Dale Earnhardt Jr.: Bringing Concussions Out of the Darkness

I never wanted to be a concussion expert. I know some of the world’s leading authorities on head injuries and I’m certainly not one of them, but “expert” is a relative term. My expertise comes from personal experience.

During my two decades behind the wheel as a full-time Nascar driver, I suffered more than a dozen concussions. For a long time, I managed to keep most of them a secret, but then my symptoms got too severe to keep up the charade and I was forced to get help. My battle with head injuries has given me a wealth of firsthand knowledge of the causes, symptoms, and types of concussions, and their treatments.

Racers get every injury you can think of, from broken legs to cracked collarbones. But it was concussions, not fractures, that forced me to retire as a full-time Nascar driver in 2017. Twice I was pushed out of the driver’s seat because of concussion-related symptoms, missing two major races in 2012 and an entire half-season in 2016.

Full story at the New York Times

Breakdown of brain’s visual networks linked to mental illness

Individual regions of the brain have to team up to get things done. And like in any team, the key to working together is communication.

Duke researchers used brain imaging to identify how patterns of brain connectivity — the ability of different brain regions to talk to each other — can affect a person’s likelihood of developing common forms of mental illness.

Surprisingly, they found that brain regions that help process what we see may play a key role in mental health. The results show that a person’s risk of mental illness broadly increases when the visual cortex has trouble communicating with brain networks responsible for focus and introspection.

Full story at Science Daily

New mindset in the search for stroke therapies

UNSW researchers have identified a promising new avenue to explore in the search for stroke treatments, after translating findings from Alzheimer’s disease.

The study published in Nature Communications finds that mice deficient in tau, a protein within brain cells (neurons), are significantly protected from excitotoxic brain damage after experimental stroke.

Stroke is a major cause of death and disability, and there is only a short window for therapeutic intervention, aimed at restoring blood flow to the brain before neurons are irreversibly damaged.

Full story at Science Daily

Does widespread pain stem from the brain? MRI study investigates

Pain is the most common reason people seek medical care, according to the National Institutes of Health.

“Sometimes we can easily pinpoint what is causing a person pain,” says Richard Harris, Ph.D., associate professor of anesthesiology and rheumatology at Michigan Medicine. “But, there are still 1 in 5 Americans who suffer from persistent pain that is not easily identifiable.”

Whenever someone experiences pain, they often think about how intense the pain is — but rarely do they also consider how widespread the pain is.

Full story at Science Daily

Brains are more plastic than we thought

Practice might not always make perfect, but it’s essential for learning a sport or a musical instrument. It’s also the basis of brain training, an approach that holds potential as a non-invasive therapy to overcome disabilities caused by neurological disease or trauma.

Research at the Montreal Neurological Institute and Hospital of McGill University (The Neuro) has shown just how adaptive the brain can be, knowledge that could one day be applied to recovery from conditions such as stroke.

Researchers Dave Liu and Christopher Pack have demonstrated that practice can change the way that the brain uses sensory information. In particular, they showed that, depending on the type of training done beforehand, a part of the brain called the area middle temporal (MT) can be either critical for visual perception, or not important at all.

Full story at Science Daily

Brain’s power to adapt offers short-term gains, long-term strains

Like air-traffic controllers scrambling to reconnect flights when a major hub goes down, the brain has a remarkable ability to rewire itself after suffering an injury. However, maintaining these new connections between brain regions can strain the brain’s resources, which can lead to serious problems later, including Alzheimer’s Disease, according to researchers.

After a head injury, the brain can show enhanced connectivity by using alternative routes between two previously connected regions of the brain that need to communicate, as well as make stronger connections, said Frank G. Hillary, associate professor of psychology, Penn State. These new connections between damaged areas are often referred to as hyperconnections, he added.

Full story of brain’s power to adapt at Science Daily

Finger prosthesis provides clues to brain health

In a collaboration between Swedish and Italian researchers, the aim was to analyse how the brain interprets information from a virtual experience of touch, created by a finger prosthesis with artificial sensation. The result was — completely unexpectedly — a new method for measuring brain health.

“We were able to measure the cooperation between neural networks in a very precise and detailed way. We can also see how the entire network changes when new information comes in,” says neuroscience researcher Henrik Jörntell from Lund University in Sweden.

The Pisa-Lund group generated artificial touch experiences with a bionic fingertip currently used for robotic upper limb neuroprostheses. These artificial touch experiences were provided to the touch sensor nerves of the skin in the rat, as a kind of neuroscientific playback of information to the brain. Using a high-resolution analysis of how individual neurons and their connected brain networks processed this touch information, designed by neurocomputational scientist Alberto Mazzoni and physics scientist Anton Spanne, the groups got an unexpected insight into the brain representations of the external world experienced through touch. Single neurons in the brain are able to convey much more information than was previously thought and can interact to generate potentially super rich representations of sensory stimuli.

Full story of brain health studies with finger prosthesis at Science Daily

Scientific discovery may change treatment of Parkinson

When monitoring Parkinson’s disease, SPECT imaging of the brain is used for acquiring information on the dopamine activity. A new study conducted in Turku, Finland, shows that the dopamine activity observed in SPECT imaging does not reflect the number of dopamine neurons in the substantia nigra, as previously assumed.

One of the most significant changes in the central nervous system in Parkinson’s disease is the loss of dopamine-producing neurons in the substantia nigra, causing a drop in dopamine levels in the brain.

“Low dopamine level in the brain is linked with the central motor symptoms of Parkinson’s disease, i.e. tremor or shaking, muscle stiffness and slowness of movements,” says Docent of Neurology Valtteri Kaasinen from the University of Turku.

Full story of dopamine activity in SPECT may change treatment in Parkinson’s at Science Daily

With mini-vessels, mini-brains expand research potential

Scientists have recently made a wondrous variety of mini-brains — 3-D cultures of neural cells that model basic properties of living brains — but a new finding could add to the field’s growing excitement in an entirely new “vein”: Brown University’s mini-brains now grow blood vessels, too.

The networks of capillaries within the little balls of nervous system cells could enable new kinds of large-scale lab investigations into diseases, such as stroke or concussion, where the interaction between the brain and its circulatory system is paramount, said Diane Hoffman-Kim, senior author of the study in The Journal of Neuroscience Methods. More fundamentally, vasculature makes mini-brains more realistic models of natural noggins.

Full story on studying diseases using mini-brains at Science Daily

Transplanted neurons incorporated into a stroke-injured rat brain

Today, a stroke usually leads to permanent disability — but in the future, the stroke-injured brain could be reparable by replacing dead cells with new, healthy neurons, using transplantation. Researchers at Lund University in Sweden have taken a step in that direction by showing that some neurons transplanted into the brains of stroke-injured rats were incorporated and responded correctly when the rat’s muzzle and paws were touched.

The study, published in the journal Brain, used human skin cells. These cells were re-programmed to the stem cell stage and then matured into the type of neurons normally found in the cerebral cortex.

Full story of transplanted neurons and the stroke-injured brain at Science Daily