The best neuroscience stories from August 2018


Scientifica’s selection of the best neuroscience stories from August include a new-found link between degenerative eye diseases and Alzheimer’s disease, the identification of a chaperone protein implicated in Parkinson’s disease and the location of missing immune cells that could help fight brain tumours. Happy reading!

1. Alzheimer’s drug may stop disease if used before symptoms develop

Researchers at the University of Virginia have found that memantine, a drug currently used to alleviate symptoms of moderate to severe Alzheimer’s disease, could prevent or slow disease progression if it is taken before symptoms appear.

Through blocking NMDA receptors, it is thought that memantine could prevent Alzheimer’s by stopping neurons from dying. A clinical trial is currently being designed to investigate whether memantine could be a successful early intervention.

Image credit: Erin Kodis and George Bloom

Is prevention better than cure?

2. Rewiring the brain to fight epilepsy

Scientists at Brandeis University have suppressed epileptic seizures in mice by increasing the expression of inhibitory synapses in the brain.

The researchers increased inhibitory synapse expression by delivering an infusion of Semaphorin 4D, a protein that stimulates the production of inhibitory synapses, to the brains of mice. This reduced the severity of seizures and increased the brain’s resistance to seizures. 

Inhibiting seizures

3. Integrated sensor could monitor brain aneurysm treatment

Scientists have designed a flexible and stretchable sensor that could monitor blood flow through stent-like flow diverters in patients with brain aneurysms.

The sensor can accurately measure fluid flow in animal blood vessels in vitro. The team are now working on being able to wirelessly operate the sensor, so it can be used in vivo. 

Image credit: John Toon, Georgia Tech

Find out more

4. Study identifies chaperone protein implicated in Parkinson’s disease

A study by the University of Alabama at Birmingham has found that reduced levels of the chaperone protein 14-3-3 theta may play a role in Parkinson’s disease.

The chaperone protein appears to keep alpha-synuclein in a normal folded state, preventing it from misfolding as well as preventing the spread of aggregates across neurons throughout the brain. 14-3-3 theta could therefore be a target for therapeutics that help slow the progression of neurodegenerative diseases. 

Image credit: The University of Alabama at Birmingham

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5. Duke team finds missing immune cells that could fight lethal brain tumours

Glioblastoma brain tumours often cause a reduction in the number of T cells, reducing the body’s ability to fight the tumours. Researchers at the Duke Cancer Institute have found that the reason for the reduction in the number of T cells is that they are trapped in bone marrow, unable to function.

The team found that the T cells lack the S1P1 receptor on their surface, which stops them leaving the bone marrow and lymph system. They hope that this research could lead to development of better immunotherapies. 

Image credit: Duke Health

Trapped T cells

6. Eye conditions provide new lens for screening for Alzheimer’s

A study by the University of Washington has found a link between three degenerative eye diseases and Alzheimer’s disease.

The study of 3877 patients who were 65 or older found that those with age-related macular degeneration, diabetic retinopathy or glaucoma have a higher risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease than those without an eye condition.

The findings mean doctors have a new way of identifying patients who have a higher risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease, which could potentially lead to early diagnosis and treatment. 

Eyes are windows to the brain

7. Taking the brain apart to put it all together again

Scientists at the Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering have created a model of the blood-brain barrier interface. The model consists of multiple organ chips that are microfluidically connected to each other. One brain chip, containing neurons and astrocytes, is connected by microfluidic channels to two blood-brain barrier chips that contain endothelial cells, astrocytes and pericytes.

The researchers cultured human cells in the blood-brain barrier brain chips and exposed them to meth. In vivo, meth disrupts the junctions between the cells of the blood-brain barrier, causing it to leak. The researchers found that meth also disrupted the junctions of the vascular endothelial cells on the brain chip, allowing molecules to enter the brain chip that wouldn’t usually be able to cross the blood-brain barrier. This confirmed that the model is a valuable tool for understanding how drugs affect the blood-brain barrier.

Image credit: Wyss Institute at Harvard University

Investigating the blood-brain barrier

8. How the brains of doers and procrastinators differ

Scientists at the Ruhr University Bochum have used magnetic resonance imaging to identify regions of the brain that determine whether someone postpones a task or does it straight away.

They found that the size and functional linkage of two areas of the brain are linked to how well someone can control their actions. Those with bad action control have a larger amygdala, along with a less pronounced functional connection between the amygdala and dorsal anterior cingulate cortex. This means that these individuals may be more afraid of the negative consequences of an action, and be more likely to hesitate and postpone it. 

Image credit: © RUB, Marquard

Do now or do tomorrow?

9. New method grows brain cells in two weeks

Researchers at Lund University have found a way to develop astrocytes from embryonic stem cells in just two weeks, compared to it previously taking two months.

Astrocytes have important roles in a variety of brain disorders, including dementia and ALS. The method means that large amounts of functional astrocytes can now be produced in a short amount of time, making it easier to study them. 

Image credit: Isaac Canals

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10. The hearing molecule

Scientists at Harvard Medical School have identified the sensor protein responsible for hearing and balance.

The researchers have found that the TMC1 protein forms a pore, which is activated by sound and motion, that allows sound and head movements to be converted into signals that travel to the brain via a signalling cascade. It is this signalling cascade that enables hearing and balance.

Image credit: The Holt lab

Hear this!

Please send all stretchable sensors, blood-brain barrier models, comments and feedback to [email protected].

Banner image credit: Wyss Institute at Harvard University

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