Research points to areas for further examination

The research contributes new evidence to a body of scientific literature on the role of infection in autism risk and points to areas for further examination.

New findings suggest the oxytocin receptor, a gene known to influence mother-infant bonding and pair bonding in monogamous species, also plays a special role in the ability to remember faces.

This research has important implications for disorders in which social information processing is disrupted, including autism spectrum disorder. In addition, the finding may lead to new strategies for improving social cognition in several psychiatric disorders.

By measuring the motor excitability, conclusions can be drawn as to the general cortical excitability – as well as to cognitive performance.

Studies in animals have shown that working memory processes among others depend on the excitability of neurons in the prefrontal cortex. Moreover, there is evidence that motor neuronal excitability might be related to the neuronal excitability of other cortical regions.

Learning requires constant reconfiguration of the connections between nerve cells. Two new studies now yield new insights into the molecular mechanisms that underlie the learning process.

Learning and memory are made possible by the incessant reorganization of nerve connections in the brain. Both processes are based on targeted modifications of the functional interfaces between nerve cells – the so-called synapses – which alter their form, molecular composition and functional properties. In effect, connections between cells that are frequently co-activated together are progressively altered so that they respond to subsequent signals more rapidly and more strongly. This way, information can be encoded in patterns of synaptic activity and promptly recalled when needed. The converse is also true: learned behaviors can be lost by disuse, because inactive synapses are themselves less likely to transmit an incoming impulse, leading to the decay of such connections.

Newcastle University scientists have discovered that as the brain re-organises connections throughout our life, the process begins earlier in girls which may explain why they mature faster during the teenage years.

The researchers have demonstrated for the first time that the loss of white matter fibres between brain regions is a highly selective process – a phenomenon they call preferential detachment. They show that connections between distant brain regions, between brain hemispheres, and between processing modules lose fewer nerve fibres during brain maturation than expected. The researchers say this may explain how we retain a stable brain network during brain maturation.