The latest brain disease research discovers the important role of specific parts of the brain and the impact of different lifestyle factors.
In this month’s news round-up, we cover new research on how specific parts of the brain can be a link to disease. We also learn how COVID-19 infection, vitamin deficiencies, and other factors affect the brain.
Recently, researchers created the largest and most thorough collection of microglia, the brain’s immune cells, of its kind. The samples came from deceased people with prior neuropsychiatric and neurodegenerative disease diagnoses. Taking a closer look at microglia’s role in the brain, the study’s findings strengthened evidence that microglia may have some link to Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease. Certain differences in DNA sequences increase a person’s risk of developing these diseases. As a result, some of those differences, may trigger disease by altering genetic activity in a person’s microglia. The process of aging may also have an impact.
In an international study, 88% of people with long COVID (ongoing symptoms that persist for weeks after a COVID infection) reported memory problems and cognitive dysfunction. The term “neuro-COVID” is often used to describe these specific symptoms. These include ongoing brain fog and difficulties with concentration and memory. Researchers found that even individuals with mild to moderate COVID infections showed changes in brain scans compared to those with no evidence of contracting COVID: a greater loss of gray matter in the brain, more signs of tissue damage and generalized atrophy, and a larger cognitive decline. As research investigates COVID’s impact on the brain, there are two leading hypotheses for why neuro-COVID happens. One is neurotropism, or direct infection of the brain with the virus, the other an inflammatory response.
Low levels of certain vitamins and minerals can cause neurologic issues, including cognitive impairment, nerve damage, or increased risk of brain disease. Deficiencies typically occur due to malnutrition or certain diseases that affect the body’s absorption of vitamins and minerals. Important vitamins for brain health include vitamin B12, copper, vitamin D, and folate or folic acid. If you’re concerned about vitamin deficiencies, your doctor can assess your symptoms and take blood tests to measure your levels. Based on your results, your doctor may recommend adding certain foods to your diet or taking oral supplements.
Researchers have found a link between two parts of the brain often associated with neuropsychiatric disorders. One part is the default mode network, a key part of the brain’s functional organization; the other is alpha oscillations, the brain activity associated with attention and imagery. Disruption of the default mode network has been linked to a range of brain disorders. Those include Alzheimer’s disease, post-traumatic stress disorder, schizophrenia, and depression. This study found that using transcranial stimulation (magnetic pulses that activate nerve cells) on alpha oscillations helped regulate the default mode network. From a clinical perspective, this link could offer an effective, non-invasive therapy option for regulating the brain network that disease can often disrupt.