Dana Newsletter: May

Below is the latest Dana email newsletter. You can sign up to receive this (and other Dana email alerts and/or print publications) by going here.

Gut Feelings on Parkinson’s and Depression

by Ted Dinan, M.D., Ph.D, and John F. Cryan, Ph.D.

The gut-brain axis is one of the new frontiers of neuroscience. Microbiota (the collective bacteria, viruses, fungi, and other microorganisms that live in the digestive tract), sometimes referred to as the “second genome” or the “second brain,” may influence our health in ways that scientists are just now beginning to understand.From Cerebrum, our online magazine of ideas. Also listen to a podcast Q&A with Ted Dinan.

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Remembering Breakthroughs

A New York Times profile earlier this week on Brenda A. Milner, Sc.D., credited her with changing “the course of brain science for good as a newly minted Ph.D. in the 1950s by identifying the specific brain organ that is crucial to memory formation.”

Milner

Photo credit: Owen Egan; Courtesy of the Montreal Neurological Institute, McGill University

Milner, a Dana Alliance for Brain Initiatives member, identified the hippocampus and other areas of the brain that process memory while working with Henry Molaison, more commonly known as H.M., who developed amnesia at age 29 from the removal of tissue from both his medial temporal lobes, a surgery that was supposed to alleviate his epilepsy.

With the help of H.M., Milner discovered that memory was processed in the medial temporal lobes, which was why he could no longer form new long-term memories. He was, however, able to learn new tasks, meaning he must remember the actions in another part of the brain. His ability to acquire new skills proved to Milner there are two types of memory that occur in different parts of the brain – explicit memory, which recalls describable details like facts and events, and implicit memory, for unconscious memories such as actions and procedures. Milner described this finding in a 2010 Dana Foundation interview:

I went to the McGill psychology department and borrowed learning tasks to give him [H.M]. I took down a maze task, which I was sure he wouldn’t learn, and he didn’t. It was a nice control test, because he showed absolutely no progress over three days. Then I gave him the mirror drawing task. H.M. did 30 trials over three days and at the end of the last trial, his performance was absolutely perfect. I can still remember him looking at what he had drawn, saying: “This is strange. I thought this would be difficult, but it looks as though I’ve done it rather well.” I was very excited because it showed that he could have this excellent performance without any awareness that the reason he was doing so well was that he had had the chance to practice the task over three days.

When I saw that H.M.  had this beautiful learning of something he had no memory of having acquired, I then speculated that this task, which involved motor learning, depended on a different system in the brain. His surgeon had damaged his medial temporal system, but this was a kind of learning that was unaffected by this operation, so therefore it must involve other structures.

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Dana newsletter: January

Below is the latest Dana email newsletter. You can sign up to receive this (and other Dana email alerts and/or print publications) by going here.


deutch-rop-jan2017-80pFinding Clues to Schizophrenia Outside Neurons

by Ariel Y. Deutch, Ph.D.

The recent discovery of key roles of non-neuronal cells such as microglia in the development of schizophrenia opens the door to the development of new types of therapies for an illness for which we need far better treatments. One in our series of scientists’ Reports on Progress.

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Progress in BRAIN Initiative Research

brain_obama_robotics

President Barack Obama fist-bumps the robotic arm of Nathan Copeland during a tour at the White House Frontiers Conference at the University of Pittsburgh, Oct. 13, 2016. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

In the less than three years since the Brain Research through Advancing Innovative Neurotechnologies (BRAIN) Initiative was announced, researchers have made measurable progress towards creating new tools and sharpening existing ones to study the brain. Though its goals are long-term, in a few cases this progress already has shown promise in helping people.

These tools “allow us to do things that, in the past, were unimaginable,” said Nora Volkow of the National Institute of Drug Abuse during the third annual BRAIN Initiative investigators meeting, held in Bethesda, Md., this week. For example, imaging tech such as fMRI and PET have enabled us to make maps of brain activity and create a brain atlas of the concentration of serotonin transporters and receptors. But to reach goals as ambitious as characterizing the many types of neurons and other cells in the brain—or even to get a good count of how many types there are—we need to improve both the speed and the resolution of our tools.

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Dana Newsletter: October

Below is the latest Dana email newsletter. You can sign up to receive this (and other Dana email alerts and/or print publications) by going here.

cere_0716_articleimage_contThe Evolving View of Astrocytes

by Philip G. Haydon, Ph.D.

Scientists have found that one type of glial cell that is prevalent in the cortex—the astrocyte—may play a role in sleep, learning, and memory.  From Cerebrum, our online magazine of ideas.

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