They say you can't teach an old dog new tricks. Fortunately, this is not always true. Researchers at the Netherlands Institute for Neuroscience (NIN-KNAW) have now discovered how the adult brain can adapt to new situations. The Dutch researchers' findings are published in the prestigious journal Neuron. Their study may be significant in the treatment of neurodevelopmental disorders such as epilepsy, autism and schizophrenia. Ability to learn Our brain processes information in complex networks of nerve cells. The cells communicate and excite one another through special connections, called synapses. Young brains are capable of forming many new synapses, and they are consequently better at learning new things. That is why we acquire vital skills - walking, talking, hearing and seeing - early on in life.
New research from UC Davis and Washington State University shows that PCBs, or polychlorinated biphenyls, launch a cellular chain of events that leads to an overabundance of dendrites -- the filament-like projections that conduct electrochemical signals between neurons -- and disrupts normal patterns of neuronal connections in the brain. "Dendrite growth and branching during early development is a finely orchestrated process, and the presence of certain PCBs confuses the conductor of that process, " said Pamela Lein, a developmental neurobiologist and professor of molecular biosciences in the UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine. "Impaired neuronal connectivity is a common feature of a number of conditions, including autism spectrum disorders." Reported in two related studies in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives, the findings underscore the developing brain's vulnerability to environmental exposures and demonstrate how PCBs could add to autism risk.
Mechanism May Aid Treatment For Alzheimer's And Neurological Disorders Associated With Gamma-Wave Alterations And Cognitive Impairments
Scientists at the Gladstone Institutes have unraveled a process by which depletion of a specific protein in the brain contributes to the memory problems associated with Alzheimer's disease. These findings provide new insights into the disease's development and may lead to new therapies that could benefit the millions of people worldwide suffering from Alzheimer's and other devastating neurological disorders. The study, led by Gladstone Investigator Jorge J. Palop, PhD, revealed that low levels of a protein, called Nav1.1, disrupt the electrical activity between brain cells. Such activity is crucial for healthy brain function and memory. Indeed, the researchers found that restoring Nav1.1 levels in mice that were genetically modified to mimic key aspects of Alzheimer's disease (AD-mice) improved learning and memory functions and increased their lifespan.
In a study published in the May 2012 issue of the Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, led by Mr. Sven Sandin, of the Karolinska Institutet, Sweden and King's College London, researchers analyzed past studies to investigate possible associations between maternal age and autism. While much research has been done to identify potential genetic causes of autism, this analysis suggests that non-heritable and environmental factors may also play a role in children's risk for autism. The researchers compared the risk of autism in different groups of material age (under 20, 24-29, 30-34, and 35+). They found that children of mothers older than 35 years had 30% increased risk for autism. Children of mothers under 20 had the lowest risk of developing autism. The association between advancing maternal age and risk for autism was stronger for male offspring and children diagnosed in more recent years.
An editorial published in the prestigious journal Environmental Health Perspectives calls for increased research to identify possible environmental causes of autism and other neurodevelopmental disorders in America's children and presents a list of ten target chemicals including which are considered highly likely to contribute to these conditions. Philip Landrigan, MD, MSc, a world-renowned leader in children's environmental health and Director of the Children's Environmental Health Center (CEHC) at Mount Sinai School of Medicine, co-authored the editorial, entitled "A Research Strategy to Discover the Environmental Causes of Autism and Neurodevelopmental Disabilities, " along with Luca Lambertini, PhD, MPH, MSc, Assistant Professor of Preventive Medicine at Mount Sinai and Linda Birnbaum, Director of the National Institute OF Environmental Health Sciences.