This Week on NeuroScientistNews: 19-23 October
News Oct 24, 2015
Unresponsive but aware; Alzheimer's & memory formation during sleep; Holocaust memories help map gratitude; and more.
New insight into a vital cerebral pathway has explained how some patients in a vegetative state are aware despite appearing to be unconscious and being behaviorally unresponsive. The findings, published in JAMA Neurology, identify structural damage between the thalamus and primary motor cortex as the obstacle between covert awareness and intentional movement.
A newly-developed mathematical method can detect geometric structure in neural activity in the brain. "Previously, in order to understand this structure, scientists needed to relate neural activity to some specific external stimulus," said Vladimir Itskov, associate professor of mathematics at Pennsylvania State University. "Our method is the first to be able to reveal this structure without our knowing an external stimulus ahead of time. We've now shown that our new method will allow us to explore the organizational structure of neurons without knowing their function in advance."
Alzheimer's patients frequently suffer from sleep disorders, mostly even before they become forgetful. Furthermore, it is known that sleep plays a very important role in memory formation. Researchers from the Technical University of Munich have now been able to show for the first time how the pathological changes in the brain act on the information-storing processes during sleep. Using animal models, they were able to decode the exact mechanism and alleviate the impairment with medicinal agents.
Neuroscientists have mapped how the human brain experiences gratitude with help from an unexpected resource: Holocaust survivors' testimonies. "In the midst of this awful tragedy, there were many acts of bravery and life-saving aid," said lead author Glenn Fox, a post-doctoral researcher at the Brain and Creativity Institute at the University of Southern California who led the study. "With the Holocaust, we only typically associate the awful things. But when you listen to the survivors, you also hear stories of incredible virtue, and gratitude for the help they received."
The animal brain is so complex, it would take a supercomputer and vast amounts of data to create a detailed 3-D model of the billions of neurons that power it. But computer scientists and a professor of ophthalmology at the University of Utah have developed software that maps out a monkey's brain and more easily creates a 3-D model, providing a more complete picture of how the brain is wired. Their process was announced this week at Neuroscience 2015, the annual Society for Neuroscience meeting in Chicago.