Posts Tagged ‘ brain development ’

How Learning in Adolescence May Help Keep Brain Cells Alive

Wednesday, May 28th, 2014

Kids who use their brains may be helping their brain cells survive, which could impact how their brains function after puberty, according to a recently published study in Frontiers inNeuroscience. Rutgers behavioral and systems neuroscientist Tracey Shors, who co-authored the study, says the ensuring students learn at the right level is crucial. More from ScienceDaily:

Shors found that the newborn brain cells in young rats that were successful at learning survived while the same brain cells in animals that didn’t master the task died quickly.

“In those that didn’t learn, three weeks after the new brain cells were made, nearly one-half of them were no longer there,” said Shors, professor in the Department of Psychology and Center for Collaborative Neuroscience at Rutgers. “But in those that learned, it was hard to count. There were so many that were still alive.”

The study is important, Shors says, because it suggests that the massive proliferation of new brain cells most likely helps young animals leave the protectiveness of their mothers and face dangers, challenges and opportunities of adulthood.

Scientists have known for years that the neurons in adult rats, which are significant but fewer in numbers than during puberty, could be saved with learning, but they did not know if this would be the case for young rats that produce two to four times more neurons than adult animals.

By examining the hippocampus — a portion of the brain associated with the process of learning — after the rats learned to associate a sound with a motor response, scientists found that the new brain cells injected with dye a few weeks earlier were still alive in those that had learned the task while the cells in those who had failed did not survive.

“It’s not that learning makes more cells,” says Shors. “It’s that the process of learning keeps new cells alive that are already present at the time of the learning experience.”

Since the process of producing new brain cells on a cellular level is similar in animals, including humans, Shors says ensuring that adolescent children learn at optimal levels is critical.

“What it has shown me, especially as an educator, is how difficult it is to achieve optimal learning for our students. You don’t want the material to be too easy to learn and yet still have it too difficult where the student doesn’t learn and gives up,” Shors says.

So, what does this mean for the 12-year-old adolescent boy or girl?

While scientists can’t measure individual brain cells in humans, Shors says this study, on the cellular level, provides a look at what is happening in the adolescent brain and provides a window into the amazing ability the brain has to reorganize itself and form new neural connections at such a transformational time in our lives.

“Adolescents are trying to figure out who they are now, who they want to be when they grow up and are at school in a learning environment all day long,” says Shors. “The brain has to have a lot of strength to respond to all those experiences.”

 Find out what career you child will have and shop educational toys for kids. 

What Kids Like (And Don't Like) About School
What Kids Like (And Don't Like) About School
What Kids Like (And Don't Like) About School

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Do Mobile Phones Affect Teens’ Brains? Study Will Find Out

Wednesday, May 21st, 2014

A new study by British researchers will be the largest-ever to examine whether chronic use of mobile phones and other wireless devices affects kids’ and teenagers’ brain development.  Reuters has more:

The Study of Cognition, Adolescents and Mobile Phones, or SCAMP, project will focus on cognitive functions such as memory and attention, which continue to develop into adolescence – just the age when teenagers start to own and use personal phones.

While there is no convincing evidence that radio waves from mobile phones affect health, to date most scientific research has focused on adults and the potential risk of brain cancers.

Because of that, scientists are uncertain as to whether children’s developing brains may be more vulnerable than adults’ brains – partly because their nervous systems are still developing, and partly because they are likely to have a higher cumulative exposure over their lifetimes.

“Scientific evidence available to date is reassuring and shows no association between exposure to radiofrequency waves from mobile phone use and brain cancer in adults in the short term – i.e. less than 10 years of use,” said Paul Elliott, director of the Centre for Environment and Health at Imperial College London, who will co-lead the research.

“But the evidence available regarding long term heavy use and children’s use is limited and less clear.”

Mobile phone use is ubiquitous, with the World Health Organisation estimating 4.6 billion subscriptions globally. In Britain, some 70 percent of 11 to 12 year-olds now own a mobile phone, and that figure rises to 90 percent by age 14.

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Digital Devices and Children
Digital Devices and Children
Digital Devices and Children

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Smoking May Alter Teens’ Brain Structure

Tuesday, March 4th, 2014

Teens who smoke cigarettes–even those who don’t smoke “heavily,” can quickly alter their brain structure in ways that were previously thought to be reserved for long-time smokers.  These are the findings of a new study published in the journal Neuropsychopharmacology, which found that smoking one pack of cigarettes or less each day can lead to brain patterns that lock people into dependence on nicotine.  More from Time.com:

[Edythe] London and her colleagues focused on a brain region called the insula, since previous studies in animal and adults showed that its size and volume were affected by smoking. Of the regions in the cortical, or memory, awareness and language parts of the brain, the insula contains the most receptors for nicotine. The region is responsible for decision-making and helping to establish a person’s conscious awareness of his internal state. In studies of stroke patients, smokers who lost function of the right insula in the stroke quit smoking, and reported feeling no cravings for nicotine. And in earlier studies London’s team conducted, they found a strong relationship between how much smokers who watched videos of people smoking experienced cravings for cigarettes and the activity of the insula, which lit up on PET scans.

When London’s team looked at the brains of the 18 smoking teens and 24 non-smoking adolescents, aged 16 to 21 years, using structural MRI, they found no differences overall in the insula region. But a closer examination revealed that the right insula of the smokers was thinner than those of the nonsmokers.

“The brain is still undergoing development when someone is in their late teens,” she says. “It’s possible that smoking during this period could have effects that could alter tobacco dependence later in life, and that the insult could alter the trajectory of brain development.”

While the study doesn’t establish whether the differences in the insula can lead to smoking, or is the result of smoking, London says it highlights the role that the brain region may play in how people respond to nicotine and cigarettes. “I think this is very exciting because it points to a vulnerability, a potential vulnerability factor either to become nicotine dependent or for the effects of smoking to ultimately alter the trajectory of brain development,” she says. That trajectory could affect not only smoking behavior but decision-making in general, since the insula is important in such assessments.

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Hormone Oxytocin May Hold Hope as Autism Therapy

Wednesday, December 4th, 2013

The hormone oxytocin may help the social brain functioning of children with autism spectrum disorders (ASD), a new Yale University study has found.  More from The Boston Globe:

Years of research has revealed the potent effects of oxytocin, a hormone that is naturally released during childbirth and has been nicknamed the “love hormone” for the role it appears to play in pair bonding, whether between couples or mother and baby. Then researchers began to administer the hormone to people in non-romantic situations, to see whether it would change their behavior.

The results were intriguing, suggesting that it helped increase cooperation and trust. As the hormone’s ability to enhance social responses was replicated in other studies, researchers began to wonder whether oxytocin might be helpful for people with autism spectrum disorders, which are characterized by impaired social functioning.

In the new work, published Monday in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, the Yale researchers measured what happened in the brains of 17 children with autism spectrum disorder when they inhaled the hormone or a placebo, and were then directed to perform tasks in a brain scanner that used functional MRI technology. One task was designed to use the social parts of the brain—the children were asked to intuit the emotion a person was experiencing by looking at a photo of their eyes. In another, they were simply asked to identify a vehicle.

What the researchers found was that a single spray of the hormone increased functioning in the social parts of the brain when the children were confronted with the eye-reading task, while the activity in those areas decreased during the vehicle-naming task. Their performance on the task was not different, but researchers think the brain signals indicate that oxytocin made the social stimuli more relevant and rewarding.

“What’s happening in the brain, we think, is that oxytocin is improving how well we are tuning in to social stimuli, to a social world,” said Ilanit Gordon, an experimental psychologist who did the work at the Yale Child Study Center and is now an assistant professor at Bar-Ilan University in Israel.

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Exercise During Pregnancy May Boost Baby’s Brain

Friday, November 22nd, 2013

Women who get regular physical exercise during pregnancy may be doing their babies a favor by boosting their brain activity as well as their cardiovascular development.  More on a new study by Canadian researchers from The New York Times:

It has long been suspected that a mother-to-be’s activity — or lack of it — affects her unborn offspring, which is not surprising, given how their physiologies intertwine. Past studies have shown, for example, that a baby’s heart rate typically rises in unison with his or her exercising mother’s, as if the child were also working out. As a result, scientists believe, babies born to active mothers tend to have more robust cardiovascular systems from an early age than babies born to mothers who are more sedentary.

Whether gestational exercise similarly shapes an unborn child’s developing brain has been harder to quantify, although recent studies have been suggestive. An experiment presented this month at the Society for Neuroscience’s annual meeting in San Diego, for instance, reported that pregnant rats allowed to run on wheels throughout their pregnancies birthed pups that performed more dexterously in early childhood on a tricky memory test — having to identify unfamiliar objects in a familiar environment — than pups born to sedentary moms. These clever rats retained their cognitive advantage into adulthood (meaning, for rats, weeks later).

But this and similar experiments have involved animals, rather than people. Many of these studies also began comparing the creatures’ cognitive abilities when they were old enough to move about and respond to their world, by which time they potentially might have been shaped as much by their environment as by their time in the womb.

So to minimize these concerns, researchers at the University of Montreal in Canada recently recruited a group of local women who were in their first trimester of pregnancy. At that point, the women were almost identical in terms of lifestyle. All were healthy, young adults. None were athletes. Few had exercised regularly in the past, and none had exercised more than a day or two per week in the past year.

Then the women were randomized either to begin an exercise program, commencing in their second trimester, or to remain sedentary. The women in the exercise group were asked to work out for at least 20 minutes, three times a week, at a moderate intensity, equivalent to about a six or so on a scale of exertion from one to 10. Most of the women walked or jogged.

Every month, for the remainder of each woman’s pregnancy, she would visit the university’s exercise lab, so researchers could monitor her fitness. All of the volunteers, including those in the nonexercise group, also maintained daily activity logs.

After about six months and following the dictates of nature, the women gave birth. All, thankfully, had healthy boys or girls — which the scientists gently requested that the mothers almost immediately bring in for testing.

Within 12 days of birth, in fact, each of the newborns accompanied his or her mother to the lab. There, each baby was fitted with an adorable little cap containing electrodes that monitor electrical activity in the brain, settled in his or her mother’s lap, and soothed to sleep. Researchers then started a sound loop featuring a variety of low, soft sounds that recurred frequently, interspersed occasionally with more jarring, unfamiliar noises, while the baby’s brain activity was recorded.

“We know that baby’s brains respond to these kinds of sounds with a spike” in certain types of brain activity, said Elise Labonte-LeMoyne, a Ph.D. candidate at the University of Montreal, who led the study and also presented her findings at the Society for Neuroscience annual meeting. This spike is most pronounced in immature brains, she continued, and diminishes as a newborn’s brain develops and begins processing information more efficiently. “It usually disappears altogether by the time a baby is 4 months old,” she said,

In this case, the relevant brainwave activity soared in response to the novel sounds among the children born to mothers who had remained sedentary during pregnancy. But it was noticeably blunted in the babies whose mothers had exercised. In essence, “their brains were more mature,” Ms. Labonte-LeMoyne said.

Pregnancy Workouts: Easy Beginner Exercises
Pregnancy Workouts: Easy Beginner Exercises
Pregnancy Workouts: Easy Beginner Exercises

 

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