04 September 2008

Brain Stimulation Preserves Brain Cells, Zen Training Restores Distracted Attention

In Parkinson's disease, certain dopamine secreting cells in the substantia nigra die off, leading to the loss of fine control of motion. But deep brain stimulation with implanted electrodes in the brains of rats preserves dopamine cells by causing increased levels of BDNF (brain derived neurotrophic factor), suggesting a similar therapy in humans may halt progression of Parkinson's. Remember that BDNF can also stimulate the differentiation of neural stem cells into mature neurons.
During the DBS study, researchers implanted high-frequency stimulating electrodes in the subthalamic nucleus, an area of the brain associated with movement, in rats and then induced dopamine neuron loss. When the rats had experienced a 50 percent loss of dopamine neurons, the researchers initiated brain stimulation in half of the group. Measurements of surviving, functioning dopamine neurons in rats implanted with active stimulators were then compared to a control group implanted with inactive stimulators. While the control group’s loss of dopamine neurons increased to 75 percent after two weeks, the rats implanted with active stimulators experienced no further loss of cells during that time.

Subsequent tissue analysis revealed that in rats implanted with active stimulators the trophic factor BDNF had tripled in the striatum, a part of the brain that houses dopamine terminals and “receives” the dopamine neurotransmitters that are produced in the substantia nigra. _SD
In other research, it was found that persons with Zen training are able to refocus their attention more quickly after being distracted, than persons without such training.
The study compared 12 people from the Atlanta area with more than three years of daily practice in Zen meditation with 12 others who had never practiced meditation...While having their brains scanned, the subjects were asked to focus on their breathing. Every once in a while, they had to distinguish a real word from a nonsense word presented at random intervals on a computer screen and, having done that, promptly "let go" of the just processed stimulus by refocusing on their breath....

After interruption, experienced meditators were able to bring activity in most regions of the default network back to baseline faster than non-meditators. This effect was especially prominent in the angular gyrus, a region important for processing language. _SD
Scientists have also created an animal model of chronic stress by boosting levels of corticotropin releasing factor (CRF) in a specific part of an animal's brain. Drugs to modify the effect of CRF in humans have been in the pipeline for some time. Perhaps eventually a non-addictive treatement for chronic anxiety and over-stress will be developed. Meditation, exercise, and avoiding bad habits can also do wonders.

Remember the wonder drug Dimebon, being studied as a treatment for Alzheimer's? Pfizer has acquired the rights for the drug from Medivation. Scientists are also beginning to zero in on the specific protein-protein interactions that lead to damaging neurodegeneration in Alzheimer's, Parkinson's, Huntington's, etc.

Here's a report of more research into stimulating replacement neurons in the brain for treating neurodegenerative disorders.

Remember: All of this research is made possible by the excess wealth generated by market economics. The more of that excess wealth (profit) that government sucks up through taxation, or prevents by excess regulation or counter-productive tort laws, the less research that can be done. Government and foundation funding through NIH etc. is only possible when there is excess wealth available to begin with. Have you ever wondered why most of the research is being done in non-socialist countries?

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