This Week on NeuroScientistNews: 6 April - 13 April
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Visual prosthesis; neural connections and autism; treatment for stroke and Alzheimer’s disease, and more.
Navigating a complex environment requires an egocentric representation: a neural signature of how you and your body relate to objects in your visual field. Part of the difficulty in exploring space for those without sight is the challenge of understanding how object positions relate to each other (allocentric representation) and to oneself (egocentric representation). Understanding how the brain encodes this activity is therefore a key step forward in understanding the neurobiology of vision, leading to possible treatments for blindness.
In early childhood, the neurons inside children's developing brains form connections between various regions of brain "real estate." As described in a paper published in the journal Biological Psychiatry, cognitive neuroscientists at San Diego State University found that in children and adolescents with autism spectrum disorder, the connections between the cerebral cortex and the cerebellum appear to be overdeveloped in sensorimotor regions of the brain. This overdevelopment appears to muscle in on brain "real estate" that in typically developing children is more densely occupied by connections that serve higher cognitive functioning.
Impaired vision is one of the most common consequences of a stroke. In rare cases, patients may even lose their ability to perceive depth. Such patients see the world around them as flat, like a two-dimensional picture. This makes it impossible for them to judge distances accurately – a skill they need, for instance, when reaching for a cup or when a car is approaching them on the street. A patient with this particular type of visual dysfunction has recently been studied in detail by the research team at Saarland University in collaboration with colleagues at the Charité university hospital in Berlin. The team has developed the first effective treatment regime and have identified the area of the brain that, when damaged, may cause loss of binocular depth perception.
Scientists from the University of South Australia, along with colleagues from Third Military Medical University in Chongqing, China, have discovered the drug Edaravone can alleviate the progressive cognitive deficits of Alzheimer's disease, a major social and economic burden worldwide. The discovery has been published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
When Debra Kamps, senior scientist at the University of Kansas (KU) Life Span Institute, first began researching how to improve the social and communication skills of children with autism in natural settings like schools in the 1970s, it was hard to find children with autism spectrum disorders (ASD) who were in classrooms with their typically developing peers.Today, Kamps and her colleagues from KU and the University of Washington can say with certainty that they know how teachers, speech therapists and others can teach social and communication skills to kids with ASD and their peers in the classroom, at lunch and even at recess after the results of the first large randomized study of a social communication intervention verified years of earlier research.