Chapter 2. Functional Neuroanatomy: The Cells and Structure of the Nervous System

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Kristen Jordan Shamus, Detroit Free Press A 58-year-old woman hospitalized in the Henry Ford Health System who has the new coronavirus developed a rare complication: encephalitis. In a case report published online Tuesday in the journal Radiology, a team of doctors say the woman tested positive for the coronavirus, but also developed a case of acute necrotizing encephalitis, or ANE, a central nervous infection that mostly afflicts young children. It is believed to be the first published case linking COVID-19 and acute necrotizing encephalitis. The rare and serious brain disease can develop in people who have a viral infection, and causes lesions to form in the brain, tissue death and symptoms such as seizures, drowsiness, confusion and coma. The woman, who was identified as an airline worker, had several days of fever, cough and muscle aches, and was taken by ambulance March 19 to a Henry Ford emergency room, said Dr. Elissa Fory, a Henry Ford neurologist. The patient also showed signs of confusion, lethargy and disorientation. A flu test turned up negative but a rapid COVID-19 test, developed in-house by Henry Ford’s clinical microbiology lab, confirmed she had the coronavirus, Fory said. When the woman remained lethargic, doctors ordered repeat CT and MRI scans, which revealed abnormal lesions in both thalami and temporal lobes, parts of the brain that control consciousness, sensation and memory function. These scans confirmed doctors’ early suspicions.

Keyword: Miscellaneous
Link ID: 27160 - Posted: 04.02.2020

By Robert Frederick An early sign of neurodegenerative disease at the cellular level is often the loss of integrity in axons, the threadlike part of neurons that conduct impulses. To find out what causes that loss of integrity, researchers have been trying to better understand the axon’s lining, called the membrane-associated periodic scaffold (MPS). If neuroscientists can discover what signals the MPS to disassemble, they may gain an early diagnostic tool for neurodegenerative diseases or a new target for drug therapy. Back in 2013, researchers using advanced optical microscopy identified the presence of rings in the MPS made from the protein actin. At first, the discovery was met with skepticism because no one had seen the rings using electron microscopes, which have more resolution than optical methods. But preparing neurons for electron microscopy often involves dissolving the membrane with a surfactant. “If you remove completely the membrane, you also disorganize the scaffold that is very tightly associated with the membrane,” says Christophe Leterrier, a neuro-biologist at Aix-Marseille Université in France. To see the periodic rings (shown above in orange at increasing levels of zoom) Leterrier combined optical and electron microscopy. Just as previous researchers had done to visualize the MPS, the first step involved a technique called unroofing a cell, which can isolate a cell’s membrane without disorganizing the underlying scaffold. But the researchers then used electron microscopy to image the same unroofed axon: Teamed up with Stéphane Vassilopoulos, Leterrier’s group essentially made a platinum replica of the MPS and used electron microscopy (shown above in grayscale) on the replica “to really see individual proteins.” The researchers published their findings in Nature Communications, discovering that the rings are like braided wreaths made from long actin filaments. Leterrier says the next step is to find what signal will prompt the MPS to disassemble but will not affect a neuron’s other actin structures, such as dendritic spines, which receive other neurons’ signals. © 2020 Sigma Xi, The Scientific Research Honor Society

Keyword: Brain imaging
Link ID: 27159 - Posted: 04.02.2020

Nicola Davis Reading minds has just come a step closer to reality: scientists have developed artificial intelligence that can turn brain activity into text. While the system currently works on neural patterns detected while someone is speaking aloud, experts say it could eventually aid communication for patients who are unable to speak or type, such as those with locked in syndrome. “We are not there yet but we think this could be the basis of a speech prosthesis,” said Dr Joseph Makin, co-author of the research from the University of California, San Francisco. Writing in the journal Nature Neuroscience, Makin and colleagues reveal how they developed their system by recruiting four participants who had electrode arrays implanted in their brain to monitor epileptic seizures. These participants were asked to read aloud from 50 set sentences multiple times, including “Tina Turner is a pop singer”, and “Those thieves stole 30 jewels”. The team tracked their neural activity while they were speaking. This data was then fed into a machine-learning algorithm, a type of artificial intelligence system that converted the brain activity data for each spoken sentence into a string of numbers. To make sure the numbers related only to aspects of speech, the system compared sounds predicted from small chunks of the brain activity data with actual recorded audio. The string of numbers was then fed into a second part of the system which converted it into a sequence of words. © 2020 Guardian News & Media Limited

Keyword: Language; Brain imaging
Link ID: 27155 - Posted: 03.31.2020

By Stephen Casper. The poet Emily Dickinson rendered the brain wider than the sky, deeper than the sea, and about the weight of God. Scientists facing the daunting task of describing this organ conventionally conjure up different kinds of metaphor — of governance; of maps, infrastructure networks and telecommunications; of machines, robots, computers and the Internet. The comparisons have been practical and abundant. Yet, perhaps because of their ubiquity, the metaphors we use to understand the brain often go unnoticed. We forget that they are descriptors, and see them instead as natural properties. Such hidden dangers are central to biologist and historian Matthew Cobb’s The Idea of the Brain. This ambitious intellectual history follows the changing understanding of the brain from antiquity to the present, mainly in Western thought. Cobb outlines a growing challenge to the usefulness of metaphor in directing and explaining neuroscience research. With refreshing humility, he contends that science is nowhere near working out what brains do and how — or even if anything is like them at all. Cobb shows how ideas about the brain have always been forged from the moral, philosophical and technological frameworks to hand for those crafting the dominant narratives of the time. In the seventeenth century, the French philosopher René Descartes imagined an animal brain acting through hydraulic mechanisms, while maintaining a view of the divine nature of a mind separate from matter. Later authorities, such as the eighteenth-century physician and philosopher Julien Offray de Le Mettrie, secularized the image and compared the human to a machine. The Italian physicist Alessandro Volta rejected the idea of ‘animal electricity’, proposed by his rival Luigi Galvani as a vital force that animates organic matter. Volta was driven at least partly by his aversion to the mechanistic view. © 2020 Springer Nature Limited

Keyword: Brain imaging
Link ID: 27154 - Posted: 03.31.2020

Eric Haseltine A recent bulletin from physicians in the UK described the loss of smell and taste in COVID-19 patients, suggesting that the virus might affect parts of the central nervous system, in addition to its well-known affinity for the respiratory system. Indeed, in an earlier outbreak of coronavirus in China, Hong Kong researcher Dr. K.K. Lau and co-workers found that some patients exhibited convulsions, delirium and restlessness, while Dr. Jun Xu, of the Guangzhou Institute of Respiratory Diseases estimated that 4-5% of all SARS coronavirus patients displayed central nervous system symptoms. Some SARS coronavirus patients have even exhibited marked brain damage on CAT scans. In the latest outbreak of coronavirus, evidence of central nervous system involvement is accumulating, such as a March 21st report by Dr. Asia Filatov of Charles E. Schmidt College of Medicine, that a COVID-19 patient exhibited encephalopathy (brain disease). And recent data from Wuhan, described in the March 12 edition of Neurology Today, indicate that neurological symptoms, such as "altered consciousness," occur in up to one third of COVID-19 cases. But could central nervous system action of COVID-19 directly contribute to the acute respiratory distress associated with the disease? The answer might be “yes” according to recent collaborative research from Drs. Y.C. LI and W.Z. Bai Dr. T. and Hashikawa in Japan. Writing in the Feb 27 edition of the Journal of Medical Virology, Li and colleagues, cite research on coronavirus showing that sometimes SARS-Cov infects brainstem centers that control respiration, making it difficult for infected patients to breathe spontaneously. © 2020 Sussex Publishers, LLC

Keyword: Miscellaneous
Link ID: 27142 - Posted: 03.25.2020

Bob McDonald · CBC Radio Technology used to determine the structure of the Earth's interior using seismic waves has been adapted into a prototype brain scanner that could give results in real time. It could also be cheaper and simpler to use than technologies like MRI or CT scans. For decades, geologists have used sound waves travelling through the Earth, either from earthquakes or artificial sources, to search for oil, image fault lines and attempt to predict earthquakes. Reading reflections and refraction of the waves as they pass through different kinds of rocks and deposits can help geologists essentially do an ultrasound to build up a picture of the Earth. But in recent years seismology has been supercharged by a computational technique called full waveform inversion (FWI), which uses complex computer algorithms to scavenge ever more information from seismic data, and make much more detailed and accurate 3D maps of the Earth's crust. Now scientists at Imperial College London have adapted the same technology into a prototype head-mounted scanner that produced imaging information they say could be used in the future to produce high-resolution 3D images of the brain. The wavefield is shown as it propagates across the head. (Dr Lluís Guasch / Imperial College London / University College London / Nature Digital Medicine) The device uses a helmet fitted with an array of acoustic transducers that act as both sound transmitters and receivers. The system uses low frequency sound waves that are able to penetrate the skull and pass through the brain without harming brain tissue. The sound waves are altered as they pass through different brain structures, then the signals are read and run through the FWI algorithm. In simulations the team got results that make them confident they can produce high-resolution 3D images that may be as good, if not better, than more traditional approaches. ©2020 CBC/Radio-Canada.

Keyword: Brain imaging
Link ID: 27122 - Posted: 03.16.2020

By R. Douglas Fields Our concepts of how the two and a half pounds of flabby flesh between our ears accomplish learning date to Ivan Pavlov’s classic experiments, where he found that dogs could learn to salivate at the sound of a bell. In 1949 psychologist Donald Hebb adapted Pavlov’s “associative learning rule” to explain how brain cells might acquire knowledge. Hebb proposed that when two neurons fire together, sending off impulses simultaneously, the connections between them—the synapses—grow stronger. When this happens, learning has taken place. In the dogs’ case, it would mean the brain now knows that the sound of a bell is followed immediately by the presence of food. This idea gave rise to an oft-quoted axiom: “Synapses that fire together wire together.” The theory proved sound, and the molecular details of how synapses change during learning have been described in detail. But not everything we remember results from reward or punishment, and in fact, most experiences are forgotten. Even when synapses do fire together, they sometimes do not wire together. What we retain depends on our emotional response to an experience, how novel it is, where and when the event occurred, our level of attention and motivation during the event, and we process these thoughts and feelings while asleep. A narrow focus on the synapse has given us a mere stick-figure conception of how learning and the memories it engenders work. It turns out that strengthening a synapse cannot produce a memory on its own, except for the most elementary reflexes in simple circuits. Vast changes throughout the expanse of the brain are necessary to create a coherent memory. Whether you are recalling last night’s conversation with dinner guests or using an acquired skill such as riding a bike, the activity of millions of neurons in many different regions of your brain must become linked to produce a coherent memory that interweaves emotions, sights, sounds, smells, event sequences and other stored experiences. Because learning encompasses so many elements of our experiences, it must incorporate different cellular mechanisms beyond the changes that occur in synapses. This recognition has led to a search for new ways to understand how information is transmitted, processed and stored in the brain to bring about learning. In the past 10 years neuroscientists have come to realize that the iconic “gray matter” that makes up the brain’s outer surface—familiar from graphic illustrations found everywhere, from textbooks to children’s cartoons—is not the only part of the organ involved in the inscription of a permanent record of facts and events for later recall and replay. It turns out that areas below the deeply folded, gray-colored surface also play a pivotal role in learning. © 2020 Scientific American

Keyword: Learning & Memory; Glia
Link ID: 27114 - Posted: 03.12.2020

Ashley Yeager Genes that code for the structure and function of brain regions essential for learning, memory, and decision-making are beginning to be revealed, according to a report published last October in Nature Genetics. Analyzing MRI scans and blood samples from more than 38,000 individuals, as well as gene expression, methylation, and neuropathology of hundreds of postmortem brains, an international team of researchers identified 199 genes that affect the development of the brain, the connections and communication among nerve cells, and susceptibility to neurological disorders. New tools for studying neural tissue, such as RNA sequencing, have spurred a “very strong revival in studying human postmortem brains,” says Sabina Berretta, director of the Harvard Brain Tissue Resource Center at McLean Hospital in Boston. The Nature Genetics study and others like it have the potential to answer many questions about how the healthy brain functions, but they highlight one of the major challenges neuroscientists face right now—limited access to donated brain tissue, specifically from individuals unaffected by neurological disorders. While the Nature Genetics study included massive amounts of data from scans and blood, the researchers had gene expression data from only 508 postmortem brains. “We are really fortunate to get donations from people with a very large variety of dementias and other neurological disorders, such as Parkinson’s and Huntington’s disease,” Berretta says. “But we get very few donations from people that suffer from psychiatric disorders, schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, major depression, and anxiety, and [even fewer from] unaffected donors.” As a result, brain banks are reaching out to religious groups and also scientific communities not tied to any particular neurological condition to increase donations of healthy brains. © 1986–2020 The Scientist.

Keyword: Brain imaging
Link ID: 27075 - Posted: 02.27.2020

Diana Kwon In the 16th century, when the study of human anatomy was still in its infancy, curious onlookers would gather in anatomical theaters to catch of a glimpse of public dissections of the dead. In the years since, scientists have carefully mapped the viscera, bones, muscles, nerves, and many other components of our bodies, such that a human corpse no longer holds that same sense of mystery that used to draw crowds. New discoveries in gross anatomy—the study of bodily structures at the macroscopic level—are now rare, and their significance is often overblown, says Paul Neumann, a professor who specializes in the history of medicine and anatomical nomenclature at Dalhousie University. “The important discoveries about anatomy, I think, are now coming from studies of tissues and cells.” Over the last decade, there have been a handful of discoveries that have helped overturn previous assumptions and revealed new insights into our anatomy. “What’s really interesting and exciting about almost all of the new studies is the illustration of the power of new [microscopy and imaging] technologies to give deeper insight,” says Tom Gillingwater, a professor of anatomy at the University of Edinburgh in the UK. “I would guess that many of these discoveries are the start, rather than the end, of a developing view of the human body.” © 1986–2020 The Scientist

Keyword: Brain imaging
Link ID: 27058 - Posted: 02.20.2020

Nicola Davis Parents should not worry about their teenagers’ delinquent behaviour provided they were well behaved in their earlier childhood, according to researchers behind a study that suggests those who offend throughout their life showed antisocial behaviour from a young age and have a markedly different brain structure as adults. According to figures from the Ministry of Justice, 24% of males in England and Wales aged 10–52 in 2006 had a conviction, compared with 6% of females. Previous work has shown that crime rises in adolescence and young adulthood but that most perpetrators go on to become law-abiding adults, with only a minority – under 10% of the general population – continuing to offend throughout their life. Such trends underpin many modern criminal justice strategies, including in the UK where police can use their discretion as to whether to a young offender should enter the formal justice system. Now researchers say they have found that adults with a long history of offences show striking differences in brain structure compared with those who have stuck to the straight and narrow or who transgressed only as adolescents. “These findings underscore prior research that really highlights that there are different types of young offenders – they are not all the same. They should not all be treated the same,” said Prof Essi Viding, a co-author of the study from University College London. Prof Terrie Moffitt, another co-author of the research from Duke University in North Carolina, said the study helped to shed light on what may be behind persistent antisocial behaviour. © 2020 Guardian News & Media Limited

Keyword: Aggression; Brain imaging
Link ID: 27048 - Posted: 02.18.2020

Blake Richards Despite billions of dollars spent and decades of research, computation in the human brain remains largely a mystery. Meanwhile, we have made great strides in the development of artificial neural networks, which are designed to loosely mimic how brains compute. We have learned a lot about the nature of neural computation from these artificial brains and it’s time to take what we’ve learned and apply it back to the biological ones. Neurological diseases are on the rise worldwide, making a better understanding of computation in the brain a pressing problem. Given the ability of modern artificial neural networks to solve complex problems, a framework for neuroscience guided by machine learning insights may unlock valuable secrets about our own brains and how they can malfunction. Our thoughts and behaviours are generated by computations that take place in our brains. To effectively treat neurological disorders that alter our thoughts and behaviours, like schizophrenia or depression, we likely have to understand how the computations in the brain go wrong. However, understanding neural computation has proven to be an immensely difficult challenge. When neuroscientists record activity in the brain, it is often indecipherable. In a paper published in Nature Neuroscience, my co-authors and I argue that the lessons we have learned from artificial neural networks can guide us down the right path of understanding the brain as a computational system rather than as a collection of indecipherable cells. © 2010–2020, The Conversation US, Inc.

Keyword: Brain imaging; Robotics
Link ID: 27042 - Posted: 02.14.2020

By Pallab Ghosh Science correspondent, BBC News, Seattle US researchers are developing a better understanding of the human brain by studying tissue left over from surgery. They say that their research is more likely to lead to new treatments than studies based on mouse and rat models. Dr Ed Lein, who leads the initiative at the Allen Institute has set up a scheme with local doctors to study left over tissue just hours after surgery. He gave details at the American Association for the Advancement of Science meeting in Seattle. "It is a little bit crazy that we have such a huge field where we are trying to solve brain diseases and there is very little understanding of the human brain itself," said Dr Lein. "The field as a whole is largely assuming that the human brain is similar to those of animal models without ever testing that view. "But the mouse brain is a thousand times smaller, and any time people look, they find significant differences." Dr Lein and his colleagues at the Allen Institute in Seattle set up the scheme with local neurosurgeons to study brain tissue just hours after surgery - with the consent of the patient. It functions as if it is still inside the brain for up to 48 hours after it has been removed. So Dr Lein and his colleagues have to drop everything and often have to work through the night once they hear that brain tissue has become available. © 2020 BBC

Keyword: Brain imaging; Epilepsy
Link ID: 27040 - Posted: 02.14.2020

By Veronique Greenwood When you look at a reconstruction of the skull and brain of Neoepiblema acreensis, an extinct rodent, it’s hard to shake the feeling that something’s not quite right. Huddled at the back of the cavernous skull, the brain of the South American giant rodent looks really, really small. By some estimates, it was around three to five times smaller than scientists would expect from the animal’s estimated body weight of about 180 pounds, and from comparisons to modern rodents. In fact, 10 million years ago the animal may have been running around with a brain weighing half as much as a mandarin orange, according to a paper published Wednesday in Biology Letters. The glory days of rodents, in terms of the animals’ size, were quite a long time ago, said Leonardo Kerber, a paleontologist at Universidade Federal de Santa Maria in Brazil and an author of the new study. Today rodents are generally dainty, with the exception of larger creatures like the capybara that can weigh as much as 150 pounds. But when it comes to relative brain size, N. acreensis, represented in this study by a fossil skull unearthed in the 1990s in the Brazilian Amazon, seems to be an extreme. The researchers used an equation that relates the body and brain weight of modern South American rodents to get a ballpark estimate for N. acreensis, then compared that with the brain weight implied by the volume of the cavity in the skull. The first method predicted a brain weighing about 4 ounces, but the volume suggested a dinky 1.7 ounces. Other calculations, used to compare the expected ratio of the rodent’s brain and body size with the actual fossil, suggested that N. acreensis’ brain was three to five times smaller than one would expect. © 2020 The New York Times Company

Keyword: Evolution; Brain imaging
Link ID: 27035 - Posted: 02.13.2020

By Kelly Servick Since its launch in 2013, the Brain Research through Advancing Innovative Neurotechnologies (BRAIN) Initiative has doled out about $1.3 billion in grants to develop tools that map and manipulate the brain. Until now, it has operated with no formal director. But last week, the National Institutes of Health (NIH), which manages the initiative and is a key funder, announced that neurobiologist John Ngai would take the helm starting in March. Ngai, whose lab at the University of California, Berkeley, focuses on the neural underpinnings of the sense of smell, has helped lead BRAIN-funded efforts to classify the brain’s dizzying array of cell types with RNA sequencing. Ngai told ScienceInsider about how the initiative is evolving and how he hopes to influence it. The interview has been edited for clarity and brevity. Q: Why is the BRAIN Initiative getting a director now? A: The initiative has been run day to day by a terrific team of senior program directors and staff with oversight from the 10 NIH institutes and centers that are involved in BRAIN. Walter Koroshetz [director of the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke] and Josh Gordon [director of the National Institute of Mental Health] have been overseeing the activities of BRAIN … kind of in addition to their “day jobs.” I think as enterprises emerge from their startup phase, which is typically the first 5 years, the question is how do you translate this into a sustainable enterprise, and yet maintain this cutting-edge innovation? … How do we leverage all the accomplishments that have been made, not just within BRAIN, but in molecular biology, in engineering, in chemistry and computer science, in data science. The initiative really will benefit from somebody thinking about this 24/7. © 2019 American Association for the Advancement of Science.

Keyword: Brain imaging; Chemical Senses (Smell & Taste)
Link ID: 27020 - Posted: 02.05.2020

Timothy Bella The headaches had become so splitting for Gerardo Moctezuma that the pain caused him to vomit violently. The drowsiness that came with it had intensified for months. But it wasn’t until Moctezuma, 40, fainted without explanation at a soccer match in Central Texas last year that he decided to figure out what was going on. When Jordan Amadio looked down at his MRI results, the neurosurgeon recognized — but almost couldn’t believe — what looked to be lodged in Moctezuma’s brain. As he opened up Moctezuma’s skull during an emergency surgery in May 2019, he was able to confirm what it was that had uncomfortably set up shop next to the man’s brain stem: a tapeworm measuring about an inch-and-a-half. “It’s very intense, very strong, because it made me sweat too, sweat from the pain,” Moctezuma said to KXAN. The clear and white parasite came from tapeworm larva that Amadio believes Moctezuma, who moved from Mexico to the U.S. 14 years before his diagnosis, might have had in his brain for more than a decade undetected. His neurological symptoms had intensified due to his neurocysticercosis, which was the direct result of the tapeworm living in his brain. The cyst would trigger hydrocephalus, an accumulation of cerebrospinal fluid that increased pressure to the skull to the point that the blockage and pain had become life-threatening. “It’s a remarkable case where a patient came in and, if he had not been treated urgently, he would have died from tremendous pressure in the brain,” Amadio, attending neurosurgeon at the Ascension Seton Brain and Spine Institute in Austin, told The Washington Post on Thursday night.

Keyword: Development of the Brain
Link ID: 27013 - Posted: 02.01.2020

Abby Olena Understanding the array of neural signals that occur as an organism makes a decision is a challenge. To tackle it, the authors of a study published last week (January 16) in Cell imaged large swaths of the larval zebrafish brain as the animals decided which way to move their tails to avoid an undesirable situation. Finding patterns in the data, they were then able to use imaging to predict—10 seconds in advance—the timing and direction of the fish’s movement. “In a lot of other model systems it’s really difficult to actually . . . record something that’s happening throughout the whole brain with a high level of precision,” says Kristen Severi, a biologist at the New Jersey Institute of Technology who was not involved in the study. “When you have something like a larval zebrafish where you have access to the entire brain with single-cell resolution in a transparent vertebrate, it’s a great place to start to try to look for activity patterns that might be distributed and might be hard to connect.” Even if an animal has learned to do something, it doesn’t execute the exact same motor responses every time, says biophysicist Alipasha Vaziri of the Rockefeller University. He adds that common approaches to studying the neural basis of decision-making may not tell the whole story. For instance, monitoring a handful of neurons and then extrapolating from their activity what’s happening brain-wide means that researchers might miss the big picture. Likewise, recording across the whole brain and then averaging results across trials risks losing details essential to understanding how the brain encodes this behavior. © 1986–2020 The Scientist

Keyword: Brain imaging
Link ID: 26990 - Posted: 01.24.2020

Janelia and Google scientists have constructed the most complete map of the fly brain ever created, pinpointing millions of connections between 25,000 neurons. Now, a wiring diagram of the entire brain is within reach. In a darkened room in Ashburn, Virginia, rows of scientists sit at computer screens displaying vivid 3-D shapes. With a click of a mouse, they spin each shape to examine it from all sides. The scientists are working inside a concrete building at the Howard Hughes Medical Institute’s Janelia Research Campus, just off a street called Helix Drive. But their minds are somewhere else entirely – inside the brain of a fly. Each shape on the scientists’ screens represents part of a fruit fly neuron. These researchers and others at Janelia are tackling a goal that once seemed out of reach: outlining each of the fly brain’s roughly 100,000 neurons and pinpointing the millions of places they connect. Such a wiring diagram, or connectome, reveals the complete circuitry of different brain areas and how they're linked. The work could help unlock networks involved in memory formation, for example, or neural pathways that underlie movements. Gerry Rubin, vice president of HHMI and executive director of Janelia, has championed this project for more than a decade. It’s a necessary step in understanding how the brain works, he says. When the project began, Rubin estimated that with available methods, tracing the connections between every fly neuron by hand would take 250 people working for two decades – what he refers to as “a 5,000 person-year problem.”

Keyword: Brain imaging
Link ID: 26984 - Posted: 01.23.2020

Nicola Davis When Mount Vesuvius erupted in AD79, the damage wreaked in nearby towns was catastrophic. Now it appears the heat was so immense it turned one victim’s brain to glass – thought to be the first time this has been seen. Experts say they have discovered that splatters of a shiny, solid black material found inside the skull of a victim at Herculaneum appear to be the remains of human brain tissue transformed by heat. They say the find is remarkable since brain tissue is rarely preserved at all due to decomposition, and where it is found it has typically turned to soap. “To date, vitrified remains of the brain have never been found,” said Dr Pier Paolo Petrone, a forensic anthropologist at the University of Naples Federico II and a co-author of the study. Writing in the New England Journal of Medicine, Petrone and colleagues reveal that the glassy brains belonged to a man of about 25 who was found in the 1960s lying face-down on a wooden bed under a pile of volcanic ash – a pose that suggests he was asleep when disaster struck the town. The bed was in a small room that was part of the Collegium Augustalium, a building relating to an imperial cult that worshipped the former emperor Augustus. The victim, according to Petrone, is believed to have been the caretaker. Petrone said it was when he recently focused his research on human remains found at the college that he noticed the black fragments in the caretaker’s skull. “I noticed something shining inside the head ,” he told the Guardian. “This material was preserved exclusively in the victim’s skull, thus it had to be the vitrified remains of the brain. But it had to be proved beyond any reasonable doubt.” © 2020 Guardian News & Media Limited

Keyword: Brain imaging
Link ID: 26982 - Posted: 01.23.2020

By Kelly Servick The dark, thumping cavern of an MRI scanner can be a lonely place. How can scientists interested in the neural activity underlying social interactions capture an engaged, conversing brain while its owner is so isolated? Two research teams are advancing a curious solution: squeezing two people into one scanner. One such MRI setup is under development with new funding from the U.S. National Science Foundation (NSF), and another has undergone initial testing described in a preprint last month. These designs have yet to prove that their scientific payoff justifies their cost and complexity, plus the requirement that two people endure a constricted almost-hug, in some cases for 1 hour or more. But the two groups hope to open up new ways to study how brains exchange subtle social and emotional cues bound up in facial expressions, eye contact, and physical touch. The tool could “greatly expand the range of investigations possible,” says Winrich Freiwald, a neuroscientist at Rockefeller University. “This is really exciting.” Functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), which measures blood oxygenation to estimate neural activity, is already a common tool for studying social processes. But compared with real social interaction, these experiments are “reduced and artificial,” says Lauri Nummenmaa, a neuroscientist at the University of Turku in Finland. Participants often look at static photos of faces or listen to recordings of speech while lying in a scanner. But photos can’t show the subtle flow of emotions across people’s faces, and recordings don’t allow the give and take of real conversation. © 2019 American Association for the Advancement of Science

Keyword: Brain imaging
Link ID: 26949 - Posted: 01.10.2020

By Rodrigo Pérez Ortega Nearly 2600 years ago, a man was beheaded near modern-day York, U.K.—for what reasons, we still don’t know—and his head was quickly buried in the clay-rich mud. When researchers found his skull in 2008, they were startled to find that his brain tissue, which normally rots rapidly after death, had survived for millennia—even maintaining features such as folds and grooves (above). Now, researchers think they know why. Using several molecular techniques to examine the remaining tissue, the researchers figured out that two structural proteins—which act as the “skeletons” of neurons and astrocytes—were more tightly packed in the ancient brain. In a yearlong experiment, they found that these aggregated proteins were also more stable than those in modern-day brains. In fact, the ancient protein clumps may have helped preserve the structure of the soft tissue for ages, the researchers report today in the Journal of the Royal Society Interface. Aggregated proteins are a hallmark of aging and brain diseases like Alzheimer’s. But the team didn’t find any protein clumps typical of those conditions in the ancient brain. The scientists still aren’t sure what made the proteins aggregate, but they suspect it could have something to do with the burial conditions, which appeared to take place as part of a ritual. In the meantime, the new findings could help researchers gather information from proteins of other ancient tissues from which DNA cannot be easily recovered. © 2019 American Association for the Advancement of Science

Keyword: Brain imaging; Glia
Link ID: 26941 - Posted: 01.09.2020