Cerebrum Winter 2021

ADVANCES Notable brain science findings



When we think of AUGMENTED REALITY (AR) technologies, we usually think of adding, such as glasses that can overlay directions on our field of vision. But augmenting can also mean deleting, such as video editing software that can erase a coffee cup from a Game of Thrones scene or hearing aids that dampen background conversations. Researchers have started investigating using AR to help people on the autism spectrum by using “smart glasses” to delete distracting elements from their visual field so they can focus. In a series of workshops , they came up with the idea for “a mirror-like wall interface filtering out irrelevant visual information from real-time capture of a space.” l total of 3,863 patients, to see if the therapy made a difference in managing symptoms and preventing relapse, and to try and see which therapies worked better. All additional therapies were better than none ; cognitive behavioral therapy was found highly effective, as was psychoeducation with “guided practice of illness management skills” in family or group therapy settings (less so in one-on-one). l EXPOSURE THERAPY is effective in helping people overcome traumatic fears, but what if a person cannot stand even this carefully controlled exposure to what they fear? Researchers are testing a new technique, called “ very brief exposure .” In one test, they flashed 16 pairs of images: an image of the fear-object (spiders, in this case) for 30 milliseconds, quickly followed by a “masking” image (rows of ABC’s) for 120 ms. Ten minutes later, they asked the participant to come closer and closer to a live tarantula in a glass aquarium. Participants reported that they did not see the images of the spiders, but their behavior with the spider was less fearful than before the intervention. Such subconscious therapy, if confirmed by other research, could offer a first step for easing the worst fears. l Some of the same DNA variations seen in people with DEPRESSION are also seen in people with other mental disorders, such as schizophrenia, ADHD, and autism. Researchers wondered if it was possible to “sub-type” people with depression by dividing Only about half of people getting treatment for BIPOLAR DISORDER in the US receive both medications and psychotherapy. Researchers analyzed 39 randomized clinical trials, including a

them into groups—one group that shares variations linked to schizophrenia and another that shares variations linked to autism, for example. If so, it might be a basis for understanding which depression therapy would be most effective for the different groups. Using the huge UK Biobank database, the researchers found it wasn’t so: The DNA variations shared by schizophrenia and depression were scattered across the entire population of depressed people. l • People aged 90 and older with an APOE2 gene are less likely to have clinical Alzheimer’s disease but are much more likely to have Alzheimer’s neuropathology in their brains. • People who drank moderate amounts of alcohol or coffee lived longer than those who abstained. • People who were overweight in their 70s lived longer than normal or underweight people did. An experimental drug that has been shown in animals to reverse the cognitive impairments related to Down syndrome and restore memory function months after traumatic brain injury has now been shown to reverse age-related declines in MEMORY and mental flexibility in old mice. The small molecule’s name, ISRIB, spells out what it seems to do: integrated stress response inhibitor. “The data suggest that the aged brain has not permanently lost essential cognitive capacities, as was commonly assumed, but rather that these cognitive resources are still there but have been somehow blocked, trapped by a vicious cycle of cellular stress,” says Peter Walter, a co-lead on the study . l We’re a nation living longer and longer. Over the next 30 years, the number of Americans aged 90 and above is expected to triple, according to an NIH- funded research study called 90+ at the University of California, Irvine. The study of 1,600 men and women— beginning in 2003 to determine factors associated with longevity and cognitive function—has been the focus of two 60 Minutes segments six years apart. It has found that: • Over 40 percent of people aged 90 and older suffer from dementia while almost 80 percent are disabled. Both are more common in women than men. • About half of people with dementia over age 90 do not have sufficient neuropathology in their brain to explain their cognitive loss.


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