Monthly Archives: January 2019

Great Neuroscience Discoveries of 2018

2018 was when neuroscience made the impossible possible. Here are four neuroscience findings from 2018 that still blow our minds as we kick off the New Year.

Electrical implant restores walking in paralyzed patients

2018 was, without doubt, a breakthrough year for restoring mobility in paralyzed patients.

The technology is several years in the making, with initial positive results in monkeys. It works by implanting a neuroprosthesis into the spinal cord to bypass the site of injury by artificially stimulating remaining nerves.

In September, the Mayo Clinic reported the extraordinary case of Jered Chinnock, who was paralyzed at the waist in 2013. After getting the implant, he walked half the length of a football field. Another report showed that electrical stimulation in four cases was able to help some paralyzed patients go home and get around with only a walker.

Less than a month later, yet another team reported that electrical stimulation using a wireless implant helped three paralyzed patients walk with the aid of crutches or a walker. After a few months of training, the patients could more easily move around even when the stimulation was off, suggesting that the regime had helped remaining healthy nerves rework their connections to adapt and heal.

Electrical stimulation isn’t the only treatment in the works. Another study found that human stem cells, when implanted into monkeys, could synapse with the recipient’s own neurons and restore natural movement after spinal cord injury. These therapies—although expensive and in their infancy—lay a promising road ahead for returning mobility to paralyzed patients.

CRISPR barcodes map brain development in exquisite detail

The developing mammalian brain consists of an intricately-choreographed dance of newborn neurons, with each adopting its specific identity and migrating to its home base in the brain. Scientists have long hoped to examine the process in detail, which could help uncover secrets of brain development—and how it goes wrong.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, tracing the history of every single one of the billions of developing cells in the brain has been impossible—until CRISPR came along.

Last August, a team used CRISPR to generate a unique genetic barcode for every single cell in the mouse brain. By reading the barcodes, scientists were able to retrace a cell’s entire history in the developing brain. Like genetic sleuths, the scientists reconstructed entire cellular family trees to show how cells relate to one another.

A new type of neuron in the cortex that’s potentially uniquely human

Perhaps shockingly, even today neuroscientists are still uncovering new cellular components that make up our mighty brains. Last year saw the discovery of giant neurons within the claustrum, a thin sheet of cells that some believe is the seat of consciousness.

This year, the Allen Institute in Seattle is back at it with another finding: rosehip neurons, each containing dense bundles of processes around the cell’s center that make it look like a rose after shedding its petals.

These neurons make up nearly 15 percent of neurons in the outermost layer of the brain that supports high-level cognitive functions. Remarkably, rosehip neurons have never before been seen in mice or other well-studied lab animals. Although the team can’t yet fully conclude that they’re specific to humans, their scarcity within the animal kingdom is intriguing.

The next step is figuring out the functions of these rose-like neurons—in particular, are they partly why our brains are special?—and whether they are linked to neuropsychiatric disorders.

Gut-brain connection grows stronger with direct anatomical link

One of the hottest research trends in neuroscience is the link between the brain and the gut—often dubbed the “little brain.”

The human gut is lined with over 100 million nerve cells that allow it to talk to the brain, letting us know when we’re hungry or when we’ve over-indulged. But it’s not all digestion: scientists are increasingly realizing that the gut could contribute to anxiety, depression, or more controversially, cognition.

Last year scientists found a new set of informational highways that directly link the gut to the brain. Within the gut, enteroendocrine cells pump out hormones that kick off digestion and suppress hunger. These cells have little foot-like protrusions that look remarkably like synapses—the structure that neurons use to talk to each other using chemicals.

With the help of a glow-in-the-dark rabies virus, which can jump from synapse to synapse, the team found that enteroendocrine cells directly link to neurons in the vagus nerve—a giant nerve that runs from the brain to vital organs such as the heart and lungs. What’s more, they chat with their partners using classical neurotransmitters including glutamate and serotonin, which work much faster than hormones.

Another study found that the gut directly links to the brain’s reward centers through the vagus nerve. Using lasers to zap sensory neurons in the gut of mice, the scientists found increased levels of mood-boosting dopamine in their brains.

These new connections could explain why vagus nerve stimulation is potentially helpful for those with severe depression. More relevant to the holiday season, it also could explain why eating makes us feel warm and fuzzy.

Uncovering the gut-brain connection is gaining steam as a research field. Eventually, the findings could lead to new treatments for disorders linked to a malfunctioning gut—for example, obesity, eating disorders, depression, or even autism.

ref:. singularityhub.com | discoverieshub.com

Anti-anxiety medications could become the next US drug epidemic

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The growing use of anti-anxiety pills reminds some doctors of the early days of the opioid crisis.

Considered relatively safe and non-addictive by the general public and many doctors, Xanax, Valium, Ativan and Klonopin have been prescribed to millions of Americans for decades to calm jittery nerves and promote a good night’s sleep.

These can trigger addiction after prolonged use or even coma and death when used in combination with opioids, public health officials warn. A series of recent studies showcasing the drugs’ danger have called for heightened awareness of their addictive and fatal potential.

When taken in combination with painkillers or illicit narcotics, benzodiazepines can increase the likelihood of a fatal overdose as much as tenfold, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse. On their own, the medications can cause debilitating withdrawal symptoms that last for months or years.

The Drug Enforcement Agency classifies benzodiazepines, called “benzos,” as a Schedule IV depressant, signifying a low potential for abuse, while opioids are considered a Schedule II drug with a high potential for abuse and addiction. However, more than 30 percent of opioid overdoses also involve benzos, the National Institute on Drug Abuse said. This combination can turn fatal when the drugs suppress a user’s breathing. A June study found that simultaneous use increases the risk of overdose more than five times.

Many overdoses result from concurrent use of medications: More than 17 percent of patients using opioids are also prescribed benzos at the same time. While the rate of opioid prescription declined almost 5 percent between 2012 and 2016, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) reported in its 2017 annual drug report, more than 13.5 million American adults use prescribed benzos, a 65 percent increase between 1996 and 2013.

While temporary use can successfully treat insomnia and anxiety disorders, research has shown prolonged use of anti-anxiety medications can cause physical and psychological dependence. Like other addictive drugs, benzos “hijack” synaptic plasticity, or changes in nerve cell signals, in the brain to trigger the release of dopamine. Weaning patients off the drug can produce symptoms of withdrawal-like delirium, anxiety and seizures.

Just as the spike in legal opioids prescriptions spurred the increase in sales and use of deadly drugs like heroin and fentanyl, overprescribing anti-anxiety medications has created a market for synthetic benzos. Sold illegally and without doctor or FDA approval, these synthetic drugs can be more than one thousand times more potent than prescription benzos.

The opioid crisis has dominated the national drug conversation, and with reason: Rates of opioid-related deaths remain high, at more than 16 deaths per 100,000 people, the 2017 CDC report found. But health professionals worry America’s highly publicized opioid problem diverts attention from the growing overconsumption of benzos, which could prove just as damaging.

Finding Non-med Safe, Effective Relief through CES

CES (Cranial Electrotherapy) is a unique and viable “bioelectric” approach which enhances the homeostasis of the biological central nervous system – the tendency for intrinsic balance within a system. Its ethic is that of self-regulation. Its goal, wellness – a state of proper alignment – the balanced interplay of body and mind attained through personal empowerment rather than dependency.

Self-regulation, autonomy, and no negative side effects are ample reasons to consider CES. CES proponents believe that increased reliance on external drugs interferes with that self-regulatory process, reducing our ability to cope.

To reclaim control of our life we have to learn how to alter that chemical composition and reorient that circuitry, not through dependency but by activating, strengthening, and effectively employing our own inner resources.

On a more mundane level, cost is yet another factor. The CES Ultra is but a fraction of the cost of drugs and may be used year after year.

ref:. https://www.newsweek.com | https://www.cnbc.com

The Science of Stress

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Long before scientists began shedding light on how our minds and bodies actually affect one another, an intuitive understanding of this dialogue between the body and the emotions, or feelings, emerged and permeated our very language: We use “ sick” as a grab-bag term for both the sensory symptoms — fever, fatigue, nausea — and the psychological malaise, woven of emotions like sadness and apathy.

Pre-modern medicine, in fact, has recognized this link between disease and emotion for millennia. Ancient Greek, Roman, and Indian Ayurvedic physicians all enlisted the theory of the four humors — blood, yellow bile, black bile, and phlegm — in their healing practices, believing that imbalances in these four visible secretions of the body caused disease and were themselves often caused by the emotions. These beliefs are fossilized in our present language — melancholy comes from the Latin words for “black” (melan) and “bitter bile” (choler), and we think of a melancholic person as gloomy or embittered; a phlegmatic person is languid and impassive, for phlegm makes one lethargic.

For nearly three centuries, the idea that our emotions could impact our physical health remained scientific taboo — setting out to fight one type of dogma, Descartes had inadvertently created another, which we’re only just beginning to shake off. It was only in the 1950s that Austrian-Canadian physician and physiologist Hans Selye pioneered the notion of stress as we now know it today, drawing the scientific community’s attention to the effects of stress on physical health and popularizing the concept around the world.

Modern medicine’s advances in cellular and molecular biology, which have made it possible to measure how our nervous system and our hormones affect our susceptibility to diseases as varied as depression, arthritis, AIDS, and chronic fatigue syndrome.

The same parts of the brain that control the stress response … play an important role in susceptibility and resistance to inflammatory diseases such as arthritis. And since it is these parts of the brain that also play a role in depression, we can begin to understand why it is that many patients with inflammatory diseases may also experience depression at different times in their lives… Rather than seeing the psyche as the source of such illnesses, we are discovering that while feelings don’t directly cause or cure disease, the biological mechanisms underlying them may cause or contribute to disease. Thus, many of the nerve pathways and molecules underlying both psychological responses and inflammatory disease are the same, making predisposition to one set of illnesses likely to go along with predisposition to the other.

Mood is not homogeneous like cream soup. It is more like Swiss cheese, filled with holes. The triggers are highly specific, tripped by sudden trails of memory: a faint fragrance, a few bars of a tune, a vague silhouette that tapped into a sad memory buried deep, but not completely erased. These sensory inputs from the moment float through layers of time in the parts of the brain that control memory, and they pull out with them not only reminders of sense but also trails of the emotions that were first connected to the memory. The same sensory input can trigger a negative emotion or a positive one, depending on the memories associated with it.

This is where stress comes in — much like memory mediates how we interpret and respond to various experiences, a complex set of biological and psychological factors determine how we respond to stress. Some types of stress can be stimulating and invigorating, mobilizing us into action and creative potency; others can be draining and incapacitating, leaving us frustrated and hopeless. This dichotomy of good vs. bad stress is determined by the dose and duration of the stress hormones secreted by the body in response to the stressful stimulus.

Extended exposure to stress, especially to a variety of stressors at the same time — any combination from the vast existential menu of life-events like moving, divorce, a demanding job, the loss of a loved one, and even ongoing childcare — adds up a state of extreme exhaustion that leads to what we call burnout.

Among the major stressors — which include life-events expected to be on the list, such as divorce and the death of a loved one — is also one somewhat unexpected situation. An unfamiliar environment is a universal stressor to nearly all species, no matter how developed or undeveloped.

ref:> https://experiencelife.com | https://www.sciencedaily.com | https://www.edutopia.org | https://getpocket.com/explore