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Insights into How & Why the Brain Sorts Information

Posted Jan 20 2013 10:07pm
Posted on Jan. 18, 2013, 6 a.m. in Brain and Mental Performance

The NMDA receptor in the brain's hippocampus is like a switch for regulating learning and memory, working through subunits called NR2A and NR2B. NR2B is expressed in higher percentages in children, enabling neurons to talk a fraction of a second longer; make stronger bonds, called synapses; and optimize learning and memory. This formation of strong bonds is called long-term potentiation. The ratio shifts after puberty, so there is more NR2A and slightly reduced communication time between neurons.  Joe Z. Tsien, from the Medical College of Georgia at Georgia Regents University (Georgia, USA), and colleagues genetically modified mice to mimic the adult ratio – that is, more NR2A and less NR2B, the team found that the rodents were still good at making strong connections and short-term memories but had an impaired ability to weaken existing connections, called long-term depression, and to make new long-term memories as a result. Such information sculpting is not an attribute of adult ratios of NMDA receptor subunits, suggesting a critical weakening that appears hampered in the older brain.

Zhenzhong Cui, Ruiben Feng, Stephanie Jacobs, Yanhong Duan, Huimin Wang, et al. “Increased NR2A:NR2B ratio compresses long-term depression range and constrains long-term memory.”  Scientific Reports 3, 8 January 2013.

  
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#108 - Men Be Wary of Plastics
Low levels of a chemical found in plastic containers and tin cans increases the risk for prostate abnormalities, reports a 2005 study conducted at the University of South Dakota School of Medicine (USA). While the study was conducted on mice, researchers warn the same findings could hold true for men, because exposure levels by the lab animals in the study were far lower than that of a human baby. Blood levels of the compound Bisphenol A, BPA, at levels well below thresholds deemed safe by the US Environmental Protection Agency area were found to cause malformations of the prostates of developing animals, and these malformations were suspected to predispose these animals to prostate cancer as adults. The study also found that male mouse fetuses exposed to Bisphenol A developed abnormally enlarged prostate ducts, putting them at risk for a condition similar to benign prostate hypertrophy (BPH).
 
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