Musical training creates new Brain connections in Children

Taking music lessons increases brain fiber connections in children and may be useful in treating autism and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), according to a study. “It’s been known that musical instruction benefits children with these disorders,” said Pilar Dies-Suarez, MD, chief radiologist at the Hospital Infantil de México Federico Gómez in Mexico City, “but this study has given us a better understanding of exactly how the brain changes and where these new fiber connections are occurring.” The researchers studied 23 healthy children between the ages of five and six years old. All of the children were right-handed and had no history of sensory, perception or neurological disorders. None of the children had been trained in any artistic discipline in the past.

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How Sleep deprivation affects Children’s Brains

Sleep deprivation affects children’s brains differently than adults’, according to a new study. Any parent can tell you about the consequences of their child not getting enough sleep. But there is far less known about the details of how sleep deprivation affects children’s brains and what this means for early brain development. “The process of sleep may be involved in brain ‘wiring’ in childhood and thus affect brain maturation,” explains Salome Kurth, first author of the study published in Frontiers in Human Neuroscience, and a researcher at the University Hospital of Zurich. “This research shows an increase in sleep need in posterior brain regions in children.” This contrasts with what researchers know about the effects of sleep deprivation in adults, where the effect is typically concentrated in the frontal regions of the brain.

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Our Brains have a Basic Algorithm that enables our Intelligence

Our brains have a basic algorithm that enables us to not just recognize a traditional Thanksgiving meal, but the intelligence to ponder the broader implications of a bountiful harvest as well as good family and friends. “A relatively simple mathematical logic underlies our complex brain computations,” said Dr. Joe Z. Tsien, neuroscientist at the Medical College of Georgia at Augusta University. Tsien is talking about his Theory of Connectivity, a fundamental principle for how our billions of neurons assemble and align not just to acquire knowledge, but to generalize and draw conclusions from it. “Intelligence is really about dealing with uncertainty and infinite possibilities,” Tsien said. It appears to be enabled when a group of similar neurons form a variety of cliques to handle each basic like recognizing food, shelter, friends and foes. Groups of cliques then cluster into functional connectivity motifs, or FCMs, to handle every possibility in each of these basics like extrapolating that rice is part of an important food group that might be a good side dish at your meaningful Thanksgiving gathering. The more complex the thought, the more cliques join in.

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Read also: Theory of Connectivity

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Companionship May Help Chimps Chill Out

No chimp is an island, chimpanzees exhibit fewer signs of stress when they are surrounded by “bond partners”—individuals with whom they share a strong social relationship—even when facing dangerous or otherwise stressful scenarios. “We believe humans are very special because they can have these interesting relationships between each other that last over the years,” study coauthor Roman Wittig, a primatologist at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Biology in Leipzig, Germany, told The Christian Science Monitor. “The feeling of good friendship, of strong bonds is something that chimpanzees can feel, too.” While experts still debate whether non-human animals can display true empathy, seemingly altruistic behavior is well-documented in chimpanzees. One prior study even found that chimpanzees are capable of comforting their bond partners, and displaying as much apparent empathy as human children.

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Read also: Social support reduces stress hormone levels in wild chimpanzees across stressful events and everyday affiliations

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Evolution May Have Deleted Neanderthal DNA

Natural selection may be behind the dearth of Neanderthal DNA in modern humans. The modern human genome should, by all accounts, have more Neanderthal genes. Experts agree that early European and Asian humans almost certainly bred with Neanderthals, an ideal recipe for rich, complex genotypes 60,000 years later. And yet, non-African humans tend to have less than 4 percent Neanderthal DNA. Researchers may now have figured out why: in a November 8 PLOS Genetics study, scientists pinpoint natural selection, and the relatively large populations of humans versus Neanderthals, as reasons for these apparent reductions in Neanderthal DNA. “The human population size has historically been much larger, and this is important since selection is more efficient at removing deleterious variants in large populations,” study coauthor Ivan Juric, population geneticist at 23andMe, said in a statement. “Therefore, a weakly deleterious variant that could persist in Neanderthals could not persist in humans.”

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Read also: The Strength of Selection against Neanderthal Introgression

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Advantages of Neanderthal DNA in the Human Genome

The retention of ancient hominin DNA in modern human genomes may have helped our ancestors adapt to life in diverse environments. The interbreeding of Neanderthals and Denisovans with Homo sapiens resulted in advantageous Neanderthal-inherited alleles in the genomes of a diverse range of modern humans, according to genomicists. The team’s analysis expands the number of loci in the human genome attributed to these ancient hominins. The results suggest that these alleles—mostly within immune and skin pigmentation genes—likely helped modern humans adapt to life outside of Africa. “The study expands our knowledge of the extent to which Neanderthals and Denisovans contributed functionally relevant genetic variation to modern humans,” Svante Pääbo, an evolutionary geneticist at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Germany, who was not involved in the work, wrote in an email to The Scientist. “It shows that the contribution [of hominin DNA] is substantial and is larger than I assumed when we first discovered that these extinct hominins had mixed with modern human ancestors.”

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Low Social Status May Weaken Immune System in Monkeys

Life at the bottom of the pecking order ramps up inflammation, according to new research, an effect that appears to be reversible. The link between social class and health in social mammals has been well documented. But new research in rhesus monkeys could shed light on the mechanism behind these observations. In a study of 45 female monkeys, researchers observed that changes in social status affected genes that associated with stress and inflammation. The lower a monkey’s social status, the more poorly her immune system performed. The authors note that monkeys of lower social status have been previously shown to experience high stress since they endure harassment by higher-ranking individuals. This study bolsters the link between stress and poor immune function.

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Read also: Social status alters immune regulation and response to infection in macaques

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Low Hippocampal Blood Flow and Higher Alzheimer’s Vulnerability in Marijuana Users

A new study reports marijuana users have lower blood flow to the hippocampus, an area of the brain associated with memory and learning. Hippocampus, the brain’s key memory, and learning center, has the lowest blood flow in marijuana users suggesting higher vulnerability to Alzheimer’s. As the U.S. races to legalize marijuana for medicinal and recreational use, a new, large-scale brain imaging study gives reason for caution. Published in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease, researchers using single photon emission computed tomography (SPECT), a sophisticated imaging study that evaluates blood flow and activity patterns, demonstrated abnormally low blood flow in virtually every area of the brain studies in nearly 1,000 marijuana compared to healthy controls, including areas known to be affected by Alzheimer’s pathology such as the hippocampus.

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Head Impacts Lead to Brain Changes in High School Football Players

After just one season of playing football, neuroimaging technology reveals changes in gray and white matter correlated with exposure to head trauma in high school students, new study reports. Brain imaging exams performed on high school football players after just one season revealed changes in both the gray and white matter that correlated with exposure to head impacts, according to a new study that will be presented today at the annual meeting of the Radiological Society of North America (RSNA). “It’s important to understand the potential changes occurring in the brain related to youth contact sports,” said Elizabeth Moody Davenport, Ph.D., a postdoctoral researcher at UT Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas, Texas, who led this analysis. “We know that some professional football players suffer from a serious condition called chronic traumatic encephalopathy, or CTE. We are attempting to find out when and how that process starts so that we can keep sports a healthy activity for millions of children and adolescents.”

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Immune System Maintains Brain Health

Once thought only to attack neurons, immune cells turn out to be vital for central nervous system function.

Kipnis’s work is part of a wave of research changing the way scientists view the relationship between the immune system and the central nervous system (CNS). Until recently, the brain and the spinal cord were considered immune-privileged sites, strictly cordoned off from immune cells unless something went terribly wrong. Researchers knew, for example, that multiple sclerosis (MS) was caused by T cells that breach the selective border called the blood-brain barrier (BBB), enter the CNS, and attack the myelin sheath covering neurons. Even microglia, specialized macrophage-like immune cells that scientists had recognized as normal CNS residents since the 1960s, were mainly studied in the context of disease.

But over the past two decades, researchers have recognized that the entire immune system is very much a part of a functional CNS, with vital roles in cognition, injury repair, neurodegenerative disease, and sensory systems. Microglia pervade the CNS, including the white and gray matter that constitute the organ’s parenchyma. Other immune cells, including T cells, monocytes, and mast cells, reside in the brain and spinal cord’s outer membranes, known as the meninges, and circulate in cerebrospinal fluid (CSF).

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