When Shakespeare meets neurology: Hamlet, Ophelia and autoimmune encephalitis

Neurology can’t seem to get away from autoimmune disorders of the central nervous system. This blog has visited this topic several times before such as with the posts titled What are the dreadful autoimmune disorders that plague neurology? and What’s evolving at the cutting-edge of autoimmune neurology? The attraction of autoimmune neurological diseases lies in part in the ever-expanding spectrum of the antibodies and the challenging symptoms and syndromes they produce.

By Gentaur – Gentaur, Public Domain, Link

The fairly well-recognised ‘conventional’ antibodies are those against VGKC (Caspr 2 and LGI1), NMDA, and AMPA. There is however an almost endless list of less familiar antibodies such as those against glycine, adenylate kinase 5, thyroid, GABA-A receptors, α-enolase, neurexin-3α, dipeptidyl-peptidase-like protein 6 (DPPX), and myelin oligodendrocyte glycoprotein (MOG). I am however fascinated by the group of disorders caused by antibodies to metabotropic receptors. The main antibody in this group targets the metabotropic glutamate receptor 5 (mGluR5). The clinical picture with this antibody is a form of encephalitis which may manifest with prosopagnosia (difficulty recognising faces), and with the curious Ophelia syndrome.

By Benjamin WestOwn work, Public Domain, Link

Yes, you read it correctly. Ophelia syndrome is named after Shakespeare’s unfortunate Danish maiden, and it was first described by Dr. Ian Carr whose daughter, at the age of 15, developed progressive loss of memory, depression, hallucinations, and bizarre behaviour. These symptoms aptly describe Ophelia’s deluded and obsessional attraction to the equally deluded and murderous Hamlet. Ophelia syndrome is almost always associated with Hodgkins lymphoma and affects young people.

By V from Coventry, UK – Hamlet, CC BY 2.0, Link

Thankfully Ophelia syndrome is a relatively mild disease without the Shakespearean tragic ending because it has a good outcome if recognised and treated.

Why not explore all the autoimmune neurological disorders on neurochecklists.

The emerging links between depression and MND

At first, it seemed like a single drop, but it is quickly turning into a trickle. The first inkling was a study of >1,700 people with motor neurone disease (MND) which was published in the journal Neurology titled Depression in amyotrophic lateral sclerosis. The authors found that depression is a very frequent diagnosis shortly before people are diagnosed with MND.

Von Vincent van Gogh - The Yorck Project: 10.000 Meisterwerke der Malerei. DVD-ROM, 2002. ISBN 3936122202. Distributed by DIRECTMEDIA Publishing GmbH., Gemeinfrei, Link
Von Vincent van Gogh – The Yorck Project: 10.000 Meisterwerke der Malerei. DVD-ROM, 2002. ISBN 3936122202. Distributed by DIRECTMEDIA Publishing GmbH., Gemeinfrei, Link

Surely a coincidence, I thought. A rogue finding, or even an understandable response to illness. My excuses were however debunked by another paper published soon after in the Annals of Neurology. Titled Psychiatric disorders prior to amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, the study found that depression may precede the diagnosis of MND by more than 5 years. The authors also report a high frequency of other psychiatric conditions preceding the diagnosis of MND, such as anxiety and psychosis

Depression. Nils Werner on Flikr. https://www.flickr.com/photos/130721398@N06/25363062843
Depression. Nils Werner on Flikr. https://www.flickr.com/photos/130721398@N06/25363062843

 

And just off the press is this report from Nature Communications titled Genetic correlation between amyotrophic lateral sclerosis and schizophrenia. What do we make of this? Is this just the tip of the iceberg? Surely more studies are needed before any firm conclusions. Perhaps this may lead to some early biomarker that enables neurologists to stop the process of progression to full blown MND. Perhaps.

https://pixabay.com/en/sky-clouds-rays-of-sunshine-414199/
https://pixabay.com/en/sky-clouds-rays-of-sunshine-414199/

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neurochecklists-image

 

Depression and the shrinking seahorses in the brain

Seahorses are beautiful creatures. The biologists convince us that seahorses are fish, even if they don’t look anything like fish. They also tell us, intriguingly, that seahorses are monogamous and the males do the childbearing.

By © Hans Hillewaert, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=22106851
By © Hans Hillewaert, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=22106851

But why is a neurologist talking about seahorses. It’s all in the name. The Latin name for seahorse is hippocampus , derived from hippos for horse, and kampos for sea monster. Where biologists saw fish, the ancients saw monsters. And you really can’t blame them…take a closer look

By Gervais et Boulart - Les poissons Gervais, H., Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=19157222
By Gervais et Boulart – Les poissons Gervais, H., Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=19157222

Deep in the brain is a structure also called the hippocampus, one on each side. The hippocampus plays a central role in memory, and it is considered by some to be the brain’s emotional centre.

By Images are generated by Life Science Databases(LSDB). - from Anatomography, website maintained by Life Science Databases(LSDB).You can get this image through URL below. 次のアドレスからこのファイルで使用している画像を取得できますURL., CC BY-SA 2.1 jp, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=7887124
By Images are generated by Life Science Databases(LSDB). – from Anatomography, website maintained by Life Science Databases(LSDB).You can get this image through URL below. 次のアドレスからこのファイルで使用している画像を取得できますURL., CC BY-SA 2.1 jp, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=7887124

It is no mystery why neuroanatomists name this important part of the brain after the seahorse, the resemblance is eerily striking.

By Hippocampus_and_seahorse.JPG: Professor Laszlo Seressderivative work: Anthonyhcole (talk) - Hippocampus_and_seahorse.JPG, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=9451294
By Hippocampus_and_seahorse.JPG: Professor Laszlo Seressderivative work: Anthonyhcole (talk) – Hippocampus_and_seahorse.JPG, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=9451294

Neurologists are passionate about the hippocampus for various reasons. In people with memory complaints, for example, hippocampal atrophy may predict the development of Alzheimer’s disease . A shrunken hippocampus is also seen in some forms of epilepsy. Neurologists therefore endlessly harangue their neuroradiology colleagues to look closely at their patients’ brain MRI scans, and to tell them that the hippocampus is shrunken…even if it’s just a little bit smaller. Unfortunately for the neuroradiologists, the MRI scans do not come colour-coded as in the illustrative scan below.

By Amber Rieder, Jenna Traynor - Own work, CC0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=16393748
By Amber Rieder, Jenna Traynor – Own work, CC0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=16393748

This blog post is however about major depression, and not about epilepsy or dementia. Depression, that bad feeling we all feel every now and then is frustrating, but major depression is devastating. And we now know that it is accompanied by major alterations in the structure of the brain. And, yes, the changes are in the hippocampus. I got interested in this subject when I came across a piece in Neurology News reporting that people with depression have a smaller hippocampus. 

depression-242024_1280

The association of depression with hippocampal atrophy is however an old one. Proceedings of the National Academy of Science (PNAS) reviewed the relationship in an editorial from 2011 titled Depression, antidepressants, and the shrinking hippocampus. The author addressed the unresolved puzzle…which of the two came first. Reminiscent of the chicken and egg scenario, it is not clear if the hippocampal atrophy causes depression, or vice versa. To add to the puzzle, the paper conjectured the possibility of a third, unknown agent, causing both the depression and the small hippocampus.

Depression. Shattered.art66 on Flikr. https://www.flickr.com/photos/shattered_art/3369289879
Depression. Shattered.art66 on Flikr. https://www.flickr.com/photos/shattered_art/3369289879

This question was the focus of a meta-analysis published in Molecular Psychiatry this year. It reviewed the brain imaging data of 15 studies, involving about 1700 people with major depression. Titled Subcortical brain alterations in major depressive disorder, the authors confirmed the link between depression and hippocampal atrophy, and also showed that the shrinkage is worse in those who developed depression at an early age, and in those who have had frequent episodes of depression.

5 stages of grief (Depression) #4. COCOMARIPOSA on Flikr. https://www.flickr.com/photos/8463160@N08/1790592784
5 stages of grief (Depression) #4. COCOMARIPOSA on Flikr. https://www.flickr.com/photos/8463160@N08/1790592784

Does depression lead to hippocampal atrophy? The meta-analyses hinted so, but there were too many caveats for the authors to arrive at a definitive conclusion. They admit that more needs to be done to unravel depression….leaving the mystery of the shrinking seahorses to continue to another day.

 

What unconventional stroke risk factors are out there?

Stroke is a terrible disease. It comes unexpectedly out of the blue, strikes quickly, and leaves devastation in its wake.

Ischemic stroke. NIH Image Gallery on Flikr. https://www.flickr.com/photos/nihgov/24964721940
Ischemic stroke. NIH Image Gallery on Flikr. https://www.flickr.com/photos/nihgov/24964721940

 

Stroke treatment is advancing in leaps and bounds, but the best approach remains preventative. We are all aware of the need to guard against the conventional harbingers of stroke: hypertension, high cholesterol, diabetes mellitus, and smoking. We are also aware of the benefits of a healthy diet and exercise.

There are of course stroke risk factors we can do nothing about: age is one, and there is of course a long list of genetic stroke risk factors.

DNA rendering. ynse on Flikr. https://www.flickr.com/photos/ynse/542370154
DNA rendering. ynse on Flikr. https://www.flickr.com/photos/ynse/542370154

 

Just as we are getting used to monitoring our blood pressures and heading to the park, some neurologists are bent on making our task a little bit harder. It’s no longer enough to flex those biceps or stamp out that stub; we now have to take notice of unconventional stoke risk factors. The first of these is infection.

3D model of influenza virus
3D model of influenza virus

This paper in Neurology titled Infection, vaccination, and childhood arterial ischemic stroke establishes the association between infection and stroke. The authors showed that 18% of children with stroke had an infection in the preceding week, compared to only 3% of those that did not have a stroke. Adults should not count themselves lucky going by another paper in the journal Vaccine titled Influenza vaccination and risk of stroke: Self-controlled case-series study. Both papers reassure us that immunisation helps to counter the stroke hazard of infections- one strong reason not to skip the next round of flu vaccinations.

By LaurMG. - Cropped from "File:Frustrated man at a desk.jpg"., CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=20367001
By LaurMG. – Cropped from “File:Frustrated man at a desk.jpg“., CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=20367001

 

Beyond infection come more bizarre unconventional stroke risk factors. We have always known that stress is no good; now we have some evidence to back this up. Just take the following factors now linked to stroke:

Add depression to this and you have a dangerous trio.

 

By BruceBlaus - Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=44968538
By BruceBlaus – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=44968538

 

Some medical risk factors are difficult to relate with stroke. Take for example

By M. Adiputra - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=11602220
By M. AdiputraOwn work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=11602220

 

Another risk factor to watch out for is air pollution. And to cap it off, being bilingual improves the chances of recovery from stroke. How unconventional is that!

Addendum

And straight off the press, you can now add sleep apnoea and insomnia to the list of stroke risk factors.

What are the most controversial questions in neurology?

Uncertainty and doubt abound in Neurology. There are many evidence-free areas where experts rub each other the wrong way. These controversies are big and occur in all neurology subspecialties. Controversy-busters have tried for about a decade to iron out these wrinkles on neurology’s face, but the unanswered questions remain. This is why there is a 10th World Congress of Controversies in Neurology (CONy) holding in Lisbon this year.

I want to assure you I have no conflict of interest to declare in this blog. My interest is to explore  which questions have plagued this conference over the last 10 years to pick out the most controversial topics in neurology. To do this I reviewed all previous conference programs and focused on the items that were slated for debate. I looked for practical topics that have remained unresolved, or are just emerging. Here are my top controversial neurological questions:

Raccoon argument II. Tambako The Jaguar on Flikr. https://www.flickr.com/photos/tambako/7460999402
Raccoon argument II. Tambako The Jaguar on Flikr. https://www.flickr.com/photos/tambako/7460999402

 

1st CONy 2007 (Berlin, Germany)

  • Clinically isolated syndromes (CIS): To treat or not to treat
  • Is stem cell therapy an imminent treatment in advanced multiple sclerosis (MS)?
  • Vascular cognitive impairment is a misleading concept?
  • Is mild cognitive impairment a misleading concept?

 

2nd CONy 2008 (Athens, Greece)

  • Can physical trauma precipitate multiple sclerosis?
  • Should patients with Parkinson’s disease (PD) be treated in the pre-motor phase?
  • What is the first line therapy for chronic inflammatory demyelinating polyneuropathy (CIDP)?
  • Is intravenous immunoglobulin (IVIg) effective in chronic myasthenia gravis (MG)?
  • Tau or ß-amyloid immunotherapy in Alzheimer’s disease (AD)?
  • Chronic fatigue syndrome is an organic disease and should be treated by neurologists?

 

3rd CONy 2009 (Prague, Czech Republic)

  • Should cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) be tested in every clinically isolated syndrome?
  • Can we prevent multiple sclerosis (MS) by early vitamin D supplementation and EBV vaccination?
  • Does Parkinson’s disease (PD) have a prion-like pathogenesis?
  • Patients with medication overuse headache should be treated only after analgesic withdrawal?

 

 

4th CONy 2010 (Barcelona, Spain)

  • Camptocormia in parkinson’s disease (PD): Is this dystonia or myopathy?
  • Does chronic venous insufficiency play a role in the pathogenesis of multiple sclerosis (MS)?
  • IVIg or immunosuppression for long-term treatment of CIDP?

 

5th CONy 2011 (Beijing, China)

  • Is sporadic Parkinson’s disease etiology predominantly environmental or genetic?
  • Is multiple sclerosis (MS) an inflammatory or a primarily neurodegenerative disease?
  • Are the new multiple sclerosis oral medications superior to conventional therapies?
  • Is bilateral transverse venous sinus stenosis a critical finding in idiopathic intracranial hypertension (IIH)?

 

6th CONy 2012 (Vienna, Austria)

  • Will there ever be a valid biomarker for Alzheimer’s disease (AD)?
  • Is amyloid imaging clinically useful in Alzheimer’s disease (AD)?
  • Do functional syndromes have a neurological substrate?
  • Should blood pressure be lowered immediately after stroke?
  • Migraine is primarily a vascular disorder?

 

 

7th CONy 2013 (Istanbul, Turkey)

  • Is intravenous thrombolysis the definitive treatment for acute large artery stroke?
  • Atrial fibrillation related stroke should be treated only with the new anticoagulants?
  • Is the best treatment for chronic migraine botulinum toxin?
  • IS CGRP the key molecule in migraine?
  • Is chronic cluster headache best treated with sphenopalatine ganglion (SPG) stimulation?
  • When should deep brain stimulation (DBS) be initiated for Parkinson’s disease?
  • Do interferons prevent secondary progressive multiple sclerosis (SPMS)?
  • Is deep brain stimulation (DBS) better than botulinum toxin in primary dystonia?
  • Are present outcome measures relevant for assessing efficacy of disease modifying therapies in multiple sclerosis (MS)?
  • Should radiologically isolated syndromes (RIS) be treated?
  • Does genetic testing have a role in epilepsy management?
  • Should cortical strokes be treated prophylactically against seizures?
  • Should enzyme-inducing antiepileptic drugs (AEDs) be avoided?
  • EEG is usually necessary when diagnosing epilepsy

 

8th CONy 2014 (Berlin, Germany)

  • Is late-onset depression prodromal neurodegeneration?
  • Does Parkinson’s disease begin in the peripheral nervous system?
  • What is the best treatment in advanced Parkinson’s disease?
  • Are most cryptogenic epilepsies immune mediated?
  • Should epilepsy be diagnosed after the first unprovoked seizure?
  • Do anti-epileptic drugs (AEDs) contribute to suicide risk?
  • Should the ketogenic diet be prescribed in adults with epilepsy?
  • Do patients with idiopathic generalized epilepsies require lifelong treatment?
  • Cryptogenic stroke: Immediate anticoagulation or long-term ECG recording?
Southern Chivalry: Argument Vs Clubs. elycefeliz on Flikr. https://www.flickr.com/photos/elycefeliz/6271932825
Southern Chivalry: Argument Vs Clubs. elycefeliz on Flikr. https://www.flickr.com/photos/elycefeliz/6271932825

 

9th CONy 2015 (Budapest, Hungary)

  • Is discontinuation of disease-modifying therapies safe in  long-term stable multiple sclerosis?
  • Is behavioral therapy necessary for the treatment of migraine?
  • Which is the first-line therapy in cases of IIH with bilateral papilledema?
  • Should patients with unruptured arterio-venous malformations (AVM) be referred for intervention?
  • Should survivors of hemorrhagic strokes be restarted on oral anticoagulants?
  • Will stem cell therapy become important in stroke rehabilitation?
  • Do statins cause cognitive impairment?

 

10th CONy 2016 (Lisbon, Portugal)

  • Which should be the first-line therapy for CIDP? Steroids vs. IVIg
  • Should disease-modifying treatment be changed if only imaging findings worsen in multiple sclerosis?
  • Should disease-modifying therapies be stopped when secondary progressive MS develops?
  • Should non-convulsive status epilepsy be treated aggressively?
  • Does traumatic chronic encephalopathy (CTE) exist?
  • Does corticobasal degeneration (CBD) exist as a clinico-pathological entity?
  • Is ß-amyloid still a relevant target in AD therapy?
  • Will electrical stimulation replace medications for the treatment of cluster headache?
  • Carotid dissection: Should anticoagulants be used?
  • Is the ABCD2 grading useful for clinical management of TIA patients?
  • Do COMT inhibitors have a future in treatment of Parkinson’s disease?

 

Debate Energetico. Jumanji Solar on Flikr. https://www.flickr.com/photos/jumanjisolar/5371921203
Debate Energetico. Jumanji Solar on Flikr. https://www.flickr.com/photos/jumanjisolar/5371921203

 

Going through this list, I feel reassured that the experts differ in their answers to these questions? The acknowledgement of uncertainty allows us novices to avoid searching for non-existent black and white answers. It is however also unsettling that I thought some of these questions had been settled long ago. It goes to show that apparently established assumptions are not unshakable?

Do you have the definitive answers to resolve these controversies? Are there important controversies that are missing here? Please leave a comment

 

6 exciting neuroscience discoveries that will shape neurology

Allan Ajifo on Flikr. https://www.flickr.com/photos/125992663@N02/14601014695
Allan Ajifo on Flikr. https://www.flickr.com/photos/125992663@N02/14601014695

 

The brain is a mystery and that is why neurologists find it fascinating. The more we know, the more it tantalises us with its hidden gems. Great neurologists have waxed lyrical about the ability of the brain to elude all efforts to fully understand it. Santiago Ramon y Cajal for instance says:

“The brain is a world

consisting of a number of unexplored continents

and great stretches of unknown territory” 

Non-neurologists are similarly awed by the brain. Emerson M. Pugh for example says:

“If the human brain were so simple that we could understand it,

we would be so simple that we couldn’t”

Neuroscience and neuroanatomy are at the forefront of exploring this great unknown; the research output from these fields is mind-boggling (pardon the intended pun). But But which recent findings are most likely to change neurological practice in the near future? Here are my top 6.

1. Newly discovered brain lymphatic system

"Gray602" by Henry Vandyke Carter - Henry Gray (1918) Anatomy of the Human Body (See "Book" section below)Bartleby.com: Gray's Anatomy, Plate 602. Licensed under Public Domain via Commons - https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Gray602.png#/media/File:Gray602.png
“Gray602” by Henry Vandyke Carter – Henry Gray (1918) Anatomy of the Human Body (See “Book” section below)Bartleby.com: Gray’s Anatomy, Plate 602. Licensed under Public Domain via Commons – https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Gray602.png#/media/File:Gray602.png

A recent report that researchers have discovered a previously unknown lymphatic system in the brain is to say the least shocking. To imagine that these lymphatic channels have eluded the sharpest eyes and most focussed microscopes for centuries; goes to show how mysterious the brain indeed is. Why has it stayed undiscovered for so long? Apparently because it is tucked behind a major blood vessel! Hiding in plain sight says one review article. The discovery is so important that one article says it will have the scientists rewriting textbooks. 

The finding however raises hope of better treatments for some neurological diseases. Because the lymphatic system is closely linked to the immune system, multiple sclerosis (MS) is one potential beneficiary of this discovery. Because lymphatics also act as drainage systems, there are implications for conditions such as Alzheimer’s Disease (AD). Hopefully this brain lymphatic system could be manipulated to clear the accumulated abnormal proteins that cause AD and other neurodegenerative diseases.

2. Newly discovered brain networks

"White Matter Connections Obtained with MRI Tractography" by Xavier Gigandet et. al. - Gigandet X, Hagmann P, Kurant M, Cammoun L, Meuli R, et al. (2008) Estimating the Confidence Level of White Matter Connections Obtained with MRI Tractography. PLoS ONE 3(12): e4006. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0004006. Licensed under CC BY 2.5 via Commons - https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:White_Matter_Connections_Obtained_with_MRI_Tractography.png#/media/File:White_Matter_Connections_Obtained_with_MRI_Tractography.png
“White Matter Connections Obtained with MRI Tractography” by Xavier Gigandet et. al. – Gigandet X, Hagmann P, Kurant M, Cammoun L, Meuli R, et al. (2008) Estimating the Confidence Level of White Matter Connections Obtained with MRI Tractography. PLoS ONE 3(12): e4006. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0004006. Licensed under CC BY 2.5 via Commons – https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:White_Matter_Connections_Obtained_with_MRI_Tractography.png#/media/File:White_Matter_Connections_Obtained_with_MRI_Tractography.png

 

The brains extensive connections is one of its enduring and fascinating mysteries. The winding fibers and tracts, meandering and looping around each other, demonstrate the brains complexity. As soon as we think we have grasped it all along comes a discovery that causes a paradigm shift. This is illustrated by the report of the discovery of a new brain network involved in memory processing. This Parietal Memory Network (PMN), in the brains left hemisphere, responds differentially to novel and to older information. This may have relevance to cognitive disorders such as Alzheimer’s Disease (AD). For the more technical details of the network the paper is in the journal Trends in Cognitive Neuroscience.

3. Newly discovered brain connection

Synapse by Peter Morgan on Flikr. https://www.flickr.com/photos/moogan/5997439279
Synapse by Peter Morgan on Flikr. https://www.flickr.com/photos/moogan/5997439279

 

In a similar vein is the discovery of previously unknown brain fiber tracts called the vertical occipital fasciculus (VOF). This new ‘brain corridor‘ is involved in visual processing. The research paper, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science (PNAS), says the VOF is important in the perception of words and faces amongst other things, and is ‘involved in the control of eye movements, attention, and motion perception. The main benefit of this finding is on our understanding of how the brain learns to read.

4. Newly discovered brain activity in deep coma

By Wojder (Own work(own work by uploader)) [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC BY-SA 4.0-3.0-2.5-2.0-1.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0-3.0-2.5-2.0-1.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
By Wojder (Own work(own work by uploader)) [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC BY-SA 4.0-3.0-2.5-2.0-1.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0-3.0-2.5-2.0-1.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

The common knowledge is that the electrical activity of the comatose brain flatlines on the electroencephalogram (EEG)! This now appears to be a misconception as this report of previously unknown electrical brain activity in deep coma suggests. One journal reported this  as the discovery of life after brain death!

These electrical waves seen in deep coma are called Nu complexes are well-described in the original paper in PLoS One. This finding will alter our definition of brain death which relies very much on the absence of organised brain electrical activity. Another implication is for patients whose medical condition requires that they are put into a coma; this finding will potentially guide the anaesthetist to the best form of induced coma. 

5. Newly discovered brain cell type 

 

I thought I have learnt all the different types brain cells or neurones that exist right from medical school. The mysterious brain however has a joker at every corner. The report of the discovery of a new type of neurone should come as a surprise, but by now we have learnt not to be shocked by new brain discoveries. The strange thing about these cells, found in the hippocampus of mice brain, is that they have direct connections between their axons (the single long tail) and their dendrites (the smaller hair like projections). This connection by-passes the nerve body; this direct connection enhances the strength of the signals the cell generates. The reason for this peculiarity is not clear but, because the hippocampus is the seat of memory, I guess there are implications for cognitive disorders.

6. Newly discovered brain repair enhancers

We know that the brain repairs itself (neuroplasticity) and that brain fibers make new connections although very slowly. What is new is that these processes can be enhanced or accelerated by external agents. Two interesting substances recently reported are psilocybin and curry. Yes, healing mushrooms and spices!

It appears that Psilocybin (psychedelic mushrooms) can establish stable connections between parts of the brain which do not normally communicate well. The research on this is published under the title ‘Homological Scaffolds of Brain Functional Networks‘. The paper describes how psilocybin helps in nerve re-wiring with the potential implications for the treatment of depression and addiction. A bit paradoxical, using an addictive substance to treat addiction; but hey, this is the brain we are talking about!

"Curcuma longa roots" by Simon A. Eugster - Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Commons - https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Curcuma_longa_roots.jpg#/media/File:Curcuma_longa_roots.jpg
“Curcuma longa roots” by Simon A. Eugster – Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Commons – https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Curcuma_longa_roots.jpg#/media/File:Curcuma_longa_roots.jpg

 

Curry on the other hand contains tumeric and this contains tumerone; tumerone has now been shown to help with nerve growth repair and it does this by causing proliferation of brain nerve cells. The research itself is titled ‘Aromatic-tumerone induces neural stem cell proliferation in vitro and in vivo‘. It is a study in rats, but are human brain very different? Potential benefits are all the neurodegenerative diseases which neurologists have singularly failed to reverse.

Enough food for thought but if you want to keep up with neuroscience findings, here are the most popular neuroscience blogs.

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neurochecklists-image

10 remarkable breakthroughs that will change neurology

This is the age of rapidly advancing technology. Blink, and the scene changes unrecognisably. It would be unbelievable if we weren’t actually living it. What technological advances will impact Neurology in the near future? Here are my top 10 neurology-impacting technologies.

1. Nanotechnology to deliver clot-busting drugs

CSIRO [CC BY 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
CSIRO [CC BY 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

Clot-busting or thrombolysis is life saving treatment following stroke. This however requires getting to hospital within 4.5 hours of the event, and is given by intravenous injections. How much better if it would be if thrombolysis could be delivered by mouth, and at the point of contact with paramedics. Indeed this is the idea behind clot-busting nanocapsules. Nanoparticles may also have future applications in prevention of MS relapses.

2. Disease-monitoring wearables

What if people with epilepsy could predict their next seizure? Or if someone with multiple sclerosis (MS) could predict an impending relapse? Well,  wearable technology promises to do just that. This goes beyond the fitbit which measures basic biological processes; these technologies will monitor realtime data such as a watch that measures skin moisture for seizure-prediction, or an iPad strapped to the back to monitor walking speed of patients with MS. I predict this technology will rapidly spread to many other chronic neurological diseases.

3. Nanoscale-resolution brain imaging

From the humble X-ray to the CT scan, brain imaging has progressed in leaps and bounds to a proliferation of MRI modalities with ever-increasing resolution or power. But nanoscale resolution imaging promises to make things more SciFi than healthcare. With the ability to look at ‘every nook and cranny‘ of the brain, this technology will visualise brain connections with incredible detail. Imagine how this will enhance diagnostic accuracy (and diagnostic conundrums in equal measure). This work is still in mice butI’m sure human application will follow shortly.

4. High-resolution eye selfies

Mobile phones are ubiquitous and the camera function seems to be more valuable than the talk mode. What with the number of selfies proliferating like a rah over social media. This may however be of advantage to healthcare. As the camera resolution increases exponentially, eye-selfies may come to the aid of neurologists and  ophthalmologists who treat patients with a condition called idiopathic intracranial hypertension (IIH). In this condition the pressure of the fluid around the brain is elevated. This shows as a blurring of the margins of an area called the disc and this is seen in the back of the eye using an ophthalmoscope. With advanced mobile phone cameras patients with IIH could make an eye-selfie diagnosis or assist in monitoring their eyes themselves.

5. Wireless brain EEG monitoring

Thinker Thing. https://www.flickr.com/photos/thinkerthing/8075309856
Attribution: Thinker Thing. https://www.flickr.com/photos/thinkerthing/8075309856

 

The electroencephalogram (EEG) is an invaluable tool for making the diagnosis of epilepsy. The process requires a time-consuming application of several electrodes to specific points on the scalp. The electrodes are then connected by wires or leads to a machine which records the brains electrical activity. This cumbersome process is time consuming especially for patients that need to keep the wires on for days. To the rescue is the wireless brain helmetThis will not only make the recording easier, it will send the recording wirelessly to the physiologist who will interpret the test. More interestingly, it will allow receive signals sent by the physiologist which will be targeted to treat epilepsy or other conditions like depression. The NeuroPace’s RNS system is one such device leading the way.

6.Wireless drug delivery

This is another wireless technology which facilitates the direct delivery of drugs into the brainThe device, not thicker than a human hair, is implanted into the brain and wirelessly controlled to deliver the required dose of drug, at specified times. The likely beneficiary diseases are epilepsy and depression (again). It is still in the stage of trials in mice but coming to your neighbourhood hospital very soon. If you want the complicated details then see the journal Cell for the research paper titled Wireless Optofluidic Systems for Programmable In-vivo Pharmacology and Optogenetics. What a mouthful!

7. Suicide-prediction technology

By RyanJWilmot (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
By RyanJWilmot (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

A blood test to warn of the risk of impending suicide? Wouldn’t that be great? It is not a far-fetched dream if reports that a blood test for RNA biomarkers of suicidal thoughts fulfils its potential. This will have psychiatrists whooping for joy-or out of a job!

 8. Optogenetics

Optogenetics is the use of light to control cells. This has the potential to alter nervous system function with exciting prospects for disease treatment. Again epilepsy appears to be a prime beneficiary if this takes off. Imagine programming a brain cell or neurone to glow red when calcium flows into it. This glow then dampens the activity of neighbouring cells thereby inhibiting any rouge electrical impulse that may result in an epileptic seizure. The process requires the injection of a genetically engineered virus which infects the brain cells. This ability to modify brain cell behaviour also has implications for the treatment of Parkinson’s disease (PD) and depression among other things. More SciFi you say.

9. Gene therapy for muscular dystrophy

Genetic therapy is an old dog that is still barking. This is just as well because it remains the only hope for many genetic conditions.  Genetic therapy has had its ups and downs and a very recent high is the positive outcome in leukaemia. Neurology is however not too far behind if this report that muscular dystrophy gene therapy has been successful in dogs is translated to humans. The research is rather complex but the academically minded may be interested in details of the trial.

10. Molecular spies for early cancer detection

A molecular spy is an antibody probe that is directed at the brain to detect and destroy ‘rogue’ cells. The leading researcher for this is Sam Gembhir who is based at the Canary Center at Stanford for Cancer Early Detection. Best to hear it from the horse’s mouth- speaking here at a TED talk.

https://www.youtube.com/embed/yG1J5e6-uT4” target=”_blank”>

Follow the links below for more on this topic:

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