Fine-Tuning Tools To Examine The Brain In Order To Alleviate Common Mental Disorders

A new study published in the Journal of Molecular Psychiatry looked at how genetically encoded sensors enable micro and nano-scopic decoding of transmission in healthy and diseased brains.

“Our study looked at developing a method to visualize neuromodulatory communication between neurons at the nanoscale,” study author Li Lin told us. “Neuromodulatory communication is important for many high cognitive behaviors and its deficit is responsible various psychiatric, mental and neurology disorders.”

Problems with communication pathways of the brain are involved in many neurodevelopmental conditions such as Autism, addiction, Alzheimer’s disease, heart problems, schizophrenia, depression, anxiety, eating disorders, sleep disorders and epilepsy. While the research clearly points to brain communication issues, the tools to examine and measure brain activity remain sparse. This study looked at a way to see those neurons in action in the brain.

According to the Addiction Center, nearly 21 million people in the United States have at least one addiction, but unfortunately, only 10 per cent receive treatment. Deaths due to drug overdose have tripled over the last three decades. More than 700,000 Americans died from a drug overdose between 1999 and 2017. The economy suffered over $600 billion in losses due to drug addiction.

“I decided to do this study in order to gain a better understanding of brain communication and brain diseases,” Lin told us. “Neuromodulatory communication is also responsible for many other healthy issues, such as cardiovascular regulation and diseases, immune regulation and deficiency, metabolic regulation and eating disorders, and tumorigenesis since nerves innervate almost every tissues in our body, and recent studies show they do far more than we thought.”

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, heart disease is the leading cause of death in men and women in the United States. Every 36 seconds, a person dies in the U.S. from cardiovascular disease. Every one in four deaths in the U.S. (over 650,000 people) is attributable to heart disease each year. Cardiovascular conditions cost the U.S. economy over $360 billion from 2016-2017.

“While we are validating applicability of the method, we found an old theory about neuromodulatory communication is incorrect,” Lin told us. “Our previous understanding of brain communication might be incorrect in many aspects.”

According to the World Health Organization, five per cent of adults suffer from depression worldwide. Depression is a leading cause of disability and a major contributor to the worldwide burden of disease. More women experience depression than men do. Depression can lead to suicide. There is evidence-based treatment that works for depression in all its severities from mild to moderate to severe.

Researchers used an image analysis method to test their theory and found that it showed “neuromodulatory transmission in human neuron culture preparations exhibited fine regulation and precision reminiscent of that in rodent brain slice and in vivo preparations. These preliminary experiments establish a human-induced neuron system to define synaptic parameters of healthy human neuromodulatory transmission, delineate deficits of diseased human neuromodulatory transmission, screen therapeutic drugs and diseasecausing genes, and develop potential cell transplantation-based therapies, raising exciting possibilities for regenerative and personalized medicines.”

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