February 4, 2014

Exciting Discoveries about the Brain including the area that is 'uniquely human'

Ultrathin slices of mouse brains offer a mesmerizing look at how brain cells communicate at the tiniest scale. This research may offer clues about how the dance of our own synapses guides and animates us.  From the National Geographic, Beautiful 3-D Brain Scans Show Every Synapse


Scientists have found the region of the brain that makes you feel bad about poor choices

A part of the brain that helps stop humans from making bad decisions and acts as our conscience has been discovered by scientists.

The small ball of neural tissue, named the lateral frontal pole, is vital for pondering the ‘what ifs’ of life, researchers said.  Other parts of the brain keep tabs on how well decisions are working, but this new region thinks over what we might have done instead.

Scientists at Oxford University made the discovery after scanning human brains in two different ways.  Scans from 25 men and women showed that this part of the brain is made up of a dozen smaller sections. The scans were then compared with monkey brains.  The scans showed that there is nothing like it in the brain of the macaque monkey, despite it being one of our closest relatives.

Oxford University scientist Matthew Rushworth said: ‘We’ve identified an area of the brain that appears to be uniquely human.’

The lateral frontal pole prefrontal cortex is found at the very front of the brain – with one just above each eyebrow.  In some people, it is the size of a Brussels sprout; in others, it is as big as a tangerine.

Previous research has shown it is particularly important in multi-tasking. For instance, if we decide to do one thing, it will continue to evaluate the other option – or think about what might have been.  While this might seem odd, it is good preparation for a later change of mind.

The tiny brain region helps us learn from watching others’ mistakes, speeding up the acquisition of new skills.
The study, published in the journal Neuron also revealed the people to have stronger wiring to brain regions involved in hearing – perhaps helping explain our ability to speak.

New region of the brain discovered that controls anxiety

A California team has discovered the region of the brain that controls how anxious we are - and found it wasn't where they had thought.  The team now say it could now be targeted with drugs, leading to far more effective treatments within a decade.
Previous studies of anxiety in the brain have focused on the amygdala, an area known to play a role in fear.

However, a team of researchers led by biologists at the California Institute of Technology (Caltech) had a hunch that understanding a different brain area, the lateral septum (LS), could provide more clues into how the brain processes anxiety.  Their instincts paid off—using mouse models, the team has found a neural circuit that connects the LS with other brain structures in a manner that directly influences anxiety.
Posted by Jill Fallon at February 4, 2014 1:31 PM | Permalink