A New Clue into the Genetic Contribution to Addiction
Posted: September 30th, 2014
A gene essential for normal brain development, and also linked to autism spectrum disorders, plays a critical role in addiction-related behaviors, according to Harvard Medical School investigators at McLean Hospital.
“Chronic exposure to drugs of abuse causes changes in the brain that could underlie the transition from casual drug use to addiction. By discovering the brain molecules that control the development of drug addiction, we hope to identify new treatment approaches,” Cowan said.
The Cowan lab team, led by Laura Smith, HMS research fellow in psychiatry at McLean, used animal models to show that the fragile X mental retardation protein, or FMRP, plays a critical role in the development of addiction-related behaviors.
[The findings were published in the latest issue of the neuroscience journal Neuron. (more…)
Using Advances in Genomics and Molecular Biology to Untangle the Brain
Posted: August 1st, 2014
As part of a new WBUR's new WBUR weekly feature Brain Matters, Carey Goldberg interviewed Dr. Steve Hyman. Dr. Hyman, who currently serves as the Director of the Stanley Center for Psychiatric Research at the Broad Institute explained the current challenges faced by Neuroscientests and the new methodologies which promise to solve them.
Goldberg: The Obama BRAIN initiative. We’ve had a ‘decade of the brain’ before, in the 1990s —
Dr.Hyman: It accomplished nothing. Because it was a media blitz, it wasn’t based on new science.
Goldberg: So — Why this? Why now? What’s different?
Dr. Hyman: Part of the growing public interest in the brain, and certainly much media attention, is a little bit unfortunate because it focuses on people applying tools, such as brain imaging, in ways that are untutored and underpowered but yield interesting — if not really scientifically valid — ideas about say, why a certain person is liberal or conservative, or why a certain person takes risks or is very self-protective. A subset of those may be scientifically addressable questions, but we’re a long way from understanding them deeply. Nonetheless they’re irresistible to the public and then of course it’s given rise to a new generation of debunkers — fair enough. So maybe we can set aside this false interest, this prurient interest in the brain and focus on the serious matters at hand.
The bottom line is the brain is well recognized to be the linchpin of being human in the sense that it is the substrate of thought, emotion, control of behavior, and therefore, undergirds our life trajectories, our actions, our morality. And when the brain gets sick in any way we realize that it exacts an extraordinarily severe toll on the sufferer, on families, on society. Just think about Alzheimer’s disease, heroin addiction, major depression, schizophrenia, autism, intellectual disability — these are common conditions in which people can no longer exert reliable, effective agency on their own behalf and therefore society often has to step in for them at great cost and often really great pain.
Tragically, for the longest time there wasn’t so much we could do about it. Using medications that were really discovered by luck, by prepared serendipity; using, in more recent years, the few psychotherapies, especially Cognitive Behavioral Therapies, which have been empirically tested, we have been able to help a lot of people manage their symptoms, in some cases to become better stoics. With imaging technologies we began some decades ago — though at really still very relatively poor resolution — to get spatial maps of what’s happening in the brain. But we were really stymied in terms of getting a deeper understanding, a better picture, for several reasons:...
For the full WBUR interview and links to the full Brain Matters series, click here.
Unraveling the Genetic Factors Behind Schizophrenia
Posted: March 5th, 2014
Oligodendrocytes (green) wrap electrical insulation called myelin around axons (purple). Image courtesy of Alan Hoofring, Medical Arts Design Section, NIH.
Schizophrenia is one of the most disabling of all psychiatric illnesses. Sadly, it affects is about 1% of the global population and often strikes early in life.
Many studies have looked into causes and potential interventions, and it has been long known that genetic factors play a role in determining the risk of developing schizophrenia. However, recent work has shown that there no single gene or small number of genes explains much of the risk for illness. Instead, groups of genes interact to create the illness.
In a new paper published in PLOS ONE (DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0089441), MGH/McLean Adult Psychiatry Residency Program faculty Bruce M. Cohen, MD, PhD, Dost Ongur, MD, PhD (Class of 2004), and Jordan W. Smoller, MD, ScD, report promising evidence on what one of those important groups of genes may be.(more…)
Breakthrough system for producing images of brain, nervous system
Posted: May 20th, 2013
"Brainbow," originally developed by researchers at Harvard University in 2007, is getting an upgrade. This system creates colorful images of brain tissue by activating multiple fluorescent proteins in neurons. Brainbow has the resolution to visualize individual neurons, which has enhanced researchers' ability to chart the circuitry of the brain and nervous system.
In 2013 Brainbow is getting significant technical improvements. The colors will be brighter, more variable, more persistent, and therefore more usable. These enhancements will enable researchers to better target certain parts of the brain and visualize the neuronal connections between different regions of the brain.
Read the full article in the Harvard Gazette. Source: Harvard Gazette, Wednesday, May 15, 2013
Investigating the roots of aggression
Posted: April 24th, 2013
Researchers at Harvard Medical School have identified two pairs of dopaminergic neurons with links to the fly brain's central complex, suggesting that important components of aggression-related behaviors may be processed there."This is the first research to identify single dopaminergic neurons that modulate a complex behavior—aggression—in fruit flies,” said Edward Kravitz, George Packer Berry Professor of Neurobiology at HMS and lead author of the study.
Read the full story here. Source: HMS News, April 18, 2013
HMS Professor George Church on the Brain Activity Map
Posted: February 25th, 2013
George Church, the Robert Winthrop Professor of Genetics at Harvard Medical School, is one of the key researchers behind the next big project in neuroscience: The Brain Activity Map. The project, which has been compared in scope to that of the Human Genome Project, aims to provide scientists with a full map of the brain's functions and connections.
Church sat recently for an interview on the project, its applications, and his own role. The full interview can be found here. Source: HMS News February 20, 2013.
Novel study reveals lasting positive residual effects from meditation
Posted: November 15th, 2012
A new study has found that participating in an eight-week meditation training program can have measurable effects on how the brain functions even when someone is not actively meditating. In their report in the November issue of Frontiers in Human Neuroscience, investigators at Harvard Medical School-affiliated Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH), Boston University (BU), and several other research centers also found differences in those effects based on the specific type of meditation practiced.
“The two different types of meditation training our study participants completed yielded some differences in the response of the amygdala — a part of the brain known for decades to be important for emotion — to images with emotional content,” says Gaëlle Desbordes, a research fellow at the Athinoula A. Martinos Center for Biomedical Imaging at MGH and at the BU Center for Computational Neuroscience and Neural Technology, corresponding author of the report. “This is the first time that meditation training has been shown to affect emotional processing in the brain outside of a meditative state.”
Source: Harvard Gazette, November 15, 2012
Read the full story here
Controlling sleep spindles with light; K99/R00 awarded
Posted: November 13th, 2011
Michael Halassa, Class of 2013, recently published a first author paper in Nature Neuroscience, describing work he carried out at MIT in the lab of Christopher Moore, now at Brown University. By selective optical control of thalamic activity, Mike and colleagues demonstrated that sleep spindles can be causally generated with millisecond precision to understand their role in physiology and behavior. The work was carried out while Mike was a PGY1 and PGY2 in the Research Concentration Program.
Mike was also recently awarded a NIH pathway to independence career award (K99/R00) through the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, the first time such an award has been obtained by a current MGH/McLean resident.
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