This Week on NeuroScientistNews: 18 May – 22 May
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The neural highway; multiple sclerosis treatment; nature versus nurture, and more.
All neurons in the brain belong to complex neural circuits, typically receiving and transmitting activity from and to multiple brain areas. A critical question in systems neuroscience is whether a brain region broadcasts the same information to multiple downstream areas, or if activity to distinct brain areas somehow conveys different information. Understanding this question is a key step forward in understanding the circuitry underlying cognition.
A drug that could halt the progression of multiple sclerosis may soon be developed thanks to a discovery by a team at the CHUM Research Centre and the University of Montreal. The researchers have identified a molecule called MCAM, and they have shown that blocking this molecule could delay the onset of the disease and significantly slow its progression.
A new drug developed at Lancaster University in the UK that may help to prevent the early stages of Alzheimer's disease is to enter clinical trials. The number of people with dementia is steadily increasing. Currently there are about 850,000 cases in the UK, with numbers expected to reach over a million by 2021. The most common cause of dementia is Alzheimer's disease. It begins when a protein called beta-amyloid forms senile plaques that start to clump together in the brain, damaging nerve cells and leading to memory loss and confusion.
Duke and MIT scientists have discovered an area of the brain that is sensitive to the timing of speech, a crucial element of spoken language. Timing matters to the structure of human speech. For example, phonemes are the shortest, most basic unit of speech and last an average of 30 to 60 milliseconds. By comparison, syllables take longer: 200 to 300 milliseconds. Most whole words are longer still. In order to understand speech, the brain needs to somehow integrate this rapidly evolving information.
One of the great tussles of science – whether our health is governed by nature or nurture – has been settled, and it is effectively a draw. University of Queensland researcher Dr Beben Benyamin from the Queensland Brain Institute collaborated with researchers at VU University of Amsterdam to review almost every twin study across the world from the past 50 years, involving more than 14.5 million twin pairs. The findings, published in Nature Genetics, reveal on average the variation for human traits and diseases is 49%, and 51% due to environmental factors and/or measurement errors.