March 3, 2011

Interactive Video: Progression of Alzheimer’s in the Brain

Click here for an interactive video showing the progression of Alzheimer’s in the brain from the Globe and Mail.

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February 24, 2011

Meditation alters your grey matter, studies show

From the Globe and Mail:

Move over cryptic crosswords and Sudoku, and make way for the ultimate mental workout. It’s called Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction, or MBSR for short. Recent neuroscience research shows that novices using the method – developed at the University of Massachusetts Medical School in the 1970s – can get results in just eight weeks.

Brain-changing results, that is.

A 2010 study found that non-meditators who had eight weeks of MBSR training were more likely than a control group to access the brain region that provides a bodily sense of the “here and now” as opposed to the region associated with worry.

In other research published in January, brain scans of MBSR participants with no previous meditation experience showed increased grey-matter density in regions involved in learning and memory, emotion regulation, self-awareness and perspective taking.

Click here to read the rest of the article.

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January 13, 2011

“Erasing” Traumatic Memories Moving from Science Fiction to Scientific Reality

From: TheGlobeandMail.com

The brain has a remarkable capacity for keeping track of our past experiences. But detailed memories can sometimes seem more a curse than a blessing. This is especially true for those who’ve suffered significant losses or other traumas. Thus, while the holiday season is meant to be a joyous time, for many it merely provides salient reminders of these debilitating experiences.

Fortunately, researchers are discovering that memories may be far less durable than previously thought. Indeed research on “erasing” traumatic memories is quickly moving from the realm of science fiction to scientifically backed reality.

That each of us may be able to exert some control over what gets in and what then stays in long-term memory arises from our growing understanding of how the brain represents and stores information related to our conscious life experiences.

Read the entire article: “Erasing” Traumatic Memories Moving from Science Fiction to Scientific Reality

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November 10, 2010

“What Babies Want” – An exploration of the Consciousness of Infants

From: WhatBabiesWant.com

DVD Documentary starring Charlie Rose, Noah Wyle, and Joseph Chilton Pearce.

What Babies Want is an award winning documentary film that explores the profoundly important and sacred opportunity we have in bringing children into the world. Filled with captivating stories and infused with Noah Wyle’s warmth as narrator, the film demonstrates how life patterns are established at birth and  before. The documentary includes groundbreaking information on early development as well as appearances by the real experts: babies and families.

Research is now showing us that our society is a product of how we welcome and raise our children. When babies are welcomed with love and warmth and given the immediate opportunity to bond with parents,  they develop minds that are coherent and flexible, ready in turn to make compassionate and meaningful connections with others as they grow.

As we learn how early relationships shape the structure and function of the brain, we are also gaining a new appreciation of the wisdom of ancient cultures that understood the importance of welcoming children before, during and after the moment of birth.

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November 6, 2010

Long-term Memories The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

From The Dana Foundation

Editor’s note: Traumatic memories haunt the lives of people suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD, and other illnesses. Fortunately, recent research into the changeability of long-term memories may someday develop into treatments for such individuals. But before this can happen, writes Cristina Alberini, Ph.D., of Mount Sinai School of Medicine, researchers must determine just how effectively the fear associated with older memories—especially those involved in PTSD—can be reduced and for how long. Researchers must also address the ethical issues that go hand in hand with modifying memory.

For more than a century, clinicians, psychologists, and biologists have worked to understand the mechanisms underlying the formation and storage of long-term memories. Recently, scientists found that when a stored memory is recalled, it becomes sensitive to disruption for a limited time.1,2 This finding indicates that it might be possible to weaken or even erase memories of traumatic experiences that become uncontrollably intrusive in post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). This possibility has drawn great interest from scientific and clinical communities, as well as from nonscientists, who became interested in its potential clinical applications; furthermore, it raised ethical concerns.

Many ethical questions and debates about treatments designed to weaken memories may reflect the still poor understanding of how memory recall or reactivation results in memory fragility and the many unknowns surrounding its temporal boundaries. Whereas the study of animal models and healthy humans has provided some knowledge about post-recall memory disruption, data on the use of such disruption to treat PTSD symptoms are still conflicting. The strengthening of memory with the passage of time, the resilience of strong memories to disruption, and the specific aspects of memory that become sensitive to disruption raise questions about the limitations of this approach and warrant more research. Here, we will look at how we form memories of an emotional event and how these memories become fragile after recall. That will help us consider the potential, limitations, and ethics of disrupting memories of emotion.

Read the entire article

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November 3, 2010

Charlie Rose: The Brain Series

The Charlie Rose Brain Series consists of interviews with some of the most knowledgeable scientists and researchers studying the human brain, including Drs. Eric Kandel and Oliver Sacks. Each monthly episode examines different subjects of the brain, including perception, social interaction, aging and creativity.

For more information, please check the Charlie Rose Brain Series website.

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October 29, 2010

A Little Black Box to Jog Failing Memory

brain injury,cognitive science,memory — alice @ 1:14 pm

From: The New York Times

PITTSBURGH — On a cold, wet afternoon not long ago, Aron Reznick sat in the lounge of a home for the elderly here, his silver hair neatly combed, his memory a fog. He could not remember Thanksgiving dinner with his family, though when he was given a hint — “turkey” — it came back to him, vaguely, like a shadow in the moonlight.

Two years ago, Mr. Reznick, who has early-stage Alzheimer’s disease and is now 82, signed up for an experiment intended to help people with Alzheimer’s and other memory disorders. The concept was simple: using digital pictures and audio to archive an experience like a weekend visit from the grandchildren, creating a summary of the resulting content by picking crucial images, and reviewing them periodically to awaken and strengthen the memory of the event.

Click here for the complete article.

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October 27, 2010

Hypnosis Leads to Heightened Brain Waves and Levels of Consciousness

From: Natural News

Many people are wary of hypnosis because they are not educated on the topic. Hypnosis is a natural state and many people reach this state of consciousness every day without even realizing it. When you drive a car, you are in a light state of hypnosis. You are in control, you have an increased ability to concentrate, and you are operating on autopilot without really realizing it. A great deal of research has been conducted on the hypnotic state and various states of consciousness.

Your brain has four different brain wave states: beta, alpha, theta, and delta. While you are reading this article, you are in the state of beta. You are alert and able to concentrate on this article. The beta state is normal wakening state. Alpha state is a relaxed state. You are able to access creativity and visualization. Theta state is a deeper state of relaxation; this is a common state of hypnosis and meditation. Theta allows you to access memories. You experience theta as you fall asleep and wake up every day. Lastly is delta, which occurs while sleeping. Delta allows your body to heal. You are able to access your subconscious mind during alpha, theta, and delta states and can also reach various depths of hypnosis (Tools for Wellness).

Read the entire article

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October 26, 2010

The Default Network: Your Mind, on Its Own Time

From The Dana Foundation:

Studies about the brain usually focus on neural activity during the completion of a specific task—remembering a series of words, for example. But over the last 20 years, researchers have been interested in what the brain does during periods of supposed inactivity. They discovered that when someone appears to be doing nothing at all, a network of brain regions—named the default network—is hard at work, allowing for the rich inner lives inside our heads. Applying what is known about the default network to diseases like Alzheimer’s allows for new possibilities for diagnosis and evaluation of treatments.

You’re lying in a brain scanner in the dark, looking up at a small white crosshair, left alone with your thoughts for the next six minutes. What goes through your mind? Perhaps you think about why you volunteered for this, or what you’ll do with the money you earn from this experiment. Perhaps you plan out the rest of your day, or start replaying a conversation from yesterday. New techniques in neuroimaging are helping scientists understand how your brain represents such internally directed and spontaneous thoughts.

Read the entire article

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October 21, 2010

Could an Experimental Memory Drug Put an End to “Senior Moments”?

From: Discover Magazine Online:

A new drug seems to be able to reverse normal age-related memory decline in old mice–like a face-lift for neurons, bringing them back to their younger days. The results of the experimental treatment, which works by blocking certain stress hormones, were published in the Journal of Neuroscience.

“What’s most surprising is that even short-term inhibition was able to reverse memory loss in old mice,” says Jonathan Seckl, a professor of molecular medicine who was involved in the research. “I don’t think people had realized this was so reversible. It takes [the animals] back to being relatively young.” [Technology Review].

Research has shown that stress hormones called glucocorticoids play a role in memory loss, by damaging the brain over time. But targeting the glucocorticoids themselves is dangerous, because reducing their levels would leave the body without a stress response. The researchers therefore targeted an enzyme instead, which activates the hormone in neurons.

Click here for the complete article.

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October 25, 2009

Theta Rhythm and Memory Performance

In a recent study, Sebastian Guderian and colleagues examined the relation between theta oscillations and memory performance. During the study phase of this memory experiment, participants were presented with words and either performed a semantic or phonemic encoding task (there were two levels of processing used in this experiment). During the study phase, the researchers obtained whole-head MEG recordings. Later on during the test phase, the participants were given a free-recall test on the words that were presented to them during the study phase.

Interestingly, Guderian and colleagues found that amplitudes of theta oscillations that shortly preceded the presentation of the words were higher for those words that were later recalled during the free-recall test, compared to those words that were later forgotten.

Although past studies have shown that specific patterns of brain activity are associated with the encoding of items, this study by Guderian and colleagues is one of a handful of more recent studies that demonstrate pre-stimulus brain activity that is associated with later memory performance (another example is a study by Otten and colleagues).

Moreover, although semantic study tasks typically lead to better memory performance compared to phonemic tasks, the results of the study by Guederian and colleagues suggest that this study task benefit is not only statistically independent from the theta-related recall benefit, but that these benefits are additive.

Click here for the full paper.

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October 21, 2009

What Can Dance Teach Us about Learning?

cognitive neuroscience,memory — alice @ 9:19 pm

From the Dana Foundation: We might begin to learn a dance step when someone describes it to us, but we learn it better when we physically perform the steps as we observe and imitate an instructor doing them. Scott Grafton’s research sheds light on the brain’s action observation network, which fires up both when we perform an action and when we watch someone else perform it. Dr. Grafton contends that his and others’ findings highlight the importance of including physical learning in the classroom, to stimulate creativity, increase motivation and bolster social intelligence.

Click here for the complete article.

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October 17, 2009

Alpha Oscillations, Attention and Consciousness

One way to describe brain activity measured by EEG or MEG is by its frequency content. Frequencies can be categorized into one of the following ranges: low, middle and high. The low frequencies include the delta and theta ranges, whereas the middle frequency range consists of the alpha and beta ranges. The gamma wave belongs to the high frequency group.

Different cognitive functions have been associated with these different frequency ranges. Specifically, alpha oscillations have been associated with the inhibition of brain regions that are not required to perform a given task. However, in a past paper, Palva and Palva summarized an accumulating body of evidence that suggested that alpha oscillations play a much larger role in cognition by contributing to mechanisms of attention and consciousness. Click here for full access to the paper.

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May 19, 2009

Neuroscience Meets Psychoanalysis

books,memory,neuroscience,web resource — alice @ 1:29 am

From the Dana Foundation: Dr. Pierre Magistretti and Dr. Francois Ansermet spoke with Dana Foundation Chairman William Safire about their book, Biology of Freedom: Neural Plasticity, Experience, and the Unconscious, and the bridge between neuroscience and psychoanalysis. The event took place on November 14, 2007 at the Dana Center in Washington, DC. 

Click here for the audio archive.

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April 10, 2009

Investigating the Awareness of Remembering

Ken A. Paller, Joel L.Voss, Carmen E. Westerberg
Article in Perspectives on Psychological Science

Abstract
There is a marked lack of consensus concerning the best way to learn how conscious experiences arise. In this article, we advocate for scientific approaches that attempt to bring together four types of phenomena and their corresponding theoretical accounts: behavioral acts, cognitive events, neural events, and subjective experience. We propose that the key challenge is to comprehensively specify the relationships among these four facets of the problem of understanding consciousness without excluding any facet. Although other perspectives on consciousness can also be informative, combining these four perspectives could lead to significant progress in explaining a conscious experience such as remembering. We summarize some relevant findings from cognitive neuroscience investigations of the conscious experience of memory retrieval and of memory behaviors that transpire in the absence of the awareness of remembering. These examples illustrate suitable scientific strategies for making progress in understanding consciousness by developing and testing theories that connect the behavioral expression of recall and recognition, the requisite cognitive transactions, the neural events that make remembering possible, and the awareness of remembering.

Click here for the full paper.

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January 31, 2009

Caloric Restriction Improves Memory in Elderly Humans

cognition,memory — alice @ 1:49 am

A. V. Witte, M. Fobker, R. Gellner, S. Knecht and A. Flöel
Article in PNAS

Abstract
Animal studies suggest that diets low in calories and rich in unsaturated fatty acids (UFA) are beneficial for cognitive function in age. Here, we tested in a prospective interventional design whether the same effects can be induced in humans. Fifty healthy, normal- to overweight elderly subjects (29 females, mean age 60.5 years, mean body mass index 28 kg/m) were stratified into 3 groups: (i) caloric restriction (30% reduction), (ii) relative increased intake of UFAs (20% increase, unchanged total fat), and (iii) control. Before and after 3 months of intervention, memory performance was assessed under standardized conditions. We found a significant increase in verbal memory scores after caloric restriction (mean increase 20%; P < 0.001), which was correlated with decreases in fasting plasma levels of insulin and high sensitive C-reactive protein, most pronounced in subjects with best adherence to the diet (all r values < -0.8; all P values <0.05). Levels of brain-derived neurotrophic factor remained unchanged. No significant memory changes were observed in the other 2 groups. This interventional trial demonstrates beneficial effects of caloric restriction on memory performance in healthy elderly subjects. Mechanisms underlying this improvement might include higher synaptic plasticity and stimulation of neurofacilitatory pathways in the brain because of improved insulin sensitivity and reduced inflammatory activity. Our study may help to generate novel prevention strategies to maintain cognitive functions into old age.

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Hyperactivity and Hyperconnectivity of the Default Network in Schizophrenia and in First-degree Relatives of Persons with Schizophrenia

Susan Whitfield-Gabrieli, Heidi W. Thermenos, Snezana Milanovic, Ming T. Tsuang, Stephen V. Faraone, Robert W. McCarley, Martha E. Shenton, Alan I. Green, Alfonso Nieto-Castanon, Peter LaViolette, Joanne Wojcik, John D. E. Gabrieli and Larry J. Seidman
Article in PNAS

Abstract
We examined the status of the neural network mediating the default mode of brain function, which typically exhibits greater activation during rest than during task, in patients in the early phase of schizophrenia and in young first-degree relatives of persons with schizophrenia. During functional MRI, patients, relatives, and controls alternated between rest and performance of working memory (WM) tasks. As expected, controls exhibited task-related suppression of activation in the default network, including medial prefrontal cortex (MPFC) and posterior cingulate cortex/precuneus. Patients and relatives exhibited significantly reduced task-related suppression in MPFC, and these reductions remained after controlling for performance. Increased task-related MPFC suppression correlated with better WM performance in patients and relatives and with less psychopathology in all 3 groups. For WM task performance, patients and relatives had greater activation in right dorsolateral prefrontal cortex (DLPFC) than controls. During rest and task, patients and relatives exhibited abnormally high functional connectivity within the default network. The magnitudes of default network connectivity during rest and task correlated with psychopathology in the patients. Further, during both rest and task, patients exhibited reduced anticorrelations between MPFC and DLPFC, a region that was hyperactivated by patients and relatives during WM performance. Among patients, the magnitude of MPFC task suppression negatively correlated with default connectivity, suggesting an association between the hyperactivation and hyperconnectivity in schizophrenia. Hyperactivation (reduced task-related suppression) of default regions and hyperconnectivity of the default network may contribute to disturbances of thought in schizophrenia and risk for the illness.

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January 17, 2009

The ‘Super-aged’ Proffer a Template

From The Dana Foundation: My great-grandmother lived to the ripe old age of 98. While many of her friends and neighbors had lost critical cognitive function decades before, requiring assistance for day-to-day activities, she somehow maintained her faculties well enough to live on her own well into her 90s. What was it about my great-grandmother’s brain-and those of others like her-that allowed her to retain these essential cognitive capabilities? Researchers at Northwestern University and elsewhere are shedding some light on the so-called “super-aged,” offering new insight into the aging brain and memory.

Click here for complete article.


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December 8, 2008

H.M.’s Brain and the History of Memory

memory,web resource — alice @ 2:45 am

For an audio recording provided by the National Public Radio on patient H.M. and his contribution to memory research, click here.

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H. M., an Unforgettable Amnesiac, Dies at 82

memory — alice @ 1:18 am

From The New York Time (4 Dec. 2008): He knew his name. That much he could remember.

He knew that his father’s family came from Thibodaux, La., and his mother was from Ireland, and he knew about the 1929 stock market crash and World War II and life in the 1940s.

But he could remember almost nothing after that.

In 1953, he underwent an experimental brain operation in Hartford to correct a seizure disorder, only to emerge from it fundamentally and irreparably changed. He developed a syndrome neurologists call profound amnesia. He had lost the ability to form new memories.

For the next 55 years, each time he met a friend, each time he ate a meal, each time he walked in the woods, it was as if for the first time.

And for those five decades, he was recognized as the most important patient in the history of brain science. As a participant in hundreds of studies, he helped scientists understand the biology of learning, memory and physical dexterity, as well as the fragile nature of human identity.

On Tuesday evening at 5:05, Henry Gustav Molaison – known worldwide only as H. M., to protect his privacy – died of respiratory failure at a nursing home in Windsor Locks, Conn. His death was confirmed by Suzanne Corkin, a neuroscientist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, who had worked closely with him for decades. Henry Molaison was 82.

From the age of 27, when he embarked on a life as an object of intensive study, he lived with his parents, then with a relative and finally in an institution. His amnesia did not damage his intellect or radically change his personality. But he could not hold a job and lived, more so than any mystic, in the moment.

“Say it however you want,” said Dr. Thomas Carew, a neuroscientist at the University of California, Irvine, and president of the Society for Neuroscience. “What H. M. lost, we now know, was a critical part of his identity.”

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