A Road Map – and Dictionary – for the Brain

When you're talking about something as complex as the brain, the task isn't any easier if the vocabulary being used is just as complex. An international collaboration of neuroscientists has not only tripled the number of identified brain structures, but created a simple lexicon to talk about them, which will be enormously helpful for future research on brain function and disease.

A two-minute delay in cutting the umbilical cord leads to a better developent of newborns during their first days of life

A study conducted by University of Granada scientists (from the Physiology, Obstetrics and Gynaecology Departments) and from the San Cecilio Clinical Hospital (Granada) has demonstrated that delaying the cutting of the umbilical cord in newborns by two minutes leads to a better development of the baby during the first days of life.

This multidisciplinary work, published in the prestigious journal Pediatrics reveals that the time in cutting the umbilical cord (also called umbilical cord clampling) influences the resistance to oxidative stress in newborns.

Multiple Models Reveal New Genetic Links in Autism

With the help of mouse models, induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSCs) and the “tooth fairy,” researchers at the University of California, San Diego School of Medicine have implicated a new gene in idiopathic or non-syndromic autism. The gene is associated with Rett syndrome, a syndromic form of autism, suggesting that different types of autism spectrum disorder (ASD) may share similar molecular pathways.

The findings are published in the Nov. 11, 2014 online issue of Molecular Psychiatry.

Common gene variants account for most genetic risk for autism

Most of the genetic risk for autism comes from versions of genes that are common in the population rather than from rare variants or spontaneous glitches, researchers funded by the National Institutes of Health have found. Heritability also outweighed other risk factors in this largest study of its kind to date. About 52 percent of the risk for autism was traced to common and rare inherited variation, with spontaneous mutations contributing a modest 2.6 percent of the total risk. “Genetic variation likely accounts for roughly 60 percent of the liability for autism, with common variants comprising the bulk of its genetic architecture,” explained Joseph Buxbaum, Ph.D., of the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai (ISMMS), New York City. “Although each exerts just a tiny effect individually, these common variations in the genetic code add up to substantial impact, taken together.”

Brain wave hits California

As US science agencies firm up plans for a national ten-year neuroscience initiative, California is launching an ambitious project of its own. On 20 June, governor Jerry Brown signed into law a state budget that allocates US$2 million to establish the California Blueprint for Research to Advance Innovations in Neuroscience (Cal-BRAIN) project. Cal-BRAIN is the first state-wide programme to piggyback on the national Brain Research through Advancing Innovative Neurotechnologies (BRAIN) initiative announced by US President Barack Obama in April 2013. The national project is backed this year by $110 million in public funding from the National Institutes of Health (NIH), the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) and the National Science Foundation (NSF).

DARPA-Funded Research Offers Faster, Better Views of Entire Brain

A new research protocol developed at Stanford University in California improves on their previous technological breakthrough and lets neuroscientists visualize a brain across multiple scales, says program manager Dr. Justin Sanchez. Stanford scientists earlier developed a method called Clear, Lipid-exchanged, Acrylamide-hybridized Rigid, Imaging/immunostaining compatible, Tissue hydrogel (CLARITY) to study brain tissue. The method uses a chemical to transform intact biological tissues into a hydrogel hybrid, which makes the brain tissues transparent. “Brains are not clear to begin with, therefore if you’re trying to use, let’s say, a microscope to study the volume of tissue of the brain, the light can’t transverse through all of the structure,” Sanchez explains. “However, if you do ‘clarify’ it using this very novel technique, then you are able to get through a volume of tissue and study all of the circuitry.” Under the CLARITY protocol, Sanchez says, it could take upwards of 80 years to conduct the imaging process for a complete human brain. But the new protocol accelerates the process so that the same technique now takes 220 days.

Seeing the inner workings of the brain made easier by new technique from Stanford scientists

When you look at the brain, what you see is the fatty outer covering of the nerve cells within, which blocks microscopes from taking images of the intricate connections between deep brain cells. The idea behind CLARITY was to eliminate that fatty covering while keeping the brain intact, complete with all its intricate inner wiring. To help expand the use of CLARITY, the team devised an alternate way of pulling out the fat from the hydrogel-embedded brain – a technique they call passive CLARITY. It takes a little longer, but still removes all the fat, is much easier and does not pose a risk to the tissue. "Electrophoretic CLARITY is important for cases where speed is critical, and for some tissues," said Deisseroth, who is also the D.H. Chen Professor. "But passive CLARITY is a crucial advance for the community, especially for neuroscience." Passive CLARITY requires nothing more than some chemicals, a warm bath and time. Many groups have begun to apply CLARITY to probe brains donated from people who had diseases like epilepsy or autism, which might have left clues in the brain to help scientists understand and eventually treat the disease. But scientists, including Deisseroth, had been wary of trying electrophoretic CLARTY on these valuable clinical samples with even a very low risk of damage. "It's a rare and precious donated sample, you don't want to have a chance of damage or error," Deisseroth said. "Now the risk issue is addressed, and on top of that you can get the data very rapidly."

UT Southwestern to collect brain tissue for autism research

The medical school is one of four sites nationwide that will collect, store and distribute brain tissue to scientists studying the disease, which affects an estimated one in 68 children. UT Southwestern is an inaugural member of Autism BrainNet, an initiative created last year by The Simons Foundation, Autism Speaks and the Autism Science Foundation. The group also created an outreach program and tissue donation registration site called It Takes Brains. UT Southwestern will collect autistic and normal brain tissue samples in the South Central and Midwest regions of the U.S. to be distributed to researchers around the world.

Researchers discover that effective drugs for Parkinson's reduce symptoms of Rett syndrome in mice

Rett syndrome is the second most common cause of mental retardation in women, after Down syndrome. It is a neurodevelopmental disease whose clinical picture begins to appear 6-18 months after birth and involves a loss of intellectual, social and motor skills, accompanied by autistic behaviors, such as repetitive movements of the hands. There are effective drugs in Parkinson's so we decided to study whether they could also function in Rett syndrome, "says Manel Esteller. "We found that combined treatment with L-Dopa and Dopa decarboxylase inhibitor reduces typical manifestations of the disease and mobility defects, tremor and respiratory distress in these animals."