Tag Archives: brain

New research suggests that we remember life like a film

A new study has shed light on just how the brain may process life.  We have known for a long time where memories may be stored, but new research gives us a tantalising glimpse at just how this happens. Publishing in the Journal of Neuroscience, researchers may have just shown us just how ‘Hollywood’ are memories may be.

Built for complexity

The new data, gleaned from hundreds of participants, suggests that the hippocampus (an area of the brain associated with memory,) is able to split information into manageable chunks.

Participants watched films (including Forrest Gump,) whilst hooked up to a functional MRI (which can map brain activation in real-time.) At the same time, 16 observers watched the same film and indicated when they believed that ‘events’ in the film began and ended.

Strikingly, it seemed that the brain was most active at these ‘event points’, suggesting that the entire film was memorised in small sections as opposed to one flowing narrative. All in all, it suggests that our brains process information into workable bits of information, much like a film reel.

Brain built for simplicity

So what does this add to our knowledge? Many theories already suggest that the brain acts as a filter for information, only storing what is important. If we were to take in every small bit of data, we would likely be overwhelmed. This new study shows us that the brain may do this based not just on space, but also the emotive and narrative component of what we see.

It may very much be that memory, like a good film, depends on important and emotive set pieces, with the most important moments given the most weight. And when we already know just how tricky memory can be, we can now ask why the brain chooses as it does.

So what do you think? Is there a reason the brain may work like this? What are the benefits? Let us know in the comments, and if you enjoyed this article please share!

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The opinions expressed in this article are those of Dr Janaway alone and may not represent those of his affiliates. Featured image courtesy of Flickr.

 

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Brain Ageing May Be Due To Genetic Problems. Study Shines Light On ‘Weakness’

As you grow older many things are certain. Things wear out. One issue is a loss of brain cells (neurons.)  Although the numbers lost through ageing aren’t as striking as they once were, we cannot ignore the fact that the nature of brain cells puts them at risk to damage by any means. And whats worse, losing them can have very significant effects on your life.  Previously, our complicated model of understanding explained the severity of brain disease based on a lack of cell replacement or ‘hardiness‘, amongst other factors such as increases in certain proteins. But new research may have found a fundamental problem with how our neuron’s use energy, and a genetic tendency toward self-destruction. It may be that the brain is programmed to burn itself out.

Old Brains and Old Genes

In a new study published in Cell Reports, researchers compared brain cells from both ‘young’ and ‘old’ donors. They compared the levels of genes ‘upregulated‘ (i.e more deliberately active,) in association with brain cell energy processes such as mitochondrial activity (a cell organelle involved in energy use. )’Upregulation’ of a gene means that the behaviour or process it codes for is more likely to happen, i.e up regulation of genes associated with growth means the organism grows more. They then looked at whether there was a difference in the brain cells susceptibility to damage dependent on the level of the genes expressed in each group. Simply put, they wanted to know if age effected the genetic activity governing brain energy use, and whether this was good or bad.

brain death neutron gene

Neurons, once lost, do not return. So why are they so delicate? Image courtesy of NICHD

They found that in older cells,  that 70% of  genes associated with energy use were expressed at lower levels. They also found that replicative processes associated with energy use, as well necessary protein creation, were also lower. Most strikingly, this was associated with defects in the very mitochondria affected. This means that since the brain relies on mitochondrial activity for energy, that damage to the brain may actually occur due to genetic issues rather than simply blood loss or other disease.  This will increase the risks associated with ageing, as well as potentially explain why the brain dies off as we grow older.

A New Model Of Brain Death

Although the research has provided a fundamental shift in how we may understand brain cell death, it must be placed in context. Rather than undermining current theories, such as neurons being especially susceptible to blood loss, it may both help to explain them and provide a better picture of how brain cells die overall. As maudlin as this may seem, it may provide new avenues for genetic therapy down the line. We are already seeing genetic therapies being developed that target ‘problematic processes.’ There is no immediate reason that these therapies could not be adapted after further research. So, in this case, knowledge is very much power.

So watch this space, because as we age the need for more intervention increases. And this may be another step toward protecting our brain, the centre of our being, for that much longer. And let us know what you think in the comments below.

What’s Next?

The opinions expressed in this article are those of  Dr Janaway alone and may not represent those of his affiliates. Images courtesy of flickr. The content matter of this article has been simplified greatly from the original journal publication. This has not been done to obscure or overly simplify  the findings of the research, but to make the findings communicable. And I don’t mean to just the lay person, I mean trained professionals who can’t make sense of ‘ We found that 70% of all mitochondrial genes were downregulated in old iNs compared to young iNs ( Interestingly, categorization of the mitochondrial genes into functional groups revealed that 93% of the genes that composed the mitochondrial ETC complexes I–V were downregulated in old iNs (example of source text. )But I am very aware that in the process of making the data and article more understandable that I risk making mistakes in my inferences. If that is indeed the case, please do let me know so I may retract and improve on the subject matter at hand. Ben.