Archive for the ‘Plasticity’ Category

Human skin cells transformed into functional brain cells

Thursday, August 4th, 2011 by admin
Researcher successfully transforms adult human skin cells into functional brain cells, providing further evidence that it is possible to generate new neurons.

There is still more evidence of the ability to create new brain cells: Dr. Sheng Ding, of the Gladstone Institute, has discovered an efficient way to transform adult human skills cells into neurons.  The neurons created by Dr. Ding actually exchanged the electrical implulses that brain cells use to communicate thoughts and emotions.  Ding’s research has enormous significance for regenerative medicine for individuals suffering from neurodegenerative diseases.  Ding’s transformation of adult human skin cells into neurons is one of the first documented experiments of its kind.

Dr. Lennart Mucke, Director of Neurological Research at Gladstone, elaborated, “Dr. Ding’s latest research offers new hope for the process of developing medications for these diseases, as well as for the possibility of cell-replacement therapy to reduce the trauma of millions of people affected by these devastating and irreversible conditions.”

Ding’s research builds upon that of another Gladstone Institute scientist, Senior Investigator Shinya Yamanaka, MD, PhD.  Dr. Yamanaka discovered a mechanism by which one could turn adult skin cells into cells that behaved like embryonic stem cells.  Embryonic cells can develop into any type of cell in the human body and possess vast potential for regenerative medicine.  Dr. Ding’s specific extension of Dr. Yamanaka’s findings explicitly shows the ability to create functioning brain cells from adult human skin cells. As embryonic stem cells remain controversial, human skin cells’ ability to be transformed into functional neurons is promising.

Dr. Ding created the functional neurons from two genes and a microRNA from a 55-year-old woman.  His successful manipulation of microRNA circumvents the issue of genome modification, which is not as safe or effective as using microRNA.

Ding explained, “This will help us avoid any genome modifications. These cells are not ready yet for transplantation. But this work removes some of the major technical hurdles to using reprogrammed cells to create transplant-ready cells for a host of diseases.”

Brain flexibility can predict one’s ability to learn

Wednesday, April 20th, 2011 by admin

This week’s Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) will contain a study in which researchers at UC Santa Barbara’s Brain Imaging Center recently developed a mechanism to determine how much a person is able to learn (Science Daily).

Researchers had study participants perform a motor task in which they pushed a series of buttons as quickly as possible.  While participants performed this task, researchers conducted functional MRI images of their brains.  Each fMRI image was divided into 112 regions and analyzed to discern how many different regions connected while the participants performed their motor task.  The researchers paid close attention to the interaction of multilayer networks, which show segments of different brain regions at one time, rather than individually.  Each segment is capable of containing a large amount of data, which is not yet quantifiable.  However, viewing connections between different regions simultaneously illustrated networks of communication of different brain layers, or multilayer networks.

The researchers were investigating brain flexibility, which they considered to be how various areas of the brain connect to each other in differentiated patterns.  Their findings suggest that a person’s brain flexibility can predict how well they will learn.

First author Danielle S. Bassett stated, “Parts of the brain communicate with one another very strongly, so they form a sort of module of intercommunicating regions of the brain.  In this way, brain activity can segregate into multiple functional modules.  What we wanted to measure is how fluid those modules are.”

Fluidity between each module in the brain may indicate increased flexibility of the brain.  Most significant is the fact that brain regions flexibility, and allegiances with other brain regions, can change over time.

Bassett explains, “That flexibility seems to be the factor that predicts learning.”

Brainjogging trains the brain, taking full advantage of its plasticity, or flexibility.  Plasticity is the characteristic that allows brains to change.  This is the reason for Brainjogging’s successes with students: students’ brains actually change when using Brainjogging, becoming more and more flexible and receptive learning.

Work it out: train your brain

Wednesday, April 6th, 2011 by admin

Research from the Salk Institute suggests that using a muscle can cue neuromuscular synapses to form around that muscle, making that muscle more efficient.  The brain is a muscle – exercising it as one would any other muscle strengthens the brain’s ability.  All messages in the body rely on synapses, small junctions that “coordinate communication between nerves and the muscles they control” (Salk).  Synapses are not finite; individuals can cultivate development of synapses even when synapse growth seems to be independently stagnant.  Salk Institute researchers, including Kuo-Fen Lee, the senior author of the study, hoped to discern whether or not initiation of synapse development is nerve-independent.  Essentially, they hoped to understand if cues from muscles could stimulate synapse development.Researchers studied growing mouse embryos, specifically the clustering of neurotransmitter receptors, which are considered “an acceptable indicator of synapse formation” (Salk).   In 14-day old embryos, neurotransmitter receptor clusters were “not apposed by nerves,” which indicated that initiation of synapse formation was not nerve-dependent. The scientists genetically altered the embryos so that they would not grow a phrenic nerve, “which normally innervates the diaphragm muscle that is essential in controlling breathing” (Salk).  Despite the absence of a phrenic nerve, the mice had normal receptor clustering in the diaphragm muscle.  The clustering occurred around the midband of the muscle, where contractions occur in the fully-formed diaphragm muscle.  It appears that “by beginning to form synapses along the midband, the muscle attracts nerve cells to the appropriate location to form connections” (Salk).

The significance of this study cannot be overstated – individuals can use specific muscles to attract more clusters of neurotransmitter receptors and stimulate the development of synapses.  Stroke victims can regain function of their limbs by slowly exercising muscles and facilitating synapse formation; so, too, can paraplegics.  Individuals with learning disabilities can also gain more control over their body.  These individuals may not have enough synapses; by using Brainjogging, they stimulate synapse development, thereby increasing their brain’s efficiency.  Increased synapses allow communication to occur more quickly in the brain.  This increased communication leads to greater processing speed.  Individuals with learning disabilities can increase their overall ability to process information by working their brain using Brainjogging.  Brainjogging actually trains the brain to be more efficient by stimulating synapse creation.

Parents beware: even Nintendo is warning young users against its upcoming Nintendo 3DS

Monday, February 14th, 2011 by admin

By Nintendo’s own admission, its new Nintendo 3DS, a handheld gaming system with 3D capabilities, may cause problems for children under the age of six.  The company issued a statement on its Japanese website.  The 3DS’s 3D gaming feature may stunt the growth of children’s eyes.  More and more research is suggesting that learning disabilities are centered in the eye.  A product that further debilitates children’s eyes is, therefore, undesirable.While Nintendo’s warning applies specifically to children under the age of six, Brainjogging has noticed even in older students that any video games derail their academic progress and alter their eye movement patterns; the effects are even more apparent when the video game was 3D.

In an attempt to placate parents, Nintendo included the ability to turn off the 3D capabilities of its new 3DS.  Additionally, parents can set passwords to regulate children’s interaction with the 3D function.  Nintendo goes so far as to ask all gamers using the 3DS to take breaks from the game as frequently as every hour or 30 minutes.

It is discouraging that Nintendo would market the 3DS to children when it is aware of so many risks associated with the product.  Nintendo’s admission of its product’s dangers should warn parents away from the product.  The 3DS will hit markets in Japan in February and in the United States in March.  Parents, be wary of this product; by its maker’s admission, it is not beneficial for children, particularly those under the age of six.  Even adults are asked to take periodic breaks from the system.  If an adult’s fully-developed brain can handle the 3DS for only 30 minutes to an hour, imagine the havoc it could wreak on a child’s still-developing mind.

Vitamin A is essential to long-term potentiation

Thursday, January 20th, 2011 by admin

Vitamin A is generally associated with low-light vision and color vision.  Salk Institute researchers also found that Vitamin A is essential to learning and memory.  When researchers removed Vitamin A from mice’s diets, they found that the mice experienced “diminished chemical changes in the brain considered the hallmarks of learning and memory” (Salk Institute).  When researchers added Vitamin A back to the mice’s diets, the mice’s cognitive impairment was reversed.

On researcher, Sharoni Jacobs, stated, “These data indicate that vitamin A is necessary for optimal function in the hippocampus, which we know to be a main seat of learning.”

Another researchers, Ronald M. Evans, added, “The study indicates that the detrimental effects of vitamin A deprivation are remarkably reversible, which offers hope to the millions of children worldwide with vitamin A-deficient diets.”

Genetically identical litter mates were given either normal diets or ones lacking Vitamin A.  Researchers evaluated the hippocampus regions of the brains for long-term potentiation (LTP) and long-term depression (LTD) in both groups of mice.  Both LTP and LTD have long been correlated with learning ability.  LTP is a long-lasting enhancement in signal transmission between two neurons that results from stimulating these neurons synchronously.

Vitamin A Rich Foods List Micrograms (mcg) Portion
Liver (pigs stewed) 23000 100g (3.5oz)
Cod liver oil 18000 100g
Liver Pate 7000 100g
Liver Sausage 2600 100g
Butter (fortified with A) 800 100g
Margarine (fortified with A) 750 100g
Ghee 700 100g
Faggots 450 100g
Cheese (hard) 330 100g
Fresh creams (pasteurised) > 200 100g
Eggs 200 100g
Carrots (raw) 8000 100g
Sweet potato 4000 100g
Capsicum pepper (red) 3800 100g
Spinach 3500 100g
Curly Kale (boiled) 3200 100g
Watercress (too little portion size!) 2500 100g
Mangoes 1400 100g
Apricots 1200 100g
Herbs & Spices High Vitamin A Sources but very low portion size! mcg per gram
Paprika 360 1g
Chili powder 210 1g

** Carotene – not as rich as Retinol as a source of vitamin A.

Jacobs reported, “At 15 weeks of age, the responses of vitamin A-deprived mice are reduced to about 50 percent normal. At longer time points, LTP is stable at 50 percent, but LTD drops to almost undetectable levels.”

After restoring Vitamin A to the deficient mice’s diets for as little as two days, these mice’s brain responses returned to normal levels, as demonstrated by the mice receiving Vitamin A.

The mice also exhibited normal function when isolated areas of hippocampus tissue from the Vitamin A deficient mice’s brains were bathed in Vitamin A, “indicating that the nutrient functions in the hippocampus directly, not in other parts of the brain that might influence the important learning region.”

Experiencing Vitamin A deficiency impairs individuals’ ability to learn and retain information. This study overturned a previous study, which found that “mice born without receptors for vitamin A in the hippocampus lacked LTP ability and performed under par in standardized learning tests. Receptors are molecules within brain cells that detect and respond to the vitamin.”  The previous study failed to answer the question of whether or not Vitamin A activity was necessary during embryonic development; the current study proves that removing Vitamin A even from “fully-developed animals impairs learning pathways, and equally important, the effects are reversible.”

Brainjogging works because it activates various brain regions and neurons synchronously.  Vitamin A is essential to activating neurons synchronously.  Brainjogging trains the brain to activate neurons synchronously.  Brainjogging can activate these neurons synchronously even in Vitamin A deficient individuals, but Vitamin A better facilitates individuals’ ability to synchronize neural communication.  Vitamin A deficiency’s effects can be reversed.  Brainjogging encourages individuals to eat foods rich in Vitamin A to enhance one’s LTP and reduce one’s LTD.

Running stimulates the growth of new brain cells

Monday, January 17th, 2011 by admin

Running helps individuals stay physically healthy and improves many individuals’ state of mental health by reducing stress. Research from the Salk Institute proves that running can also enable individuals to grow more new brain cells, when compared to sedentary counterparts.

Researchers divided mice into groups and, for twelve days, gave them a chemical that labels dividing cells.  After the study, “the mice on the move had the most new brain cells, twice as many as mice housed in standard cages,” which did not contain exercise wheels or other physically stimulating toys (Salk Institute).

Salk Professor Fred H. Gage, the study’s senior author, remarked, “The difference was striking. And because we know now that human brains also make new cells, it just might be that running or other vigorous exercise stimulates brain cell production in people as well.”

Gage’s research recently disproved the long-standing neuroscience belief that humans do not gain new brain cells after birth.  His laboratory has shown that “mice raised in what they term ‘enriched environments’ grow more new cells than litter mates housed in standard laboratory cages.”  These enriched environments included numerous variables, including toys, exercise wheels, increased opportunities for social interaction and varied diets.

One postdoctoral fellow in Gage’s laboratory, Henriette van Praag, said, “The present study is an attempt to tease out which type of stimulation is most important.”

The study included a sedentary control group of mice, there were “runners” groups and “swimmers” groups.  The “swimmers” were placed in a shallow pool each day for a brief period.  Additionally, “one of the groups had a learning task to accomplish, which the investigators thought might boost brain cell growth, and the other group simply had ‘free swim’ time.”  Astonishingly, neither group of “swimmers” displayed brain cell numbers comparable to the “runners.”

“We don’t know if it’s the voluntary factor that’s key – that is, the running mice were free to jump on or off the wheel as they liked – or if it’s because the swimmers simply got less exercise,” said Gage.

Gage also noted that learning and completing a specific task may stimulate changes in existing brain cells rather than boosting the development of new ones.  The new cell growth took place in the brain’s hippocampus, which has been linked to learning and memory by many studies.  The mice in the “enriched environments” performed better on learning tests than did their sedentary and swimming counterparts.

Brainjogging changes the brain and increases individuals’ long-term potentiation, or the ability of neurons to be activated synchronously.  Brainjogging also stimulates new neuron growth.  Running, too, as substantiated by the Salk Institute, enables individuals to grow new neurons.  The fact that new cell growth occurs after birth, as proved by Gage’s research, is significant in that individuals do not have to become stagnant in their cognitive development.  Running – and other forms of vigorous exercise – improves one’s cognitive condition.

You can have kickin’ cognition – worry less and enjoy more social capital

Tuesday, January 4th, 2011 by admin

Fifty researchers from seven countries conducted an extensive soccer research project that studied “physiological, psychological and sociological aspects of recreational soccer and compared it with running” (Science Daily).  Professors Peter Krustrup and Jens Bangsbo from the University of Copenhagen’s Department of Exercise and Sports Sciences oversaw the three year project.  The study followed men, women and children, all divided into soccer, running and control groups.

The study’s results were so startling that the Scandinavian Journal of Medicine and Science in Sports published a special edition issue entitled “Football for Health,” containing 14 scientific articles from the soccer project.

Researchers studied the physical effects of soccer training on individuals from ages  9 – 77 that had no previous soccer experience.  Soccer provides “broad-spectred health and fitness effects that are at least as pronounced as for running, and in some cases even better.” As a team sport, soccer may contain positive motivational and social factors that “may facilitate compliance and contribute to the maintenance of a physically active lifestyle.” Studies showed that “soccer training for 2 – 3 hours per week causes significant cardiovascular, metabolic and musculoskeletal adaptations, independent on gender, age or lack of experience with soccer.”

Participants maintained these effects even with decreased training frequency of 1 – 2 hours per week.  The study researchers found that “recreational soccer … appears to be an effective type of training leading to performance improvements and significant beneficial effects to health, including a reduction in the risk of cardiovascular diseases, falls and fractures.”

Soccer provides physical benefits for nearly all who choose to participate in the sport.  It is an intensely healthy promoting activity.  Various benefits also manifest, although they are typically different in male and female groups.  Women experience a greater sense of social capital, as they are included in a group in which they consider themselves and important aspect.  Runners are more focused on their performance as individuals, but soccer players are able to evaluate their performance individually and in relation to teammates.  Men, however, experience less anxiety when playing soccer.  Male study participants “felt motivated, happy and involved to the point where they forgot time and fatigue.”

The significance of this study can hardly be overstated.  It clearly illustrates the necessity of exercising, and not only exercising but preferably exercising within a social framework of sorts.  Diminished anxiety removes unnecessary stress from individuals, which can suppress cognition, and an increased sense of connectivity to others increases one’s overall sense of well being.  Brainjogging encourages students to participate physical activities, especially ones with peers, who provide appropriate role models and build students’ sense of self.  Exercise generally heightens individuals’ quality of life, which allows them to commit themselves to other areas, including academic and social success.

Folks benefit from physical activity, particularly in their teen years

Thursday, December 30th, 2010 by admin

“Women who are physically active at any point over the life course have lower risk of cognitive impairment in late-life compared to those who are inactive, but teenage physical activity appears to be most important.” Science Daily.

The Journal of American Geriatrics Society recently conducted a study of nine thousand women in an attempt to explore the connection between physically activity and cognitive impairment.  The study focused on four age groups: teenage, age 30, age 50 and late life.

Current research suggests that “people who are physically active in mid- and late life have lower chance of dementia and more minor forms of cognitive impairment in old age,” but there is less understanding of the various effects of physical activity in early life versus physical activity at different ages.  Researchers from Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre, Canada, “compared the physical activity at teenage, age 30, age 50 and late life against cognition of 9,344 women from Maryland, Minnesota, Oregon and Pennsylvania to investigate the effectiveness of activity at different life stages.” After adjusting for age, education, marital status, diabetes, hypertension, depressive symptoms, smoking and body mass index, the results indicated that “only teenage physical activity status remained significantly associated with cognitive performance in old age.”  Being active at age 30 and age 50, however, was not “significantly associated with rates of cognitive impairment in those women who were already physically active at teenage.”  Thus, it seems that to minimize risk of dementia and other cognitive impairment, physical activity should be encouraged beginning in early life.  However, individuals that were inactive as teens can “reduce their risk of cognitive impairment by becoming active later in life.”Additionally, evidence suggests “physical activity has a positive effect on brain plasticity and cognitive and in addition, physical activity reduces the rate and severity of vascular risk factors, such as hypertension, obesity and type II diabetes, which are each associated with increased risk of cognitive impairment.”  Brainjogging has a positive effect on brain plasticity, and is particularly effective in students that engage in physical activity.  Brainjogging therapists strive to coordinate motor skills and academic information into sessions; students learn and retain more when their cerebellum is active.

Brainjogging and the dyslexic brain

Wednesday, December 8th, 2010 by admin

Children with dyslexia, despite displaying intellectual ability in other areas and having received appropriate education, often have difficulties with reading, writing and spelling.  The June 2010 issue of Elsevier’s Cortex contains findings from Vanderbilt University, Johns Hopkins University and Kennedy Krieger Institute researchers that suggest “a connection between difficulties with written language and structural differences in the brain” (Science Daily).

The brain contains white matter.  This white matter consists of bundles of fiber that are essentially the wiring that allows brain cells to communicate.  The brain’s left-hemisphere language network is made up of bundles of these fibers, which contain branches that extend from the back of the brain to the front parts, which are responsible for articulation and speech.  In individuals with dyslexia, there is a structural difference in a very important bundle of fibers in the left-hemisphere language network.Using diffusion tensor imaging (DTI), researchers traced the course of this bundle in its network and “discovered that it ran through a frontal brain region known to be less well organized in the dyslexic brain” (Science Daily).  Additionally, they found that “fibers in that frontal part of the tract were oriented differently in dyslexia,” substantiating that dyslexia is directly related to structural abnormalities in the brain.

One of the study’s researchers, Laurie Cutting, of Vanderbilt University, stated, “If you have decreased integrity of white matter, the front and back part of your brain are not talking to one another.  This would affect reading, because you need both to act as a cohesive unit.”

Brainjogging helps regions of the brain talk to each other.  Individuals with dyslexia actually show the fastest and most sustained response to Brainjogging when related to other learning disabilities.  Brainjogging encourages communicate between brain regions, thereby better enabling the circuitry involved in many tasks, including reading, writing and spelling.  Brainjogging works for individuals with dyslexia because Brainjogging helps the brain to act as a cohesive unit; the dyslexic brain does not act cohesively unless it is trained to do so.  Brainjogging trains the dyslexic brain!

Blindness and brain plasticity

Tuesday, November 30th, 2010 by admin

Congenitally deaf cats recently lent insight into the plasticity of human brains (click here for that post), and a recent study conducted by the UCLA Department of Neurology has confirmed that “blindness causes structural changes in the brain, indicating that the brain may reorganize itself functionally in order to adapt to a loss in sensory input” (Science Daily).

Natasha Leporé, a postgraduate researcher at UCLA’s Laboratory of Neuro Imaging, along with her colleagues, confirmed that “visual regions of the brain were smaller in volume in blind individuals than in sighted ones” (Science Daily). As it turns out, “blindness can heighten other senses, helping individuals adapt” to the loss of one very valuable source of sensory input. In non-visual areas, however, the trend was reversed: areas of the brain that weren’t involved in visual processes were larger in blind individuals, suggesting that “the brains of blind individuals are compensating for the reduced volume in areas normally devoted to vision.”

The study focused on three groups: individuals that lost sight before the age of five; individuals that lost sight after the age of 14; and a control group of sighted individuals.  Both blind groups demonstrated “significant enlargement in areas of the brain not responsible for vision.”  The frontal lobes, for example, which are involved with working memory, among other things, were significantly enlarged.

Leporé stated, “This study shows the exceptional plasticity of the brain and its ability to reorganize itself after a major input – in this case, vision – is lost. It appears the brain will attempt to compensate for the fact that a person can no longer see, and this is particularly true for those who are blind since early infancy, a developmental period in which the brain is much more plastic and modifiable than it is in adulthood.”

As noted by Leporé, infancy and early childhood are the most ideal times for intervention because the brain can easily modify itself to compensate for certain losses. Brainjogging was created to encourage neurological development; if not for the brain’s plasticity, new neurological development could not occur.  Brainjogging facilitates new neurons’ growth and strengthens existing neural connections, enabling individuals with learning disabilities to retrain their brains to compensate for whatever deficits their learning disability may create.