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Journal: Brain : a journal of neurology


Upon his death in 1955, Albert Einstein’s brain was removed, fixed and photographed from multiple angles. It was then sectioned into 240 blocks, and histological slides were prepared. At the time, a roadmap was drawn that illustrates the location within the brain of each block and its associated slides. Here we describe the external gross neuroanatomy of Einstein’s entire cerebral cortex from 14 recently discovered photographs, most of which were taken from unconventional angles. Two of the photographs reveal sulcal patterns of the medial surfaces of the hemispheres, and another shows the neuroanatomy of the right (exposed) insula. Most of Einstein’s sulci are identified, and sulcal patterns in various parts of the brain are compared with those of 85 human brains that have been described in the literature. To the extent currently possible, unusual features of Einstein’s brain are tentatively interpreted in light of what is known about the evolution of higher cognitive processes in humans. As an aid to future investigators, these (and other) features are correlated with blocks on the roadmap (and therefore histological slides). Einstein’s brain has an extraordinary prefrontal cortex, which may have contributed to the neurological substrates for some of his remarkable cognitive abilities. The primary somatosensory and motor cortices near the regions that typically represent face and tongue are greatly expanded in the left hemisphere. Einstein’s parietal lobes are also unusual and may have provided some of the neurological underpinnings for his visuospatial and mathematical skills, as others have hypothesized. Einstein’s brain has typical frontal and occipital shape asymmetries (petalias) and grossly asymmetrical inferior and superior parietal lobules. Contrary to the literature, Einstein’s brain is not spherical, does not lack parietal opercula and has non-confluent Sylvian and inferior postcentral sulci.

Concepts: Brain, Human brain, Cognition, Cerebral cortex, Cerebrum, Frontal lobe, Premotor cortex, Albert Einstein


Functional brain networks demonstrate significant temporal variability and dynamic reconfiguration even in the resting state. Currently, most studies investigate temporal variability of brain networks at the scale of single (micro) or whole-brain (macro) connectivity. However, the mechanism underlying time-varying properties remains unclear, as the coupling between brain network variability and neural activity is not readily apparent when analysed at either micro or macroscales. We propose an intermediate (meso) scale analysis and characterize temporal variability of the functional architecture associated with a particular region. This yields a topography of variability that reflects the whole-brain and, most importantly, creates an analytical framework to establish the fundamental relationship between variability of regional functional architecture and its neural activity or structural connectivity. We find that temporal variability reflects the dynamical reconfiguration of a brain region into distinct functional modules at different times and may be indicative of brain flexibility and adaptability. Primary and unimodal sensory-motor cortices demonstrate low temporal variability, while transmodal areas, including heteromodal association areas and limbic system, demonstrate the high variability. In particular, regions with highest variability such as hippocampus/parahippocampus, inferior and middle temporal gyrus, olfactory gyrus and caudate are all related to learning, suggesting that the temporal variability may indicate the level of brain adaptability. With simultaneously recorded electroencephalography/functional magnetic resonance imaging and functional magnetic resonance imaging/diffusion tensor imaging data, we also find that variability of regional functional architecture is modulated by local blood oxygen level-dependent activity and α-band oscillation, and is governed by the ratio of intra- to inter-community structural connectivity. Application of the mesoscale variability measure to multicentre datasets of three mental disorders and matched controls involving 1180 subjects reveals that those regions demonstrating extreme, i.e. highest/lowest variability in controls are most liable to change in mental disorders. Specifically, we draw attention to the identification of diametrically opposing patterns of variability changes between schizophrenia and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder/autism. Regions of the default-mode network demonstrate lower variability in patients with schizophrenia, but high variability in patients with autism/attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, compared with respective controls. In contrast, subcortical regions, especially the thalamus, show higher variability in schizophrenia patients, but lower variability in patients with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. The changes in variability of these regions are also closely related to symptom scores. Our work provides insights into the dynamic organization of the resting brain and how it changes in brain disorders. The nodal variability measure may also be potentially useful as a predictor for learning and neural rehabilitation.

Concepts: Attention, Magnetic resonance imaging, Cerebral cortex, Cerebrum, Hippocampus, Attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder, Hyperactivity, Dopamine


Prospective studies of infants at risk for autism spectrum disorder have provided important clues about the early behavioural symptoms of autism spectrum disorder. Diagnosis of autism spectrum disorder, however, is not currently made until at least 18 months of age. There is substantially less research on potential brain-based differences in the period between 6 and 12 months of age. Our objective in the current study was to use magnetic resonance imaging to identify any consistently observable brain anomalies in 6-9 month old infants who would later develop autism spectrum disorder. We conducted a prospective infant sibling study with longitudinal magnetic resonance imaging scans at three time points (6-9, 12-15, and 18-24 months of age), in conjunction with intensive behavioural assessments. Fifty-five infants (33 ‘high-risk’ infants having an older sibling with autism spectrum disorder and 22 ‘low-risk’ infants having no relatives with autism spectrum disorder) were imaged at 6-9 months; 43 of these (27 high-risk and 16 low-risk) were imaged at 12-15 months; and 42 (26 high-risk and 16 low-risk) were imaged again at 18-24 months. Infants were classified as meeting criteria for autism spectrum disorder, other developmental delays, or typical development at 24 months or later (mean age at outcome: 32.5 months). Compared with the other two groups, infants who developed autism spectrum disorder (n = 10) had significantly greater extra-axial fluid at 6-9 months, which persisted and remained elevated at 12-15 and 18-24 months. Extra-axial fluid is characterized by excessive cerebrospinal fluid in the subarachnoid space, particularly over the frontal lobes. The amount of extra-axial fluid detected as early as 6 months was predictive of more severe autism spectrum disorder symptoms at the time of outcome. Infants who developed autism spectrum disorder also had significantly larger total cerebral volumes at both 12-15 and 18-24 months of age. This is the first magnetic resonance imaging study to prospectively evaluate brain growth trajectories from infancy in children who develop autism spectrum disorder. The presence of excessive extra-axial fluid detected as early as 6 months and the lack of resolution by 24 months is a hitherto unreported brain anomaly in infants who later develop autism spectrum disorder. This is also the first magnetic resonance imaging evidence of brain enlargement in autism before age 2. These findings raise the potential for the use of structural magnetic resonance imaging to aid in the early detection of children at risk for autism spectrum disorder or other neurodevelopmental disorders.

Concepts: Brain, Nuclear magnetic resonance, Magnetic resonance imaging, Autism, Cerebrospinal fluid, Autism spectrum, Meninges, Subarachnoid space


In advanced stages of Parkinson’s disease, serotonergic terminals take up l-DOPA and convert it to dopamine. Abnormally released dopamine may participate in the development of l-DOPA-induced dyskinesias. Simultaneous activation of 5-HT1A and 5-HT1B receptors effectively blocks l-DOPA-induced dyskinesias in animal models of dopamine depletion, justifying a clinical study with eltoprazine, a 5-HT1A/B receptor agonist, against l-DOPA-induced dyskinesias in patients with Parkinson’s disease. A double-blind, randomized, placebo-controlled and dose-finding phase I/IIa study was conducted. Single oral treatment with placebo or eltoprazine, at 2.5, 5 and 7.5 mg, was tested in combination with a suprathreshold dose of l-DOPA (Sinemet®) in 22 patients with Parkinson’s disease (16 male/six female; 66.6 ± 8.8 years old) with l-DOPA-induced dyskinesias. A Wilcoxon Signed Ranked Test was used to compare each eltoprazine dose level to paired randomized placebo on the prespecified primary efficacy variables; area under the curve scores on Clinical Dyskinesia Rating Scale for 3 h post-dose and maximum change of Unified Parkinson’s Disease Rating Scale part III for 3 h post-dose. Secondary objectives included effects on maximum Clinical Dyskinesia Rating Scale score, area under the curve of Rush Dyskinesia Rating Scale score for 3 h post-dose, mood parameters measured by Hospital Anxiety Depression Scale and Montgomery Asberg Depression Rating Scale along with the pharmacokinetics, safety and tolerability profile of eltoprazine. A mixed model repeated measures was used for post hoc analyses of the area under the curve and peak Clinical Dyskinesia Rating Scale scores. It was found that serum concentrations of eltoprazine increased in a dose-proportional manner. Following levodopa challenge, 5 mg eltoprazine caused a significant reduction of l-DOPA-induced dyskinesias on area under the curves of Clinical Dyskinesia Rating Scale [-1.02(1.49); P = 0.004] and Rush Dyskinesia Rating Scale [-0.15(0.23); P = 0.003]; and maximum Clinical Dyskinesia Rating Scale score [-1.14(1.59); P = 0.005]. The post hoc analysis confirmed these results and also showed an antidyskinetic effect of 7.5 mg eltoprazine. Unified Parkinson’s Disease Rating Scale part III scores did not differ between the placebo and eltoprazine treatments. The most frequent adverse effects after eltoprazine were nausea and dizziness. It can be concluded that a single dose, oral treatment with eltoprazine has beneficial antidyskinetic effects without altering normal motor responses to l-DOPA. All doses of eltoprazine were well tolerated, with no major adverse effects. Eltoprazine has a favourable risk-benefit and pharmacokinetic profile in patients with Parkinson’s disease. The data support further clinical studies with chronic oral eltoprazine to treat l-DOPA-induced-dyskinesias.

Concepts: Pharmacology, Clinical trial, Effectiveness, Parkinson's disease, Clinical research, Placebo, Dopamine, L-DOPA


Signalling through the PERK/eIF2α-P branch of the unfolded protein response plays a critical role in controlling protein synthesis rates in cells. This pathway is overactivated in brains of patients with Alzheimer’s disease and related disorders and has recently emerged as a promising therapeutic target for these currently untreatable conditions. Thus, in mouse models of neurodegenerative disease, prolonged overactivation of PERK/eIF2α-P signalling causes sustained attenuation of protein synthesis, leading to memory impairment and neuronal loss. Re-establishing translation rates by inhibition of eIF2α-P activity, genetically or pharmacologically, restores memory and prevents neurodegeneration and extends survival. However, the experimental compounds used preclinically are unsuitable for use in humans, due to associated toxicity or poor pharmacokinetic properties. To discover compounds that have anti-eIF2α-P activity suitable for clinical use, we performed phenotypic screens on a NINDS small molecule library of 1040 drugs. We identified two compounds, trazodone hydrochloride and dibenzoylmethane, which reversed eIF2α-P-mediated translational attenuation in vitro and in vivo. Both drugs were markedly neuroprotective in two mouse models of neurodegeneration, using clinically relevant doses over a prolonged period of time, without systemic toxicity. Thus, in prion-diseased mice, both trazodone and dibenzoylmethane treatment restored memory deficits, abrogated development of neurological signs, prevented neurodegeneration and significantly prolonged survival. In tauopathy-frontotemporal dementia mice, both drugs were neuroprotective, rescued memory deficits and reduced hippocampal atrophy. Further, trazodone reduced p-tau burden. These compounds therefore represent potential new disease-modifying treatments for dementia. Trazodone in particular, a licensed drug, should now be tested in clinical trials in patients.

Concepts: Alzheimer's disease, Protein, Pharmacology, Gene, Neuroscience, Neurology, Neurodegeneration, Neurodegenerative disorders


Parkinson’s disease is a chronic progressive neurodegenerative disorder characterized by resting tremor, slowness of movements, rigidity, gait disturbance and postural instability. Most investigations on Parkinson’s disease focused on the basal ganglia, whereas the cerebellum has often been overlooked. However, increasing evidence suggests that the cerebellum may have certain roles in the pathophysiology of Parkinson’s disease. Anatomical studies identified reciprocal connections between the basal ganglia and cerebellum. There are Parkinson’s disease-related pathological changes in the cerebellum. Functional or morphological modulations in the cerebellum were detected related to akinesia/rigidity, tremor, gait disturbance, dyskinesia and some non-motor symptoms. It is likely that the major roles of the cerebellum in Parkinson’s disease include pathological and compensatory effects. Pathological changes in the cerebellum might be induced by dopaminergic degeneration, abnormal drives from the basal ganglia and dopaminergic treatment, and may account for some clinical symptoms in Parkinson’s disease. The compensatory effect may help maintain better motor and non-motor functions. The cerebellum is also a potential target for some parkinsonian symptoms. Our knowledge about the roles of the cerebellum in Parkinson’s disease remains limited, and further attention to the cerebellum is warranted.

Concepts: Neurology, Parkinson's disease, Deep brain stimulation, Basal ganglia, Substantia nigra, Dopamine, Haloperidol, Tremor


Studying the function and malfunction of genes and proteins associated with inherited forms of peripheral neuropathies has provided multiple clues to our understanding of myelinated nerves in health and disease. Here, we have generated a mouse model for the peripheral neuropathy Charcot-Marie-Tooth disease type 4H by constitutively disrupting the mouse orthologue of the suspected culprit gene FGD4 that encodes the small RhoGTPase Cdc42-guanine nucleotide exchange factor Frabin. Lack of Frabin/Fgd4 causes dysmyelination in mice in early peripheral nerve development, followed by profound myelin abnormalities and demyelination at later stages. At the age of 60 weeks, this was accompanied by electrophysiological deficits. By crossing mice carrying alleles of Frabin/Fgd4 flanked by loxP sequences with animals expressing Cre recombinase in a cell type-specific manner, we show that Schwann cell-autonomous Frabin/Fgd4 function is essential for proper myelination without detectable primary contributions from neurons. Deletion of Frabin/Fgd4 in Schwann cells of fully myelinated nerve fibres revealed that this protein is not only required for correct nerve development but also for accurate myelin maintenance. Moreover, we established that correct activation of Cdc42 is dependent on Frabin/Fgd4 function in healthy peripheral nerves. Genetic disruption of Cdc42 in Schwann cells of adult myelinated nerves resulted in myelin alterations similar to those observed in Frabin/Fgd4-deficient mice, indicating that Cdc42 and the Frabin/Fgd4-Cdc42 axis are critical for myelin homeostasis. In line with known regulatory roles of Cdc42, we found that Frabin/Fgd4 regulates Schwann cell endocytosis, a process that is increasingly recognized as a relevant mechanism in peripheral nerve pathophysiology. Taken together, our results indicate that regulation of Cdc42 by Frabin/Fgd4 in Schwann cells is critical for the structure and function of the peripheral nervous system. In particular, this regulatory link is continuously required in adult fully myelinated nerve fibres. Thus, mechanisms regulated by Frabin/Fgd4-Cdc42 are promising targets that can help to identify additional regulators of myelin development and homeostasis, which may crucially contribute also to malfunctions in different types of peripheral neuropathies.

Concepts: Nervous system, Gene, Action potential, Axon, Myelin, Glial cell, Charcot-Marie-Tooth disease, Schwann cell


Mechanisms of chronic pain remain poorly understood. We tracked brain properties in subacute back pain patients longitudinally for 3 years as they either recovered from or transitioned to chronic pain. Whole-brain comparisons indicated corticolimbic, but not pain-related circuitry, white matter connections predisposed patients to chronic pain. Intra-corticolimbic white matter connectivity analysis identified three segregated communities: dorsal medial prefrontal cortex-amygdala-accumbens, ventral medial prefrontal cortex-amygdala, and orbitofrontal cortex-amygdala-hippocampus. Higher incidence of white matter and functional connections within the dorsal medial prefrontal cortex-amygdala-accumbens circuit, as well as smaller amygdala volume, represented independent risk factors, together accounting for 60% of the variance for pain persistence. Opioid gene polymorphisms and negative mood contributed indirectly through corticolimbic anatomical factors, to risk for chronic pain. Our results imply that persistence of chronic pain is predetermined by corticolimbic neuroanatomical factors.

Concepts: Medicine, Neuroanatomy, Brain, Medical terms, Cerebrum, Pain, Limbic system, Chronic pain


Migraine headache is uniquely exacerbated by light. Using psychophysical assessments in patients with normal eyesight we found that green light exacerbates migraine headache significantly less than white, blue, amber or red lights. To delineate mechanisms, we used electroretinography and visual evoked potential recording in patients, and multi-unit recording of dura- and light-sensitive thalamic neurons in rats to show that green activates cone-driven retinal pathways to a lesser extent than white, blue and red; that thalamic neurons are most responsive to blue and least responsive to green; and that cortical responses to green are significantly smaller than those generated by blue, amber and red lights. These findings suggest that patients' experience with colour and migraine photophobia could originate in cone-driven retinal pathways, fine-tuned in relay thalamic neurons outside the main visual pathway, and preserved by the cortex. Additionally, the findings provide substrate for the soothing effects of green light.

Concepts: Brain, Light, Cerebral cortex, Migraine, Retina, Color, Green, Red


The proliferation and activation of microglial cells is a hallmark of several neurodegenerative conditions. This mechanism is regulated by the activation of the colony-stimulating factor 1 receptor (CSF1R), thus providing a target that may prevent the progression of conditions such as Alzheimer’s disease. However, the study of microglial proliferation in Alzheimer’s disease and validation of the efficacy of CSF1R-inhibiting strategies have not yet been reported. In this study we found increased proliferation of microglial cells in human Alzheimer’s disease, in line with an increased upregulation of the CSF1R-dependent pro-mitogenic cascade, correlating with disease severity. Using a transgenic model of Alzheimer’s-like pathology (APPswe, PSEN1dE9; APP/PS1 mice) we define a CSF1R-dependent progressive increase in microglial proliferation, in the proximity of amyloid-β plaques. Prolonged inhibition of CSF1R in APP/PS1 mice by an orally available tyrosine kinase inhibitor (GW2580) resulted in the blockade of microglial proliferation and the shifting of the microglial inflammatory profile to an anti-inflammatory phenotype. Pharmacological targeting of CSF1R in APP/PS1 mice resulted in an improved performance in memory and behavioural tasks and a prevention of synaptic degeneration, although these changes were not correlated with a change in the number of amyloid-β plaques. Our results provide the first proof of the efficacy of CSF1R inhibition in models of Alzheimer’s disease, and validate the application of a therapeutic strategy aimed at modifying CSF1R activation as a promising approach to tackle microglial activation and the progression of Alzheimer’s disease.

Concepts: Inflammation, Medicine, Gene, Cancer, Signal transduction, Protein kinase, Enzyme inhibitor, Inhibitor