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Brain 'rewires' itself to enhance other senses in blind people -- ScienceDaily

"Our results demonstrate that the structural and functional neuroplastic brain changes occurring as a result of early ocular blindness may be more widespread than initially thought," said lead author Corinna M. Bauer, Ph.D., a scientist at Schepens Eye Research Institute of Mass. Eye and Ear and an instructor of ophthalmology at Harvard Medical School. "We observed significant changes not only in the occipital cortex (where vision is processed), but also areas implicated in memory, language processing, and sensory motor functions." The researchers used MRI multimodal brain imaging techniques (specifically, diffusion-based and resting state imaging) to reveal these changes in a group of 12 subjects with early blindness (those born with or who have acquired profound blindness prior to the age of three), and they compared the scans to a group of 16 normally sighted subjects (all subjects were of the same age range). On the scans of those with early blindness, the team observed structural and functional connectivity changes, including evidence of enhanced connections, sending information back and forth between areas of the brain that they did not observe in the normally sighted group. These connections that appear to be unique in those with profound blindness suggest that the brain "rewires" itself in the absence of visual information to boost other senses. This is possible through the process of neuroplasticity, or the ability of our brains to naturally adapt to our experiences.

Mouse study identifies new method for treating depression: Inhibiting brain enzyme alleviates depression, and does it much faster than conventional antidepressants -- ScienceDaily

Palmer and team unraveled a previously underappreciated molecular process that can influence mouse models of depression. Here's how the process works: Cells generate energy. In doing so, they produce a byproduct. That byproduct inhibits neurons and thus influences various behaviors. Typically, the enzyme GLO1 removes this byproduct, but inhibiting GLO1 can also increase the activity of certain neurons in a beneficial way. In mice, Palmer and others have shown that more GLO1 activity makes mice more anxious, but less was known about the system's effect on depression. Palmer and team wondered if they could reduce signs of depression by inhibiting the GLO1 enzyme. The researchers used several different antidepressant tests. They compared responses in three groups of mice: 1) untreated, 2) treated by inhibiting GLO1, either genetically or with an experimental compound, and 3) treated with Prozac, a selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor commonly used to treat depression. The first tests they used were the tail suspension test and the forced swim tests, which are often used to determine whether or not a compound is an antidepressant. In this case, the answer was yes. The other tests -- chronic forced swim test, chronic mild stress paradigm and olfactory bulbectomy -- are well-established measures that can also be used to measure how long it takes for an antidepressant to take effect. In each of these tests, inhibiting the GLO1 enzyme reduced depression-like symptoms in five days, whereas it took 14 days for Prozac to have the same effect. While this new approach to treating depression has so far only been tested in mice and it will take many years of development before a GLO1 inhibitor could be tested in humans, the researchers are excited to find that new, unexplored approaches to treating depression are out there.

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."