A post at Scientific American asks: “How Does a Mathematician’s Brain Differ from That of a Mere Mortal?”
“The team used functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to scan the brains of 15 professional mathematicians and 15 nonmathematicians of the same academic standing. While in the scanner the subjects listened to a series of 72 high-level mathematical statements, divided evenly among algebra, analysis, geometry and topology, as well as 18 high-level nonmathematical (mostly historical) statements. They had four seconds to reflect on each proposition and determine whether it was true, false or meaningless.
The researchers found that in the mathematicians only, listening to math-related statements activated a network involving bilateral intraparietal, dorsal prefrontal, and inferior temporal regions of the brain.”
A recent paper, in the prestigious journal Science, reports that transcranial magnetic stimulation may improve memory. Unfortunately, the article is behind a pay wall so I am unable to present a critical analysis. Here is the abstract:
“The influential notion that the hippocampus supports associative memory by interacting with functionally distinct and distributed brain regions has not been directly tested in humans. We therefore used targeted noninvasive electromagnetic stimulation to modulate human cortical-hippocampal networks and tested effects of this manipulation on memory. Multiple-session stimulation increased functional connectivity among distributed cortical-hippocampal network regions and concomitantly improved associative memory performance. These alterations involved localized long-term plasticity because increases were highly selective to the targeted brain regions, and enhancements of connectivity and associative memory persisted for ~24 hours after stimulation. Targeted cortical-hippocampal networks can thus be enhanced noninvasively, demonstrating their role in associative memory.”
From Science Daily here is a journalistic account of the research:
“Stimulating a region in the brain via non-invasive delivery of electrical current using magnetic pulses, called Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation, improves memory. The discovery opens a new field of possibilities for treating memory impairments caused by conditions such as stroke, early-stage Alzheimer’s disease, traumatic brain injury, cardiac arrest and the memory problems that occur in healthy aging.”
However, there has been some criticism of these findings (hat tip to Retraction Watch)
Electric Current to Brain Boosts Memory from Northwestern News on Vimeo.
From The New York Times, “Can Exercise Reduce Alzheimer’s Risk?”
“Exercise may help to keep the brain robust in people who have an increased risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease, according to an inspiring new study. The findings suggests that even moderate amounts of physical activity may help to slow the progression of one of the most dreaded diseases of aging.”
You can read the original paper here. Here is the abstract:
“We examined the impact of physical activity (PA) on longitudinal change in hippocampal volume in cognitively intact older adults at varying genetic risk for the sporadic form of Alzheimer’s disease (AD). Hippocampal volume was measured from structural magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scans administered at baseline and at an 18-month follow-up in 97 healthy, cognitively intact older adults. Participants were classified as High or Low PA based on a self-report questionnaire of frequency and intensity of exercise. Risk status was defined by the presence or absence of the apolipoprotein E-epsilon 4 (APOE-ε4) allele. Four subgroups were studied: Low Risk/High PA (n = 24), Low Risk/Low PA (n = 34), High Risk/High PA (n = 22), and High Risk/Low PA (n = 17). Over the 18 month follow-up interval, hippocampal volume decreased by 3% in the High Risk/Low PA group, but remained stable in the three remaining groups. No main effects or interactions between genetic risk and PA were observed in control brain regions, including the caudate, amygdala, thalamus, pre-central gyrus, caudal middle frontal gyrus, cortical white matter (WM), and total gray matter (GM). These findings suggest that PA may help to preserve hippocampal volume in individuals at increased genetic risk for AD. The protective effects of PA on hippocampal atrophy were not observed in individuals at low risk for AD. These data suggest that individuals at genetic risk for AD should be targeted for increased levels of PA as a means of reducing atrophy in a brain region critical for the formation of episodic memories.”
A paper titled, “Influence of Type 2 Diabetes on Brain Volumes and Changes in Brain Volumes,” was published in the journal Diabetes Care. Using magnetic resonance imaging, the researchers looked at brain volume changes in older women over a four to seven year period. The conclusion:
“Diabetes is associated with smaller brain volumes in gray but not white matter and increasing ischemic lesion volumes throughout the brain. These markers are associated with but do not fully account for diabetes-related deficits in cognitive function.”
Here his Dr. Greger on treating diabetes:
A paper in the journal Human Brain Mapping reports evidence that brain structure in infancy is correlated with subsequent cognitive, language, and motor abilities. Here is the abstract:
“Knowledge of the role of brain maturation in the development of cognitive abilities derives primarily from studies of school-age children to adults. Little is known about the morphological features of the neonatal brain that support the subsequent development of abilities in early childhood, when maturation of the brain and these abilities are the most dynamic. The goal of our study was to determine whether brain morphology during the neonatal period supports early cognitive development through 2 years of age. We correlated morphological features of the cerebral surface assessed using deformation-based measures (surface distances) of high-resolution MRI scans for 33 healthy neonates, scanned between the first to sixth week of postmenstrual life, with subsequent measures of their motor, language, and cognitive abilities at ages 6, 12, 18, and 24 months. We found that morphological features of the cerebral surface of the frontal, mesial prefrontal, temporal, and occipital regions correlated with subsequent motor scores, posterior parietal regions correlated with subsequent language scores, and temporal and occipital regions correlated with subsequent cognitive scores. Measures of the anterior and middle portions of the cingulate gyrus correlated with scores across all three domains of ability. Most of the significant findings were inverse correlations located bilaterally in the brain. The inverse correlations may suggest either that a more protracted morphological maturation or smaller local volumes of neonatal brain tissue supports better performance on measures of subsequent motor, language, and cognitive abilities throughout the first 2 years of postnatal life. The correlations of morphological measures of the cingulate with measures of performance across all domains of ability suggest that the cingulate supports a broad range of skills in infancy and early childhood, similar to its functions in older children and adults”
Category:Educational research (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
I practice a type of metta (loving-kindness) mediation. Here is a paper, published in the journal Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience, titled “Increased gray matter volume in the right angular and posterior parahippocampal gyri in loving-kindness meditators.” The abstract reads:
“Previous voxel-based morphometry (VBM) studies have revealed that meditation is associated with structural brain changes in regions underlying cognitive processes that are required for attention or mindfulness during meditation. This VBM study examined brain changes related to the practice of an emotion-oriented meditation: loving-kindness meditation (LKM). A 3 T magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scanner captured images of the brain structures of 25 men, 10 of whom had practiced LKM in the Theravada tradition for at least 5 years. Compared with novices, more gray matter volume was detected in the right angular and posterior parahippocampal gyri in LKM experts. The right angular gyrus has not been previously reported to have structural differences associated with meditation, and its specific role in mind and cognitive empathy theory suggests the uniqueness of this finding for LKM practice. These regions are important for affective regulation associated with empathic response, anxiety and mood. At the same time, gray matter volume in the left temporal lobe in the LKM experts appeared to be greater, an observation that has also been reported in previous MRI meditation studies on meditation styles other than LKM. Overall, the findings of our study suggest that experience in LKM may influence brain structures associated with affective regulation.”
An important paper by Hanson and colleagues examined MRI scans of 77 children as they grew from 5 months to four years of age.
As we can see in this chart, even though the children started with similar amounts of grey matter, there was a relationship between grey matter growth and socioeconomic status.
This is a significant paper and I would recommend that everyone interested in the education, and the well being, of our children take the time to read it. Here is the abstract:
Living in poverty places children at very high risk for problems across a variety of domains, including schooling, behavioral regulation, and health. Aspects of cognitive functioning, such as information processing, may underlie these kinds of problems. How might poverty affect the brain functions underlying these cognitive processes? Here, we address this question by observing and analyzing repeated measures of brain development of young children between five months and four years of age from economically diverse backgrounds (n = 77). In doing so, we have the opportunity to observe changes in brain growth as children begin to experience the effects of poverty. These children underwent MRI scanning, with subjects completing between 1 and 7 scans longitudinally. Two hundred and three MRI scans were divided into different tissue types using a novel image processing algorithm specifically designed to analyze brain data from young infants. Total gray, white, and cerebral (summation of total gray and white matter) volumes were examined along with volumes of the frontal, parietal, temporal, and occipital lobes. Infants from low-income families had lower volumes of gray matter, tissue critical for processing of information and execution of actions. These differences were found for both the frontal and parietal lobes. No differences were detected in white matter, temporal lobe volumes, or occipital lobe volumes. In addition, differences in brain growth were found to vary with socioeconomic status (SES), with children from lower-income households having slower trajectories of growth during infancy and early childhood. Volumetric differences were associated with the emergence of disruptive behavioral problems.