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Brain links memories of sequential events

A team of neuroscientists has discovered how two neural circuits in the brain work together to control the formation of time-linked memories.

Suppose you heard the sound of skidding tires, followed by a car crash. The next time you heard such a skid, you might cringe in fear, expecting a crash to follow — suggesting that somehow, your brain had linked those two memories so that a fairly innocuous sound provokes dread.

Senior author, Susumu Tonegawa, the Picower Professor of Biology and Neuroscience said this is a critical ability that helps the brain to determine when it needs to take action to defend against a potential threat.

The interaction of these two circuits allows the brain to maintain a balance between becoming too easily paralysed with fear and being too careless, which could result in being caught off guard by a predator or other threat.

The new study builds on a 2011 study from Tonegawa's lab in which he identified a brain circuit necessary for mice to link memories of two events- a tone and a mild electric shock- that occur up to 20 seconds apart.

Moderate radiation could prevent second breast cancers

A study conducted in mice suggests that survivors can dramatically reduce that risk of developing breast cancer in the other breast through treatment with moderate doses of radiation to the unaffected breast at the same time that they receive radiation therapy to their affected breast.

The treatment, if it works as well in humans as in mice, could prevent tens of thousands of second breast cancers, researchers at Columbia University Medical Center (CUMC) said.

“Over the past decades, we’ve had great success in treating breast cancer, and the 15-year survival rate is now 77 percent,” study leader David J. Brenner, PhD, said. Dr. Brenner added that while drugs such as tamoxifen and aromatase inhibitors can reduce the risk somewhat, at least for women with estrogen receptor-positive tumors, the long-term risks of a second breast cancer in the unaffected breast is high.

The idea for prophylactic mammary irradiation (PMI) of the unaffected breast stems from an earlier study of standard whole-breast irradiation after lumpectomy. In that study, Dr. Brenner found that radiation is highly effective at killing premalignant cells, not only in the quadrant of the breast where the primary tumor was located, but also in the other three quadrants, where premalignant cells are generally considered to be unrelated to the primary tumor.

“So, we thought, why can’t we treat the other breast with a moderate dose of radiation and kill any premalignant cells that could lead to second cancers?” Dr. Brenner said.

Practice makes perfect with a little help from partners

A new study has revealed that people improve their performance more when they practice with a partner rather than on their own.

Scientists from Imperial College London and two Japanese institutions explored whether physical interaction improved the way people performed in a computer-based task where they were using a joystick-like device. They were connected by a virtual elastic band to the same type of device operated by another person, who was hidden from view.

Most of the participants were unaware that they were working with a partner, but in spite of this they subconsciously used information transmitted through their partner's touch to enhance their performance.

It was found that participants achieved noticeably better results in the task when working with a partner than they did working on their own.

The researchers are particularly interested in how their findings could help people performing exercises for rehabilitation, for example when recovering from stroke.

Even an intermittent physical connection between partners was found by the researchers to help individuals to learn the task better than subjects who practiced the task alone for the same duration.

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