08. Neuroscience

7 Big Neuroscience Breakthroughs in 2022

December 3, 2022

Although neuroscience research has been flourishing over the last decade or so, 2022 proved to be an exceptional year with some for the biggest neuroscience breakthroughs for years. Here are 7 discoveries which show the potential of neuroscience to transform our lives and even our definitions of life itself.

1. Human Brains Use Quantum Computing

These heartbeat-style EEG signatures are the first indirect evidence that the human brain uses quantum computing. The EEG evoked potentials were detected via a specific MRI technique designed to seek entangled spins from human brains.

They are currently only explainable as nuclear proton spins in the brain that are quantum entangled. The lead physicist of finding summarized,

"๐™’๐™š ๐™–๐™™๐™–๐™ฅ๐™ฉ๐™š๐™™ ๐™–๐™ฃ ๐™ž๐™™๐™š๐™–, ๐™™๐™š๐™ซ๐™š๐™ก๐™ค๐™ฅ๐™š๐™™ ๐™›๐™ค๐™ง ๐™š๐™ญ๐™ฅ๐™š๐™ง๐™ž๐™ข๐™š๐™ฃ๐™ฉ๐™จ ๐™ฉ๐™ค ๐™ฅ๐™ง๐™ค๐™ซ๐™š ๐™ฉ๐™๐™š ๐™š๐™ญ๐™ž๐™จ๐™ฉ๐™š๐™ฃ๐™˜๐™š ๐™ค๐™› ๐™ฆ๐™ช๐™–๐™ฃ๐™ฉ๐™ช๐™ข ๐™œ๐™ง๐™–๐™ซ๐™ž๐™ฉ๐™ฎ, ๐™ฌ๐™๐™š๐™ง๐™š๐™—๐™ฎ ๐™ฎ๐™ค๐™ช ๐™ฉ๐™–๐™ ๐™š ๐™ ๐™ฃ๐™ค๐™ฌ๐™ฃ ๐™ฆ๐™ช๐™–๐™ฃ๐™ฉ๐™ช๐™ข ๐™จ๐™ฎ๐™จ๐™ฉ๐™š๐™ข๐™จ, ๐™ฌ๐™๐™ž๐™˜๐™ ๐™ž๐™ฃ๐™ฉ๐™š๐™ง๐™–๐™˜๐™ฉ ๐™ฌ๐™ž๐™ฉ๐™ ๐™–๐™ฃ ๐™ช๐™ฃ๐™ ๐™ฃ๐™ค๐™ฌ๐™ฃ ๐™จ๐™ฎ๐™จ๐™ฉ๐™š๐™ข. ๐™„๐™› ๐™ฉ๐™๐™š ๐™ ๐™ฃ๐™ค๐™ฌ๐™ฃ ๐™จ๐™ฎ๐™จ๐™ฉ๐™š๐™ข๐™จ ๐™š๐™ฃ๐™ฉ๐™–๐™ฃ๐™œ๐™ก๐™š, ๐™ฉ๐™๐™š๐™ฃ ๐™ฉ๐™๐™š ๐™ช๐™ฃ๐™ ๐™ฃ๐™ค๐™ฌ๐™ฃ ๐™ข๐™ช๐™จ๐™ฉ ๐™—๐™š ๐™– ๐™ฆ๐™ช๐™–๐™ฃ๐™ฉ๐™ช๐™ข ๐™จ๐™ฎ๐™จ๐™ฉ๐™š๐™ข, ๐™ฉ๐™ค๐™ค.''

In this case the known system was brain water (cerebral fluid), and the unknown system was the brain.

Additionally the levels of entanglement correlated with short-term memory performance and conscious awareness, so it is likely that they form an important part of our higher order cognitive functions.

Quantum processes have been well established in non-human biology. For example without quantum tunneling, photosynthesis, and accordingly most life on earth, might not have come to exist.

This study is also not the first evidence of human quantum biology.

Cryptochromes found in bird's eye's that leverage triplet-state quantum entanglement have been established as a mechanism which allows them read the earth's magnetic field like a map. Human eyes also possess crytopchromes, but at some point in our evolution they became deactivated.

The findings of this study could mark the beginning of a paradigm shift in neuroscience, as well as reveal keys ways to evolve machine-based quantum computing and artificial general intelligence.

Study: Experimental indications of non-classical brain functions, Christian Matthias Kerskens and David Lรณpez Pรฉrez.

2. Human-Animal Brain Synthesis

For the first time in history, animals may be acquiring some aspects of human intelligence via integrative brain transplants.

Organoids (or assembloids) are functioning clusters of neurons grown in vitro, usually from skin-based stem cells. These relatively complex living brain formations, which can be animal or human, are used to study neural mechanics in the lab, outside of an actual brain.

However, their research value is quite limited by the size and complexity they can grow into. To overcome this issue, a new approach published in Nature, has transplanted human cortex organoids into living rat brains (in the picture above).

6 months after integration, the human neurons reached a new order of maturation, growing 6 times large than what was possible in vitro. Their activity better emulated some of the more sophisticated behaviors found when observed in human brains.

In a follow-up experiment, the researchers specifically fired-up the genetically altered human neurons using optogenetics, and were successfully able to influence how often the rats sought out a reward.

Although fascinating, this new domain of biological research, and even biology itself, may be fraught with ethical complications, even including how to classify such a hybrid organism.

Study: Maturation and circuit integration of transplanted human cortical organoids, Omer Revah et al.Stu

3. Silicon-Biological Sentience

This video is more than meets the eye - it's actually the first successful hybridization of biological neurons and silicon chips learning to play a simulated game.

As we've just seen, organoids are currently one of the fastest evolving domains of science. This research goes in a different, yet equally mind-boggling direction, by synthesizing a mix of human/rodent organoids with computers chips.

Dubbed 'synthetic biological intelligence' (SBI), the goal is to synergistically merge these once divergent forms of intelligence.

In particular, researchers sought to bring the power of third-order complexity found in organoids, which has never been achievable in traditional computing. And in addition, to achieve the formal definition of sentience in neural cultures, effectively demonstrating sensory feedback learning.

In this study the in vitro organoids were integrated with 'in silico' computing via a high-density multielectrode array. Using closed-loop structured feedback through electrophysiological stimulation, the experiment named 'BrainDish' was embedded into a simulation of the iconic computer game Pong.

The ability of neurons in assemblies to respond to external stimuli adaptively is the basis for all animal learning. Although this initial experiment is a very basic simulation, it has demonstrated intelligent and sentient behavior in a simulated game-world through goal-directed behavior.

This approach provides a promising new research avenue to support or challenge theories explaining how the brain interacts with the world, and for studying intelligence in general.

Study: In vitro neurons learn and exhibit sentience when embodied in a simulated game-world, Brett J. Kagan et al.

4. Soleus Push-Ups

Researchers have made a potentially ground-breaking discovery for human health in 2022. Muscles are the largest lean mass in our bodies, yet in terms of whole body oxidative metabolism, they only burn 15% of glucose at rest. This is associated with the health risks of too much sitting.

The soleus is a minor calf muscle weighing just one kilo, however it has a special in-built mechanism, unknown until now. A new study at the University of Houston showed that when this specific muscle is precisely activated, whole body glucose metabolism is dramatically raised to between 30-45%. This occurs with negligible energy expenditure of actually contracting the soleus.

The exercise is a simple repetitive heel lift while keeping the ball of the foot on the floor, which can be done while seated on the floor, or on a chair. It has been dubbed the 'soleus push-up', which triggers the use of a previously undiscovered fuel mixture.

Interestingly, this type of soleus contraction is deactivated while walking or running. Accordingly, lower limb energy muscle expenditure was also tested on a treadmill.

Remarkably, the soleus push-up burned more than twice as much oxygen than running, and tens times as much as walking. The effects were seen across adults aged 22โ€“82 years of age.

The takeaway is that systemic metabolic regulation can be greatly improved by activating a minor calf muscle. These research findings reveal a widely accessible and practical way to counter the significant health risks of prolonged sitting, including for people who exercise regularly.

Study: A potent physiological method to magnify and sustain soleus oxidative metabolism improves glucose and lipid regulation, Marc T. Hamiliton, et al.

5. Breakthrough in Latent Neuroplasticity

An accidental new discovery published in Nature revealed a major new feature of neuroplasticity in adult mammalian brains.

A team of MTI neuroscientists were studying mouse brains to show how neuron dendrites process synaptic inputs in different ways, depending on their location. As this requires very high-resolution techniques, they incidentally discovered an abundance of microscopic silent synapses, known as filopodia, at the tips of dendrites.

The lead researcher commented,

โ€œ๐™๐™๐™š ๐™›๐™ž๐™ง๐™จ๐™ฉ ๐™ฉ๐™๐™ž๐™ฃ๐™œ ๐™ฌ๐™š ๐™จ๐™–๐™ฌ, ๐™ฌ๐™๐™ž๐™˜๐™ ๐™ฌ๐™–๐™จ ๐™จ๐™ช๐™ฅ๐™š๐™ง ๐™—๐™ž๐™ฏ๐™–๐™ง๐™ง๐™š ๐™–๐™ฃ๐™™ ๐™ฌ๐™š ๐™™๐™ž๐™™๐™ฃโ€™๐™ฉ ๐™š๐™ญ๐™ฅ๐™š๐™˜๐™ฉ, ๐™ฌ๐™–๐™จ ๐™ฉ๐™๐™–๐™ฉ ๐™ฉ๐™๐™š๐™ง๐™š ๐™ฌ๐™š๐™ง๐™š ๐™›๐™ž๐™ก๐™ค๐™ฅ๐™ค๐™™๐™ž๐™– ๐™š๐™ซ๐™š๐™ง๐™ฎ๐™ฌ๐™๐™š๐™ง๐™š.โ€

Synapses are the neural mechanisms which allow the brain to flexibly wire itself in near-infinite configurations. However, already functionally wired synapses require a high threshold of stimulation in order to decouple and rewire.

Silent synapses have a very low threshold and are essentially ready to wire with other neurons. Though it was previously believed that filopodia only existed in very young brains. This left many questions about the mechanisms as to how adult brains are still capable of high levels of neuroplasicity.

The adult filopodia were also found to be very sensitive to Hebbian plasticity, where one neuron can directly influence the synaptic plasticity of another.

The finding offers a new understanding on how functional connectivity can be driven by this new mechanism, allowing for flexible control of synaptic wiring that expands the learning capabilities of the mature brain.

It also offers explanation of how new memories can be formed.

โ€œ๐™๐™๐™š๐™จ๐™š ๐™จ๐™ž๐™ก๐™š๐™ฃ๐™ฉ ๐™จ๐™ฎ๐™ฃ๐™–๐™ฅ๐™จ๐™š๐™จ ๐™–๐™ง๐™š ๐™ก๐™ค๐™ค๐™ ๐™ž๐™ฃ๐™œ ๐™›๐™ค๐™ง ๐™ฃ๐™š๐™ฌ ๐™˜๐™ค๐™ฃ๐™ฃ๐™š๐™˜๐™ฉ๐™ž๐™ค๐™ฃ๐™จ, ๐™–๐™ฃ๐™™ ๐™ฌ๐™๐™š๐™ฃ ๐™ž๐™ข๐™ฅ๐™ค๐™ง๐™ฉ๐™–๐™ฃ๐™ฉ ๐™ฃ๐™š๐™ฌ ๐™ž๐™ฃ๐™›๐™ค๐™ง๐™ข๐™–๐™ฉ๐™ž๐™ค๐™ฃ ๐™ž๐™จ ๐™ฅ๐™ง๐™š๐™จ๐™š๐™ฃ๐™ฉ๐™š๐™™, ๐™˜๐™ค๐™ฃ๐™ฃ๐™š๐™˜๐™ฉ๐™ž๐™ค๐™ฃ๐™จ ๐™—๐™š๐™ฉ๐™ฌ๐™š๐™š๐™ฃ ๐™ฉ๐™๐™š ๐™ง๐™š๐™ก๐™š๐™ซ๐™–๐™ฃ๐™ฉ ๐™ฃ๐™š๐™ช๐™ง๐™ค๐™ฃ๐™จ ๐™–๐™ง๐™š ๐™จ๐™ฉ๐™ง๐™š๐™ฃ๐™œ๐™ฉ๐™๐™š๐™ฃ๐™š๐™™. ๐™๐™๐™ž๐™จ ๐™ก๐™š๐™ฉ๐™จ ๐™ฉ๐™๐™š ๐™—๐™ง๐™–๐™ž๐™ฃ ๐™˜๐™ง๐™š๐™–๐™ฉ๐™š ๐™ฃ๐™š๐™ฌ ๐™ข๐™š๐™ข๐™ค๐™ง๐™ž๐™š๐™จ ๐™ฌ๐™ž๐™ฉ๐™๐™ค๐™ช๐™ฉ ๐™ค๐™ซ๐™š๐™ง๐™ฌ๐™ง๐™ž๐™ฉ๐™ž๐™ฃ๐™œ ๐™ฉ๐™๐™š ๐™ž๐™ข๐™ฅ๐™ค๐™ง๐™ฉ๐™–๐™ฃ๐™ฉ ๐™ข๐™š๐™ข๐™ค๐™ง๐™ž๐™š๐™จ ๐™จ๐™ฉ๐™ค๐™ง๐™š๐™™ ๐™ž๐™ฃ ๐™ข๐™–๐™ฉ๐™ช๐™ง๐™š ๐™จ๐™ฎ๐™ฃ๐™–๐™ฅ๐™จ๐™š๐™จ, ๐™ฌ๐™๐™ž๐™˜๐™ ๐™–๐™ง๐™š ๐™๐™–๐™ง๐™™๐™š๐™ง ๐™ฉ๐™ค ๐™˜๐™๐™–๐™ฃ๐™œ๐™š.โ€

A key takeaway from this research is that our brains are neuroanotomically primed in a way that allows them to remain highly adaptive throughout adulthood, potentially ready to undergo transformative change.

Study: Filopodia are a structural substrate for silent synapses in adult neocortex, Dimitra Vardalaki, Kwanghun Chung & Mark T. Harnett

6. Enhanced Cognition Through Electrical Stimulation

Transcranial direct current stimulation (tDCS) involves applying weak electrical stimulation to the scalp to potentially heighten brain activity, also known less scientifically as 'brain zapping'. It's been around for a while, for example DARPA researched it around a decade ago. Most of the research focused on healthy or high performing populations, but little convincing evidence surfaced.

A study just published now suggests the benefits of this method may actually be specific to elders with memory issues.

The researchers evaluated memory training effects as an overall composite assessment of working memory capacity, comparing older adults to elderly adults with memory issues.

They found that, whereas all individuals improved their performance during training, tDCS with working memory training selectively benefited elderly individuals (OO) with lower working memory capacity.

Interestingly, they also found that performance with tDCS stimulation was worse in younger old adults, who actually showed significantly higher working memory scores with sham stimulation.

More research is needed, but this may be rare evidence that neurostimulation or neuromodulation benefits may be highly neurologically specific.

In addition, a similar electrical stimulation technique called transcranial alternating current stimulation (tACS) using low level electrical AC currents to trigger heightened brain activity showed for the first time that it can trigger meaningful changes in cognition.

In a study published in Nature 150 people aged between 65 and 88 carried out a word list memory recall task lasting 20 minutes while having their brain zapped. This was repeated over 4 days.

In contrast to sham stimulation, the results showed that memory performance improved over the four days, and that these gains persisted even a month later.

Perhaps more convincingly, when prefrontal cortex regions associated with long term memory were targeted for stimulation, performance improved on recall of words at beginning of the list. When parietal lobe regions involved with working memory were targeted, recall was boosted for words near the end of the list.

The results are much more compelling than other studies in this domain. This may be because the zapping was done over several days versus a single session. Either way it now looks like tACS can play a positive role for improving brain functions.

Study 1: Older adults with lower working memory capacity benefit from transcranial direct current stimulation when combined with working memory training, Sara Assecondi et al.

Study 2: Long-lasting, dissociable improvement in working memory and long-term memory in older adults with repetitive neuromodulation, Shey Grover, et al.

7. Cognitive Training Boosts Growth Mindset

Though there has been much scientific debate over the efficiacy brain training applications, new research robustly demonstrated that a 4-week cognitive training intervention can significantly enhance growth mindset in children 7-10 yrs old.

Growth mindset is based on the belief that oneโ€™s intelligence can change with effort that is associated with:-

- increased desire to learn

- positive views of effort

- willingness to take on challenges

As well as using pre and post assessments of growth mindset, detailed fMRI scans were performed before and after training. Alongside direct transfer in the assessments, scans revealed positive neurological changes in multiple brain regions crucial for cognitive control, motivation, and memory.

Plasticity of cortico-striatal circuitry emerged as strong predictor of which children experienced the most benefits from training.

Measures of growth mindset prior to training was also associated with higher post-training math skills, suggesting that higher levels of growth mindset led to better math performance with training. Yet interestingly children with lower math skills prior to training show greater gains in growth mindset in response to training.

As positive influences on growth mindset at a young age can grossly influence a child's development trajectory, the results show that cognitive training interventions have the potential to enhance overall life outcomes.

Study: Cognitive training enhances growth mindset in children through plasticity of cortico-striatal circuits, Lang Chen, et al.


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