Posts Tagged ‘brain science’

Mapping Brain Regions To Intelligence

Tuesday, April 17th, 2012
Brain Map of Intelligence

Mapping Intelligence

Using an extraordinary group of volunteers with highly localized brain injuries suffered while serving in Vietnam, scientists have been able to create a map of the specific brain regions involved in intelligence.  Published in Brain: A Journal of Neurology, the study has yielded the most detailed and comprehensive picture yet of the regions involved in comprehension and working memory.

“It’s a significant challenge to find patients (for research) who have brain damage, and even further, it’s very hard to find patients who have focal brain damage,” said Dr. Aron Barbey from the University of Illinois, the study lead. These very localized brain injuries allow researchers “to draw inferences about how specific brain structures are necessary for performance.”

Creating a matrix of about 3,000 three-dimensional brain regions the scientists mapped functions against regions. “We found that general intelligence depends on a remarkably circumscribed neural system,” Barbey said. “Several brain regions, and the connections between them, were most important for general intelligence.”

In addition, the brain regions involved in forward thinking, impulse-control and other aspects of executive processing overlap significantly with regions key to general intelligence, further evidence that intelligence involves very specific brain areas working closely together.

“In fact, the particular regions and connections we found support an emerging body of neuroscience evidence indicating that intelligence depends on the brain’s ability to integrate information from verbal, visual, spatial and executive processes,” Barbey said. “This will open the door to further investigations into the biological basis of intelligence, exploring how the brain, genes, nutrition and the environment together interact to shape the development and continued evolution of the remarkable intellectual abilities that make us human.”

Related reading:

How To Increase IQ

Scientists Get Smarter, Share To Learn About IQ

Monday, April 16th, 2012

How many scientists does it take to correlate brain power with genetics? Answer: Lots.

In the previously stalled scientific inquiry into the relationship between brain functions and genetics the biggest problem had been sample size. But in a highly atypical instance of scientific group-Darwinism over 200 researchers decided to put aside ego and pool research data to move the ball forward.

“What’s really new here is this movement toward crowd-sourcing brain research,” said Paul Thompson, a professor of neurology at the University of California, Los Angeles, and senior author of one of the resulting papers. “This is an example of social networking in science, and it gives us a power we have not had.”

Two large aggregated research programs eventually joined forces leading to some significant findings:

  • Two genes that correlated strongly with overall brain size and the rate of brain atrophy with age.
  • Research into brain size also showed people with the larger brains tended to score slightly higher on a standardized test.
  • Roughly 10 percent of people possess the gene that correlates to slightly quicker atrophy of the hippocampus.


Scientists Read Brain Waves, Simulate Speech

Monday, February 13th, 2012

Brain Impulses

University of California, Berkeley, researchers have successfully decoded electrical impulses in the brain’s temporal lobe to reconstruct spoken words.

The study decoded the words that a person actually heard by capturing brain activity during the listening process.  “To use [the technology] for reconstructing imagined conversations, these principles would have to apply to someone’s internal verbalizations,” said author Brian N. Pasley, a post-doctoral researcher in the center. “There is some evidence that hearing the sound and imagining the sound activate similar areas of the brain. If you can understand the relationship well enough between the brain recordings and sound, you could either synthesize the actual sound a person is thinking, or just write out the words with a type of interface device.”

“This is huge for patients who have damage to their speech mechanisms because of a stroke or Lou Gehrig’s disease and can’t speak,” said co-author Robert Knight, a UC Berkeley professor of psychology and neuroscience. “If you could eventually reconstruct imagined conversations from brain activity, thousands of people could benefit.”

In addition to the potential for expanding the communication ability of the severely disabled, he noted, the research also “is telling us a lot about how the brain in normal people represents and processes speech sounds.”

Pasley and his colleagues at UC Berkeley, UC San Francisco, University of Maryland and The Johns Hopkins University report their findings Jan. 31 in the open-access journal PLoS Biology.  To hear the reconstructed words, visit the Berkeley news page:


Staten Island High School Practices Meditation

Wednesday, June 9th, 2010

I found this piece very exciting. A high school in Staten Island, NY, is piloting a brief but regular period of meditation as an experiment to see whether it improves students’ concentration and academic performance. Fascinating!

“Before, they didn’t pay attention and they felt the need to be snarky in order to show they existed and to wake up. For teachers to yell at them about these things takes time out of class and makes them feel worse about themselves,” said Susan Finley, executive director of The Producers Project, which has been filming Concord High School students for seven years. “Now, when a teacher says focus, they know they can…There’s more confidence, they’re more relaxed in their own skin, and they feel more hopeful.”

The meditation practice is coupled with education about neuroplasticity and brain science.

(Image courtesy of

Reviving Brain Plasticity

Saturday, March 27th, 2010

ucsf-brain-scienceA team from the University of California in San Francisco have revived plasticity in the brains of young mice. The finding provides hope that future therapies may permit the repair of brain circuits after injury or disease.

The team transplanted a specific type of immature neuron from embryonic mice into the visual cortex of young mice – a method that doctors could theoretically use to treat neural circuits disrupted in abnormal fetal or postnatal development, stroke, traumatic brain injury, psychiatric illness and aging.

A naturally occurring signaling chemical (or neurotransmitter) known as GABA creates the conditions for acute plasticity in the visual cortex. The study, published in the journal Science, (Vol. 327. no. 5969, 2010), showed that transplanted embryonic neurons, once producing GABA, could induce plasticity in young mice even after the end of the normal critical period.

“The findings suggest it ultimately might be possible to use inhibitory neuron transplantation, or some factor that is produced by inhibitory neurons, to create a new period of plasticity of limited duration for repairing damaged brains,” says author Sunil P. Gandhi, PhD, postdoctoral fellow in the lab of Michael Stryker, PhD, professor of physiology and a member of the Keck Center for Integrative Neurosciences at UCSF. “It will be important to determine whether transplantation is equally effective in older animals.”

Likewise, “the results raise a fundamental question: how do these cells, as they pass through a specific stage in their development, create these windows of plasticity?” says author Derek G. Southwell, PhD, a student in the lab of Arturo Alvarez-Buylla, PhD, Heather and Melanie Muss Professor of Neurological Surgery and a member of the Eli and Edythe Broad Center of Regeneration Medicine and Stem Cell Research at UCSF.

This or similar processes could also explain why young children can learn with ease (new languages for instance) but not adults.

More information: Science paper: “Cortical Plasticity Induced by Inhibitory Neuron Transplantation”,

Exercise Makes Your Brain Bigger

Sunday, February 21st, 2010
Aerobic Exercise Increases Hippocampal Volume

Aerobic Exercise Increases Hippocampal Volume

In a study that focused specifically on patients suffering from schizophrenia, but also observing changes in non-schizophrenics, scientists have found that aerobic exercise increases the volume of the hippocampus by as much as 16%.

The volume increased by 12% in those with schizophrenia and by 16% in those without and was associated with improvements in short-term memory test scores.
“These results indicate that in [these patients], hippocampal volume is plastic in response to aerobic exercise,” write Frank-Gerald Pajonk, MD, Dr. K. Fontheim’s Hospital for Mental Health, Liedenburg, Germany, and colleagues.

“To provide a context, the magnitude of these changes in volume was similar to that observed for other subcortical structures when patients were switched from typical to atypical antipsychotic drug therapy,” they add.

“To be honest, we’ve been surprised that we found these results,” Dr. Pajonk told Medscape Psychiatry. “We double and tripled checked it, but the results were always confirmed. To our knowledge, this is the first time that it has been shown that the hippocampus is growing in patients with schizophrenia with a suitable method.

“As the hippocampus is one of the core structures in schizophrenia, we were thinking that if there was an increase in volume, it could give some improvement in cognition. And that’s what we found, at least to a small extent,” he added.

We’ve done this same study in other brain structures and did not find any volume increases,” said Dr. Pajonk. “So this really seems to be a result that is specific to the hippocampus. That means it’s not just a question of blood flow or unspecific factors, but maybe it’s really specific for development of neurons in terms of increase in synapses or even neurogenesis.”

He added that it may be too soon to draw any clinical conclusions.

The investigators hope to continue to follow up these patients and are awaiting funding for a new study comparing the effects of exercise with cognitive training.

“Although I can’t prove it right now, I’m positive that exercise is doing good in the treatment of schizophrenia,” said Dr. Pajonk. “Many of the schizophrenia patients from the sporting groups were able to go on and develop a life of their own, moving to a new apartment, taking up a job again, etc. It’s a bit early and we just had a small sample size, but with this small number of patients, we were really surprised and amazed at what has happened to them.”

From Arch Gen Psychiatry. 2010;67:133-143.

Also see:

Schizophrenia Improved By Mental And Physical Exercise

Effects of Physical Exercise & Schizophrenia

Neurogenesis and Brain Fitness for Stroke Victims

Sunday, February 21st, 2010
How A Stroke Affects The Brain

How A Stroke Affects The Brain

Scientists at the University of Iowa have published results of a fascinating study showing that antidepressants can improve the cognitive functioning of stroke victims.

Prior studies had indicated that antidepressants provided cognitive benefits for depressed stroke victims. The authors of this study set out to find whether the same would be true for those not suffering from depression.

“We knew that a patient with depression had poorer outcomes. We knew also that antidepressants improved outcomes among depressed patients,” professor Ricardo Jorge explained. “But we really didn’t have (although we had a hint) evidence that antidepressants given in small doses — relatively small doses — would be able to modify the outcome of these patients, particularly the cognitive outcome.”

The team compared the benefits of antidepressant treatment to the improvements on cognitive tests in two control groups, who received training in problem-solving skills or a placebo.

“The change in memory scores in this neuropsychological test for those patients who received the escitalopram was 11.3 points, against 2.5 points of positive change in patients who did not receive escitalopram,” says Dr. Jorge.

While pointing out that increased neurogenesis isn’t the only possible explanation for the cognitive benefits of antidepressants to the stroke patients he indicated that it was a distinct possibility:

“This is a complex issue, because there are several alternatives,” he explains. “One, and probably one that is quite appealing because this is related to the mechanism of antidepressants for treatment of depression, is that antidepressants have an effect called a neurotrophic effect. In a sense, that increases the expression of neurotrophic factors.”

“There is evidence that it will increase the neurogenesis and the proliferation of primordial neurons in the hippocampus,” Dr. Jorge theorized. “There are several trophic effects that help the brain reorganize itself. This is also important because the period immediately after a stroke is a period of greater plasticity in the brain, where the brain tries to compensate for its deficits. In not only a functional way but also in a structural way, there are changes in structure and changes in function that try to override the deficits brought by the stroke.”

See original report.

Brain Food | Magnesium On The Brain

Thursday, January 28th, 2010

Professor Guosong Liu, Director of the Center for Learning and Memory at Tsinghua University in Beijing, China, and her team have shown that increased levels of magnesium as a dietary supplement boosts brain power.

Smart Mouse

Smart Mouse

“Magnesium is essential for the proper functioning of many tissues in the body, including the brain and, in an earlier study, we demonstrated that magnesium promoted synaptic plasticity in cultured brain cells,” explains Dr. Liu. “Therefore it was tempting to take our studies a step further and investigate whether an increase in brain magnesium levels enhanced cognitive function in animals.”

Dr. Liu’s team created a new magnesium compound, magnesium-L-threonate (MgT) to increase magnesium in the brain’s of rats of different ages and studied the impact on the brain functions of the rats.

“We found that increased brain magnesium enhanced many different forms of learning and memory in both young and aged rats,” says Dr. Liu. They also saw increases in the number of synapses, activation of key signaling molecules and an enhancement of short- and long-term the synaptic processes critical to learning and memory.

*** The issue is, according to my supplement contacts, that magnesium chelates (like the new one mentioned in the study – MgT) are only 4 to 12% magnesium – which means you have to take 10grams (16 capsules) to get 500mg Magnesium. Brazil Nuts and Chocolate are the top Magnesium foods groups. ***

The control rats in the study ate a normal diet widely accepted to contain sufficient magnesium. The observed effects, the authors conclude, derive from an elevation of magnesium to levels higher than provided by a normal diet.

“Our findings suggest that elevating brain magnesium content via increasing magnesium intake might be a useful new strategy to enhance cognitive abilities,” explains Dr. Liu. “Moreover, half the population of industrialized countries has a magnesium deficit, which increases with aging. This may very well contribute to age-dependent memory decline; increasing magnesium intake might prevent or reduce such decline.”

View original report

Brain Fitness And Meditation

Saturday, January 23rd, 2010

Saw this study today related to the mental health benefits of meditation which I found interesting – here’s a key excerpt from the overview:

“Evidence to support a neuroprotective effect [of meditation] comes from cognitive, electroencephalogram (EEG), and structural neuroimaging studies. In one cross-sectional study, meditation practitioners were found to have a lower age-related decline in thickness of specific cortical regions. However, the enthusiasm must be balanced by the inconsistency and preliminary nature of existing studies as well as the fact that meditation comprises a heterogeneous group of practices.”

1: Doraiswamy PM, Xiong GL. Does Meditation Enhance Cognition and Brain
Longevity? Ann N Y Acad Sci. 2007 Sep 28. [Epub ahead of print] PubMed PMID:

Emphasis mine.

New Brain Science Facility At UCSF

Friday, January 22nd, 2010

The University of California in San Francisco today unveils newly approved plans to build a neuroscience building on its Mission Bay campus. It will house several basic research programs seeking cures for intractable neurological disorders.

Funding approval was granted yesterday by University of California Board of Regents.

The new facility will provide a shared space for clinicians, clinician-researchers and basic scientists to accelerate advances against such disorders as Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, multiple sclerosis, stroke, migraine, epilepsy, autism, mental retardation and cerebral palsy.

“This culminates a 10-year dream,” says Nobel laureate Stanley B. Prusiner, MD, director of the Institute for Neurodegenerative Diseases. “This building will bring together some of the best scientists in the world to work on these very prevalent diseases of the brain. The opportunity for major progress is tremendous.”

“UCSF Mission Bay will be one of the biggest neuroscience complexes in the world.”

“This building exemplifies UCSF’s commitment to discovery, education and patient care,” says UCSF Chancellor Sue Desmond-Hellmann, MD, MPH. “It represents my vision for UCSF. In the face of these challenging financial times, it is imperative that we maintain our strategic vision and continue our leadership role in tackling the world’s devastating diseases.”

“We have an unprecedented opportunity with this building to establish a Manhattan project-like approach for moving in on these devastating neurological disorders,” says Stephen L. Hauser, MD, chair of the Department of Neurology.

“Clinicians treating patients with neurological conditions, clinician-researchers carrying out brain imaging and drug studies in patients, scientists studying the molecular and cellular basis of diseases, and scientists studying how the brain normally functions will be able to share their expertise, brainstorm, collaborate.”

“Ultimately, we want to be able to stop disease progression, repair damage that has already occurred and prevent disease from occurring in the first place,” he says.

“In MS, we’re currently planning the first clinical study to see if it can be halted before it begins.”

And in reading the press release, here is where I started to notice the emphasis on drug interventions and the absence of mention that San Francisco is also a hub for interventions that don’t require drugs, such as brain training!

** Collaborations with Silicon Valley, the biotech industry and the pharmaceutical industry will be key to this effort, Hauser says. Equally critical, he says, will be cultivating the next generation of neuroscience investigators and inspiring careers in translational medicine. **

The world-class neuroscientists of the Keck Center, whose studies of brain function have shed light on how the human brain learns and remembers, how it sees, hears, moves the body’s limbs, and feels pain, will add another dimension to the research conducted in the building. Pioneers in the study of the brain’s “plasticity,” or capacity to change, these scientsts focus on how brain cells work together to generate behaviors. Their intent is to learn enough about these processes that the brain could be taught to repair itself in patients born with disabilities, such as autism, or afflicted with disorders such as neurodegenerative diseases or stroke.

“Our goal in moving to this building is to help our colleagues understand how the brain works when it’s functioning well and for us to discover what happens in the whole system when brain function fails at the level of molecules and cells,” says Allison J. Doupe, MD, PhD, a psychiatrist and senior neuroscientist at the Keck Center.