Chapter 15. Language and Lateralization

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By Claudia López Lloreda Genetic tweaks in kingfishers might help cushion the blow when the diving birds plunge beak first into the water to catch fish. Analysis of the genetic instruction book of some diving kingfishers identified changes in genes related to brain function as well as retina and blood vessel development, which might protect against damage during dives, researchers report October 24 in Communications Biology. The results suggest the different species of diving kingfishers may have adapted to survive their dives unscathed in some of the same ways, but it’s still unclear how the genetic changes protect the birds. Hitting speeds of up to 40 kilometers per hour, kingfisher dives put huge amounts of potentially damaging pressure on the birds’ heads, beaks and brains. The birds dive repeatedly, smacking their heads into the water in ways that could cause concussions in humans, says Shannon Hackett, an evolutionary biologist and curator at the Field Museum in Chicago. “So there has to be something that protects them from the terrible consequences of repeatedly hitting their heads against a hard substrate.” Hackett first became interested in how the birds protect their brains while she worked with her son’s hockey team and started worrying about the effect of repeated hits on the human brain. Around the same time, evolutionary biologist Chad Eliason joined the museum to study kingfishers and their plunge diving behavior. In the new study, Hackett, Eliason and colleagues analyzed the complete genome of 30 kingfisher species, some that plunge dive and others that don’t, from specimens frozen and stored at the museum. The preserved birds came from all over the world; some of the diving species came from mainland areas and others from islands and had evolved to dive independently rather than from the same plunge-diving ancestor. The team wanted to know if the different diving species had evolved similar genetic changes to arrive at the same behaviors. Many kingfisher species have developed this behavior, but it was unclear whether this was through genetic convergence, similar to how many species of birds have lost their flight or how bats and dolphins independently developed echolocation (SN: 9/6/2013). © Society for Science & the Public 2000–2023.

Keyword: Brain Injury/Concussion; Evolution
Link ID: 28991 - Posted: 11.08.2023

By Hallie Levine Every 40 seconds, someone in the United States has a stroke, and about three-quarters occur in people ages 65 and older. “As people age, their arteries have a tendency to become less flexible,” and clogged arteries are more likely, says Doris Chan, an interventional cardiologist at NYU Langone Health. This hikes the risk of an ischemic stroke — the most common type — when a blood vessel to the brain becomes blocked by a blood clot. But about 80 percent of all strokes are preventable, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. And the lifestyle steps you take can be especially powerful in fending off stroke. Here’s what you can do to reduce your risk. 1. Watch these issues. Keeping certain conditions at bay or managing them properly can cut the likelihood of a stroke. Take high blood pressure, which some research suggests is responsible for almost half of strokes. A heart-healthy eating plan may help control it. Also, try to limit sodium to less than 1,500 milligrams a day, maintain a healthy weight and exercise regularly, says Sahil Khera, an interventional cardiologist at the Mount Sinai Hospital in New York. If your blood pressure is high even with the above measures, ask your doctor what levels you should strive for and whether meds are appropriate. Staying out of the hypertensive range can be challenging with age because of the higher potential for medication side effects. While blood pressure below 120/80 can reduce cardiovascular risk, that target should be adjusted if side effects such as dizziness occur, says Hardik Amin, an associate professor of neurology at the Yale School of Medicine in New Haven, Conn. Another important condition to watch for is atrial fibrillation (AFib), an irregular and often rapid heartbeat, which affects at least 10 percent of people over age 80, according to a 2022 study in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology. People with AFib are about five times as likely to have a stroke.

Keyword: Stroke; Drug Abuse
Link ID: 28974 - Posted: 10.28.2023

By Liz Fuller-Wright, The latest exploration of music in the natural world is taking place in Mala Murthy ’s lab at the Princeton Neuroscience Institute, where Murthy and her research group have used neural imaging, optogenetics, motion capture, modeling and artificial intelligence to pinpoint precisely where and how a fruit fly’s brain toggles between its standard solo and its mating serenade. Their research appears in the current issue of the journal Nature. “For me it is very rewarding that, in a team of exceptional scientists coming from different backgrounds, we joined forces and methodologies to figure out the key characteristics of a neural circuit that can explain a complex behavior — the patterning of courtship song,” said Frederic Römschied, first author on this paper and a former postdoctoral fellow in Murthy’s lab. He is now a group leader at the European Neuroscience Institute in Göttingen, Germany. “It might be a surprise to discover that the fruit flies buzzing around your banana can sing, but it’s more than music, it’s communication,” said Murthy, the Karol and Marnie Marcin ’96 Professor and the director of the Princeton Neuroscience Institute. “It’s a conversation, with a back and forth. He sings, and she slows down, and she turns, and then he sings more. He’s constantly assessing her behavior to decide exactly how to sing. They’re exchanging information in this way. Unlike a songbird, belting out his song from his perch, he tunes everything into what she’s doing. It’s a dialogue.” It might be a surprise to discover that the fruit flies buzzing around your banana can sing, but it’s more than music, it’s communication. By studying how these tiny brains work, researchers hope to develop insights that will prove useful in the larger and more complex brains that are millions of times harder to study. In particular, Murthy’s team is trying to determine how the brain decides what behavior is appropriate in which context. © 2023 The Trustees of Princeton University

Keyword: Animal Communication; Sexual Behavior
Link ID: 28959 - Posted: 10.14.2023

By Benjamin Mueller Once their scalpels reach the edge of a brain tumor, surgeons are faced with an agonizing decision: cut away some healthy brain tissue to ensure the entire tumor is removed, or give the healthy tissue a wide berth and risk leaving some of the menacing cells behind. Now scientists in the Netherlands report using artificial intelligence to arm surgeons with knowledge about the tumor that may help them make that choice. The method, described in a study published on Wednesday in the journal Nature, involves a computer scanning segments of a tumor’s DNA and alighting on certain chemical modifications that can yield a detailed diagnosis of the type and even subtype of the brain tumor. That diagnosis, generated during the early stages of an hourslong surgery, can help surgeons decide how aggressively to operate, the researchers said. In the future, the method may also help steer doctors toward treatments tailored for a specific subtype of tumor. “It’s imperative that the tumor subtype is known at the time of surgery,” said Jeroen de Ridder, an associate professor in the Center for Molecular Medicine at UMC Utrecht, a Dutch hospital, who helped lead the study. “What we have now uniquely enabled is to allow this very fine-grained, robust, detailed diagnosis to be performed already during the surgery.” A brave new world. A new crop of chatbots powered by artificial intelligence has ignited a scramble to determine whether the technology could upend the economics of the internet, turning today’s powerhouses into has-beens and creating the industry’s next giants. Here are the bots to know: ChatGPT. ChatGPT, the artificial intelligence language model from a research lab, OpenAI, has been making headlines since November for its ability to respond to complex questions, write poetry, generate code, plan vacations and translate languages. GPT-4, the latest version introduced in mid-March, can even respond to images (and ace the Uniform Bar Exam). © 2023 The New York Times Company

Keyword: Robotics; Intelligence
Link ID: 28958 - Posted: 10.12.2023

By Sonia Shah Can a mouse learn a new song? Such a question might seem whimsical. Though humans have lived alongside mice for at least 15,000 years, few of us have ever heard mice sing, because they do so in frequencies beyond the range detectable by human hearing. As pups, their high-pitched songs alert their mothers to their whereabouts; as adults, they sing in ultrasound to woo one another. For decades, researchers considered mouse songs instinctual, the fixed tunes of a windup music box, rather than the mutable expressions of individual minds. But no one had tested whether that was really true. In 2012, a team of neurobiologists at Duke University, led by Erich Jarvis, a neuroscientist who studies vocal learning, designed an experiment to find out. The team surgically deafened five mice and recorded their songs in a mouse-size sound studio, tricked out with infrared cameras and microphones. They then compared sonograms of the songs of deafened mice with those of hearing mice. If the mouse songs were innate, as long presumed, the surgical alteration would make no difference at all. Jarvis and his researchers slowed down the tempo and shifted the pitch of the recordings, so that they could hear the songs with their own ears. Those of the intact mice sounded “remarkably similar to some bird songs,” Jarvis wrote in a 2013 paper that described the experiment, with whistlelike syllables similar to those in the songs of canaries and the trills of dolphins. Not so the songs of the deafened mice: Deprived of auditory feedback, their songs became degraded, rendering them nearly unrecognizable. They sounded, the scientists noted, like “squawks and screams.” Not only did the tunes of a mouse depend on its ability to hear itself and others, but also, as the team found in another experiment, a male mouse could alter the pitch of its song to compete with other male mice for female attention. Inside these murine skills lay clues to a puzzle many have called “the hardest problem in science”: the origins of language. In humans, “vocal learning” is understood as a skill critical to spoken language. Researchers had already discovered the capacity for vocal learning in species other than humans, including in songbirds, hummingbirds, parrots, cetaceans such as dolphins and whales, pinnipeds such as seals, elephants and bats. But given the centuries-old idea that a deep chasm separated human language from animal communications, most scientists understood the vocal learning abilities of other species as unrelated to our own — as evolutionarily divergent as the wing of a bat is to that of a bee. The apparent absence of intermediate forms of language — say, a talking animal — left the question of how language evolved resistant to empirical inquiry. © 2023 The New York Times Company

Keyword: Language; Animal Communication
Link ID: 28921 - Posted: 09.21.2023

By Gina Kolata Tucker Marr’s life changed forever last October. He was on his way to a wedding reception when he fell down a steep flight of metal stairs, banging the right side of his head so hard he went into a coma. He’d fractured his skull, and a large blood clot formed on the left side of his head. Surgeons had to remove a large chunk of his skull to relieve pressure on his brain and to remove the clot. “Getting a piece of my skull taken out was crazy to me,” Mr. Marr said. “I almost felt like I’d lost a piece of me.” But what seemed even crazier to him was the way that piece was restored. Mr. Marr, a 27-year-old analyst at Deloitte, became part of a new development in neurosurgery. Instead of remaining without a piece of skull or getting the old bone put back, a procedure that is expensive and has a high rate of infection, he got a prosthetic piece of skull made with a 3-D printer. But it is not the typical prosthesis used in such cases. His prosthesis, which is covered by his skin, is embedded with an acrylic window that would let doctors peer into his brain with ultrasound. A few medical centers are offering such acrylic windows to patients who had to have a piece of skull removed to treat conditions like a brain injury, a tumor, a brain bleed or hydrocephalus. “It’s very cool,” Dr. Michael Lev, director of emergency radiology at Massachusetts General Hospital, said. But, “it is still early days,” he added. Advocates of the technique say that if a patient with such a window has a headache or a seizure or needs a scan to see if a tumor is growing, a doctor can slide an ultrasound probe on the patient’s head and look at the brain in the office. © 2023 The New York Times Company

Keyword: Brain imaging; Brain Injury/Concussion
Link ID: 28914 - Posted: 09.16.2023

By Darren Incorvaia By now, it’s no secret that the phrase “bird brain” should be a compliment, not an insult. Some of our feathered friends are capable of complex cognitive tasks, including tool use (SN: 2/10/23). Among the brainiest feats that birds are capable of is vocal learning, or the ability to learn to mimic sounds and use them to communicate. In birds, this leads to beautiful calls and songs; in humans, it leads to language. The best avian vocal learners, such as crows and parrots, also tend to be considered the most intelligent birds. So it’s natural to think that the two traits could be linked. But studies with smart birds have found conflicting evidence. Although vocal learning may be linked with greater cognitive capacity in some species, the opposite relationship seems to hold true in others. Now, a massive analysis of 214 birds from 23 species shows that there is indeed a link between vocal learning and at least one advanced cognitive ability — problem-solving. The study, described in the Sept. 15 Science, is the first to analyze multiple bird species instead of just one. More than 200 birds from 23 species were given different cognitive tests to gauge their intelligence. One of the problem-solving tasks asked birds to pull a cork lid off a glass flask to access a tasty treat (bottom left). Comparing these tests with birds’ ability to learn songs and calls showed that the better vocal learners are also better at problem-solving. To compare species, biologist Jean-Nicolas Audet of the Rockefeller University in New York City and colleagues had to devise a way to assess all the birds’ vocal learning and cognitive abilities. © Society for Science & the Public 2000–2023.

Keyword: Intelligence; Evolution
Link ID: 28912 - Posted: 09.16.2023

By Jori Lewis The squat abandoned concrete structure may have been a water tower when this tract of land in the grasslands of Mozambique was a cotton factory. Now it served an entirely different purpose: Housing a bat colony. To climb through the building’s low opening, bat researcher Césaria Huó and I had to battle a swarm of biting tsetse flies and clear away a layer of leaves and vines. My eyes quickly adjusted to the low light, but my nose, even behind a mask, couldn’t adjust to the smell of hundreds of bats and layers of bat guano—a fetid reek of urea with fishy, spicy overtones. But Huó had a different reaction. “I don’t mind the smell now,” she said. After several months of monitoring bat colonies in the Gorongosa National Park area as a master’s student in the park’s conservation biology program, Huó said she almost likes it. “Now, when I smell it, I know there are bats here.” Since we arrived at the tower during the daylight hours, I had expected the nocturnal mammals to be asleep. Instead, they were shaking their wings, flying from one wall or spot on the ceiling to another, swooping sometimes a bit too close to me for my comfort. But the bats didn’t care about me; they were cruising for mates. It was mating season, and we had lucked out to see their mating performances. Huó pointed out that some females were inspecting the males, checking out their wing flapping prowess. But Huó and her adviser, the polymath entomologist Piotr Naskrecki, did not bring me to this colony to view the bats’ seductive dances and their feats of flight, since those behaviors are already known to scientists. We were here to decipher what the bats were saying while doing them. Huó and Naskrecki had set up cameras and audio recorders the night before to learn more about these bats and try to understand the nature of the calls they use, listening for signs of meaning. © 2023 NautilusNext Inc., All rights reserved.

Keyword: Animal Communication; Evolution
Link ID: 28895 - Posted: 09.07.2023

By R. Douglas Fields One day, while threading a needle to sew a button, I noticed that my tongue was sticking out. The same thing happened later, as I carefully cut out a photograph. Then another day, as I perched precariously on a ladder painting the window frame of my house, there it was again! What’s going on here? I’m not deliberately protruding my tongue when I do these things, so why does it keep making appearances? After all, it’s not as if that versatile lingual muscle has anything to do with controlling my hands. Right? Yet as I would learn, our tongue and hand movements are intimately interrelated at an unconscious level. This peculiar interaction’s deep evolutionary roots even help explain how our brain can function without conscious effort. A common explanation for why we stick out our tongue when we perform precision hand movements is something called motor overflow. In theory, it can take so much cognitive effort to thread a needle (or perform other demanding fine motor skills) that our brain circuits get swamped and impinge on adjacent circuits, activating them inappropriately. It’s certainly true that motor overflow can happen after neural injury or in early childhood when we are learning to control our bodies. But I have too much respect for our brains to buy that “limited brain bandwidth” explanation. How, then, does this peculiar hand-mouth cross-talk really occur? Tracing the neural anatomy of tongue and hand control to pinpoint where a short circuit might happen, we find first of all that the two are controlled by completely different nerves. This makes sense: A person who suffers a spinal cord injury that paralyzes their hands does not lose their ability to speak. That’s because the tongue is controlled by a cranial nerve, but the hands are controlled by spinal nerves. Simons Foundation

Keyword: Language; Emotions
Link ID: 28894 - Posted: 08.30.2023

In a study of 152 deceased athletes less than 30 years old who were exposed to repeated head injury through contact sports, brain examination demonstrated that 63 (41%) had chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), a degenerative brain disorder associated with exposure to head trauma. Neuropsychological symptoms were severe in both those with and without evidence of CTE. Suicide was the most common cause of death in both groups, followed by unintentional overdose. Among the brain donors found to have CTE, 71% had played contact sports at a non-professional level (youth, high school, or college competition). Common sports included American football, ice hockey, soccer, rugby, and wrestling. The study, published in JAMA Neurology, confirms that CTE can occur even in young athletes exposed to repetitive head impacts. The research was supported in part by the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS), part of the National Institutes of Health. Because CTE cannot be definitively diagnosed in individuals while living, it is unknown how commonly CTE occurs in such athletes. As in all brain bank studies, donors differ from the general population and no estimates of prevalence can be concluded from this research. Most of the study donors were white, male football players with cognitive, behavioral, and/or mood symptoms. Their families desired neuropathologic examination after their loved one’s early death and donated to the Understanding Neurologic Injury and Traumatic Encephalopathy (UNITE) Brain Bank. There were no differences in cause of death or clinical symptoms between those with CTE and those without.

Keyword: Brain Injury/Concussion
Link ID: 28889 - Posted: 08.30.2023

By Pam Belluck At Ann Johnson’s wedding reception 20 years ago, her gift for speech was vividly evident. In an ebullient 15-minute toast, she joked that she had run down the aisle, wondered if the ceremony program should have said “flutist” or “flautist” and acknowledged that she was “hogging the mic.” Just two years later, Mrs. Johnson — then a 30-year-old teacher, volleyball coach and mother of an infant — had a cataclysmic stroke that paralyzed her and left her unable to talk. On Wednesday, scientists reported a remarkable advance toward helping her, and other patients, speak again. In a milestone of neuroscience and artificial intelligence, implanted electrodes decoded Mrs. Johnson’s brain signals as she silently tried to say sentences. Technology converted her brain signals into written and vocalized language, and enabled an avatar on a computer screen to speak the words and display smiles, pursed lips and other expressions. The research, published in the journal Nature, demonstrates the first time spoken words and facial expressions have been directly synthesized from brain signals, experts say. Mrs. Johnson chose the avatar, a face resembling hers, and researchers used her wedding toast to develop the avatar’s voice. “We’re just trying to restore who people are,” said the team’s leader, Dr. Edward Chang, the chairman of neurological surgery at the University of California, San Francisco. “It let me feel like I was a whole person again,” Mrs. Johnson, now 48, wrote to me. The goal is to help people who cannot speak because of strokes or conditions like cerebral palsy and amyotrophic lateral sclerosis. To work, Mrs. Johnson’s implant must be connected by cable from her head to a computer, but her team and others are developing wireless versions. Eventually, researchers hope, people who have lost speech may converse in real time through computerized pictures of themselves that convey tone, inflection and emotions like joy and anger. “What’s quite exciting is that just from the surface of the brain, the investigators were able to get out pretty good information about these different features of communication,” said Dr. Parag Patil, a neurosurgeon and biomedical engineer at the University of Michigan, who was asked by Nature to review the study before publication. © 2023 The New York Times Company

Keyword: Stroke; Robotics
Link ID: 28882 - Posted: 08.24.2023

Jon Hamilton If you've ever had trouble finding your keys or remembering what you had for breakfast, you know that short-term memory is far from perfect. For people who've had a traumatic brain injury (TBI), though, recalling recent events or conversations can be a major struggle. "We have patients whose family cannot leave them alone at home because they will turn on the stove and forget to turn it off," says Dr. Ramon Diaz-Arrastia, who directs the Traumatic Brain Injury Clinical Research Center at the University of Pennsylvania. So Arrastia and a team of scientists have been testing a potential treatment. It involves delivering a pulse of electricity to the brain at just the right time. And it worked in a study of eight people with moderate or severe TBIs, the team reports in the journal Brain Stimulation. A precisely timed pulse to a brain area just behind the ear improved recall by about 20 percent and reduced the person's memory deficit by about half. If the results pan out in a larger study, the approach might improve the lives of many young people who survive a serious TBI, says Diaz-Arrastia, an author of the study and a professor of neurology at Penn. "In many cases, the reason they're unable to rejoin and fully participate in society is because of their memory problems," he says. "And they often have this disability that goes on for many, many decades." But the treatment is not for the timid. It requires patients to have electrodes surgically implanted in their brain. And scientists are still refining the system that delivers the electrical pulses. More than 1.5 million people in the U.S. sustain a TBI each year. Common causes include falls, motor vehicle accidents, assaults, contact sports, and gunshots. © 2023 npr

Keyword: Brain Injury/Concussion
Link ID: 28870 - Posted: 08.09.2023

By Tanvi Dutta Gupta The Arctic Ocean is a noisy place. Creatures of the deep have learned to live with the cacophony of creaking ice sheets and breaking icebergs, but humanmade sources of noise from ships and oil and gas infrastructure are altering that natural submarine soundscape. Now, a research team has found that even subtle underwater noise pollution can cause narwhals to make shallower dives and cut their hunts short. The research, published today in Science Advances, uncovers “some really great information on a species we know very little about,” says Ari Friedlaender, an ocean ecologist at the University of California, Santa Cruz, not involved in the study. Knowing how the whales react to these noises could help conservationists “act proactively” to protect the animals in their Arctic home where warming waters already threaten their lifestyles. Narwhals—with their long, unicornlike horns extending from their faces—live in one of the most extreme environments in the world, explains Outi Tervo, an ecologist at the Greenland Institute of Natural Resources and the study’s first author. Each narwhal returns in summer to the same small fjord where it was born in order to feed on fish, squid, and shrimp. As humans increasingly encroach on Arctic waters, though, scientists, conservationists, and Inuit communities have worried about how development and ship traffic will affect the whales. Many of Greenland’s Inuit communities rely on the narwhals as a culturally important food source. When Greenland’s government started to auction new permits for offshore oil exploration in 2011, Tervo and colleagues decided to examine whether the noise pollution associated with such development affected narwhals. For instance, boats exploring the sea floor tow instruments called airguns, which blast air a few meters below the vessels to sonically suss out the presence of cavities that may contain oil and gas. Those pulses can be the “loudest sound put in the ocean by humans,” says study co-author Susanna Blackwell, a biologist with Greeneridge Sciences.

Keyword: Animal Communication; Hearing
Link ID: 28858 - Posted: 07.27.2023

By McKenzie Prillaman When speaking to young kids, humans often use squeaky, high-pitched baby talk. It turns out that some dolphins do, too. Bottlenose dolphin moms modify their individually distinctive whistles when their babies are nearby, researchers report June 26 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. This “parentese” might enhance attention, bonding and vocal learning in calves, as it seems to do in humans. During the first few months of life, each common bottlenose dolphin (Tursiops truncatus) develops a unique tune, or signature whistle, akin to a name (SN: 7/22/13). The dolphins shout out their own “names” in the water “likely as a way to keep track of each other,” says marine biologist Laela Sayigh of the Woods Hole But dolphin moms seem to tweak that tune in the presence of their calves, which tend to stick by mom’s side for three to six years. It’s a change that Sayigh first noticed in a 2009 study published by her student. But “it was just one little piece of this much larger study,” she says. To follow up on that observation, Sayigh and colleagues analyzed signature whistles from 19 female dolphins both with and without their babies close by. Audio recordings were captured from a wild population that lives near Sarasota Bay, Fla., during catch-and-release health assessments that occurred from 1984 to 2018. The researchers examined 40 instances of each dolphin’s signature whistle, verified by the unique way each vocalization’s frequencies change over time. Half of each dolphin’s whistles were voiced in the presence of her baby. When youngsters were around, the moms’ whistles contained, on average, a higher maximum and slightly lower minimum pitch compared with those uttered in the absence of calves, contributing to an overall widened pitch range. © Society for Science & the Public 2000–2023.

Keyword: Language; Animal Communication
Link ID: 28835 - Posted: 06.28.2023

By Ken Belson and Benjamin Mueller When Jeffrey Vlk played running back in high school in the 1990s and then safety in college, he took and delivered countless tackles during full-contact football practices. Hitting was a mainstay, as were injuries, including concussions. When he became a coach at Buffalo Grove High School outside Chicago in 2005, Vlk did what he had been taught: He had his players hit and tackle in practices to “toughen them up.” By the time he became head coach in 2016, though, he saw that many of his players were so banged up from a week of hitting in practice that they missed games or were more susceptible to being injured in those games. So, starting in 2019, Vlk eliminated full-contact practices. Players wore shoulder pads once a week, on Wednesday, which he called contact day. That’s when they hit tackle bags and crash pads, and wrapped up teammates but did not throw them to the ground. Vlk said no starting player had been injured at his practices in four years. “Those types of injuries can stay with you for a long time,” he said, “and knowing that I’m keeping the kids safe, not just in our program, but beyond the program, is reason enough to go this route.” Vlk’s approach to limiting the number of hits players take has been spreading slowly in the football world, where much of the effort has focused on avoiding and treating concussions, which often have observable symptoms and are tracked by sports leagues. But researchers have for years posited that the more hits to the head a player receives — even subconcussive ones, which are usually not tracked — the more likely he is to develop cognitive and neurological problems later in life. A new study published on Tuesday in the scientific journal Nature Communications added a critical wrinkle: A football player’s chances of developing chronic traumatic encephalopathy, or C.T.E., are related to the number of head impacts absorbed, but also to the cumulative impact of all those hits. © 2023 The New York Times Company

Keyword: Brain Injury/Concussion
Link ID: 28827 - Posted: 06.21.2023

Katharine Sanderson An influential team of researchers has updated the scientific consensus on how concussions in sports should be defined, treated and monitored. But critics say that the statement, which is revised every 4 to 5 years, excludes evidence that links head injuries in sport with long-term brain conditions such as CTE — a high-profile issue in games such as American football and soccer. The consensus statement, compiled by 114 co-authors after the International Conference on Concussion in Sport in Amsterdam last October, summarizes the latest evidence on sports-related concussions to help clinicians manage the trauma. The latest version introduces details including a description of brain-chemistry events that happen after a concussion. It was published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine on 14 June1. Why sports concussions are worse for women But some researchers have criticized the authors’ work. “Their refusal to acknowledge a causal relationship between contact-sports participation and CTE [chronic traumatic encephalopathy] is a danger to the public,” says Chris Nowinski, a neuroscientist and chief executive of the Concussion Legacy Foundation in Middletown, Delaware, which supports athletes and veterans affected by concussions and CTE. Many studies have linked repeated sports-related head injuries with CTE — a degenerative brain disease that can develop into dementia. But the consensus authors say that these studies use data from brain banks — where former athletes donate their tissue to be studied after death — that they say is not rigorous enough to be included in their review. “The CTE literature is almost exclusively case series studies,” says clinician Bob Cantu, a co-author of the consensus report at the Boston University School of Medicine in Massachusetts. “And that literature did not meet the inclusion criteria for the systematic review.” © 2023 Springer Nature Limited

Keyword: Brain Injury/Concussion
Link ID: 28823 - Posted: 06.17.2023

By Marlowe Starling When a bird sings, you may think you’re hearing music. But are the melodies it’s making really music? Or is what we’re hearing merely a string of lilting calls that appeals to the human ear? Birdsong has inspired musicians from Bob Marley to Mozart and perhaps as far back as the first hunter-gatherers who banged out a beat. And a growing body of research is showing that the affinity human musicians feel toward birdsong has a strong scientific basis. Scientists are understanding more about avian species’ ability to learn, interpret and produce songs much like our own. Just like humans, birds learn songs from each other and practice to perfect them. And just as human speech is distinct from human music, bird calls, which serve as warnings and other forms of direct communication, differ from birdsong. While researchers are still debating the functions of birdsong, studies show that it is structurally similar to our own tunes. So, are birds making music? That depends on what you mean. “I’m not sure we can or want to define music,” said Ofer Tchernichovski, a zoologist and psychologist at the City University of New York who studies birdsong. Where you draw the line between music and mere noise is arbitrary, said Emily Doolittle, a zoomusicologist and composer at the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland. The difference between a human baby’s babbling versus a toddler’s humming might seem more distinct than that of a hatchling’s cry for food and a maturing bird’s practicing of a melody, she added. Wherever we draw the line, birdsong and human song share striking similarities. How birds build songs Existing research points to one main conclusion: Birdsong is structured like human music. Songbirds change their tempo (speed), pitch (how high or low they sing) and timbre (tone) to sing tunes that resemble our own melodies. © 2023 The New York Times Company

Keyword: Animal Communication; Language
Link ID: 28817 - Posted: 06.07.2023

By Matteo Wong If you are willing to lie very still in a giant metal tube for 16 hours and let magnets blast your brain as you listen, rapt, to hit podcasts, a computer just might be able to read your mind. Or at least its crude contours. Researchers from the University of Texas at Austin recently trained an AI model to decipher the gist of a limited range of sentences as individuals listened to them—gesturing toward a near future in which artificial intelligence might give us a deeper understanding of the human mind. The program analyzed fMRI scans of people listening to, or even just recalling, sentences from three shows: Modern Love, The Moth Radio Hour, and The Anthropocene Reviewed. Then, it used that brain-imaging data to reconstruct the content of those sentences. For example, when one subject heard “I don’t have my driver’s license yet,” the program deciphered the person’s brain scans and returned “She has not even started to learn to drive yet”—not a word-for-word re-creation, but a close approximation of the idea expressed in the original sentence. The program was also able to look at fMRI data of people watching short films and write approximate summaries of the clips, suggesting the AI was capturing not individual words from the brain scans, but underlying meanings. The findings, published in Nature Neuroscience earlier this month, add to a new field of research that flips the conventional understanding of AI on its head. For decades, researchers have applied concepts from the human brain to the development of intelligent machines. ChatGPT, hyperrealistic-image generators such as Midjourney, and recent voice-cloning programs are built on layers of synthetic “neurons”: a bunch of equations that, somewhat like nerve cells, send outputs to one another to achieve a desired result. Yet even as human cognition has long inspired the design of “intelligent” computer programs, much about the inner workings of our brains has remained a mystery. Now, in a reversal of that approach, scientists are hoping to learn more about the mind by using synthetic neural networks to study our biological ones. It’s “unquestionably leading to advances that we just couldn’t imagine a few years ago,” says Evelina Fedorenko, a cognitive scientist at MIT. Copyright (c) 2023 by The Atlantic Monthly Group.

Keyword: Brain imaging; Language
Link ID: 28802 - Posted: 05.27.2023

By Marla Broadfoot In Alexandre Dumas’s classic novel The Count of Monte-Cristo, a character named Monsieur Noirtier de Villefort suffers a terrible stroke that leaves him paralyzed. Though he remains awake and aware, he is no longer able to move or speak, relying on his granddaughter Valentine to recite the alphabet and flip through a dictionary to find the letters and words he requires. With this rudimentary form of communication, the determined old man manages to save Valentine from being poisoned by her stepmother and thwart his son’s attempts to marry her off against her will. Dumas’s portrayal of this catastrophic condition — where, as he puts it, “the soul is trapped in a body that no longer obeys its commands” — is one of the earliest descriptions of locked-in syndrome. This form of profound paralysis occurs when the brain stem is damaged, usually because of a stroke but also as the result of tumors, traumatic brain injury, snakebite, substance abuse, infection or neurodegenerative diseases like amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS). The condition is thought to be rare, though just how rare is hard to say. Many locked-in patients can communicate through purposeful eye movements and blinking, but others can become completely immobile, losing their ability even to move their eyeballs or eyelids, rendering the command “blink twice if you understand me” moot. As a result, patients can spend an average of 79 days imprisoned in a motionless body, conscious but unable to communicate, before they are properly diagnosed. The advent of brain-machine interfaces has fostered hopes of restoring communication to people in this locked-in state, enabling them to reconnect with the outside world. These technologies typically use an implanted device to record the brain waves associated with speech and then use computer algorithms to translate the intended messages. The most exciting advances require no blinking, eye tracking or attempted vocalizations, but instead capture and convey the letters or words a person says silently in their head. © 2023 Annual Reviews

Keyword: Brain imaging; Language
Link ID: 28791 - Posted: 05.21.2023

By Jaya Padmanabhan Speaking two languages provides the enviable ability to make friends in unusual places. A new study suggests that bilingualism may also come with another benefit: improved memory in later life. Studying hundreds of older patients, researchers in Germany found that those who reported using two languages daily from a young age scored higher on tests of learning, memory, language and self-control than patients who spoke only one language. The findings, published in the April issue of the journal Neurobiology of Aging, add to two decades of work suggesting that bilingualism protects against dementia and cognitive decline in older people. “It’s promising that they report that early and middle-life bilingualism has a beneficial effect on cognitive health in later life,” said Miguel Arce Rentería, a neuropsychologist at Columbia University who was not involved in the study. “This would line up with the existing literature.” In recent years, scientists have gained a greater understanding of bilingualism and the aging brain, though not all their findings have aligned. Some have found that if people who have fluency in two languages develop dementia, they’ll develop it at a later age than people who speak one language. But other research has shown no clear benefit from bilingualism. Neuroscientists hypothesize that because bilingual people switch fluidly between two languages, they may be able to deploy similar strategies in other skills — such as multitasking, managing emotions and self-control — that help delay dementia later on. The new study tested 746 people age 59 to 76. Roughly 40 percent of the volunteers had no memory problems, while the others were patients at memory clinics and had experienced confusion or memory loss. © 2023 The New York Times Company

Keyword: Alzheimers; Language
Link ID: 28761 - Posted: 04.29.2023