1. Study suggests teens’ ability to consider the intentions of others linked to structural changes in the brain

    September 21, 2017 by Ashley

    From the Dartmouth College press release:

    When it comes to the concept of fairness, teenagers’ ability to consider the intentions of others appears to be linked to structural changes underway in the brain, according to a Dartmouth-led study published by Scientific Reports. The study is the first to provide evidence linking structural changes with behavioral changes within this context. (See video: https://youtu.be/uLv5da5wvus.) Understanding the intentions of others is fundamental to human cooperation and how we exist as social beings.

    Understanding the intentions of others is fundamental to human cooperation and how we exist as social beings. Previous studies have demonstrated that certain areas of the social brain relating to how we care about others or “social inference,” continue to undergo cortical development until late adolescence. As demonstrated by the following time-lapse video, these changes include the thinning of the brain’s cortex, which likely reflect synaptic reorganization in how brain regions are connected and communicate with each other. The study is the first to provide evidence linking structural changes with behavioral changes in the brain within the context of fairness concerns.

    For the study, participants between nine and 23-years old took part in an ultimatum game based on the exchange of money. Proposers first selected between two different divisions of $10, and responders then decided whether to accept or reject the chosen division. Researchers evaluated how participants used two different cognitive strategies when making their decision using computational modeling, and then investigated how these processes correlated with measurements of participants’ cortical thickness, as obtained through magnetic resonance imaging (MRI).

    Younger players tended to want to minimize the difference in the division of the money, whereby everyone gets the same amount but as players became older, they were more inclined to consider the other player’s intentions. This shift from a simple rule-based egalitarian strategy to a more sophisticated strategy that considers both the other player’s intentions and notions of reciprocity, was observed during late adolescence. This gradual shift coincided with cortical thinning in the brain, specifically, in areas of the dorsomedial prefrontal cortex, which is involved with how we view others’ mental states, and posterior temporal cortex, which is involved in visual perception particularly in processing facial information.

    “This work provides converging evidence in line with other research that the computation of inferring intentions is processed in the dorsomedial prefrontal cortex,” said senior author Luke Chang, an assistant professor in the Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences and the director of the Computational Social Affective Neuroscience Laboratory (Cosan Lab) at Dartmouth. “We were surprised that this shift in preference for considering others’ intentions occurred so late in development. Of course, younger children can infer the intentions of others, but we see that this ability continues to be refined well into late adolescence. This finding has potential implications regarding how much autonomy this age group should be given when making important social and ethical decisions, such as purchasing weapons, going to war, and serving on juries,” added Chang.


  2. Study identifies neurons associated with thirst

    by Ashley

    From the American Association for the Advancement of Science press release:

    Scientists have identified a subgroup of neurons in mice that drive a critical instinct – thirst. Activity of the neurons decreased as the mice consumed more water, suggesting that they play a direct role in the primordial emotion. Previous research suggests that a certain region of the brain, the median preoptic nucleus (MnPO), contributes to the sensation of thirst, yet the exact underlying mechanisms have remained largely unknown. To gain a better understanding, William E. Allen et al. analyzed RNA expression within the MnPO of mice that had been deprived of water for 48 hours, identifying a cluster of excitatory neurons of interest. When the researchers used optogenetics to inhibit these neurons, mice reduced their water consumption; in contrast, photoactivation of the neurons in water-satiated animals prompted them to increase their water consumption. In mice trained to press a lever to access water, the rate of lever-pressing corresponded with a decrease in neural activity over time, suggesting that MnPO neuron activity appears to adjust for water intake. Remarkably, mice provided an opportunity to shut off photoactivation of MnPO neurons by lever pressing did so vigorously, ending the undesirable feeling of thirst. The researchers also identified ways in which these MnPO thirst neurons are connected to a variety of other brain regions, which could translate thirst drive into specific goal-directed actions, they say. A Perspective by Claire Gizowski and Charles W. Bourque discusses these findings in greater detail.


  3. Study suggests that expressive writing can help worriers perform a stressful task more efficiently

    by Ashley

    From the Michigan State University press release:

    Chronic worriers, take note: Simply writing about your feelings may help you perform an upcoming stressful task more efficiently, finds a Michigan State University study that measured participants’ brain activity.

    The research, funded by the National Science Foundation and National Institutes of Health, provides the first neural evidence for the benefits of expressive writing, said lead author Hans Schroder, an MSU doctoral student in psychology and a clinical intern at Harvard Medical School’s McLean Hospital.

    Worrying takes up cognitive resources; it’s kind of like people who struggle with worry are constantly multitasking — they are doing one task and trying to monitor and suppress their worries at the same time,” Schroder said. “Our findings show that if you get these worries out of your head through expressive writing, those cognitive resources are freed up to work toward the task you’re completing and you become more efficient.”

    Schroder conducted the study at Michigan State with Jason Moser, associate professor of psychology and director of MSU’s Clinical Psychophysiology Lab, and Tim Moran, a Spartan graduate who’s now a research scientist at Emory University. The findings are published online in the journal Psychophysiology.

    For the study, college students identified as chronically anxious through a validated screening measure completed a computer-based “flanker task” that measured their response accuracy and reaction times. Before the task, about half of the participants wrote about their deepest thoughts and feelings about the upcoming task for eight minutes; the other half, in the control condition, wrote about what they did the day before.

    While the two groups performed at about the same level for speed and accuracy, the expressive-writing group performed the flanker task more efficiently, meaning they used fewer brain resources, measured with electroencephalography, or EEG, in the process.

    Moser uses a car analogy to describe the effect. “Here, worried college students who wrote about their worries were able to offload these worries and run more like a brand new Prius,” he said, “whereas the worried students who didn’t offload their worries ran more like a ’74 Impala – guzzling more brain gas to achieve the same outcomes on the task.”

    While much previous research has shown that expressive writing can help individuals process past traumas or stressful events, the current study suggests the same technique can help people — especially worriers — prepare for stressful tasks in the future.

    Expressive writing makes the mind work less hard on upcoming stressful tasks, which is what worriers often get “burned out” over, their worried minds working harder and hotter,” Moser said. “This technique takes the edge off their brains so they can perform the task with a ‘cooler head.'”


  4. Nutrition has benefits for brain network organization

    September 20, 2017 by Ashley

    From the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign press release:

    Nutrition has been linked to cognitive performance, but researchers have not pinpointed what underlies the connection. A new study by University of Illinois researchers found that monounsaturated fatty acids — a class of nutrients found in olive oils, nuts and avocados — are linked to general intelligence, and that this relationship is driven by the correlation between MUFAs and the organization of the brain’s attention network.

    The study of 99 healthy older adults, recruited through Carle Foundation Hospital in Urbana, compared patterns of fatty acid nutrients found in blood samples, functional MRI data that measured the efficiency of brain networks, and results of a general intelligence test. The study was published in the journal NeuroImage.

    “Our goal is to understand how nutrition might be used to support cognitive performance and to study the ways in which nutrition may influence the functional organization of the human brain,” said study leader Aron Barbey, a professor of psychology. “This is important because if we want to develop nutritional interventions that are effective at enhancing cognitive performance, we need to understand the ways that these nutrients influence brain function.”

    “In this study, we examined the relationship between groups of fatty acids and brain networks that underlie general intelligence. In doing so, we sought to understand if brain network organization mediated the relationship between fatty acids and general intelligence,” said Marta Zamroziewicz, a recent Ph.D. graduate of the neuroscience program at Illinois and lead author of the study.

    Studies suggesting cognitive benefits of the Mediterranean diet, which is rich in MUFAs, inspired the researchers to focus on this group of fatty acids. They examined nutrients in participants’ blood and found that the fatty acids clustered into two patterns: saturated fatty acids and MUFAs.

    “Historically, the approach has been to focus on individual nutrients. But we know that dietary intake doesn’t depend on any one specific nutrient; rather, it reflects broader dietary patterns,” said Barbey, who also is affiliated with the Beckman Institute for Advanced Science and Technology at Illinois.

    The researchers found that general intelligence was associated with the brain’s dorsal attention network, which plays a central role in attention-demanding tasks and everyday problem solving. In particular, the researchers found that general intelligence was associated with how efficiently the dorsal attention network is functionally organized used a measure called small-world propensity, which describes how well the neural network is connected within locally clustered regions as well as across globally integrated systems.

    In turn, they found that those with higher levels of MUFAs in their blood had greater small-world propensity in their dorsal attention network. Taken together with an observed correlation between higher levels of MUFAs and greater general intelligence, these findings suggest a pathway by which MUFAs affect cognition.

    “Our findings provide novel evidence that MUFAs are related to a very specific brain network, the dorsal attentional network, and how optimal this network is functionally organized,” Barbey said. “Our results suggest that if we want to understand the relationship between MUFAs and general intelligence, we need to take the dorsal attention network into account. It’s part of the underlying mechanism that contributes to their relationship.”

    Barbey hopes these findings will guide further research into how nutrition affects cognition and intelligence. In particular, the next step is to run an interventional study over time to see whether long-term MUFA intake influences brain network organization and intelligence.

    “Our ability to relate those beneficial cognitive effects to specific properties of brain networks is exciting,” Barbey said. “This gives us evidence of the mechanisms by which nutrition affects intelligence and motivates promising new directions for future research in nutritional cognitive neuroscience.”


  5. New findings on brain functional connectivity may lend insights into mental disorders

    by Ashley

    From the Wolters Kluwer Health: Lippincott Williams and Wilkins press release:

    Ongoing advances in understanding the functional connections within the brain are producing exciting insights into how the brain circuits function together to support human behavior — and may lead to new discoveries in the development and treatment of psychiatric disorders, according to a review and update in the Harvard Review of Psychiatry. The journal is published by Wolters Kluwer.

    Advanced neuroimaging techniques provide a new basis for studying circuit-level abnormalities in psychiatric disorders, according to the special perspectives article by Deanna M. Barch, PhD, of Washington University in St. Louis. She writes, “These advances have provided the basis for recent efforts to develop a more complex understanding of the function of brain circuits in health and of their relationship to behavior — providing, in turn, a foundation for our understanding of how disruptions in such circuits contribute to the development of psychiatric disorders.”

    Functional Connectivity Data Point to New Understanding of Psychopathology

    In recent years, large-scale research projects including the Human Connectome Project (HCP) have focused on defining and mapping the functional connections of the brain. The result is an extensive body of new evidence on functional connectivity and its relationship to human behavior.

    In her article, Dr. Barch focuses on a technique called resting-state functional connectivity MRI (rsfcMRI), which measures how spontaneous fluctuations in blood oxygen level-dependent signals are coordinated across the brain. Analysis of rsfcMRI and other data in large numbers of subjects from the HCP will provide new insights into a wide range of psychiatric disorders, such as depression and anxiety, substance use, and cognitive impairment.

    Recent studies have found that spontaneous activity from networks of regions across the brain are highly correlated even at rest (that is, when the person is not performing a specifically targeted task). This “resting state” activity may consume around 20 percent of the body’s total energy — even though the brain is only two percent of total body mass, according to Dr. Barch. “Ongoing resting-state activity may provide a critical and rich source of disease-relate variability.”

    One key question is what constitutes the “regions” that make up the neural circuits of the brain. Recent rsfcMRI mapping studies have identified between 180 and 356 different brain regions, including many common regions that can be mapped across individuals. Future studies will look at whether these regions differ in shape, size, or location in people with psychiatric disorders — and whether these differences contribute to changes in the formation and function of brain circuits.

    Some brain networks identified by rsfcMRI may play important roles in the functions and processes commonly impaired in psychiatric disorders. These include networks involved in cognitive (thinking) function, attention to internal emotional states, and the “salience” of events in the environment. Many questions remain as to how these brain networks are related to behavior in general, and to psychiatric disorders in particular.

    Some researchers are using HCP data to study behavioral factors relevant to psychiatric issues, including cognitive function, mood, emotions, and substance use/abuse. Other studies are looking for rsfcMRI patterns related to individual differences in depression or anxiety, and their connections to various brain networks.

    Dr. Barch’s research focuses on brain networks affecting the relationship between cognitive function and “psychotic-like” experiences. She notes that work on individual differences in functional connectivity in the HCP dataset is just getting started — the full HCP dataset was made publicly available in the spring of 2017.

    “The hope is that these analyses will shed new light on how behavior of many different forms is related to functional brain connectivity, ultimately providing a new window for understanding psychopathology,” Dr. Barch writes. Continued studies of the relationships between brain circuitry and behavior might eventually lead to new therapeutic targets and new approaches to treatment monitoring and selection for patients with psychiatric disorders.


  6. Intermittent electrical brain stimulation may improve memory

    by Ashley

    From the Medical College of Georgia at Augusta University press release:

    Intermittent electrical stimulation of an area deep inside the brain that degenerates in Alzheimer’s appears to improve working memory, scientists report.

    Conversely, continuous deep brain stimulation, like the type used for Parkinson’s and currently under study in humans with Alzheimer’s, impairs memory, according to study results in adult non-human primates reported in the journal Current Biology.

    With intermittent stimulation — currently not used in any application in the brain in patients — the monkeys were able to remember things up to five times longer in a standard test of working memory.

    “That takes a monkey from being sort of a middle-of-the-pack performer to the top of the class,” says Dr. David T. Blake, neuroscientist in the Department of Neurology at the Medical College of Georgia at Augusta University. “A monkey who is a poor performer becomes a middle-of-the-pack performer after two to three months of this stimulation.”

    In the new studies, scientists used the technique of placing hair-thin electrodes into the brain to deliver electricity and increase the activity of the nucleus basalis of Meynert, a small area in the forebrain that is inexplicably degenerated in both Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s.

    “The natural response of many brain systems to continuous input is to start to ignore the input,” says Blake. In fact, constant stimulation in other areas like the globus pallidus garners desired clinical benefit like tremor reduction in Parkinson’s disease.

    “In the case of Parkinson’s, deep brain stimulation is effectively downregulating that part of the brain,” says Blake, the study’s corresponding author. “What we wanted to do instead was to upregulate an area.”

    Their goals included making more of the chemical messenger acetylcholine available in the region. The nucleus basalis has a large concentration of neurons that are connected to brain areas critical for memory and cognition, and under healthy conditions have a ready supply of acetylcholine that enables the important communication between them.

    As we age, acetylcholine levels in the brain naturally decrease, but Alzheimer’s causes a dramatic multiplier effect that takes us from being forgetful to a different level, says Dr. Alvin V. Terry, chair of the MCG Department of Pharmacology and Toxicology and a study coauthor.

    They started with continuous stimulation, like the clinical approaches, and saw an unexpected decline in performance. Equally surprising, they found intermittent stimulation resulted in more available acetylcholine in the region and better performance.

    In fact, use of the cholinesterase inhibitor donepezil restored memory performance in animals that received constant stimulation but had no impact on those whose memory was already enhanced by intermittent stimulation.

    “Normally neurons don’t fire nonstop,” Terry notes. “They are pulsing if you will.”

    Sixty pulses per second for 20 seconds followed by a 40-second interval without stimulation provided optimal benefit in the study.

    The scientists suspect the benefit resulted from the impact of increased levels of acetylcholine directly on neurons and their supportive cells in that region. However it may also result from a slight increase in blood flow to the brain region, they write. Cholinesterase inhibitors, drugs used to treat Alzheimer’s, are known to increase blood flow to the brain about 10-15 percent in humans. Blood flow is typically reduced in Alzheimer’s.

    The MCG team has submitted a grant proposal to start a clinical trial in early Alzheimer’s using their new evidence of the benefits of intermittent pulsing. They note that a variety of brain regions and stimulation patterns are currently under study in clinical trials in the United States and Europe.

    The adult but not aged monkeys in the current study were already part of an investigation to determine whether stimulation could improve the sense of touch, which also decreases with age. The scientists realized that with stimulation the monkeys were able to detect finger taps essentially 100 percent of the time versus about 60 percent of the time without it.

    So they also used a classic working memory task in which a colored square cue shows up, then disappears, followed by a delay and then a choice between a cue-colored square and a distractor square. The monkeys get a food reward for making the cue match.

    “There was every reason to think that we would find what we found if we could actually boost acetylcholine, and switching from continuous to intermittent stimulation was the step that was necessary to do that,” Blake says.

    In fact, after months of intermittent stimulation, the monkeys got more adept at the memory test even without the stimulation.

    While that seems like more good news, the reason for the enduring effect is not 100 percent clear: it could be the brain cells make more connections, it could be more acetylcholine keeps getting released, it could be both, the scientists note.

    “There are two main classes of effects that acetylcholine has in the central nervous system,” Blake says. “It changes the way neurons talk to each other. It causes some neurons to become more active, some to become less active. The second class of effects is that it improves blood flow,” he says. More blood means more of the energy source glucose and vital oxygen get to the brain, so it’s not surprising that the brain becomes healthier over time with these increased assets, Blake says. “The idea is that it’s going to have a longer-term effect,” Terry adds.

    Deep brain stimulation, which is comparable to a pacemaker for the heart, also is more selective than drugs, appearing to only stimulate acetylcholine in the targeted brain site. We have acetylcholine receptors all over our body and cholinesterase inhibitors make more of the chemical available bodywide, increasing the risk of side effects like nausea, loss of appetite, joint pain and muscle cramping.

    In fact, responses to intermittent stimulation in the study were as strong as those experienced by patients taking high doses of cholinesterase inhibitors, the scientists report.

    “The primary drugs that are used to treat Alzheimer’s enhance this cholinergic function but they are nonspecific so they are causing all these peripheral side effects,” Terry says. “This is a much more selective way of enhancing that region.”

    Deep brain stimulation basically supplements the normal brain processes that enable the release of acetylcholine, Blake says. The brain operates on a combined biochemical and electrical system that has electrical spikes running the length of an axon — long arms that reach from one neuron to another neuron or other cell type. Where two cells connect is called a synapse and the electrical spike results in the release of acetylcholine at the synapse, which impacts the cell it touches possibly activating it electrically or changing how it functions some other way. Electrical activation of a single neuron actually also activates other neurons in close proximity.

    The success of implanted defibrillators/pacemakers and deep brain stimulation for Parkinson’s has led to the exploration of its potential for problems like Alzheimer’s. The Food and Drug Administration approved deep brain stimulation for Parkinson’s and essential tremor in 1997.

    Aging baby boomers, who began turning 65 in 2011, are drivers behind dramatic increases in those at risk for Alzheimer’s and other age-related dementia. By 2050, the population age 65 and over is projected to reach 83.7 million, almost double the estimated population of 43.1 million in 2012, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.


  7. Link found between cognitive fatigue and effort and reward

    September 19, 2017 by Ashley

    From the Kessler Foundation press release:

    Kessler Foundation researchers have authored a new article that has implications for our understanding of the relationship between cognitive fatigue and effort and reward. The study, which was conducted in healthy participants, broadens our understanding of disease entities that are associated with a lower threshold for cognitive fatigue, such as multiple sclerosis, brain injury, stroke and Parkinson disease. The article, “The relationship between outcome prediction and cognitive fatigue: a convergence of paradigms,” was epublished ahead of print on May 25, 2017, in Cognitive, Affective, & Behavioral Neuroscience. The authors are Glenn Wylie, DPhil, Helen Genova, PhD, John DeLuca, PhD, and Ekaterina Dobryakova, PhD, of Kessler Foundation.

    Injury and disease of the brain increase the likelihood of cognitive fatigue, which can be disabling. Researchers are studying the mechanisms of cognitive fatigue, toward the goal of developing effective interventions. “In this study, we focused on the activity of the anterior cingulate cortex, which has been shown by others to be related to error processing, and which we have shown to be associated with fatigue,” said Dr. Wylie, who is associate director of Neuroscience Research and the Rocco Ortenzio Neuroimaging Center at Kessler Foundation. “We challenged participants with difficult tasks of working memory, and assessed which parts of the anterior cingulate cortex were associated with error processing,” he explained. “We then investigated whether exactly the same areas of the anterior cingulate cortex were also associated with fatigue. They were, suggesting that cognitive fatigue may be the brain’s way of signalling to itself that the effort required for the task no longer merits the rewards received.”


  8. Study suggests yoga, meditation improve brain function and energy levels

    September 18, 2017 by Ashley

    From the University of Waterloo press release:

    Practicing brief sessions of Hatha yoga and mindfulness meditation can significantly improve brain function and energy levels, according to a new study from the University of Waterloo.

    The study found that practicing just 25 minutes of Hatha yoga or mindfulness meditation per day can boost the brain’s executive functions, cognitive abilities linked to goal-directed behavior and the ability to control knee-jerk emotional responses, habitual thinking patterns and actions.

    “Hatha yoga and mindfulness meditation both focus the brain’s conscious processing power on a limited number of targets like breathing and posing, and also reduce processing of nonessential information,” said Peter Hall, associate professor in the School of Public Health & Health Systems. “These two functions might have some positive carryover effect in the near- term following the session, such that people are able to focus more easily on what they choose to attend to in everyday life.”

    Thirty-one study participants completed 25 minutes of Hatha yoga, 25 minutes of mindfulness meditation, and 25 minutes of quiet reading (a control task) in randomized order. Following both the yoga and meditation activities, participants performed significantly better on executive function tasks compared to the reading task.

    “This finding suggests that there may be something special about meditation — as opposed to the physical posing — that carries a lot of the cognitive benefits of yoga,” said Kimberley Luu, lead author on the paper.

    The study also found that mindfulness meditation and Hatha yoga were both effective for improving energy levels, but Hatha yoga had significantly more powerful effects than meditation alone.

    “There are a number of theories about why physical exercises like yoga improve energy levels and cognitive test performance,” said Luu. “These include the release of endorphins, increased blood flow to the brain, and reduced focus on ruminative thoughts. Though ultimately, it is still an open question.”

    Hatha yoga is one of the most common styles of yoga practiced in Western countries.

    It involves physical postures and breathing exercises combined with meditation. Mindfulness mediation involves observing thoughts, emotions and body sensations with openness and acceptance.

    Although the meditative aspect might be even more important than the physical posing for improving executive functions, there are additional benefits to Hatha yoga including improvements in flexibility and strength,” said Hall. “These benefits may make Hatha yoga superior to meditation alone, in terms of overall health benefits.”


  9. ‘Waves’ of neural activity give new clues about Alzheimer’s

    by Ashley

    From the SINC press release:

    While unconscious during deep sleep, millions of neurons’ activity travels across the cerebral cortex. This phenomenon, known as slow waves, is related to the consolidation of memory. The European project called SloW Dyn, led by Spanish scientists, has now revealed anomalies in this activity in mice displaying a decline similar to Alzheimer’s.

    During deep sleep, large populations of neurons in the cerebral cortex and subcortical brain structures simultaneously discharge electrical pulses. They are slow oscillations, that travel as ‘waves’ of neural activity from one point to another in the cortex once every one to four seconds.

    “This global rhythmic activity, controlled by the cerebral cortex, is associated with a lack of consciousness,” says Mavi Sanchez-Vives, director of the Neuroscience Systems group at the August Pi i Sunyer Biomedical Research Institute (IDIBAPS, Barcelona), whose research team has suggested that it is the default activity of the cortical circuits.

    These oscillations consolidate memory and synaptic plasticity and maintain metabolic and cellular function, among others. Within the framework of the European SloW Dyn (Slow Wave Dynamics) project which the neuroscientist leads, researchers have now discovered differences in this brain activity between healthy mice and mice with cognitive decline similar to Alzheimer’s due to premature aging.

    “We detected a decrease in the frequency of the oscillations which were also more irregular and had a lower high-frequency content of 15 to 100 hertz,” points out Sanchez-Vives, also from the Catalan Institution for Research and Advanced Studies (ICREA).

    The study, published in the journal Frontiers in Aging Neuroscience, highlights how some of these changes have also been registered in patients with Alzheimer’s disease for which reason, according to the authors, the animal model could help in studying the disease.

    Cause or effect of diseases

    The relationship between slow oscillations and neurodegenerative diseases is twofold. When there are pathologies that disturb cortical circuits, they are often reflected in the disruption of slow waves. “We are studying what those changes tell us about the altered underlying mechanisms,” says the researcher.

    Furthermore, the wave alterations will likely be associated with sleep problems, which may influence the development of a disease. “For example, if slow wave sleep periods are disrupted, cognitive functions such as attention and memory can be negatively affected,” Sanchez-Vives notes.

    In order to measure these oscillations, scientists use EEGs which record a person’s brain activity while sleeping. Throughout the SloW Dyn project, experts will measure the waves of thousands of people and will ascertain how they change with age. The tools which they have developed for this purpose are an instrument that registers brain activity and an app.

    “This will provide massive information about the composition of sleep, the synchronization of brain activity and the anomalies that can occur as a result of aging or specific pathologies,” highlights the scientist. Researchers hope that these records will also give them clues about the therapeutic potential of restoring slow waves when they are impaired.

    Disconnecting consciousness

    SloW Dyn has been given over 660,000 euros in funding and will last 36 months. At present, the international consortium is midway through this period. One of the ultimate objectives is to develop a model that mathematically describes these oscillations and thus be able to make predictions.

    “We are trying to understand a phenomenon which, although seemingly very simple, has the power to disconnect consciousness,” summarises Sanchez-Vives.

    The Pompeu Fabra University (Barcelona), the Italian Institute of Technology, the University of Chicago (USA), the National Centre for Scientific Research (France) and the company Rythm (France) are also participating in the project led by IDIBAPS.

    Within Horizon 2020-the framework programme for funding research in the European Union-, SloW Dyn is part of the Human Brain Project, one of the Flagship Future and Emerging Technology Research Initiatives (FET Flagships).


  10. Scientists discover brain area which can be targeted for treatment in schizophrenia patients who ‘hear voices’

    September 17, 2017 by Ashley

    From the European College of Neuropsychopharmacology press release:

    For the first time, scientists have precisely identified and targeted an area of the brain which is involved in “hearing voices,” experienced by many patients with schizophrenia. They have been able to show in a controlled trial that targeting this area with magnetic pulses can improve the condition in some patients. This early clinical work is presented at the ECNP conference in Paris on Tuesday 5th September, with later publication in Schizophrenia Bulletin*.

    “This is the first controlled trial to precisely determine an anatomically defined brain area where high frequency magnetic pulses can improve the hearing of voices,” said lead researcher, Professor Sonia Dollfus (University of Caen, CHU, France).

    Schizophrenia is a serious long-term mental health problem. People with schizophrenia experience a range of symptoms, which may include delusions, muddled thoughts and hallucinations. One of the best-known is hearing voices, also known as Auditory Verbal Hallucination (AVH), which around 70% of people with schizophrenia experience at some point. These voices, may be ‘heard’ as having a variety of different characteristics, for example as internal or external, friendly or threatening, they may be continuously present or present only occasionally, and so on.

    Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation (TMS) has been suggested as a possible way of treating the hearing of voices in schizophrenia. TMS uses magnetic pulses to the brain, and has been shown to be effective in several psychiatric conditions. However, there is a lack of controlled trials to show that TMS works effectively with AVH sufferers.

    The French research team worked with 26 patients who received active TMS treatment, and 33 as a control group, who received sham (placebo) treatment. The researchers interviewed the patients using a standard protocol — the Auditory Hallucinations Rating Scale — which revealed most of the characteristic features of the voices which they were hearing. The treated patients received a series of 20 Hz high-frequency magnetic pulses over 2 sessions a day for 2 days. Using magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), the pulses were targeted at a specific brain area in the temporal lobe, which is associated with language (the exact area is the crossing of the projection of the ascending branch of the left lateral sulcus and the left superior temporal sulcus)

    After 2 weeks, the patients were re-evaluated. The researchers found that 34.6% of the patients being treated by TMS showed a significant response, whereas only 9.1% of patients in the sham group responded (‘significant response’ was defined as a more than 30% decrease in the Total Auditory Hallucinations Rating Scale score).

    Professor Sonia Dollfus said: “Auditory Verbal Hallucinations, or “hearing voices” can be a disturbing symptom of schizophrenia, both for patients and for those close to sufferers. This is the first controlled trial to show an improvement in these patients by targeting a specific area of the brain and using high frequency TMS. This means two things; firstly it seems that we now can say with some certainty that we have found a specific anatomical area of the brain associated with auditory verbal hallucinations in schizophrenia. Secondly, we have shown that treatment with high frequency TMS makes a difference to at least some sufferers, although there is a long way to go before we will know if TMS is the best route to treat these patients in the long-term.”

    Commenting, Professor Andreas Meyer-Lindenberg, Central Institute of Mental Health, Mannheim and member of the ECNP executive board, said: “This work builds on previous studies that have shown a critical role of excessive activity of subregions of the temporal lobe in the generation of voice hallucinations in schizophrenia. To move this into treatment, controlled trial such as the one by Dollfus and coworkers are important. While response rates were moderate, TMS is a welcome addition to the therapeutic repertoire especially for patients who do not respond to medication.”

    *This work has been accepted in the peer-reviewed journal Schizophrenia Bulletin: The Journal of Psychoses and Related Disorders. The exact publication date has still to be determined.