Category Archives: Health

Amazing New Brain Map of Every Synapse Points to the Roots of Thinking

Dave Wolf is on a roll this month with posting cool neuroscience articles! This study, from a team at the University of Edinburgh, is a real tour de force that takes advantage of modern technology in neuroscience. I can imagine that some day that we will be able to map the human synaptome, non-invasively, and in real time. Then we would finally have the tools to address more fruitfully questions such as the nature/nurture debate, how mindfulness changes the brain, even the nature of consciousness and transcendent experiences. Check out author Shelly Fan’s other work too!

author david wolf

By Shelly Fan – Aug 14, 2018*

Imagine a map of every single star in an entire galaxy. A map so detailed that it lays out what each star looks like, what they’re made of, and how each star is connected to another through the grand physical laws of the cosmos.

While we don’t yet have such an astronomical map of the heavens, thanks to a momentous study published last week in Neuron, there is now one for the brain.

If every neuron were a galaxy, then synapses—small structures dotted along the serpentine extensions of neurons—are its stars. In a technical tour-de-force, a team from the University of Edinburgh in the UK constructed the first detailed map of every single synapse in the mouse brain.

Using genetically modified mice, the team literally made each synapse light up under fluorescent light throughout the brain like the starry night. And similar to…

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Brain discovery could block aging’s terrible toll on the mind

My first instinct on reading this is that the findings are a bit over-hyped. A cure for Alzheimer’s? Really? Of course everyone and their brother wants to prevent brain aging and disease and everyone and their brother has something to sell you to do that–computer programs, supplements, oils, or the next Silicon Valley biotech startup IPO. But as a neuroscientist, I think that even if it is over-hyped and not a panacea it is still very worth pursuing medically. It’s a fresh approach and is likely to be an important missing piece of the puzzle. The brain is a hard organ to study, and neuroscience research has progressed slowly–and not for want of trying!

author david wolf

Faulty brain plumbing to blame in Alzheimer’s, age-related memory loss — and can be fixed

NOTE: this article not written by David T. Wolf, but selected by him from Science Digest

Date:July 26, 2018

Source:University of Virginia Health System

Summary:  Aging vessels connecting the brain and the immune system play critical roles in both Alzheimer’s disease and the decline in cognitive ability that comes with time, new research reveals. By improving the function of the lymphatic vessels, scientists have dramatically enhanced aged mice’s ability to learn and improved their memories. The work may provide doctors an entirely new path to treat or prevent Alzheimer’s disease, age-related memory loss and other neurodegenerative diseases.

Obstructing lymphatic vessels (in green) in a mouse model of Alzheimer’s disease significantly increased the accumulation of harmful plaques in the brain. “What was really interesting is that with the worsening pathology, it actually looks very similar to…

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Mundane Monday: Used Golf Clubs from Craigslist

My husband and I have always liked to play minigolf, but that’s it. Until now. I had always thought of golf as something rich people and Presidents did.

But recently I decided to try it. There are some advantages to being able to play. Golf is a sport you can play your whole life, even well into your 70s and 80s, as long as you are mobile. It gets you outside and walking. It can be social; you can chat, you can network. If you’re so inclined you might even be able to catch Pokemon on the course! And some courses are located in beautiful and/or interesting places that you wouldn’t even get to see if you didn’t play golf.

There is a course in our town, Mountain View, on Moffett Field. It’s not a well-known course and used to be for military only. Now they have opened it up to the public and while you do have to show your drivers license to get past the kiosk, they are friendly when you tell them you are going to the golf course. When you are leaving, you drive right past Hangar One.

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My husband and I have taken a couple of lessons now and we’re planning to do more. I recently got a set of used women’s clubs off Craigslist so I can go down to the range and practice if I want to. I picked them up after church on Sunday, where I was playing violin for Earth Day.

This week’s Mundane Monday theme is “two for one.” Pictured here are the two blue cases for the equipment needed for my oldest and newest hobbies. They kinda match.

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The Mundane Monday Challenge is under new ownership. Check it out at K Ottaway’s Rural Mad as Hell Blog.

Already? Why I don’t like Daylight Saving Time anymore

I haven’t blogged yet this month and suddenly it’s mid-March already. Tonight we set the clocks ahead one hour. This time of year brings out a predictable spate of articles about the history of Daylight Saving Time (not “Savings” Time) and partisans on both sides weigh in.

The one thing everyone seems to agree on is that they hate changing the clocks. I used to not mind it as much as I do now, but that was before it was so G-d-awful early in the year. Daylight saving time started in the USA in 1918 with the idea of saving energy. That means it is 100 years old this year. I actually remember the biennial clock ritual as a child with a little fondness. Thinking it through helped me understand clocks, timekeeping, time zones, circadian rhythms, and jet lag a little better. And somehow the stakes were lower for sleeping in.

But we don’t currently observe your grandfather’s Daylight Saving Time. The first federal standards established that DST would start on the last Sunday in April and end the last Sunday in October. But in 2007 and 2008, DST was extended by another month, into March and November. This extension was politically motivated and driven by candy and golf industry lobbying. The hoped-for energy savings have not materialized.

This is when I started to get angry about this issue. Nobody asked us: there was no popular vote on this change, and no consideration for what the time shift does to the human body clock.

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Daylight Saving Time doesn’t actually save anything. It just shifts light from the morning, when it is needed to entrain the body’s internal clock, to the evening, when it contributes to insomnia. Especially when instituted so early in the year, before the equinox (before the day is even as long as the night) it puts everyone in a state of perpetual eastward-going jet lag.

The body’s clock never actually adjusts to daylight time. The spring forward clock change is associated with a 25% increase in the risk of heart attacks  and an increase in traffic accidents on the Monday following the time change (Be careful out there!) And it’s in exactly the wrong direction to help sleep-deprived teens be able to get up for school. Daylight Saving Time is one of many factors that disconnect humans from the natural world.

I think we should just end this 100-year-old experiment altogether, and live on standard time all year round. But I’d settle for a return to the standards of the 1960s and early 1970s, when turning the clocks ahead really meant the coming of spring.

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Choose Love for #WATWB

I’ve been traveling for the past few weeks, and just got back yesterday. In a quirk of the International Dateline, our plane landed before it took off, making July 2, 2017 possibly the longest day I’ve ever experienced in my life.

Now that the post-trip laundry is mostly finished I’m posting, belatedly, for the We Are the World Blogfest (#WATWB).It is supposed to take place on the last Friday of every month. This event seeks to promote positive news, stories that show compassion and the resilience of the human spirit. This month’s wonderful co-hosts are:  Lynn HallbrooksMichelle WallaceSylvia SteinSylvia McGrath, and Belinda Witzenhausen.

We are the World Logo

The story I chose for this month is the following: Mom of Sandy Hook victim says she forgives shooter, wants others to choose love by Allison Slater Tate in Today‘s parenting section.

Scarlett Lewis, whose son Jesse died in the Sandy Hook massacre in 2012, started the Jesse Lewis Choose Love Movement in 2016 in his honor. It is a program for schools that aims to change the classroom climate and make it a more caring and nurturing one, giving kids the tools and emotional resilience to “be grateful when life isn’t easy, to forgive when the person who hurt you is not sorry, and to step outside your own pain to help someone else.”

I would find forgiveness difficult if not impossible in Ms. Lewis’ situation. I wish such programs had been more available when I was in school.

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It’s that time of year again, for graduations and award ceremonies. These are generally happy occasions, but I personally find the experience a bit mixed. You see, I am not an award winner, not the one up on stage giving a speech. I am introverted, and, truth be told, not that accomplished.

More than that, though, I can’t go to an awards ceremony without hearing about the awardee’s positive attitude, the smile on the face, the spring in the step, the can-do spirit. The awardee is invariably “more” than their grades, or their work achievements, or their sports skills, and that something extra is what “really” earned them the award. It is not, we are told, the specific accomplishment that award has engraved on it or sculpted into it—not even they are handed a tiny golden man with an even tinier ball stuck to his foot.

This is all well and good–I mean, I wouldn’t want to go back to the bad old days when the only award given out went to the worst insufferable know-it-all in the class. I like that there are more awardees these days, recognizing a diversity of contributors and achievements.

But I still can’t help wondering about the other kids, the other non-award-winners. The ones who, despite a modicum of achievement, can’t summon a positive attitude; the ones whose support systems are fraying, whose grip on mental or physical health may be precarious, or who just aren’t that into it, but who still put in the effort, come to school every day, and do the work. It’s damn hard to excel at something you dislike. But these kids do it.

I think most well-meaning adults would argue that attitude is a “choice” and if you’re not feeling it, you should just fake it until you make it. After all, it’s true that you don’t have to feel like doing something in order to get it done. And from an adult’s point of view, it’s certainly a lot easier to like and bestow favors upon a smiling kid than one who is angry, frustrated or withdrawn.

But faking it emotionally comes at a cost. Student stress, anxiety, and depression have reached alarming levels, even among those who appear to be comfortable, safe, and financially solvent. Students talk about the burden of “effortless perfection” that they feel is expected of them, especially at so-called top schools.

There are no easy answers to this dilemma. Students make these expectations of each other, and of themselves too. But I think that adults contribute to the problem when we make recognition all about the smile. I’d like to see, maybe just once during a 90-minute ceremony, a kid getting an award for completing something difficult and unpleasant, for dragging themselves out of bed and facing the inner demons for the 90th time that year, and not having fun doing it.

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Negative

I’ve been getting over jet lag since getting back to California from my European trip, and finding that 9 hours is pretty difficult to overcome. It’s harder than the 6 hour time difference that used to characterize my trips to Europe when I lived in the Boston area. There is also much less difference between going East and going West when I’ve got 9 or 10 hours to change. Now it is approaching the point where everything is just flipped, turned inside-out; day is night and night is day, and the most I can do to cope is to get some sun and exercise during the day, and wait it out.

Continue reading Negative

Yoga by the Lake

When I do yoga, it usually means that something is going on. Historically I associate yoga with transitions and with moves to new places. I went to a yoga class when I visited a lab in Michigan for a brief sabbatical during my postdoc. I also did it after breaking up with a long-term boyfriend and moving into my own apartment. I had a yoga VHS tape I used to do in the basement of my old house. And, I tend to do it on vacation, if there’s a class offered at the hotel where I’m staying or on the cruise ship. I’ve even done yoga in church: Sun Salutations as part of an RE class about Buddhism that barely scratched the surface, of either yoga or Buddhism.

Continue reading Yoga by the Lake

Nerve Growth Factors: A primer

In honor of Brain Awareness Week, I am writing about a topic I studied during my PhD in Neuroscience: growth factors, specifically nerve growth factors, also called “neurotrophins.” These are small proteins that help neurons to survive and make connections with each other. They do so by being made in one cell and binding to a protein called a receptor on the surface of another cell. Once the neurotrophin binds to its receptor, biochemical signals are activated inside the receiving cell that enable it to survive and grow. Continue reading Nerve Growth Factors: A primer