The more we learn about the human brain, the more we discover just how vast and complex it is.
As some scientists are discovering, each brain is wired in a completely unique way. In the same way that each of us has a specific fingerprint, we also have a distinct map of brain connections ― what’s known as the “connectome.” New research from Carnegie Mellon University mapped the brain’s structural connections to show that this network of connections is unique to each individual.
“In a way, we are showing what neuroscience has always assumed to be true but not yet shown: We are our own unique neural snowflake,” Dr. Timothy Verstynen, an assistant professor of psychology at the university and one of the study’s authors, told The Huffington Post. “The wiring diagram of our brain is specific to each of us.”
Studying the brain’s wiring may allow neuroscientists to one day predict (and possibly, prevent) the development of certain psychiatric and neurological illnesses.
Using a cutting-edge technology known as diffusion MRI, the researchers measured connections along the white matter pathways in the brains of 699 people. After creating a basic map of the major connections in the brain, the researchers measured the stretch of the connections along the brain’s underlying fiber pathways. The data was then reconstructed to create a signature “fingerprint” for each brain.
“In a way, we are showing what neuroscience has always assumed to be true but not yet shown: We are our own unique neural snowflake.”
“This gives us a very high resolution measure of the strength of fiber bundles throughout the entire brain, which we call the ‘local connectome,’” Verstynen said. “Then using this measure, we showed that the pattern of local connectome integrity is unique to each individual.”
The connectomes of the different brains were so distinct that they could be used to identify each person with 100 percent accuracy. A person’s brain connectome seemed to reflect not only information about genetics, cognition and neurological health, but also life experiences.
A surprising aspect of the findings was just how much an individual’s connectome tended to change over time ― it tended to shift around 13 percent every 100 days ― which suggests that brain connections are highly influenced by our experiences. This reflects what neuroscientists call “plasticity,” meaning the brain’s tendency to reorganize itself by developing new connections.
“If I scanned you once now and once again next month, your local connectome would likely have changed about 13 percent,” Verstynen said. “Also, we looked at genetically identical twins and asked how similar their connection profiles were. It turns out that their brains were more dissimilar than they were similar ― only about 12.5 percent similarity. Thus our experiences go a very long way to sculpting the connections in the brain.”
This technique could be used to study how hereditary and environmental factors shape the brain. It’s still too early to tell how the research might be applied to treating mental illness, but one day, it might be possible to compare connectomes in order to predict cognitive function or risk for psychiatric disease.
The technology is more likely to be used for clinical applications than personal identification, as it’s currently far too expensive to be used like fingerprinting, according to Verstynen.
“Realistically, we would hope that this could be used to better understand how subtle differences in the brain’s wiring can predict certain behaviors and (eventually) clinical pathologies,” Verstynen said.
Still, personal identification via brain patterns is still a possibility for the future. In another study from earlier this year, scientists were able to identify people with 100 percent accuracy using only brainwaves.
“Who knows if someone will develop a fast and cheap way to scan the connectome of your brain and use it as an identity marker,” Verstynen added. “I’ve learned never to say never.”
As you’re poring over the holiday ads from major retailers to make your wish list, environmental activists want you to consider more than price when you shop.
F for Amazon, Costco, Albertsons
1. Make a List of All the Possible Activities You Think You Might Ever Enjoy
Get a piece of paper and write down every physical activity you enjoy now or think you might enjoy–gardening, hiking, kayaking, learning to salsa dance, training for a 5K, doing the elliptical, weight lifting, taking a Spin class or trying a pole-dancing class.
If you belong to a gym or like the idea of working out in a gym, write down exercises, classes and machines that you know about.
2. Try at Least One New Workout for 20 Minute Every Week
Make it your goal to try at least one new workout every week for one month. Don’t feel pressured to like whatever you try right away–you probably won’t. Your purpose right now is simply to explore and find what you think you might want to try again.
There’s just one rule: You can’t count something as “trying it” if you do a workout for only five minutes–that’s not long enough to give your body time to warm up, let alone adapt to the movements you’re doing. Try to sustain any cardio-based workout for 20 minutes, easing into the exercise at first by going slower than you think you should. If you’re trying new strengthening exercises or lifting weights, warm up your muscles beforehand by walking or riding a bike for at least 5 minutes, then rotate through different sets, or exercises, for 10 to 15 minutes.
3. If You Give Something 5 Stars Out of 10, Try It Again Next Week
If you dislike something, cross it off the list. If something seems even remotely interesting, circle a date on your calendar the following week to try it again. On the other hand, if something made your body hurt or you just weren’t enjoying yourself after 20 minutes, you don’t have to try it again. The goal here is to find one or two exercises that you enjoy–and it’s icing on the cake if you discover more.
4. Four Is the Magic Number
Try any workouts that you think you might like at least four times before deciding if they’re a good fit for you. Four sessions should be enough to determine whether a workout has the potential to positively affect your body and mood.
If nothing excites you, though, that’s okay. Sit down again to make a new list–and this time, get more creative. Think outside the gym to outdoor sports, athletic clubs, adult pickup games and dance classes that you might enjoy. Or if you like the idea of exercising at the gym but still haven’t found something you like to do there, consider looking for a new gym with different class offerings, machines or even atmosphere. I know some people who don’t like to work out at gyms without personal TVs or those that don’t have any windows near the cardio equipment.
5. Keep the Adventure Alive
Keep the spirit of adventure alive because exercise, no matter how much you like it, can get monotonous and boring at times. It’s a lot like food, in fact: If you had to eat the same meal every day, even if it was your favorite meal, wouldn’t you eventually get sick of it and want to try something different? Continually experimenting will keep your workouts fresh, help you stay motivated and challenge your body in new ways so that you continue to get strong and lean without ever getting stuck in a rut.
Traumatic events may affect the brains of boys and girls differently, a new study finds.
Among boys in the study, a brain area called the anterior circular sulcus was larger among those who had symptoms of a trauma, compared with a control group of boys who did not have any trauma symptoms. But among girls in the study, this brain region was smaller among those who had trauma symptoms.
The region is associated with emotional awareness and empathy, the researchers said.
The scientists said they were surprised to see that “the boys and girls were so clearly on different ends of the spectrum,” said Megan Klabunde, the lead author of the study and a psychologist and neuroscience researcher at Stanford University School of Medicine. [10 Things You Didn’t Know About the Brain]
The researchers compared the size of this brain region in the boys in the control group with that of the girls in the control group, finding that the region was of approximately similar size in both groups.
A potential explanation for these results is that “exposure to traumatic stress may impact brain development rates” differently in boys than in girls, the researchers said. However, because the study was conducted at a single point in time, it’s not possible to know whether there is a cause-and-effect relationship — in either girls or boys — between trauma and the size of this brain region, the investigators said.
In the study, the researchers scanned the brains of 59 children ages 9 to 17, using a type of scan called structural magnetic resonance imaging (sMRI). There were 29 children total in the control group, and there were 30 children in the group that had symptoms of trauma, such as mood changes, and mentally re-living their traumatic events. These children had experienced a traumatic event more than 6 months prior to the start of the study.
The researchers compared the size of the anterior circular sulcus, located within a brain region called the insula, which plays a role in people’s emotions, awareness and empathy.
However, “the insula doesn’t work in isolation,” Klabunde told Live Science. Rather, this region is connected to other parts of the brain, which are also involved in emotion processing and empathy, she said.
Previous studies have shown that about 8 percent of girls and 2 percent of boys develop post-traumatic stress disorder sometime during their lifetime. Girls, in general, are more likely to develop the condition than boys are.
The researchers noted that their study had a relatively small number of participants. In addition, the research did not specifically study the impact of factors such as the time since the trauma, the age of the participant when the trauma first occurred, the severity of the trauma and other potential stressors that may also affect changes in the brain.
Future studies may shed light on how trauma affects other brain structures related to empathy, and whether these effects also show gender differences, the researchers said.
Additionally, further research may also help scientists determine whether these physical differences in the brain in turn lead to behavioral differences between boys and girls, the scientists said. Such research could help psychiatrists develop gender-specific treatments for boys and girls who have suffered traumatic events, the researchers said.
The number of U.S. adolescents and young adults with untreateddepression may be on the rise, a recent study suggests.
For youth ages 12 to 17, the prevalence of depression increased from 8.7 percent in 2005 to 11.3 percent in 2014, the study found. Among adults aged 18 to 25, the prevalence climbed from 8.8 percent to 9.6 percent during the study period.
But there hasn’t been much change in the proportion of teens and young adults seeking mental health treatment, the study also found.
“We already know that teens have much more depression than is currently being recognized or treated,” said Dr. Anne Glowinski, a child psychiatry researcher at Washington University in St. Louis who wrote an editorial accompanying the study.
“What this study adds is that rates of youth depression have significantly increased in the last decade and that the proportion of recognized/treated young people appears unchanged despite efforts to encourage pediatricians to focus on suicide prevention which includes more recognition and treatment of youth depression,” Glowinski added by email.
Each year, about 1 in 11 teens and young adults suffers at least one episode of majordepression, researchers report in Pediatrics.
To examine trends over time in the prevalence of depression and mental health treatment, researchers examined nationally representative survey data from more than 172,000 teens and almost 179,000 young adults.
Among other things, researchers asked participants if they had experienced a variety of symptoms that can point to depression, whether they had experienced an episode of major depression in the past year, and if they had seen a doctor or other health professional about these symptoms.
They also assessed whether the participants received treatments such as counseling or prescription medication.
Compared to teens who didn’t report a major depressive episode, those who did were more likely to be older, not in school, unemployed, in households with single parents or no parents, and have substance abuse issues.
Among young adults, those with depression were more likely to be female, black and have a substance abuse issue.
One limitation of the study is that researchers relied on young people to accurately recall and report any symptoms of depression or treatments for the condition, the authors note. The study didn’t include medical records and researchers couldn’t verify whether clinicians diagnosed depression in individual participants who reported symptoms or said they received treatment.
Even so, the findings suggest a growing number of teens and young adults havedepression and don’t receive treatment, the authors conclude.
This suggests there’s room for parents, pediatricians and school and college counseling services to step up efforts to identify and help youth with mental health problems, the authors argue.
“Many children do not tell their parents about their depressive symptoms, they may not even recognize them as such,” said lead study author Dr. Ramin Mojtabai, a public health researcher at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore.
“Parents should be alert to changes in academic or social functioning of their children and to other manifestations of depression such as social withdrawal, long periods of sadness, frequent crying spells, anger outbursts and irritability, suicidal ideations or gestures, significant changes in appetite and weight, and significant changes in energy level,” Mojtabai added by email.