Neuroscience research continued to expand our understanding of the brain in 2016. The potential for developing treatment and diagnostic approaches to such debilitationg conditions as stroke, addiction, Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease kept scientists (and science journalists) busy all year.
Among the most shared and viewed stories on sciencebeta this year, the top place went to a 5 year study by USC neuroscientists investigating the effects of music instruction on young children. It was found that the auditory systems of children in a music training program were maturing faster than in the other children.
A study from the Salk Institute reporting that compounds found in marijuana promote the removal of amyloid beta, a toxic protein associated with Alzheimer’s disease, was the top story of the summer. One the other hand, chronic use of marijuana may alter the brain’s mesocorticolimbic-reward system, a University of Texas paper reported the same month.
In other Alzheimer’s research news, researchers at Tohoku University found similarities in the way insulin signaling works in the brain and in the pancreas of diabetic patients could be a promising lead to possible treatments for Alzheimer’s disease. And a team at the Arizona State University Banner Neurodegenerative Disease Research Center (NDRC) and the Biodesign Center for Bioenergetics showed that mitochondrial respiration dysfunction is implicated in the disease.
There was a lot of work done with memory and the hippocampus, as a team of researchers from the University of Bristol, King’s College London and the University of Exeter, found that stress causes epigenetic modifications in immediate-early genes in hippocampus neurons. Also, an interesting study from MIT neuroscientists identified specific neurons in the hippocampus ventral CA1 region of mice that are dedicated to storing social memories of other mice.
A team led by Harvard Stem Cell Institute (HSCI) researchers investigated how neurons responsible for encoding new memories must compete with mature neurons to survive and integrate into the hippocampus. They found a way to epigenitically rejuvenate aging memory circuits in mice.
There was news regarding the effects of insomnia on the brain, too. Chinese scientists discovered abnormalities in the brain’s white matter in insomnia patients. The cause of the white matter integrity abnormalities may be loss of myelin coating of neurons, they also found.
A separate team of researchers, from the University of Liege and the University of Surrey, reported that the temporary effects of losing sleep varied across brain regions, suggesting that brain function may be continuously modulated by both sleep pressure and circadian rhythms.
In other news, a team at University of Warwick published a report showing that the more a brain’s different parts frequently connect with each other, the higher a person’s IQ and creativity, a finding with implications in the fields of artificial intelligence and machine learning. Also, a Johns Hopkins University fMRI study suggesting that congenitally blind individuals do mathematical thinking in the visual cortex, a part of the brain typically devoted to vision. And researchers at the University of Pittsburgh and Carnegie Mellon University published a paper reporting evidence for the existence of a dedicated area of the brain for the visual representation of words in reading, a much debated issue in the field.
Image: Bill McConkey, Wellcome Images