All posts by Tracey Johnson

Deaf people have “rewired” brains that influence learning according to a new study

According to a new study published in Nature Scientific Reports, the brains of people with congenital deafness can develop differently and this can influence the ways in which these same people learn to learn. This study, according to the same researchers, may prove useful precisely to develop new methods of teaching “tailor-made” for all people who have never had the opportunity to use hearing during their existence.

According to Colin Johnson, a researcher at the College of Science of the State University of Oregon, people who are born deaf can have a life that is severely compromised even with regards to school and teaching in general. Often these people, in fact, as specified by the researcher, generally fail to reach an adequate level of education and this leads to cascade to other consequences that certainly do not improve the standard of living.

Researchers have discovered that it is a particular protein mutation that causes hearing loss and that it can also alter the wiring of different groups of neurons. The protein, known as otoferlina, has the sole task of encoding the sound in the sensory hair cells that are found in the inner ear.

If this protein undergoes a genetic modification, total hearing loss can occur. This mutation weakens the link between the protein and a calcium synapse in the ear and this lack of interaction is the basis of hearing loss.

Studying this protein in humans has always been difficult due to its size and due to the fact that it is characterized by low solubility. That is why Johnson and colleagues have studied zebrafish that share a similarity in genetic, molecular and cellular levels with humans.

Thanks to these studies, the researcher has discovered a smaller version of the otoferlina that could be used for gene therapy but only in those brains that have not yet undergone a complete rewiring such as that of adults.

“If you grow up without that protein, it’s not just a matter of replacing the gene. If you are deaf and grow deaf, it seems that the physical wiring of your brain is a little different. This complicates the goal of doing gene therapy. We need to go further and look at these hair cells and the brain itself. Does the brain process information differently? This is an area we need to focus on,” explains Johnson.

Ghrelin can increase the urge to exercise according to a new discovery

As some researchers have observed when performing experiments on mice, limiting access to food can increase the levels of a particular hormone, called ghrelin, and this in turn can increase the motivation to exercise, something that naturally leads, in a chain effect, slimming.

In the study, published in the Journal of Endocrinology, it is described how the increase in the level of this hormone pushed mice to voluntarily start exercising or physical activity. This finding, according to the same researchers, could lead, through the limitation of food intake or through the so-called “intermittent fasting,” overweight people to be encouraged to exercise more.

On the other hand, the restriction of food the same regular exercise are the two main ways and the most economic strategies to prevent and treat obesity, a sort of global “epidemic” that requires much more effective intervention strategies. However, adhering to a regular training regime can be difficult for many because motivation is lacking.

This hormone, also called the “hunger hormone,” can not only stimulate the appetite but, as demonstrated by Yuji Tajiri and colleagues from the Kurume University medical school, Japan, it can also stimulate the same desire to exercise. The mice genetically modified in the laboratory for not having ghrelin of their body, in fact, ran less than the control mice, which instead had normal ghrelin levels.

According to Tajiri, the results achieved by this study indicate “that hunger, which promotes ghrelin production, could also be involved in increasing motivation to voluntary exercise when nutrition is limited. Therefore, maintaining a healthy diet, with regular meals or fasting, could also encourage motivation for exercising in overweight people.”

It is confirmed: even fetuses have their own intestinal microbiome

Even the human fetus can boast its own intestinal microbiome. Confirmation came from a new study conducted by researchers at Chicago Children’s Hospital Ann & Robert H. Lurie who conducted observations on both humans and mice. The results show that a community of bacteria lives in the intestines of fetuses and even before birth this microbiome can play an important role in the immune system and the metabolism of the unborn child.

In the study, published in JCI Insight, further evidence is provided that this microbiome is transmitted from the mother to the fetus. The study, therefore, resolves a controversy lasting several decades concerning the existence or not of a fetal microbiome. Previously studies had only shown the presence of microbial DNA in the fetal environment but it had never been confirmed whether this DNA was related to viable bacteria and how it connected to the maternal microbiome.

The researchers analyzed the microbiomes of children at the time of birth, involving only those children born by cesarean section, ie children who had avoided exposure to the maternal genitourinary microbiome during vaginal birth. The results produced by the researchers could prove to be important to help the baby grow better especially in cases where premature birth is expected. One could, for example, somehow stimulate the mother’s microbiome to positively influence that of the unborn child.

According to Patrick C. Seed, one of the authors of the study, these results show that it is probably the controlled exposure to these microbes that forms the first immune system and the developing metabolism, however new research will now be conducted to understand the importance of the microbiome in the fetus and above all to understand how it is possible to modify it to improve the health of the fetus itself.

Women have more difficulty quitting smoking according to study

Women find it more difficult to stop smoking according to a new study presented at the Canadian Cardiovascular Congress (CCC) of 2019. Carolina Gonzaga Carvalho, a researcher at St. Michael’s Hospital, Toronto, one of the authors of the study, has indeed discovered, through a retrospective analysis of 233 patients, that women showed a greater prevalence of anxiety or depression than humans (a prevalence of 41% against 21%) which then went on to disturb attempts to quit smoking.

According to the researcher, hormonal or social factors would also play a role, but in any case it is an observational study that cannot search for the causes. The researcher used data on 233 patients attending a hospital clinic where she works to stop smoking. The data date back to the period between 2008 and 2018. Several of them, if necessary, were prescribed drugs such as those related to nicotine replacement therapy or bupropion and varenicline, based on various cases.

35% of patients were female and the average age was 56 years.

“Our study highlights the need for specific interventions on sex and the financial coverage of smoking cessation drugs,” says the researcher in the press release accompanying the study.

Poor sleep is related to diversity of the intestinal microbiome, according to a new study

In case you haven’t already noticed it, sleeping well is connected to a better level of health and if you still don’t believe us, also consult a new study published on PLoS ONE, according to which poor sleep affects or is in any case also connected to the intestinal microbiome, the set of all bacteria and microorganisms present in the various tracts of the intestine.

Just the intestinal microbiome, over the last few years, is taking on an increasingly important role as far as the overall health of the entire body is concerned and there is a great deal of research that underlines how much it can affect health, even that of the brain. In this new study, researchers at Nova Southeastern University (NSU) concluded that poor sleep adversely affects the diversity of microorganisms in the intestine, and quite strongly.

The very diversity and distribution of microorganisms in the various parts of the intestine can be considered as the key to various pathologies and conditions. Researchers carried out experiments on various subjects evaluating their sleep quality using specific wrist devices. Then relating the quality of sleep of these subjects with their intestinal microbiomes, they concluded that those who slept better also had a more varied and therefore better microbiome.

The lack of microbiome diversity has been associated by various studies with various health problems, such as autoimmune diseases or Parkinson’s disease, as well as psychological health conditions such as depression or anxiety. In general, even if it is not a law, the more the microbiome is diversified, the better the general health is.

This is a pioneering study in some ways and in any case there is still much to learn about the relationship between intestinal microbiome and sleep quality, as specified by Robert Smith, researcher at the NSU Halmos College of Natural Sciences and Oceanography and one of the authors of the study, however, one can already think of ways to manipulate the intestinal microbiome to obtain beneficial effects on sleep.

Consciousness: new thermodynamically inspired theory tries to explain what it is

What does consciousness depend on and how does it originate? This is one of the most fascinating questions but also one of the most inexplicable of all science also because studying conscience itself often poses problems related to the sector from which to start in order to lay the foundations for a study. New research, published in Frontiers in Neuroscience, tries to answer this question referring to what can be considered a new theory inspired by thermodynamics.

If in the past it has been hypothesized that consciousness can derive from a highly coordinated activity between neurons, the researchers behind this study believe instead that the key to awareness is an energy flow and reflux: when neurons connect to each other for processing the information, the patterns of these activities tune in like ocean waves.

According to the authors of the study, this would be a process intrinsically related to that of thermodynamic principles.

The latter would be at the base of the same neural connections and therefore of consciousness. Furthermore, interruptions of this process of energy flow and reflux would lead to the interruption of communication between neural networks and would give rise to the most common neurological disorders we know, such as epilepsy, autism, schizophrenia.

This is a study that, as reported in the article on Medium presenting the study (see the link below), combines classical physics (essentially the laws of thermodynamics) with everything we know about neural activity today: it follows a general framework in which changes in free energy help to temporarily synchronize activity in neural networks.

The study was produced by researcher Jose L. Perez Velazquez affiliated with the Ronin Institute of Montclair who worked together with colleagues Diego M. Mateos and Ramon Guevara Erra.

Medium article: https://medium.com/@novela_neurotech/a-new-theory-of-brain-organization-takes-aim-at-the-mystery-of-consciousness-e9ee6e24233a