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The best neuroscience research news from January 2018
This month’s collection of the best neuroscience articles includes advancements of experimental techniques, as well as research developments that have the potential to improve treatments of a number of neurological disorders.
1. Advances in brain imaging settle debate over spread of key protein in Alzheimer’s
Developments in PET imaging have enabled scientists at the University of Cambridge to show that the protein tau starts in one place in the brain then spreads, destroying nerve cells and causing symptoms of Alzheimer’s to get progressively worse.
This suggests that disease progression could be halted by stopping the movement of tau.
2. Scientists map mammalian neural microcircuits in precise detail
Scientists at the Francis Crick Institute have developed a new technique to map microcircuits in the brain. The technique, which uses “nanoengineered electroporation microelectrodes” (NEMs), enabled researchers to map all 250 cells that make up a microcircuit in the olfactory bulb of the mouse brain.
3. Engineers design artificial synapse for “brain-on-a-chip” hardware
Scientists at Massachusetts Institute of Technology have designed an artificial synapse that can precisely control ions flowing across it, similar to how ions flow across synapses in the brain.
The scientists have built a chip containing these artificial synapses, which in the future, could replace supercomputers.
4. Mirror neuron activity predicts people’s decision-making in moral dilemmas, UCLA study finds
A UCLA study suggests that, by analysing how the brain responds when people watch someone else experience pain, people’s decision-making during moral dilemmas can be predicted.
Mirror neurons were analysed in the study; these act the same regardless of whether a person is performing an action themselves or if they are watching someone else perform the same action.
5. Monthly brain cycles predict seizures in patients with epilepsy
Using brain implants, Neurologists at UC San Francisco have discovered daily, weekly and monthly cycles of brain activity which are linked to seizures in patients with epilepsy.
This could enable clinicians to tell patients when they are at a high risk of having a seizure, and when they are unlikely to.
6. Proteomics analyses could present new opportunities to diagnose and treat dementias
The Karolinska Institutet used proteomic analysis to identify synaptic proteins that are associated with cognitive decline in dementia.
The researchers found that there are particular pre- and post-synaptic protein involved in neurodegenerative diseases that could be targets for early disease intervention.
7. Alzheimer’s drug turns back clock in powerhouse of cell
The Salk Institute have identified the molecular target of J147, a potential Alzheimer's drug, as ATP synthase in mitochondria. By binding to this mitochondrial protein, J147 slows or reverses Alzheimer’s progression in mice, and makes mitochondria healthier and more stable.
The results suggest that this drug could be used not just to treat Alzheimer’s, but also other age-associated diseases.
8. Slow and late evolution of the human brain
Scientists at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology have found that the characteristic round skull of modern humans developed relatively recently in the evolution of Homo sapiens.
The development of a rounder skull is mainly due to the parietal lobe in the cerebellum bulging, as well as an increase in the cerebellar bulge. These changes in shape were independent of the size of the brain; the oldest Homo sapiens fossils have a brain size similar to today’s modern humans.
9. Cells hack virus-like protein to communicate
A protein encoded by a viral gene uses its virus-like structure to move information between cells. This form of cell communication could be essential for long-term memory formation.
Two research groups, at the University of Utah and the University of Massachusetts Medical School, discovered this communication separately while studying extracellular vesicles in mice and flies.
They found that many extracellular vesicles released by neurons contain a gene called Arc, and mice engineered to lack Arc had problems forming long-term memories. This gene is linked to many neurological disorders.
10. Epilepsy linked to brain volume and thickness differences
In the largest ever neuroimaging study of people with epilepsy, led by UCL and the Keck School of Medicine of USC, it has been shown that epilepsy involves reductions in grey matter volume and thickness in multiple regions of the brain.
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