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Morphological computation

Morphological computation is a concept inspired by observations of nature. It theorizes that the physical bodies of biological systems (animals, plants, cellular structure, etc.) play a crucial role in intelligent behavior. “In nature, computation does not just happen in the brain, but is partly outsourced to all over the body,” says Hauser. A human example of this is the way in which the muscles and tendons in our legs react to uneven ground when running, and can adapt without communicating with the brain. Nature provides more dramatic examples in the form of a trout with a body so well-designed that it can swim in flowing water even when it’s dead. Without brain activity, the body still interacts with its environment.

Young binge drinkers show altered brain activity: Scientists have found distinctive changes in brain activity in binge-drinking college students, which may be an early marker of brain damage -- ScienceDaily

Compared with the non-bingers, the binge drinkers demonstrated altered brain activity at rest. They showed significantly higher measurements of specific electrophysiological parameters, known as beta and theta oscillations, in brain regions called the right temporal lobe and bilateral occipital cortex. Surprisingly, previous studies have found very similar alterations in the brains of adult chronic alcoholics. While the young bingers in this study might occasionally consume alcohol to excess, they did not fit the criteria for alcoholism. So, what does this mean? The changes might indicate a decreased ability to respond to external stimuli and potential difficulties in information processing capacity in young binge drinkers, and may represent some of the first signs of alcohol-induced brain damage.

Brain halves increase communication to compensate for aging, study finds -- ScienceDaily

"This study provides an explicit test of some controversial ideas about how the brain reorganizes as we age," said lead author Simon Davis, PhD. "These results suggest that the aging brain maintains healthy cognitive function by increasing bilateral communication." Simon Davis and colleagues used a brain stimulation technique known as transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) to modulate brain activity of healthy older adults while they performed a memory task. When researchers applied TMS at a frequency that depressed activity in one memory region in the left hemisphere, communication increased with the same region in the right hemisphere, suggesting the right hemisphere was compensating to help with the task. In contrast, when the same prefrontal site was excited, communication was increased only in the local network of regions in the left hemisphere. This suggested that communication between the hemispheres is a deliberate process that occurs on an "as needed" basis.

Increased brain acidity in psychiatric disorders -- ScienceDaily

Researchers at the Institute for Comprehensive Medical Science at Fujita Health University in Japan, along with colleagues from eight other institutions, have identified decreased pH levels in the brains of five different mouse models of mental disorders, including models of schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, and autism spectrum disorder. This decrease in pH likely reflects an underlying pathophysiology in the brain associated with these mental disorders, according to the study published August 4th in the journal Neuropsychopharmacology.

'Multi-dimensional universe' in brain networks: Using mathematics in a novel way in neuroscience, scientists demonstrate that the brain operates on many dimensions, not just the 3 dimensions that we are accustomed to -- ScienceDaily

Using algebraic topology in a way that it has never been used before in neuroscience, a team from the Blue Brain Project has uncovered a universe of multi-dimensional geometrical structures and spaces within the networks of the brain. The research, published today in Frontiers in Computational Neuroscience, shows that these structures arise when a group of neurons forms a clique: each neuron connects to every other neuron in the group in a very specific way that generates a precise geometric object. The more neurons there are in a clique, the higher the dimension of the geometric object. "We found a world that we had never imagined," says neuroscientist Henry Markram, director of Blue Brain Project and professor at the EPFL in Lausanne, Switzerland, "there are tens of millions of these objects even in a small speck of the brain, up through seven dimensions. In some networks, we even found structures with up to eleven dimensions." Markram suggests this may explain why it has been so hard to understand the brain. "The mathematics usually applied to study networks cannot detect the high-dimensional structures and spaces that we now see clearly."

Blind people have differentiated brain map for 'visual' observations too

"We found that blind individuals also use the map in the visual brain," Professor Hans Op de Beeck from the KU Leuven Laboratory of Biological Psychology explains. "Their visual brain responds in a different way to each category. This means that blind people, too, use this part of the brain to differentiate between categories, even though they've never had any visual input. And the layout of their map is largely the same as that of sighted people. This means that visual experience is not required to develop category selectivity in the visual brain."

Circadian meta rhythm needed for consciouness?

of Surrey and the University of Salzburg, Austria, examined circadian body temperature variations of 18 patients suffering from severe brain injuries and the potential link to consciousness. Circadian rhythms are an approximate 24-hour cycle governed by the body's internal clock and they determine a number of physiological processes in the body including core body temperature, which fluctuates throughout the day. To assess the body temperature of patients, researchers used four external skin sensors to monitor the circadian rhythm, which was found to range between 23.5 hours and 26.3 hours. The level of consciousness of each patient was evaluated through the Coma Recovery Scale-Revised, which among others measures responsiveness to sound or a patient's ability to spontaneously open eyes without or only with stimulation by the examiner. Researchers discovered that patients who scored better on the Coma Recovery Scale-Revised, especially, those patients with a stronger arousal had body temperature patterns that were more closely aligned with a healthy 24-hour rhythm. This finding demonstrates a newly discovered relationship between circadian body temperature variation and the level of consciousness of a patient with severe brain damage. This finding suggests that patient's consciousness levels should be assessed during time windows when their circadian rhythm predicts them to be more responsive. The effects of bright light stimulation on patients with severe brain injuries was also investigated during this study. To measure its effectiveness, eight patients received bright light stimulation, three times per day for one hour over the course of one week. After one week, improvements were found in the level of consciousness of two patients, whose condition improved from vegetative state/unresponsive wakefulness to a minimally conscious state. Interestingly, in these two patients, a shift in their circadian body temperature, closer to a healthy 24-hour rhythm was also recorded. Co-investigator of the paper Dr Nayantara Santhi from the Surrey Sleep Research Centre, University of Surrey, said: "Prior to our study little was known about the circadian rhythms of patients with brain injuries. What we have learnt is that the circadian body temperature holds vital clues to the state of consciousness of patients which could potentially enable doctors to tailor medical treatment more effectively. "Circadian rhythms hold the secret to the workings of the body and we will be looking further into this in future research."

Brains of one-handed people suggest new organization theory -- ScienceDaily

"We found that the traditional hand area" -- which, Makin notes, takes up a rather sizable portion of the brain -- "gets used up by a multitude of body parts in congenital one-handers. Interestingly, these body parts that get to benefit from increased representation in the freed-up brain territory are those used by the one-handers in daily life to substitute for their missing-hand function -- say when having to open a bottle of water." Whether Makin's theory on brain organization corresponding to function instead of body parts pans out or not, the findings reveal remarkable brain plasticity. Her hope is to find a way to encourage the brain to represent and control artificial body parts, such as a prosthetic arm, using the brain area that would have controlled the missing hand.

Is soda bad for your brain? (And is diet soda worse?): Both sugary, diet drinks correlated with accelerated brain aging -- ScienceDaily

Now, new research suggests that excess sugar -- especially the fructose in sugary drinks -- might damage your brain. Researchers using data from the Framingham Heart Study (FHS) found that people who drink sugary beverages frequently are more likely to have poorer memory, smaller overall brain volume, and a significantly smaller hippocampus -- an area of the brain important for learning and memory. But before you chuck your sweet tea and reach for a diet soda, there's more: a follow-up study found that people who drank diet soda daily were almost three times as likely to develop stroke and dementia when compared to those who did not.

Running and emotional regulation

Before watching the film clip, some of the 80 participants were made to jog for 30 minutes; others just stretched for the same amount of time. Afterward, all of them filled out surveys to indicate how bummed out the film had made them. Bernstein kept them busy for about 15 minutes after that, and surveyed them again about how they were feeling. Those who’d done the 30-minute run were more likely to have recovered from the emotional gut-punch than those who’d just stretched — and, her results showed, the people who’d initially felt worse seemed to especially benefit from the run.

What Is This Thing Called Consciousness?

Yet the cerebellum has everything you expect of neurons. It has gorgeous neurons. In fact, some of the most beautiful neurons in the brain, so-called Purkinje cells, are found in the cerebellum. Why does the cerebellum not contribute to consciousness? It has a very repetitive and monotonous circuitry. It has 69 billion neurons, but they have simple feed-forward loops. So I believe the way the cerebellum is wired up does not give rise to consciousness. Yet another part of the brain, the cerebral cortex, seems to be wired up in a much more complicated way. We know it’s really the cortex that gives rise to conscious experience.

To bee or not to bee

Their brains contain roughly a million neurons. By comparison, our brains contain about 100 billion, so a hundred thousand times more. Yet the complexity of the bee’s brain is staggering, even though it’s smaller than a piece of quinoa. It’s roughly 10 times higher in terms of density than our cortex. They have all the complicated components that we have in our brains, but in a smaller package. So yes, I do believe it feels like something to be a honey bee. It probably feels very good to be dancing in the sunlight and to drink nectar and carry it back to their hive. I try not to kill bees or wasps or other insects anymore.

Cognitive decline after surgery tied to brain's own immune cells: In mouse study, experimental drug blocks post-operative memory loss -- ScienceDaily

Post-operative cognitive dysfunction was previously believed to be caused by deep anesthesia during surgery. But increasing evidence instead links the condition to an inflammatory reaction in the brain, now understood to be a normal response to tissue trauma occurring anywhere in the body -- even surgeries physically distant from the brain, such as hip replacement, may trigger this response. Studies have shown that when this inflammation is excessive or too persistent, as may be the case in the elderly, the normally protective response can negatively impact cognition. "Previous studies on post-operative inflammation in the brain had focused on whether circulating immune cells invade the brain and contribute to cognitive decline," Koliwad said. "Based on our new research, we now know that the brain's own microglia initiate and orchestrate this response, including the infiltration of peripheral immune cells and the resultant memory loss."

During learning, neurons deep in brain engage in a surprising level of activity -- ScienceDaily

It's the part of the brain that makes sure you cannot tickle yourself. The cerebellum, an apple-sized region near the base of the skull, senses that your own fingers are the ones trying to tickle, and cancels your usual response. Now an international team of researchers has learned something surprising about this region, which despite its small size contains roughly half of all the neurons in the brain. These neurons, which were thought to fire only rarely as they take in information from the senses, are in fact far more active than previously suspected. The finding, published March 20 in the journal Nature Neuroscience, may signal a major shift in our understanding of how the cerebellum encodes information. "People used to think that the cerebellum's input layer of neurons was only sparsely active, and encoded only information collected from the external world," said Sam Wang, professor of molecular biology and the Princeton Neuroscience Institute, and a senior co-author on the study. "It turns out that they light up like a Christmas tree, and they convey information both from outside the body and from other areas within the brain."

During learning, neurons deep in brain engage in a surprising level of activity -- ScienceDaily

"People used to think that the cerebellum's input layer of neurons was only sparsely active, and encoded only information collected from the external world," said Sam Wang, professor of molecular biology and the Princeton Neuroscience Institute, and a senior co-author on the study. "It turns out that they light up like a Christmas tree, and they convey information both from outside the body and from other areas within the brain." The study is the first to look at the activity of these neurons, known as granule cells, in the brains of living animals while they are learning a task, said Javier Medina, associate professor and the Vivian L. Smith Endowed Chair in Neuroscience at Baylor College of Medicine, and a senior co-author with Wang. "We knew very little about how these neurons in the cerebellum were firing when the brain is engaged in behavior," he said. The cells are packed into a dense knot deep in the brain, making them difficult to study. Through advances in brain imaging techniques and computer algorithms that detangle the signals, the team was able to explore in detail the firing patterns of these neurons while mice were learning a behavior. The researchers expected to see only a few granule cells fire at any given time, consistent with ideas that date back to the 1960s. The commonly held theory stated that the sparse firing patterns created a sort of neural code whereby each firing pattern represented a different sensory input or stimulus. The theory helped explain why there are so many granule cells: Distinct firing patterns involving just a few of the millions of granule cells would enable the brain to assign a different firing pattern to each stimulus -- for example, a different firing pattern for the touch of the fingers versus the touch of a feather duster.

Human skull evolved along with two-legged walking, study confirms -- ScienceDaily

To make their case, Russo and Kirk compared the position and orientation of the foramen magnum in 77 mammal species including marsupials, rodents and primates. Their findings indicate that bipedal mammals such as humans, kangaroos, springhares and jerboas have a more forward-positioned foramen magnum than their quadrupedal close relatives. "We've now shown that the foramen magnum is forward-shifted across multiple bipedal mammalian clades using multiple metrics from the skull, which I think is convincing evidence that we're capturing a real phenomenon," Russo said. Additionally, the study identifies specific measurements that can be applied to future research to map out the evolution of bipedalism. "Other researchers should feel confident in making use of our data to interpret the human fossil record," Russo said.

Differential effects of acute and regular physical exercise on cognition and affect. - PubMed - NCBI

Participants were evaluated on novel object recognition (NOR) memory and a battery of mental health surveys before and after engaging in either (a) a 4-week exercise program, with exercise on the final test day, (b) a 4-week exercise program, without exercise on the final test day, (c) a single bout of exercise on the final test day, or (d) remaining sedentary between test days. Exercise enhanced object recognition memory and produced a beneficial decrease in perceived stress, but only in participants who exercised for 4 weeks including the final day of testing. In contrast, a single bout of exercise did not affect recognition memory and resulted in increased perceived stress levels.

Keeping up the pressure: New neural mechanism is found to regulate the chronic stress response -- ScienceDaily

The newly discovered nerve cells express a receptor, CRFR1, on their outer walls, which enables them to take in the message of the CRF neurotransmitter. The scientists' experiments showed that, in mice, the cortisol actually increases the number of CRFR1 receptors on these nerve cells, suggesting a positive feedback loop that could be self-renewing, rather than abating.

How the brain maintains useful memories -- ScienceDaily

there are specific groups of neurons in the medial prefrontal cortex (mPFC) of a rat's brain -- the region most associated with long-term memory. These neurons develop codes to help store relevant, general information from multiple experiences while, over time, losing the more irrelevant, minor details unique to each experience. The findings provide new insight into how the brain collects and stores useful knowledge about the world that can be adapted and applied to new experiences. "Memories of recent experiences are rich in incidental detail but, with time, the brain is thought to extract important information that is common across various past experiences," says Kaori Takehara-Nishiuchi, senior author and Associate Professor of Psychology at the University of Toronto. "We predicted that groups of neurons in the mPFC build representations of this information over the period when long-term memory consolidation is known to take place, and that this information has a larger representation in the brain than the smaller details."

Whatever you think, you don’t necessarily know your own mind

Carruthers makes a powerful case for an interpretive view of self-knowledge, set out in his book The Opacity of Mind (2011). The case starts with the claim that humans (and other primates) have a dedicated mental subsystem for understanding other people’s minds, which swiftly and unconsciously generates beliefs about what others think and feel, based on observations of their behaviour. (Evidence for such a ‘mindreading’ system comes from a variety of sources, including the rapidity with which infants develop an understanding of people around them.) Carruthers argues that this same system is responsible for our knowledge of our own minds. Humans did not develop a second, inward-looking mindreading system (an inner sense); rather, they gained self-knowledge by directing the outward-looking system upon themselves. And because the system is outward-looking, it has access only to sensory inputs and must draw its conclusions from them alone. (Since it has direct access to sensory states, our knowledge of what we are experiencing is not interpretative.)

Why the lights don't dim when we blink: Blinking prompts eye muscles to keep our vision in line -- ScienceDaily

"Our eye muscles are quite sluggish and imprecise, so the brain needs to constantly adapt its motor signals to make sure our eyes are pointing where they're supposed to," Maus said. "Our findings suggest that the brain gauges the difference in what we see before and after a blink, and commands the eye muscles to make the needed corrections." From a big-picture perspective, if we didn't possess this powerful oculomotor mechanism, particularly when blinking, our surroundings would appear shadowy, erratic and jittery, researchers said. "We perceive coherence and not transient blindness because the brain connects the dots for us," said study co-author David Whitney, a psychology professor at UC Berkeley. "Our brains do a lot of prediction to compensate for how we move around in the world," said co-author Patrick Cavanagh, a professor of psychological and brain sciences at Dartmouth College. "It's like a steadicam of the mind." A dozen healthy young adults participated in what Maus jokingly called "the most boring experiment ever." Study participants sat in a dark room for long periods staring at a dot on a screen while infrared cameras tracked their eye movements and eye blinks in real time. Every time they blinked, the dot was moved one centimeter to the right. While participants failed to notice the subtle shift, the brain's oculomotor system registered the movement and learned to reposition the line of vision squarely on the dot. After 30 or so blink-synchronized dot movements, participants' eyes adjusted during each blink and shifted automatically to the spot where they predicted the dot to be. "Even though participants did not consciously register that the dot had moved, their brains did, and adjusted with the corrective eye movement," Maus said. "These findings add to our understanding of how the brain constantly adapts to changes, commanding our muscles to correct for errors in our bodies' own hardware."

CBT creates lasting changes in connectivity, drugs do not

In the original study, participants underwent fMRI imaging to assess the brain’s response to images of faces expressing different emotions, before and after six months of CBT. Participants were already taking medication when they took part in the study, and so were compared to a group receiving medication only. The group receiving medication only did not show any increases in connectivity, suggesting that the effects on brain connections could be attributed to the CBT. For the new study, the health of 15 of the 22 participants who received CBT was tracked for eight years through their medical records. They were also sent a questionnaire at the end of this period to assess their level of recovery and wellbeing. The results show that increases in connectivity between several brain regions – most importantly the amygdala (the brain’s threat centre) and the frontal lobes (which are involved in thinking and reasoning) – are associated with long-term recovery from psychosis. This is the first time that changes in the brain associated with CBT have been shown to be associated with long-term recovery in people with psychosis.

Nicotine Normalizes Brain Activity Deficits That Are Key to Schizophrenia – Neuroscience News

“Basically the nicotine is compensating for a genetically determined impairment,” says Stitzel. “No one has ever shown that before.” The international team of scientists set out to explore the underlying causes of “hypofrontality” — a reduction of neuronal firing in the prefrontal cortex of the brain. Hypofrontality is believed to be the root cause of many of the signature cognitive problems experienced by schizophrenics, including trouble paying attention, remembering things, making decisions and understanding verbal explanations.

Talking therapy changes the brain's wiring, study reveals for first time -- ScienceDaily

CBT -- a specific type of talking therapy -- involves people changing the way they think about and respond to their thoughts and experiences. For individuals experiencing psychotic symptoms, common in schizophrenia and a number of other psychiatric disorders, the therapy involves learning to think differently about unusual experiences, such as distressing beliefs that others are out to get them. CBT also involves developing strategies to reduce distress and improve wellbeing. The findings, published in the journal Translational Psychiatry, follow the same researchers' previous work which showed that people with psychosis who received CBT displayed strengthened connections between key regions of the brain involved in processing social threat accurately. The new results show for the first time that these changes continue to have an impact years later on people's long-term recovery.

How each generation gets the drugs it deserves | Aeon Essays

‘This is a big shift from the old model,’ says Cowles. ‘It used to be: “I am Henry. I am ill in some way. A pill can help me get back to being Henry, and then I’m off it.” Whereas now: “I am only Henry when I’m on my meds.” Between 1980, 2000, and now, the proportion of people on that kind of maintenance pill with no end in sight is just going to keep going up and up.’

How each generation gets the drugs it deserves | Aeon Essays

But, Cowles argues, one might just as easily say that ‘these drugs were created with various sub-populations in mind and they end up making available a new kind of housewife or a new kind of working woman, who is medicated in order to enable this kind of lifestyle’. In short, Cowles says: ‘The very image of the depressed housewife emerges only as a result of the possibility of medicating that.’