MRI scans of premature babies reveal irregular development of neural pathways

And they could be to blame for the higher rates of autism and ADHD among preterm babies.


Brain scans of premature babies show differences in the connections between key neural regions, which could heighten the risk of developmental disorders, new research suggests.

Previous research has shown that babies born prematurely are more susceptible to certain childhood psychiatric disorders, including conditions such autism and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.

The results of this latest study could help researchers understand why they’re more vulnerable to these conditions than infants born at term, and could help them identify treatments or medications that might encourage normal development.

“The ability of modern science to image the connections in the brain would have been inconceivable just a few years ago, but we are now able to observe brain development in babies as they grow, and this is likely to produce remarkable benefits for medicine,” neonatal paediatrician David Edwards, from King’s College London (KCL) in the UK, said in a press release.

The researchers took MRI scans of the brains of 66 infants - 47 of which had been born prematurely before the 33-week mark. The other 19 had been born during the normal birth window, at between 37 and 42 weeks.

The team looked specifically at the neural connections between the thalamus, which relays sensory information to other parts of the brain, and the cerebral cortex, which plays an important role functions like memory, attention, language and consciousness.

These connections develop rapidly during the final stages of pregnancy, but for babies born prematurely, this development occurs in a dramatically different environment: the neonatal unit rather than the womb.

“In the womb, there is perfect nutrition delivered into the baby’s bloodstream, regulation of temperature, and protection against infection delivered from the mother in the last trimester,” lead author Hilary Toulmin, from KCL, told The Guardian. “So there are many influences before they have their MRI scan.”

The researchers found that children born in the normal window of birth showed a remarkably similar structure to adults in these brain regions, which supports existing evidence that our brain’s neural connectivity is quite mature at birth.

But the MRI scans also revealed some key irregularities between the brains of premature and healthy infants. Most notably, the premature infants had less connectivity between areas of the thalamus and areas of the cortex known to support higher cognitive functions.

“In studies of adolescents and adults, these areas form the salience network, and that network is found to be disrupted in conditions such as ADHD and autism. Premature infants are at greater risk of both of these,” Toulmin told The Guardian.

Interestingly, the MRI scans also revealed that the premature babies had increased neural connectivity between the thalamus and the primary sensory cortex - an area of the brain that processes signals from the face, mouth, jaw, lips, tongue and throat. The researchers suspect that this increased connectivity reflects their early exposure to breast and bottle-feeding.

The team’s findings were published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

“The next stage of our work will be to understand how these findings relate to the learning, concentration and social difficulties which many of these children experience as they grow older,” Toulmin said in the release.


anonymous asked:

I heard that it was hard for aspies to read sarcasm... I'm an aspie and I use sarcasm fairly much???

It can be difficult for aspies to read sarcasm… But that doesn’t mean we can’t learn it! While understanding and using sarcasm can come naturally for Allistics (non-Autistics), it’s harder for us to learn sarcasm. 

According to BBC News:

Scientists compared healthy people and those with damage to different parts of the brain, they found the front of the brain was key to understanding sarcasm. Damage to any of three different areas could render individuals unable to understand sarcastic comments. 

Autistic children can have problems interpreting sarcasm as well as other social cues such as emotions. This same skill is sometimes lost in people with brain damage, suggesting similar brain regions may be involved in autism. Brain scan studies of autistic children have shown that they have different activity in the frontal lobe to other children. 

So basically… Autistics have problems understanding and interpreting sarcasm because they have different activity in the sarcasm part of their brain.

But we can learn sarasm just as we learn addition and subtraction. :)

Ever wondered what your dog thinks of you? Brain scans are making that dream a reality by allowing researchers to see inside the canine mind. And what they’re learning is even better news: it turns out, our furry friends may love us as much as we love them. Read more about this research at Mic, where we’re exploring the universe in our heads with a one-month series on the latest advances in brain research. 

GIF by Julian Glander

New neuroimaging technique: Mapping Myelination

Neuroscientists have known for more than a century that myelination levels differ throughout the cerebral cortex, the gray outer layer of the brain where most higher mental functions take place.  via

Researcher, Van Essen’s journal article here  also explains how in MRI data already collected, or in less than 10 minutes, myelination images can be collected and used in conjunction with other imaging techniques to provide a more well rounded picture and understanding that we could once only see posthumously…after removing the brain, slicing it and staining it for myelin. This is important because:

Better brain maps will result, speeding efforts to understand how the healthy brain works and potentially aiding in future diagnosis and treatment of brain disorders…

The technique makes it possible for scientists to map myelination, or the degree to which branches of brain cells are covered by a white sheath known as myelin in order to speed up long-distance signaling. via

Image: “Red and yellow indicate regions with high myelin levels; blue, purple and black areas have low myelin levels." via

Gail Waterhouse ‏@gailwaterhouse

Gov’t: you said once that brain scans can be deceptively seductive in court? Dr. Giedd: yes, and out of court #Tsarnaev

Gail Waterhouse ‏@gailwaterhouse

Gov’t re brain scan: This is an average, you don’t know where one individual would be at any given age? Dr. Giedd: Yes #Tsarnaev

WBUR Live ‏@wburLive

Gov’t: There are many mature teens, immature people in 20s/30s. Giedd: Still a challenge to get to individual level. #Tsarnaev

Neurologists Find Logic and Empathy to be Mutually Exclusive: Brain Physically Can’t Do Both At the Same Time

A new study published in NeuroImage found that separate neural pathways are used alternately for empathetic and analytic problem solving. The study compares it to a see-saw. When you’re busy empathizing, the neural network for analysis is repressed, and this switches according to the task at hand.

Anthony Jack, an assistant professor in cognitive science at Case Western Reserve University and lead author of the study, relates the idea to an optical illusion. You can see a duck or a rabbit in the image, but not both at the same time. This limitation to what you can see is called perceptual rivalry.

Jack’s new study takes this concept beyond visual perception, and investigates how the brain processes situations. It found separate neural networks for social/emotional processing and for logical analysis.

(via Humans Can’t Be Empathetic And Logical At The Same Time | Popular Science)

The point is that the fact that something is physical doesn’t stop it being also psychological. Because psychology happens in the brain. Suppose you see a massive bear roaring and charging towards you, and as a result, you feel scared. The fear has a physical basis, and plenty of physical correlates like raised blood pressure, adrenaline release, etc.

But if someone asks “Why are you scared?”, you would answer “Because there’s a bear about to eat us”, and you’d be right. Someone who came along and said, no, your anxiety is purely physical - I can measure all these physiological differences between you and a normal person - would be an idiot (and eaten).



Remember that infographic circulating around Tumblr that shows brain scans of people with ADHD and various mental illnesses, captioned “this is physical, not just all in your head?” Yeah, this is why it’s BS.

(I do think ADHD and mental illnesses are out of a person’s control and people with these conditions should be accepted. I just don’t believe in using neurotrash to support that idea. Part of that is I’m compulsively scrupulous about truth and logic. But, if you’re more pragmatic than me, not using neurogarbage will prevent your argument from being shot down by bigoted people who happen to know something about neuroscience).

Brain scans show what makes us drink water and what makes us stop drinking

Drinking water when you’re thirsty is a pleasurable experience. Continuing to drink when you’re not, however, can be very unpleasant. To understand why your reaction to water drinking changes as your thirst level changes, Pascal Saker of the University of Melbourne and his colleagues performed fMRI scans on people as they drank water. They found that regions of the brain associated with positive feelings became active when the subjects were thirsty, while regions associated with negative feelings and with controlling and coordinating movement became active after the subjects were satiated. The research appears in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Read more

That’s right, with brain scans.  So, the idea here is that when you have a thought about an object, topic, experience an emotion, construct a plan, these are "ultimately reflected in the pattern of activity across all areas of [the] brain"  to the point where Princeton researchers say, they can translate these thoughts into actual text.  

Well, not exactly, it’s a proof of concept study (that will surely be replicated and developed further) where they can get a general idea what what your thinking. The example they use is if you think of a chair, they will know your thinking of furniture. That's definitely in the ball park.  Wearing a uniform. Getting ready to bat. See? All those things would show a similar pattern too.

 The eventual goal is to translate brain activity patterns into the correct words to fully describe thoughts, the researchers say.

This could have applications for helping people with disabilities, for whom brain scans might be able to elucidate their thinking more effectively than pictures. via

Hmm mmm. But it will be used for other reasons too, and maybe sooner then we think. I’ll get to that later.

Image.    Full article.

Brain scans could lead to consciousness ‘gold standard’

It can be nearly impossible to know what is happening in the mind of someone who has experienced a severe brain injury, but two new methods could offer some clues. Together, they provide not only a better indication of consciousness but also a more effective way to communicate with some vegetative people.

The way that a seemingly unconscious person behaves does not always reflect their mental state. Someone in a completely vegetative state may still be able to smile simply through reflex, while a perfectly alert person may be left unable to do so if a brain injury has affected their ability to move.

So a different way to assess mental state is needed. Marcello Massimini at the University of Milan in Italy and his colleagues have developed a possible solution by stimulating brains with an electromagnetic pulse and then measuring the response. The pulse acts like striking a bell, they say, and neurons across the entire brain continue to “ring” in a specific wave pattern, depending on how active the connections between individual brain cells are.

The team used this method to assess 20 people with brain injuries who were either in a vegetative state, in a minimally conscious state, or in the process of emerging from a coma. The team compared the patterns from these people with the patterns recorded from 32 healthy people who were awake, asleep or under anaesthesia. In each of the distinct states of consciousness, the researchers found, the neurons “shook” in a distinctive pattern in response to the electromagnetic pulse.

Massimini’s team proposes that each of these different patterns is a signature of a particular state of consciousness. Eventually, a doctor could use this scale, or index, to assess whether a patient is aware of their surroundings – and treat them accordingly.

Big step forward

“This is a big step forward,” says Joseph Giacino of Harvard Medical School, who was not involved in the study. He says the technique needs to be replicated with more patients and will need to be corroborated with other methods, but it may provide a starting point for developing a much-needed gold standard for assessing consciousness.

A consciousness index could be used in other ways too. For instance, it might help to improve our broader understanding of exactly what consciousness is and how it can be measured, says George Mashour at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor.

Giacino says that an index could eventually help identify which seemingly unconscious people with brain injuries are in fact sufficiently conscious to communicate with medical staff and friends or family members.

Adrian Owen at the University of Western Ontario in London, Canada, has previously shown that such communication is possible. In 2010, he asked people in a vegetative state a series of questions with yes/no answers, and asked them to imagine performing a complex task, such as playing tennis, whenever the answer was yes. A scanner picked up a unique pattern of brain activity that indicated whether the person is visualising this task.

However, this method is very inexact. In fact, only about three-quarters of healthy conscious people can perform the task in a way that the scanner can interpret. So when someone in a vegetative state shows little brain activity, doctors are left to wonder whether the patients are actually unconscious or simply not performing the task in a way the scanner can pick up on.

Locked-in but alert

Owen and Lorina Naci, also at the University of Western Ontario, have now developed a simpler method of determining the answers to yes/no questions given by people in a vegetative state.

After asking a yes/no question, the researchers repeated the word “yes” a number of times, interspersing the yesses with distracting, random numbers. They then did the same with “no”. The patients had been told to indicate their answer by paying close attention to how many times their desired answer was repeated. The researchers scanned the participants’ brains during this exercise to help recognise when the brain was concentrating. The task was so difficult that it was easy for the participants to ignore the answer that they didn’t want to give, Naci says.

They tested this on three people, two of whom were minimally conscious and one who had been in a persistent vegetative state for 12 years. All three patients were able to correctly answer questions about their names, for instance, or whether they were in a hospital.

Naci suspects this relatively straightforward method may reveal consciousness in more patients than had been previously thought to have it – 100 per cent of healthy, conscious people can communicate in this way. “We realise we really have to work hard to treat every patient as if they can understand and process what’s around them,” she says.

Nicholas Schiff of Weill Cornell Medical College in New York City says the study is a great start, although the technique is far from ready for general use in the clinic. But in future, an extensive suite of such tools may be available to give each individual their best chance to communicate – especially as each brain injury has its own unique characteristics. “[Treating] brain injury is the ultimate in personalised medicine,” he says.

Journal references: Massimi et al paper Science Translational Medicine, 10.1126/scitranslmed.3006294; Owen and Naci paper JAMA Neurology, DOI: 10.1001/jamaneurol.2013.3686

Dutch Scientists Use Brain Imaging to Locate Site Where Meaning is Processed

“This type of pattern recognition approach is a very exciting scientific tool for investigating how and where knowledge is represented in the brain,” says Zoe Woodhead at University College London, who wasn’t involved in the study.

“Words that mean the same thing in different languages activate the same set of neurons encoding that concept, regardless of the fact that the two words look and sound completely different.” As resolutions in brain imaging improve, Correia predicts that a greater number of words will be predicted from brain activity alone.

In principle, it might even be possible to identify whole sentences in real time, he says. “The science fiction gadget that everyone wants is a mind-reading machine,” says Matt Davis at the MRC Cognition and Brain Sciences Unit in Cambridge, UK. “This study is a useful contribution to that. It’s helpful to know where to look.”

However, the brain patterns that Correia identified were unique to each person. Brains are like faces - the eyes, nose and mouth are all in the same place, but the details can be different, says Davis. “The meanings might be stored in the same area, but the actual neurons would be idiosyncratic.” To read someone’s mind, a machine would first need to learn that individual’s unique representation of each word. “You would have to scan a person as they thought their way through a dictionary,” says Davis.

(via Mind-reading scan locates site of meaning in the brain - health - 16 November 2012 - New Scientist)

Brain Scans Show We Take Risks Because We Can’t Stop Ourselves

A new study correlating brain activity with how people make decisions suggests that when individuals engage in risky behavior, such as drunk driving or unsafe sex, it’s probably not because their brains’ desire systems are too active, but because their self-control systems are not active enough.

This might have implications for how health experts treat mental illness and addiction or how the legal system assesses a criminal’s likelihood of committing another crime.

Researchers from The University of Texas at Austin, UCLA and elsewhere analyzed data from 108 subjects who sat in a magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scanner — a machine that allows researchers to pinpoint brain activity in vivid, three-dimensional images — while playing a video game that simulates risk-taking.

The researchers used specialized software to look for patterns of activity across the whole brain that preceded a person’s making a risky choice or a safe choice in one set of subjects. Then they asked the software to predict what other subjects would choose during the game based solely on their brain activity. The software accurately predicted people’s choices 71 percent of the time.

“These patterns are reliable enough that not only can we predict what will happen in an additional test on the same person, but on people we haven’t seen before,” said Russell Poldrack, director of UT Austin’s Imaging Research Center and professor of psychology and neuroscience.

When the researchers trained their software on much smaller regions of the brain, they found that just analyzing the regions typically involved in executive functions such as control, working memory and attention was enough to predict a person’s future choices. Therefore, the researchers concluded, when we make risky choices, it is primarily because of the failure of our control systems to stop us.

“We all have these desires, but whether we act on them is a function of control,” said Sarah Helfinstein, a postdoctoral researcher at UT Austin and lead author of the study that appears online this week in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Helfinstein said that additional research could focus on how external factors, such as peer pressure, lack of sleep or hunger, weaken the activity of our brains’ control systems when we contemplate risky decisions.

“If we can figure out the factors in the world that influence the brain, we can draw conclusions about what actions are best at helping people resist risks,” said Helfinstein.

To simulate features of real-world risk-taking, the researchers used a video game called the Balloon Analogue Risk Task (BART) that past research has shown correlates well with self-reported risk-taking such as drug and alcohol use, smoking, gambling, driving without a seatbelt, stealing and engaging in unprotected sex.

While playing the BART, the subject sees a balloon on the screen and is asked to make either a risky choice (inflate the balloon a little and earn a few cents) or a safe choice (stop the round and “cash out,” keeping whatever money was earned up to that point). Sometimes inflating the balloon causes it to burst and the player loses all the cash earned from that round. After each successful balloon inflation, the game continues with the chance of earning another standard-sized reward or losing an increasingly large amount. Many health-relevant risky decisions share this same structure, such as when deciding how many alcoholic beverages to drink before driving home or how much one can experiment with drugs or cigarettes before developing an addiction.

The data for this study came from the Consortium for Neuropsychiatric Phenomics at UCLA, which recruited adults from the Los Angeles area for researchers to examine differences in response inhibition and working memory between healthy adults and patients diagnosed with bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, or adult attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). Only data collected from healthy participants were included in the present analyses.


alright - hear me out.

@blurryface’s profile picture reminds me of a brain scan. the red regions on the left, identical to the album cover art, are the frontal and occipital lobe of the human brain.

the frontal lobe controls concentration, planning, judgement, emotional expression, creativity, and inhibition. sound familiar? all of these characteristics in blurryface seem to be as negative and twisted as possible, causing confusion and chaos.

the occipital lobe affects sight and image perception - which may have something to do with the warped images. it would also explain the edited repost of this tweet -