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

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By Arianne Cohen1 minute Read You know all those studies about brain activity? The ones that reveal thought patterns and feelings as a person performs a task? There’s a problem: The measurement they’re based on is inaccurate, according to a study out of Duke University that is rocking the field. Functional MRI machines (fMRIs) are excellent at determining the brain structures involved in a task. For example, a study asking 50 people to count or remember names while undergoing an fMRI scan would accurately identify which parts of the brain are active during the task. Brain scans showing functional MRI mapping for three tasks across two different days. Warm colors show the high consistency of activation levels across a group of people. Cool colors represent how poorly unique patterns of activity can be reliably measured in individuals. View image larger here. [Image: Annchen Knodt/Duke University] The trouble is that when the same person is asked to do the same tasks weeks or months apart, the results vary wildly. This is likely because fMRIs don’t actually measure brain activity directly: They measure blood flow to regions of the brain, which is used as a proxy for brain activity because neurons in those regions are presumably more active. Blood flow levels, apparently, change. “The correlation between one scan and a second is not even fair, it’s poor,” says lead author Ahmad Hariri, a professor of neuroscience and psychology at Duke University. The researchers reexamined 56 peer-reviewed, published papers that conducted 90 fMRI experiments, some by leaders in the field, and also looked at the results of so-called “test/retest” fMRIs, where 65 subjects were asked to do the same tasks months apart. They found that of seven measures of brain function, none had consistent readings.

Keyword: Brain imaging
Link ID: 27339 - Posted: 07.01.2020

The Human Brain Project (HBP) has announced the start of its final phase as an EU-funded FET Flagship. The European Commission has signed a grant agreement to fund the HBP with 150 million Euros from now until 2023. Over the next three years, the project will narrow its focus to advance three core scientific areas – brain networks, their role in consciousness, and artificial neural nets – while expanding its innovative EBRAINS infrastructure. EBRAINS offers the most comprehensive atlas and database on the human brain, directly coupled with powerful computing and simulation tools, to research communities around neuroscience, medicine and technology. Currently transitioning into a sustainable infrastructure, EBRAINS will remain available to the scientific community, as a lasting contribution of the HBP to global scientific progress. Supercomputers, Big Data Analytics, Simulation, Robots and AI have all become new additions to the “toolbox” of modern neuroscience – a development strongly pushed forward by the HBP and its EBRAINS infrastructure. Started in 2013 as a FET Flagship project, the HBP is the largest brain science project in Europe. Now entering the final phase of its ten-year lifespan, the project is proud to present its scientific workplan and transformative technological offerings for brain research and brain-inspired research and development. HBP’s scientific activities in the new phase focus on three topics: networks that are studied across different spatial and temporal scales, their significance for consciousness and disorders of consciousness, and the development of artificial neural networks and neurorobotics.

Keyword: Brain imaging
Link ID: 27337 - Posted: 07.01.2020

Ruth Williams Turning off just one factor in the brain’s astrocyte cells is sufficient to convert them into neurons in live mice, according to a paper published in Nature today (June 24) and one this spring by another research team in Cell. By flipping this cellular identity switch, researchers have, to some extent, been able to reverse the neuron loss and motor deficits caused by a Parkinson’s-like illness. Not everyone is entirely convinced by the claims. “I think this is very exciting work,” says Pennsylvania State University’s Gong Chen of the Nature paper. It reaffirms that “using the brain’s internal glial cells to regenerate new neurons is a really new avenue for the treatment of brain disorders,” he continues. Chen, who is also based at Jinan University and is the chief scientific officer for NeuExcell—a company developing astrocyte-to-neuron conversion therapies—has performed such conversions in the living mouse brain by a different method but was not involved in the new study. In Parkinson’s disease, dopaminergic neurons within the brain’s substantia nigra—a region in the midbrain involved in movement and reward—gradually die. This results in a deterioration of motor control, characterized by tremors and other types of dyskinesia, with other faculties such as cognition and mood sometimes affected too, especially at later stages of the disease. While treatments to boost diminishing dopamine levels, such as the drug levodopa, can ameliorate symptoms, none can stop the underlying disease process that relentlessly eats away at the patient’s neurological functions and quality of life. © 1986–2020 The Scientist.

Keyword: Parkinsons; Glia
Link ID: 27324 - Posted: 06.26.2020

Published by Steven Novella under Neuroscience This is an important and sobering study, that I fear will not get a lot of press attention – especially in the context of current events. It is a bit wonky, but this is exactly the level of knowledge one needs in order to be able to have any chance of consuming and putting into context scientific research. I have discussed fMRI previously – it stands for functional magnetic resonance imaging. It uses MRI technology to image blood flow to different parts of the brain, and from that infer brain activity. It is used more in research than clinically, but it does have some clinical application – if, for example, we want to see how active a lesion in the brain is. In research it is used to help map the brain, to image how different parts of the brain network and function together. It is also used to see which part of the brain lights up when subjects engage in specific tasks. It is this last application of fMRI that was studied. Professor Ahmad Hariri from Duke University just published a reanalysis of the last 15 years of his own research, calling into question its validity. Any time someone points out that an entire field of research might have some fatal problems, it is reason for concern. But I do have to point out the obvious silver lining here – this is the power of science, self-correction. This is a dramatic example, with a researcher questioning his own research, and not afraid to publish a study which might wipe out the last 15 years of his own research. Copyright © 2020 All Rights Reserved .

Keyword: Brain imaging
Link ID: 27288 - Posted: 06.08.2020

By David Templeton For much of the 20th century, most people thought that stress caused stomach ulcers. But that belief was largely dismissed 38 years ago when a study, which led to a Nobel Prize in 2016, described the bacterium that generates inflammation in the gastrointestinal tract and causes peptic ulcers and gastritis. “The history of the idea that stress causes ulcers took a side step with the discovery of Helicobacter pylori,” said Dr. David Levinthal, director of the University of Pittsburgh Neurogastroenterology & Motility Center. “For the longest time — most of the 20th century — the dominant idea was that stress was the cause of ulcers until the early 1980s with discovery of Helicobacter pylori that was tightly linked to the risk of ulcers. That discovery was critical but maybe over-generalized as the only cause of ulcers.” Now in an important world first, a study co-authored by Levinthal and Peter Strick, both from the Pitt School of Medicine, has explained what parts of the brain’s cerebral cortex influence stomach function and how it can affect health. “Our study shows that the activity of neurons in the cerebral cortex, the site of conscious mental function, can impact the ability of bacteria to colonize the stomach and make the person more sensitive to it or more likely to harbor the bacteria,” Levinthal said. The study goes far beyond ulcers by also providing evidence against the longstanding belief that the brain’s influence on the stomach was more reflexive and with limited, if any, involvement of the thinking brain. And for the first time, the study also provides a general blueprint of neural wiring that controls the gastrointestinal tract. © 2020 StarTribune.

Keyword: Obesity
Link ID: 27286 - Posted: 06.06.2020

Hundreds of published studies over the last decade have claimed it's possible to predict an individual’s patterns of thoughts and feelings by scanning their brain in an MRI machine as they perform some mental tasks. But a new analysis by some of the researchers who have done the most work in this area finds that those measurements are highly suspect when it comes to drawing conclusions about any individual person’s brain. Watching the brain through a functional MRI machine (fMRI) is still great for finding the general brain structures involved in a given task across a group of people, said Ahmad Hariri, a professor of psychology and neuroscience at Duke University who led the reanalysis. “Scanning 50 people is going to accurately reveal what parts of the brain, on average, are more active during a mental task, like counting or remembering names,” Hariri said Functional MRI measures blood flow as a proxy for brain activity. It shows where blood is being sent in the brain, presumably because neurons in that area are more active during a mental task. The problem is that the level of activity for any given person probably won’t be the same twice, and a measure that changes every time it is collected cannot be applied to predict anyone’s future mental health or behavior. Hariri and his colleagues reexamined 56 published papers based on fMRI data to gauge their reliability across 90 experiments. Hariri said the researchers recognized that “the correlation between one scan and a second is not even fair, it’s poor.” © Copyright 2020 Duke University.

Keyword: Brain imaging
Link ID: 27283 - Posted: 06.04.2020

by Chloe Williams / A new flexible electrode array can detect the activity of neurons in a rat’s brain at high resolution for more than a year1. The device could be used to study how neuronal activity is altered in autism. Arrays usually have wires connected to each electrode to pick up its signal, but this design is bulky and works only in arrays consisting of 100 electrodes or fewer, limiting the array’s coverage and resolution. Devices with thousands of electrodes have integrated switches to consolidate signals into fewer wires. But these devices usually have a lifespan of only a few days. Their polymer-based coatings are often permeable to water or contain tiny defects that allow body fluids to seep into the device and current to leak out, damaging both the device and brain tissue. The new device combines electronic switches and a specialized protective coating so that scientists can record activity at the surface of the brain at high resolution over extended periods of time. The array, called Neural Matrix, consists of 1,008 surface electrodes laid out in 28 columns and 36 rows. Switches, or transistors, built into the array combine signals from all the electrodes in a column to a single output wire. The signals from each electrode in the column are recorded via the wire in a specific sequence, making it possible to separate them later. © 2020 Simons Foundation

Keyword: Brain imaging
Link ID: 27282 - Posted: 06.04.2020

by Emily Anthes The overproduction of proteins in brain cells called microglia causes social impairments, cognitive deficits and repetitive behavior in male mice, a new study has found.1 These behavioral differences are not present in female mice, or in mice that produce excess protein in other brain cells, including neurons or star-shaped support cells known as astrocytes. Microglia help eliminate excess synapses — connections between brain cells — that form early in life; this pruning process is crucial to healthy brain development. But male mice that have been engineered to overproduce proteins in these cells have enlarged microglia. That, in turn, lowers the cells’ mobility and may prevent them from migrating to synapses that need eliminating. In support of that idea, the mice have too many synapses, the researchers found — a result that mirrors evidence that certain brain regions may be overconnected in people with autism. “Increased protein synthesis in microglia is sufficient to cause autism phenotypes in mice,” says lead investigator Baoji Xu, professor of neuroscience at the Scripps Research Institute in Jupiter, Florida. “Problems in microglia could be an important pathological mechanism for autism.” Malfunctioning microglia: The researchers studied mice that produce excess levels of EIF4E, a protein that facilitates the synthesis of other proteins. Mutations in several genes linked to autism — including TSC1, TSC2, PTEN and FMR1 — are associated with elevated levels of an active form of EIF4E and, as a result, many other proteins in the brain. Mice that overproduce EIF4E also display autism-like behavior, researchers have previously found. © 2020 Simons Foundation

Keyword: Autism; Glia
Link ID: 27273 - Posted: 06.01.2020

by Marcus A. Banks Brain structures differ in volume depending on a person’s social environment and socioeconomic status, and between men and women, according to a new analysis1. The findings could help explain differences seen in the brains of autistic women and men, many of whom find social communication challenging. Researchers analyzed brain scans from about 10,000 people enrolled in the UK Biobank, a large-scale initiative to understand health trends in the United Kingdom. The participants were 55 years old, on average. They completed surveys, answering questions about their income level, satisfaction with friends and family, participation in social activities and feelings of loneliness. The researchers found that associations between the survey responses and the volume of brain regions linked to social contact differ by sex. For example, women who live with two or more people have a larger amygdala — a brain region involved in decision-making and emotional responses — than do women from smaller households. By contrast, household size has little effect on the size variation of amygdalae among men. The study appeared 18 March in Science Advances. The scans also showed that men who say they lack social support from siblings and friends tend to have a larger nucleus accumbens, part of the brain’s reward circuitry, than men who reported having more social support. The researchers did not see this difference in women. Other differences between men and women appeared in networks involving multiple brain regions, such as those involved with visual processing. © 2020 Simons Foundation

Keyword: Sexual Behavior; Brain imaging
Link ID: 27260 - Posted: 05.21.2020

By Dennis Normile Scientists studying brains and other organs and cancerous tumors have long tried to get detailed 3D views of their insides—down to the level of blood vessel and cell type. But producing such images is time-consuming and difficult. Now, dramatic improvements to a 3D imaging technique can reveal the internal components of entire organs or even animals in a simple procedure, researchers report this week. The new tissue staining protocol allows cellular level analyses in unprecedented detail; it could aid research efforts in neuroscience, developmental and evolutionary biology, and immunology, and it could prove useful in diagnosing some cancers and studying damaged brain tissue after death. To image biological samples in 3D, researchers basically have two main options: They can slice tissues into thin sections and use computer software to reconstruct the whole sample, or they can render biological tissue transparent using special chemicals, which lets researchers view its interior with an optical microscope. To distinguish different cell types, researchers typically stain tissues by soaking them in a cocktail of dyes and chemicals. But getting staining dyes to penetrate organs and large samples has proved difficult. To tackle this problem, researchers at the RIKEN Center for Biosystems Dynamics Research identified a gel that closely mimics the physicochemical properties of organs that have undergone the tissue clearing process. Starting with computer simulations and following up with laboratory tests, the team optimized the soaking solution temperature, dye and antibody concentrations, chemical additives, and electrical properties to produce the best staining and imaging results. They then tested their method with more than two dozen commonly used dyes and antibodies on mouse and marmoset brains. © 2020 American Association for the Advancement of Science.

Keyword: Brain imaging
Link ID: 27227 - Posted: 05.02.2020

By Benjamin Powers On the 10th floor of a nondescript building at Columbia University, test subjects with electrodes attached to their heads watch a driver’s view of a car going down a street through a virtual reality headset. All the while, images of pianos and sailboats pop up to the left and right of each test subject’s field of vision, drawing their attention. The experiment, headed by Paul Sajda, a biomedical engineer and the director of Columbia’s Laboratory for Intelligent Imaging and Neural Computing, monitors the subjects’ brain activity through electroencephalography technology (EEG), while the VR headset tracks their eye movement to see where they’re looking — a setup in which a computer interacts directly with brain waves, called a brain computer interface (BCI). In the Columbia experiment, the goal is to use the information from the brain to train artificial intelligence in self-driving cars, so they can monitor when, or if, drivers are paying attention. BCIs are popping up in a range of fields, from soldiers piloting a swarm of drones at the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) to a Chinese school monitoring students’ attention. The devices are also used in medicine, including versions that let people who have been paralyzed operate a tablet with their mind or that give epileptic patients advance warning of a seizure. And in July 2019, Elon Musk, the CEO and founder of Tesla and other technology companies, showed off the work of his venture Neuralink, which could implant BCIs in people’s brains to achieve “a symbiosis with artificial intelligence.”

Keyword: Robotics; Brain imaging
Link ID: 27209 - Posted: 04.22.2020

Abby Olena Instead of a traditional lymphatic system, the brain harbors a so-called glymphatic system, a network of tunnels surrounding arteries and veins through which fluid enters and waste products drain from the brain. In a study published March 25 in Science Translational Medicine, researchers show that the rodent eye also has a glymphatic system that takes out the trash through spaces surrounding the veins within the optic nerve. They also found that this system may be compromised in glaucoma and is capable of clearing amyloid-β, the build up of which has been implicated in the development of Alzheimer’s disease, glaucoma, and age-related macular degeneration. The work began in the group of Maiken Nedergaard, a neuroscientist with labs at both the University of Rochester Medical School and the University of Copenhagen, who described the glymphatic system of the brain in 2012. Xiaowei Wang, then a graduate student in Nedergaard’s group and now a postdoc at the University of California, San Francisco, was interested in the eye and spearheaded the search for an ocular glymphatic system. At that point, nobody had speculated that the optic nerve—in addition to transmitting electrical signals—is also a fluid transport highway, Nedergaard says. As Wang’s project was getting underway, Nedergaard met Lu Chen, a neuroscientist at the University of California, Berkeley, at a meeting. Chen’s group had done previous research on ocular lymphatics that focused on the front of the eye. There, the majority of the aqueous humor—the fluid that fills the chamber between the cornea and the lens—drains from the eye to the surrounding vasculature through a circular lymph-like vessel called Schlemm’s canal. This helps regulate intraocular pressure. Chen tells The Scientist that she and Nedergaard decided to collaborate to connect the knowledge about the front of the eye with their questions about the back of the eye. © 1986–2020 The Scientist

Keyword: Brain imaging; Vision
Link ID: 27207 - Posted: 04.22.2020

Gregory Berns, M.D., Ph.D. There is no official census for dogs and cats, but in 2016, the American Veterinary Medical Association estimated that 59 percent of households in the United States had a pet. Although the numbers of dogs and cats remains debatable, dogs continue to gain in popularity with 38 percent of households having at least one. Families with children are even more likely to have a dog (55 percent). With all due respect to cats, dogs have insinuated themselves into human society, forming deep emotional bonds with us and compelling us to feed and shelter them. Worldwide, the dog population is approaching one billion, the majority free-ranging. Even though many people are convinced they know what their dog is thinking, little is actually known about what is going on in dogs’ heads. This may be surprising because the field of experimental psychology had its birth with Pavlov and his salivating dogs. But as dogs gained traction as household pets, in many cases achieving the status of family members, their use as research subjects fell out of favor. In large part, this was a result of the Animal Welfare Act of 1966, which set standards for the treatment of animals in research and put an end to the practice of stealing pets for experimentation. How strange it is then that these creatures, whose nearest relatives are wolves, live with us and even share our beds, yet we know almost nothing about what they’re thinking. In the last decade or so, however, the situation has begun to change, and we are in the midst of a renaissance of canine cognitive science. Research labs have sprung up around the world, and dogs participate not as involuntary subjects, but as partners in scientific discovery. This new research is beginning to shed light on what it’s like to be a dog and the nature of the dog-human bond. © 2020 The Dana Foundation.

Keyword: Brain imaging; Evolution
Link ID: 27195 - Posted: 04.16.2020

Our ability to study networks within the nervous system has been limited by the tools available to observe large volumes of cells at once. An ultra-fast, 3D imaging technique called SCAPE microscopy, developed through the National Institutes of Health (NIH)’s Brain Research through Advancing Innovative Technologies (BRAIN) Initiative, allows a greater volume of tissue to be viewed in a way that is much less damaging to delicate networks of living cells. In a study published in Science, researchers used SCAPE to watch for the first time how the mouse olfactory epithelium — the part of the nervous system that directly perceives smells — reacted in real time to complex odors. They found that those nerve cells may play a larger and more complex role in interpreting smells than was previously understood. “This is an elegant demonstration of the power of BRAIN Initiative technologies to provide new insights into how the brain decodes information to produce sensations, thoughts, and actions,” said Edmund Talley, Ph.D., program director, National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS), a part of NIH. The SCAPE microscope was developed in the laboratory of Elizabeth M.C. Hillman, Ph.D., professor of biomedical engineering and radiology and principal investigator at Columbia’s Zuckerman Institute in New York City. “SCAPE microscopy has been incredibly enabling for studies where large volumes need to be observed at once and in real time,” said Dr. Hillman. “Because the cells and tissues can be left intact and visualized at high speeds in three dimensions, we are able to explore many new questions that could not be studied previously.”

Keyword: Brain imaging; Chemical Senses (Smell & Taste)
Link ID: 27189 - Posted: 04.14.2020

by Alla Katsnelson Several regions in the outer layer of the brain are thicker in children and young adults with autism than in their typical peers, a new study finds. The differences are greatest in girls, in children aged 8 to 10 years, and in those with a low intelligence quotient (IQ)1. During typical development, the brain’s outer layer, called the cerebral cortex, thickens until about age 2 and then grows gradually thinner into adolescence as the brain matures. The new study, one of the largest to investigate cortical thickness in autism, aligns with others that indicate this trajectory differs in people with the condition. The findings suggest that brain structure does not change in a uniform way in autism, but instead varies with factors such as age, gender and IQ, says lead researcher Mallar Chakravarty, assistant professor of psychiatry at McGill University in Montreal, Canada. These variations could help explain the inconsistent findings about cortical thickness and autism seen in earlier studies that did not consider such factors, says Christine Wu Nordahl, associate professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at the University of California, Davis MIND Institute, who was not involved in the work. “I think this is the type of study we need to be doing as a field, more and more,” she says. The researchers began with unprocessed magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) brain scans of 3,145 participants from previous studies conducted at multiple institutions. © 2020 Simons Foundation

Keyword: Autism; Brain imaging
Link ID: 27188 - Posted: 04.14.2020

By Pragya Agarwal If you have seen the documentary Free Solo, you will be familiar with Alex Honnold. He ascends without protective equipment of any kind in treacherous landscapes where, above about 15 meters, any slip is generally lethal. Even just watching him pressed against the rock with barely any handholds makes me nauseous. In a functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) test with Honnold, neurobiologist Jane Joseph found there was near zero activation in his amygdala. This is a highly unusual brain reaction and may explain why Alex feels no threat in free solo climbs that others wouldn’t dare attempt. But this also shows how our amygdala activates in that split second to warn us, and why it plays an important role in our unconscious biases. Having spent many years researching unconscious bias for my book, I have realized that it remains problematic to pinpoint as it is hidden and is often in complete contrast to what are our expected beliefs. Neuroimaging research is beginning to give us more insight into the formation of our unconscious biases. Recent fMRI neuroscience studies demonstrate that people use different areas of the brain when reasoning about familiar and unfamiliar situations. The neural zones that respond to stereotypes primarily include the amygdala, the prefrontal cortex, the posterior cingulate and the anterior temporal cortex, and that they are described as all “lighting up like a Christmas tree” when stereotypes are activated (certain parts of the brain become more activated than others during certain tasks). People also use different areas of the brain when reasoning about familiar and unfamiliar situations. When we meet someone new, we are not merely focusing on our verbal interaction. © 2020 Scientific American,

Keyword: Attention; Brain imaging
Link ID: 27184 - Posted: 04.13.2020

by Michael Marshall Some people with autism have an unusually large head: This fact has been known since autism was first described in the 1940s. But debate about this finding has raged ever since. How many people with autism have a large head? What causes the enlargement? And does it have any bearing on outcome? Here is what researchers do and do not know about head size in autism. What proportion of people with autism have a large head? When Leo Kanner first described 11 children with autism in a 1943 paper, he noted many unusual features. “Five had relatively large heads,” he reported, and he said no more on the matter. But the sample size was small. Many other scientists noted the same link over the following decades. A 1999 review estimated that 20 percent of people with autism have statistically large head size, or ‘macrocephaly’1. In 2011, the Autism Phenome Project refined this estimate to 15 percent of autistic boys2. The team followed boys with autism from their diagnosis throughout childhood. They focused on whether head size is disproportionate to the rest of the body, rather than simply large. The researchers call this ‘disproportionate megalencephaly’ and say it marks a distinct subgroup of autistic people. “We’ve defined a big-brain form of autism,” says lead investigator David Amaral, distinguished professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at the University of California, Davis MIND Institute. No one contests the 15 percent figure, but scientists differ in their interpretation of the finding. “It only applies to a small proportion of children with autism,” says Katarzyna Chawarska, Emily Fraser Beede Professor of Child Psychiatry at Yale University. © 2020 Simons Foundation

Keyword: Autism; Brain imaging
Link ID: 27179 - Posted: 04.10.2020

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