Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

Turning Alzheimer's fuzzy signals into high definition

08.05.2013
Virginia Tech scientists bring clarity to how most Alzheimer's drugs sharpen brain performance

Scientists at the Virginia Tech Carilion Research Institute have discovered how the predominant class of Alzheimer's pharmaceuticals might sharpen the brain's performance

One factor even more important than the size of a television screen is the quality of the signal it displays. Having a life-sized projection of Harry Potter dodging a Bludger in a Quidditch match is of little use if the details are lost to pixilation.

The importance of transmitting clear signals, however, is not relegated to the airwaves. The same creed applies to the electrical impulses navigating a human brain. Now, new research has shown that one of the few drugs approved for the treatment of Alzheimer's disease helps patients by clearing up the signals coming in from the outside world.

The discovery was made by a team of researchers led by Rosalyn Moran, an assistant professor at the Virginia Tech Carilion Research Institute. Her study indicates that cholinesterase inhibitors — a class of drugs that stop the breakdown of the neurotransmitter acetylcholine — allow signals to enter the brain with more precision and less background noise.

"Increasing the levels of acetylcholine appears to turn your fuzzy, old analog TV signal into a shiny, new, high-definition one," said Moran, who holds an appointment as an assistant professor in the Virginia Tech College of Engineering. "And the drug does this in the sensory cortices. These are the workhorses of the brain, the gatekeepers, not the more sophisticated processing regions — such as the prefrontal cortex — where one may have expected the drugs to have their most prominent effect."

Alzheimer's disease affects more than 35 million people worldwide — a number expected to double every 20 years, leading to more than 115 million cases by 2050. Of the five pharmaceuticals approved to treat the disease by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, four are cholinesterase inhibitors. Although it is clear that the drugs increase the amount of acetylcholine in the brain, why this improves Alzheimer's symptoms has been unknown. If scientists understood the mechanisms and pathways responsible for improvement, they might be able to tailor better drugs to combat the disease, which costs more than $200 billion annually in the United States alone.

In the new study, Moran recruited 13 healthy young adults and gave them doses of galantamine, one of the cholinesterase inhibitors commonly prescribed to Alzheimer's patients. Two electroencephalographs were taken — one with the drugs and one without — as the participants listened to a series of modulating tones while focusing on a simple concentration task.

The researchers were looking for differences in neural activity between the two drug states in response to surprising changes in the sound patterns that the participants were hearing.

The scientists compared the results with computer models built on a Bayesian brain theory, known as the Free Energy Principle, which is a leading theory that describes the basic rules of neuronal communication and explains the creation of complex networks.

The theory hypothesizes that neurons seek to reduce uncertainty, which can be modeled and calculated using free energy molecular dynamics. Connecting tens of thousands of neurons behaving in this manner produces the probability machine that we call a brain.

Moran and her colleagues compiled 10 computer simulations based on the different effects that the drugs could have on the brain. The model that best fit the results revealed that the low-level wheels of the brain early on in the neural networking process were the ones benefitting from the drugs and creating clearer, more precise signals.

"When people take these drugs you can imagine the brain bathed in them," Moran said. "But what we found is that the drugs don't have broad-stroke impacts on brain activity. Instead, they are working very specifically at the cortex's entry points, gating the signals coming into the network in the first place."

The study appears in Wednesday's (May 8) issue of the Journal of Neuroscience in the article, "Free Energy, Precision and Learning: The Role of Cholinergic Neuromodulation."

News release by Ken Kingery

Paula Byron | EurekAlert!
Further information:
http://www.vt.edu

More articles from Health and Medicine:

nachricht Antibiotic effective against drug-resistant bacteria in pediatric skin infections
17.02.2017 | University of California - San Diego

nachricht Tiny magnetic implant offers new drug delivery method
14.02.2017 | University of British Columbia

All articles from Health and Medicine >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Breakthrough with a chain of gold atoms

In the field of nanoscience, an international team of physicists with participants from Konstanz has achieved a breakthrough in understanding heat transport

In the field of nanoscience, an international team of physicists with participants from Konstanz has achieved a breakthrough in understanding heat transport

Im Focus: DNA repair: a new letter in the cell alphabet

Results reveal how discoveries may be hidden in scientific “blind spots”

Cells need to repair damaged DNA in our genes to prevent the development of cancer and other diseases. Our cells therefore activate and send “repair-proteins”...

Im Focus: Dresdner scientists print tomorrow’s world

The Fraunhofer IWS Dresden and Technische Universität Dresden inaugurated their jointly operated Center for Additive Manufacturing Dresden (AMCD) with a festive ceremony on February 7, 2017. Scientists from various disciplines perform research on materials, additive manufacturing processes and innovative technologies, which build up components in a layer by layer process. This technology opens up new horizons for component design and combinations of functions. For example during fabrication, electrical conductors and sensors are already able to be additively manufactured into components. They provide information about stress conditions of a product during operation.

The 3D-printing technology, or additive manufacturing as it is often called, has long made the step out of scientific research laboratories into industrial...

Im Focus: Mimicking nature's cellular architectures via 3-D printing

Research offers new level of control over the structure of 3-D printed materials

Nature does amazing things with limited design materials. Grass, for example, can support its own weight, resist strong wind loads, and recover after being...

Im Focus: Three Magnetic States for Each Hole

Nanometer-scale magnetic perforated grids could create new possibilities for computing. Together with international colleagues, scientists from the Helmholtz Zentrum Dresden-Rossendorf (HZDR) have shown how a cobalt grid can be reliably programmed at room temperature. In addition they discovered that for every hole ("antidot") three magnetic states can be configured. The results have been published in the journal "Scientific Reports".

Physicist Dr. Rantej Bali from the HZDR, together with scientists from Singapore and Australia, designed a special grid structure in a thin layer of cobalt in...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

Booth and panel discussion – The Lindau Nobel Laureate Meetings at the AAAS 2017 Annual Meeting

13.02.2017 | Event News

Complex Loading versus Hidden Reserves

10.02.2017 | Event News

International Conference on Crystal Growth in Freiburg

09.02.2017 | Event News

 
Latest News

Multicrystalline Silicon Solar Cell with 21.9 % Efficiency: Fraunhofer ISE Again Holds World Record

20.02.2017 | Power and Electrical Engineering

Biocompatible 3-D tracking system has potential to improve robot-assisted surgery

17.02.2017 | Medical Engineering

Real-time MRI analysis powered by supercomputers

17.02.2017 | Medical Engineering

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>