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Ascending Tracts

February 10, 2012 Leave a comment

Introduction

They are located in the white matter and conduct afferent information (may or may not reach consciousness). There are two types of information:

  1. Exteroceptive : originates from outside the body (pain, temperature and touch
  2. Proprioceptive : originates from inside the body (from muscles and joints)

Normally there are three neurons in an ascending pathway:

  1. 1st order neuron: cell body is in the posterior root ganglion
  2. 2nd  order neuron: decussates (crosses to the opposite side) and ascends to a higher level of the    CNS
  3. 3rd neuron: located in the thalamus and passes to a sensory region of the cortex

Pain and temperature pathway: lateral spinothalmic tract

1st order neuron

Peripheral process extends to skin or other tissues and ends as free nerve endings (receptors). Cell body is situated in the posterior root ganglion. Central process extends into the posterior grey column and synapses with the 2nd order neuron.

2nd order neuron

The axon crosses obliquely to the opposite side in the anterior grey and white commissures within one spinal segment of the cord. It ascends in the contralateral white column as the lateral spinothalamic tract (LSTT).

As the LSTT ascends through the spinal cord new fibers are added to the anteromedial aspect of the tract (sacral fibers are lateral and cervical fibers are medial). The fibers carrying pain are situated anterior to those conducting temperature.

As the LSTT ascends through the medulla oblongata,  it’s  joined  by  the  anterior spinothalamic tract and the spinotectal tract and forms the spinal lemniscus. Spinal lemniscus ascends through the pons and the mid brain.

Fibers of the LSTT end by synapsing with the 3rd order  neurons  in  the  ventral  posterolateral nucleus  of  the  thalamus  (here  crude  pain  and temperature sensations are appreciated).

3rd order neuron

Axons pass through the posterior limb of the internal capsule and corona radiata  to reach the somatosensory  area  in  the  post  central  gyrus  of  the  cerebral  cortex.  From  here  information is transmitted to other regions of the cerebral cortex to be used by motor areas. The role of the cerebral  cortex  is  interpreting  the  quality  of  the  sensory  information  at  the  level  of  the consciousness.

Light (crude) touch and pressure pathway: anterior spinothalamic tract (ASTT)

1st order neuron

It is similar to the pain and temperature pathway.

2nd order neuron

The axon crosses obliquely to the opposite side in the anterior grey and white commissures within several spinal segments. It ascends in the contralateral white column as the anterior spinothalamic tract (ASTT). As the ASTT ascends through the spinal cord new fibers are added to the anteromedial aspect of the tract (sacral fibers are lateral and cervical fibers are medial).

As the ASTT ascends through the medulla oblongata, it’s joined by the lateral spinothalamic tract and the spinotectal tract and forms the spinal lemniscus. Spinal lemniscus ascends through the pons and the midbrain. Fibers of the ASTT end by synapsing with the 3rd order neurons in the ventral posterolateral nucleus of the thalamus (here crude awareness of touch and pressure sensations are appreciated).

3rd order neuron

Axons pass through the posterior limb of the internal capsule and corona radiata to reach the somatosensory area in the post central gyrus of the cerebral cortex. The sensations can be crudely localized. Very little discrimination is possible.

To read more click on this link to the full article: Ascending Tracts (pdf).

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Cracks in the Plaques: Mysteries of Alzheimer’s Slowly Yielding to New Research

February 6, 2012 Leave a comment

Science is bringing some understanding of the heritability, prevalence, and inner workings of one of the most devastating diseases.

 
 
 
 
(left) A PET scan’s bright areas reveal the concentration of amyloid beta, a protein that forms a plaque in Alzheimer’s patients. The scan compares the brains of a healthy patient (left) and a patient suffering from Alzheimer’s (right). Image: Alzheimer’s Disease Education and Referral Center, NIH
 
 
 
 
 
 

This has been a big week in Alzheimer’s news as scientists put together a clearer picture than ever before of how the disease affects the brain. Three recently published studies have detected the disease with new technologies, hinted at its prevalence, and described at last how it makes its lethal progress through the brain.

The existence of two forms of Alzheimer’s—early- and late-onset—has long baffled scientists. Of the estimated five million Americans who suffer from Alzheimer’s, only a few thousand are diagnosed with an early-onset form of the affliction, which affects people before the age of 65. This rare early-onset form is thought to be hereditary and scientists have associated multiple genetic mutations contributing to its occurrence. Late-onset Alzheimer’s, although more common, has been the bigger mystery. One variant of the APOE gene-—sometimes known as the Alzheimer’s gene—is linked to the late-onset disease. But the APOE gene, unlike dominant early-onset genes, does not determine whether a person will ultimately have dementia.

Now there’s evidence that late-onset Alzheimer’s has a genetic basis similar to that of early-onset Alzheimer’s. By sequencing select genes associated with the latter, along with frontotemporal dementia, researchers at Washington University in Saint Louis and other institutions found that patients with late-onset Alzheimer’s carry some of the same genetic mutations as those with the early-onset form. The evidence, published on Wednesday in PLoS ONE, bolsters the argument that the forms of Alzheimer’s that appear at different life stages should be classified as the same disease. As to why the disease appears earlier in some cases, the scientists speculated that those patients diagnosed relatively early in life carry more genetic risk factors for the disease.

This study’s use of rapid genetic sequencing, the authors noted, may provide a model for more precise identification of dementias. Within the study, the researchers identified patients who may have been misdiagnosed as having Alzheimer’s; the genes of these patients suggested that they had another type of dementia. Given the heritable component, patients with a family history could be screened to detect and diagnose Alzheimer’s early.

Other genetic research unveiled in the past week or so has shed light on the biological processes that underlie how Alzheimer’s affects the brain. Certain mutations may lead to an increased production of a protein called amyloid beta in the region of the brain that creates memory. This excess amyloid beta, naturally secreted by brain cells, then becomes a complex called an oligomer. These oligomers may interrupt the signals transmitted between neurons. As in other neurodegenerative diseases like Parkinson’s or Huntington’s, the spread of oligomers appears to be driving the disease process.

Oligomer-linked diseases are relatively common, in part because oligomers can also play an essential biological role in the brain. A recent investigation using fruit flies reveals that the presence of a specific oligomer is actually required for the flies to form long-term memories.

In an early stage of Alzheimer’s, the naturally secreted amyloid beta protein builds up as oligomers in the brain, which then go on to form larger aggregates called plaques. Later in the disease, another aberrant form of a protein called tau starts to build up, in the entorhinal cortex. Normally, tau helps provide structure crucial to neuron functioning. The buildup of tau, however, causes the protein to tangle and eventually kill brain cells. What was unknown until recently, however, was how the tau protein spreads through different brain regions.

Two studies—one to be published in Neuron and the other published in PLoS ONE on Wednesday—have answered this question using brain samples from mice genetically engineered to express tau as it occurs in the human brain. Using a staining technique to highlight tau’s distribution in the brain, they compared samples from mice of different ages to analyze how tau moved through brain cells over time. They found the protein spread from neuron to neighboring neuron, traveling along synapses.

Understanding how this protein moves may allow scientists to stop tau in its tracks. “This opens up a whole new world of biology,” says Columbia University’s Karen Duff, an author on the study published in PLoS ONE. Tau is implicated in 30 different forms of dementia. In addition, the movement of tau may be similar to the spread of oligomers associated with Parkinson’s and Huntington’s. Nonetheless, we are still a long way from a therapeutic solution and stopping tau, which comes at a relatively late stage of Alzheimer’s, might be a very limited therapy.

As the world’s population continues to age, Alzheimer’s becomes a threat to more of us with every passing day. Although we may not yet have new treatments from this work, the take-away on these findings is clear: If we really are going to win the war, or even a battle, against Alzheimer’s, we need basic research that can delve into the complex biology that contorts proteins and kills brain cells to find treatments for this disease.

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The above story is reprinted from Scientific American, written by Daisy Yuhas.

Stimulation of female genital regions produces strong activation of various brain sites

October 6, 2011 Leave a comment

A new study published in The Journal of Sexual Medicine reveals that for the first time, stimulation of the vagina, cervix, or clitoris was shown to activate three separate and distinct sites in the sensory cortex.

 

Some sexuality experts have claimed that the major source of genital sensation is from the clitoris, with relatively little sensation produced by vaginal or cervical stimulation.

Researchers led by Barry R. Komisaruk, B.S., Ph.D., of Rutgers University, used functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to map sensory cortical responses to clitoral, vaginal, cervical, and nipple self-stimulation in 11 healthy women, ages 23-56. For points of reference on the homunculus (also referred to as the “point-to-point body map” or a diagram showing where nerves from different parts of the body are represented in the brain) researchers also mapped responses to stimulation of the thumb and great toe.

Results found that stimulation of each of these genital regions in fact produces a significant and strong activation of specific and different sites in the sensory cortex.

The three representations are clustered in the same sensory cortical region as the genitals of men on the homunculus.

Nipple self-stimulation activated not only the chest region of the homunculus as expected, but also surprisingly the genital region of the sensory homunculus, suggesting a neurological basis for women’s reports that nipple stimulation feels erotic.

“Our findings demonstrate undeniably that there is a major input to the sensory cortex in response to stimulation of not only the clitoris, but of the vagina and cervix as well, which also evidently receive a significant and substantial sensory nerve supply,” Komisaruk concludes. “This lays the groundwork for an understanding of how genital stimulation spreads sequentially through the brain from initial activation of the sensory cortex to eventually activate the brain regionsthat produce orgasm.”

Irwin Goldstein, editor-in-chief of The Journal of Sexual Medicine, further explained the enormous significance of this ground breaking sexual medicine research. “In the 1930’s-1950’s, researchers localized in the brain exactly where all sensations in man were represented, including male genitalia. Data regarding location of clitoral sensation were only studied in 2010, some sixty years later. This current study in The Journal of Sexual Medicine reveals, for the first time, brain sensation localization data not only from the clitoris, but from the vagina, cervix and nipples. Being able to demonstrate the multiple locations in the brain where stimulation of different female genital regions are represented and how these brain locations inter-relate helps us to better understand women’s sexual function.”

 

The above story is reprinted (with editorial adaptations by MedicalXpress staff) from materials provided by Wiley (news : web)