Tag: ptsd

Synchronization of Memory Cells Critical For Learning and Forming Memories

Credit: UNH

On the left is an enlarged image showing many hippocampal neurons, most of which are silent and only a few are active. On the right are close ups of three highly active neurons, or memory cells, which become synchronized after memory formation

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The phrase “Pavlov’s dogs” has long evoked images of bells, food and salivating dogs. Even though this tried-and-true model of repetitive patterns mimics a variety of learning processes, what happens on a cellular level in the brain isn’t clear. Researchers at the University of New Hampshire took a closer look at the hippocampus, the part of the brain critical for long-term memory formation, and found that the neurons involved in so-called Pavlovian learning shift their behavior during the process and become more synchronized when a memory is being formed – a finding that helps better understand memory mechanisms and provides clues for the development of future therapies for memory-related diseases like dementia, autism and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

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“There are tens of millions of neurons in the hippocampus but only a small fraction of them are involved in this learning process” said Xuanmao (Mao) Chen, assistant professor of neurobiology. “Before engaging in Pavlovian conditioning, these neurons are highly active, almost chaotic, without much coordination with each other, but during memory formation they change their pattern from random to synchronized, likely forging new connecting circuits in the brain to bridge two unrelated events.

In the study, recently published in The FASEB Journal, researchers looked at Pavlovian learning patterns, or respondent conditioning, in mice. In the beginning, before any repetitive learning exercises, the mice did not know what to expect and using special imaging with an endomicroscope the researchers saw that the neural activity was disorderly. But after repeating different tasks associated with a conditional stimulus, like a tone or bell, the mice began to recognize the pattern and the highly active neurons became more synchronized. The researchers hypothesize that without forming synchronization, animals cannot form or retrieve this type of memory.

In the 1890’s, Russian psychologist, Ivan Pavlov discovered classical conditioning through repetitive patterns of bell ringing which signaled to his dogs that food was on its way and stimulated salivation. This same learned behavior is important for episodic knowledge which is the basis for such things as learning vocabulary, textbook knowledge, and memorizing account passwords. Abnormal learning processing and memory formation are associated with a number of diseases like dementia, autism, and PTSD. People who struggle with these cognitive dysfunction-related disorders may have trouble retaining memories or can even form too strong a memory, as with PTSD patients. The UNH researchers believe that understanding the fundamentals of how classical conditioning shape neural connections in the brain could speed up the development of treatments for these disorders in the future.

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Contributing to these findings are Yuxin Zhou, doctoral candidate; Liyan Qiu, research scientist; both at UNH, and Haiying Wang, assistant professor at the University of Connecticut.

This work was supported by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and the Cole Neuroscience and Behavioral Faculty Research Awards.

The University of New Hampshire inspires innovation and transforms lives in our state, nation and world. More than 16,000 students from all 50 states and 71 countries engage with an award-winning faculty in top-ranked programs in business, engineering, law, health and human services, liberal arts and the sciences across more than 200 programs of study. As one of the nation’s highest-performing research universities, UNH partners with NASA, NOAA, NSF and NIH, and receives more than $110 million in competitive external funding every year to further explore and define the frontiers of land, sea and space. 

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Art Museum Offers New Tools for Visitors with Sensory-Related Disorders

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Credit: Zimmerli Art Museum/Rutgers University
Items inside sensory inclusive bags from KultureCity

Museum staff are trained to help visitors have a rewarding experience

New Brunswick, N.J. (Dec. 16, 2019) – The Zimmerli Art Museum at Rutgers University-New Brunswick is the first art museum in New Jersey to offer specialized tools to help visitors in the autism spectrum enjoy their visit without stressful sensory overload.

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The museum is collaborating with KultureCity, a nonprofit that has also worked with MetLife Stadium, to offer the training and materials needed to provide a more positive experience for those with autism, PTSD or other conditions that may cause sensory overload.

Free sensory inclusive bags include fidget tools (handheld objects that can be squeezed and manipulated to help focus the user’s sense of touch), cue cards that people with verbal impairments can use to communicate their needs and moods, noise-cancelling headphones and weighted lap pads to help direct the user’s feeling of their center of gravity.

“A common misperception is that autism is just a behavioral disorder, but it affects processes in our nervous system, which can create a feeling of vertigo or the sense of a lack of gravity,” said Elizabeth Torres, a Rutgers professor of psychology and director of The New Jersey Autism Center of Excellence at Rutgers–New Brunswick. “Astronauts who return from a long space mission are given weighted suits to bring back their center of gravity until they readjust. In a similar fashion, people with autism can’t always feel their own body weight. For some, the feeling is constant and very disorienting.”

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Through the partnership with Kulture City, Zimmerli staff received training on how to recognize when a visitor may have sensory needs, such as covering their ears or flapping their hands, and how to step in and offer them sensory support.

“We’re now better prepared to assist guests with autism and other sensory sensitivities in having the most comfortable and accommodating experience possible when attending any exhibition or program at the museum,” said Thomas Sokolowski, Zimmerli Art Museum Director.

Before adopting the new sensory tools, the Zimmerli offered customized group tours to visitors with autism and related conditions.  A KultureCity app is also available for download that displays available sensory devices at Zimmerli and how they can be accessed, as well as a customized social story, that helps visitors prepare for their visit

 “People with sensory disorders and their families now have the freedom to visit at any time and have confidence they will be assisted properly if they experience sensory overload or otherwise need support,” said Amanda Potter, curator of education at the Zimmerli.

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Potter said the sensory tools can help people of all ages. “There is also a necklace that visitors can wear that alerts staff to keep a close eye on a person so they don’t get separated from their group, which can happen not only to children but to people with dementia.”

While the sensory tools are a big first step to helping combat sensory sensitivity, Torres said museums can do more, such as partnering with autism centers and offering information cards to improve public understanding of autism-related disorders.

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“We are having exploratory conversations with Rutgers’ Center for Adult Autism Services to find more ways to help the autism community in New Jersey, including by providing job services and creating designated quiet spaces during crowded events, such as Rutgers Day,” Potter said. “Autism services are an area for growth, so we will work to expand our services. This is just the start.” 

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Rutgers-New Brunswick, is a leader in autism research and services, recently appointing its inaugural director of the Rutgers Center for Autism Research, Education and Services (RUCARES) and CHS-RUCARES, a clinical entity created through Rutgers’ partnership with Children’s Specialized Hospital. The university’s Douglass Developmental Disabilities Center includes an on-campus K-12 day school for children with autism. In addition, the university broke ground on a new state-of-the-art facility for the Rutger Center for Adult Autism Services, which provides employment, vocational training and other services and partners with Children’s Specialized Hospital to operate the New Jersey Autism Center of Excellence.

Borderline Mother and Autism (Part 1)

Credit Photo Velizar Ivanov

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By Fabrizio Catalfamo

“I would like to point out that this is not an article to blame mothers but a simple (non-technical) analysis, the result of personal experiences, therefore to be read in a narrative and non-scientific way, on the other hand I would not have the necessary qualifications.”

I am the father of three splendid boys, two of those born of a second marriage. One of the two youngest will turn twelve in four days, diagnosed in autism spectrum when he was 3 years old. The mother, never diagnosed (also because she refuses every test) in my opinion with deep teenage borderline wounds.

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Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD)

Is a condition characterized by difficulties regulating emotion. This means that people who experience BPD feel emotions intensely and for extended periods of time, and it is harder for them to return to a stable baseline after an emotionally triggering event.

This difficulty can lead to impulsivity, poor self-image, stormy relationships and intense emotional responses to stressors. Struggling with self-regulation can also result in dangerous behaviors such as self-harm (e.g. cutting).

It’s estimated that 1.4% of the adult U.S. population experiences BPD. Nearly 75% of people diagnosed with BPD are women. Recent research suggests that men may be equally affected by BPD, but are commonly misdiagnosed with PTSD or depression. 

Autism is related to emotional disorder

I lived for more than 10 years with the mother of my 2 children and after the first apparently “normal” times, the borderline personality manifested itself.
This led me to try to understand the reasons and the causes of all this, reading and informing myself, about this type of disorder that destroyed the relations of this woman at the same speed as everyone could fall in love with her.

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Over time, I learned to recognize this kind of personality and at the same time for obvious reasons, I met parents of other autistic children. The thing that struck me at the beginning was that, the most part of the parents were single parents and those that were not, presented with evidence the presence of the man, subordinate to the woman. Clearly in the rare cases of couples, the man appeared as a second-rate figure.
I wouldn’t want to bore you too much with this story, I promise you I’ll follow up on the next posts.
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