Posts Tagged language
Repeated stimulation enlarges dendritic spines
Even in adult brains, new neurons are generated throughout a lifetime. In a publication in the scientific journal PNAS, a research group led by Goethe University describes plastic changes of adult-born neurons in the hippocampus, a critical region for learning: frequent nerve signals enlarge the spines on neuronal dendrites, which in turn enables contact with the existing neural network.
Practice makes perfect, and constant repetition promotes the ability to remember. Researchers have been aware for some time that repeated electrical stimulation strengthens neuron connections (synapses) in the brain. It is similar to the way a frequently used trail gradually widens into a path. Conversely, if rarely used, synapses can also be removed – for example, when the vocabulary of a foreign language is forgotten after leaving school because it is no longer practiced. Researchers designate the ability to change interconnections permanently and as needed as the plasticity of the brain.
Plasticity is especially important in the hippocampus, a primary region associated with long-term memory, in which new neurons are formed throughout life. The research groups led by Dr Stephan Schwarzacher (Goethe University), Professor Peter Jedlicka (Goethe University and Justus Liebig University in Gieβen) and Dr Hermann Cuntz (FIAS, Frankfurt) therefore studied the long-term plasticity of synapses in new-born hippocampal granule cells. Synaptic interconnections between neurons are predominantly anchored on small thorny protrusions on the dendrites called spines. The dendrites of most neurons are covered with these spines, similar to the thorns on a rose stem.
In their recently published work, the scientists were able to demonstrate for the first time that synaptic plasticity in new-born neurons is connected to long-term structural changes in the dendritic spines: repeated electrical stimulation strengthens the synapses by enlarging their spines. A particularly surprising observation was that the overall size and number of spines did not change: when the stimulation strengthened a group of synapses, and their dendritic spines enlarged, a different group of synapses that were not being stimulated simultaneously became weaker and their dendritic spines shrank.
“This observation was only technically possible because our students Tassilo Jungenitz and Marcel Beining succeeded for the first time in examining plastic changes in stimulated and non-stimulated dendritic spines within individual new-born cells using 2-photon microscopy and viral labeling,” says Stephan Schwarzacher from the Institute for Anatomy at the University Hospital Frankfurt. Peter Jedlicka adds: “The enlargement of stimulated synapses and the shrinking of non-stimulated synapses was at equilibrium. Our computer models predict that this is important for maintaining neuron activity and ensuring their survival.”
The scientists now want to study the impenetrable, spiny forest of new-born neuron dendrites in detail. They hope to better understand how the equilibrated changes in dendritic spines and their synapses contribute the efficient storing of information and consequently to learning processes in the hippocampus.
An international research consortium used neuroimaging techniques to analyze the brains of more than 3,800 volunteers in different countries. The largest study of its kind ever conducted set out to investigate anatomical similarities and differences in the brains of individuals with different types of epilepsy and to seek markers that could help with prognosis and treatment.
Epilepsy’s seizure frequency and severity, as well as the patient’s response to drug therapy, vary with the part of the brain affected and other poorly understood factors. Data from the scientific literature suggests that roughly one-third of patients do not respond well to anti-epileptic drugs. Research has shown that these individuals are more likely to develop cognitive and behavioral impairments over the years.
The new study was conducted by a specific working group within an international consortium called ENIGMA, short for Enhancing NeuroImaging Genetics through Meta-Analysis, established to investigate several neurological and psychiatric diseases. Twenty-four cross-sectional samples from 14 countries were included in the epilepsy study.
Altogether, the study included data for 2,149 people with epilepsy and 1,727 healthy control subjects (with no neurological or psychiatric disorders). The Brazilian Research Institute for Neuroscience and Neurotechnology (BRAINN), which participated in the multicenter study, was the center with the largest sample, comprising 291 patients and 398 controls. Hosted in Brazil, at the State University of Campinas (UNICAMP), BRAINN is a Research, Innovation and Dissemination Center (RIDC http://cepid.fapesp.br/en/home/) supported by the Sao Paulo Research Foundation – FAPESP.
“Each center was responsible for collecting and analyzing data on its own patients. All the material was then sent to the University of Southern California’s Imaging Genetics Center in the US, which consolidated the results and performed a meta-analysis,” said Fernando Cendes, a professor at UNICAMP and coordinator of BRAINN.
A differential study
All volunteers were subjected to MRI scans. According to Cendes, a specific protocol was used to acquire three-dimensional images. “This permitted image post-processing with the aid of computer software, which segmented the images into thousands of anatomical points for individual assessment and comparison,” he said.
According to the researcher, advances in neuroimaging techniques have enabled the detection of structural alterations in the brains of people with epilepsy that hadn’t been noticed previously.
Cendes also highlighted that this is the first epilepsy study built on a really large number of patients, which allowed researchers to obtain more robust data. “There were many discrepancies in earlier studies, which comprised a few dozen or hundred volunteers.”
The patients included in the study were divided into four subgroups: mesial temporal lobe epilepsy (MTLE) with left hippocampal sclerosis, MTLE with right hippocampal sclerosis, idiopathic (genetic) generalized epilepsy, and a fourth group comprising various less common subtypes of the disease.
The analysis covered both patients who had had epilepsy for years and patients who had been diagnosed recently. According to Cendes, the analysis – whose results were published in the international journal Brain – aimed at the identification of atrophied brain regions in which the cortical thickness was smaller than in the control group.
The researchers first analyzed data from the four patient subgroups as a whole and compared them with the controls to determine whether there were anatomical alterations common to all forms of epilepsy. “We found that all four subgroups displayed atrophy in areas of the sensitive-motor cortex and also in some parts of the frontal lobe,” Cendes said.
“Ordinary MRI scans don’t show anatomical alterations in cases of genetic generalized epilepsy,” Cendes said. “One of the goals of this study was to confirm whether areas of atrophy also occur in these patients. We found that they do.”
This finding, he added, shows that in the case of MTLE, there are alterations in regions other than those in which seizures are produced (the hippocampus, parahippocampus, and amygdala). Brain impairment is, therefore, more extensive than previously thought.
Cendes also noted that a larger proportion of the brain was compromised in patients who had had the disease for longer. “This reinforces the hypothesis that more brain regions atrophy and more cognitive impairment occurs as the disease progresses.”
The next step was a separate analysis of each patient subgroup in search of alterations that characterize each form of the disease. The findings confirmed, for example, that MTLE with left hippocampal sclerosis is associated with alterations in different neuronal circuits from those associated with MTLE with right hippocampal sclerosis.
“Temporal lobe epilepsy occurs in a specific brain region and is therefore termed a focal form of the disease. It’s also the most common treatment-refractory subtype of epilepsy in adults,” Cendes said. “We know it has different and more severe effects when it involves the left hemisphere than the right. They’re different diseases.”
“These two forms of the disease are not mere mirror-images of each other,” he said. “When the left hemisphere is involved, the seizures are more intense and diffuse. It used to be thought that this happened because the left hemisphere is dominant for language, but this doesn’t appear to be the only reason. Somehow, it’s more vulnerable than the right hemisphere.”
In the GGE group, the researchers observed atrophy in the thalamus, a central deep-lying brain region above the hypothalamus, and in the motor cortex. “These are subtle alterations but were observed in patients with epilepsy and not in the controls,” Cendes said.
Genetic generalized epilepsies (GGEs) may involve all brain regions but can usually be controlled by drugs and are less damaging to patients.
From the vantage point of the coordinator for the FAPESP-funded center, the findings published in the article will benefit research in the area and will also have future implications for the diagnosis of the disease. In parallel with their anatomical analysis, the group is also evaluating genetic alterations that may explain certain hereditary patterns in brain atrophy. The results of this genetic analysis will be published soon.
“If we know there are more or less specific signatures of the different epileptic subtypes, instead of looking for alterations everywhere in the brain, we can focus on suspect regions, reducing cost, saving time and bolstering the statistical power of the analysis. Next, we’ll be able to correlate these alterations with cognitive and behavioral dysfunction,” Cendes said.
[ARTICLE] Biomarkers of stroke recovery: Consensus-based core recommendations from the Stroke Recovery and Rehabilitation Roundtable – Full Text
In practical terms, biomarkers should improve our ability to predict long-term outcomes after stroke across multiple domains. This is beneficial for: (a) patients, caregivers and clinicians; (b) planning subsequent clinical pathways and goal setting; and (c) identifying whom and when to target, and in some instances at which dose, with interventions for promoting stroke recovery.2 This last point is particularly important as methods for accurate prediction of long-term outcome would allow clinical trials of restorative and rehabilitation interventions to be stratified based on the potential for neurobiological recovery in a way that is currently not possible when trials are performed in the absence of valid biomarkers. Unpredictable outcomes after stroke, particularly in those who present with the most severe impairment3 mean that clinical trials of rehabilitation interventions need hundreds of patients to be appropriately powered. Use of biomarkers would allow incorporation of accurate information about the underlying impairment, and thus the size of these intervention trials could be considerably reduced,4 with obvious benefits. These principles are no different in the context of stroke recovery as compared to general medical research.5
Interventions fall into two broad mechanistic categories: (1) behavioural interventions that take advantage of experience and learning-dependent plasticity (e.g. motor, sensory, cognitive, and speech and language therapy), and (2) treatments that enhance the potential for experience and learning-dependent plasticity to maximise the effects of behavioural interventions (e.g. pharmacotherapy or non-invasive brain stimulation).6 To identify in whom and when to intervene, we need biomarkers that reflect the underlying biological mechanisms being targeted therapeutically.
Our goal is to provide a consensus statement regarding the evidence for SRBs that are helpful in outcome prediction and therefore identifying subgroups for stratification to be used in trials.7 We focused on SRBs that can investigate the structure or function of the brain (Table 1). Four functional domains (motor, somatosensation, cognition, and language (Table 2)) were considered according to recovery phase post stroke (hyperacute: <24 h; acute: 1 to 7 days; early subacute: 1 week to 3 months; late subacute: 3 months to 6 months; chronic: > 6 months8). For each functional domain, we provide recommendations for biomarkers that either are: (1) ready to guide stratification of subgroups of patients for clinical trials and/or to predict outcome, or (2) are a developmental priority (Table 3). Finally, we provide an example of how inclusion of a clinical trial-ready biomarker might have benefitted a recent phase III trial. As there is generally limited evidence at this time for blood or genetic biomarkers, we do not discuss these, but recommend they are a developmental priority.9–12 We also recognize that many other functional domains exist, but focus here on the four that have the most developed science. […]
Continue —> Biomarkers of stroke recovery: Consensus-based core recommendations from the Stroke Recovery and Rehabilitation RoundtableInternational Journal of Stroke – Lara A Boyd, Kathryn S Hayward, Nick S Ward, Cathy M Stinear, Charlotte Rosso, Rebecca J Fisher, Alexandre R Carter, Alex P Leff, David A Copland, Leeanne M Carey, Leonardo G Cohen, D Michele Basso, Jane M Maguire, Steven C Cramer, 2017