Tag Archives: brain development disorders

Neural Memory traces are formed by listening and learning prior to birth


A cognitive neuroscientist from University of Helsinki, Dr. Eino Partanen led a team to show direct neural evidence that neural memory traces are formed by auditory learning prior to birth. Neural memory traces are formed by listening and learning.  Fetuses were exposed to various words inside the uterus and they showed recognition of these words on birth with enhanced brain activity measurements for the trained words.  Furthermore, greater brain activity was correlated with higher amount of prenatal speech exposure (Read original article here). Simply stated, it means that talking or singing to the baby inside the womb will help the baby develop it’s brain commited to speech features.

Implications in Autism?
These results have important implications for Autism prevention in susceptible communities. Perhaps, prevention education might need to begin during prenatal stage? Along with Vitamin D exposure from sunlight, supplements and nutrition of the parents. Recent studies report Vitamin D plays a role in compensating for stress induced deteriorating effects on the brain.

Neural commitment to speech begins before birth
Until this August 2013 publication by Dr. Partanen’s team, the neural basis of fetal learning had not thus far been investigated. This research will aid scientists learning to compensate for learning disabilities of a genetic nature such as dyslexia. It might also imply that it is important to compensate with early learning and listening protocols for genetically susceptible offsprings while still inside the uterus.

Learning begins while Baby is still inside the uterus and factors can stress them

This baby began to learn at 17 weeks of age inside the uterus and may have been exposed to mother's stress hormones

This baby began to learn at 17 weeks of age inside the uterus with prenatal speech exposure and may have been exposed to mother’s stress hormones

Dr. Gail Cross reviewed a few research studies on prenatal learning for Huffington Post here that inform us the developing brain is very sophisticated in utero. Christie Moon, Ph.D., a psychologist at Pacific Lutheran University in Tacoma, Washington and Dr. Hugo Lagercrantz, a professor at the Karalinska Institute in Sweden and a member of the Nobel Assembly co-authored the first study measurably showing the neurosensory mechanism for hearing is intact at 30 weeks of gestational age, while still in the mother’s womb. Dr. Vivette Glover of Imperial College of London was the first to note the early stage in which a mother’s stress and anxiety might affect an unborn baby. Stress hormones of the mother can cross the placenta, affect the dopamine production of the developing fetus brain around 17 weeks of age, and cause a baby to stress more easily with long term lasting effects.

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Bringing brain disorders back into balance with Brain’s thermostat?


Bringing a new path of hope to people with brain development disorders is Dr. Gina Turrigiano and her team at Brandeis University. They demonstrated for the first time in a live animal that the brain has a “thermostat” that maintains a balance of excitement. When it gets too excited a system exists to tone down the firing rate of the neurons or vice versa. This discovery has implications in brain disorder conditions in which the balance is lost in psychiatric conditions like autism where the brain does not get excited enough, or epilepsy in which the brain gets too excited. The brain’s “thermostat” keeps the neurons on an even keel even as they change in response to learning, development or environment factors. This thermostat worked even when the animal was awake or asleep. Read the original article published in the journal Neuron as the cover article on October 16, 2013 by clicking here.

Dr. Turrigiano says that if scientists can figure out how these set points are built, then researchers may be able to adjust them and bring the brains of people suffering from such disorders back into balance.

Dr. Gina Turrigiano, Brandeis University, pioneered "synaptic scaling" where neurons and neural circuits maintain both stability and flexibility

Dr. Gina Turrigiano, Brandeis University, pioneered “synaptic scaling” where neurons and neural circuits maintain both stability and flexibility

Dr. Gina Turrig1ano, was conferred the 2012 HFSP Nakasone award, McArthur Foundation award and the NIH Director’s Pioneering award for her pioneering work and introduction of the term “synaptic scaling”. The concept is that the developing and fully developed brain has inbuilt mechanisms that allow balancing the need for plasticity. It allows the brain to enable learning and development while maintaining the stability and integrity of the circuits that drive behavior.

Work in her lab has shown that neurons can “tune” themselves and scale down excitement or vice versa. However, this concept of “synaptic scaling” or thermostat control had never been observed in a life animal until now.

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