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Archive for June, 2012

UCLA researchers have discovered that a diet enriched with a popular omega-3 fatty acid and an ingredient in curry spice helps to preserve walking ability in rats that have experienced damage to their spinal cords.

The findings, published June 26 in the Journal of Neurosurgery: Spine, suggest that these dietary supplements help repair nerve cells and maintain neurological function after degenerative damage to the neck.

“Normal aging often narrows the spinal canal, putting pressure on the spinal cord and injuring tissue,” said principal investigator Dr. Langston Holly, associate professor of neurosurgery at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA. “While surgery can relieve the pressure and prevent further injury, it can’t repair damage to the cells and nerve fibers. We wanted to explore whether dietary supplementation could help the spinal cord heal itself.”

The UCLA team studied two groups of rats with a condition that simulated cervical myelopathy — a progressive disorder that often occurs in people with spine-weakening conditions like rheumatoid arthritis and osteoporosis. Cervical myelopathy can lead to disabling neurological symptoms, such as difficulty walking, neck and arm pain, hand numbness, and weakness of the limbs. It’s the most common cause of spine-related walking problems in people over 55.

The first group of animals was fed rat chow that replicated a Western diet high in saturated fats and sugar. The second group consumed a standard diet supplemented with docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and curcumin, a compound in the Indian curry spice turmeric. A third set of rats received a standard rat diet and served as a control group.

Why these supplements? DHA is an omega-3 fatty acid shown to repair damage to cell membranes. Curcumin is a strong antioxidant that previous studies have linked to tissue repair. Both reduce inflammation.

“The brain and spinal cord work together, and years of research demonstrate that supplements like DHA and curcumin can positively influence the brain,” said study co-author Fernando Gomez-Pinilla, a professor of neurosurgery at UCLA. “We suspected that what works in the brain may also work in the spinal cord. When we were unable to find good data to support our hypothesis, we decided to study it ourselves.”

The researchers recorded a baseline of the rats walking and re-examined the animals’ gait on a weekly basis. As early as three weeks, the rats eating the Western diet demonstrated measurable walking problems that worsened as the study progressed. Rats fed a diet enriched with DHA and curcumin walked significantly better than the first group even six weeks after the study’s start.

Next, the scientists examined the rats’ spinal cords to evaluate how diet affected their injury on a molecular level. They measured levels of three markers respectively linked to cell-membrane damage, neural repair and cellular communication.

The rats that ate the Western diet showed higher levels of the marker linked to cell-membrane damage. In contrast, the DHA and curcumin appeared to offset the injury’s effect in the second group, which displayed marker levels that were equivalent to the control group.

Levels of the markers linked to neural repair and cellular communication were significantly lower in the rats raised on the Western diet. Again, levels in the animals fed the supplemented diet appeared similar to those of the control group.

“DHA and curcumin appear to invoke several molecular mechanisms that preserved neurological function in the rats,” said Gomez-Pinilla. “This is an exciting first step toward understanding the role that diet plays in protecting the body from degenerative disease.”

“Our findings suggest that diet can help minimize disease-related changes and repair damage to the spinal cord,” Holly said. “We next want to look at other mechanisms involved in the cascade of events leading up to chronic spinal-cord injury. Our goal is to identify which stages will respond best to medical intervention and identify effective steps for slowing the disease process.”

Other co-authors included Dr. Donald Blaskiewicz, Aiguo Wu, Cameron Feng and Zhe Ying, all of UCLA. Their research was supported by grants from the National Institutes of Health (RO1 NS056413) and the Craig H. Neilsen Foundation.

via Curry spice, omega-3 fatty acid preserve walking ability following spinal-cord injury – UCLA Health and Medicine News.

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What was he thinking? Study turns to ape intellect.

Line blurs between man, animal: Monkeys do math, baboons seem to read, orangutans plan ahead

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In this sweeping review of psychological research, Dan Simon shows how flawed investigations can produce erroneous evidence and why well-meaning juries send innocent people to prison and set the guilty free.

via In Doubt — Dan Simon | Harvard University Press.

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Van Horn and his colleagues estimate that the rod destroyed about 4% of Gage’s cerebral cortex, and about 11% of the total white matter in the frontal lobe. According to their model, the accident damaged some of the major white matter tracts in left the frontal lobe, including the uncinate fasciculus, which connects parts of the frontal cortex to the limbic system, and the superior longitudinal fasciculus, which runs the entire length of the brain to connect all four lobes in each hemisphere to each other. It also damaged the frontal cortex connector hubs, localized regions that contain a high density of connections to other areas.

This would have disrupted global network organization, making the damage far more profound and widespread than previously thought.

via Phineas Gage’s connectome | Mo Costandi | Neurophilosophy blog | Science | guardian.co.uk.

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Two psychiatrists in the US have published some case studies that flesh out an idea that surfaced in 2008. In The Truman Show Delusion, brothers Joel and Ian Gold describe the stories of five psychiatric patients who recalled experiences similar to the 1998 film, in which Jim Carrey’s character Truman Burbank is the unwitting star of a carefully controlled reality show. Three of the patients referenced the film directly.

In 2005, Vaughan Bell, a clinical and research psychologist, wrote a paper about delusions involving the internet. Byrne remembers a patient who was convinced they had a microchip implanted in their head. “If you pick up a psychiatry textbook, they will say your patient thinks they’re Jesus, or the old ones would say Napoleon,” says Byrne. “They are just variations on a theme, and the themes are usually profound paranoid beliefs about being under surveillance, and at some level being special … a variation of a grandiose delusion. In the middle ages, someone might have thought they were a saint. It’s the same story, just a different setting.”

Is it reality? No, it’s Truman Show delusion | Science | The Guardian.

 

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Genetic Variants Build a Smarter Brain – ScienceNOW.

The researchers also found that some of the variants are associated with intelligence, in that individuals carrying them performed several points better on standardized IQ tests than others. The variants seem to amplify each other’s effects, so that possessing more than one provided a synergistic IQ boost, the team reports online today in the Journal of Neuroscience. “We found a whole range of genetic variants that affect the impact of other variants,” says Thompson, “and we are beginning to understand the guiding principles of these gene networks.”

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We’ve been throwing the smartest people on the planet at the problem of artificial intelligence since the 1960s, and all we have to show for it is the Roomba vacuum cleaner.

 

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