Cerebrum Fall 2021

ADVANCES Notable brain-science findings


P eople with COVID-19 infections have reported symptoms including brain fog, loss of sense of taste and smell, seizures, and both mild and severe strokes. Researchers in the UK were able to take advantage of the huge data collected in the UK Biobank to determine what Covid is doing in our brains. They invited back 782 people who had already banked brain scans to be MRI-scanned again; roughly half the volunteers had been infected during the intervening time and half had not. Most of the people infected had moderate or mild symptoms; only 15 people had needed to be hospitalized. The researchers found that the amount of gray matter shrunk between scans in people who had had Covid, especially in brain areas that involved smell, taste, cognitive function, and memory formation. Their results are correlations—so suggestive but not direct proof. A second UK-based study , using online data collection (a clinically validated web quiz) also found a correlation between Covid infection and cognitive deficits that persisted even after people had cleared the infection. l


S cientists in Germany have hit another time by prompting some to develop the light- receptive tissues that make up eyes. The “optic cup” structures took about 30 days to form and firmed up by 60 days, the same time frames as in natural human development. These cups, which arose in about three-quarters of the 314 organoids created, contained lens and corneal types of tissue. They connected to other parts of the organoid and formed electrically active networks that responded to light. Some potential uses for this type of organoid are observation—learning more about the stages of growth during development and what might go wrong—and drug testing. A hallmark of ADHD (attention-deficit/ hyperactivity disorder) is trouble staying focused. Researchers in Switzerland wondered if giving a signal to a person at the moment their focus starts to slip, measured by the amplitude of their alpha brainwaves recorded by EEG on the scalp, could help them train their brains to stay on track on unrelated tasks later. They gave 47 volunteers neurofeedback in the form of a “Space Race” video game; players could see the rocket move forward when they were in the zone and stop when they passed out of their in-focus threshold. After one half-hour session, people with ADHD did improve on a test of focus, and their brains showed a consistent milestone in learning how tiny, brain-based ORGANOIDS can help in research, this change in activity. More study is needed, but the results suggest another avenue for diagnosis and treatment besides medication. l


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