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!
The cytoskeleton of neurons has been found to be involved in Alzheimer's disease
18.01.2019 | University of the Basque Country
Bioinspired nanoscale drug delivery method developed by WSU, PNNL researchers
10.01.2019 | Washington State University
The scientific and political community alike stress the importance of German Antarctic research
Joint Press Release from the BMBF and AWI
The Antarctic is a frigid continent south of the Antarctic Circle, where researchers are the only inhabitants. Despite the hostile conditions, here the Alfred...
World first experiments on sensor that may revolutionise everything from medical devices to unmanned vehicles
The new sensor - capable of detecting vibrations of living cells - may revolutionise everything from medical devices to unmanned vehicles.
Dead and alive at the same time? Researchers at the Max Planck Institute of Quantum Optics have implemented Erwin Schrödinger’s paradoxical gedanken experiment employing an entangled atom-light state.
In 1935 Erwin Schrödinger formulated a thought experiment designed to capture the paradoxical nature of quantum physics. The crucial element of this gedanken...
Cellulose obtained from wood has amazing material properties. Empa researchers are now equipping the biodegradable material with additional functionalities to produce implants for cartilage diseases using 3D printing.
It all starts with an ear. Empa researcher Michael Hausmann removes the object shaped like a human ear from the 3D printer and explains:
The phenomenon of so-called superlubricity is known, but so far the explanation at the atomic level has been missing: for example, how does extremely low friction occur in bearings? Researchers from the Fraunhofer Institutes IWM and IWS jointly deciphered a universal mechanism of superlubricity for certain diamond-like carbon layers in combination with organic lubricants. Based on this knowledge, it is now possible to formulate design rules for supra lubricating layer-lubricant combinations. The results are presented in an article in Nature Communications, volume 10.
One of the most important prerequisites for sustainable and environmentally friendly mobility is minimizing friction. Research and industry have been dedicated...
16.01.2019 | Event News
14.01.2019 | Event News
12.12.2018 | Event News
18.01.2019 | Materials Sciences
18.01.2019 | Life Sciences
18.01.2019 | Health and Medicine