Posts Tagged ‘neurogenesis’

Brain Training Report – Eric – Session 12

Sunday, July 10th, 2011

Session number: 12

Average n-back: 5.05

I am glad my average N has increased from 4.85 to 5.05! I felt like N=5 was beyond me, but surprisingly, I stayed at N=5 for almost my entire session today. It feels great to think that neurogenesis really seems to be taking place in my brain.

MindSparke Brain Fitness Software

This post was submitted by Eric.

Neuroplasticity: Mind, Brain Interactions

Friday, July 8th, 2011

While we generally accept and understand that our life experiences help shape who we are, the fields of psychology and neuroscience have til now take rather separate paths in explaining how and why this happens. But at a recent conference in New York, Francois Ansermet, a psychoanalyst from Geneva university, and Pierre Magistretti, a neuroscientist from the Federal Institute of Technology in Lausanne, jointly addressed an audience of psychoanalysts, doctors and scientists, providing fascinating insights on the links between psychoanalysis and neuroscience.

“These are disciplines that have been on opposite ends of the spectrum in terms of understanding how the brain works,” Magistretti commented later. But research into neurogenesis and neuroplasticity shows that our experiences leave “impressions” on our brains, and these findings have attracted attention from both fields.

Neuroplasticity means that the connections between brain cells alter with experience, either growing stronger or weakening depending on the nature of the experience itself. This concept is mirrored in the ideas of psychoanalysis and the impact of life experiences on our psyche.

“The idea is that the trace for neuroscience and the trace for psychoanalysis are based on the biological facts, which are those of neural plasticity. These are a set of mechanisms by which our brain encodes experience – how we learn, how memory works and how life experience leaves traces in our brain,” Magistretti said.

On the most basic level, sensations of safety and happiness reinforce our awareness of and desire for circumstances that will repeat that experience. The experience stimulates the growth and connection of our brain cells so to preserve this association. Likewise when we are stressed or fearful we learn from the experience so that we can avoid it.

“Interestingly, many of these processes can happen outside of conscious awareness as our brains link our memories, feelings, expectations of the future, and current needs to determine what we are consciously feeling, thinking, and intending in a given moment,” commented Maggie Zellner, Executive Director of the New York-based Neuropsychoanalysis Foundation.

“What Magistretti and Ansermet are doing is something unusual – they are linking neuroplasticity with what psychoanalysis calls the dynamic unconscious, which is any mental activity that happens outside of awareness, like fears or wishes. These, in turn, influence our thoughts, feelings and behaviours,” said Zellner, conference moderator.

“Because our ever-changing brain is continually shaped by experience, this means that we all have the capacity to change dysfunctional or unhealthy patterns,” Zellner says.

“Over time, most of us tend to consistently have the same kinds of fears and desires, the same ways of having fun or making ourselves feel better during times of stress, the same ways of relating to others and thinking about ourselves.”

These insights may one day lead to improved treatments of psychological disorders.

Phillip Luloff, a psychiatrist and the associate director of the division of psychotherapy at Mount Sinai Hospital, found inspiration in their work.

“It talks to the hope that one has that there can be change, that the brain is flexible and plastic. And that by the induction of just talk [analysis] they seem to be able show that there is a modification in the structure of the brain, which causes an evolution in perhaps the way the person functions and may lead to the healing in the troubled people with whom we work, including ourselves.” he said.

Working Memory Research: Brain In A Dish

Tuesday, July 5th, 2011

Working Memory in an Ad Hoc Neural Network

In novel working memory research, scientists from the University of Pittsburgh used neural cultures from rats’ brains to create a functioning neural network in the laboratory. With just 40 to 60 neurons the researchers were surprised to find that the ad hoc neural network had a working memory span of up to 12 seconds.

Atop a silicon disk coated with proteins the scientists cultured embryonic hippocampus cells. Over time the cells formed a ring-shaped neural network able to transmit and receive electrical signals.

Stimulating the neurons with an electrical pulse, the team discovered that the network could circulate the pulse for up to 12 seconds, a surprising and dramatic result. This ability for the network to maintain information represents a form of working memory.

“Persistent activity in the brain is involved in working memory and motor planning. The ability of the brain to hold information ‘online’ long after an initiating stimulus is a hallmark of brain areas such as the prefrontal cortex.”

This and future research promises to tell us a lot about the functions of working memory formation and retrieval.

Brain Fitness Update: Neurogenesis And Depression

Thursday, June 2nd, 2011

neurogenesis zoloft brain fitnessWe’ve reported before on the link between increased neurogenesis and a reduction in the symptoms of depression. Physical exercise, brain training with effective brain fitness software and antidepressants all increase neurogenesis and alleviate depression. Now, British scientists have apparently discovered just how antidepressants stimulate the production of new brain cells.

While other brain fitness studies had previously shown that antidepressants caused the growth of new brain cells, until now scientists had not understood the mechanisms involved.

A brain fitness study by researchers from King’s College London’s Institute of Psychiatry and published in “Molecular Psychiatry” shows that the antidepressants regulate the glucocorticoid receptor (GR) — a protein critical to the brain’s response to stress. All types of antidepressant are dependent on the GR to create new cells, the scientists said.

Depression is accompanied by a decrease neurogenesis; this and the neurogenesis promotion associated with antidepressants leads brain fitness researchers to believe that reduced neurogenesis may be contributing to the symptoms of depression.

The study reviewed the effects of Zoloft, known generically as sertraline — an SSRI used to treat depression (other SSRIs include Prozac and Paxil). But the results also hold true for serotonin and norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs), including Effexor and Cymbalta.

“For the first time in a clinically relevant model, we were able to show that antidepressants produce more stem cells and also accelerate their development into adult brain cells,” brain fitness researcher Anacker said. “A specific protein in the cell, the glucocorticoid receptor, is essential for this to take place,” he went on. “The antidepressants activate this protein which switches on particular genes that turn immature stem cells into adult brain cells.”

As we’ve said before, all of the brain fitness research into pharmaceutical stimulation of neurogenesis is great, but we shouldn’t forget the benefits of physical exercise and working memory training.

Brain Fitness: Neurogenesis, Mood, PTSD

Tuesday, May 31st, 2011

New brain fitness research by a team at Columbia University isolates neurogenesis as a factor in improved pattern separation (in mice).

At first glance the report of this brain fitness research seemed like old news. The researchers had boosted neurogenesis and shown improved pattern separation (pattern separation is the brain function that enables us to make fine distinctions, such as distinguishing between similar places, events and experiences). But surely many previous brain fitness studies have shown a connection between neurogenesis and improved cognitive ability, I thought? Enriched environments and physical exercise, in particular, had been demonstrated to boost neurogenesis and cognitive ability.

But the new study isolated neurogenesis from all of the other possible influences on the boost in pattern separation:  “In addition to stimulating neurogenesis, these earlier methods exerted many other effects on the brain,” said Dr. René Hen, PhD, lead researcher on the study and professor of Neuroscience and Pharmacology, in the Departments of Neuroscience and Psychiatry at Columbia University and the New York State Psychiatric Institute. “As a result, you never knew with these older manipulations what’s due to neurogenesis, or what’s due to the other effects that these manipulations cause, and, indeed, what we find is that when you stimulate just adult neurogenesis, you actually get a subtle effect. Unlike broader manipulations, it does not affect all forms of learning, it’s very specific to tasks that require pattern separation.”

Dr. Hen points out that pattern separation is critical to many cognitive processes and boosting pattern separation could be beneficial to those with anxiety disorders, including PTSD, learning difficulties, cognitive loss due to aging or Alzheimers’, etc. “This paper, as a consequence, may stimulate a whole area of research in humans to try to determine who in the population may have a pattern separation deficit, and whether it is restricted to the emotional domain, or is present even while performing tasks devoid of emotional salience. Once these studies are done in humans, it may be possible to treat these people with specifically targeted drugs or more personalized therapies,” said Dr. Hen.

While targeted drugs could be one of the possible brain fitness options available to us, several years down the line, brain training software, physical exercise and enriched environments have been shown to bring about neurogenesis and cognitive gains and can be used today. Sure, they produce impacts in addition to neurogenesis, but these impacts are overwhelmingly, if not completely beneficial — such as increased blood flow and improved brain health.

Neurogenesis Restores Brain Fitness After Brain Injury

Monday, May 16th, 2011

An intriguing new brain fitness study published by researchers from the University of Texas shows that brain injury stimulates neurogenesis (new brain cell growth) and that the new brain cells aid in recovering learning and memory functions, thereby restoring brain fitness.

The brain then, it turns out, has mechanisms for self-repair.

Restoring Brain Fitness After Injury

Since the late 1990s scientists have known that the adult human brain generates new brain cells. Many have suspected that neurogenesis is good for the brain. The new research used mice to investigate the growth and function of newborn neurons in the hippocampus — an important learning and memory center. “It’s clear they are doing something, and that that something aids recovery,” says Jack Parent, a brain fitness expert at the University of Michigan Medical Center.

The Texas team genetically labeled newborn brain cells in the hippocampi, showing that brain injury stimulated an increase in neurogenesis. However, when they blocked neurogenesis at the time of injury it hampered the mice’s ability to learn a water maze. The new cells aided in recovery of brain fitness, in particular learning and memory functions.

“This suggests that if you get in the way of neurogenesis in a big way, it’s not good,” says Patrick Kochanek, an intensive care physician and brain injury expert at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine. This raises the question of whether some typical treatments for brain injury, such as sedation, might reduce neurogenesis and hamper recovery, he says.

Parent’s research indicates that some newborn brain cells wire into the wrong places and can increase the risk of seizures. “You need more neurons, but you need them in the right place,” he says.

Brain Fitness, Neurogenesis And Reproductive Wellness

Wednesday, May 4th, 2011

A new brain fitness study suggests that you should run not walk to the fertility clinic. If you do, you may find that you can cancel your appointment. Neuroscientists from Hong Kong have linked neurogenesis in the brain’s subventricular zone to reproductive health and wellness.

Brain fitness research findings indicate that reproductive activity and triggers, such as pheromones, may also help regulate neurogenesis in the olfactory system, where the sense of smell is located, and in the sub ventricular zone. “The potential importance of neurogenesis in sexual behavior, sexual cues and reproductive function has provided new insights,” said Dr. So, a brain fitness researcher. “These insights might provide a better understanding of sexual dysfunction, sexual disorders and normal sexual functioning.”

“These reviews show that the process of neurogenesis has far-reaching implications, including a beneficial exercise-induced response to stress and some degree of involvement with sexual behavior and reproduction,” added Prof. Shinn-Zong Lin, from the China University Medical Hospital, Taiwan and chair of the Pan Pacific Symposium on Stem Cell Research. “The studies reinforce the importance of a naturally occurring process that, until recently, was believed to be impossible.”

What does this mean for us? Well, the brain fitness studies reviewed by the researchers involved physical exercise as the means of promoting neurogenesis. So we can add this to the list of reasons we should be partaking in regular physical exercise.

Brain Fitness, Neurogenesis, And Social Contact

Friday, April 29th, 2011

Various brain fitness studies have shown that aerobic exercise stimulates neurogenesis (the growth of new brain cells). So researchers from Princeton University were surprised recently to discover thbrain fitness rat exercisingat rats set to a brain fitness training regime with regular treadmill exercise showed no detectable neurogenesis. What gave?

Comparing their method to previous brain fitness studies involving mice they found a possible but puzzling difference. While the neurogenetical mice had been kept in groups, the rats in the Princeton brain fitness study had been confined to solitary. Repeating their experiment with this in mind, the researchers studied the neurogenesis impact for solitary rats, rats in pairs, and rats in groups. The results showed that rats with social contact experienced rapid and robust growth of new brain cells, while solitary mice didn’t.

Rats, like humans, are social animals. Keeping them apart leads to stress. And other brain fitness studies have clearly connected stress to impaired neurogenesis. So, one plausible theory would say that loneliness inhibits brain fitness, or, conversely, that the combination of physical exercise and social contact lead to enhanced brain fitness.

Brain Fitness from Strength Training

Monday, March 14th, 2011

We’ve reported before on the benefits of aerobic exercise to brain fitness and brain function (Exercise Makes Your Brain Bigger | Exercise That Stimulates Brain Plasticity). And the second of those reports seemed to show that strength exercise (weight lifting) didn’t improve brain fitness and mental sharpness the way that aerobic exercise did. However, more recent research seems to suggest otherwise.

In one study Brazilian brain scientists devised a means of getting rodents to do resistance training (climbing a ladder with weights tied to their tails) for several weeks. They compared the brain training benefits of this resistance training to the benefits of regular aerobic exercise or no exercise and concluded that both the resistance training and the aerobic exercise improved spatial memory and activated neurogenesis.

And in a similar study Japanese researchers added a resistance load to the training wheels of rats, causing muscle gain over a period of training. This study, too, found that the resistance training acted as brain training, activating neurogenesis in the rats’ brains.

Studies of humans has also produced evidence in support of the hypothesis that resistance training in the form of weight lifting or loaded resistance exercise can improve brain function. (See A Better Brain After Weight Lifting.)

When viewed from a holistic and practical perspective it makes sense that we would have evolved in such a way that physical exercise and resistance training would act as a spur for neurogenesis and provide an excellent means of brain fitness training. If we’re living a sedentary, undemanding existence our brains can idle — they’re not being called upon to find or win food or outwit our competitors or provide solutions to life’s problems. On the other hand, a physically tough existence calls the brain to action so that it can help us secure that next morsel or escape the encroaching wildebeast.

Brain Fitness Foods: Top Ten Edibles for The Brain

Monday, March 14th, 2011

By way of the “Shape” top eleven we have the 10 best foods for the brain (we left out Yerba Mate tea since it’s a drink…):

Brain Fitness Food #1: Beets

Scientists at Wake Forest University found that natural nitrates in beets can increase blood flow to the brain, thereby improving mental performance.

Brain Fitness Food #2: Sage

Sage contains compounds that prevent the breakdown of acetylcholine, a neurotransmitter involved in learning and memory. A study published in Pharmacological Biochemical Behavior showed that young adults who took sage-oil extract (50 micro liters) before cognitive tests performed better than those given a placebo.

Brain Fitness Food #3: Beef

As published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition women with healthy iron levels performed better on mental tasks and completed them faster than those with poor iron status. Iron helps transport oxygen throughout the body and to the brain.

Brain Fitness Food #4: Sardines

Rich with EPA and DHA omega-3 fatty acids sardines facilitate communication among brain cells and help regulate neurotransmitters responsible for mental focus.

Brain Fitness Food #5: Egg Yolks

Egg yolks are a key source of choline which the body uses to produce acetylcholine, a neurotransmitter involved in memory formation. Eating protein-rich foods like eggs for breakfast can improve overall cognitive performance, according to Swiss researchers.

Brain Fitness Food #6: Oats

Since our bodies break down the carbohydrates in whole-grain oats very slowly, oats help keep glucose levels high for several hours rather than providing a rush and crash like more readily available carbs found in refined sugars, potatoes and wheat.

Brain Fitness Food #7: Lentils

Lentils are rich in folate, a B vitamin shown to help boost brain power. Folate also plays a role in decreasing levels of amino acids that can impair brain functioning.

Brain Fitness Food #8: Ground Flaxseed

Flax is the best source of alpha-linolenic acid (ALA)—a healthy fat that improves the workings of the cerebral cortex, the area of the brain that processes sensory information like touch and taste.

Brain Fitness Food #9: Walnuts

Scientists at Tufts University in Boston found that a diet rich in walnuts may improve mental performance. Walnuts have high levels of antioxidants and omega-3 fatty acids.

Brain Fitness Food #10: Spinach and Other Vegetables

Harvard Medical School researchers found that women who ate the most vegetables—especially green leafy vegetables (spinach and romaine lettuce) and cruciferous vegetables (broccoli and cauliflower)—experienced a slower rate of cognitive decline than women who ate the fewer vegetables.