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Atypical neural oscillation as a cause of dyslexia?

15 Feb

Neural oscillation refers to the rhythmic activity of large numbers of the brains neurons. It is these oscillations that produce the brain waves that are measured on a EEG. Here’s a recent paper suggesting that dyslexia may be caused by abnormal neural oscillation in parts of the brain related to auditory and visual processing. Here is the abstract:

It has been proposed that atypical neural oscillations in both the auditory and the visual modalities could explain why some individuals fail to learn to read and suffer from developmental dyslexia. However, the role of specific oscillatory mechanisms in reading acquisition is still under debate. In this article, we take a cross-linguistic approach and argue that both the phonological and orthographic specifics of a language (e.g., linguistic rhythm, orthographic depth) shape the oscillatory activity thought to contribute to reading development. The proposed theoretical framework should allow future research to test cross-linguistic hypotheses that will shed light on the heterogeneity of auditory and visual disorders and their underlying brain dysfunction(s) in developmental dyslexia, and inform clinical practice by helping us to diagnose dyslexia across languages.

 

“The Amazing Spider Brain”

3 Feb

Another interesting story about invertebrate brains, in this case the spider:

“Spiders are very smart, that’s why we’re studying them,” says Ronald Hoy, a professor of neurobiology and behavior at Cornell University. “They use visual cues to steer by, and the kind of mazes that they can solve is considered to be pretty impressive for an invertebrate.”

A CAT scan of a bee brain

27 Jan

bee-brain

A bee brain is tiny, yet it has amazing computational power.

Using a technique called  micro-computed tomography, a group of researches have produced CAT scan images of the brain of a bumble bee. You can see them here.

Why is this important? The authors explain:

Despite their comparatively small size, insect brains are capable of rapidly detecting and responding to a plethora of diverse stimuli in a wide range of sensory modalities, facilitating their global ecological success and establishing them as an essential model system for cognitive biology and neuroscience. Although insect brains are smaller and simpler than their vertebrate counterparts, there is increasing evidence that insect cognitive performance can be impressive. For instance, foraging insects must learn and memorise navigation routes in complex landscapes requiring the ability to detect, distinguish and integrate a multitude of chemical, visual, landmark and celestial cues. Therefore, knowledge of insect brain structure allows us to understand how comparatively small (and simple) brains can generate complex patterns of behaviour and act as a gateway to understanding more complex brains and their evolutionary development. Indeed, variation in the volume of brain regions (examined using histological techniques) has been reported to be linked to differences in innate responses to stimuli, age/experience related behavioural transitions behavioural syndromes and rates of learning and performance in cognitive tasks. Yet, there remains much to discover about how insect brain structure relates to individual behaviour. Closing such a fundamental knowledge gap requires the development of new imaging protocols and the application of novel strategies to measure, record and robustly quantify aspects of brain morphology across multiple individuals.

 

Bizarre advice on web site affiliated with education secretary nominee

23 Jan

It was brought to my attention that education secretary nominee Betsy DeVos is an investor in a company that promises “brain enhancement. ” While visiting the site I found this amazing claim:

The cavemen had it right all along! Because bone broth is full of collagen (and 30% of our bodies’ protein consists of this), it acts as a “gut healer.” According to research by clinical nutritionist Dr. Josh Axe, gut health and brain health are highly connected to each other. And, gut-healing is said to help lower anxiety and other mood-related disorders.

I am almost speechless. Where to begin? I guess we could start by asking who the heck is Josh Axe? He is

a certified doctor of natural medicine, doctor of chiropractic and clinical nutritionist with a passion to help people get healthy by using food as medicine.

I have no special prejudice against chiropractors, but the DeVos affiliated website claims that he has conducted research. If he has, why aren’t links provided?

It is true that there is collagen in the brain, but it doesn’t follow from that that consuming collagen helps brain performance. Moreover there is evidence that bone broth may have high levels of the neurotoxin lead.

LED light flickering as a treatment for Alzheimer’s?

14 Dec

Don’t get your hopes up yet. The findings reflect animal research, but here is the story from ScienceDaily:

Using LED lights flickering at a specific frequency, researchers have shown that they can significantly reduce the beta amyloid plaques seen in Alzheimer’s disease in the visual cortex of mice. This treatment appears to work by stimulating brain waves known as gamma oscillations, which the researchers discovered help the brain suppress beta amyloid production and invigorate cells responsible for destroying the plaques.

Sensitive periods in teenagers and young adults?

25 Nov

In developmental psychology, “sensitive period” refers to an age range where the the brain is especially sensitive to specific environmental stimuli. The most famous example of this is the sensitive period for language development during early childhood.

Now, a paper in Psychological Science reports on evidence for a sensitive period during adolescence and early adulthood:

In the current study, we investigated windows for enhanced learning of cognitive skills during adolescence. Six hundred thirty-three participants (11–33 years old) were divided into four age groups, and each participant was randomly allocated to one of three training groups. Each training group completed up to 20 days of online training in numerosity discrimination (i.e., discriminating small from large numbers of objects), relational reasoning (i.e., detecting abstract relationships between groups of items), or face perception (i.e., identifying differences in faces). Training yielded some improvement in performance on the numerosity-discrimination task, but only in older adolescents or adults. In contrast, training in relational reasoning improved performance on that task in all age groups, but training benefits were greater for people in late adolescence and adulthood than for people earlier in adolescence. Training did not increase performance on the face-perception task for any age group. Our findings suggest that for certain cognitive skills, training during late adolescence and adulthood yields greater improvement than training earlier in adolescence, which highlights the relevance of this late developmental stage for education.

The butter brain hypothesis

10 Oct

I always enjoyed reading the late Seth Robert’s blog. He never hesitated to question orthodoxies and always had some interesting new idea. However, some of the things he advocated were troubling. One example, of this was the butter brain hypothesis, the idea that consumption of butter might improve cognitive performance.

The idea is not implausible. The brain, after all, contains many lipids and the idea that consuming certain lipids might improve its performance does not sound unreasonable. The problem is butter is high in saturated fats and has been linked to heart disease.

I know, I know, many recent news reports tell us that “butter is safe” or that “butter is back.” These kind of person-bites-dog stories are popular in the media, but the science around saturated fats and cardiovascular disease is well established.

Here is an article from the New York Times reflecting on evolution and the dietary needs of the brain.

And here is a recent paper on the dangers of saturated fats. The abstract reads:

In recent years, many nutrition news headlines exclaimed that saturated fat was not linked to heart disease, leaving the public confused about whether to limit intake, as has been the dietary recommendation for several decades. However, a more nuanced look at the evidence indicates that high saturated fat diets are in fact not benign with respect to heart disease risk. Dietary recommendations should emphasize replacing saturated fats typical in red and processed meats, and certain tropical oils and dairy forms, with healthier polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fat-rich foods, such as nuts, olive oil, and fatty fish, as well as healthy sources of carbohydrates, such as fiber-rich whole-grain foods, rather than refined-grain and sugar-laden foods.

 

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