Summary of “New approach to Alzheimer’s fight: Diabetes drugs”

In the first analysis of the disease, the German physician Alois Alzheimer noted odd changes in the brain of a patient who died of the condition.
Alzheimer identified two kinds of protein aggregates that are not found in younger brains: plaques that are found between brain cells and tangles that are found inside brain cells.
Alzheimer advised scientists not to jump to the conclusion that these proteins caused the disease.
The continued failure of new drugs to make a difference has to be interpreted as evidence that the amyloid protein is not the cause of Alzheimer’s disease.
Alzheimer’s does not appear to be driven by gene mutations, so this approach does not shed new light on the underlying processes.
Clearly, diabetes is very different from Alzheimer’s disease, so what’s the connection?
This observation suggests that diabetes drugs might be an effective treatment for people with Alzheimer’s.
To see any protective effect in the brain in a clinical trial is completely new, and it supports the new theory that Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease are caused, at least in part, by a lack of growth factor activity in the brain.

The orginal article.

Summary of “Overtaxed Working Memory Knocks the Brain Out of Sync”

The work not only provides insights into memory function and dysfunction, but also offers further evidence for a burgeoning theory of how the brain processes information.
Earl Miller, a neuroscientist at the Picower Institute for Learning and Memory at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology; Dimitris Pinotsis, a research affiliate in his lab; and Timothy Buschman, an assistant professor at Princeton University, wanted to know what sets the capacity limit of working memory so low.
They already knew that a network involving three brain regions – the prefrontal cortex, the frontal eye fields and the lateral intraparietal area – is active in working memory.
Without the prediction-oriented communications from the prefrontal cortex, the working memory network fell out of sync.
Why is the top-down feedback so vulnerable to an increase in the number of items to be remembered? The researchers’ hypothesis is that the modeled information coming from the prefrontal cortex essentially represents a set of predictions about what the brain will perceive in the world – in this case, the contents of the items being held in working memory.
Miller’s lab and others are working to carve out a more important role for the interplay between brain waves in scientists’ model of working memory, which traditionally places most of the emphasis on the firing activity of individual neurons.
Miller thinks the brain is juggling the items being held in working memory one at a time, in alternation.
Cementing a predictive coding model for working memory won’t just enable a better understanding of how the brain works and what might go wrong in neurological diseases.

The orginal article.

Summary of “Honey bees can understand the surprisingly complex concept of zero”

Now researchers in Australia writing in the journal Science say the humble honey bee can be taught to understand that zero is less than one.
Before we can deconstruct the bee brain, we need to know that it can do the complex math in the first place.
How to teach a bee the concept of zero Bees are fantastic learners.
Using sugar as a reward, the researchers taught the bees to always fly to the sheet that had the fewest objects printed on it.
Then came the challenge: What happens when a sheet with no objects at all was presented to the bees? Would they understand that a blank sheet – which represented the concept of zero in this experiment – was less than three, less than one?
The bee researchers also ran a number of control experiments, ruling out, among other things, that the bees simply preferred to fly near a blank sheet of paper.
Bees are incredible thinkers In previous work, Dyer and his team have shown bees are capable of an amazingly complex array of tasks.
In the meantime, we can marvel at the ingenuity of bees – and consider what we’ll lose if bee colony collapse disorder continues to devastate these remarkable creatures.

The orginal article.

Summary of “Columbia and Yale scientists just found the spiritual part of our brains”

So the human search for meaning recently took a physical turn as Columbia and Yale University researchers isolated the place in our brains that processes spiritual experiences.
In a new study, published in Cerebral Cortex on May 29, neuroscientists explain how they generated “Personally relevant” spiritual experiences in a diverse group of subjects and scanned their brains while these experiences were happening.
“Although studies have linked specific brain measures to aspects of spirituality, none have sought to directly examine spiritual experiences, particularly when using a broader, modern definition of spirituality that may be independent of religiousness,” the study explains.
“We observed in the spiritual condition, as compared with the neutral-relaxing condition, reduced activity in the left inferior parietal lobule, a result that suggests the IPL may contribute importantly to perceptual processing and self-other representations during spiritual experiences,” the study explains.
These changes in the brain may help explain why, during spiritual experiences, the barrier between the self and others can be reduced or even eliminated altogether.
“Spiritual experiences are robust states that may have profound impacts on people’s lives,” explains Yale psychiatry and neuroscience professor Marc Potenza, in a statement about the work.
Spiritual experiences involve “Pronounced shifts in perception [that] buffer the effects of stress,” the study says.
By cultivating spiritual experiences in addition to strengthening our intellectual abilities, people can lead emotionally richer lives and develop more open minds, scientists say.

The orginal article.

Summary of “Why psychedelic drugs could transform how we treat depression and mental illness”

It’s a sprawling book that is likely to change how you think not just about psychedelic drugs but also about the human mind.
In the book, I reproduce an image of the wiring of the brain on a placebo and on psilocybin , and it suggests that the altered states of consciousness people experience during trips may be the result of areas of the brain being rewired in ways that alleviate anxiety and depression and obsession and various other addictive behaviors.
There are currently studies underway at Johns Hopkins and NYU where they’re treating terminal cancer patients for what they call “Existential distress.” These are people who are facing their own death with a blend of anxiety and depression and fear that people with a cancer diagnosis often feel.
Sean Illing What makes psychedelics so therapeutically valuable? How are they helping people break addictions or shake debilitating anxiety disorders?
There’s a really interesting researcher at the University of Alabama named Peter Hendricks who is working with cocaine addicts, and he feels that it’s the experience of awe that people have on the psychedelic that changes their mindset and gives them a new perspective and allows them to break their addiction.
People struggling with addiction and depression are disconnected from the world and from other people.
I’d argue the least appreciated victim of the drug war has been people suffering from mental health problems, and this is something that cuts across racial, geographic, economic, and political lines.
The good news is that this will never happen, because these drugs have been around for a long time and people don’t feel quite as threatened by them.

The orginal article.

Summary of “Lower Income Could Affect Memory and the Brain for the Worse”

In the most recent of these papers, scientists found a link between being lower on the socioeconomic ladder and changes in the brain.
The researchers were looking for two things: first, how much gray matter the subjects had in their brains; second, how their brain networks were organized.
It’s generally considered to be a good thing for brain networks to be “Segregated” in this way.
The researchers then correlated those brain images with the subjects’ education and employment histories-together, their overall socioeconomic status.
Both measures are correlated with better memory and are considered protective against dementia and other signs of brain aging.
The stress of being low on the socioeconomic totem pole raises levels of allostatic load-a measure of stress hormones that cause wear and tear on the body, including the brain.
“It’s consistent with the idea that lifelong experiences might influence brain health.”
In the PNAS study, the relationship between socioeconomic status and the brain measures didn’t hold up for the very youngest adults or the very oldest adults in the sample.

The orginal article.

Summary of “What Is Consciousness?”

What happens to consciousness if parts of the cerebellum are lost to a stroke or to the surgeon’s knife? Very little! Cerebellar patients complain of several deficits, such as the loss of fluidity of piano playing or keyboard typing but never of losing any aspect of their consciousness.
One important lesson from the spinal cord and the cerebellum is that the genie of consciousness does not just appear when any neural tissue is excited.
Ultimately what we need is a satisfying scientific theory of consciousness that predicts under which conditions any particular physical system-whether it is a complex circuit of neurons or silicon transistors-has experiences.
Absent a theory with testable predictions, any speculation about machine consciousness is based solely on our intuition, which the history of science has shown is not a reliable guide.
As IIT states it, consciousness is intrinsic causal power associated with complex mechanisms such as the human brain.
The brain, which has enormous and highly specific connectivity, possesses very high Φ, which implies a high level of consciousness.
Just as simulating the massive gravitational attraction of a black hole does not actually deform spacetime around the computer implementing the astrophysical code, programming for consciousness will never create a conscious computer.
Two challenges lie ahead. One is to use the increasingly refined tools at our disposal to observe and probe the vast coalitions of highly heterogeneous neurons making up the brain to further delineate the neuronal footprints of consciousness.

The orginal article.

Summary of “Mindfulness may have been over-hyped”

For all its popularity it’s still unclear exactly what mindfulness meditation does to the human brain, how it influences health and to what extent it helps people suffering from physical and mental challenges.
Mindfulness meditation may spark neuroplastic renovations in the brain’s function and structure.
Neuroscientists have studied the physical effects of mindfulness meditation using functional magnetic resonance imaging and other techniques for the last two decades.
A number of brain studies suggest that mindfulness meditation may spark neuroplastic renovations in the brain’s function and structure.
Looking under the hood with fMRI, scientists have found that mindfulness meditation activates a network of brain regions that includes the insula, the putamen and portions of the anterior cingulate cortex and the prefrontal cortex.
Based on their studies of people engaged in meditation, Creswell and his colleagues have proposed that mindfulness acts as a buffer specifically against stress.
In the 2015 study, the researchers found that three days of intensive mindfulness meditation training reduced functional connectivity between the right amygdala, associated with the fight-or-flight stress response, and the subgenual anterior cingulate cortex, which plays a role in modulating emotions.
In the 2016 study, the researchers found that three days of intensive mindfulness meditation training led to increased connectivity between the default mode network, a network of regions engaged when the brain is at rest, and parts of the prefrontal cortex involved in regulating stress.

The orginal article.

Summary of “We are more than our brains: on neuroscience and being human”

The mystique is expressed in multiple forms, ranging from ubiquitous depictions of supernatural, ultra-sophisticated brains in science fiction and the popular media to more sober, scientifically supported conceptions of cognitive function that emphasise inorganic qualities or confine mental processes to neural structures.
Brains are undoubtedly somewhat computer-like – computers, after all, were invented to perform brain-like functions – but brains are also much more than bundles of wiry neurons and the electrical impulses they are famous for propagating.
Another remarkable study showed that transplantation of human glial cells into mouse brains boosted the animals’ performance in learning tests, again demonstrating the importance of glia in shaping brain function.
Some of the most perspicacious animals are the corvids – crows, ravens, and rooks – which have brains less than 1 per cent the size of a human brain, but still perform feats of cognition comparable to chimpanzees and gorillas.
The more we feel that our brains encapsulate our essence, the less sensitive we’ll be to the role of environment.
The most extreme direction in futuristic brain technology is the drive to achieve immortality through the postmortem preservation of human brains.
The more we feel that our brains encapsulate our essence as individuals, and the more we believe that our thoughts and actions simply emanate from the bundle of flesh in our heads, the less sensitive we will be to the role of the society and environment around us, and the less we will do to nurture our shared culture and resources – whether in the context of criminal behaviour, creativity, mental illness or any other aspect of human life.
We must realise that we are much more than our brains.

The orginal article.

Summary of “Is Depression a Lack or an Excess?”

At each setting, he asked the patient to describe his feeling of well-being, his anxiety level, and his feeling of inner tension.
The patient now described a feeling of happiness all the way up to the maximum of 10 and a total absence of anxiety.
The neurologist turned up the voltage one more notch for the sake of the experiment, but at 5 volts the patient said that the feeling was “Fantastic but a bit too much.” He had a feeling of ecstasy that was almost out of control, which made his sense of anxiety shoot up to 7.
At once, Helen Mayberg became a star and was introduced at conferences as “The woman who revived psychosurgery.” Later, others jumped on the bandwagon, and now they are fighting about exactly where in the brain depressed patients should be stimulated.
“Area twenty-five proved to be smaller in depressed patients,” Mayberg relates, adding that it also looked as though it were hyperactive.
These were the chronically ill for whom nothing helped, the kind of depressive patients who often wound up taking their own lives; it was this type of patient that, 50 years ago, were warehoused in state hospitals.
“The patients are aware I have not given them anything but have removed something that was bothering them,” said Mayberg.
“No, no, young Schläpfer. There is only one symptom, and it has to do with pleasure. Ask the patient what gives him pleasure, and he will tell you: nothing.”

The orginal article.