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Best and Worst of Neuroscience and Neurology – April 2017

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    The number of neuroscience publications steadily grows over the years. In 2006, around 27,000 paper on this subject were published, while in 2015 this number went up to almost 37,000. This is a seriously big increase that reflects the importance of brain science and the growing interest in this field of research. The selection of articles presented here covers a wide range of topics, from purely academic subjects to the findings of clinical significance and newly discovered facts that will be of interest to almost everyone.

    On the 25 April 1971, David Eagleman was celebrating his birthday. David is probably one of the best known neuroscientists these days, thanks to his books and TV series. In the academic world, Dr Eagleman is better known for hit works on the relationship between timing of perception and timing of neural signals.


    New type of cells discovered in brain

    This new discovery touches again on how little we still know about the brain. A new type of brain cell, mural lymphatic endothelial cells, were reported in the article published this week. The function of these cells, which are lymphatic in their origin, is to clean up the brain from accumulating cellular debris and thus prevent the damage to normal healthy cells of the brain.

    Artificial synapse capable of learning

    Brain synapses are central for our ability to learn. Stimulation of synapses strengthen the connection between the neurons and thus enhances the learning. A similar approach was used when researchers created an electronic synapse called memristor. Although the physical components of this nano-device have nothing to do with the real synapses in brain, the underlying principle is still the same. The devices of this kind will be important for the developing artificial brain.

    Doxycycline for treating Parkinson’s disease?

    Doxycycline has been used to treat bacterial infection for well over 50 years. New findings indicate that this antibiotic may have a new application: to treat Parkinson’s disease. This disease is caused by abnormal accumulation and toxicity of protein alpha-synuclein. In cell culture, the scientists observed that the formation of alpha-synuclein aggregates is reduced by 80% in the presence of doxycycline. Mice models with Parkinson’s disease fed on the diet with addition of doxycycline improved their symptoms. Human trials with low doses of doxycycline are now being planned.

    Psychedelics and higher state of consciousness

    The effects of psychedelics such as LSD on brain function are poorly studied. A paper published this month has reported that psychedelics induce increased signal diversity, as shown by brain imaging methods. Signal diversity is considered to be a measure of the complexity of brain activity. In the subjects exposed to the drugs, this measure was higher then the baseline value in the normal condition. Researchers conclude that, under the influence of psychedelics, the brain experiences a changed state of consciousness. The question remains whether this is a ‘better’ or more desirable state, and whether the psychedelic drugs can be used for therapeutic applications.

    Growing brain tissue in a lab

    Modelling the brain is very hard due to the complexity of this organ. While most other tissues and even organs can be grown in a laboratory artificially, the brain has resisted attempts thus far. A new paper published this month reported a successful attempt to do exactly this. Researchers successfully turned stem cells into tiny cultures of brain cells with several cell types typical for the midbrain. This is a very important methodological development that will help to facilitate the study of both the healthy brain and various brain pathologies.


    Aspirin does not benefit cognitive functions

    Aspirin is one of the oldest drugs still in use. Surprisingly, new beneficial qualities of this simple molecule are still being discovered. With only small and manageable side effects, low-dose aspirin is even recommended as a daily drug for older healthy individuals, for reducing the risk of serious conditions such as cardiovascular problems. There were many reports suggesting that aspirin might also be useful for protection against dementia and cognitive decline. However, the meta-analysis of existing data published this month found no evidence to support this view.

    Soda drinking damages brain and accelerates its aging

    The fact that sugary drinks are bad for general health is well known. New data based on a long-term study show that they are also damaging for brain functions. People consuming two or more sugary drinks at any time per day have poorer memory, decreased overall volume of the brain, and  a smaller hippocampus (a part of the brain associated with memory and learning). On the MRI scans their showed more prominent features of brain aging compared to people who don’t consume sugary beverages. Interestingly, switching to diet drinks containing artificial sweeteners doesn’t help much: people consuming at least one diet soda a day are three times more likely to develop dementia and stroke.

    Marmite: bad choice for brain?

    Marmite, a food spread popular in the UK, Australia, and New Zealand, might be not as safe and healthy as usually assumed. A rather curious piece of research published this month demonstrated that daily consumption of Marmite (one teaspoon every day) results in a 30% decrease in the brain response to visual stimuli. The effect is explained by the high content of vitamin B12 in Marmite. This vitamin regulates the level of neurotransmitter GABA that has an inhibitory effect on the excitability of some neurons. The findings show that the food we eat may have substantial effects on our brain functioning.

    A link between cancer chemotherapy and depression

    It was always difficult to figure out if the depression that cancer patients often experience is caused by the psychological stress of having cancer, or also because of chemotherapy. New research data obtained on healthy mice receiving drugs for brain cancer demonstrated that chemotherapy prevents formation of new cells in the hippocampus, a region of brain involved in memory formation and emotions. The treatment also resulted in the release of stress hormones and clear signs of depression. Brain cancer patients appear to be some of the most affected by the treatment-related depression, which remains mostly undiagnosed. Understanding that depression might be related to treatment will help to develop therapies to counteract this effect.

    Multitasking: few advantages, brain overloading

    The ability to multitask is often praised as a valuable skill, but does it really bring any advantages? New research data seriously questions the value of multitasking. Performing several tasks at the same task reduces productivity by 40%. Moreover, the findings show that frequent switching between tasks interferes with brain activity. Scientists also point out the danger of the continuous use of social media as it is an additional task for our brain and thus reduces the effectiveness of other tasks performed at the same time. It appears that focusing on a single task for a longer period of time brings better results than multitasking.


    Andy Wai Kan Yeung, Tazuko K. Goto, W. Keung Leung. The Changing Landscape of Neuroscience Research, 2006–2015: A Bibliometric Study. Frontiers in Neuroscience, 2017; 11 DOI: 10.3389/fnins.2017.00120

    Neil I Bower, Katarzyna Koltowska, Cathy Pichol-Thievend, Isaac Virshup, Scott Paterson, Anne K Lagendijk, Weili Wang, Benjamin W Lindsey, Stephen J Bent, Sungmin Baek, Maria Rondon-Galeano, Daniel G Hurley, Naoki Mochizuki, Cas Simons, Mathias Francois, Christine A Wells, Jan Kaslin, Benjamin M Hogan. Mural lymphatic endothelial cells regulate meningeal angiogenesis in the zebrafish. Nature Neuroscience, 2017; DOI: 10.1038/nn.4558

    Sören Boyn, Julie Grollier, Gwendal Lecerf, Bin Xu, Nicolas Locatelli, Stéphane Fusil, Stéphanie Girod, Cécile Carrétéro, Karin Garcia, Stéphane Xavier, Jean Tomas, Laurent Bellaiche, Manuel Bibes, Agnès Barthélémy, Sylvain Saïghi, Vincent Garcia. Learning through ferroelectric domain dynamics in solid-state synapses. Nature Communications, 2017; 8: 14736 DOI: 10.1038/NCOMMS14736

    Florencia González-Lizárraga, Sergio B. Socías, César L. Ávila, Clarisa M. Torres-Bugeau, Leandro R. S. Barbosa, Andres Binolfi, Julia E. Sepúlveda-Díaz, Elaine Del-Bel, Claudio O. Fernandez, Dulce Papy-Garcia, Rosangela Itri, Rita Raisman-Vozari, Rosana N. Chehín. Repurposing doxycycline for synucleinopathies: remodelling of ?-synuclein oligomers towards non-toxic parallel beta-sheet structured species. Scientific Reports, 2017; 7: 41755 DOI: 10.1038/srep41755

    Michael M. Schartner, Robin L. Carhart-Harris, Adam B. Barrett, Anil K. Seth, Suresh D. Muthukumaraswamy. Increased spontaneous MEG signal diversity for psychoactive doses of ketamine, LSD and psilocybin. Scientific Reports, 2017; 7: 46421 DOI: 10.1038/srep46421

    Anna S. Monzel, Lisa M. Smits, Kathrin Hemmer, Siham Hachi, Edinson Lucumi Moreno, Thea van Wuellen, Javier Jarazo, Jonas Walter, Inga Brüggemann, Ibrahim Boussaad, Emanuel Berger, Ronan M.T. Fleming, Silvia Bolognin, Jens C. Schwamborn. Derivation of Human Midbrain-Specific Organoids from Neuroepithelial Stem Cells. Stem Cell Reports, 2017; DOI: 10.1016/j.stemcr.2017.03.010

    Stubbs, Stefania Maggi, Trevor Thompson, Patricia Schofield, Christoph Muller, Ping-Tao Tseng, Pao-Yen Lin, André F. Carvalho, Marco Solmi. Low-Dose Aspirin Use and Cognitive Function in Older Age: A Systematic Review and Meta-analysis. Journal of the American Geriatrics Society, 2017; DOI: 10.1111/jgs.14883

    Matthew P. Pase et al. Sugar- and Artificially Sweetened Beverages and the Risks of Incident Stroke and Dementia: A Prospective Cohort Study. Stroke, April 2017 DOI: 10.1161/STROKEAHA.116.016027

    Matthew P. Pase, Jayandra J. Himali, Paul F. Jacques, Charles DeCarli, Claudia L. Satizabal, Hugo Aparicio, Ramachandran S. Vasan, Alexa S. Beiser, Sudha Seshadri. Sugary beverage intake and preclinical Alzheimer’s disease in the community. Alzheimer’s & Dementia, 2017; DOI: 10.1016/j.jalz.2017.01.024

    Anika K Smith, Alex R Wade, Kirsty EH Penkman, Daniel H Baker. Dietary modulation of cortical excitation and inhibition. Journal of Psychopharmacology, 2017; 026988111769961 DOI: 10.1177/0269881117699613

    M Egeland, C Guinaudie, A Du Preez, K Musaelyan, P A Zunszain, C Fernandes, C M Pariante, S Thuret. Depletion of adult neurogenesis using the chemotherapy drug temozolomide in mice induces behavioural and biological changes relevant to depression. Translational Psychiatry, 2017; 7 (4): e1101 DOI: 10.1038/tp.2017.68

    Juha M. Lahnakoski, Iiro P. Jääskeläinen, Mikko Sams, Lauri Nummenmaa. Neural mechanisms for integrating consecutive and interleaved natural events. Human Brain Mapping, 2017; DOI: 10.1002/hbm.23591

    Image via felixioncool/Pixabay.

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