls. Though San Diego State University psychologist Jean Twenge, who led the study, agrees this sort of research can only establish a correlation between long hours of daily screen time and symptoms of alienation — it can't prove one causes the other — she thinks the findings should be a warning to parents. "One hour, maybe two hours [a day], doesn't increase risk all that much," Twenge says. "But once you get to three hours — and especially four and then, really, five hours and beyond — that's where there's much more significant risk of suicide attempts, thinking about suicide and major depression." Twenge and her colleagues took a hard look at national surveys that asked more than a half million young people, ages 13 to 18, questions that get at symptoms of depression. Twenge says the surveys asked students to respond to statements such as "Life often feels meaningless," or "I feel I can't do anything right," or "I feel my life is not very useful. Between 2010 and 2015 Twenge found the number of teens who answered "yes" to three or more of these questions increased significantly, from 16 percent in 2010 to 22 percent in 2015. © 2017 npr

Keyword: Depression
Link ID: 24327 - Posted: 11.15.2017

By Lenny Bernstein A long-acting medication designed to help wean substance abusers off opioids is as effective as short-term therapies such as buprenorphine and methadone that patients must take every day, researchers reported Tuesday. The first major head-to-head comparison of medically assisted treatment approaches confirms that users now have two research-based options, according to the team of scientists led by Joshua D. Lee and John Rotrosen of New York University Medical School. But each method also showed a distinct disadvantage. The short-acting medicines must be taken every day for years and sometimes for a lifetime — a difficult regimen for many substance abusers to follow, especially in rural areas that may be far from dispensing clinics. Monthly injections of naltrexone, in contrast, cannot be started until users have fully detoxified from opioids, which more than 25 percent of the subjects in that part of the research study failed to do. “This provides an alternative medication for patients that may not have responded to buprenorphine . . . or patients who eventually want to be taken off their medication,” said Nora Volkow, director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse, the government agency that funded the research. In addition, more than half the opioid users in the study relapsed at least once, regardless of which medication they were taking — evidence of how difficult it is to conquer addiction. © 1996-2017 The Washington Post

Keyword: Drug Abuse
Link ID: 24326 - Posted: 11.15.2017

By Jessica Hamzelou Heavy drinkers and abstainers don’t make the best couples. In humans, one partner that drinks more than the other is thought to be a recipe for a breakup. The same appears to be true for prairie voles, one of the only other mammals known to form long-term monogamous relationships. The finding suggests the link between alcohol consumption and relationship failure may have a biological basis, say the researchers. “There is an increase in divorce in couples in which there is discordant drinking,” says Andrey Ryabinin at Oregon Health and Science University. Money is thought to play a role, but nobody knows the precise causes because a randomised study in people would be unethical. “You can’t tell people to start drinking,” he says. To explore the question in animals, Ryabinin and his colleague Andre Walcott turned to prairie voles: the only rodents known to form lasting, monogamous relationships. “They maintain the same pair bond for their entire lives,” says Ryabinin. Unlike other rodents, both partners take care of offspring. And rather than leaving the nest as soon as they reach adolescence, the young stay and look after their younger siblings. Prairie voles are also the only rodents known to willingly drink alcohol. While mice and rats avoid the stuff, prairie voles prefer it to water, says Ryabinin. Voles on the sauce Ryabinin has previously shown that alcohol consumption affects prairie vole relationships. When given a choice between their partner and a new female, male voles that drank more alcohol were more likely to go and mate with the new female than those that abstained. Alcohol seemed to have the opposite effect in females – those that drank more alcohol more strongly preferred their original partner. © Copyright New Scientist Ltd.

Keyword: Sexual Behavior; Drug Abuse
Link ID: 24325 - Posted: 11.15.2017

Jon Hamilton The Society for Neuroscience meeting is taking place in Washington, D.C., this weekend. Researchers there are focusing on how to find the biological underpinnings of mental disorders. MICHEL MARTIN, HOST: More than 30,000 brain scientists are in Washington, D.C., this week attending the Society for Neuroscience meeting. One of the hot topics this year is mental disorders such as depression and schizophrenia and autism. NPR science correspondent Jon Hamilton has just come from the meeting to talk about some of what he's been seeing and hearing. Hi, John. Thanks for coming. JON HAMILTON, BYLINE: Hi. MARTIN: So how does this work contribute to understanding mental disorders in people? HAMILTON: Twenty years ago, I'd say it didn't contribute much, but things are really changing. And I was really surprised. I was going through the abstracts to this year's meeting, and there were nearly a thousand papers that mentioned depression. There were 500 that mentioned schizophrenia or autism. And just this morning, there was this study on how - looking at the brain tissue of people with obsessive compulsive disorder and how it's different. So the fields of brain science and mental health are converging. And I think the reason is that brain scientists are finally beginning to figure out how the biology works, the biology that underlies mental health problems. So I was talking to a scientist at the meeting. His name is Robbie Greene. He's a psychiatrist, but he's also a lab scientist at UT Southwestern in Dallas. And he was telling me that neuroscience is now at a point where it can help psychiatrists and psychologists understand all of those things that are happening in the brain that we're not conscious of. Here's what he told me. © 2017 npr

Keyword: Miscellaneous
Link ID: 24324 - Posted: 11.13.2017

A new study published in Nature's Scientific Reports rejects a widely held theory that the human brain has a built-in neural capacity for religious beliefs. In other words, humans are not born believers. "What we're suggesting is whether you believe in a god is like learning a language. You have to be exposed to it, and learn it," lead author Miguel Farias told us. He studies the psychology of religion and behaviour at Coventry University in the U.K. Farias set out to test the "intuitive belief hypothesis" — a theory that has emerged in cognitive science suggesting that humans are born with the capacity for religious belief, that but their actual religious nature depends on the way they think; whether they're more intuitive or more analytical. The theory is based on the concept of two systems of thinking — "intuitive thinking" which is immediate, rapid processing of information, and "analytical thinking" which is slower and requires more cognitive effort to evaluate events and circumstances. So intuitive thinkers should be more religious, and analytical thinkers should have weaker religious beliefs. At least that's the theory. But Farias could find no evidence that it's true, even after looking at the problem in three ways. That included measuring religious beliefs and analytical thinking in people who were in the middle of the famous 30-day Camino de Santiago pilgrimage in Spain. "Our studies here suggest that it is probably about time psychologists reconsider their understanding of belief as 'natural' or 'intuitive' and instead focus on cultural and social learning factors that give rise to supernatural ideas," he said. ©2017 CBC/Radio-Canada

Keyword: Emotions
Link ID: 24323 - Posted: 11.13.2017

By JANE E. BRODY I hope you’re not chomping on a bagel or, worse, a doughnut while you read about what is probably the most serious public health irony of the last half century in this country: As one major killer — smoking — declined, another rose precipitously to take its place: obesity. Many cancer deaths were averted after millions quit lighting up, but they are now rising because even greater numbers are unable to keep their waistlines in check. Today, obesity and smoking remain the two leading causes of preventable deaths in this country. Reviewing more than 1,000 studies, the International Agency for Research on Cancer and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention linked the risk of developing 13 kinds of cancer to overweight and obesity, especially cancers that are now being diagnosed in increasing numbers among younger people. Included are cancers of the esophagus, liver, gallbladder, colon and rectum, upper stomach, pancreas, uterus, ovary, kidney and thyroid; breast cancer in postmenopausal women; meningioma and multiple myeloma. Only for colorectal cancers has the overall incidence declined, primarily the result of increased screening and removal of precancerous polyps. In most cases, the studies revealed, cancer risk rose in direct proportion to the degree of excess weight. In other words, the heavier you are, the more likely you will be to develop one of these often fatal cancers. From 2005 to 2014, the C.D.C. reported in October, there was a 1.4 percent annual increase in cancers related to overweight and obesity among people aged 20 to 49, and a 0.4 percent rise in these cancers among people 50 to 64. © 2017 The New York Times Company

Keyword: Obesity
Link ID: 24322 - Posted: 11.13.2017

Jon Hamilton The goal is simple: a drug that can relieve chronic pain without causing addiction. But achieving that goal has proved difficult, says Edward Bilsky, a pharmacologist who serves as the provost and chief academic officer at Pacific Northwest University of Health Sciences in Yakima, Wash. "We know a lot more about pain and addiction than we used to," says Bilsky, "But it's been hard to get a practical drug." Bilsky is moderating a panel on pain, addiction and opioid abuse at the Society for Neuroscience meeting in Washington, D.C., this week. Brain scientists have become increasingly interested in pain and addiction as opioid use has increased. About 2 million people in the U.S. now abuse opioids, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. But at least 25 million people suffer from chronic pain, according to an analysis by the National Institutes of Health. That means they have experienced daily pain for more than three months. The question is how to cut opioid abuse without hurting people who live with pain. And brain scientists think they are getting closer to an answer. One approach is to find drugs that decrease pain without engaging the brain's pleasure and reward circuits the way opioids do, Bilsky says. So far, these drugs have been hampered by dangerous side effects or proved less effective than opioids at reducing pain. But substances related to snail venom look promising, Bilsky says. © 2017 npr

Keyword: Pain & Touch
Link ID: 24321 - Posted: 11.13.2017

The ready availability of technology may make the children of today faster at configuring a new smartphone, but does all of that screen time affect the development of their eyes? While conventional wisdom dictates that children should do less up-close viewing, sit farther from the television and perhaps even wear their eyeglasses less, we have found in recent studies that another factor may be at play: Kids need to go outside and, if not play, at least get some general exposure to outdoor light. To our surprise, more time outdoors had a protective effect and reduced the chances that a child would go on to need myopic refractive correction. The size of the effect was impressive. What causes nearsightedness? Myopia, or nearsightedness, is a condition in which you can’t see far away but can see up close without glasses or contact lenses. It typically starts during the early elementary-school years. Because kids don’t know how other kids see, they often think their blurry vision is normal, so regular eye examinations are important. With myopia, the eye is growing, but growing too long for distant rays of light to focus accurately on the back of the eye. A blurry image results. For children, eyeglasses or contact lenses move the focus back to the retina, and a clear image is formed. The too-long eye cannot be shrunk, so refractive correction is then a lifelong necessity. In adulthood, surgery is an option. © 1996-2017 The Washington Post

Keyword: Vision; Development of the Brain
Link ID: 24320 - Posted: 11.13.2017

Summary A vast effort by a team of Janelia Research Campus scientists is rapidly increasing the number of fully-traced neurons in the mouse brain. Researchers everywhere can now browse and download the 3-D data. Inside the mouse brain, individual neurons zigzag across hemispheres, embroider branching patterns, and, researchers have now shown, often spool out spindly fibers nearly half a meter long. Scientists can see and explore these wandering neural traces in 3-D, in the most extensive map of mouse brain wiring yet attempted. The map – the result of an ongoing effort by an eclectic team of researchers at the Janelia Research Campus – reconstructs the entire shape and position of more than 300 of the roughly 70 million neurons in the mouse brain. Previous efforts to trace the path of individual neurons had topped out in the dozens. “Three hundred neurons is just the start,” says neuroscientist Jayaram Chandrashekar, who leads the Janelia project team, called MouseLight for its work illuminating the circuitry of the mouse brain. He and colleagues expect to trace hundreds more neurons in the coming months – and they’re sharing all the data with the neuroscience community. The team released their current dataset and an analysis tool, called the MouseLight NeuronBrowser, on October 27, 2017, and will report the work in November at the annual Society for Neuroscience meeting in Washington, D.C. They hope that the findings will help scientists ask, and begin to answer, questions about how neurons are organized, and how information flows through the brain. ©2017 Howard Hughes Medical Institute

Keyword: Brain imaging
Link ID: 24319 - Posted: 11.11.2017

By Jef Akst | After Nelson Dellis’s grandmother passed away from Alzheimer’s disease in the summer of 2009, he became obsessed with memory. “I had seen her whole decline, so brain health was on my mind,” he says. He found out about annual memory competitions that tested people’s ability to remember large volumes of data—for example, the exact order of 104 playing cards in two decks—and began to learn the strategies so-called “memory athletes” used to pull off these incredible feats. “I found the techniques worked, and with a bit of practice, you can do a lot more than you ever thought you could,” Dellis says. He entered the 2010 USA Memory Championship in New York City and came in third. The next two years in a row, he took first. A mistake in the finals cost him the championship in 2013, but he regained the crown in 2014 and won again in 2015, making him the first and only four-time USA Memory Champion. And all it took was “a bit of practice.” Dellis says there are several strategies memory athletes use, but they’re all based on the same principle: “You want to turn information you’re trying to memorize into something that your brain naturally prefers to absorb”—typically, an image. “Once you have that picture, the next step is to store it somewhere—somewhere in your mind you can safely store it and retrieve it later.” This place is known as a “memory palace,” and it can be any place that’s familiar to you, such as your house. You can then place the images you’ve chosen along a particular path through the memory palace, and “the path, which you know very well, preserves the order.”

Keyword: Learning & Memory
Link ID: 24318 - Posted: 11.11.2017