After fallow decades, neuroscience is undergoing a renaissance

From your Reading the words on this page, remembering breakfast, to the tickle of hair on the skin, your experiences are the work of nerve cells. So your emotions, the chains of logic, are good and less good habits. So are your worries, moods, and tremors and memory lapses, if they don’t plague you yet, they are likely to eventually do. The full breadth of human experience can be found in the electrochemical pulses passed along and between the 90bn nerve cells, also called neurons, that make up a person’s brain.

When the mind changes, so does the mind – and the opposite is also true. Things that change the brain and central nervous system, or the behavior of specific types of neurons and supporting cells within those structures, can also change brains, for better or worse. When the brain gets old, or is damaged, or is changed with recreational drugs, the brain also changes. Sometimes the whole personality changes. This means that drugs and other therapies that target neurons could be used to address both physical diseases—neural degeneration, for example—and mental ones.

One hundred years ago, a single discipline of neuropsychiatry dominated the study and care of brain dysfunction. Beginning in the 1930s, a schism emerged. Today the neuroscience department dealing with the biological dysfunction of the nervous system and the psychiatry department dealing with the human mind remain separate. Many people believe that the merger of the two is long overdue. This becomes more important as the biological links between mental disorders such as depression and anxiety become clear. As thoughts and feelings, and thus the way the brain is wired, play a role within the brain, they also play a role in disease.

The science that informs both the fields is at the same time advanced and also quite primitive. The brain is so complex that its scientific understanding may lag decades behind that of other organs. As well as its billions of neurons, the brain contains the same number of non-neuronal cells called glia, which provide insulation to keep nerve currents separate, as well as those currents and those necessary for neurons to generate immune responses and waste. Nutrient-disposal services The brain needs to stay healthy. Glial cells also help clear out unwanted connections in the brain during development. The story of the role of these cells in brain health is just beginning to be told.

Neurons talk to each other in gaps called synapses, places where an electronically transmitted signal along the body of one cell is translated into a chemical message for transmission to the next one. More than 100 of these neurotransmitters have been discovered so far. But although some, such as serotonin and dopamine, have become household names, much still remains to be done to understand how they and their more obscure classmates work.

In the late 20th century, doctors discovered a variety of psychiatric drugs. But each of the three major classes of psychiatric drugs — antidepressants, antipsychotics and anxiolytics — were discovered by chance. Scientific details of how they worked were absent, sketchy or inaccurate. A decade ago no mechanically new drug had hit the market in more than three decades. There was talk of psychopharmacology being in crisis.

But new insights into neuroscience are now coming at an impressive pace. Much of this is based on increasing knowledge of genetics and molecular circuitry. Other drivers of progress include tools such as optogenetics, organoids and new forms of imaging, as well as widespread interest in the underlying workings of the brain. One of the most exciting recent insights is the extent to which the brain is plastic, giving rise to new neurons throughout human life, something that could lead to major breakthroughs in the treatment and even treatment of many brain diseases. Indicates ability.

These advances are bringing about innovative approaches to target brain diseases. Optimism is also coming from successful new treatments for disorders such as depression, epilepsy, migraine, postpartum depression and spinal muscular atrophy.SMA,

time to change your mind

Newer approaches include neuroimmunology, which targets the brain’s immune cells; gene therapy, which delivers working genes to people who are broken; and a revived interest in psychedelics, neuromodulation and precision medicine based on genetic or molecular pathways. Other novel approaches such as gene editing, stem-cell transplantation and royal army Therapies may also lead to new treatments, as can studies of recreational drugs that attempt to gain insight and therapeutic approaches from their apparently mind-altering power. With efforts to improve the classification and diagnosis of disease, and through its close ties to neurobiology, there is a rethinking of psychiatry. Investors, biotech firms and forward-thinking pharma companies are showing renewed interest in neuroscience. The drug pipeline is filling up.

just as well. According to the Global Burden of Disease Project, 12 mental-health disorders affect approximately 970m people. Their prevalence has increased by 48% since 1990 as the population has grown. With more than one in ten people on the planet affected, it is a global problem, although the data available suggest it is more marked in Western countries (see map).

Neurological problems take their own toll. Stroke, dementia, migraine, Parkinson’s, epilepsy and traumatic brain injuries are collectively the leading global sources of disability. Increasing age means that the number of deaths due to neurological diseases is increasing rapidly, especially in low- and middle-income countries.

The brain is often described as the most complex structure in the known universe. It is not surprising, perhaps, that medicine has struggled to address its many and varied disorders. Yet with new approaches to science and innovative treatments, there is new energy and enthusiasm in this field. Further discoveries will change minds, minds and lives. I

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