Cerebrum Summer 2020

ADVANCES Notable brain science findings


More than one-third of people in the U.S. were showing signs of ANXIETY OR DEPRESSION in April and May, according to estimates by the Census Bureau , compared with one- quarter in 2019. The Bureau and the National Center for Health Statistics are running a weekly “household pulse survey,” collecting data online to quickly track the national mood and other data since the end of April, relatively early in Covid- 19’s progress through the country. This method of collection

our conscious awareness of the pulse, which keeps us from being constantly distracted by our own body sounds, but it could also cause us to miss something superquick, such as a mild shock to the finger, the researchers suggest. They also found that when test volunteers paid conscious attention to their hearts beating, they detected the finger shock even less. l Another potential use for the anesthetic drug KETAMINE is a one-time boost to traditional behavioral therapies to help people abstain from cocaine or alcohol. A chemical derivative of ketamine, esketamine, was approved by the FDA in 2019 as a rapid-acting treatment for severe depression; it is thought to block neural pathways involved in sensory integration, memory, and learning. Researchers wondered if this might open a window to modify memories and sensations that act as strong triggers to people with addictions and lead to relapse. Researchers at Columbia University and the New York State Psychiatric Institute ran separate randomized clinical trials, pairing one dose of the drug (or a placebo) with five weeks of mindfulness-based behavioral training to treat 55 cocaine -dependent people, and with five weeks of motivational enhancement therapy to treat 40 alcohol - dependent people. In both trials, patients who received Researchers have created a simple blood test that can detect ALZHEIMER’S DISEASE (AD). According to a new study , the blood test accurately measures one of the proteins—P-tau181—implicated in AD. Blood P-tau181 indirectly measures tau hyperphosphorylation in the brain, which is one of the hallmarks of the disease, along with the clumpy plaques caused by the protein amyloid β . Prior to this discovery, detecting the proteins and confirming an AD diagnosis was possible only through expensive PET scans, invasive lumbar punctures, or autopsy. l

means the survey only reaches people who have an email address or cell phone number to be contacted; more than 42,000 people responded to the survey in the second week of May. Rates of

anxiety and depression were highest among women, low- income individuals, and younger adults. The young adult numbers are especially worrying as that age group does not seem to be at most risk for the coronavirus; other surveys also have shown an increase in depression, stress, and suicide rates among young adults. l

The brains of young girls and boys fire up in the same ways when they’re doing MATH , according to a study in the Nature journal Science of Learning . Carnegie Mellon University researchers scanned the

brains of 104 kids ages three to ten as they performed basic math tasks and found “one heterogeneous population rather than two categorical groups,” they report. “The findings of widespread gender similarities in boys’ and girls’ brains do not support claims of biological gender differences in childhood.” The results add to the argument that it’s nurture (and societal expectations), not nature, that could explain why there are far fewer teen girls in math-based courses and women in math- based professions. l

We know the brain affects our heart rate—to fight or flee, sit in quiet meditation, or simply keep breathing—but our HEARTBEAT also can affect our perceptions. During the first, strong

beat of the heart’s two-part rhythm, when it pumps blood out to the body, we find it harder to detect a weak electric stimulus to the finger; during the second part, as the blood flows back to the heart, it is easier to detect the stimulus. In a study reported in PNAS, researchers at the Max Planck Institute and the Berlin School of Mind and Brain found that the “P300” component of brain activity is suppressed during the first, outgoing stage. This component is associated with consciousness and decision-making; blocking it suppresses

ketamine were significantly more likely to remain “clean” during the five weeks (48 percent to 11 percent of the placebo group in the cocaine trial), and if they did relapse, it took longer to do so. l

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