- Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
- Published over 5 years ago
Whereas a categorical difference in the genitals has always been acknowledged, the question of how far these categories extend into human biology is still not resolved. Documented sex/gender differences in the brain are often taken as support of a sexually dimorphic view of human brains (“female brain” or “male brain”). However, such a distinction would be possible only if sex/gender differences in brain features were highly dimorphic (i.e., little overlap between the forms of these features in males and females) and internally consistent (i.e., a brain has only “male” or only “female” features). Here, analysis of MRIs of more than 1,400 human brains from four datasets reveals extensive overlap between the distributions of females and males for all gray matter, white matter, and connections assessed. Moreover, analyses of internal consistency reveal that brains with features that are consistently at one end of the “maleness-femaleness” continuum are rare. Rather, most brains are comprised of unique “mosaics” of features, some more common in females compared with males, some more common in males compared with females, and some common in both females and males. Our findings are robust across sample, age, type of MRI, and method of analysis. These findings are corroborated by a similar analysis of personality traits, attitudes, interests, and behaviors of more than 5,500 individuals, which reveals that internal consistency is extremely rare. Our study demonstrates that, although there are sex/gender differences in the brain, human brains do not belong to one of two distinct categories: male brain/female brain.
A widespread epidemic of Zika virus (ZIKV) infection was reported in 2015 in South and Central America and the Caribbean. A major concern associated with this infection is the apparent increased incidence of microcephaly in fetuses born to mothers infected with ZIKV. In this report, we describe the case of an expectant mother who had a febrile illness with rash at the end of the first trimester of pregnancy while she was living in Brazil. Ultrasonography performed at 29 weeks of gestation revealed microcephaly with calcifications in the fetal brain and placenta. After the mother requested termination of the pregnancy, a fetal autopsy was performed. Micrencephaly (an abnormally small brain) was observed, with almost complete agyria, hydrocephalus, and multifocal dystrophic calcifications in the cortex and subcortical white matter, with associated cortical displacement and mild focal inflammation. ZIKV was found in the fetal brain tissue on reverse-transcriptase-polymerase-chain-reaction (RT-PCR) assay, with consistent findings on electron microscopy. The complete genome of ZIKV was recovered from the fetal brain.
A CAPN1 missense mutation in Parson Russell Terrier dogs is associated with spinocerebellar ataxia. We now report that homozygous or heterozygous CAPN1-null mutations in humans result in cerebellar ataxia and limb spasticity in four independent pedigrees. Calpain-1 knockout (KO) mice also exhibit a mild form of ataxia due to abnormal cerebellar development, including enhanced neuronal apoptosis, decreased number of cerebellar granule cells, and altered synaptic transmission. Enhanced apoptosis is due to absence of calpain-1-mediated cleavage of PH domain and leucine-rich repeat protein phosphatase 1 (PHLPP1), which results in inhibition of the Akt pro-survival pathway in developing granule cells. Injection of neonatal mice with the indirect Akt activator, bisperoxovanadium, or crossing calpain-1 KO mice with PHLPP1 KO mice prevented increased postnatal cerebellar granule cell apoptosis and restored granule cell density and motor coordination in adult mice. Thus, mutations in CAPN1 are an additional cause of ataxia in mammals, including humans.
Sensory input evokes low-order reflexes and higher-order perceptual responses. Vestibular stimulation elicits vestibular-ocular reflex (VOR) and self-motion perception (e.g., vertigo) whose response durations are normally equal. Adaptation to repeated whole-body rotations, for example, ballet training, is known to reduce vestibular responses. We investigated the neuroanatomical correlates of vestibular perceptuo-reflex adaptation in ballet dancers and controls. Dancers' vestibular-reflex and perceptual responses to whole-body yaw-plane step rotations were: (1) Briefer and (2) uncorrelated (controls' reflex and perception were correlated). Voxel-based morphometry showed a selective gray matter (GM) reduction in dancers' vestibular cerebellum correlating with ballet experience. Dancers' vestibular cerebellar GM density reduction was related to shorter perceptual responses (i.e. positively correlated) but longer VOR duration (negatively correlated). Contrastingly, controls' vestibular cerebellar GM density negatively correlated with perception and VOR. Diffusion-tensor imaging showed that cerebral cortex white matter (WM) microstructure correlated with vestibular perception but only in controls. In summary, dancers display vestibular perceptuo-reflex dissociation with the neuronatomical correlate localized to the vestibular cerebellum. Controls' robust vestibular perception correlated with a cortical WM network conspicuously absent in dancers. Since primary vestibular afferents synapse in the vestibular cerebellum, we speculate that a cerebellar gating of perceptual signals to cortical regions mediates the training-related attenuation of vestibular perception and perceptuo-reflex uncoupling.
- Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
- Published over 6 years ago
Recent studies suggest that learning and using a second language (L2) can affect brain structure, including the structure of white matter (WM) tracts. This observation comes from research looking at early and older bilingual individuals who have been using both their first and second languages on an everyday basis for many years. This study investigated whether young, highly immersed late bilinguals would also show structural effects in the WM that can be attributed to everyday L2 use, irrespective of critical periods or the length of L2 learning. Our Tract-Based Spatial Statistics analysis revealed higher fractional anisotropy values for bilinguals vs. monolinguals in several WM tracts that have been linked to language processing and in a pattern closely resembling the results reported for older and early bilinguals. We propose that learning and actively using an L2 after childhood can have rapid dynamic effects on WM structure, which in turn may assist in preserving WM integrity in older age.
Balance of cortical excitation and inhibition (EI) is thought to be disrupted in several neuropsychiatric conditions, yet it is not clear how it is maintained in the healthy human brain. When EI balance is disturbed during learning and memory in animal models, it can be restabilized via formation of inhibitory replicas of newly formed excitatory connections. Here we assess evidence for such selective inhibitory rebalancing in humans. Using fMRI repetition suppression we measure newly formed cortical associations in the human brain. We show that expression of these associations reduces over time despite persistence in behavior, consistent with inhibitory rebalancing. To test this, we modulated excitation/inhibition balance with transcranial direct current stimulation (tDCS). Using ultra-high-field (7T) MRI and spectroscopy, we show that reducing GABA allows cortical associations to be re-expressed. This suggests that in humans associative memories are stored in balanced excitatory-inhibitory ensembles that lie dormant unless latent inhibitory connections are unmasked.
Microglia are the resident immune cells of the brain. Increasingly, they are recognized as important mediators of normal neurophysiology, particularly during early development. Here we demonstrate that microglia are critical for ocular dominance plasticity. During the visual critical period, closure of one eye elicits changes in the structure and function of connections underlying binocular responses of neurons in the visual cortex. We find that microglia respond to monocular deprivation during the critical period, altering their morphology, motility and phagocytic behaviour as well as interactions with synapses. To explore the underlying mechanism, we focused on the P2Y12 purinergic receptor, which is selectively expressed in non-activated microglia and mediates process motility during early injury responses. We find that disrupting this receptor alters the microglial response to monocular deprivation and abrogates ocular dominance plasticity. These results suggest that microglia actively contribute to experience-dependent plasticity in the adolescent brain.
An unusual feature of the cerebellar cortex is that its output neurons, Purkinje cells, release GABA (γ-aminobutyric acid). Their high intrinsic firing rates (50 Hz) and extensive convergence predict that their target neurons in the cerebellar nuclei would be largely inhibited unless Purkinje cells pause their spiking, yet Purkinje and nuclear neuron firing rates do not always vary inversely. One indication of how these synapses transmit information is that populations of Purkinje neurons synchronize their spikes during cerebellar behaviours. If nuclear neurons respond to Purkinje synchrony, they may encode signals from subsets of inhibitory inputs. Here we show in weanling and adult mice that nuclear neurons transmit the timing of synchronous Purkinje afferent spikes, owing to modest Purkinje-to-nuclear convergence ratios (∼40:1), fast inhibitory postsynaptic current kinetics (τ(decay) = 2.5 ms) and high intrinsic firing rates (∼90 Hz). In vitro, dynamically clamped asynchronous inhibitory postsynaptic potentials mimicking Purkinje afferents suppress nuclear cell spiking, whereas synchronous inhibitory postsynaptic potentials entrain nuclear cell spiking. With partial synchrony, nuclear neurons time-lock their spikes to the synchronous subpopulation of inputs, even when only 2 out of 40 afferents synchronize. In vivo, nuclear neurons reliably phase-lock to regular trains of molecular layer stimulation. Thus, cerebellar nuclear neurons can preferentially relay the spike timing of synchronized Purkinje cells to downstream premotor areas.
Local supra-linear summation of excitatory inputs occurring in pyramidal cell dendrites, the so-called dendritic spikes, results in independent spiking dendritic sub-units, which turn pyramidal neurons into two-layer neural networks capable of computing linearly non-separable functions, such as the exclusive OR. Other neuron classes, such as interneurons, may possess only a few independent dendritic sub-units, or only passive dendrites where input summation is purely sub-linear, and where dendritic sub-units are only saturating. To determine if such neurons can also compute linearly non-separable functions, we enumerate, for a given parameter range, the Boolean functions implementable by a binary neuron model with a linear sub-unit and either a single spiking or a saturating dendritic sub-unit. We then analytically generalize these numerical results to an arbitrary number of non-linear sub-units. First, we show that a single non-linear dendritic sub-unit, in addition to the somatic non-linearity, is sufficient to compute linearly non-separable functions. Second, we analytically prove that, with a sufficient number of saturating dendritic sub-units, a neuron can compute all functions computable with purely excitatory inputs. Third, we show that these linearly non-separable functions can be implemented with at least two strategies: one where a dendritic sub-unit is sufficient to trigger a somatic spike; another where somatic spiking requires the cooperation of multiple dendritic sub-units. We formally prove that implementing the latter architecture is possible with both types of dendritic sub-units whereas the former is only possible with spiking dendrites. Finally, we show how linearly non-separable functions can be computed by a generic two-compartment biophysical model and a realistic neuron model of the cerebellar stellate cell interneuron. Taken together our results demonstrate that passive dendrites are sufficient to enable neurons to compute linearly non-separable functions.