Saturday, January 29, 2011

Connectdome? How's Yours?

Doing well, I hope. Connected highways of nerve cells carry information to and from different areas of the brain and the rest of the nervous system. Scientists at Scripps Researchy Institute are trying to draw a complete atlas of these connections (connectome) to gain a better understanding of how the brain functions in health and disease. Multiple studies have shown that brain activity helps new connections to form. It turns out that brain activity is needed for selecting which synapses should be eliminated, as well. The findings have implications for conditions in which these mechanisms may have gone awry (e.g., autism, schizophrenia, and perhaps Alzheimer's). Almost daily another piece of research confirms how critically important it is for you to keep your brain challenged, stimulated, and active! (

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Blood Test for Alzheimer's?

This may be promising! Chemist Thomas Kodadek of The Scripps Research Institute in Jupiter, Florida, along with colleagues, may have figured out a way to use peptide molecules in human blood (that stimulate the Immune System to create antibodies)to identify, and perhaps even predict, the presence of Alzheimer's disease. In six people with Alzheimer's disease, the researchers (using 15,000 peptoids) picked up two antibodies found at high levels. "The antibodies were also abundant in the blood from an additional 16 Alzheimer's patients. But these proteins were uncommon in the blood of a handful of people with Parkinson's disease or lupus. The antibodies were also prevalent in two of the 16 healthy controls. Their presence could suggest that the biomarkers aren't specific to Alzheimer's disease. Or it could suggest that these two women (a 75-year-old and a 65-year-old) have early Alzheimer's disease. The researchers favor the latter hypothesis. Their report is in the 7 January issue of Cell, 2011.

Monday, January 3, 2011

How large is your Amygdala?

A new MRI study has shown that the volume of the amygdalae (two tiny organs located in the Brain's limbic area) correlated positively with the size and complexity of social networks in adult humans. The findings, published in Nature Neuroscience, are similar to previous findings in other primate species. This link between amygdala size and social network size and complexity was observed for both older and younger individuals and for both men and women and was specific to the amygdala (e.g., social network size and complexity were not associated with the size of other brain structures. According to Lisa Feldman Barrett PhD, of the Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH) Psychiatric Neuroimaging Research Program and a Distinguished Professor of Psychology at Northeastern University, researchers are also trying to understand how abnormalities in the amygdala may impair social behavior in neurologic and psychiatric disorders. Fascinating! You may want to consider expanding your social network this year to "grow your amygdalae."