TAG: "brain"

UC will lead effort to create library of brain cell activity


NIH program will advance fight against ALS, other neurodegenerative diseases.

Leslie Thompson, UC Irvine

UC Irvine will receive $8 million from the National Institutes of Health to establish one of six national centers dedicated to creating a database of human cellular responses that will accelerate efforts to develop new therapies for many diseases.

Leslie M. Thompson, UCI professor of psychiatry & human behavior and neurobiology & behavior, will partner with researchers from Cedars-Sinai Medical Center’s Regenerative Medicine Institute, the Gladstone Institute of Neurological Disease, UC San Francisco, Johns Hopkins University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

They will study brain cell activity in motor neuron disorders including ALS and build a detailed archive of these disease “signatures” that identifies cell targets for new drug treatments. ALS, or amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, also called Lou Gehrig’s disease, attacks motor neurons, cells that control the muscles.

Overall, the NIH is awarding $64 million to six research groups to establish centers that support the Library of Integrated Network-Based Cellular Signatures program. The UC Irvine-based center will be called NeuroLINCS.

The goal of the LINCS program is to utilize the latest cutting-edge technology and scientific methods to catalog and analyze cellular function and molecular activity in response to perturbing agents – such as drugs and genetic factors – that have specific effects on cells. LINCS researchers will measure the cells’ tiniest molecular and biochemical responses and use computer analyses to uncover common patterns – called signatures. LINCS data will be freely available to any scientist.

“Human brain cells are far less understood than other cells in the body,” said Thompson, who’s affiliated with the Sue & Bill Gross Stem Cell Research Center and UCI MIND. “The collective expertise of NeuroLINCS investigators provides a unique opportunity to increase our knowledge of what makes brain cells unique and what happens during neurodegenerative diseases – with a strong focus toward effective treatments. We feel this will have broad application to a number of human brain diseases.”

She and her colleagues will study the effects, or signatures, of perturbing agents on induced pluripotent stem cell-derived neurons and glial cells from “unaffected” cells and those exhibiting the pathology of motor neuron diseases.

At UC Irvine, Thompson will work closely with the UCI Genomics High-Throughput Facility to explore gene expression patterns in these brain cells, which is expected to yield novel insights into pathways and gene networks that guide the development of cell signatures.

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UC receives nearly a quarter of NIH brain research grants


14 projects are led by researchers from six UC campuses.

The National Institutes of Health awarded UC researchers nearly a quarter of the $46 million in grants announced today (Sept. 30) in support of President Barack Obama’s BRAIN Initiative.

UC scientists have long been at the frontline of efforts to understand the brain’s inner workings — a pre-eminence reflected by the grants: Of the 58 NIH awards, 14 are projects led by researchers from UC Berkeley, UC Davis, UC Irvine, UCLA, UC San Diego and UC San Francisco.

Collectively, UC researchers will receive more than $10 million of the $46 million that the NIH is awarding for 2014.

“The human brain is the most complicated biological structure in the known universe. We’ve only just scratched the surface in understanding how it works — or, unfortunately, doesn’t quite work when disorders and disease occur,” said NIH Director Dr. Francis S. Collins in a statement. “There’s a big gap between what we want to do in brain research and the technologies available to make exploration possible.”

The BRAIN Initiative was launched last year by Obama as a large-scale federal effort to help scientists develop new tools and technologies to gain a deeper understanding of how the brain functions and to accelerate the creation of new treatments for neurological disorders.

“These initial awards are part of a 12-year scientific plan focused on developing the tools and technologies needed to make the next leap in understanding the brain,” Collins said. “This is just the beginning of an ambitious journey and we’re excited about the possibilities.”

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Researcher receives award from American Academy of Pediatrics


Randi Hagerman honored with one of most prestigious awards for pediatricians in U.S.

Randi Hagerman, UC Davis

Randi Jenssen Hagerman, medical director of the UC Davis MIND Institute, Distinguished Professor of Pediatrics and Endowed Chair in Fragile X Research and Treatment, has received the prestigious C. Anderson Aldrich Award in Child Development for her outstanding contributions in the field of child development from the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), the professional organization for pediatricians in the United States.

The award recognizes pediatricians and non-pediatricians for their respective contributions to the field of developmental and behavioral pediatrics. It was presented at the American Academy of Pediatrics Section on Developmental and Behavioral Pediatrics national conference in San Diego on Oct. 12.

I am greatly honored by this award, humbled  after reading the list of previous recipients, and pleased that the AAP recognizes the importance of targeted treatments for individuals with neurodevelopmental disorders,” Hagerman said.

Hagerman is an internationally recognized clinician/scientist, director of the clinical trials program and founder of the Fragile X Research and Treatment Center at the MIND Institute. In 2001, with her husband, Paul J. Hagerman, UC Davis Distinguished Professor of Biochemistry and Molecular Medicine, she discovered fragile X-associated tremor/ataxia syndrome (FXTAS), a neurological disorder that affects older carriers of the fragile X premutation. In 1984 she co-founded the National Fragile X Foundation.

“This award is well-deserved recognition for Dr. Hagerman’s lifelong commitment to children with fragile X syndrome and their families,” said Leonard Abbeduto, Tsakopoulos-Vismara Endowed Chair of psychiatry and behavioral sciences and director of the MIND Institute. “She has helped thousands of people directly through her clinical care, and countless more through her groundbreaking research on the causes, consequences and treatment of FMR1-related disorders.”

“She also has trained and mentored a generation of pediatricians who will carry the field forward for decades to come,” Abbeduto continued. “It is certainly fitting that Dr. Hagerman is added to the list of luminaries who have received this award before her.“

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New target ID’d for personalized brain cancer treatment


UC San Diego finding focuses on a fusion protein.

Clark Chen, UC San Diego

Researchers at the UC San Diego School of Medicine have identified a new fusion protein found in approximately 15 percent of secondary glioblastomas or brain tumors. The finding offers new insights into the cause of this cancer and provides a therapeutic target for personalized oncologic care. The findings were published this month in the online edition of Genome Research.

Glioblastoma is the most common and deadliest form of brain cancer. The majority of these tumors – known as primary glioblastomas – occur in the elderly without evidence of a less malignant precursor. Secondary glioblastomas occur mostly in younger patients and progress from low-grade, less aggressive precursor tumors to glioblastoma, the most aggressive form of the disease.

“While genomic profiling is yielding improved understanding of primary glioblastoma, our understanding of secondary glioblastoma remains rudimentary,” said Clark Chen, M.D., Ph.D., vice chairman of research and academic development, Division of Neurosurgery, UC San Diego School of Medicine and a principal investigator of the study. “In this study, we used a technology called RNA-Seq to study the RNA sequences derived from 272 clinical tumor specimens from patients afflicted with secondary glioblastoma or precursor forms of this tumor.”

The study revealed that the RNA sequences of brain cancers become progressively more abnormal as the tumor become more malignant. Specifically, the frequency of aberrant RNAs fusing gene sequences not normally found next to one another increased with tumor grade. Most of these fusion junctions occur in seemingly random locations. However, transcripts involving fusions of the PTPRZ and MET gene were found repeatedly in clinical specimens derived from different patients. The study estimates that 15 percent of the secondary glioblastoma harbor this fusion.

“The recurrent nature of this fusion transcript suggests that the fusion did not arise by chance. Instead, it’s likely that the fusion actively contributes to the biologic behavior of the tumor,” said Chen, who collaborates with a multidisciplinary team at UC San Diego Moores Cancer Center. “Supporting this hypothesis, we demonstrated that glioblastoma cells expressing the PTPRZ-MET fusion are more invasive and patients afflicted with these tumors showed particularly poor survival relative to other secondary glioblastoma patients.”

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UCSF, UC Berkeley scientists team up in new Center for Aging Research


Glenn Center exploring role of decline in protein quality-control in dementias, other illnesses.

Andrew Dillin, UC Berkeley

Researchers at UC San Francisco and UC Berkeley have teamed up to create an innovative, integrated center for research on neurodegenerative diseases. Supported by a $3 million grant from the Glenn Foundation for Medical Research, the new center aims to pave the way to developing novel treatments for diseases such as Alzheimer’s disease and Parkinson’s disease by investigating the many ways that proteins can malfunction within cells.

In particular, the center’s work will focus on a type of protein called the prion, which displays characteristics of infectious agents and is responsible for “mad cow” disease and a related, devastating human brain disorder known as Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (CJD).

Stanley B. Prusiner, M.D., UCSF professor of neurology, and Andrew Dillin, Ph.D., the Thomas and Stacey Siebel Distinguished Chair of Stem Cell Research at UC Berkeley and a Howard Hughes Medical Institute investigator, will co-direct the new inter-campus program, known as the Paul F. Glenn Center for Aging Research. Ten additional researchers from UCSF and 13 from UC Berkeley will contribute to the center’s work, with more recruitments to come.

Stanley Prusiner, UC San Francisco

“The Glenn Foundation is pleased to welcome UCSF and UC Berkeley to the Glenn Consortium for Research in Aging,” said Mark R. Collins, president of the Glenn Foundation for Medical Research, which is based in Santa Barbara. “I had the pleasure to work with Dr. Dillin previously, when he led the Glenn Center for Aging Research at the Salk Institute for Biological Sciences prior to moving to UC Berkeley. I’ve known Dr. Prusiner and followed his work for many years and it is a propitious time for us to assist these two leaders in biological research to discover treatments for age-related neurodegenerative disease.”

In 1997, Prusiner, director of UCSF’s Institute for Neurodegenerative Diseases, received the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for his discovery of prions, which he demonstrated were an abnormally folded form of normal proteins that set up a template for replication in the brain. According to Prusiner, recent work provides persuasive evidence that, in addition to mad cow disease and CJD, many common neurodegenerative diseases, including Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s, are caused by abnormally folded forms of normal proteins functioning as prions.

Dillin agrees that prions are ideal targets for research and novel therapeutic approaches. “The Glenn Foundation’s confidence to support our hypothesis is greatly appreciated,” he said, adding that the combination of UCSF’s medical mission with the strong basic research traditions of both campuses will make the new Glenn Center’s work uniquely powerful.

Proteins are crucial for many of a cell’s normal functions, but as people age, cells’ quality-control mechanisms become less efficient. Normally these systems ensure that proteins are properly formed, and target badly formed or “worn-out” proteins for destruction. But as the effectiveness of cellular quality control wanes over time, improperly formed proteins, including prions, can begin to accumulate.

Badly formed proteins, called “misfolded” by biologists, cannot carry out their required functions and, even worse, they can stick to one another and to other cellular components, sometimes leading to devastating physiological consequences. Prions are particularly problematic because they can act like a template, converting properly formed proteins into additional prions, essentially spreading protein misfolding like an infection.

Seeking ways to counteract the accumulation of misfolded proteins, the new Glenn Center’s researchers will investigate the many cellular quality-control mechanisms that act throughout a protein’s lifetime, from when proteins are first made, to the interactions that help them reach their proper functional state, to the transport processes that take them to their final destinations, to their ultimate degradation when they can no longer serve their purpose.

Together, the UCSF and UC Berkeley researchers affiliated with the center have complementary expertise in all of these areas, and the center’s ultimate goal is to develop new anti-prion drugs, Dillin said. “At Berkeley, we aim to build the basic scientific knowledge to leverage clinical and therapeutic discoveries at UCSF.”

According to Prusiner, “the newest research indicates that Alzheimer’s alone kills as many people every year as cancer does, but it only receives one-tenth of the funding that we dedicate to cancer research. We are grateful to The Glenn Foundation for their support in the battle against neurodegenerative diseases.”

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Tackling traumatic brain injury


Unprecedented partnership joins universities, FDA, firms, philanthropies.

UCSF neurosurgeon Geoffrey Manley (center) spoke at a White House conference Sept. 30 on the role of technology in future treatments for brain injury and post-traumatic stress disorder. Manley is flanked by Paul Alivisatos (left), director of the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory; and Kerry Ressler, a Howard Hughes Medical Institute Investigator from Emory University.

An unprecedented, public-private partnership funded by the Department of Defense (DoD) is being launched to drive the development of better-run clinical trials and may lead to the first successful treatments for traumatic brain injury, a condition affecting not only athletes and soldiers, but also millions among the general public, ranging from youngsters to elders.

Under the partnership, officially launched today (Oct. 1) with a $17 million, five-year award from the DoD, the research team, representing many universities, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), companies and philanthropies, will examine data from thousands of patients in order to identify effective measures of brain injury and recovery, using biomarkers from blood, new imaging equipment and software, and other tools.

Each year more than 2.5 million people in the U.S. seek medical care for traumatic brain injuries that arise when blows to the body or nearby explosions cause the brain to collide with the inside of the skull. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, an estimated 2 percent of the U.S. population now lives with TBI-caused disabilities, at an annual cost of about $77 billion. No treatment for acute TBI and concussion has proved to be effective.

“TBI is really a multifaceted condition, not a single event,” said UC San Francisco neurosurgeon Geoffrey T. Manley, M.D., Ph.D., principal investigator for the new award and chief of neurosurgery at San Francisco General Hospital and Trauma Center (SFGH), a UCSF partner hospital. “TBI lags 40 to 50 years behind heart disease and cancer in terms of progress and understanding of the actual disease process and its potential aftermath. More than 30 clinical trials of potential TBI treatments have failed, and not a single drug has been approved.”

The new research initiative, called the TBI Endpoints Development (TED) Award, brings together leading academic clinician-scientists with innovative industry leaders in biotechnology and imaging technology, with patient advocacy organizations, and with philanthropies. The research collaborators will be collecting a broad range of long-term data from existing studies and databases, and integrating these into a dataset that can be interrogated for TBI associations and causes in a way that has never before been possible.

TED is specifically designed to overcome the difficulty in demonstrating the effectiveness of TBI drugs and medical devices by actively involving the FDA in clinical-trial design from the outset.

Although awareness of TBI has focused on athletes and warriors, the condition is widely prevalent across all populations, due to falls and motor-vehicle and other accidents.

“We know that the problem is far more extensive than reported,” Manley said. “We have evidence that even those patients who arrive at emergency rooms with signs and symptoms that suggest they’ve sustained a brain injury often are released with no indication of a possible TBI entered into their medical records, and with no recommendation for follow-up care.”

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Seeding innovations in brain research


UC Berkeley, UCSF, Berkeley Lab join forces on BRAINseed collaboration.

Michel Maharbiz of electrical engineering and computer science describes a project to probe more deeply into the cerebral cortex. (Photo by Roy Kaltschmidt, Berkeley Lab)

Two state-of-the-art research areas – nanotech and optogenetics – were the dominant theme last Thursday, Sept. 18, as six researchers from UC Berkeley, UC San Francisco and Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory sketched out their teams’ bold plans to jump-start new brain research.

The rapid-fire talks kicked off a one-of-a-kind collaboration among the three institutions in which each put up $1.5 million over three years to seed innovative but risky research. Called BRAINseed, the partnership could yield discoveries that accelerate President Barack Obama’s national BRAIN (Brain Research through Advancing Innovative Neurotechnologies) Initiative and California’s own Cal-BRAIN Initiative.

“It’s clear to everybody that any attempt to understand how the brain works, or ultimately what we might mean by cognition, is so daunting and so large that no one institution could hope to be a stand-alone leader in such an effort,” said Graham Fleming, UC Berkeley vice chancellor for research. “The synergies between UCSF, Lawrence Berkeley National Lab and UC Berkeley are very strong, and we complement one another in very effective ways.”

“This tri-partnership is unprecedented in the history of our institutions,” noted Horst Simon, deputy director of Berkeley Lab. “We are putting money down to fund a real collaboration that makes people sit down together and address some of the most challenging questions today.”

“BRAINseed underscores the tremendous power embodied in the institutions in the Bay Area, and the potential for amazing things to happen if we can overcome the geographical separations,” said Keith Yamamoto, UCSF vice chancellor for research.

When Obama announced the federal BRAIN Initiative in April 2013, he allocated $110 million for fiscal year 2014. This funding is already supporting several projects at UC Berkeley. Obama has proposed even more funding in future years “to revolutionize our understanding of the human mind and uncover new ways to treat, prevent, and cure brain disorders like Alzheimer’s, schizophrenia, autism, epilepsy and traumatic brain injury.”

Similarly, Cal-BRAIN — short for California Blueprint for Research to Advance Innovations in Neuroscience — aims to “accelerate the development of brain mapping techniques, including the development of new technologies.” The initial appropriation in this year’s state budget was $2 million.

Both Cal-BRAIN and the national initiative are expected to spur new startups in the area of neurotechnology based on the tools and inventions created in research labs. The innovations developed through these initiatives could have broad applications in disease monitoring beyond the brain and even outside the health care field.

“What we want to do is build a climate of collaboration so that we are stronger competitors in the national brain program and Cal-BRAIN,” Fleming said. “We see BRAINseed as a model for future collaborations (among the three institutions).”

Probing deeper into the brain

The six winning projects of 17 proposals originally submitted focus on new methods of mapping the brain and studying neurons deeper in the brain than ever before.

Fiberless deep brain imaging: Using novel nanocrystals developed by Bruce Cohen at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, and biosensing and bioactuating molecules synthesized by Chris Chang and Ehud Isacoff at UC Berkeley, researchers hope to probe cell-to-cell communication deeper in the brain than ever before. The technique takes advantage of the fact that near infrared (NIR) light with its shorter wavelengths penetrates deeper into the brain than does visible light. The nanocrystals from Cohen’s lab absorb the NIR light and convert it into visible light. The visible light can then trigger optogenetic photoswitches that turn neuron receptors on and off, as well as activate biosensors that record the release of neurotransmitters at the synapse. Coupled with techniques developed by Charly Craik and Robert Edwards at UCSF for targeting probes to specific cells, the researchers on this project hope to be able to study cell signaling in the many layers of the cortex.

Integrated nanosystems: Our senses of touch and hearing, as well as our ability to feel pain and detect the position of our body in space, are all made possible by a special class of proteins known as mechanoreceptors. Scientists studying this system in cell culture have traditionally used micropipettes to apply pressure to mechanoreceptors, while microelectrodes record the resulting neural activity. But small as they are, these devices are much too bulky to precisely stimulate single receptors or make accurate neural recordings. A team led by UCSF’s Young-wook Jun is devising a system to overcome these limitations. In the new setup, magnetic nanoparticles controlled by micromagnetic “tweezers” will have the capacity to stimulate individual mechanoreceptors, and high-resolution optical signals emitted by “quantum dots,” developed in the lab of Paul Alivisatos of UC Berkeley and Berkeley Lab, will offer a truer picture of neural activity in sensory neurons. They will collaborate with UCSF’s Yuh Nung Jan.

In vivo optogenetic mechanisms: We think of the action of neurotransmitters as rapid and localized, but the effects of acetylcholine (ACh) in the brain are actually quite diffuse and unfold slowly. The hormone-like characteristics of ACh make it difficult to understand through conventional neurophysiology experiments. As a result, ACh transmission, which plays a role in Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s diseases and in addiction, is poorly understood despite decades of study. UC Berkeley’s Richard Kramer has devised a system that enables researchers to use light to switch ACh receptors on and off in animals. Using this system, Kramer and UCSF’s Michael P. Stryker will be able to study how ACh modulates behavior in a wholly new way.

Acousto-optic virtual waveguides: Optogenetics approaches to probe the brain’s grey matter, or cortex, work only as deep as the light can penetrate, typically only a fraction of a millimeter below the surface. UC Berkeley engineers have developed a novel way to channel light deeper – more than a millimeter deep – to probe cell-to-cell signaling. Engineer Michel Maharbiz proposes to use ultrasound to create ‘waveguides’ that can steer light below the surface of the cortex, stimulating photoswitches that enable the study of neurotransmitters. With light-sensitive probes developed at Berkeley Lab and cell-imaging techniques from UCSF, the technology would open new avenues for non-invasive in-vivo imaging and stimulation of local brain areas. Maharbiz’s collaborators are Jim Schuck of Berkeley Lab, Reza Alam of UC Berkeley and Vikaas Singh Sohal of UCSF.

Optical integrators of neuronal activity: One of the greatest challenges in understanding the brain is connecting what happens over large volumes and hundreds of thousands of neurons to the signals transmitted at the individual synapse, the connection between nerve cells where communication takes place. Because calcium is key to neuronal signaling, a team led by Evan Miller, UC Berkeley assistant professor of molecular and cell biology and of chemistry, plans to use probes developed in his lab that ‘remember’ calcium concentration. Along with co-collaborators Pam den Besten and Terumi Kohwi-Shigematsu at UCSF and Berkeley Lab, respectively, Miller plans to investigate neuronal activity in models of disease. They can then correlate this with what happens over a larger volume of the brain. The technique combines “click chemistry” pioneered at UC Berkeley with probes generated in the Department of Chemistry to integrate images over different scales. This technique is a vital first step in developing tools that remember neuronal activity and enable 3D reconstruction of activity across entire brain regions with cellular resolution.

Development of instrumentation and computational methods: Though great progress has been made in mapping the function of the human brain, researchers have been stymied by limitations in both recording devices and the ability to analyze and understand brain signals. UCSF’s Edward F. Chang, M.D., is leading a team that aims to achieve up to a thousandfold increase in the density and electronic sophistication of recording arrays. The vast amount of data collected by these arrays will be stored and analyzed by some of the world’s most powerful computers at the National Energy Research Scientific Computing Center (NERSC), enabling a new level of understanding of the brain in both health and disease. Chang’s collaborators are Peter Denes and Kristofer Bouchard of Berkeley Lab and Fritz Sommer of UC Berkeley.

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Brain Innovation Group funded for brain tumor tool


National Cancer Institute grant boosts development of optical wand technology.

Laura Marcu, UC Davis

The UC Davis Comprehensive Cancer Center’s Brain Innovation Group has received a grant from the National Cancer Institute (NCI) to improve brain cancer surgery and treatment using UC Davis-developed biophotonic technology.

The $400,000 grant is the first for the cancer center’s eight cancer research innovation groups, which link scientists, oncologists, surgeons, engineers and other experts in discussions about patient care needs and potential innovations.

“The groups were started to fulfill a big part of our mission as a comprehensive cancer center by enhancing clinical and translational cancer research,” said cancer center director Ralph de Vere White. “This grant is a clear example of the success of this endeavor.”

UC Davis researchers will use the funding to adapt state-of-the-art optical biopsy technology, the Multispectral Scanning-Time Resolved Fluorescence Spectroscopy, to help neurosurgeons distinguish between radiation necrosis and cancer recurrence during brain cancer surgery. The technology was developed by Laura Marcu, professor of biomedical engineering and neurological surgery and principal investigator on the project.

The collaborative Brain Innovation Group includes specialists from adult and pediatric oncology, neurology, neurosurgery, neuroradiology, radiation oncology, biomedical engineering and biophotonics, hematology and biochemistry. They meet once a month in an open forum to present their projects and look for ways to combine and translate their work into high-impact clinical trials.

“This NCI grant demonstrates the benefit of having experts with different backgrounds work together to find new ways to better diagnose and treat cancer,” said Marcu, adding that the idea to apply the novel photonic technology in distinguishing between brain tumor recurrence and radiation necrosis was sparked during an innovation meeting.

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‘Dimmer switch’ discovered for mood disorders


UC San Diego study’s findings have implications for how to treat depression.

Basal ganglia neurons (green) feed into the brain and release glutamate (red) and GABA (blue) and sometimes a mix of both neurotransmitters (white).

Researchers at the UC San Diego School of Medicine have identified a control mechanism for an area of the brain that processes sensory and emotive information that humans experience as “disappointment.”

The discovery of what may effectively be a neurochemical antidote for feeling let-down is reported today (Sept. 18) in the online edition of Science.

“The idea that some people see the world as a glass half empty has a chemical basis in the brain,” said senior author Roberto Malinow, M.D., Ph.D., professor in the Department of Neurosciences and neurobiology section of the Division of Biological Sciences. “What we have found is a process that may dampen the brain’s sensitivity to negative life events.”

Because people struggling with depression are believed to register negative experiences more strongly than others, the study’s findings have implications for understanding not just why some people have a brain chemistry that predisposes them to depression but also how to treat it.

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Brain scans used to forecast early reading difficulties


White matter predictive of reading acquisition beyond effects of genetic predisposition.

Fumiko Hoeft, UC San Francisco

UC San Francisco researchers have used brain scans to predict how young children learn to read, giving clinicians a possible tool to spot children with dyslexia and other reading difficulties before they experience reading challenges.

In the United States, children usually learn to read for the first time in kindergarten and become proficient readers by third grade, according to the authors. In the study, researchers examined brain scans of 38 kindergarteners as they were learning to read formally at school and tracked their white matter development until third grade. The brain’s white matter is essential for perceiving, thinking and learning.

The researchers found that the developmental course of the children’s white matter volume predicted the kindergarteners’ abilities to read.

“We show that white matter development during a critical period in a child’s life, when they start school and learn to read for the very first time, predicts how well the child ends up reading,” said Fumiko Hoeft, M.D., Ph.D., senior author and an associate professor of child and adolescent psychiatry at UCSF, and member of the UCSF Dyslexia Center.

The research is published online in Psychological Science.

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Neural compensation found in people with Alzheimer’s-related protein


Study provides evidence of plasticity in aging brain that appears to be beneficial.

Shown are scans that represent all subjects with beta-amyloid deposits in their brain. The yellow and orange colors show areas where greater brain activation was associated with the formation of more detailed memories. (Image courtesy of Jagust Lab)

The human brain is capable of a neural workaround that compensates for the buildup of beta-amyloid, a destructive protein associated with Alzheimer’s disease, according to a new study led by UC Berkeley researchers.

The findings, published today (Sept. 14) in the journal Nature Neuroscience, could help explain how some older adults with beta-amyloid deposits in their brain retain normal cognitive function while others develop dementia.

“This study provides evidence that there is plasticity or compensation ability in the aging brain that appears to be beneficial, even in the face of beta-amyloid accumulation,” said study principal investigator Dr. William Jagust, a professor with joint appointments at UC Berkeley’s Helen Wills Neuroscience Institute, the School of Public Health and Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory.

Previous studies have shown a link between increased brain activity and beta-amyloid deposits, but it was unclear whether the activity was tied to better mental performance.

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Study shows evidence that sleep apnea hurts brain


UCLA researchers find that people suffering from sleep apnea have weaker brain blood flow.

This brain scan shows that the brain blood flow in a subject with obstructive sleep apnea (left) is markedly lower compared to a subject without the sleep disorder.

Employing a measure rarely used in sleep apnea studies, researchers at the UCLA School of Nursing have uncovered evidence of what may be damaging the brain in people with the sleep disorder — weaker brain blood flow.

In the study, published Aug. 28 in the peer-reviewed journal PLOS ONE, researchers measured blood flow in the brain using a non-invasive MRI procedure: the global blood volume and oxygen dependent (BOLD) signal. This method is usually used to observe brain activity.  Because previous research showed that poor regulation of blood in the brain might be a problem for people with sleep apnea, the researchers used the whole-brain BOLD signal to look at blood flow in individuals with and without obstructive sleep apnea (OSA).

“We know there is injury to the brain from sleep apnea, and we also know that the heart has problems pumping blood to the body, and potentially also to the brain,” said Paul Macey, associate dean for Information Technology and Innovations at the UCLA School of Nursing and lead researcher for the study. “By using this method, we were able to show changes in the amount of oxygenated blood across the whole brain, which could be one cause of the damage we see in people with sleep apnea.”

Obstructive sleep apnea is a serious disorder that occurs when a person’s breathing is repeatedly interrupted during sleep, hundreds of times a night. Each time breathing stops, the oxygen level in the blood drops, which damages many cells in the body. If left untreated, it can lead to high blood pressure, stroke, heart failure, diabetes, depression and other serious health problems. Approximately 10 percent of adults struggle with obstructive sleep apnea, which is accompanied by symptoms of brain dysfunction, including extreme daytime sleepiness, depression and anxiety, and memory problems.

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