How playing an instrument benefits your brain

Recent research about the mental benefits of playing music has many applications, such as music therapy for people with emotional problems, or helping to treat the symptoms of stroke survivors and Alzheimer’s patients. But it is perhaps even more significant in how much it advances our understanding of mental function, revealing the inner rhythms and complex interplay that make up the amazing orchestra of our brain.
Did you know that every time musicians pick up their instruments, there are fireworks going off all over their brain? On the outside they may look calm and focused, reading the music and making the precise and practiced movements required. But inside their brains, there’s a party going on.

From the TED-Ed lesson How playing an instrument benefits your brain - Anita Collins

Animation by Sharon Colman Graham

Sleeping brains can process and respond to words

Talking in your sleep might be annoying, but listening may yet prove useful. Researchers have shown that sleeping brains not only recognise words, but can also categorize them and respond in a previously defined way. This could one day help us learn more efficiently.

Sleep appears to render most of us dead to the world, our senses temporarily suspended, but sleep researchers know this is a misleading impression.

For instance, a study published in 2012 showed that sleeping people can learn to associate specific sounds and smells. Other work has demonstrated that presenting sounds or smells during sleep boosts performance on memory tasks – providing the sensory cues were also present during the initial learning.

Cat or hat?

Now it seems the capabilities of sleeping brains stretch even further. A team led by Sid Kouider from the Ecole Normale Supérieur in Paris trained 18 volunteers to classify spoken words as either animal or object by pressing buttons with their right or left hand.

Brain activity was recorded using EEG, allowing the researchers to measure the telltale spikes in activity that indicate the volunteers were preparing to move one of their hands. Since each hand is controlled by the motor cortex on the opposite side of the brain, these brainwaves can be matched to the intended hand just by looking at which side of the motor cortex is active.

Once the volunteers had repeated the task enough times for the process to become automatic, they were taken to a bed in a dark room. Here, they were instructed to continue the task as they drifted off to sleep.

Once the EEG recording confirmed they were asleep, the researchers presented the volunteers with a new set of words. The volunteers brains’ continued to respond in the same way – preparing to make the movement appropriate to each word’s category, even though they were no longer moving

their hands. Fresh words were introduced to ensure that the volunteers were still analysing the words’ meanings rather than merely responding to learned associations.

Automatic for the people

"This opens the door to a lot of questions about how much linguistic processing happens during sleep," says Ken Paller at Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois, who is investigating whether it is possible to implant false memories during sleep. “That’s unexplored territory.”

Kouider suggests this unconscious processing is possible because the task can be automated in a way that bypasses the prefrontal cortex, a region known to be heavily suppressed during sleep. “When you sleep, some brain regions sleep, while others remain totally awake,” he says. “Sleep is much more local than previously believed.”

This hints at what the limitations of unconscious processing might be. The prefrontal cortex is critical for executive functions such as planning, problem-solving and task-switching. “When you have two tasks you have to switch between, I’m not sure you could do that [in your sleep],” says Kouider.

On waking, the volunteers weren’t able to recall any of the words they processed while asleep but Kouider’s group is now investigating whether the approach can be extended so that new information is retained. “If you have a learning procedure, if it’s automatized enough, and if it’s simple, you might be able to learn it even during sleep,” he says.

The team is also investigating more complex linguistic processing. “We’re now looking at whether you can process a full sentence while sleeping, and detect whether it’s meaningful or not,” he says. “Or whether you can even pull out information relevant to the sleeper from a mixture of voices.”

Journal reference: Current Biology, DOI: 10.1016/j.cub.2014.08.016

science-junkie:

Electrical Circuits Encode Your Reality
By Dwayne Godwin and Jorge Cham

science-junkie:

Electrical Circuits Encode Your Reality

By Dwayne Godwin and Jorge Cham

neuromorphogenesis:

Hacking The Brain

Abuse of these mind hacking drugs is one of the fastest growing problems of our generation. As long as doctors keep prescribing these harmful drugs to too many youngsters the problem will continue to grow. Although some children really do need these drugs to function regularly, my personal opinion is that the requirements and potency of these drugs should wait until the patient is of age – the same as tobacco or alcohol. The availability of these drugs to young Americans needs to diminish if the trend of usage wants to decrease.

- By AllTreatment

Why Do All My Friends Like the Same Music?
Your weekend was radical. Your friends loved your “Bitchin’ Summer 2014″ playlist, and together you drove around for hours, singing along. Later on, at the barbecue, you were nominated DJ. As the party progressed, you got a little bolder and threw on some deep cuts. A cute friend of a friend of a friend complimented your taste, and the two of you started talking about music. Before long the conversation drifted to other topics, and you two talked for hours.
Music has chemistry, both in maintaining friendships and helping us forge new ones. But science is still pretty far behind in understanding music’s power to create social bonds. “To this day, it hasn’t struck people that there must have been tremendous evolutionary pressure for music,” said Petr Janata, a psychologist who studies music and the brain at UC Davis. But this doesn’t mean we are completely without answers. Since at least the late ’80s, researchers have been studying how music affects peoples’ social lives.
A number of studies have used surveys and controlled experiments to confirm what seems pretty obvious: People express their identity through music. In one study, from 2007, researchers had strangers meet in a chat room with the only instruction being to learn about one another. After analyzing the transcripts, the researchers found the most common topic, by far, was musical preferences. Another study from 2003 (paywall) used a series of experiments to establish how people link their taste in musical genres to their personality characteristics. “There’s a lot of correlation between the type of music you like and your personality,” said Janata.
Other studies have found people readily make assumptions about someone else’s identity based solely on their musical preferences. Several studies asked people to describe personality aspects of fans of various music genres. It turns out there’s a lot of agreement about the various stereotypes of music fans. One study showed that many people described top 40 fans as outgoing. In another, most subjects agreed that heavy metal fans have bad moods. Yet another showed people believe classical music listeners as more likely to enjoy a glass of wine than a doobie.
These generalities don’t necessarily hold up for all places and all points in time. In a 1989 study (paywall) asking women and men to rate potential dates, heavy metal dudes rated pretty favorably among the ladies (this was the heyday of Mötley Crüe and The Scorpions, after all). The guys went for women who were into classical (no doubt a sign of classiness and intelligence). Place probably matters too: It’s hard to imagine much common ground in the public perception of a mariachi fan in Mexico versus one in Connecticut.
People project their personalities through music, and make assumptions about other peoples’ personalities based on their playlists. But, how does this equate to friendship and romance? Is it reasonable to assume that music is a shorthand for compatibility?
In 2011, a group of researchers set out to see exactly whether music actually had the power to draw people with the same values together. The researchers used pairs of college kids who had been randomly assigned as dorm room mates for around 1-2 months. They had each kid describe their musical tastes and fill out a survey to determine their values. Also, each subject was asked how much they liked their room mate, and to rate how similar their own values were with what they perceived were their room mate’s values. After controlling for factors like difference in age and study subject, the researchers found with compatible tastes in rock, hip hop, and other western musical genres tended to share similar values, and be more socially drawn to one another. (The study also included genres like K-pop, Chinese Opera, and movie soundtracks, none of which showed strong correlations with values or likability.)
Studies like these show strong indications that people use compatible musical tastes to help them choose their friends, but a lot more research is needed before we know for sure. But there’s no doubt that music is a powerful force in many people’s lives. Whether you turn it up loudly and sing along, wearing the music’s emotion like garlands of your own inner feelings, or just use it as nonintrusive background noise while you work, your choice of music may be telling the people around you more than you realize about your personality and values. Scientists still have a lot to learn about the role music plays in our social lives, Janata says. “It is something that engages the brain so strongly that the brain wants it and is willing to put energy into it, therefore it’s a significant phenomena to be understood.”

Why Do All My Friends Like the Same Music?

Your weekend was radical. Your friends loved your “Bitchin’ Summer 2014″ playlist, and together you drove around for hours, singing along. Later on, at the barbecue, you were nominated DJ. As the party progressed, you got a little bolder and threw on some deep cuts. A cute friend of a friend of a friend complimented your taste, and the two of you started talking about music. Before long the conversation drifted to other topics, and you two talked for hours.

Music has chemistry, both in maintaining friendships and helping us forge new ones. But science is still pretty far behind in understanding music’s power to create social bonds. “To this day, it hasn’t struck people that there must have been tremendous evolutionary pressure for music,” said Petr Janata, a psychologist who studies music and the brain at UC Davis. But this doesn’t mean we are completely without answers. Since at least the late ’80s, researchers have been studying how music affects peoples’ social lives.

A number of studies have used surveys and controlled experiments to confirm what seems pretty obvious: People express their identity through music. In one study, from 2007, researchers had strangers meet in a chat room with the only instruction being to learn about one another. After analyzing the transcripts, the researchers found the most common topic, by far, was musical preferences. Another study from 2003 (paywall) used a series of experiments to establish how people link their taste in musical genres to their personality characteristics. “There’s a lot of correlation between the type of music you like and your personality,” said Janata.

Other studies have found people readily make assumptions about someone else’s identity based solely on their musical preferences. Several studies asked people to describe personality aspects of fans of various music genres. It turns out there’s a lot of agreement about the various stereotypes of music fans. One study showed that many people described top 40 fans as outgoing. In another, most subjects agreed that heavy metal fans have bad moods. Yet another showed people believe classical music listeners as more likely to enjoy a glass of wine than a doobie.

These generalities don’t necessarily hold up for all places and all points in time. In a 1989 study (paywall) asking women and men to rate potential dates, heavy metal dudes rated pretty favorably among the ladies (this was the heyday of Mötley Crüe and The Scorpions, after all). The guys went for women who were into classical (no doubt a sign of classiness and intelligence). Place probably matters too: It’s hard to imagine much common ground in the public perception of a mariachi fan in Mexico versus one in Connecticut.

People project their personalities through music, and make assumptions about other peoples’ personalities based on their playlists. But, how does this equate to friendship and romance? Is it reasonable to assume that music is a shorthand for compatibility?

In 2011, a group of researchers set out to see exactly whether music actually had the power to draw people with the same values together. The researchers used pairs of college kids who had been randomly assigned as dorm room mates for around 1-2 months. They had each kid describe their musical tastes and fill out a survey to determine their values. Also, each subject was asked how much they liked their room mate, and to rate how similar their own values were with what they perceived were their room mate’s values. After controlling for factors like difference in age and study subject, the researchers found with compatible tastes in rock, hip hop, and other western musical genres tended to share similar values, and be more socially drawn to one another. (The study also included genres like K-pop, Chinese Opera, and movie soundtracks, none of which showed strong correlations with values or likability.)

Studies like these show strong indications that people use compatible musical tastes to help them choose their friends, but a lot more research is needed before we know for sure. But there’s no doubt that music is a powerful force in many people’s lives. Whether you turn it up loudly and sing along, wearing the music’s emotion like garlands of your own inner feelings, or just use it as nonintrusive background noise while you work, your choice of music may be telling the people around you more than you realize about your personality and values. Scientists still have a lot to learn about the role music plays in our social lives, Janata says. “It is something that engages the brain so strongly that the brain wants it and is willing to put energy into it, therefore it’s a significant phenomena to be understood.”

we-are-star-stuff:

Why do we have blood types?
More than a century after their discovery, we still don’t know what blood groups like O, A and B are for. Do they really matter? Carl Zimmer investigates.

When my parents informed me that my blood type was A+, I felt a strange sense of pride. If A+ was the top grade in school, then surely A+ was also the most excellent of blood types – a biological mark of distinction.
It didn’t take long for me to recognise just how silly that feeling was and tamp it down. But I didn’t learn much more about what it really meant to have type A+ blood. By the time I was an adult, all I really knew was that if I should end up in a hospital in need of blood, the doctors there would need to make sure they transfused me with a suitable type.
And yet there remained some nagging questions. Why do 40% of Caucasians have type A blood, while only 27% of Asians do? Where do different blood types come from, and what do they do? To get some answers, I went to the experts – to haematologists, geneticists, evolutionary biologists, virologists and nutrition scientists.
In 1900 the Austrian physician Karl Landsteiner first discovered blood types, winning the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for his research in 1930. Since then scientists have developed ever more powerful tools for probing the biology of blood types. They’ve found some intriguing clues about them – tracing their deep ancestry, for example, and detecting influences of blood types on our health. And yet I found that in many ways blood types remain strangely mysterious. Scientists have yet to come up with a good explanation for their very existence.
Transfusion confusion
My knowledge that I’m type A comes to me thanks to one of the greatest discoveries in the history of medicine. Because doctors are aware of blood types, they can save lives by transfusing blood into patients. But for most of history, the notion of putting blood from one person into another was a feverish dream.
Renaissance doctors mused about what would happen if they put blood into the veins of their patients. Some thought that it could be a treatment for all manner of ailments, even insanity. Finally, in the 1600s, a few doctors tested out the idea, with disastrous results. A French doctor injected calf’s blood into a madman, who promptly started to sweat and vomit and produce urine the colour of chimney soot. After another transfusion the man died.
Such calamities gave transfusions a bad reputation for 150 years. Even in the 19th Century only a few doctors dared try out the procedure. One of them was a British physician named James Blundell. Like other physicians of his day, he watched many of his female patients die from bleeding during childbirth. After the death of one patient in 1817, he found he couldn’t resign himself to the way things were.
“I could not forbear considering, that the patient might very probably have been saved by transfusion” he later wrote.

[Continue Reading →]

we-are-star-stuff:

Why do we have blood types?

More than a century after their discovery, we still don’t know what blood groups like O, A and B are for. Do they really matter? Carl Zimmer investigates.

When my parents informed me that my blood type was A+, I felt a strange sense of pride. If A+ was the top grade in school, then surely A+ was also the most excellent of blood types – a biological mark of distinction.

It didn’t take long for me to recognise just how silly that feeling was and tamp it down. But I didn’t learn much more about what it really meant to have type A+ blood. By the time I was an adult, all I really knew was that if I should end up in a hospital in need of blood, the doctors there would need to make sure they transfused me with a suitable type.

And yet there remained some nagging questions. Why do 40% of Caucasians have type A blood, while only 27% of Asians do? Where do different blood types come from, and what do they do? To get some answers, I went to the experts – to haematologists, geneticists, evolutionary biologists, virologists and nutrition scientists.

In 1900 the Austrian physician Karl Landsteiner first discovered blood types, winning the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for his research in 1930. Since then scientists have developed ever more powerful tools for probing the biology of blood types. They’ve found some intriguing clues about them – tracing their deep ancestry, for example, and detecting influences of blood types on our health. And yet I found that in many ways blood types remain strangely mysterious. Scientists have yet to come up with a good explanation for their very existence.

Transfusion confusion

My knowledge that I’m type A comes to me thanks to one of the greatest discoveries in the history of medicine. Because doctors are aware of blood types, they can save lives by transfusing blood into patients. But for most of history, the notion of putting blood from one person into another was a feverish dream.

Renaissance doctors mused about what would happen if they put blood into the veins of their patients. Some thought that it could be a treatment for all manner of ailments, even insanity. Finally, in the 1600s, a few doctors tested out the idea, with disastrous results. A French doctor injected calf’s blood into a madman, who promptly started to sweat and vomit and produce urine the colour of chimney soot. After another transfusion the man died.

Such calamities gave transfusions a bad reputation for 150 years. Even in the 19th Century only a few doctors dared try out the procedure. One of them was a British physician named James Blundell. Like other physicians of his day, he watched many of his female patients die from bleeding during childbirth. After the death of one patient in 1817, he found he couldn’t resign himself to the way things were.

“I could not forbear considering, that the patient might very probably have been saved by transfusion” he later wrote.

[Continue Reading →]

No sedative necessary: Scientists discover new “sleep node” in the brain

A sleep-promoting circuit located deep in the primitive brainstem has revealed how we fall into deep sleep. Discovered by researchers at Harvard School of Medicine and the University at Buffalo School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences, this is only the second “sleep node” identified in the mammalian brain whose activity appears to be both necessary and sufficient to produce deep sleep.

Published online in Nature Neuroscience, the study demonstrates that fully half of all of the brain’s sleep-promoting activity originates from the parafacial zone (PZ) in the brainstem. The brainstem is a primordial part of the brain that regulates basic functions necessary for survival, such as breathing, blood pressure, heart rate and body temperature.

“The close association of a sleep center with other regions that are critical for life highlights the evolutionary importance of sleep in the brain,” says Caroline E. Bass, assistant professor of Pharmacology and Toxicology in the UB School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences and a co-author on the paper.

The researchers found that a specific type of neuron in the PZ that makes the neurotransmitter gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) is responsible for deep sleep. They used a set of innovative tools to precisely control these neurons remotely, in essence giving them the ability to turn the neurons on and off at will.

 “These new molecular approaches allow unprecedented control over brain function at the cellular level,” says Christelle Ancelet, postdoctoral fellow at Harvard School of Medicine. “Before these tools were developed, we often used ‘electrical stimulation’ to activate a region, but the problem is that doing so stimulates everything the electrode touches and even surrounding areas it didn’t. It was a sledgehammer approach, when what we needed was a scalpel.”

“To get the precision required for these experiments, we introduced a virus into the PZ that expressed a ‘designer’ receptor on GABA neurons only but didn’t otherwise alter brain function,” explains Patrick Fuller, assistant professor at Harvard and senior author on the paper. “When we turned on the GABA neurons in the PZ, the animals quickly fell into a deep sleep without the use of sedatives or sleep aids.”

How these neurons interact in the brain with other sleep and wake-promoting brain regions still need to be studied, the researchers say, but eventually these findings may translate into new medications for treating sleep disorders, including insomnia, and the development of better and safer anesthetics.

“We are at a truly transformative point in neuroscience,” says Bass, “where the use of designer genes gives us unprecedented ability to control the brain. We can now answer fundamental questions of brain function, which have traditionally been beyond our reach, including the ‘why’ of sleep, one of the more enduring mysteries in the neurosciences.”

neuromorphogenesis:

Can your blood type affect your memory?

People with blood type AB may be more likely to develop memory loss in later years than people with other blood types, according to a study published in the September 10, 2014, online issue of Neurology®, the medical journal of the American Academy of Neurology. 

AB is the least common blood type, found in about 4 percent of the U.S. population. The study found that people with AB blood were 82 percent more likely to develop the thinking and memory problems that can lead to dementia than people with other blood types. Previous studies have shown that people with type O blood have a lower risk of heart disease and stroke, factors that can increase the risk of memory loss and dementia.

The study was part of a larger study (the REasons for Geographic And Racial Differences in Stroke, or REGARDS Study) of more than 30,000 people followed for an average of 3.4 years. In those who had no memory or thinking problems at the beginning, the study identified 495 participants who developed thinking and memory problems, or cognitive impairment, during the study. They were compared to 587 people with no cognitive problems.

People with AB blood type made up 6 percent of the group who developed cognitive impairment, which is higher than the 4 percent found in the population.

"Our study looks at blood type and risk of cognitive impairment, but several studies have shown that factors such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol and diabetes increase the risk of cognitive impairment and dementia," said study author Mary Cushman, MD, MSc, of the University of Vermont College of Medicine in Burlington. "Blood type is also related to other vascular conditions like stroke, so the findings highlight the connections between vascular issues and brain health. More research is needed to confirm these results."

Researchers also looked at blood levels of factor VIII, a protein that helps blood to clot. High levels of factor VIII are related to higher risk of cognitive impairment and dementia. People in this study with higher levels of factor VIII were 24 percent more likely to develop thinking and memory problems than people with lower levels of the protein. People with AB blood had a higher average level of factor VIII than people with other blood types.

science-junkie:

Why do we bite our nails?By Tom Stafford
[…]Given this lack of prior scientific treatment, I feel free to speculate for myself. So, here is my theory on why people bite their nails, and how to treat it.
Let’s call it the ‘anti-theory’ theory. I propose that there is no special cause of nail biting – not breastfeeding, chronic anxiety or a lack of motherly love. The advantage of this move is that we don’t need to find a particular connection between me, Gordon, Jackie and Britney. Rather, I suggest, nail biting is just the result of a number of factors which – due to random variation – combine in some people to create a bad habit.
First off, there is the fact that putting your fingers in your mouth is an easy thing to do. It is one of the basic functions for feeding and grooming, and so it is controlled by some pretty fundamental brain circuitry, meaning it can quickly develop into an automatic reaction. Added to this, there is a ‘tidying up’ element to nail biting – keeping them short – which means in the short term at least it can be pleasurable, even if the bigger picture is that you end up tearing your fingers to shreds. This reward element, combined with the ease with which the behaviour can be carried out, means that it is easy for a habit to develop; apart from touching yourself in the genitals it is hard to think of a more immediate way to give yourself a small moment of pleasure, and biting your nails has the advantage of being OK at school. Once established, the habit can become routine – there are many situations in everyone’s daily life where you have both your hands and your mouth available to use.
Understanding nail-biting as a habit has a bleak message for a cure, unfortunately, since we know how hard bad habits can be to break. Most people, at least once per day, will lose concentration on not biting their nails.
Nail-biting, in my view, isn’t some revealing personality characteristic, nor a maladaptive echo of some useful evolutionary behaviour. It is the product of the shape of our bodies, how hand-to-mouth behaviour is built into (and rewarded in) our brains and the psychology of habit.
And, yes, I did bite my nails while writing this column. Sometimes even a good theory doesn’t help.

Read the full article

science-junkie:

Why do we bite our nails?
By Tom Stafford

[…]Given this lack of prior scientific treatment, I feel free to speculate for myself. So, here is my theory on why people bite their nails, and how to treat it.

Let’s call it the ‘anti-theory’ theory. I propose that there is no special cause of nail biting – not breastfeeding, chronic anxiety or a lack of motherly love. The advantage of this move is that we don’t need to find a particular connection between me, GordonJackie and Britney. Rather, I suggest, nail biting is just the result of a number of factors which – due to random variation – combine in some people to create a bad habit.

First off, there is the fact that putting your fingers in your mouth is an easy thing to do. It is one of the basic functions for feeding and grooming, and so it is controlled by some pretty fundamental brain circuitry, meaning it can quickly develop into an automatic reaction. Added to this, there is a ‘tidying up’ element to nail biting – keeping them short – which means in the short term at least it can be pleasurable, even if the bigger picture is that you end up tearing your fingers to shreds. This reward element, combined with the ease with which the behaviour can be carried out, means that it is easy for a habit to develop; apart from touching yourself in the genitals it is hard to think of a more immediate way to give yourself a small moment of pleasure, and biting your nails has the advantage of being OK at school. Once established, the habit can become routine – there are many situations in everyone’s daily life where you have both your hands and your mouth available to use.

Understanding nail-biting as a habit has a bleak message for a cure, unfortunately, since we know how hard bad habits can be to break. Most people, at least once per day, will lose concentration on not biting their nails.

Nail-biting, in my view, isn’t some revealing personality characteristic, nor a maladaptive echo of some useful evolutionary behaviour. It is the product of the shape of our bodies, how hand-to-mouth behaviour is built into (and rewarded in) our brains and the psychology of habit.

And, yes, I did bite my nails while writing this column. Sometimes even a good theory doesn’t help.

Read the full article


Surgical operation, 1910 
Surgical operation, 1910 

(Source: dropboxofcuriosities)

neuromorphogenesis:

Dream On: Why Sleep is So Important 

This infographic showcases some studies on just how dangerous—and costly—sacrificing sleep can be, and it concludes with some facts on how you can try and improve your sleep quality if it’s something you struggle with. 

by  JASON (FRUGAL DAD)

Schizophrenia not a single disease but multiple genetically distinct disorders

About 80 percent of the risk for schizophrenia is known to be inherited, but scientists have struggled to identify specific genes for the condition. Now, in a novel approach analyzing genetic influences on more than 4,000 people with schizophrenia, the research team has identified distinct gene clusters that contribute to eight different classes of schizophrenia.

“Genes don’t operate by themselves,” said C. Robert Cloninger, MD, PhD, one of the study’s senior investigators. “They function in concert much like an orchestra, and to understand how they’re working, you have to know not just who the members of the orchestra are but how they interact.” 

Cloninger, the Wallace Renard Professor of Psychiatry and Genetics, and his colleagues matched precise DNA variations in people with and without schizophrenia to symptoms in individual patients. In all, the researchers analyzed nearly 700,000 sites within the genome where a single unit of DNA is changed, often referred to as a single nucleotide polymorphism (SNP). They looked at SNPs in 4,200 people with schizophrenia and 3,800 healthy controls, learning how individual genetic variations interacted with each other to produce the illness. 

In some patients with hallucinations or delusions, for example, the researchers matched distinct genetic features to patients’ symptoms, demonstrating that specific genetic variations interacted to create a 95 percent certainty of schizophrenia. In another group, they found that disorganized speech and behavior were specifically associated with a set of DNA variations that carried a 100 percent risk of schizophrenia.

“What we’ve done here, after a decade of frustration in the field of psychiatric genetics, is identify the way genes interact with each other, how the ‘orchestra’ is either harmonious and leads to health, or disorganized in ways that lead to distinct classes of schizophrenia,” Cloninger said. 

Although individual genes have only weak and inconsistent associations with schizophrenia, groups of interacting gene clusters create an extremely high and consistent risk of illness, on the order of 70 to 100 percent. That makes it almost impossible for people with those genetic variations to avoid the condition. In all, the researchers identified 42 clusters of genetic variations that dramatically increased the risk of schizophrenia.

 “In the past, scientists had been looking for associations between individual genes and schizophrenia,” explained Dragan Svrakic, PhD, MD, a co-investigator and a professor of psychiatry at Washington University. “When one study would identify an association, no one else could replicate it. What was missing was the idea that these genes don’t act independently. They work in concert to disrupt the brain’s structure and function, and that results in the illness.”

Svrakic said it was only when the research team was able to organize the genetic variations and the patients’ symptoms into groups that they could see that particular clusters of DNA variations acted together to cause specific types of symptoms.

Then they divided patients according to the type and severity of their symptoms, such as different types of hallucinations or delusions, and other symptoms, such as lack of initiative, problems organizing thoughts or a lack of connection between emotions and thoughts. The results indicated that those symptom profiles describe eight qualitatively distinct disorders based on underlying genetic conditions. 

The investigators also replicated their findings in two additional DNA databases of people with schizophrenia, an indicator that identifying the gene variations that are working together is a valid avenue to explore for improving diagnosis and treatment. 

By identifying groups of genetic variations and matching them to symptoms in individual patients, it soon may be possible to target treatments to specific pathways that cause problems, according to co-investigator Igor Zwir, PhD, research associate in psychiatry at Washington University and associate professor in the Department of Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence at the University of Granada, Spain.

And Cloninger added it may be possible to use the same approach to better understand how genes work together to cause other common but complex disorders.

“People have been looking at genes to get a better handle on heart disease, hypertension and diabetes, and it’s been a real disappointment,” he said. “Most of the variability in the severity of disease has not been explained, but we were able to find that different sets of genetic variations were leading to distinct clinical syndromes. So I think this really could change the way people approach understanding the causes of complex diseases.”

Hacking The Brain

Abuse of these mind hacking drugs is one of the fastest growing problems of our generation. As long as doctors keep prescribing these harmful drugs to too many youngsters the problem will continue to grow. Although some children really do need these drugs to function regularly, my personal opinion is that the requirements and potency of these drugs should wait until the patient is of age – the same as tobacco or alcohol. The availability of these drugs to young Americans needs to diminish if the trend of usage wants to decrease.

- By AllTreatment

Has it ever struck you … that life is all memory, except for the one present moment that goes by you so quickly you hardly catch it going? It’s really all memory … except for each passing moment.

Eric Kandel, “In Search of Memory: The Emergence of a New Science of Mind” (via neuromorphogenesis)

Can your blood type affect your memory?

People with blood type AB may be more likely to develop memory loss in later years than people with other blood types, according to a study published in the September 10, 2014, online issue of Neurology®, the medical journal of the American Academy of Neurology. 

AB is the least common blood type, found in about 4 percent of the U.S. population. The study found that people with AB blood were 82 percent more likely to develop the thinking and memory problems that can lead to dementia than people with other blood types. Previous studies have shown that people with type O blood have a lower risk of heart disease and stroke, factors that can increase the risk of memory loss and dementia.

The study was part of a larger study (the REasons for Geographic And Racial Differences in Stroke, or REGARDS Study) of more than 30,000 people followed for an average of 3.4 years. In those who had no memory or thinking problems at the beginning, the study identified 495 participants who developed thinking and memory problems, or cognitive impairment, during the study. They were compared to 587 people with no cognitive problems.

People with AB blood type made up 6 percent of the group who developed cognitive impairment, which is higher than the 4 percent found in the population.

"Our study looks at blood type and risk of cognitive impairment, but several studies have shown that factors such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol and diabetes increase the risk of cognitive impairment and dementia," said study author Mary Cushman, MD, MSc, of the University of Vermont College of Medicine in Burlington. "Blood type is also related to other vascular conditions like stroke, so the findings highlight the connections between vascular issues and brain health. More research is needed to confirm these results."

Researchers also looked at blood levels of factor VIII, a protein that helps blood to clot. High levels of factor VIII are related to higher risk of cognitive impairment and dementia. People in this study with higher levels of factor VIII were 24 percent more likely to develop thinking and memory problems than people with lower levels of the protein. People with AB blood had a higher average level of factor VIII than people with other blood types.