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How the brain learns from mistakes

University of Basel scientists have identified a protein that plays a major role in forming the right kind of connections in the rapidly growing brain of newborn mammals.

The protein was found to help neuronal cells in the brain repair errors when they had connected to the wrong type of cell and it may shed light on why some young children go on to develop disorders such as autism and schizophrenia, said the researchers.

Peter Scheiffele and team at the Biozentrum of the University of Basel have been able to document this phenomenon using advanced microscopy techniques in the developing cerebellum, a brain area required for fine movement control.

They discovered that a protein traditionally associated with bone development is responsible for correcting errors while neurons connect to their correct partners in the cerebellum.

Short breaks from work can improve your focus

While doing the same work for a prolonged period, we tend to lose our focus and our performance goes down. Now, a new study has overturned a decades-old theory about the nature of attention and showed that even brief breaks could improve our focus on that task for a longer period.

“You start performing poorly on a task because you’ve stopped paying attention to it,” said Alejandro Lleras, University of Illinois. “But you are always paying attention to something. Attention is not the problem.”

Lleras had noticed that a similar phenomenon occurs in sensory perception. The brain gradually stops registering a sight, sound or feeling if that stimulus remains constant over time.

“Constant stimulation is registered by our brains as unimportant, to the point that the brain erases it from our awareness,” he said.

“If sustained attention to a sensation makes that sensation vanish from our awareness, sustained attention to a thought should also lead to that thought’s disappearance from our mind!” he added.

New approach to treat diabetic wounds

Scientists have found a promising new approach for the treatment of diabetic wounds, bed sores, chronic ulcers and other slow-to-heal wounds. It may be possible to speed healing by suppressing certain immune cells, said Loyola University Health System researchers.

The cells are called neutrophils and natural killer T (NKT) cells. These white blood cells act to kill bacteria and other germs that can infect wounds. NKT cells also recruit other white blood cells to the site of injury. Neutrophils can be beneficial to wound healing by gobbling up harmful bacteria and debris such as dead cells. NKT cells respond to wound injuries by producing proteins called cytokines and chemokines that attract neutrophils and other white blood cells to the wound.

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