Advert

Surfing brain waves

A projected image in 3-D showing cortical neurons in purple extending down to 500µm deep, as imaged through a cranial window into the mouse brain. Neurons are found near blood vessels which are here labelled in pink. Image taken from research work carried out here at the University in the Laboratory for the Study of Neurological Disorders, headed by Prof. Mario Valentino and his team.

A projected image in 3-D showing cortical neurons in purple extending down to 500µm deep, as imaged through a cranial window into the mouse brain. Neurons are found near blood vessels which are here labelled in pink. Image taken from research work carried out here at the University in the Laboratory for the Study of Neurological Disorders, headed by Prof. Mario Valentino and his team.

‘Millions of flashing shuttles weave a dissolving pattern, always a meaningful pattern though never an abiding one’. In this earlier description of the brain, neuroscientist Charles Sherrington points out two striking aspects of the brain. On one side, the sheer number of cells that compose the brain, among which, the 100 billion neurons that reside in the brain with some 100 trillion connections, and on the other side, the ability to ‘flash’ and organise electrical signalling among these many neurons and their connections into a meaningful pattern. Indeed, the ability to coordinate the chaotic electrical environment that results from this amassing mass of neurons and their connections is a fascinating aspect of the brain. As the behavioural scientist Skinner once put it: chaos offers something to be genius about!

The coordination of neural activity across the various regions in the brain gives rise to our cognitive sophistication, such as taking life-changing decisions as well as falling in love, hence making us what we are, both in sickness and in health. This raises an important question: How does the brain coordinate itself? Neuroscientific research has now put forth several interesting theories and accompanying findings to demonstrate that this might be achieved by tuning neural activity to various forms of electrical patterns, or more precisely – neural oscillatory patterns.

Neural oscillations are essentially brain waves formed by rhythmic voltage fluctuations generated in the brain. These waves in essence are like those found in a pond or the sea and at particular times they may summate or cancel each other out and thus this provides the brain with the ability to communicate or not with its different parts to produce the required outcome, a correct decision for example. The relationship between neural oscillations and cognition is not merely correlative, as the artificial induction of electrical currents that perturb neural oscillatory activities has been found to elicit a corresponding alteration in the cognitive function studied.

The ability to crack the brain’s code that sub-serves cognition is not solely a matter of intrigue but, more fundamentally, it opens new avenues for understanding the cognitive abnormalities that manifest themselves in various neuropsychiatric disorders.

At the University of Malta, research, coordinated by Professor Richard Muscat, is conducted to characterise neural oscillatory patterns that substantiate various cognitive functions, including working memory, attention and distraction. Importantly, this has helped us find a series of neural ‘oscillatory signatures’ that impact the development of various child and adolescent neuropsychiatric disorders, such as attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). The presence of abnormal neural signatures and their direct relationship with the associated cognitive impairments helps us to pinpoint the neural mechanisms that give rise to aberrant cognition and on the same lines establish novel objective markers for the diagnosis of neuropsychiatric disorders.

Likewise, we are also exploring the effect of psychoactive drugs on both neural oscillations and cognitive function. The use of these brain signatures to supplement clinical behaviour interviews to aid with the prescription as well as the efficacy of psychoactive medication will represent a very important milestone related to the sometimes controversial issue surrounding the use of psychoactive medication in young/adolescent patients.

Dr Nowell Zammit is a Postdoctoral Fellow in the field of human neuroscience at the Centre for Molecular Medicine and Biobanking, University of Malta.

Did you know?

• An ice cube takes up about nine per cent more volume than the water used to make it.

• A lightning strike can reach a temperature of 30,000°.

• Precious metals on earth, such as gold and platinum, may have originated in the stars.

• Scientists at Harvard have stored an animation of a galloping horse in the DNA of bacteria, using the Crispr-Cas9 tool.

• There are extraterrestrial dust particles on your rooftop. They are called micrometeorites and are about 400 microns in size.

For more trivia see: www.um.edu.mt/think

Sound bites

• Held at Oxford University Museum of Natural History, the Oxford Dodo represents the most complete remains of a dodo collected as a living bird – the head and a foot – and the only surviving soft tissue anywhere in the world. Using revolutionary forensic scanning technology and world-class expertise, researchers have discovered surprising evidence that the Oxford Dodo was shot in the neck and back of the head with a shotgun. The findings cast doubt on the popular theory that the Oxford Dodo is the remains of a bird kept alive in a townhouse in 17th-century London.

https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2018/04/180421180509.htm

• Older adults who take a novel antioxidant that specifically targets cellular powerhouses, or mitochondria, see age-related vascular changes reverse by the equivalent of 15 to 20 years within six weeks, according to new University of Colorado Boulder research. The study, published this week in the American Heart Association journal Hypertension, adds to a growing body of evidence suggesting pharmaceutical-grade nutritional supplements, or nutraceuticals, could play an important role in preventing heart disease – the nation’s No. 1 killer. It also resurrects the notion that oral antioxidants, which have been broadly dismissed as ineffective in recent years, could reap measurable health benefits if properly targeted, the authors say.

https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2018/04/180419141523.htm

• To find out some more interesting science news, tune in Radju Malta on Saturday mornings at 11.05am and listen to Radio Mocha.

Advert
Comments not loading? We recommend using Google Chrome or Mozilla Firefox with javascript turned on.
Comments powered by Disqus  
Advert
Advert