SciCombinator

Discover the most talked about and latest scientific content & concepts.

Concept: Neuron

507

Some birds achieve primate-like levels of cognition, even though their brains tend to be much smaller in absolute size. This poses a fundamental problem in comparative and computational neuroscience, because small brains are expected to have a lower information-processing capacity. Using the isotropic fractionator to determine numbers of neurons in specific brain regions, here we show that the brains of parrots and songbirds contain on average twice as many neurons as primate brains of the same mass, indicating that avian brains have higher neuron packing densities than mammalian brains. Additionally, corvids and parrots have much higher proportions of brain neurons located in the pallial telencephalon compared with primates or other mammals and birds. Thus, large-brained parrots and corvids have forebrain neuron counts equal to or greater than primates with much larger brains. We suggest that the large numbers of neurons concentrated in high densities in the telencephalon substantially contribute to the neural basis of avian intelligence.

Concepts: Nervous system, Computational neuroscience, Mammal, Human brain, Bird, Neuron, Cerebrum, Brain

484

The Mars mission will result in an inevitable exposure to cosmic radiation that has been shown to cause cognitive impairments in rodent models, and possibly in astronauts engaged in deep space travel. Of particular concern is the potential for cosmic radiation exposure to compromise critical decision making during normal operations or under emergency conditions in deep space. Rodents exposed to cosmic radiation exhibit persistent hippocampal and cortical based performance decrements using six independent behavioral tasks administered between separate cohorts 12 and 24 weeks after irradiation. Radiation-induced impairments in spatial, episodic and recognition memory were temporally coincident with deficits in executive function and reduced rates of fear extinction and elevated anxiety. Irradiation caused significant reductions in dendritic complexity, spine density and altered spine morphology along medial prefrontal cortical neurons known to mediate neurotransmission interrogated by our behavioral tasks. Cosmic radiation also disrupted synaptic integrity and increased neuroinflammation that persisted more than 6 months after exposure. Behavioral deficits for individual animals correlated significantly with reduced spine density and increased synaptic puncta, providing quantitative measures of risk for developing cognitive impairment. Our data provide additional evidence that deep space travel poses a real and unique threat to the integrity of neural circuits in the brain.

Concepts: Hippocampus, Metaphysics, Cognition, Neuron, Cerebral cortex, Psychology, Decision making, Brain

414

How does human brain structure mature during adolescence? We used MRI to measure cortical thickness and intracortical myelination in 297 population volunteers aged 14-24 y old. We found and replicated that association cortical areas were thicker and less myelinated than primary cortical areas at 14 y. However, association cortex had faster rates of shrinkage and myelination over the course of adolescence. Age-related increases in cortical myelination were maximized approximately at the internal layer of projection neurons. Adolescent cortical myelination and shrinkage were coupled and specifically associated with a dorsoventrally patterned gene expression profile enriched for synaptic, oligodendroglial- and schizophrenia-related genes. Topologically efficient and biologically expensive hubs of the brain anatomical network had greater rates of shrinkage/myelination and were associated with overexpression of the same transcriptional profile as cortical consolidation. We conclude that normative human brain maturation involves a genetically patterned process of consolidating anatomical network hubs. We argue that developmental variation of this consolidation process may be relevant both to normal cognitive and behavioral changes and the high incidence of schizophrenia during human brain adolescence.

Concepts: Genetics, Gene expression, Gene, Neuron, Nervous system, Human brain, Brain, Cerebral cortex

318

Amyloidosis is a major problem in over one hundred diseases, including Alzheimer’s disease (AD). Using the iDISCO visualization method involving targeted molecular labeling, tissue clearing, and light-sheet microscopy, we studied plaque formation in the intact AD mouse brain at up to 27 months of age. We visualized amyloid plaques in 3D together with tau, microglia, and vasculature. Volume imaging coupled to automated detection and mapping enables precise and fast quantification of plaques within the entire intact mouse brain. The present methodology is also applicable to analysis of frozen human brain samples without specialized preservation. Remarkably, amyloid plaques in human brain tissues showed greater 3D complexity and surprisingly large three-dimensional amyloid patterns, or TAPs. The ability to visualize amyloid in 3D, especially in the context of their micro-environment, and the discovery of large TAPs may have important scientific and medical implications.

Concepts: Congo red, Disease, Scientific method, Amyloidosis, Human brain, Amyloid, Neuron, Beta amyloid

311

A CAPN1 missense mutation in Parson Russell Terrier dogs is associated with spinocerebellar ataxia. We now report that homozygous or heterozygous CAPN1-null mutations in humans result in cerebellar ataxia and limb spasticity in four independent pedigrees. Calpain-1 knockout (KO) mice also exhibit a mild form of ataxia due to abnormal cerebellar development, including enhanced neuronal apoptosis, decreased number of cerebellar granule cells, and altered synaptic transmission. Enhanced apoptosis is due to absence of calpain-1-mediated cleavage of PH domain and leucine-rich repeat protein phosphatase 1 (PHLPP1), which results in inhibition of the Akt pro-survival pathway in developing granule cells. Injection of neonatal mice with the indirect Akt activator, bisperoxovanadium, or crossing calpain-1 KO mice with PHLPP1 KO mice prevented increased postnatal cerebellar granule cell apoptosis and restored granule cell density and motor coordination in adult mice. Thus, mutations in CAPN1 are an additional cause of ataxia in mammals, including humans.

Concepts: Mutation, Point mutation, DNA, Neuron, Enzyme, Jack Russell Terrier, Granule cell, Cerebellum

308

The genetic predispositions which describe a diagnosis of familial Alzheimer’s disease can be considered as cornerstones of the amyloid cascade hypothesis. Essentially they place the expression and metabolism of the amyloid precursor protein as the main tenet of disease aetiology. However, we do not know the cause of Alzheimer’s disease and environmental factors may yet be shown to contribute towards its onset and progression. One such environmental factor is human exposure to aluminium and aluminium has been shown to be present in brain tissue in sporadic Alzheimer’s disease. We have made the first ever measurements of aluminium in brain tissue from 12 donors diagnosed with familial Alzheimer’s disease. The concentrations of aluminium were extremely high, for example, there were values in excess of 10μg/g tissue dry wt. in 5 of the 12 individuals. Overall, the concentrations were higher than all previous measurements of brain aluminium except cases of known aluminium-induced encephalopathy. We have supported our quantitative analyses using a novel method of aluminium-selective fluorescence microscopy to visualise aluminium in all lobes of every brain investigated. The unique quantitative data and the stunning images of aluminium in familial Alzheimer’s disease brain tissue raise the spectre of aluminium’s role in this devastating disease.

Concepts: Protein, Beta amyloid, Dementia, Amyloid precursor protein, Scientific method, Environment, Neuron, Alzheimer's disease

275

Progressive multiple sclerosis (MS) is a severely disabling neurological condition, and an effective treatment is urgently needed. Recently, high-dose biotin has emerged as a promising therapy for affected individuals. Initial clinical data have shown that daily doses of biotin of up to 300 mg can improve objective measures of MS-related disability. In this article, we review the biology of biotin and explore the properties of this ubiquitous coenzyme that may explain the encouraging responses seen in patients with progressive MS. The gradual worsening of neurological disability in patients with progressive MS is caused by progressive axonal loss or damage. The triggers for axonal loss in MS likely include both inflammatory demyelination of the myelin sheath and primary neurodegeneration caused by a state of virtual hypoxia within the neuron. Accordingly, targeting both these pathological processes could be effective in the treatment of progressive MS. Biotin is an essential co-factor for five carboxylases involved in fatty acid synthesis and energy production. We hypothesize that high-dose biotin is exerting a therapeutic effect in patients with progressive MS through two different and complementary mechanisms: by promoting axonal remyelination by enhancing myelin production and by reducing axonal hypoxia through enhanced energy production.

Concepts: Neurology, Oligodendrocyte, Axon, Nervous system, Neuron, Action potential, Myelin, Multiple sclerosis

251

Harmine is the β-carboline alkaloid with the highest concentration in the psychotropic plant decoction Ayahuasca. In rodents, classical antidepressants reverse the symptoms of depression by stimulating neuronal proliferation. It has been shown that Ayahuasca presents antidepressant effects in patients with depressive disorder. In the present study, we investigated the effects of harmine in cell cultures containing human neural progenitor cells (hNPCs, 97% nestin-positive) derived from pluripotent stem cells. After 4 days of treatment, the pool of proliferating hNPCs increased by 71.5%. Harmine has been reported as a potent inhibitor of the dual specificity tyrosine-phosphorylation-regulated kinase (DYRK1A), which regulates cell proliferation and brain development. We tested the effect of analogs of harmine, an inhibitor of DYRK1A (INDY), and an irreversible selective inhibitor of monoamine oxidase (MAO) but not DYRK1A (pargyline). INDY but not pargyline induced proliferation of hNPCs similarly to harmine, suggesting that inhibition of DYRK1A is a possible mechanism to explain harmine effects upon the proliferation of hNPCs. Our findings show that harmine enhances proliferation of hNPCs and suggest that inhibition of DYRK1A may explain its effects upon proliferation in vitro and antidepressant effects in vivo.

Concepts: Neuron, Monoamine oxidase, Serotonin, Stem cell, Monoamine oxidase inhibitor, Progenitor cell, Developmental biology, Cell biology

246

The ability to acquire large-scale recordings of neuronal activity in awake and unrestrained animals is needed to provide new insights into how populations of neurons generate animal behavior. We present an instrument capable of recording intracellular calcium transients from the majority of neurons in the head of a freely behaving Caenorhabditis elegans with cellular resolution while simultaneously recording the animal’s position, posture, and locomotion. This instrument provides whole-brain imaging with cellular resolution in an unrestrained and behaving animal. We use spinning-disk confocal microscopy to capture 3D volumetric fluorescent images of neurons expressing the calcium indicator GCaMP6s at 6 head-volumes/s. A suite of three cameras monitor neuronal fluorescence and the animal’s position and orientation. Custom software tracks the 3D position of the animal’s head in real time and two feedback loops adjust a motorized stage and objective to keep the animal’s head within the field of view as the animal roams freely. We observe calcium transients from up to 77 neurons for over 4 min and correlate this activity with the animal’s behavior. We characterize noise in the system due to animal motion and show that, across worms, multiple neurons show significant correlations with modes of behavior corresponding to forward, backward, and turning locomotion.

Concepts: Calcium in biology, Caenorhabditis briggsae, Rhabditidae, Caenorhabditis, Animal, Nervous system, Neuron, Caenorhabditis elegans

241

Sensory input evokes low-order reflexes and higher-order perceptual responses. Vestibular stimulation elicits vestibular-ocular reflex (VOR) and self-motion perception (e.g., vertigo) whose response durations are normally equal. Adaptation to repeated whole-body rotations, for example, ballet training, is known to reduce vestibular responses. We investigated the neuroanatomical correlates of vestibular perceptuo-reflex adaptation in ballet dancers and controls. Dancers' vestibular-reflex and perceptual responses to whole-body yaw-plane step rotations were: (1) Briefer and (2) uncorrelated (controls' reflex and perception were correlated). Voxel-based morphometry showed a selective gray matter (GM) reduction in dancers' vestibular cerebellum correlating with ballet experience. Dancers' vestibular cerebellar GM density reduction was related to shorter perceptual responses (i.e. positively correlated) but longer VOR duration (negatively correlated). Contrastingly, controls' vestibular cerebellar GM density negatively correlated with perception and VOR. Diffusion-tensor imaging showed that cerebral cortex white matter (WM) microstructure correlated with vestibular perception but only in controls. In summary, dancers display vestibular perceptuo-reflex dissociation with the neuronatomical correlate localized to the vestibular cerebellum. Controls' robust vestibular perception correlated with a cortical WM network conspicuously absent in dancers. Since primary vestibular afferents synapse in the vestibular cerebellum, we speculate that a cerebellar gating of perceptual signals to cortical regions mediates the training-related attenuation of vestibular perception and perceptuo-reflex uncoupling.

Concepts: Sense, White matter, Human brain, Neuron, Brain, Neuroanatomy, Cerebellum, Cerebral cortex