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Gut bacteria found to affect brain health

We have known for some time that there is a strong connection between the intestine and the brain, so much so that over the past twenty years, various researches have discovered links between autoimmune disorders and different psychiatric conditions. The strong suspicion is that the intestinal microbiome, that is the set of all bacteria that live in the various tracts of our intestine, strongly influences brain health but this relationship is fundamentally unknown.

Now a new study, conducted by scientists at Weill Cornell Medical College, provides new insights into the molecular cellular processes that underlie communication between the same microbes in the gut and brain cells. As David Artis, director of the Jill Roberts Institute for Research in Inflammatory Bowel Disease and professor of immunology, explains, this research represents a sort of initial path to understanding “the whole picture” about the chronic gastrointestinal conditions that affect mental health and even the behavior.

The researchers used experiments on mice to understand the changes that occur in brain cells when the gut microbiome begins to run out. In fact, the researchers reduced the microbial populations in the intestines of mice through antibiotics. These mice showed very limited learning abilities, for example in learning that a danger or threat was no longer present. By analyzing the microglia of the brain of mice, the researchers discovered an altered gene expression in these cells that influenced the connection between brain cells during the learning processes.

Furthermore, in mice with a smaller quantity of bacteria in the intestine, changes in the concentrations of different metabolites linked to various neuropsychiatric disorders that also occur in humans, such as schizophrenia or autism, could be noted.

“Brain chemistry essentially determines how we feel and respond to our environment, and evidence is showing that chemicals derived from gut microbes play an important role,” says Frank Schroeder, professor at the Boyce Thompson Institute and one of the authors of the study.

This study confirms the existence of a strong link between the intestine and the brain and how this same connection affects our day-to-day life and only now is it starting to understand how the intestine itself, or rather the bacteria inside it, can even affect diseases such as autism, Parkinson’s and depression.

Maybe in the future, we will be able to identify new objectives for the treatment of these diseases, as suggested by Conor Liston, associate professor of neuroscience in the Feil Family Brain & Mind Research Institute and the other author of the study.

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Conscience: a new theory inspired by thermodynamics tries to explain what it is

What does consciousness depend on and how does it originate? This is one of the most fascinating questions but also one of the most inexplicable of all science, also because studying consciousness itself often poses problems related to the sector from which to start in order to lay the foundations for a study. Now new research, published in Frontiers in Neuroscience, tries to answer this question by referring to what can be considered a new theory inspired by thermodynamics.

If in the past it has been hypothesized that consciousness may derive from a highly coordinated activity among neurons, the researchers behind this study believe instead that the key to awareness is a flow and a reflux of energy: when neurons connect to each other for processing information, the patterns of these activities tune in like ocean waves. According to the authors of the study, this would be a process intrinsically related to that of thermodynamic principles.

The latter would be the basis of the same neural connections and therefore of consciousness. Furthermore, interruptions of this process of energy ebb and flow would lead to the interruption of communication between the neural networks and would give rise to the most common neurological and disturbances that we know, such as epilepsy, autism, and schizophrenia.

It is a study that combines classical physics (basically the laws of thermodynamics) with all that is known today about neural activity: it follows a general picture in which changes in free energy help to temporarily synchronize the activity in neuronal networks.

The study was produced by researcher Jose L. Perez Velazquez affiliated with the Ronin Institute of Montclair who worked together with colleagues Diego M. Mateos and Ramon Guevara Erra.

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An avocado a day takes bad cholesterol away, at least according to a new study

According to a new study by the State University of Pennsylvania, an avocado a day can be of great help in countering the so-called “bad cholesterol” intended both as oxidized low-density lipoproteins (LDL) and as small and dense LDL particles, particularly in obese or overweight adults.

The researchers analyzed the effects of one avocado per day on 45 overweight or obese adult participants. The two-week experiment saw a first phase during which participants carried out an average American diet. Following this first phase, in a second phase, each participant completed three different therapeutic diets in random order lasting five weeks and one of these included an avocado per day while another was supplemented with extra healthy fats to counterbalance the amount of monounsaturated fatty acids obtained through an avocado per day.

After five weeks the researchers noticed that participants who consumed an avocado per day showed much lower levels of oxidized LDL cholesterol than at the start of the second phase of the study and compared to the other two groups. These participants also showed higher levels of lutein, an antioxidant.

“When you think of bad cholesterol, you think of LDL particles, which vary in size,” reports Penny Kris-Etherton, the study’s author. “All LDLs are bad, but small and dense LDLs are particularly bad. A key finding is that people on an avocado diet had fewer oxidized LDL particles. They also had more lutein, which could be the bioactive that protects LDL from oxidation.”

Furthermore, the diet based on moderate fats without avocado but which included the same monounsaturated fatty acids as this fruit show that the avocado itself must have additional positive bioactive elements.

According to Kris-Etherton, this research shows that, as regards the “avocado” topic, we still know only the tip of the iceberg and that there are many things that can be known with further research regarding this fruit rich in healthy fats, carotenoids and numerous other nutrients.

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The smallest black hole ever found has been identified: it is only 12 miles wide but has a mass three times the Sun

A very small black hole, at least when compared with those of supermassive black holes that we are used to discussing, was discovered by a research team that analyzed a catalog of 100,000 stars called Apache Point Observatory Galactic Evolution Experiment (APOGEE). The black hole is characterized by a mass that appears to be only 3.3 times that of the Sun. The study was published in Science.

About 10,000 light-years away from us, this black hole is located in an external region of the main disk of the Milky Way and, if the dimensions were confirmed, it would be the smallest black hole ever identified, so small that it would fall into a new class. The black hole should have a diameter of only 12 miles but further observations will be necessary to confirm this data.

Researchers usually detect black holes thanks to the interception of the accretion disc, mostly composed of gas and dust, which swirls around the object. If there is not this disk of gas and dust, which by swirling it heats up and emits X-rays, the black hole cannot be identified unless it is part of an interacting binary system, i.e. a system consisting of a black hole and another object, for example a star, in which the first sucks material from the second.

In this case, however, there was no disc of gas and dust and, although the black hole was part of a binary system, this seemed to be non-interacting. However, the researchers still managed to locate the black hole thanks to another feature related to the fact that this black hole is in a binary system.

Analyzing the data of the aforementioned catalog, the researchers focused on a particular binary star system, called J05215658, and they realized that one of the two stars is actually a black hole that orbits a giant star every 83 days. In this case, the researchers noticed the presence of the black hole by analyzing the light of the star, a giant star whose light seems to be “shifted.” The brightness of the star, in fact, continues to change, increases and decreases, a sign of the fact that there is something in orbit around it.

Precisely these variations indicate the presence of a binary companion which, since it does not emit any light, must be a black hole. The latter does not seem to swallow any material and has been identified only thanks to this special distorting feature of the starlight.