Category: NeuroScience

19 Nov 2018
Manahel Thabet

How Psychoanalysis Can Help Neuroscience And Neural Networks

We know that neuroscience forms the groundwork for artificial neural networks and in other machine learning applications. Now, this fascinating field surrounding the structure and function of the nervous system and the human mind is playing an important role in improving these applications. Researchers have found out that psychoanalysis — the brainchild of Sigmund Freud — has the potential to bring a fresh face to neuroscience.

The Observable Overlap

If we compare neuroscience with psychoanalysis, certain aspects do match. To break it down, neuroscience deals with the connections or “dialogues” between the brain and the nervous system, while psychoanalysis deals with psychopathology through interactions between a patient and a psychoanalyst. Both fields intersect at the functional level. Instances like thoughts which stem from the nervous system, gaining knowledge through this as a consequence, perception with emotions, etc, share a mutual area when it comes to understanding these two fields.

The above view has garnered strong criticism among neuroscientists because there is no exact evidence establishing a relationship between the two. However, there is a slow uprising in the connection between psychoanalysis and neuroscience. In an article by science journalist Kat McGowan, she details how psychoanalysis could answer problems lingering in neuroscience.

Psychoanalysis has insightful, provocative theories about emotions, unconscious thoughts and the nature of the mind. Neurobiology has the ability to test these ideas with powerful tools and experimental rigour. Together, the two fields might finally answer the most elusive question of them all: How is it that dreams, fantasies, memories and feelings — the subjective self — emerge from a hunk of flesh?  

So, the brain structure is simply a hotbed of cognitive activities. Psychoanalysis specifically delves into this and can uncover more than what lies underneath the network of billions of neural connections.

Exploring The ‘Unconscious’

One of the key elements Freud’s psychoanalysis is the concept of the ‘unconscious state’. What started as a link to unearthing schizophrenia, is now the subject of many studies. In fact, most of them lean toward neuroscience rather than towards psychology, when it comes to deciphering this grey area.

The relationship between neural connections and psychological disorders can explain in detail about why the disorder prevails in the first place. By hinging on this fact, there could be a relation to discovering more on neurons, as these form the basis of subjects such as deep learning. As a matter of fact, one study that looked into the aspect of brain connectivity posits why neuroscience is following the path of psychoanalysis.

In recent years, there has been an increasing interest, in unconscious processes; neuroscientific studies have, in fact, tested subliminal perceptions, implicit cognition, emotion processing and interoceptive perceptions with empirical methods. Though many studies indicate that unconscious processes influence awareness, the cognitive view of the unconscious differs from the psychodynamic notion of the unconscious, which encompasses affect and motivation.

What the study brought out was how psychoanalysis and neuroscience can concur in their approach and lead to an improved scientific temperament.

The Key To Unraveling DL And ML

With psychoanalysis brought into neuroscience, it can answer the mystery behind areas such as machine learning or even deep learning. These areas extensively derive their working based on the human brain. To stress on this point, the key difference between these AI fields and psychoanalysis is the computational factor. While ML or DL is focusing on learning something new, it gradually will follow the footsteps of a computer. This ‘logical’ component misses the ‘biological’ component. Psychoanalysis is where it could help bridge this gap. After all, the essence of mind going into AI is the norm of ‘intelligence’.

As a matter of fact, challenges in these fields could be envisioned in a very different way if emotions and thoughts are brought into the picture. For example, a better model or algorithm could be designed as well as memory requirements are brought down drastically. We see enormous amounts of data going through ML/DL projects. The Freudian field may hold answers ML/DL in the future by evolving into something unknown or unexplored.

Source: https://www.analyticsindiamag.com/how-psychoanalysis-can-help-neuroscience-and-neural-networks/

17 Nov 2018

Playing high school football changes the teenage brain

A single season of high school football may be enough to cause microscopic changes in the structure of the brain, according to a new study by researchers at the University of California, Berkeley, Duke University and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

The researchers used a new type of magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) to take brain scans of 16 high school players, ages 15 to 17, before and after a season of football. They found significant changes in the structure of the grey matter in the front and rear of the brain, where impacts are most likely to occur, as well as changes to structures deep inside the brain. All participants wore helmets, and none received head impacts severe enough to constitute a concussion.

The study, which is the cover story of the November issue of Neurobiology of Disease, is one of the first to look at how impact sports affect the brains of children at this critical age. This study was made available online in July 2018 ahead of final publication in print this month.

“It is becoming pretty clear that repetitive impacts to the head, even over a short period of time, can cause changes in the brain,” said study senior author Chunlei Liu, a professor of electrical engineering and computer sciences and a member of the Helen Wills Neuroscience Institute at UC Berkeley. “This is the period when the brain is still developing, when it is not mature yet, so there are many critical biological processes going on, and it is unknown how these changes that we observe can affect how the brain matures and develops.”

Concerning trends

One bonk to the head may be nothing to sweat over. But mounting evidence shows that repeated blows to the cranium—such as those racked up while playing sports like hockey or football, or through blast injuries in military combat—may lead to long-term cognitive decline and increased risk of neurological disorders, even when the blows do not cause concussion.

Over the past decade, researchers have found that an alarming number of retired soldiers and college and professional football players show signs of a newly identified neurodegenerative disease called chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), which is characterized by a buildup of pathogenic tau protein in the brain. Though still not well understood, CTE is believed to cause mood disorders, cognitive decline and eventually motor impairment as a patient ages. Definitive diagnosis of CTE can only be made by examining the brain for tau protein during an autopsy.

These findings have raised concern over whether repeated hits to the head can cause brain damage in youth or high school players, and whether it is possible to detect these changes at an early age.

“There is a lot of emerging evidence that just playing impact sports actually changes the brain, and you can see these changes at the molecular level in the accumulations of different pathogenic proteins associated with neurodegenerative diseases like Parkinson’s and dementia,” Liu said. “We wanted to know when this actually happens—how early does this occur?”

A matter of grey and white

The brain is built of white matter, long neural wires that pass messages back and forth between different brain regions, and grey matter, tight nets of neurons that give the brain its characteristic wrinkles. Recent MRI studies have shown that playing a season or two of high school football can weaken white matter, which is mostly found nestled in the interior of the brain. Liu and his team wanted to know if repetitive blows to the head could also affect the brain’s gray matter.

“Grey matter in the cortex area is located on the outside of the brain, so we would expect this area to be more directly connected to the impact itself,” Liu said.

The researchers used a new type of MRI called diffusion kurtosis imaging to examine the intricate neural tangles that make up gray matter. They found that the organization of the gray matter in players’ brains changed after a season of football, and these changes correlated with the number and position of head impacts measured by accelerometers mounted inside players’ helmets.

The changes were concentrated in the front and rear of the cerebral cortex, which is responsible for higher-order functions like memory, attention and cognition, and in the centrally located thalamus and putamen, which relay sensory information and coordinate movement.

“Although our study did not look into the consequences of the observed changes, there is emerging evidence suggesting that such changes would be harmful over the long term,” Liu said.

Tests revealed that students’ cognitive function did not change over the course of the season, and it is yet unclear whether these changes in the brain are permanent, the researchers say.

“The brain microstructure of younger players is still rapidly developing, and that may counteract the alterations caused by repetitive head impacts,” said first author Nan-Ji Gong, a postdoctoral researcher in the Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Sciences at UC Berkeley.

However, the researchers still urge caution—and frequent cognitive and brain monitoring—for youth and high schoolers engaged in impact sports.

“I think it would be reasonable to debate at what age it would be most critical for the brain to endure these sorts of consequences, especially given the popularity of youth football and other sports that cause impact to the brain,” Liu said.

Source: https://medicalxpress.com/news/2018-11-high-school-football-teenage-brain.html

27 Oct 2018

New tool provides real-time glimpse of brain activity in mice

A transparent set of electrodes enables researchers to simultaneously record electrical signals and visualize neurons in the brains of awake mice1.

Syncing neuronal signals with videos of neurons helps researchers map those signals to particular sites in the brain. The technology could yield insights into how the brain works and what goes awry in conditions such as autism.

Two-photon calcium imaging and electroencephalography (EEG) are both popular tools for studying the brain, but combining them has proved challenging. In the former technique, researchers tag calcium ions with fluorescent proteins. When neurons fire, a microscope picks up the fluorescence as calcium ions rush into the cells. EEG requires inserting a recording electrode into the brain. However, the electrode blocks light in the area from reaching the microscope.

In the new study, researchers built electrodes that transmit light. They layered a metallic material into a flat plastic mold, roughly the size of a single neuron, that is studded with hundreds of plastic spheres. The material fills the space around the spheres, creating holes that allow light to pass through.

Read more: https://www.spectrumnews.org/news/toolbox/new-tool-provides-real-time-glimpse-brain-activity-mice/

23 Oct 2018
Manahel Thabet

Study shows easy-to-use, noninvasive stimulation device can help prevent migraine attacks

A migraine is much more than just a bad headache. Migraine symptoms, which can be debilitating for many people, are the sixth leading cause of disability, according to the World Health Organization. While there is no cure, a new study published in Cephalalgia in March shows single-pulse transcranial magnetic stimulation is a new way to prevent migraine attacks. It’s safe, easy to use and noninvasive.

Researchers at Mayo Clinic and other major academic headache centers across the U.S. recently conducted the study that examined the effectiveness of using a single-pulse transcranial magnetic stimulation device to prevent migraine attacks. The eNeura SpringTMS Post-Market Observational U.S. Study of Migraine study, also known as ESPOUSE, instructed participants to self-administer four pulses with the device in the morning and four pulses at night over three months to prevent and treat migraine attacks as needed. Spring TMS stands for Spring transcranial magnetic stimulation or sTMS.

“The migraine brain is hyperexcitable, and basic science studies have demonstrated modulation of neuronal excitability with this treatment modality,” says Amaal Starling, M.D., a Mayo Clinic neurologist, who is first author of the study. “Our study demonstrated that the four pulses emitted from this device twice daily reduce the frequency of headache days by about three days per month, and 46 percent of patients had at least 50 percent or less migraine attacks per month on the treatment protocol. This data is clinically significant. Based on the current study and prior studies in acute migraine attack treatment, sTMS not only helps to stop a migraine attack, but it also helps prevent them.”

“For certain patients, treatment options for migraines, such as oral medications, are not effective, well-tolerated or preferred,” Dr. Starling adds. “The sTMS may be a great option for these patients and allow doctors to better meet their unique needs.”

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration already had approved the sTMS device for the acute treatment of migraine with aura. The FDA now has approved it to prevent migraine, as well.

Source: https://medicalxpress.com/news/2018-03-easy-to-use-noninvasive-device-migraine.html#nRlv

11 Oct 2018
ManahelThabet

Can Neuroscience Teach Robot Cars to Be Less Annoying?

Robot cars make for annoying drivers.

Relative to human motorists, the driverless vehicles now undergoing testing on public roads are overly cautious, maddeningly slow, and prone to abrupt halts or bizarre paralysis caused by bikers, joggers, crosswalks or anything else that doesn’t fit within the neat confines of binary robot brains. Self-driving companies are well aware of the problem, but there’s not much they can do at this point. Tweaking the algorithms to produce a smoother ride would compromise safety, undercutting one of the most-often heralded justifications for the technology.

It was just this kind of tuning to minimize excessive braking that led to a fatal crash involving an Uber Technologies Inc. autonomous vehicle in March, according to federal investigators. The company has yet to resume public testing of self-driving cars since shutting down operations in Arizona following the crash.

If driverless cars can’t be safely programmed to mimic risk-taking human drivers, perhaps they can be taught to better understand the way humans act. That’s the goal of Perceptive Automata, a Boston-based startup applying research techniques from neuroscience and psychology to give automated vehicles more human-like intuition on the road: Can software be taught to anticipate human behavior?

“We think about what that other person is doing or has the intent to do,” said Ann Cheng, a senior investment manager at Hyundai Cradle, the South Korean automaker’s venture arm and one of the investors that just helped Perceptive Automata raise $16 million. Toyota Motor Corp. is also backing the two-year-old startup founded by researchers and professors at Harvard University and Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

“We see a lot of AI companies working on more classical problems, like object detection [or] object classification,” Cheng said. “Perceptive is trying to go one layer deeper—what we do intuitively already.”

This predictive aspect of self-driving tech “was either misunderstood or completely underestimated” in the early stages of autonomous development, said Jim Adler, the managing director of Toyota AI Ventures.

With Alphabet Inc.’s Waymo planning to roll out an autonomous taxi service to paying customers in the Phoenix area later this year, and General Motor Co.’s driverless unit racing to deploy a ride-hailing business in 2019, the shortcomings of robot cars interacting with humans are coming under increased scrutiny. Some experts have advocated for education campaigns to train pedestrians to be more mindful of autonomous vehicles. Startups and global automakers are busy testing external display screens to telegraph the intent of a robotic car to bystanders.

But no one believes that will be enough to make autonomous cars move seamlessly among human drivers. For that, the car needs to be able to decipher intent by reading body language and understanding social norms. Perceptive Automata is trying to teach machines to predict human behavior by modeling how humans do it.

Sam Anthony, chief technology officer at Perceptive and a former hacker with a PhD in cognition and brain behavior from Harvard, developed a way to take image recognition tests used in psychology and use them to train so-called neural networks, a kind of machine learning based loosely on how the human brain works. His startup has drafted hundreds of people across diverse age ranges, driving experiences and locales to look at thousands of clips or images from street life—pedestrians chatting on a corner, a cyclist looking at his phone—and decide what they’re doing, or about to do. All those responses then get fed into the neural network, or computer brain, until it has a reference library it can call on to recognize what’s happening in real life situations.

Perceptive has found it’s important to incorporate regional differences, since jaywalking is commonplace in New York City and virtually non-existent elsewhere. “No one jaywalks in Tokyo, I’ve never seen it,” says Adler of Toyota. “These social mores and norms of how our culture will evolve and how different cultures will evolve with this tech is incredibly fascinating and also incredibly complex.”

Perceptive is working with startups, suppliers and automakers in the U.S., Europe, and Asia, although it won’t specify which. The company is hoping to have its technology integrated into mass production cars with self-driving features as soon as 2021. Even at the level of partial autonomy, with features such as lane-keeping and hands-off highway driving, deciphering human intent is relevant.

Autonomous vehicles “are going to be slow and clunky and miserable unless they can understand how to deal with humans in a complex environment,” said Mike Ramsey, an analyst at Gartner. Still, he cautioned that Perceptive’s undertaking “is exceptionally difficult.”

Even if Perceptive proves capable of doing what it claims, Ramsey said, it may also surface fresh ethical questions about outsourcing life or death decisions to machines. Because the startup is going beyond object identification to mimicking human intuition, it could be liable for programming the wrong decision if an error occurs.

It’s also not the only company working on this problem.  It’s reasonable to assume that major players like Waymo, GM’s Cruise LLC, and Zoox Inc. are trying to solve it internally, said Sasha Ostojic, former head of engineering at Cruise who is now a venture investor at Playground Global in Silicon Valley.

Until anyone makes major headway, however, be prepared to curb your road rage while stuck behind a robot car that drives like a grandma. “The more responsible people in the AV industry optimize for safety rather than comfort,” Ostojic said.

Source: Bloomberg

28 Aug 2018
Manahel Thabet

Brain cell discovery could help scientists understand consciousness

A team of scientists today unveiled the discovery of a new kind of brain neuron called the rosehip cell. What makes this find important? It may be unique to the human brain – and it’s found in the same area thought to be responsible for consciousness.

A team of international researchers consisting of dozens of scientists made the discovery after running complex RNA sequencing experiments on tissue samples from the cerebral cortices of two brain donors. The results were then confirmed with live tissue taken from patients who’d undergone brain surgery.

Upon discovering the rosehip cell, the researchers immediately tried to replicate the finding using samples gathered from laboratory mice – to no avail. It appears the cell is specific to humans, or potentially primates, but the researchers point out they’re only speculating these neurons are unique to humans at this time.

What matters is what the rosehip cell does. Unfortunately, the scientists aren’t sure. Neurons are tough nuts to crack, but what they do know is this one is belongs to the inhibitor class of brain neurons. It’s possible the rosehip cell is an integral inhibitor to our brain activity, and at least partially responsible consciousness.

Some scientists believe that human consciousness has something to do with wrangling reality from the chaos inside our brains. It’s been shown that an infant’s brain functions much like that of someone on LSD – babies are basically tripping all the time. Perhaps these neural inhibitors develop as our brains grow and help us to separate reality from whatever babies are dealing with.

But, of course, the real science isn’t quite as speculative. For the most part, the rosehip cell research is exciting because it’s filling in some missing pages in our atlas of human neural activity.

The brain is one of the most complex constructs in the universe, and the cerebral cortex is its most complicated part. It’s going to take a long time to figure the whole thing out.

The team intends to look for the rosehip cell in the brains of people who suffer from neurological disorders next – work that could lead to a vastly increased understanding of how the brain functions, and what causes it to break down.

Source: https://thenextweb.com/insider/2018/08/27/brain-cell-discovery-could-help-scientists-understand-consciousness/

24 Jul 2018
Manahel Thabet

A New Connection Between Smell and Memory Identified

Summary: A new study reveals how smells we encounter throughout life are encoded in memory. The findings could help develop new smell tests for Alzheimer’s disease.

Source: University of Toronto.

Neurobiologists at the University of Toronto have identified a mechanism that allows the brain to recreate vivid sensory experiences from memory, shedding light on how sensory-rich memories are created and stored in our brains.

Using smell as a model, the findings offer a novel perspective on how the senses are represented in memory, and could explain why the loss of the ability to smell has become recognized as an early symptom of Alzheimer’s disease.

“Our findings demonstrate for the first time how smells we’ve encountered in our lives are recreated in memory,” said Afif Aqrabawi, a PhD candidate in the Department of Cell & Systems Biology in the Faculty of Arts & Science at U of T, and lead author of a study published this month in Nature Communications.

“In other words, we’ve discovered how you are able to remember the smell of your grandma’s apple pie when walking into her kitchen.”

There is a strong connection between memory and olfaction – the process of smelling and recognizing odours – owing to their common evolutionary history. Examining this connection in mice, Aqrabawi and graduate supervisor Professor Junchul Kim in the Department of Psychology at U of T found that information about space and time integrate within a region of the brain important for the sense of smell – yet poorly understood – known as the anterior olfactory nucleus (AON).

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