Recent technological and scientific advances have fuelled a neuroscientific revolution. Imaging techniques such as those shown above have given us an unprecedented view into the structure and function of our brain.
In parts of Antarctica, not only is it winter, but the Sun can spend weeks below the horizon.At China's Zhongshan Station, people sometimes venture out into the cold to photograph a spectacular night sky.The featured image from one such outing was taken in mid-July, just before the end of this polar night.Pointing up, the wide angle lens captured not only the ground at the bottom, but at the top as well. In the foreground is a colleague also taking pictures.In the distance, a spherical satellite receiver and several windmills are visible.Numerous stars dot the night sky, including Sirius and Canopus.Far in the background, stretching overhead from horizon to horizon, is the central band of our Milky Way Galaxy.Even further in the distance, visible as extended smudges near the top, are the Large and Small Magellanic Clouds, satellite galaxies near our huge Milky Way Galaxy.
Advancements in MRI are giving us an unprecedented look at the fetal brain.
Until approximately a decade ago, what researchers knew about the developing prenatal brain came primarily from analyzing the brains of aborted or miscarried fetuses. But studying postmortem brains can be confounding because scientists can’t definitively pinpoint whether the injuries to the brain occurred before or during birth.
Over the years, however, improvements to MRI are finally enabling researchers to study the developing brain in real time. With these advancements, researchers are just beginning to understand how normal brains develop, and how abnormalities can manifest over the course of development. Scientists cataloguing typical infant brain development with the mini-MRI hope to use it eventually to study the brains of premature babies, who have a high risk of brain damage. Ultimately, clinicians hope to intervene early with therapies, if available and approved, to prevent developmental disorders when there are signs of brain damage in utero or shortly after birth.
Musical Training Creates New Brain Connections in Children
Taking music lessons increases brain fiber connections in children and
may be useful in treating autism and Attention Deficit Hyperactivity
Disorder (ADHD), according to a study being presented next week at the
annual meeting of the Radiological Society of North America (RSNA).
Fibers belonging to the greater forceps pre-musical training are
observed (A, B, C). Fibers belonging to the same patients after 9 months
of musical training are observed below (a, b, c))
“It’s been known that musical instruction benefits children with
these disorders,” said Pilar Dies-Suarez, M.D., chief radiologist at the
Hospital Infantil de México Federico Gómez in Mexico City, “but this
study has given us a better understanding of exactly how the brain
changes and where these new fiber connections are occurring.”
The researchers studied 23 healthy children between the ages of five
and six years old. All of the children were right handed and had no
history of sensory, perception or neurological disorders. None of the
children had been trained in any artistic discipline in the past.
The study participants underwent pre- and post-musical-training
evaluation with diffusion tensor imaging (DTI) of the brain. DTI is an
advanced MRI technique, which identifies microstructural changes in the
brain’s white matter.
“Experiencing music at an early age can contribute to better brain
development, optimizing the creation and establishment of neural
networks, and stimulating the existing brain tracts,” Dr. Dies-Suarez
The brain’s white matter is composed of millions of nerve fibers
called axons that act like communication cables connecting various
regions of the brain. Diffusion tensor imaging produces a measurement,
called fractional anisotropy (FA), of the movement of extracellular
water molecules along axons. In healthy white matter, the direction of
extracellular water molecules is fairly uniform and measures high in
fractional anisotropy. When water movement is more random, FA values
decrease, suggesting abnormalities.
Over the course of life, the maturation of brain tracts and
connections between motor, auditory and other areas allow the
development of numerous cognitive abilities, including musical skills.
Previous studies have linked autism spectrum and ADHD with decreases in
volume, fiber connections and FA in the minor and lower forceps, tracts
located in the frontal cortex of the brain. This suggests that low
connectivity in the frontal cortex, an area of the brain involved in
complex cognitive processes, is a biomarker of these disorders.
After the children in the study completed nine months of musical
instruction using Boomwhackers—percussion tubes cut to the exact length
to create pitches in a diatonic scale, DTI results showed an increase in
FA and axon fiber length in different areas of the brain, most notably
in the minor forceps.
“When a child receives musical instruction, their brains are asked to
complete certain tasks,” Dr. Dies-Suarez said. “These tasks involve
hearing, motor, cognition, emotion and social skills, which seem to
activate these different brain areas. These results may have occurred
because of the need to create more connections between the two
hemispheres of the brain.”
The researchers believe that the results of this study could aid in
creating targeted strategies for intervention in treating disorders like
autism and ADHD.
The large haemorrhage in this adult brain arose in the basal ganglia region of a patient with hypertension. This is classed as a haemorrhagic stroke. The other form of stroke is an ischemic stroke, which results from a blood clot blocking the flow of blood into areas of the brain.
A 5 month old girl with alobar holoprosenceohaly. This condition was diagnosed prenatally in utero and understandably resulted in severe enlargement of the child’s head. The child was oriented to sound, able to move all extremities and responded to external stimuli, however the long term prognosis for this condition is poor as it is typically fatal in the neonatal period.