Men and women process pain signals differently

Drs. Annemarie Dedek, Eve Tsai, Mike Hildebrand and colleagues have discovered that neurons in the spinal cord process pain signals differently in women compared to men. Image courtesy of Justin Tang.
Drs. Annemarie Dedek, Eve Tsai, Mike Hildebrand and colleagues have discovered that neurons in the spinal cord process pain signals differently in women compared to men. Image courtesy of Justin Tang.

A new study published in the journal BRAIN shows for the first time that neurons in the spinal cord process pain signals differently in women compared to men. The finding could lead to better and more personalized treatments for chronic pain, which are desperately needed, especially in light of the opioid epidemic.

Although it has long been known that women and men experience pain differently, most pain research uses male rodents. The new study is unique because it used female and male spinal cord tissue from both rats and humans (generously donated by deceased individuals and their families). Continue reading

UCalgary researchers use computer modelling to simulate impact of Alzheimer’s on the brain

SumaLateral Whole Brain Image - NIH image gallery

New way to model neural disease could lead to better understanding

Author: Shea Coburn, Hotchkiss Brain Institute

A deep neural network is a computerized brain-inspired machine learning model, which uses many layers of simulated neurons to mimic the function of the cerebral cortex. Each layer in the network creates more complex activity, which simulates the way information is processed in the human brain. These networks can be designed to replicate structures in the brain, allowing researchers and scientists to model specific brain functions more easily.

University of Calgary researchers have taken a new approach to using these networks for modelling of the human brain. Most studies, to date, have used deep neural networks to look at healthy brain function. These investigators wanted to know if these models could be applied to better understand brain function in a diseased brain. In this case, looking at posterior cortical atrophy (PCA), an atypical form of Alzheimer’s disease affecting the visual cortex.

“Using these artificial networks to model dementia could enable an improved understanding of the disease,” says Dr. Nils Forkert, PhD, an associate professor in the Cumming School of Medicine and principal investigator. “It allows us to have one well-established reference model that can be damaged in many different ways versus having to image hundreds of patients with different neurodegeneration patterns to obtain similar information.”

In the findings published in Frontiers in Neuroinformatics, Forkert, along with Dr. Anup Tuladhar, PhD, Dr. Zahinoor Ismail, MD, and PhD student Jasmine A. Moore used a standard neural network for automatic object recognition in images, titled VGG19, to simulate a brain with dementia symptoms. The researchers progressively damaged connections between neurons in the network, to mimic neurodegeneration in the visual system of the human brain.

Read the full story on the University of Calgary website

Brain Prize 2022: Pioneering work on how the nervous system controls movement awarded world’s top brain research prize

Three internationally renowned professors in neuroscience have transformed our understanding of the specific cell types and circuits that control movement: Silvia Arber (Switzerland), Ole Kiehn (Denmark) and Martyn Goulding (USA/New Zealand).

Their work has revolutionized our understanding of how we move, research now recognised with the award of the 2022 Brain Prize – the world’s most prestigious prize in neuroscience.

Learn more about the Brain Prize winners on the Lundbeck Foundation website here: Pioneering work on how the nervous system controls movement awarded world’s top brain research prize

Call for applications – Canadian neuroadvocates for the 2022 CAN Parliament Hill Week

We are excited to launch the application period for Canadian neuroadvocates for the next CAN Parliament Hill Week, which will take place in March 2022, as a virtual event. We are looking for a representative and diverse group of neuroscientists to meet with members of Parliament, Senators and Parliament Hill staff to highlight the importance of basic research in Canada, and the need to support it better.

Neuroscientists recruited for this event will be invited to participate in one to four meetings, in groups of four our five, to talk about their research and the importance of federal funding to support it. We aim to match neuroadvocates with representatives from their riding and/or with interest in their research topic, as much as possible. Meetings typically last 30 to 45 minutes. A training session will be held in advance of the meeting.

The application period is open until February 28, 2022. Continue reading

U of T research linking music to brain function could lead to promising therapies: CNN

Listening to music

A University of Toronto and Unity Health Toronto study found that listening to songs with special meaning for the listener improves brain function in patients with early Alzheimer’s disease or mild cognitive impairment, CNN reported.

Senior author Michael Thaut, director of U of T’s Music and Health Science Research Collaboratory and a professor in the Faculty of Music and Temerty Faculty of Medicine, told the U.S. news outlet that “listening to music with special meaning stimulated neural pathways in the brain that helped them maintain higher levels of functioning.”

“Whether you’re a lifelong musician or have never even played an instrument, music is an access key to your memory, your pre-frontal cortex,” said Thaut in a statement to CNN. “It’s simple — keep listening to the music that you’ve loved all your life. Your all-time favourite songs, those pieces that are especially meaningful to you – make that your brain gym.”

The research – published in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease in November 2021 – could lead to promising music therapies for patients with early Alzheimer’s disease or mild cognitive impairment.

Read more at CNN

Read more at U of T News

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Read the latest edition of CAN Connection – Fall 2021

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Message from CAN President Shernaz Bamji

Opportunity to apply for membership in the CAN committees

A call is open for applications for membership in the following CAN committees:

Equity, Diversity and Inclusion Committee:

Advocacy Committee:

Nominations Committee:

Application deadline for all committees is September 10, 2021 (New extended deadline). Applicants must be members in good standing of CAN (dues paid)

Bourneville’s tuberous sclerosis: everything unfolds in the brain shortly after birth

Graziella Di Cristo - Image CHU Ste-Justine
Graziella Di Cristo

A Canadian research team has uncovered a new mechanism involved in Bourneville tuberous sclerosis (BTS), a genetic disease of childhood. The team hypothesizes that a mutation in the TSC1 gene causes neurodevelopmental disorders that develop in conjunction with the disease.

Seen in one in 6,000 children, tuberous sclerosis causes benign tumours or lesions that can affect various organs such as the brain, kidneys, eyes, heart and skin. While some patients lead healthy lives, others have significant comorbidities, such as epilepsy, autism and learning disabilities.

Although the role that the TSC1 gene plays in the disease is already known, Montreal scientists have only now identified a critical period in the postnatal development of GABAergic interneurons that are so important to the development of the brain. Continue reading