Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Brain Patterns Indicate OCD Risk

For the first time, scientists have discovered distinct brain patterns in individuals with OCD (obsessive compulsive disorder) and close family members. This discovery could lead to more effective identification and diagnosis of individuals who are at risk of developing the disorder which is known to run in families.

Obsessive compulsive disorder is a prevalent illness that affects 2–3 % of the population. OCD patients suffer from obsessions (unwanted, recurrent thoughts, concerns with themes of contamination and ‘germs', the need to check household items in case of fire or burglary, the symmetrical order of objects or fears of harming oneself or others) as well as compulsions (repetitive behaviours related to the obsessions such as washing and carrying out household safety checks). These symptoms can consume the patient's life, causing severe distress, alienation and anxiety.

The research involved OCD patients and healthy close family members as well as a control group of unrelated healthy individuals.

Researchers at Cambridge University used both MRI and a computerized test that measured the ability of the participant to stop repetitive behaviors. Those with OCD and their family members scored worse on the test. This was associated with decreases of grey matter in brain regions important in suppressing responses and habits.

Lara Menzies, in the Brain Mapping Unit at the University of Cambridge, explains, “Impaired brain function in the areas of the brain associated with stopping motor responses may contribute to the compulsive and repetitive behaviours that are characteristic of OCD. These brain changes appear to run in families and may represent a genetic risk factor for developing the condition. The current diagnosis of OCD available to psychiatrists is subjective and therefore knowledge of the underlying causes may lead to better diagnosis and ultimately improved clinical treatments.

Brain pattern associated with genetic risk of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Mirror Therapy Relieves Phantom Limb Pain

Up to 90% of all amputees suffer from phantom pain - that is, they experience pain from the missing limb. A study published in the New England Journal of Medicine examines the effectiveness of "mirror therapy" in relieving phantom pain.

Participants were assigned to one of three groups. One group viewed themselves in a mirror, a second group viewed a covered mirror and a third group was trained in mental visualization techniques. Neither the covered mirror nor the mental visualization techniques effectively alleviated phantom pain symptoms. Only 17% of those viewing the covered mirror reported less phantom pain with 50% reporting worsening pain. 67% of those utilizing mental visualization reported worsening pain. But 100% of those amputees who viewed the mirror image of themselves reported less phantom pain after a month's time.

The study found that mirror therapy reduced phantom limb pain in patients who had undergone amputation of the lower limbs. Such pain was not reduced by either covered mirror or mental visualization treatments. These results suggest that mirror therapy may be helpful in alleviating phantom pain in lower limbs.

Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences. "Phantom Limb Pain May Be Reduced By Simple Mirror Treatment." ScienceDaily 24 November 2007

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Brain Exercises Make Brains Ten Years Younger

An important new study shows that for seniors, doing the right kind of brain exercises can improve memory and enhance cognitive abilities, effectively taking ten years off the age of your brain.

The study involved two groups of people over age 65. Half of them completed up to 40 hours of the computer-based Posit Science Brain Fitness Program. The other group of participants completed up to 40 hours of a computer-based educational training program. The group doing the brain exercises showed significant improvement as opposed to the control group using just the educational program.

The study was conducted by Dr. Elizabeth Zelinksi of the University of Southern California. According to Zelinksi, participants using the Brain Fitness program saw improvements in their daily lives as a result of increased cognitive agility.

The group that relied on cranial calisthenics showed “significantly superior improvements in standardised clinical measures of memory gains of approximately 10 years,” said Dr Zelinksi, who did the work with Dr Glenn Smith of the Mayo Clinic, Minnesota.

“The changes we saw in the experimental group were remarkable – and significantly larger than the gains in the control group” Dr Zelinski said. “From a researcher’s point of view, this was very impressive – people got better at the tasks trained, those improvements generalized to various standardized measures of memory, and people perceived improvements in their lives.”


Thursday, November 15, 2007

Mind Reading Translates Thoughts to Sound for Paralysis Victim

Eric Ramsay's car accident 8 years ago left him completely paralyzed. His mind is active and alert, but he is unable to communicate in any way except through eye movement. Now scientists believe that they will be able to give him back his "voice" using an electrode implanted in his brain.

The electrode is implanted in the area of Eric's brain that controls movement of the mouth and tongue. Scientists are recording the signals created in Eric's brain when he thinks about speaking. By having Eric concentrate on making certain sounds they have been able to identify the signal patterns associated with three vowel sounds.

A computer will be brought in to analyze and translate Eric's thoughts into sounds. Scientists hope to add more vowels and consonants, important steps to realizing their goal of giving Eric Ramsay the ability to fully communicate.

Mind-reading brain implant could give paralysed man a voice

Monday, November 12, 2007

Fish Really is Brain Food

For years mothers have been encouraging kids with scrunched-up noses to eat their fish, advising them that it's "brain food". Well now researchers are proving that Mom was right.

Three separate studies showing that Omega-3 fatty acids improve cognitive function in older adults are reported on in the November issue of the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.

A Norwegian study, a Dutch study and a study done in New Zealand, all found that there was a link between eating fish and improved mental skills as well as improved physical health in older adults.
The Dutch study found less mental decline in participants whose Omega-3 blood levels were highest at the start of the study.

A report on all three studies can be found here.

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Key to Hunger is in the Brain

What is the difference between being physically full and being satisfied? Mood, stress and other factors often lead to overeating, but what gives some people a larger appetite than others all the time? Can scientists tell when we are hungry by looking at our brains?

Researchers at Imperial College London have reported that they can measure how full or how hungry mice are by imaging neurons in the hypothalamus area of the brain which regulates appetite. Using a contrast agent of manganese ion made the neurons visible on a magnetic resonance imaging scan.

The mice in the study were also given one of two hormones, ghrelin, which is known to increase appetite and pancreatic peptide YY (PYY) which inhibits appetite. As expected, the mice give the ghrelin showed greater intensity of signals in the "hunger neurons" and the signal decreased in the mice given PYY.

Professor Jimmy Bell, corresponding author of the study from the MRC Clinical Sciences Centre at Imperial College London, said: "Appetite and appetite control are important components of why people put on weight. We know very little about the mechanisms behind these processes and why they can vary so much between individuals. In the past we have had to rely on asking people how hungry they feel, this can be very subjective. Furthermore, sometimes your sense of satiety can be significantly affected by other factors such as your mood.

"Our new method is much more reliable and completely objective. With murine models, we can now look directly at neuronal activity in the brain. We are working on developing similar methods to study neuronal activity in the appetite centers in people," he added.

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Brain Myths

What are the realities and myths when it comes to brain fitness? It is true that our brain health and development are largely related to genetic makeup or can we influence brain fitness by what we do and learn?

11 leading neuroscientists debunk 10 common brain myths in a new whitepaper from SharpBrains, Inc. Among the myths that are challenged is the concept that brain exercises are just for ageing brains and are only for improving memory. The experts say that people of all ages can benefit from brain exercises. Even better, you don't need to buy expensive computer programs to retrain your brain, every time we learn a new skill or fact or have a new experience, the brain's neuroplasticity allows it to rewire itself, changing the physical composition of the brain.

“Learning is physical. Learning means the modification, growth, and pruning of our neurons, connections–called synapses– and neuronal networks, through experience...we are cultivating our own neuronal networks.” - Dr. James Zull, Professor of Biology and Biochemistry at Case Western University,

Read 11 Sharp Brains Debunk 10 Myths on the Science Behind The Nascent Brain Fitness Industry

Friday, November 2, 2007

Stem Cells Enhance Memory After Brain Injury

There may be new hope for patients with brain injuries. Stem cells have been shown to improve memory after a brain injury according to new research at UC Irvine. In fact, with the use of stem cells, the memories of brain-injured mice were returned to the level of healthy mice. Frank LaFerla, Mathew Blurton-Jones and Tritia Yamasaki performed the experiments and the report is published in the October 31 issue of The Journal of Neuroscience.

Moreover, researchers found that memory was enhanced although very few of the stem cells (about 4%) turned into neurons. A major focus of stem cell research has been how to turn stem cells into different types of cells, including neurons.

In the study, researchers destroyed brain cells in the area of the hippocampus, a region vital to memory formation. Both the brain-injured mice and healthy mice were tested on memory for both place and object. Before stem cell treatment, the brain-injured mice remembered their surroundings only 40% of the time as compared with 70% for the healthy mice.

Three months after implanting the stem cells, the mice were tested on place recognition. The researchers found that mice with brain injuries that also received stem cells remembered their surroundings about 70 percent of the time – the same level as healthy mice. In contrast, control mice that didn’t receive stem cells still had memory impairments.

The new research could lead to better and more effective treatments for patients who have suffered from brain injury.

“We know that very few of the cells are becoming neurons, so we think that the stem cells are instead enhancing the local brain microenvironment,” Blurton-Jones said. “We have evidence suggesting that the stem cells provide support to vulnerable and injured neurons, keeping them alive and functional by making beneficial proteins called neurotrophins.”

If supplemental neurotrophins are in fact at the root of memory enhancement, scientists could try to create a drug that enhances the release or production of these proteins. Scientists then could spend less time coaxing stem cells to turn into other types of cells, at least as it relates to memory research.

Stem cells can improve memory after brain injury