Can scientists ‘hack’ memory?

Modern science brings us endless possibilities to help our bodies and our minds stay healthy, but some recent scientific pursuits have also been the center of controversy. One of these is researchers’ interest in manipulating memories. Is this feat possible, and if so, why would we want to achieve it?

Our memories make up so much of who we are, and the things we remember can often define our experience of the world.

And while positive memories can help us grow and thrive, negative memories do not always have such welcome effects.

Sometimes, unpleasant memories can be part of a learning curve — getting scalded with boiling water means that next time we will be more careful when handling the kettle.

Full story at Medical News Today

Psychedelic microdosing in rats shows beneficial effects

The growing popularity of microdosing — taking tiny amounts of psychedelic drugs to boost mood and mental acuity — is based on anecdotal reports of its benefits. Now, a study in rats by researchers at the University of California, Davis suggests microdosing can provide relief for symptoms of depression and anxiety, but also found potential negative effects. The work is published March 4 in the journal ACS Chemical Neuroscience.

“Prior to our study, essentially nothing was known about the effects of psychedelic microdosing on animal behaviors,” said David Olson, assistant professor in the UC Davis departments of Chemistry and of Biochemistry and Molecular Medicine, who leads the research team. “This is the first time anyone has demonstrated in animals that psychedelic microdosing might actually have some beneficial effects, particularly for depression or anxiety. It’s exciting, but the potentially adverse changes in neuronal structure and metabolism that we observe emphasize the need for additional studies.”

Full story at Science Daily

2,000 Human Brains Yield Clues to How Genes Raise Risk for Mental Illnesses

It’s one thing to detect sites in the genome associated with mental disorders; it’s quite another to discover the biological mechanisms by which these changes in DNA work in the human brain to boost risk. In their first concerted effort to tackle the latter, 15 collaborating research teams of the National Institutes of Health- (NIH-) funded PsychENCODE Consortium leveraged statistical power gained from a large sample of about 2000 postmortem human brains.

The teams published their findings in seven research articles, spotlighted on the cover of a “psychiatric genomics” special issue of Science – along with two in Translational Medicine and one in Science Advances – on December 14, 2018. In addition, the Consortium is sharing their data with the research community via the online PsychENCODE Knowledge Portal.

Applying newly uncovered secrets of the brain’s molecular architecture, they developed an artificial intelligence model that’s six times better than previous ones at predicting risk for mental disorders. They also pinpointed several hundred previously unknown risk genes for mental illnesses and linked many known risk variants to specific genes.

Full story at NIMH

Omega-3s help keep kids out of trouble

Something as simple as a dietary supplement could reduce disruptive, even abusive behavior, according to newly released research by a team led by a UMass Lowell criminal justice professor.

Giving children omega-3 fatty acid supplements reduces disruptive behavior, which in turn had a positive effect on their parents, making them less likely to argue with each other and engage in other verbal abuse, according to Jill Portnoy, an assistant professor in UMass Lowell’s School of Criminology and Justice Studies.

“This is a promising line of research because omega-3 fatty acids are thought to improve brain health in children and adults. There is more to be learned about the benefits, but if we can improve people’s brain health and behavior in the process, that’s a really big plus,” said Portnoy, noting that a recent research review found that omega-3 supplements do not affect cardiovascular health.

Full story at Science Daily

Brains of young people with severe behavioral problems are ‘wired differently’

Research published today (Tuesday 1 May) has revealed new clues which might help explain why young people with the most severe forms of antisocial behaviour struggle to control and regulate their emotions, and might be more susceptible to developing anxiety or depression as a result.

The study, published in the journal Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience, used neuroimaging methods to investigate young people with the condition ‘Conduct Disorder’ — typified by symptoms that range from lying and truancy, through to physical violence and weapon use at its more extreme end.

Researchers from the universities of Bath (UK), Cambridge (UK) and the California Institute of Technology (USA) wanted to understand more about the wiring of the brain in adolescents with Conduct Disorder, and link connectivity to the severity of Conduct Disorder and ‘psychopathic traits’ — the term used to define deficits in guilt, remorse and empathy.

Full story at Science Daily

Networks of brain activity predict vulnerability to depression

Tapping into the electrical chatter between different regions of the brain may provide a new way to predict and prevent depression, according to new research by Duke University neuroscientists and electrical engineers.

The researchers found different networks of electrical brain activity in mice that were more susceptible to developing depression-like symptoms following stressful events than in more resilient mice.

If replicated in humans, these results could be the first step toward a test to predict a person’s vulnerabilty to developing mental illnesses like depression.

Full story at Science Daily

Women who attempt suicide exhibit different protein levels years after the attempt

Women with a history of suicide attempts exhibit different levels of a specific protein in their bloodstream than those with no history of suicide attempts, according to new research from Binghamton University, State University of New York.

Graduate student Anastacia Kudinova and Brandon E. Gibb, professor of psychology and director of clinical training at Binghamton University, recruited 73 women as part of a larger study focused on risk for depression and anxiety in families. They put the women into two groups — 34 women had a lifetime history of suicide attempts and 39 women had no lifetime history of suicide attempts. The researchers tested plasma levels in both groups for BDNF, or brain-derived neurotropic factor, a protein found in the brain and periphery that is critical to the creation and functioning of neurons and the ability of synapses to strengthen or weaken over time. They found that women with a history of suicide attempts displayed lower circulating levels of BDNF than women with no history of suicide attempts.

This evidence suggests that the level of BDNF found within a woman’s circulatory system serves as a promising biomarker for suicidal behavior.

Full story at Science Daily

Brain’s Alertness Circuitry Conserved Through Evolution

NIH-funded scientists revealed the types of neurons supporting alertness, using a molecular method called MultiMAP in transparent larval zebrafish. Multiple types of neurons communicate by secreting the same major chemical messengers: serotonin (red), dopamine and noradrenaline (yellow) and acetylcholine (cyan).
Source: Karl Deisseroth, M.D., Ph.D., Stanford University

Using a molecular method likely to become widely adopted by the field, researchers supported by the National Institutes of Health have discovered brain circuitry essential for alertness, or vigilance – and for brain states more generally. Strikingly, the same cell types and circuits are engaged during alertness in zebra fish and mice, species whose evolutionary forebears parted ways hundreds of millions of years ago. This suggests that the human brain is likely similarly wired for this state critical to survival.

“Vigilance gone awry marks states such as mania and those seen in post-traumatic stress disorder and depression,” explained Joshua Gordon, M.D., Ph.D., director of the NIH’s National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), which along with the National Institute on Drug Abuse, co-funded the study. “Gaining familiarity with the molecular players in a behavior – as this new tool promises – may someday lead to clinical interventions targeting dysfunctional brain states.”

Full story at NIHM

Creating brain cells to detect Tourette’s

Scientists at Rutgers University-New Brunswick used a genetic engineering technique for the first time to create brain cells from the blood cells of individuals in a three-generation family with Tourette syndrome to help determine what causes the disease.

“This is so important to the future research of Tourette’s and other neuropsychiatric disorders because before this technique was discovered we were unable to study brain-type nerve cells of living patients,” said Jay Tischfield, senior author of the study published in Molecular Psychology and MacMillan Distinguished Professor of Genetics. “I think this technique will give us a better understanding of what sorts of genes cause this disease. Also, these cells could be used to screen drugs that might be effective for treatment.”

While the technique — which led to a Nobel Prize in 2012 for the Japanese and British scientists who discovered it — has been used to investigate the genetic link of other psychiatric or neurological diseases like schizophrenia and Lou Gehrig’s disease, this is the first time the procedure was used in researching a cause of Tourette syndrome, which has no precise treatment and cannot yet be diagnosed by genetic testing.

Full story at Science Daily

Brain activity may be predictor of stress-related cardiovascular risk

The brain may have a distinctive activity pattern during stressful events that predicts bodily reactions, such as rises in blood pressure that increase risk for cardiovascular disease, according to new proof-of-concept research in the Journal of the American Heart Association, the Open Access Journal of the American Heart Association/American Stroke Association.

The new research, the largest brain-imaging study of cardiovascular stress physiology to date, introduced a brain-based explanation of why stress might influence a person’s heart health.

“Psychological stress can influence physical health and risk for heart disease, and there may be biological and brain-based explanations for this influence,” said Peter Gianaros, Ph.D., the study’s senior author and psychology professor at the University of Pittsburgh in Pennsylvania.

Full story at Science Daily