Ground Breaking Neuroscience: 5 Things We Learned about the Brain in 2015

Ground Breaking Neuroscience: 5 Things We Learned about the Brain in 2015

At the begging of a new year, people always look back on the previous year and recollect the highlights of the previous 365 days. Usually, the focus is on things like the best songs or the best movies, but what about things that matter like the best discoveries or scientific breakthroughs? In honor of my favorite topics of research, here are the 6 best discoveries pertaining to the field of neuroscience in 2015:
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1. Memories can be Erased

As scientists get closer to mapping out the neurons that are responsible for memories, the potential exists to download, upload, and even erase memories. Doctors at the Scripps Research Institute did a study in 2015 that found a new drug that has the potential to selectivly delete memories associated with drug addiction. According to Dr. Courtney Miller, “When the person is in-patient, they’d use this treatment once and it would target those drug-associated memories that could be triggers for them. Later on, when they’re back in the real world, the memories wouldn’t serve as triggers because they’d be gone.”

2. Immune System is Directly Tied to Mental Function

Researchers at the University of Virginia found a direct connection between the immune system and brain function that, until now, was unknown. What they found was a network of lymphatic vessels in the brain that were previously thought to only exist at the base of the skull. Dr. Jonathan Kipnis said, “”When we discovered the lymphatic vessels, we were very, very surprised, because based on the textbooks — these vessels do not exist.”
Read: The Amazing Neuroscience of Drummers

3. Direct Correlation in Brain Health and Gut Health

Researchers discovered that by balancing the healthy bacteria in your gut, certain symptoms of depression and anxiety could be lessened, or even treated. The results were based on a study that involved people eating fermented foods to increase healthy gut bacteria, and the impact the gut bacteria had on anxiety and depression. One of the co-authors of the study, Dr. Matthew Hilimire said, “It is likely that the probiotics in the fermented foods are favorably changing the environment in the gut, and changes in the gut in turn influence social anxiety. I think that it is absolutely fascinating that the microorganisms in your gut can influence your mind.”

4. Pollution Effects Brain in Ways we Didn’t Know

In a surprising find, researchers discovered that pollution could actually be increasing the aging process in the brain, contributing to conditions like Alzheimer’s disease. They found that by increases in pollution caused a decrease in “white matter” in the brain, essentially shrinking them. According to Arron Reuben, “The evidence so far suggests that pollution could be the most pervasive potential cause of brain disease that scientists have ever discovered.”
Read: Optogenetics: The Revolution of Neuroscience

5. Sleep Plays Important Role in Emotional Stability

We all know that a lack of sleep can make a person grumpy, but new research last year suggests that sleep also plays an important role in emotional intelligence. The research found that without enough good sleep, people’s ability to process emotional responses appropriately were severely dulled. According to their findings, “It’s almost as though, without sleep, the brain… was unable to put emotional experiences into context and produce controlled, appropriate responses. Emotionally, you’re not on a level playing field.”

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