New technological approaches in neuroscience exploring the brain and nervous system shed new light on the intricate circuitry behind our thought processes, feelings, and behaviors. The findings of the studies were reported in The Experimental Biology 2018 meeting (EB 2018).
Innovative nanocapsules could improve delivery of drug for Autism Spectrum Disorder
The hormone oxytocin has been shown to be helpful for improving social interactions in people with Autism Spectrum Disorder and other neurological conditions. However, its effects are very short term because the hormone breaks down quickly in the bloodstream and cannot cross the blood-brain barrier to enter the brain. A team of scientists at Mercer University have developed tiny capsules to shuttle oxytocin across the blood-brain barrier and slow its degradation. In experiments conducted in cells and mice, the nanocapsules appear to last longer and engender stronger prosocial effects than oxytocin alone. If successful in humans, the technology could improve autism treatment and potentially be applied to other drugs aimed at treating seizures, inflammation and other neurological problems.
Rabies and herpes viruses harnessed for new brain circuit mapping
Fighting pain by tracking it back to its place of origin
There is still much scientists do not understand about how the body transmits and regulates pain signals. Researchers at Texas A&M are taking a detailed look at the thalamus, a part of the brain where most pain signals are processed, in hopes of finding new treatments for chronic pain that do not have the side effects or addiction potential of existing therapies like opioids and other drugs. The team has engineered mice that produce glowing proteins when pain-activated neurons fire and used genetically modified rabies virus as a tracer to mark how pain signals travel from neuron to neuron. By combining these techniques, the team has been able to create a brain-wide map of the neurons that feed pain signals into the thalamus, illuminating specific areas that might be targeted with new therapeutics.
Exercise after concussion appears to aid recovery
Doctors generally recommend refraining from exercise after a concussion (a type of brain injury typically caused by a blow to the head) in order to let the brain heal. However, a new study from the University of Western Ontario suggests that moderate aerobic exercise can be helpful for patient recovery and "return-to-sport" decisions. Among other symptoms, concussions can have effects on the heart rate, including increased heart rate and reduced heart rate variability, meaning that the heart rate stays high and doesn't rise and fall as it normally would in response to exertion. In the study, researchers randomly assigned seven teenage participants to three sessions of moderate exercise over the course of a week following a concussion, stopping short of a level of exertion that would exacerbate their headache or other symptoms. Eight other concussed teens were assigned to refrain from exercise for the week. Before-and-after tests revealed those who had exercised showed significant improvements in measures of heart rate and variability, indicating a quicker recovery, compared to those who had simply rested.