Saturday November 17, 2018

Brain cell density does not decay with increasing age, say researchers

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New York: Researchers at University of Illinois Chicago have shown that while the brain shrinks with age, cell density remains preserved throughout the brain, not just in specific regions. They arrived at this discovery with the help of new ultra-high-field magnetic resonance images (MRI).

The findings also suggest that the maintenance of brain cell density may protect against cognitive impairment as the brain gradually shrinks in normal aging.

Neuroscientists have long known that the brain shrinks with age, but for a long time they thought the loss in volume was associated with a loss of brain cells. That was disproved by studies that showed it is the neurons themselves that shrink, while the number of cells remain the same in normal older adults.

The images were created by a powerful 9.4-Tesla MRI, the first of its kind for human imaging, the study said.

The 9.4 T magnetic field is more than three times stronger than that of a typical MRI machine in a doctor’s office and is currently approved only for research.

“The information provided by these 9.4-Tesla scans may be very useful in helping us detect tiny losses of brain cells and the reduction in cell density that characterizes the early stages of neurodegenerative diseases that can take decades to develop before symptoms appear, like Alzheimer’s disease,” said lead author Keith Thulborn, professor at the University of Illinois at Chicago.

“If we can identify when Alzheimer’s pathology starts, the efficacy of new drugs or other interventions to slow or prevent Alzheimer’s disease can be tested and monitored when the disease starts, instead of after it’s developed for 20 or 30 years and becomes clinically apparent,” Thulborn noted.

The study that involved scanning the brains of 49 cognitively normal adults ranging in age from 21 to 80 was published in the journal NMR in Biomedicine.

Thulborn thinks the ultra-high-field scanners eventually will be approved for clinical use.

“We can use the 9.4 T to look at brain cell loss in real time in patients experiencing stroke, or to see whether chemotherapy for brain tumors is working in higher resolution that is just not available using the current 3 T clinical scanners,” he said. (IANS)

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Stimulating Brain Cells Stops Binge Drinking

The researchers activated the dopamine neurons through a type of deep brain stimulation using a new technique called optogenetics

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In the experiments, rats were trained to drink alcohol in a way that mimics human binge-drinking behaviour. Pixabay

It is now possible to use gene therapy in the brain to not only treat binge drinking but other substance abuse, neurological diseases and mental illnesses.

Researchers at the University at Buffalo have found a way to change alcohol drinking behaviour in rodents, using the emerging technique of optogenetics – using light to stimulate neurons.

In the experiments, rats were trained to drink alcohol in a way that mimics human binge-drinking behaviour.

“By stimulating certain dopamine neurons in a precise pattern, resulting in low but prolonged levels of dopamine release, we could prevent the rats from binging. The rats just flat out stopped drinking,” said Caroline E. Bass, assistant professor of pharmacology and toxicology in the UB School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences.

Interestingly, the rodents continued to avoid alcohol even after the stimulation of neurons ended, Bass added.

drinking
Representational image. Pixabay

The researchers activated the dopamine neurons through a type of deep brain stimulation using a new technique called optogenetics.

“Optogenetics allows you to stimulate only one type of neuron at a time,” said the study published in the journal Frontiers in Neuroscience.

Also Read- Controlling Diet a Remedy For Metabolic Syndrome

“The results have application not only in understanding and treating alcohol-drinking behaviours in humans, but also in many devastating mental illnesses and neurological diseases that have a dopamine component,” said Bass.

The findings are the first to demonstrate a causal relationship between the release of dopamine in the brain and drinking behaviours of animals. (IANS)