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

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Correspondent Lesley Stahl Who among us hasn't wished we could read someone else's mind, know exactly what they're thinking? Well that's impossible, of course, since our thoughts are, more than anything else, our own. Private, personal, unreachable. Or at least that's what we've always, well, thought. Advances in neuroscience have shown that, on a physical level, our thoughts are actually a vast network of neurons firing all across our brains. So if that brain activity could be identified and analyzed, could our thoughts be decoded? Could our minds be read? Well, a team of scientists at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh has spent more than a decade trying to do just that. We started our reporting on their work 10 years ago, and what they've discovered since, has drawn us back. In Carnegie Mellon's scanner room, two floors underground, a steady stream of research subjects come to have their brains and thoughts "read" in this MRI machine. It's a type of scanning called functional MRI, FMRI. That looks at what's happening inside the brain as a person thinks. Marcel Just: It's like being an astronomer when the first telescope is discovered, or being a biologist when the first microscope is-- is developed. Neuroscientist Marcel Just says this technology has made it possible for the first time to see the physical makeup of our thoughts. When we first visited Dr. Just's lab ten years ago, he and his team had conducted a study. They put people in the scanner and asked them to think about ten objects, five of them tools like screwdriver and hammer and five of them dwellings like igloo and castle, while measuring activity levels throughout their brains. The idea was to crunch the data and try to identify distinctive patterns of activity for each object. Lesley Stahl: You had them think about a screwdriver. Marcel Just: Uh-huh. Lesley Stahl: And the computer found the place in the brain where that person was thinking "screwdriver?" Marcel Just: Screwdriver isn't one place in the brain. It's many places in the brain. When you think of a screwdriver, you think about how you hold it, how you twist it, what it looks like… Lesley Stahl: And each of those functions are in different places? Marcel Just: Correct. He showed us that by dividing the brain into thousands of tiny cubes and analyzing the amount of activity in each one, his team was able to identify unique patterns for each object. © 2019 CBS Interactive Inc.

Keyword: Emotions; Brain imaging
Link ID: 26853 - Posted: 11.26.2019

Cody A. Siciliano Some individuals consume alcohol their entire adult life without developing an alcohol use disorder. Others, however, quickly transition to compulsive and problematic drinking. Can we determine what makes some people vulnerable to addiction? Alcohol drinking is the third leading cause of preventable death in the United States, and is responsible for millions of deaths per year worldwide. If the reasons why some people are susceptible to alcohol use disorder were known, it might be possible to more effectively treat this devastating disease, or even intervene before serious problems emerge. I have spent my career as a neuroscientist and pharmacologist trying to understand how drugs and alcohol act on the brain, and what makes a brain more or less susceptible to substance use disorders. My laboratory at the Vanderbilt Center for Addiction Research develops approaches for studying addictive behaviors in rats and mice. Using electrochemical and optical approaches to measure brain activity, our goal is to determine how patterns of activity in brain cells give rise to these behaviors – and how we may use this information to treat or prevent substance use disorders. In a report published in the Nov. 22 issue of the journal Science, Kay Tye of the Salk Institute and I set out to understand how binge drinking alters the brain and how this can lead to compulsive behaviors in some drinkers. To study this, we designed an experiment in which mice were scored for their propensity to drink alcohol. We measured compulsive drinking by determining how much they drank when we mixed the alcohol with a bitter tasting substance that mice normally avoid. © 2010–2019, The Conversation US, Inc.

Keyword: Drug Abuse; Brain imaging
Link ID: 26844 - Posted: 11.22.2019

An exciting new study out of the University of Toronto shows that the brain lights up when you think things. “I mean it’s incredible,” said neuroscientist Dr. Prya Laghara. “We now have the technology to put someone into an fMRI, tell them to think things, and then watch their brain light up.” In order to prove this, Dr. Laghara recruited undergraduate students, put them in fMRIs, and then asked them to think things. “I told them to think about anything, anything at all, and no matter what they thought about their brains lit up.” When asked whether her study had any methodological issues, Dr. Laghara scoffed. “We ran this study with 2000 undergraduate participants over the course of three years. In every condition, with every participant, their brain lit up when they thought things.” “My colleagues all over the world are replicating this study, and so far nobody has been able to refute the hypothesis that the brain lights up when you think things. It’s an incredibly robust finding.” Thanks to this breakthrough in neuroscience, the University of Toronto is taking the next decade’s stem cell research funds and using them to purchase ten fMRIs. Copyright Simplosion 2019

Keyword: Brain imaging
Link ID: 26827 - Posted: 11.18.2019

By Michelle Roberts Health editor, BBC News online An infectious disease that can harm the brain and is spread to people by tick bites has been identified in ticks in the UK for the first time. Public Health England (PHE) says it has confirmed cases of tick-borne encephalitis virus in ticks from two parts of England - Thetford Forest and an area on the Hampshire-Dorset border. PHE says the risk to people is still "very low". It is monitoring the situation to check how common the infected ticks may be. What is it? A tick is a tiny, spider-like creature that lives in undergrowth and on animals, including deer and dogs. People who spend time walking in countryside areas where infected ticks can be found are at risk of being bitten and catching diseases they carry. Tick-borne encephalitis virus is already circulating in mainland Europe and Scandinavia, as well as Asia. Evidence now shows it has reached the UK. How it got here is less clear. Experts say infected ticks may have hitched a ride on migratory birds. Earlier this year, a European visitor, who has since recovered, became ill after being bitten by a tick while in the New Forest area, Public Health England says. Further investigations revealed infected ticks were present in two locations in England. Should I worry? Ticks are becoming more common across many parts of the UK, largely due to increasing deer numbers. Being bitten by one doesn't necessarily mean you will get sick. Dr Nick Phin, from Public Health England, said: ''These are early research findings and indicate the need for further work. However, the risk to the general public is currently assessed to be very low." Most people who catch the virus will have no or only mild flu-like symptoms. But the disease can progress to affect the brain and central nervous system and can sometimes be fatal. © 2019 BBC

Keyword: Miscellaneous
Link ID: 26782 - Posted: 11.02.2019

By Laura Sanders Every 20 seconds, a wave of fresh cerebrospinal fluid rolls into the sleeping brain. These slow, rhythmic blasts, described for the first time in the Nov. 1 Science, may help explain why sleep is so important for brain health. Studies on animals have shown that the fluid, called CSF, can wash harmful proteins, including those implicated in Alzheimer’s disease, out of the brain. The new results give heft to the idea that a similar power wash happens in sleeping people. Researchers studied 13 healthy, young people in an MRI scanner as they fell into non-REM sleep, the type of slumber that takes up most of the night. At the same time, the scientists monitored different sorts of activity in participants’ heads. Electrodes measured the activity of large collections of nerve cells, and functional MRI measured the presence of oxygenated blood that gives energy to those nerve cells. By using a form of rapid fMRI, the team also measured another type of activity — the movements of CSF in the brain. Fast fMRI revealed waves of fresh CSF that flowed rhythmically into the sleeping brains, a pattern that was obvious — and big, says study coauthor Laura Lewis, a neuroscientist and engineer at Boston University. “I’ve never had something jump out at me to this degree,” she says. “It was very striking.” Awake people have small, gentle waves of CSF that are largely linked to breathing patterns. In contrast, the sleep waves were tsunamis. “The waves we saw during sleep were much, much larger, and higher velocity,” Lewis says. © Society for Science & the Public 2000–2019

Keyword: Sleep
Link ID: 26781 - Posted: 11.01.2019

By Gina Kolata Thousands of people have received brain scans, as well as cognitive and genetic tests, while participating in research studies. Though the data may be widely distributed among scientists, most participants assume their privacy is protected because researchers remove their names and other identifying information from their records. But could a curious family member identify one of them just from a brain scan? Could a company mining medical records to sell targeted ads do so, or someone who wants to embarrass a study participant? The answer is yes, investigators at the Mayo Clinic reported on Wednesday. A magnetic resonance imaging scan includes the entire head, including the subject’s face. And while the countenance is blurry, imaging technology has advanced to the point that the face can be reconstructed from the scan. Under some circumstances, that face can be matched to an individual with facial recognition software. In a letter published in the New England Journal of Medicine, researchers at the Mayo Clinic showed that the required steps are not complex. But privacy experts questioned whether the process could be replicated on a much larger scale with today’s technology. The subjects were 84 healthy participants in a long-term study of about 2,000 residents of Olmsted County, Minn. Participants get brain scans to look for signs of Alzheimer’s disease, as well as cognitive, blood and genetic tests. © 2019 The New York Times Company

Keyword: Brain imaging
Link ID: 26748 - Posted: 10.24.2019

By Laura Sanders CHICAGO — Light pulses from outside a monkey’s brain can activate nerve cells deep within. This external control, described October 20 at the annual meeting of the Society for Neuroscience, might someday help scientists treat brain diseases such as epilepsy. Controlling nerve cell behavior with light, a method called optogenetics, often requires thin optical fibers to be implanted in the brain (SN: 1/15/10). That invasion can cause infections, inflammation and tissue damage, says study coauthor Diego Mendoza-Halliday of MIT. He and his colleagues created a new light-responsive molecule, called SOUL, that detects extra dim light. After injecting SOUL into macaque monkeys’ brains, researchers shined blue light through a hole in the skull. SOUL-containing nerve cells, which were as deep as 5.8 millimeters in the brain, became active. A dose of orange light stopped this activity. SOUL can’t sense light coming from outside of the macaques’ skulls. But in mice, the system works through the skull, the researchers reported. LEDs implanted just under people’s skulls might one day be used to treat brain diseases. Such a system might be able to temporarily turn off nerve cells that are about to cause an epileptic seizure, for instance. “This is basically scooping out a piece of brain and then putting it back in a few seconds later,” when the risk of a seizure has dropped, Mendoza-Halliday says. © Society for Science & the Public 2000–2019.

Keyword: Brain imaging
Link ID: 26735 - Posted: 10.23.2019

Andy Tay The mammalian brain consists of billions of neurons wired together in various circuits, each one involved in specific physiological functions. To better understand how these different neurons and circuits are associated with mental activities and diseases, researchers are reconstructing detailed, three-dimensional maps of neural networks. However, 3-D imaging of the mammalian brain is challenging. Light scatters as it travels through layers of tissue, dispersed by a variety of molecules such as water, lipids, and proteins. This reduces image resolution. One way to improve resolution is to reduce the scattering. Researchers achieve this by first removing water and lipids from tissue. Next, chemicals are introduced that have a refractive index—a measure of how much the molecules bend light that passes through them—in the range of that of proteins. Establishing near-homogenous refractive indices in the molecules that populate the tissue environment allows light rays to converge to improve image resolution. This is the working principle of most tissue clearing methods, which have been used successfully for decades on hard tissues like bone. Researchers have performed brain tissue clearing with limited success, as the chemicals available were too harsh on delicate neural tissues. In 2013, Karl Deisseroth and his team at Stanford University revolutionized the approach with a hydrogel-based technique called CLARITY. This technique enabled researchers to label neurons in mouse neural tissue with fluorescent markers and then to image an entire mouse brain without sectioning it, while preserving the fluorescence signals. © 1986–2019 The Scientist.

Keyword: Brain imaging
Link ID: 26718 - Posted: 10.18.2019

Mengying Zhang While many people love colorful photos of landscapes, flowers or rainbows, some biomedical researchers treasure vivid images on a much smaller scale – as tiny as one-thousandth the width of a human hair. To study the micro world and help advance medical knowledge and treatments, these scientists use fluorescent nano-sized particles. Quantum dots are one type of nanoparticle, more commonly known for their use in TV screens. They’re super tiny crystals that can transport electrons. When UV light hits these semiconducting particles, they can emit light of various colors. One nanometer is one-millionth of a millimeter. RNGS Reuters/Nanosys That fluorescence allows scientists to use them to study hidden or otherwise cryptic parts of cells, organs and other structures. I’m part of a group of nanotechnology and neuroscience researchers at the University of Washington investigating how quantum dots behave in the brain. Common brain diseases are estimated to cost the U.S. nearly US$800 billion annually. These diseases – including Alzheimer’s disease and neurodevelopmental disorders – are hard to diagnose or treat. Nanoscale tools, such as quantum dots, that can capture the nuance in complicated cell activities hold promise as brain-imaging tools or drug delivery carriers for the brain. But because there are many reasons to be concerned about their use in medicine, mainly related to health and safety, it’s important to figure out more about how they work in biological systems. © 2010–2019, The Conversation US, Inc.

Keyword: Brain imaging
Link ID: 26708 - Posted: 10.16.2019

Jyoti Madhusoodanan Douglas Storace still has the dollar bill that he triumphantly taped above his laboratory bench seven years ago, a trophy from a successful wager. His postdoctoral mentor, Larry Cohen at Yale University in New Haven, Connecticut, bet that Storace couldn’t express a protein sensor of voltage changes in mice back in September 2012. Storace won. The bill is a handy reminder that the experiments he aims to try in his new lab can work. And it’s a testament to just how tricky it is to correctly express these sensors and track their signals. Storace, now an assistant professor at Florida State University in Tallahassee, plans to use these sensors, known as genetically encoded voltage indicators (GEVIs), to study how neurons in the olfactory bulb sense and react to smells. GEVIs are voltage-sensitive, fluorescent proteins that change colour when a neuron fires or receives a signal. Because GEVIs can be targeted to individual cells and directly indicate a cell’s electrical signals, researchers consider them to be the ideal probes for studying neurons. But they have proved frustratingly difficult to use. “Being able to visualize voltage changes in a cell has always been the dream,” says neuroscientist Bradley Baker at the Korea Institute of Science and Technology in Seoul. “But probes that looked great often didn’t behave in ways that were useful.” Early GEVIs disappointed on several levels. They were bright when a cell was resting and dimmed when the cell fired an action potential, producing signals that were tough to distinguish from the background. And they failed to concentrate in the nerve-cell membranes, where they function. But researchers are beginning to solve these issues. Some are turning to advanced fluorescent proteins or chemical dyes for better signals; others are using directed evolution and high-throughput screens to make GEVIs more sensitive to voltage changes. Meanwhile, biologists are putting these molecules through their paces. GEVIs, says neuroscientist Katalin Toth at Laval University in Quebec City, Canada, are not yet widely used, but they’re getting there. “They are becoming brighter and faster — and growing in popularity,” she says. “I think this is the dawn of GEVIs.” © 2019 Springer Nature Limited

Keyword: Brain imaging
Link ID: 26703 - Posted: 10.15.2019

By Laura Sanders Survey any office, and you’ll see pens tapping, heels bouncing and hair being twiddled. But jittery humans aren’t alone. Mice also fidget while they work. What’s more, this seemingly useless motion has a profound and widespread effect on mice’s brain activity, neuroscientist Anne Churchland of Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory in New York and colleagues report September 24 in Nature Neuroscience. Scientists don’t yet know what this brain activity means, but one possibility is that body motion may actually shape thinking. Researchers trained some mice to lick a spout corresponding to an area where a click or a flash of light originated. To start their task, mice grabbed a handle and waited for the signal. As the mice focused on their jobs, researchers used several different methods to eavesdrop on nerve cell behavior in the animals’ brains. All the while, video cameras and a sensor embedded on a platform under the mice picked up every move the rodents made — and there were a lot. Mice wiggled their noses, flicked their whiskers and fiddled their hind paws while concentrating on finding the sound or light, the team found. Those fidgets showed up in nerve cell activity. When a whisker moved, for instance, nerve cells involved in moving and sensing sprang into action. Fidgets predicted a big chunk of neural behavior, mathematical models suggested. Mice’s fidgets even had stronger effects on brain activity than did the task at hand, the researchers report. © Society for Science & the Public 2000–2019

Keyword: Brain imaging
Link ID: 26653 - Posted: 09.28.2019

Alison Abbott A prominent German neuroscientist committed scientific misconduct in research in which he claimed to have developed a brain-monitoring technique able to read certain thoughts of paralysed people, Germany’s main research agency has found. The DFG’s investigation into Niels Birbaumer’s high-profile work found that data in two papers were incomplete and that the scientific analysis was flawed — although it did not comment on whether the approach was valid. In a 19 September statement, the agency, which funded some of the work, said it was imposing some of its most severe sanctions to Birbaumer, who has positions at the University of Tübingen in Germany and the Wyss Center for Bio and Neuroengineering in Geneva, Switzerland. The DFG has banned Birbaumer from applying for its grants and from serving as a DFG evaluator for five years. The agency has also recommended the retraction of the two papers1,2 published in PLoS Biology, and says that it will ask him to return the grant money that he used to generate the data underpinning the papers. “The DFG has found scientific misconduct on my part and has imposed sanctions. I must therefore accept that I was unable to refute the allegations made against me,” Birbaumer said in a statement e-mailed to Nature in response to the DFG’s findings. In a subsequent phone conversation with Nature, Birbaumer added that he could not comment further on the findings because the DFG has not yet provided him with specific details on the reasoning behind the decisions. Birbaumer says he stands by his studies, which he says, “show that it is possible to communicate with patients who are completely paralysed, through computer-based analysis of blood flow and brain currents”. © 2019 Springer Nature Limited

Keyword: Consciousness; Brain imaging
Link ID: 26636 - Posted: 09.23.2019

Heidi Ledford Tumour cells can plug into — and feed off — the brain’s complex network of neurons, according to a trio of studies. This nefarious ability could explain the mysterious behaviour of certain tumours, and point to new ways of treating cancer. The studies1,2,3, published on 18 September in Nature, describe this startling capability in brain cancers called gliomas, as well as in some breast cancers that spread to the brain. The findings bolster a growing realization among doctors and scientists that the nervous system plays an important role in the growth of cancers, says Michelle Monje, a paediatric neuro-oncologist at Stanford University in California and lead author of one of the studies1. Even so, finding cancer cells that behave like neurons was a surprise. “It’s unsettling,” Monje says. “We don’t think of cancer as forming an electrically active tissue like the brain.” Feeding off the brain Frank Winkler, a neurologist at Heidelberg University in Germany and a lead author on another of the Nature studies2, stumbled on the phenomenon in 2014 while studying communication networks established by cells in some brain tumours. He and his team discovered synapses, structures that neurons use to communicate with one another, in the tumours. It was “crazy stuff”, Winkler says. “Our first reaction was, ‘This is just difficult to believe.’” The researchers assumed that the tumour synapses would be a random occurrence. But as Winkler and his colleagues report in their latest study, they found synapses in glioma samples taken from cancer cells grown in culture, human glioma tumours transplanted into mice and glioma samples taken from ten people.

Keyword: Glia
Link ID: 26625 - Posted: 09.19.2019

By Kim Tingley Men have a far greater appetite for sex and are more attracted to pornography than women are. This is the timeworn stereotype that science has long reinforced. Alfred Kinsey, America’s first prominent sexologist, published in the late 1940s and early 1950s his survey results confirming that men are aroused more easily and often by sexual imagery than women. It made sense, evolutionary psychologists theorized, that women’s erotic pleasure might be tempered by the potential burdens of pregnancy, birth and child rearing — that they would require a deeper emotional connection with a partner to feel turned on than men, whose primal urge is simply procreation. Modern statistics showing that men are still the dominant consumers of online porn seem to support this thinking, as does the fact that men are more prone to hypersexuality, whereas a lack of desire and anorgasmia are more prevalent in women. So it was somewhat surprising when a paper in the prestigious journal P.N.A.S. reported in July that what happens in the brains of female study subjects when they look at sexual imagery is pretty much the same as what happens in the brains of their male counterparts. The researchers, led by Hamid Noori at the Max Planck Institute for Biological Cybernetics in Germany, weren’t initially interested in exploring sexual behavior. They were trying to find ways to standardize experiments that use functional magnetic resonance imaging (fM.R.I.) to observe how the brain responds to visual stimuli. In order to do that, they needed to compare past studies that used similar methods but returned diverse results. They happened to choose studies in which male and female volunteers looked at sexual imagery, both because doing so tends to generate strong signals in the brain, which would make findings easier to analyze, and because this sort of research has long produced “inconsistent and even contradictory” results, as they note in their paper. Identifying the reasons for such discrepancies might help researchers design better experiments. © 2019 The New York Times Company

Keyword: Sexual Behavior; Brain imaging
Link ID: 26622 - Posted: 09.18.2019

By Laura Sanders Two artists who paint with their toes have unusual neural footprints in their brains. Individual toes each take over discrete territory, creating a well-organized “toe map,” researchers report September 10 in Cell Reports. Similar brain organization isn’t thought to exist in people with typical toe dexterity. So finding these specialized maps brings scientists closer to understanding how the human brain senses the body, even when body designs differ (SN: 6/12/19). “Sometimes, having the unusual case — even the very rare one — might give you important insight into how things work,” says neuroscientist Denis Schluppeck of the University of Nottingham in England, who was not involved in the study. The skills of the two artists included in the study are certainly rare. Both were born without arms due to the drug thalidomide, formerly used to treat morning sickness in pregnant women. As a result, both men rely heavily on their feet, which possess the dexterity to eat with cutlery, write and use computers. The brain carries a map of areas that handle sensations from different body parts; sensitive fingers and lips, for example, have big corresponding areas. But so far, scientists haven’t had much luck in pinpointing areas of the human brain that respond to individual toes (although toe regions have been found in the brains of nonhuman primates). But because these men use their feet in unusually skilled ways, researchers wondered if their brains might represent toes a bit differently. The two artists, along with nine other people with no special foot abilities, underwent functional MRI scans while an experimenter gently touched each toe. For many people, the brain areas that correspond to individual toes aren’t discrete, says neuroscientist Daan Wesselink of University College London. But in the foot artists’ brains, “we found very distinct locations for each of their toes.” When each toe was touched, a patch of brain became active, linking neighboring toes to similarly neighboring areas of the brain. © Society for Science & the Public 2000–2019

Keyword: Pain & Touch; Brain imaging
Link ID: 26601 - Posted: 09.11.2019

By Emily Oster At some point or another, most books about the brain come back to the story of Phineas Gage. Gage was a railroad worker in the 19th century. In an unfortunate 1848 accident, a large steel spike was driven through his eye and out the other side of his head, taking some of his brain with him (this is the point in the story where my 8-year-old told me to please stop telling it). Amazingly, Gage survived the accident with much of his faculties intact. What did change was his personality, which, by many reports, became more aggressive and belligerent. Gage’s doctor wrote up his case, arguing that it suggested “civilized conduct” was localized in a particular part of the brain — specifically, the part he had lost. Science was off in search of where in the brain various skills were kept, with the idea that the brain was a kind of map, with little areas for, say, walking or talking or hearing or smelling. This proceeded, albeit slowly; for a while, there wasn’t much of a way to study this other than by looking at people with traumatic brain injuries. So it’s understandable that the development of technologies to study intact brains caused a lot of excitement. Generating the most discussion in recent years has been functional magnetic resonance imaging (or fMRI), which allows researchers to measure oxygen flow to the brain and identify which parts activate in response to varying stimuli. These technologies have not always lived up to the hype. The mechanics and statistics of processing fMRI imaging data have turned out to be far more complex than initially imagined. As a result there were many false claims made about which parts of the brain “controlled” different aspects of behavior or actions. The best, or at least funniest, example of this was a paper that showed how cutting-edge statistical analysis of fMRI made it possible to identify parts of the brain that responded differently to happy or sad faces. Sounds good, until you learn that the subject for this experiment was a dead fish. © 2019 The New York Times Company

Keyword: Sexual Behavior; Brain imaging
Link ID: 26594 - Posted: 09.10.2019

By Eryn Brown, On March 30, 1981, 25-year-old John W. Hinckley Jr. shot President Ronald Reagan and three other people. The following year, he went on trial for his crimes. Defense attorneys argued that Hinckley was insane, and they pointed to a trove of evidence to back their claim. Their client had a history of behavioral problems. He was obsessed with the actress Jodie Foster, and devised a plan to assassinate a president to impress her. He hounded Jimmy Carter. Then he targeted Reagan. In a controversial courtroom twist, Hinckley’s defense team also introduced scientific evidence: a computerized axial tomography (CAT) scan that suggested their client had a “shrunken,” or atrophied, brain. Initially, the judge didn’t want to allow it. The scan didn’t prove that Hinckley had schizophrenia, experts said—but this sort of brain atrophy was more common among schizophrenics than among the general population. It helped convince the jury to find Hinckley not responsible by reason of insanity. Nearly 40 years later, the neuroscience that influenced Hinckley’s trial has advanced by leaps and bounds—particularly because of improvements in magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) and the invention of functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), which lets scientists look at blood flows and oxygenation in the brain without hurting it. Today neuroscientists can see what happens in the brain when a subject recognizes a loved one, experiences failure, or feels pain. Despite this explosion in neuroscience knowledge, and notwithstanding Hinckley’s successful defense, “neurolaw” hasn’t had a tremendous impact on the courts—yet. But it is coming. Attorneys working civil cases introduce brain imaging ever more routinely to argue that a client has or has not been injured. Criminal attorneys, too, sometimes argue that a brain condition mitigates a client’s responsibility. Lawyers and judges are participating in continuing education programs to learn about brain anatomy and what MRIs and EEGs and all those other brain tests actually show. © 2019 Scientific American

Keyword: Brain imaging
Link ID: 26587 - Posted: 09.09.2019

/ By Hope Reese In her new book “Gender and Our Brains,” cognitive neuroimaging professor Gina Rippon explains that brains aren’t gendered, but research can be. The differences among women as a group, or men as a group, are greater than the differences between men and women, Rippon says. Rippon sifts through centuries of research into supposed differences in areas such as behavior, skills, and personality, and shows that external factors like gender stereotypes and real-world experiences are the likely cause of any detectable differences in mental processing. And she demonstrates that the differences among women as a group, or among men as a group, are much greater than the differences between men and women. She cites a 2015 study looking at 1,400 brain scans as an example. Comparing 160 brain structures in the scans — identifying areas that were, on average, larger in men or in women — researchers could not find any scans that had all “male” traits, or all “female” traits — physical attributes such as weight or tissue thickness. “The images were, literally, of a mosaic,” she says. “We’re trying to force a difference into data that doesn’t exist.” Rippon teaches cognitive neuroimaging — the study of behavior through brain images — at Aston University in England. For this installment of the Undark Five, I spoke with her about how neuroimages are misinterpreted and whether PMS is real, among other topics. Here is our conversation, edited for length and clarity. Undark: Scientists have been trying to find differences in the brains of men and women for years. What are some examples of how the cherry-picking approach is problematic? Gina Rippon: It’s what I call the “hunt the differences” agenda, which started about 200 years ago when scientists were starting to understand the importance of the brain in explaining human behavior and human ability. Copyright 2019 Undark

Keyword: Sexual Behavior; Brain imaging
Link ID: 26584 - Posted: 09.07.2019

By Carolyn Wilke In learning to read, squiggles and lines transform into letters or characters that carry meaning and conjure sounds. A trio of cognitive neuroscientists has now mapped where that journey plays out inside the brain. As readers associate symbols with pronunciation and part of a word, a pecking order of brain areas processes the information, the researchers report August 19 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. The finding unveils some of the mystery behind how the brain learns to tie visual cues with language (SN Online: 4/27/16). “We didn’t evolve to read,” says Jo Taylor, who is now at University College London but worked on the study while at Aston University in Birmingham, England. “So we don’t [start with] a bit of the brain that does reading.” Taylor — along with Kathy Rastle at Royal Holloway University of London in Egham and Matthew Davis at the University of Cambridge — zoomed in on a region at the back and bottom of the brain, called the ventral occipitotemporal cortex, that is associated with reading. Over two weeks, the scientists taught made-up words written in two unfamiliar, archaic scripts to 24 native English–speaking adults. The words were assigned the meanings of common nouns, such as lemon or truck. Then the researchers used functional MRI scans to track which tiny chunks of brain in that region became active when participants were shown the words learned in training. © Society for Science & the Public 2000–2019

Keyword: Language; Brain imaging
Link ID: 26548 - Posted: 08.27.2019

/ By Lola Butcher Like all primary care physicians, Danielle Ofri sees a lot of aching backs. Low back pain is one of the top five reasons people visit the doctor, and based on extensive experience, Ofri knows how the conversations will go. Patients want relief from miserable pain, so they want an imaging study. “I want to see what’s going on — that’s what they say,” says Ofri, who treats patients at Bellevue Hospital in Manhattan. The easy thing to do is order a scan and send them home to wait for the results. The right thing to do, in the vast majority of cases, is to deliver the bad news: They need to wait for the pain to subside on its own, which may mean a few weeks of agony. In the meantime, if possible, it’s best to stay active and limit bed rest. An over-the-counter pain reliever might help. Unless certain symptoms point to a more serious problem, the physician shouldn’t order any imaging within the first six weeks of pain. On this last point, medical guidelines are remarkably clear and backed by studies demonstrating that routine imaging for low back pain does not improve one’s pain, function, or quality of life. The exams are not just a waste of time and money, physician groups say; unnecessary imaging may lead to problems that are much more serious than back pain. And yet, between 1995 and 2015, magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) and other high-tech scans for low back pain increased by 50 percent, according to a new systematic review published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine. According to a related analysis, up to 35 percent of the scans were inappropriate. Medical societies have launched campaigns to convince physicians and patients to forgo the unnecessary images, but to little avail. Copyright 2019 Undark

Keyword: Pain & Touch; Brain imaging
Link ID: 26540 - Posted: 08.26.2019