Can frog brains help fight Alzheimer’s disease?

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We live in an aging society. This all-time high longevity comes with a hefty price tag – the increasing prevalence of age-related neurodegenerative disorders. Among them, Alzheimer’s disease is the most common and the best-known form of dementia that has been depicted in many books and movies, like The Notebook. But if this condition is so commonplace, why don’t we have a cure yet?

The human brain is an incredible organ that is still poorly understood by neuroscientists. An astonishing amount of research work goes into even seemingly small achievements as coming up with potential treatment ideas. This recently published paper by Krishnangsu Pradhan and colleagues is a sobering demonstration of this research reality.

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So do adult humans grow new neurons or not? A peek in the hotly debated issue.

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I grew up in Russia, in the rich environment of quirky Russian catchphrases. For example, in any troubling situation my aunt would try to stop everyone from worrying too much by saying, “Nerve cells don’t regenerate.”

But do they?

While there’s no evidence that humans can actually regenerate their brain cells (sadly, we can’t), our brains may be very well capable of growing new cells even in adulthood. Of course, as it tends to go in science, we are not quite entirely sure.

Adult neurogenesis is birth of neurons in a mature brain. This phenomenon is known to widely occur in lower vertebrates, such as fish and salamanders, some birds, and even mammals like mice. So what about us humans?

Well, buckle up and get ready for some recent drama in neuroscience.

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From kitchen to lab: is apple cider vinegar an antibacterial wonder?

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Do you have a bottle of apple cider vinegar somewhere in your pantry? If so, you’re in luck – this amber-colored vinegar, made from apples, is widely praised as the panacea among folk remedies. Adherents of a “natural healing” lifestyle recommend apple cider vinegar to help with many health issues, such as acid reflux, high blood pressure, and even sore throat.

But can science back up this alleged cure-all nature of apple cider vinegar? A recent study was published in Nature Scientific Reports that shed some light onto antibacterial properties of this kitchen staple.

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Broken clocks: what can mice tell us about circadian rhythms?

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Have you ever lain wide awake in the middle of the night, only to start dozing off at a meeting the next day? I know that I have. My friends and colleagues can testify that I am notorious for snoozing during talks. I have gotten pretty good at shielding my untimely sleepiness by draping my long hair over my face, but I must admit that I would much prefer to stay awake and learn some science instead. After all, this is why I am in graduate school.

Of course, I’m embarrassed when I doze off during a talk, but is there anything that I can blame for my drowsy state, other than my own laziness? Turns out, my brain’s control of circadian rhythms, or internal clock, might be off.

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Salamanders on drugs

What happens if you give newts amphetamine? Thanks to this study on regeneration of dopaminergic neurons in the newt brain, we now have the answer.

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Image source: ct.gov

This study by Parish and colleagues of Karolinska Institute in Sweden sought to develop a new animal model of Parkinson’s disease, in which dopamine-producing cells of the midbrain die off, leaving patients with motor deficits. The researchers behind the study used red spotted newts, a salamander species that boasts an amazing ability to regenerate missing or injured body parts. Red spotted newts can grow back entire limbs, organs, and even brain cells – something that mammals, including humans, can only envy from afar.

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The sound of victory: CRISPR may defeat deafness

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Can scientists edit deafness out of the genome? In mice, the answer now is yes: CRISPR/Cas9 has been used to improve hearing in mice with a mutation in Tmc1 gene. This gene codes for Transmembrane channel-like protein 1, which is required for proper functioning of the hair cells in the inner ear. A single nucleotide mutation in one of two copies of this gene, called missense mutation, is enough to induce hearing abnormalities in mice. This deteriorating of hearing gets worse with age. Humans can also develop deafness from missense mutations in the Tmc1 gene.

The CRISPR/Cas9 system has been adopted from the bacteria defense mechanism, which breaks invading viral DNA. Scientists use this system to selectively edit genomes, introducing or repairing mutations in genes.

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