Chapter 11. Motor Control and Plasticity

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By Sharon Jayson AUSTIN, Texas — Retired state employees Vickey Benford, 63, and Joan Caldwell, 61, are Golden Rollers, a group of the over-50 set that gets out on assorted bikes — including trikes for adults they call “three wheels of awesome” — for an hour of trail riding and camaraderie. “I love to exercise, and I like to stay fit,” said Caldwell, who tried out a recumbent bike, a low-impact option that can be easier on the back. “It keeps me young.” Benford encouraged Caldwell to join the organized rides, which have attracted more than 225 riders at city rec centers and senior activity centers. The cyclists can choose from a small, donated fleet of recumbent bikes, tandem recumbents and tricycles. “With seniors, it’s less about transportation and more about access to the outdoors, social engagement and quality of life,” said Christopher Stanton, whose idea for Golden Rollers grew out of the Ghisallo Cycling Initiative, a youth biking nonprofit he founded in 2011. But that’s not all, according to brain scientists. They point to another important benefit: Exercising both body and brain can help people stay healthier longer. The new thinking about aging considers not just how long one lives, but how vibrant one stays later in life. “If you’re living, you want to be living well,” said Tim Peterson, an assistant professor of internal medicine at the Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis. “Most people who were interested in life span and were studying genes — which control life span — switched to ‘healthspan.’” “Healthspan,” a coinage now gaining traction, refers to the years that a person can expect to live in generally good health — free of chronic illnesses and cognitive decline that can emerge near life’s end. Although there’s only so much a person can do to delay the onset of disease, there’s plenty that scientists are learning to improve your chances of a better healthspan. © 2020 Kaiser Family Foundation

Keyword: Development of the Brain
Link ID: 26932 - Posted: 01.04.2020

By Gretchen Reynolds What’s good for your muscles can also be good for your mind. A Single Workout Can Alter the Brain A single, moderate workout may immediately change how our brains function and how well we recognize common names and similar information, according to a promising new study of exercise, memory and aging. The study adds to growing evidence that exercise can have rapid effects on brain function and also that these effects could accumulate and lead to long-term improvements in how our brains operate and we remember. Until recently, scientists thought that by adulthood, human brains were relatively fixed in their structure and function, especially compared to malleable tissues, like muscle, that continually grow and shrivel in direct response to how we live our lives. But multiple, newer experiments have shown that adult brains, in fact, can be quite plastic, rewiring and reshaping themselves in various ways, depending on our lifestyles. A hormone that is released during exercise may improve brain health and lessen the damage and memory loss that occur during dementia, a new study finds. The study, which was published this month in Nature Medicine, involved mice, but its findings could help to explain how, at a molecular level, exercise protects our brains and possibly preserves memory and thinking skills, even in people whose pasts are fading. Considerable scientific evidence already demonstrates that exercise remodels brains and affects thinking. Researchers have shown in rats and mice that running ramps up the creation of new brain cells in the hippocampus, a portion of the brain devoted to memory formation and storage. Exercise also can improve the health and function of the synapses between neurons there, allowing brain cells to better communicate. © 2019 The New York Times Company

Keyword: Alzheimers
Link ID: 26925 - Posted: 12.30.2019

Scientists say they have discovered a possible underlying cause of the neurological disorder, motor neurone disease (MND). The University of Exeter team says it has found evidence that MND is linked to an imbalance of cholesterol and other fats in cells. It says the research could lead to more accurate diagnosis and new treatments. MND affects around 5,000 people in the UK and causes more than 2,000 deaths a year. What is MND? Motor neurone disease is a group of diseases that affect the nerve cells in the brain and spinal cord that tell your muscles what to do. Also known as ALS, it causes muscle weakness and stiffness. Eventually people with the disease are unable to move, talk, swallow and finally, breathe. There is no cure and the exact causes are unclear - it's been variously linked to genes, exposure to heavy metals and agricultural pollution. What did the researchers find? Scientists at the University of Exeter say they had a "eureka moment" when they realised that 13 genes - which, if altered, can cause the condition - were directly involved in processing cholesterol. They say their theory could help predict the course and severity of the disease in patients and monitor the effect of potential new drugs. The theory is outlined in a paper, published in Brain: A Journal of Neurology. Lead author Prof Andrew Crosby said: "For years, we have known that a large number of genes are involved in motor neurone disease, but so far it hasn't been clear if there's a common underlying pathway that connects them." The finding particularly relates to what is known as the "spastic paraplegias", where the malfunction is in the upper part of the spinal cord. Dr Emma Baple, also from the University of Exeter Medical School, said: "Currently, there are no treatments available that can reverse or prevent progression of this group of disorders. Patients who are at high risk of motor neurone disease really want to know how their disease may progress and the age at which symptoms may develop, but that's very difficult to predict." © 2019 BBC

Keyword: ALS-Lou Gehrig's Disease
Link ID: 26902 - Posted: 12.18.2019

By Gretchen Reynolds Top athletes’ brains are not as noisy as yours and mine, according to a fascinating new study of elite competitors and how they process sound. The study finds that the brains of fit, young athletes dial down extraneous noise and attend to important sounds better than those of other young people, suggesting that playing sports may change brains in ways that alter how well people sense and respond to the world around them. For most of us with normal hearing, of course, listening to and processing sounds are such automatic mental activities that we take them for granted. But “making sense of sound is actually one of the most complex jobs we ask of our brains,” says Nina Kraus, a professor and director of the Auditory Neuroscience Laboratory at Northwestern University in Evanston, Ill., who oversaw the new study. Sound processing also can be a reflection of broader brain health, she says, since it involves so many interconnected areas of the brain that must coordinate to decide whether any given sound is familiar, what it means, if the body should respond and how a particular sound fits into the broader orchestration of other noises that constantly bombard us. For some time, Dr. Kraus and her collaborators have been studying whether some people’s brains perform this intricate task more effectively than others. By attaching electrodes to people’s scalps and then playing a simple sound, usually the spoken syllable “da,” at irregular intervals, they have measured and graphed electrical brain wave activity in people’s sound-processing centers. © 2019 The New York Times Company

Keyword: Attention
Link ID: 26901 - Posted: 12.18.2019

By Tina Hesman Saey WASHINGTON — Clumps of misfolded proteins cause traffic jams in brain cells. Those jams may have deadly consequences in neurodegenerative diseases. Clusters of prions block passage of crucial cargo along intracellular roadways in brain cells, cell biologist Tai Chaiamarit of the Scripps Research Institute in La Jolla, Calif., reported December 10 at the joint annual meeting of the American Society for Cell Biology and the European Molecular Biology Organization. Prions, misshaped versions of a normal brain protein, clump together in large aggregates that are hallmarks of degenerative brain diseases, such as mad cow disease in cattle, chronic wasting disease in deer and Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease in people. It’s unclear why those clumpy proteins are so deadly to nerve cells called neurons, but the new study may provide clues about what goes wrong in these diseases. Axons, the long stringlike projections of nerve cells that carry electrical signals to other nerves, are the sites of prion traffic jams, Chaiamarit and colleagues found. As more prions clump together, they cause swollen bulges that make the axon look like a snake that has just swallowed a big meal. Through a microscope, Chaiamarit and colleagues saw mitochondria being transported toward the cell’s furthest reaches derailed at the bulges. Mitochondria, cells’ energy-generating organelles, are carried outbound from the main body of the cell by a motor protein called kinesin-1. The protein motors along molecular rails called microtubules. A different motor protein, dynein, transports mitochondria back toward the cell body along those same rails. © Society for Science & the Public 2000–2019

Keyword: Prions
Link ID: 26895 - Posted: 12.13.2019

By Sharon Begley, STAT Even allowing for the fact that these were lilliputian brains, they were not behaving at all according to plan. From the first days of the tiny lab-grown organs’ development, primitive “progenitor cells” romped out of their birthplaces in the deep interior and quickly turned into neurons and glia, specialized cells that do the brain’s heavy lifting, from thinking and feeling and moving to boring old neurological housekeeping. But the cells were jumping the gun. In healthy developing human brains, progenitor cells spend a good chunk of prenatal existence simply reproducing, vastly increasing their numbers and postponing becoming other brain cells. The impatient progenitor cells, however, were in cerebral organoids—minuscule 3-D versions of the brain—created from the cells of people with Huntington’s disease in hopes of mimicking the patients’ actual brain development decades earlier. It was new evidence that, in their understanding of this devastating genetic illness, scientists know only half the story: In addition to being a neurodegenerative disease, it is also neurodevelopmental, starting in the womb. These recent findings and other research are spurring a radical rethinking of Huntington’s, with implications for the age when any potential cure is likely to be most effective. “It’s not conclusive, but there is suggestive evidence that neurodevelopment is altered in Huntington’s disease,” said neurobiologist Mahmoud Pouladi of the National University of Singapore, who led the organoid work. If so, then if scientists discover a way to repair the mutant gene or remove the aberrant molecules it makes, “the earlier you intervene the better it should be.” In contrast, today’s most-watched clinical trials in Huntington’s include only adults, often middle-aged ones, reflecting the belief that most mutation carriers can reach their 30s or beyond cerebrally unscathed. In fact, doctors and advocacy groups strongly discourage genetic testing for Huntington’s in anyone under 18, presuming there’s nothing to be gained. According to the genetic-testing guidelines from the Huntington’s Disease Society of America, “Predictive testing of minors currently has no medical benefits and the possibility for psychosocial harm and lowered self-esteem is high.” © 2019 Scientific American

Keyword: Huntingtons
Link ID: 26889 - Posted: 12.11.2019

By Jonah Engel Bromwich Pete Frates, a former college baseball player whose participation in the social media phenomenon known as the Ice Bucket Challenge helped raise more than $100 million toward fighting amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, commonly known as A.L.S. or Lou Gehrig’s disease, died on Monday at his home in Beverly, Mass. He was 34. His death was announced in a statement by Boston College, his alma mater. Quoting his family, it said he died “after a heroic battle with A.L.S.” Mr. Frates learned he had the disease in 2012. A.L.S. attacks the body’s nerve cells and leads to full paralysis. Patients are typically expected to live for two to five years from the time of diagnosis. Mr. Frates did not create the Ice Bucket Challenge, in which participants dumped buckets of ice water over their heads while pledging to donate money to fight A.L.S. But a Facebook video in July 2014 showing him doing his version of the challenge — in which he bobbed his head to Vanilla Ice’s song “Ice Ice Baby” — prompted a surge in participation that summer, to where it became a viral sensation. LeBron James, Bill Gates, Oprah Winfrey and other celebrities stepped forward to be drenched, and millions of others followed suit. Mr. Frates became one of the most visible supporters of the effort, and in August 2014 he completed the challenge again (this time with ice water) at Fenway Park, along with members of the Boston Red Sox organization. The videos were inescapable for anyone on Facebook, and the A.L.S. Association, a Washington-based nonprofit that works to fight the disease, received more than $115 million. In 2015 the organization released an infographic showing how those funds were being spent. About $77 million, or 67 percent, of the money was used for research that ultimately identified the NEK1 gene, which contributes to the disease. The finding gave scientists guidance in developing treatment drugs. © 2019 The New York Times Company

Keyword: ALS-Lou Gehrig's Disease
Link ID: 26885 - Posted: 12.10.2019

By Denise Grady A lifelong swimmer leapt into deep water near his lakeside home, and was horrified to find himself completely unable to swim. Had his wife not rescued him, he might have drowned. He had recently received an electronic brain implant to control tremors and other symptoms of Parkinson’s disease, and somehow the signals from the device had knocked out his ability to coordinate his arms and legs for swimming. He was one of nine patients, all good swimmers despite having Parkinson’s, who had the same strange, dangerous side effect from deep brain stimulators. Three of them tried turning off the stimulators, and immediately could swim again, according to an article in the journal Neurology by a medical team from the University of Zurich. At first, doctors thought the case of the man in the lake was an isolated event, Dr. Christian R. Baumann, an author of the paper, said in an interview. But when the same thing happened to another patient, one who had been a competitive swimmer, Dr. Baumann and his colleagues began to ask other patients about swimming. They found seven more cases among about 250 patients. About 150,000 people worldwide have brain implants made by Medtronic, the leading manufacturer, the company said. Most had the implants for relief of Parkinson’s symptoms. The swimming problem is not that common Dr. Baumann said, adding: “I think it’s a minority of patients. We find many who are still wonderfully able to swim and we don’t know why. We have no clue. They are treated in the same region of the brain. But this is life-threatening, and we need to pay more attention in the future.” Now, Dr. Baumann warns all patients with stimulators never to go into deep water alone. © 2019 The New York Times Company

Keyword: Parkinsons
Link ID: 26860 - Posted: 11.29.2019

Catherine Offord A clinical trial of a gene therapy for Duchenne muscular dystrophy has been halted after a patient suffered serious side effects following treatment, Reuters reports today (November 12). After receiving Solid Biosciences’s experimental therapy, SGT-001, the patient experienced kidney injury and drops in red blood cell count, leading the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to place the study on hold. “We are encouraged that this patient is recovering,” Ilan Ganot, Solid Biosciences’s CEO, president, and cofounder, says in a statement. “In the coming weeks, we anticipate that we will have a better understanding of the biological activity and potential benefit of SGT-001. We look forward to sharing this additional data and working with the FDA to resolve the clinical hold and determining next steps for the program.” SGT-001 has been administered to six people so far, and involves the transfer of an engineered version of the dystrophin gene DMD, which is dysfunctional in people with Duchenne muscular dystrophy, using an adeno-associated virus (AAV) as a vector. Sarepta Therapeutics, Pfizer, and other biopharmaceutical companies are investigating similar approaches to treat the condition, although the choice of AAV varies. See “Positive Trial Results for Experimental DMD Gene Therapy” This isn’t the first time Solid Biosciences’s trial of SGT-001 has been put on hold. Early last year, the FDA halted the same study after a patient receiving a low dose of the therapy experienced a drop in red blood cell count and had to be hospitalized. The company was allowed to resume the trial last June after making changes to the study design. © 1986–2019 The Scientist

Keyword: Movement Disorders; Muscles
Link ID: 26816 - Posted: 11.14.2019

Nicole Ireland · Recent video from Thailand showing paralyzed Humboldt Broncos hockey player Ryan Straschnitzki moving his legs after an electrical stimulation device was surgically implanted in his spine has sparked excitement — as well as questions — about therapies available to Canadians with spinal injuries. The procedure Straschnitzki, 20, had is called epidural stimulation, and although promising, it's still highly experimental, experts in both Canada and the U.S. say. It's in early stages of clinical trials in the U.S. and Europe to evaluate the safety and effectiveness of restoring physical abilities — from bowel and bladder function to moving arms and legs — to people who desperately want to get some normalcy back after spinal injury. Barry Munro understands all too well why people's immediate reaction is to ask why they can't try the procedure here in Canada. He's been hoping for — and working toward — finding a cure for spinal cord injury ever since he dove into a lake in his 20s and was left quadriplegic. Now 55, Munro is chief development officer for the Canadian Spinal Research Organization and works with the North American Spinal Injury Consortium. For more than 30 years, he's seen the headlines come and go, inciting hope that a cure is on the horizon. "I've been down this road before," Munro told CBC News. "I really, really believe in finding a cure and believe it will happen and I have that hope. But — there's a big but — we have to be careful." Milos Popovich, director of the KITE Research Institute at the University Health Network's Toronto Rehabilitation Institute, echoes that need to proceed with caution. He said that epidural stimulation must proceed through many more stages of scientifically sound clinical trials to prove it works before it could be made available as a therapy in Canada. ©2019 CBC/Radio-Canada.

Keyword: Regeneration; Movement Disorders
Link ID: 26810 - Posted: 11.11.2019

By Tina Hesman Saey A newly discovered type of mitochondrial self-destruction may make some brain cells vulnerable to ALS, also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease. In mice genetically engineered to develop some forms of a degenerative nerve disease similar to amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, energy-generating organelles called mitochondria appear to dismantle themselves without help from usual cell demolition crews. This type of power plant self-destruction was spotted in upper motor neurons, brain nerve cells that help initiate and control movements, but not in neighboring cells, researchers report November 7 in Frontiers in Cellular Neuroscience. Death of those upper motor neurons is a hallmark of ALS, and the self-destructing mitochondria may be an early step that sets those cells up to die later. Pembe Hande Özdinler, a cellular neuroscientist at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine in Chicago, and her colleagues have dubbed the mitochondrial dissolution “mitoautophagy.” It is a distinct process from mitophagy, the usual way that cellular structures called autophagosomes and lysosomes remove damaged mitochondria from the cell, Özdinler says. Usually, clearing out old or damaged mitochondria is important for cells to stay healthy. When mitochondria sustain too much damage, they may trigger the programmed death of the entire cell, known as apoptosis (SN: 8/9/18). Özdinler’s team spotted what she describes as “awkward” mitochondria in electron microscope images of upper motor neurons from 15-day-old mice. These unweaned mice are equivalent to human teenagers, Özdinler says. ALS typically doesn’t strike until people are 40 to 70 years old. But by the time symptoms appear, motor neurons are already damaged, so Özdinler’s group looked at the young mice to capture the earliest signs of the disease. © Society for Science & the Public 2000–2019

Keyword: ALS-Lou Gehrig's Disease
Link ID: 26804 - Posted: 11.08.2019

Maheen Mausoof Adamson, Ph.D. The 1982 science fiction film classic Blade Runner is a gritty detective story set in the dystopian future that raises questions about what it means to be human. In the film, Harrison Ford plays Rick Deckard, a police officer turned bounty hunter searching the streets of Los Angeles for a replicant (human-like androids) rebellion leader Roy Batty. Batty is presented as a technologically perfected being fitted with a human-template brain completely rewired to create an enemy to be deathly feared. Fear of the perfect altered brain is prominent in science fiction—and may be particularly prevalent today, amid growing concerns about genetic editing and artificial intelligence. The prospect of a fully artificial human brain remains very distant. However, we are in the midst of a neuromodulation revolution that will increase our ability to treat disease and optimize human performance. We must, however, carefully consider the benefits and risks of these techniques in fully evaluating their potential for society as well as the individual. A large number of patients suffering from neurological or psychiatric disorders—depression, pain, and post-traumatic stress disorder among them—are resistant to or can develop resistance to standard medication and psychotherapy, suggesting the need for new approaches. Neuromodulation may possibly be such an approach. The term (aka neurostimulation) refers to direct stimulation and modification of the nervous system through the use of electrical, chemical, or mechanical signals. Neuromodulation therapy is already used to treat many brain disorders, most commonly movement disorders, chronic pain, and depression. © 2019 The Dana Foundation.

Keyword: Parkinsons; Depression
Link ID: 26797 - Posted: 11.07.2019

By Gretchen Reynolds Being physically fit may sharpen the memory and lower our risk of dementia, even if we do not start exercising until we are middle-aged or older, according to two stirring new studies of the interplay between exercise, aging, aerobic fitness and forgetting. But both studies, while underscoring the importance of activity for brain health, also suggest that some types of exercise may be better than others at safeguarding and even enhancing our memory. The scientific evidence linking exercise, fitness and brain health is already hefty and growing. Multiple studies have found that people with relatively high levels of endurance, whatever their age, tend to perform better on tests of thinking and memory than people who are out of shape. Other studies associate better fitness with less risk for developing Alzheimer’s disease. But many of these studies have been one-time snapshots of people’s lives and did not delve into whether and how changing fitness over time might alter people’s memory skills or dementia risk. They did not, in other words, tell us whether, by midlife or retirement age, it might be too late to improve our brain health with exercise. So, for the first of the new studies, which was published this month in The Lancet Public Health, researchers at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology in Trondheim, Norway, helpfully decided to look into that very issue, taking advantage of the reams of health data available on average Norwegians. They began by turning to records from a large-scale health study that had enrolled almost every adult resident in the region around Trondheim beginning in the 1980s. The participants completed health and medical testing twice, about 10 years apart, that included estimates of their aerobic fitness. © 2019 The New York Times Company

Keyword: Alzheimers
Link ID: 26794 - Posted: 11.06.2019

By Gretchen Reynolds Taking more steps during the day may be related to better sleep at night, according to an encouraging new study of lifestyle and sleep patterns. The study, which delved into the links between walking and snoozing, suggests that being active can influence how well we sleep, whether we actually exercise or not. Sleep and exercise scientists have long been intrigued and befuddled by the ties between physical activity and somnolence. To most of us, it might seem as if that relationship should be uncomplicated, advantageous and one-way. You work out, grow tired and sleep better that night. But a variety of past studies indicate that the effects of exercise on sleep are more scrambled than that. In some studies, when people work out strenuously, they sleep relatively poorly, suggesting that intense exercise might disrupt slumber. Other experiments have found that the impacts of exertion and sleep work both ways; after a night of ragged sleep, people often report finding their normal workout extra wearing. Past research also has produced conflicting results about whether and how the timing of exercise matters, and if afternoon workouts aid or impair that night’s sleep. Most of these past studies have focused on planned exercise, though, not more incidental, everyday physical activity, and much of the research has involved people with clinical sleep problems, such as insomnia. Little has been known about whether simply moving around more during the day, absent formal exercise, might influence sleep, particularly in people who already tend to sleep fairly well. © 2019 The New York Times Company

Keyword: Sleep
Link ID: 26771 - Posted: 10.30.2019

By Robert Martone We humans have evolved a rich repertoire of communication, from gesture to sophisticated languages. All of these forms of communication link otherwise separate individuals in such a way that they can share and express their singular experiences and work together collaboratively. In a new study, technology replaces language as a means of communicating by directly linking the activity of human brains. Electrical activity from the brains of a pair of human subjects was transmitted to the brain of a third individual in the form of magnetic signals, which conveyed an instruction to perform a task in a particular manner. This study opens the door to extraordinary new means of human collaboration while, at the same time, blurring fundamental notions about individual identity and autonomy in disconcerting ways. Direct brain-to-brain communication has been a subject of intense interest for many years, driven by motives as diverse as futurist enthusiasm and military exigency. In his book Beyond Boundaries one of the leaders in the field, Miguel Nicolelis, described the merging of human brain activity as the future of humanity, the next stage in our species’ evolution. (Nicolelis serves on Scientific American’s board of advisers.) He has already conducted a study in which he linked together the brains of several rats using complex implanted electrodes known as brain-to-brain interfaces. Nicolelis and his co-authors described this achievement as the first “organic computer” with living brains tethered together as if they were so many microprocessors. The animals in this network learned to synchronize the electrical activity of their nerve cells to the same extent as those in a single brain. The networked brains were tested for things such as their ability to discriminate between two different patterns of electrical stimuli, and they routinely outperformed individual animals. © 2019 Scientific American

Keyword: Robotics; Language
Link ID: 26770 - Posted: 10.30.2019

By Maya Vijayaraghavan On Jan. 1, my husband asked me whether he would die that year. I said no. It happened to be my birthday, and I wanted to feel jubilant despite the tragic turn of events in our life. I thought Rahul might have another year, that he might beat the odds of dying this year. In other words, his hazard ratio was favorable compared with someone else in his situation. He liked talking about something related, hazard scores — a composite score of one’s genetic risk for a particular outcome such as diagnosis of a disease. It was his thing as a neuroscientist-physician. He developed one for Alzheimer’s disease, and was on his way to developing one for amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), the disease he had been studying even before he got sick with it. In reality, he had declined significantly since his diagnosis of ALS two years prior. First, he lost his speech, then his mobility, and very quickly breathing became a struggle. But any talk of decline came with an acceptance that his life was imminently finite, and neither of us were willing to accept that outcome. But Rahul did die, six months after that conversation. I remember some of our last conversations, when things were very difficult. His forewarning that this existence with him teetering at the brink of life and death was much easier than the life I would lead as a widow, raising two young children. I think neither of us really understood that the emptiness I’d feel would be soul-crushing. That I would cry all the time. That I would miss him so much. That I would become a ghost of my former self. That this thing they call complicated grief, in which healing doesn’t occur as it’s supposed to, and which supposedly happens only after a year, is something that I feel now. That I would think constantly about the time when my husband was first diagnosed and he got into a fight with our then-3-year-old (now 5) about how he could not carry him because he did not have the strength to and not because he did not want to.

Keyword: ALS-Lou Gehrig's Disease
Link ID: 26761 - Posted: 10.28.2019

By Owain Clarke BBC Wales health correspondent World-leading research is helping scientists find new ways of trying to help younger people who have had a stroke get back to work. The study led by Manchester Metropolitan University found the speed a patient can walk is a major factor in determining how likely they are able to return to the workplace. Researchers have been working with physiotherapists and patients in Wales. It includes moving rehabilitation outdoors, including the Brecon Beacons. It is hoped it could lead to new rehabilitation methods being developed to target younger stroke patients. The average age to have a stroke in the UK is 72 for men and 78 for women. But there has been a 40% worldwide rise in people under 65 who have strokes in the last decade, according to the researchers. Image copyright Manchester Metropolitan University Image caption Researchers are studying the skeletons of stroke patients to see how joints perform when they walk What does the science say? It looked at 46 patients across Wales who had a stroke when younger than 65 years old and only 23% were able to return to work It found walking speed was a key predictor of whether a younger adult who has had a stroke could return to work They calculated a walking speed threshold of 0.93m/s (3ft a second) was a good benchmark for the likelihood of returning to work - and as a result this could be a goal set during rehabilitation As well as looking at the best environment for younger patients to recover in, it is now looking at using CGI technology to study joints to find out how stroke patients walk Nikki Tomkinson had a stroke at 53. "The world started shifting" while she was out driving in Cardiff. © 2019 BBC

Keyword: Stroke
Link ID: 26759 - Posted: 10.28.2019

By Kelly Servick CHICAGO, ILLINOIS—By harnessing the power of imagination, researchers have nearly doubled the speed at which completely paralyzed patients may be able to communicate with the outside world. People who are “locked in”—fully paralyzed by stroke or neurological disease—have trouble trying to communicate even a single sentence. Electrodes implanted in a part of the brain involved in motion have allowed some paralyzed patients to move a cursor and select onscreen letters with their thoughts. Users have typed up to 39 characters per minute, but that’s still about three times slower than natural handwriting. In the new experiments, a volunteer paralyzed from the neck down instead imagined moving his arm to write each letter of the alphabet. That brain activity helped train a computer model known as a neural network to interpret the commands, tracing the intended trajectory of his imagined pen tip to create letters (above). Eventually, the computer could read out the volunteer’s imagined sentences with roughly 95% accuracy at a speed of about 66 characters per minute, the team reported here this week at the annual meeting of the Society for Neuroscience. The researchers expect the speed to increase with more practice. As they refine the technology, they will also use their neural recordings to better understand how the brain plans and orchestrates fine motor movements. © 2019 American Association for the Advancement of Science.

Keyword: Robotics; Brain imaging
Link ID: 26745 - Posted: 10.24.2019

Anna Azvolinsky Nearly 30 years ago, Kamran Khodakhah, now a neuroscientist at Albert Einstein College of Medicine, signed up for a TV repair course that met several times a week at night at a local community college in London. While many of the other students were attending with the obvious goal of repairing TVs and other appliances, Khodakhah had a different aim. He reasoned that if he could understand how a television worked, he could design new tools to study the rat brain slices he had collected. Khodakhah was working as a PhD student in the lab of neuroscientist David Ogden at the National Institute for Medical Research, trying to determine whether a particular signaling pathway—the inositol trisphosphate (InsP3)/calcium signaling pathway—could be activated in nerve cells called Purkinje neurons. They are found in the cerebellum and have a high density of InsP3 receptors. By taking the TV repair class, Khodakhah wanted to learn to build an electronic circuit to enhance his camera images in order to better visualize the Purkinje cells within slices of the cerebellum and to study the InsP3/calcium ion signaling pathway. He used the new imaging setup, combined with existing lab tools such as flash photolysis, to introduce inert precursor molecules of InsP3—called caged InsP3—into Purkinje neurons in cerebellar slices prepared from rat brains. When stimulated with light, a caged InsP3 molecule is rapidly converted into an active form that binds to InsP3 receptors. Khodakhah then used a fluorescent calcium indicator and recorded the calcium channel activity to see if the binding of InsP3 receptors caused release of calcium from internal stores. At the time, researchers knew that in liver and other non-neuronal cells, InsP3 molecules act as messengers, stimulating the release of calcium ions, which then activates internal cellular pathways. Whether something similar happened in Purkinje neurons wasn’t clear, but if it did, the process might reveal something about how the cerebellum coordinates movement, Khodakhah thought. © 1986–2019 The Scientist.

Keyword: Movement Disorders
Link ID: 26736 - Posted: 10.23.2019

By Pam Belluck About 10 days after what seemed like a garden-variety cold, Luca Waugh, a healthy 4-year-old, developed troubling symptoms. Suddenly, his neck became so weak that he fell backward. Then his right arm couldn’t move. Within days, recalled his mother, Dr. Riley Bove, he developed “head-to-toe paralysis, where he could kind of move his eyes a little bit and one side of his face.” Doctors diagnosed Luca with acute flaccid myelitis or A.F.M., a mysterious neurological condition that can cause limb weakness and polio-like paralysis, mostly in young children. A.F.M. is rare, but in 2014, when Luca became afflicted, health authorities identified a burst of 120 cases. Since then, A.F.M. has made headlines as cases have spiked every two years, and nearly 600 have been confirmed across the country since 2014. What exactly causes A.F.M. has eluded experts, frustrating attempts to prevent or treat it. Now, a study by a team that includes Luca’s mother, Dr. Bove, who happens to be a neurologist, provides strong evidence of a likely cause. It involved dozens of children with A.F.M., including Luca, whose paralysis improved after weeks of hospitalization but who remains disabled five years later. The research, published Monday in the journal Nature Medicine, points to a long-suspected culprit: enteroviruses, a group of common viruses that usually produce mild effects, but can sometimes cause neurological symptoms. Using sophisticated laboratory techniques, researchers found antibodies to enteroviruses in the cerebrospinal fluid of nearly 70 percent of the children with A.F.M., a sign their bodies had mobilized to defend against enterovirus infection. © 2019 The New York Times Company

Keyword: Movement Disorders; Neuroimmunology
Link ID: 26734 - Posted: 10.22.2019