BRAIN and BEHAVIOR INITIATIVE WEEKLY DIGEST

October 21, 2019


Please RSVP for Seed Symposium!

Please take a moment to let BBI know your plans to attend the 3rd Annual Seed Grant Symposium on November 19. We appreciate it!

News

As people age, the expression pattern of genes in their brains alters in a non-random way such that the young and the elderly can be distinguished by their transcription signatures. Of course, all elderly people are not the same—some are healthy, some less so—and researchers were interested in whether certain expression signatures correlated with such differences. Ultimately, the team found that people who lived longer tended to have fewer transcripts for genes involved in neural excitation and synaptic function than those who died younger. In a worm model, suppressing this natural age-related increase in neuronal excitation lengthened the lives of the worms.
Researchers know that pain is not static and that it can be modulated by several factors. Early research showed that the central amygdala, long known for its role in processing fear, can dial up pain signals. At the same time, other studies have pointed to the central amygdala’s role in suppressing pain, or prompting an analgesic response. Now, a new study unravels this seeming contradiction by revealing a previously hidden "switch" in the central amygdala that can turn up or turn down pain signals. The switch acts more like a pain rheostat, similar to a home thermostat that modulates temperature.
To ensure NIH keeps pace with rapid technological development and help clinicians and researchers ethically fit these new tools into practice, a paper recently published in JAMA Neurology highlights potential issues around and offers recommendations about clinical research with both invasive and noninvasive neural devices. The paper discusses three main areas of ethical challenges related to neural devices: weighing the risks and benefits involved in clinical experimentation, the importance of informed consent, and the responsibilities researchers, manufacturers, and funders have to the research participants once a trial has ended.
Blood capillaries in the brain are not permeable to many drugs and the majority are excluded from the brain by a protective barrier, called the blood-brain-barrier (BBB), and current treatment options are risky. Some viruses, however, have found ways to bypass the BBB and enter the brain. To treat certain neurological and neurodegenerative diseases, medication has to use modified viruses to bypass this barrier and deliver drugs to the area. Scientists have now engineered small particles, similar to the size of viruses, from a peptide that can behave like a carrier to the brain and can be packed with drugs for intravenous injection.
The first segment on this week’s Science podcast addresses attempts to uncover the biological basis of consciousness. Where does consciousness come from? Do animals have it? Can we detect it in patients in comas? Where in the brain should neuroscientists even look? A new competition aims to narrow down the bewildering number of theories of consciousness and get closer to finding its biological signs by pitting different theories against each other in experimental settings.
Sending a mouse through a maze can tell you a lot about how its brain learns. But what if you could change the size and structure of its brain at will to study what makes different behaviors possible? This Q&A explores one model for doing just that with two researchers interested in "robopsychology." They are running versions of classic psychology experiments on robots equipped with artificial intelligence: laptop-sized robotic rovers move and sense the environment through a camera while being guided by computers that are running neural networks--that is, models bearing resemblance to the human brain.
Researchers have, for the first time, demonstrated simultaneous control of two of the world’s most advanced prosthetic limbs through a brain-machine interface and bilateral implant. The team is also developing strategies for providing sensory feedback for both hands at the same time using neural stimulation; they want to enable a patient with quadriplegia to use a direct neural interface to simultaneously control two assistive devices and, at the same time, feel touch sensation when the devices make contact with objects in the environment. The experiment has significant implications for restoring capabilities to patients with high spinal cord injuries and neuromuscular diseases.
Over the last decade, scientists have amassed evidence for a hypothesis that patients experience a period of hyperactivity and hyperconnectivity in the brain prior to developing full-blown Alzheimer’s disease. People with conditions that often precede Alzheimer’s appear to have higher brain activity levels than their age-matched counterparts. Now, analysis of new imaging data reveals that, compared with controls, young carriers of APOE4 allele display greater activity in several regions in the right side of the brain, including parts of what’s known as the default mode network, which is active when a person is not focused on a specific task. A similar set of brain regions showed an overall increase in connectivity as well.
Using advanced imaging, researchers have uncovered new information regarding traumatic microbleeds, which appear as small, dark lesions on MRI scans after head injury but are typically too small to be detected on CT scans. The findings suggest that traumatic microbleeds are a form of injury to brain blood vessels and may predict worse outcomes. The study included 439 adults who experienced head injury and were treated in the emergency department. The subjects underwent MRI scans within 48 hours of injury, and again during four subsequent visits. Participants also completed behavioral and outcome questionnaires. The patients with microbleeds were more likely to have a greater level of disability compared to patients without microbleeds.
Brain scientists can watch neurons fire and communicate. They can map how brain regions light up during sensation, decision-making, and speech. What they can't explain is how all this activity gives rise to consciousness. Theories abound, but their advocates often talk past each other and interpret the same set of data differently. Now, the Templeton World Charity Foundation (TWCF), a nonprofit best known for funding research at the intersection of science and religion, hopes to narrow the debate with experiments that directly pit theories of consciousness against each other. 
Sleep deprivation has long been known to make people crave higher calorie foods. To find out how that process works, a neurologist at Northwestern took inspiration from studies linking sleep deprivation in humans to an increase in certain molecules in the endocannabinoid system, a complex network of neurotransmitters and receptors that, among other things, is affected by marijuana. Studies in mice have shown this system influences how the brain processes smells. And smell is a powerful driver of appetite. The study provides the first clear link between sleep, the endocannabinoid system, smell, and appetite in humans.
A recent study found that deep brain stimulation (DBS) of an area in the brain called the subcallosal cingulate provides a robust antidepressant effect that is sustained over a long period of time in patients with treatment-resistant depression—the most severely depressed patients who have not responded to other treatments. The long-term data presented lays the foundation for additional studies to refine and optimize DBS for these patients. Specifically, future work will monitor the trajectory of recovery over days, weeks, and months at the neural level an unprecedented look at depression.

Calendar of Events

JPSM Seminar
Speaker: Trent D. Buskirk (Bowling Green University)
Title: "Why Machines Matter for Social Science and Survey Research"
Date: Wednesday, October 23, 2019
Time: 12 noon
Location: 1208 Lefrak Hall
More info
 
Cognitive Science Colloquium
Speaker: Diane Brentari (University of Chicago)
Title: "Limits and possibilities of modality’s effect on language: phonology through the lens of sign languages"
Date: Thursday, October 24, 2019
Time: 3:30 p.m.
Location: 1103 Bioscience Research Building
More info
 
NACS Seminar
Speaker: Dina Lipkind (City University of New York)
Title: "The challenges of learning complex behavioral sequences – lessons from songbirds"
Date: Friday, October 25, 2019
Time: 10:15 a.m.
Location: 1103 Bioscience Research Building
More info

Funding Announcements

Please visit bbi.umd.edu/news/FOA for the complete list of open Funding Announcements.
 
The New Directions Fund aims to enable important new lines of research and creative work with high potential for impact. There are two competition tracks: Proof of Concept awards support researchers pursuing a new line of research or collaborative partnership, to help them be competitive for external funding; and Limited External Grant Opportunity (LEGO) awards support particularly innovative research, writing, and/or creative work in fields where external funding is scarce. Applications due November 1, 2019.
 
The Fearless Ideation Workshop awards support organized events with each of the following goals: to identify complementary research strengths and explore potential collaborations; to develop high potential, innovative research ideas that require the involvement of multiple disciplines and leverage unique strengths within UMD; to facilitate new and enhance existing collaborations among faculty; and to generate “competitive intelligence” analyses to identify gaps in the current body of research, assess future funding opportunities, and generate insights on next steps. Applications due November 1, 2019.
 
*New!* The Brain Research Foundation is inviting eligible US institutions to nominate one faculty member to submit a Letter of Intent for the Fay/Frank Seed Grant Program. BRF provides start-up money for new and innovative research projects that have the potential to become competitive for an NIH grant or other external funding sources. Applications must be submitted through the UMD VPR's office. Materials due November 4, 2019.
 
*New!* The UMCP & UMB leadership seeks to fund big research initiatives in the fields of artificial intelligence + medicine that will contribute to major scientific discoveries, secure sizable extramural funding, and ideally lead to a meaningful improvement in quality of patient care or treatment (AI + Medicine for High Impact [AIM-HI] Challenge Awards). Internal applications due November 15, 2019.
 
The National Institute of Nursing Research invites applications for Strategies to Improve Health Outcomes and to Reduce Disparities in Rural Populations (R01 Clinical Trial Optional) (RFA-NR-20-001). This RFA encourages research to promote a greater understanding of the challenges faced by rural population groups, for the development (or adoption/adaptation) of evidence-based interventions that can reduce health risks faced by rural Americans. Applications due December 13, 2019.
 
*New!* The NSF invites applications to its National Artificial Intelligence (AI) Research Institutes program to conduct research in one of the following areas: Trustworthy AI; Foundations of Machine Learning; AI-Driven Innovation in Agriculture and the Food System; AI-Augmented Learning; AI for Accelerating Molecular Synthesis and Manufacturing; and AI for Discovery in Physics. Applications due January 28, 2020.
 
*New!* The National Institute on Aging invites applications for dissertation awards in all areas of research (PAR-19-394) within NIA’s strategic priorities to increase the diversity of the scientific research workforce engaged in research on aging and aging-related health conditions. Applications due at the standard date of applicant organization.

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