12 October 2009

Brain Research Findings

Using functional connectivity MRI brain scanning, scientists at Washington University and the University of Chieti, have discovered an alteration in the brain's spontaneous background activity after it has learned a new task.
"Recent studies have shown that in the absence of any overt behaviour, and even during sleep or anaesthesia, the brain's spontaneous activity is not random, but organized in patterns of correlated activity that occur in anatomically and functionally connected regions," says senior author Dr. Maurizio Corbetta.

"The reasons behind the spontaneous activity patterns remain mysterious, but we have now shown that learning causes small changes in those patterns, and that these changes are behaviourally important," he added. _More at medindia
The researchers may have stumbled upon a crude neurological correlate of "automaticity", an adaptation of the brain to training, that allows conscious learning to become unconscious knowledge.

Using diffusion tensor imaging, UK researchers have demonstrated changes in white matter brain connectivity after subjects learned to juggle.
Johansen-Berg and colleagues scanned the brains of 48 volunteers who undertook to learn and practise juggling. None of the volunteers could juggle when they started their training which comprised one weekly training session and 30 minutes of daily practice for 6 weeks.

...At the end of the training period, the volunteers reached varying levels of juggling skill, but all those who trained and practised showed changes in white matter, suggesting it wasn't skill attainment that mattered but the time spent training and practising. _MNT
These findings should be studied by anyone connected with the education of children, adolescents, and adults.

Using mice and cell cultures, Stanford University researchers discovered an important mechanism for the formation of new synapses in the brain -- particularly in developing brains.
Stanford University researchers examined the interaction between neurons and brain cells called astrocytes. Previous studies showed that a protein that astrocytes secrete, thrombospondin, is critical to the formation of the brain's circuitry. In the study, researchers found that thrombospondin binds to a receptor, called alpha2delta-1, on the outer membrane of neurons. In a study in mice, they showed that the neurons that lacked alpha2delta-1 could not form synapses in response to the presence of thrombospondin.

Alpha2delta-1 is the receptor for gabapentin. That has been known, although scientists did not understand how gabapentin worked. But the new research revealed that when gabapentin was given to mice, it prevented thrombospondin from binding to the receptor, thus stopping the synapse formation.

While gabapentin, which is sold under the trade name Neurontin, does not dissolve pre-existing synapses, it prevents the formation of new ones. That's why the medication may be dangerous if given to pregnant women or young children, the authors said. The majority of the brain's synapses are formed in utero and early childhood. _LAT
Potentially an extremely important finding for neurologists and all those who care for pregnant women and fetuses.

Perhaps researchers can study the effects of drugs and other chemicals on the developing brain using microfluidic chips, "labs on a chip", being developed by labs around the world: ...Johns Hopkins University, where a lab on chip has been designed to mimic the chemical complexities of the brain; _newelectronics

Computer simulations are simply not up to the chemical and other complexities of the brain -- at any stage of development. It is likely that dynamic models in silicon, however, will eventually approach -- or exceed -- the reliability of animal models for brain research.

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Blogger Audacious Epigone said...

So it sounds like traditional methods of rote drilling are more effective than "critical thinking" for adolescents in school--the former has consequences in white matter formation.

Monday, 12 October, 2009  
Blogger al fin said...

We'll see.

Learning a motor skill is somewhat different than training declarative memory. But we do know that scheduled reinforcement learning is useful for memory retention for both motor skills and declarative memory.

The effect on white matter re-wiring and synapse formation will take longer to sort out.

The more subtle changes in receptor activity and gene expression may take even longer to tease into comprehension.

Tuesday, 13 October, 2009  

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