Hi, I’m Associate Professor Thomas Burne (https://qbi.uq.edu.au/burnegroup and https://twitter.com/QldBrainInst/status/1099917224272412674) a neuroscientist who studies the brain, at the Queensland Brain Institute, University of Queensland. I’m interested in how and why vitamin D is important for the brain, and how vitamin D deficiency may affect our ability to learn and remember. I have recently published research (https://doi.org/10.1016/j.tins.2019.01.003) which may explain why vitamin D is so important for brain plasticity, and how vitamin D deficiency may lead to a range of cognitive disorders. In other recent research (https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1002/hbm.24380) we found that people with mild cognitive impairment and vitamin D deficiency had a smaller hippocampus and poorer connectivity of neurons.

Recent findings of one of my papers shows that after 20 weeks of vitamin D deficiency in young adult mice there was a significant decline in their ability to remember and learn (https://doi.org/10.1007/s00429-019-01840-w). Their brains showed a pronounced reduction in a type of scaffolding, called perineuronal nets, in the hippocampus (critical region for memory). There was also a stark reduction in both the number and strength of connections between neurons in that region (https://www.reddit.com/r/science/comments/asvcki/vitamin_d_could_be_your_best_defence_against_a/). The next step is to find out if loss of function in this area is due to vitamin D deficiency, which could be an important contributor to the key hallmarks of schizophrenia, including severe memory deficits and a distorted perception of reality.

Ask me anything!

Proof: https://twitter.com/QldBrainInst/status/1099917224272412674

EDIT: Thanks for all of the discussion everyone! It's been a blast. For any further info, see our website: qbi.uq.edu.au.

Comments: 176 • Responses: 69  • Date: 

TinkerBellx649 karma

Can I submit myself for scientific study? I don't really care what happens after. I'm kinda at fk it.

QldBrainInst2 karma

In Australia, under the anatomy act, you can donate your body (i.e. after you die) to science if you give consent. You can also volunteer to participate in scientific studies, but it depends on the health condition that is being studied. All scientific studies undergo rigorous Human ethical review and patient (participant) safety is of the utmost importance.

eddiebrocc8 karma

I experience this phenomenon where whenever I walk into an old building or somewhere with that musty old smell (thrift stores, basements) I get this strong head spin accompanied by the noise you hear in your ears when yawning, but much more intense and sort of wobbly. Only one other person I found on reddit has experienced this, have you heard of anything similar?

QldBrainInst8 karma

The sense of smell can do amazing things. A single whiff can take you back decades to a memory of your childhood. Fresh cut grass, a lemon scent or an exotic perfume. Smell is unlikely to invoke dizziness and noises in your ears. Vertigo and neutralising air pressure in your Eustachian tube are not related to your sense of smell. It sounds to me like it may be an allergic reaction combined with fluid build up in the ear which may give the sensation of imbalance and popping in your ears. I would see a medical practitioner if you are concerned.

StockSavage5 karma

Sorry, I'm a bit late to the party.

Do you think it will be possible in the next 10-20 years to experience 'full dive VR'? For example, instead of playing games on a screen, being able to tap into the brain and actually experience a video game. Sights, smells, touch, etc in a virtual world, using something like a helmet that connects to the brain wirelessly?

My dream is to start the company that makes this technology, but there's so much about the brain that we don't know, that it just makes this close to impossible at the moment. I'm very curious to see how close we are to this tech.

QldBrainInst2 karma

Given how difficult it has been to implement driverless cars safely I think that any chance of a brain-plug in virtual world game is rather a long way off. We do not fully understand how to prevent someone getting depression, or why the got it in the first place, and so these complex ideas will be difficult to unravel. Having said there are similar brain activation patterns if you look at an object or are asked to visualise it, so the capacity to recreate the world should theoretically be possible.

StockSavage3 karma

QldBrainInst2 karma

The future is not written yet...

greeny_green084 karma

There is a thing called happiness. Every person has their own definition of happiness. For some people it's only about fulfilling their physiological needs and for some it has more spiritual meaning. And this is not only about happiness it's about the our emotions and in what spectrum do we feel it. Why do people react to same things differently and do all people have their own self development borders (for example you don't understand math at all and to matter how hard you try you won't get a better result) or there's no borders and you can develop yourself in any way?

QldBrainInst6 karma

Everyone has unlimited potential. However, after critical periods of (brain) development it can become more difficult to acquire new knowledge. Think about a native speaker of say English. Babies pick up their first language seemingly effortlessly and in a short space of time. As an older person, this can seem impossible. So the brain is capable of amazing learning during critical periods and outside them things can seem impossible. There are certainly conditions where people have difficulty with letters (dyslexia) or numbers (dyscalculia) and may be due to genetic conditions or environmental issues. Everyone has there own particular genetic makeup and environmental exposures and so in that sense we are all unique, but we all follow the same basic developmental plan. Certainly acquiring new skills is possible after a critical period has closed but is typically harder and uses different brain regions to perform the same task. So I guess it is all about the timing.

lemmingsagain4 karma

Are there populations that have higher rates of vitamin d deficiency due to seasonal lack of sun exposure or lack of fortified food and is there a corresponding increase of cognitive disorders in those populations? I know there are higher rates of sseasonal affective disorder. Does the same hold true for schizophrenia? Do the effects of vitamin d deficiency seem reversible?

QldBrainInst4 karma

Great question. There is a clear variation in vitamin D levels around the world depending on latitute and season. There are many epidemiological studies showing an association between season and many brain disorders, including schizophrenia. People with darker skin in colder climates are much more likely to have sub-optimal vitamin D levels than people with lighter skin in colder climates. Because vitamin D levels will vary between individuals fortified foods will not be tailored to each persons requirements. Vitamin D can be sourced from the food we eat, supplements, or from the sun and we need to get the right balance of each. People with any neuropsychiatric or neurodegenerative disorder will usually have lower vitamin D levels when compared with a simlilarly aged group of healthy controls. The evidence suggests that vitamin D deficiency is a consequence of getting ill (people are less likely to go outside, alter their diet, for example). However, our research in mice shows that holding everything constant except for the amount of vitamin D in the diet can have effects on the brain in as little as 20 weeks. Many large clinical trials have looked at supplementing elderly people with vitamin D to prevent falls and fractures, but the data have mostly shown no benefit. It could be that the duration, dose and age when you supplement are important for different outcomes. We need to gather more data to know what works, and what doesn't.

OsmocTI3 karma

About the hippocampus.

Are there any ways to strengthen or help it recover from degeneration other than the suspected Vit D?

I'd like to keep this strong as well as the rest of my body and brain.

QldBrainInst2 karma

Our research has shown that vitamin D may play an important role in brain health. However, there are some things that we can all aspire to do that may help. Eat well, sleep well, be active, have a network of friends and family, read widely and challenge your ideas. Obviously this may not prevent a neurodegenerative disease, but it may delay onset or slow disease progression.

OsmocTI2 karma

I've always wondered and I may be asking the wrong question or person but here it goes.....

What part of the brains defenses protect from pesticide/chemical or heavy metals toxicity. Can the brains defenses be built back up.

I've read that the white blood cells go into a part above your heart that changes them into a form that can combat foreign Invaders or toxicants.

What can be done for someone who's body is having a hard time dealing with tiny exposure to chemicals or heavy metals?

Supplement-wise. Nutrition-wise.

Thanks for your time I appreciate you and your responses.

QldBrainInst3 karma

The nose. Many chemicals can access the brain through the nose, or more specifically the olfactory epithelium high up in the nasal cavity. It has a direct link to the outside world. The immune system is also important as a defence, but so is the extracellular space, which expands at night to drain fluid, toxins and metabolites from the brain. Lack of sleep can be detrimental as it impacts on immune function and the expansion of the extracellular space. As with all risk assessment, avoid the risk as a first priority. If you cannot then minimise exposure in any way that is safe and practical to do so. Balanced diet, adequate sleep, hydration and exercise will all help your body and brain. Supplements should only be used when there is a deficiency in the diet. Think of folate for women thinking of having a baby, or iron for a newborn that may be anaemic. With a balanced diet supplements should not be required. There is a place for targeted pharmacotherapies, but they are most useful when healthy nutrition, exercise and management of environmental risks are not sufficient.

mwc303 karma

What exactly is chronic wasting disease or deer zombie disease and can it be transmitted to humans ?

QldBrainInst2 karma

We do not have it in Australia so I do not know. If it is a prion disease like mad cow disease (bovine spongiform encephalopathy) then it can be transmitted to people who may in very rare cases get vCJD (variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease). This is not found in Australia either, but the UK had some cases in the late 1990s.

ghaith_riyadh3 karma

hello, i'm 4th stage medical student and i don't know how to be researcher in neuroscience
would you explain how?

QldBrainInst2 karma

If you are passionate about neuroscience research then reach out and talk to people in a Neurocience department or Institute to see the types of things they do and the courses that are on offer at undergraduate or postgraduate level. It is a good idea to read papers, or go to a seminar on a topic that you are interested in. Email people and find out what they are doing and see if you can get some work experience to see if you like it. Ultimately enrolling in a PhD will set you on a path of research, but there are other ways. I saw a quote recently from a conference T-Shirt at the Society for Neuroscience. Neuroscience: Listen to your brain and follow your heart.

some-other-human2 karma

Hello.. My question is, Is there a study which indicates a positive correlation between the amount of physical exercise done and brain plasticity or ability to learn?? And, do genes play a role in s person's learning ability?

QldBrainInst2 karma

There is consistent evidence in animals that exercise enhances the proliferation of new neurons in the hippocampus and their ability to learn. Environmental enrichment (separate from running) has also been shown to have a large impact on brain plasticity. Human studies are underway to look at the positive effects of exercise on learning and memory. It may be that laboratory animals are housed in minimal conditions and so environmental enrichment has a large effect. Most humans have relatively enriched lives compared to animals and so it may be that it is harder to see the effects. There is a genetic component to everything we do. Without genes we would not exist, and gene expression patterns are crucial to learn, remember and function. Variation between people does account for differences in various phenotypes from height, to skin colour to aptitude. However, there are 100s or thousands of genes of small effect that contribute to these abilities. So there is not a single memory gene, or intelligence gene. In Schizophrenia we used to think that there were a few "schizophrenia genes". However, recent research reveals that there are most likely 1000's of genes of small effect that contribute to the cluster of symptoms we refer to as "schizophrenia". I suspect that higher order function such as cognition will be the result of a very complex interplay of genetic makeup, environmental exposures, experience and gene expression patterns that vary throughout the lifespan.

HardekAilawadi2 karma

How can one improve brain function and increase intelligence?

QldBrainInst2 karma

Eat well, sleep well, be active, have a network of friends and family, read widely and challenge your ideas.

KickAssMiles2 karma

What's cooler than being cool?

QldBrainInst6 karma

Ice cold.

neil_olafur2 karma

When do you think it will be technologically possible to restore the plasticity of adult brains to match that of children? And what will be the method used?

QldBrainInst3 karma

As the brain grows and develops it moves through critical phases, of proliferation, migration, expansion and growth. Very young children have an abundance of neural connections that get pruned and fine tuned as we age and grow. A continually plastic brain is not always a good idea. Most people do not remember anything before they were 4 years of age, at a time of very high brain plasticity. Babies learn how the world fits together and when critical periods close there is a reduction in plasticity. That is a good thing if you want to recognise things like up from down, a pattern, or identifity a colour. As we get older it is not efficient to have to learn everything from scratch otherwise we would not be able to get things done (imagine having to relearn how to drive a car everytime you wanted to drive to the shops). I think that a brain is like all good stories. It needs a beginning, a middle and an end, and so must move through different phases of plasticity, growth and consolidation.

However, the brain has the ability to learn new things thoughout life and so in that sense retains a type of plasticity for a long time.

HardekAilawadi2 karma

Hello sir.

Not sure why but I think I have become less intelligent than before...like I feel I was more intelligent when I was a preteen than when I am an adult..Could it be possible?How to reverse it?

QldBrainInst2 karma

Intelligence is many things, but includes the acquisition and manipulation of new knowledge. During our school years our capacity to learn increases dramatically each year, and there is so much that is new and to be discovered. Often after high school, the rate of learning and exposure to new things decreases and so relatively you may learn less. I would suggest adopting a philosophy of life long learning. Challenge your ideas, try new things, meet new people, while also consolidating what you know. The brain does not reach its mature adult pattern until your mid 20s, and then from about the age of 50 begins to decline. It is the rate of decline that matters. So build up your cognitive reserve and challenge your ideas.

Marittime2 karma

Do you think that most mental disorders (like AD(H)D, OCD, etc.) can also have an underlying cause like stated above? Like a deficiency of some sorts?

QldBrainInst1 karma

We have not identified a single cause for any complex neuropsychiatric disease. There are many environmental and genetic risk factors, and there is much overlap with the disorder and the particular risk factors in question.Some of the risk factors are modifiable (vitamin D deficiency for example) and others less so (the particular genotpye you are born with). We have certainly identified plausible biological factors that affect brain development and brain function, but there is unlikely to be a single cause. It is most likely that the labels we use (schizophrenia for example) describe many different diseases, that happened to be lumped together. Unfortunately biology does not respect clinical diagnoses, and so although there is much overlap in the risk factors for all psychiatric disorder, each persons reason for developing mental illness may be quite different. However, if we can find safe and cheap treatments (compounds, supplements, behavioural therapy) that reduce harm then we should understand how they work on the brain and aim to make them available for people to access.

TheArmoryOne2 karma

Is there really a male and female brain?

QldBrainInst1 karma

There are not two types of brain. Each persons brain is a mosaic and so unique. However, if you look at the whole population then males tend to have a more asymmetrical brain than females, but there is considerable overlap. Much of what we associate with being male and female is cultural and due to environmental factors (pink for girls blue for boys). Often young children are taught different expectations, girls are taught to be perfect and boys are taught to be brave. These factors will shape the way we behave, grow and develop. There are certainly sex differences that depend on steroid hormone influences, and sex differences in gene expression patterns (the biology is real), but the end result is not a dichotomy (male or female) but a continuum (large variation).

likeAboss0082 karma

You must be aware of the pituitary gland responsible for growth. Are there any way in stimulating it?

QldBrainInst1 karma

Sleep. Growth hormone is secreted at night and is associated with melatonin release. Getting a good nights sleep will help you grow.

akasmitch2 karma

I have a million questions, I have always had a memory which is more painfully fantastic than anyone I've met. Last year I received irreversible brain damage, a terribly annoying process to come back from and I almost remember the whole saga. All I lose now are words and it's fucking infuriating when I've always been in love with them. Me not being able to think of the word 'perform' for instance will kill a conversation for me. I'd love to yarn about alot of things. If I had to ask one it would be a totally irrelevant question (s), do you believe in hypnotism? Have you tried it and can you explain your experience?

QldBrainInst1 karma

A short answer: I have never tried hypnotism, and I do not know the Neuroscience behind it.

RyDog42 karma

How much do concussions really affect the brain, and how many before you should start really being extra careful?

QldBrainInst1 karma

concussion has a large impact on the brain, neurons are damaged, and the effects can be far reaching. It depends on the type of head injury but concussion is a mild form of traumatic brain injury. Repeated concussions are really bad news and should be avoided if at all possible.

lettuce03272 karma

Have you studied narcissists, psychopaths and sociopaths? If so (in laymen's terms if you wouldn't mind) how is their brain chemistry different from normal people's? Are their conditions considered "treatable" or "curable"?

QldBrainInst2 karma

No I have not. I am aware of research showing that psychopaths are different to non-psychopaths largely based on different brain connections (wiring) that affects their decision making and ability to integrate feelings and future situations. If the brain regions involved in impulsive decision making and representations of the value (nucleus accumbens and prefrontal cortex) are altered in some way then it should be possible to treat. I think much more research needs to be done.

Yelisopher2 karma

What’s the coolest thing you’ve learned about the Brian? And what do you think of the wim hof method?

QldBrainInst2 karma

Our brains are filled with microglia that monitor the health of neurons. They move around. High resolution imaging of living tissues show that it is very dynamic, with processes moving and sensing the local environment. I always thought of the brain as a fixed set of wires, but it is much more mobile than that. As to the second question, I am not really up to speed with cold therapy but it will be interesting to learn more.

badhoccyr2 karma

Do you think being bottle fed versus breastfed leads to permanently lower neural density and therefore less resilience to developing mental health issues during adulthood if not already developed during childhood?

QldBrainInst1 karma

This is an interesting topic. Cesarian section is known to be associated with a reduced score on numeracy tests in children before they reach 10 years of age, compared with vaginal birth. In those studies not breast feeding and other adverse health outcomes only accounted for one third of the variance. That suggests that it was something else, and most likely altered gut microbiota. It appears that the newborn babies gut gets seeded with microbiota during birth and the souce is important (vaginal canal versus skin). There may be other differences in microbiota between breastfed and bottle fed babies, but we do not fully understand brain resilience for mental health issues to say one thing causes something else. There are many factors that contribute to resilience.

dinocat22 karma

I’m just curious, but what happens the moment we make a decision? Is it one electrical charge? A thousand?

QldBrainInst1 karma

Decision making is a complex process. The prefrontal cortex is important in decision making, but there are many other brain regions involved in the accumulation of information with which to base the decision. Even though a decision can be made in an instance (timing of neural firing patterns will be key) the ability to make that decision has been built up over time and using multiple brain networks. The moment a decision is made may be down to a volley of action potentials from just a few neurons.

fbelgske2 karma

Does xtc/mdma cause brain damage and how much worse is it compared to alcohol? For example: drinking every week compared to taking xtc once every 6 weeks (I read articles saying different things about this)

QldBrainInst1 karma

This is a highly contentious issue and in Australia we are discussing pill testing at Music fesitivals and the pros (it would make it "safer") and the cons (it is illegal, and may do harm). Even though alcohol is tightly regulated it can be made with methanol and then it can be lethal, as in recent cases in India. Because xtc/mdma are illicit substances that are illegal or decriminalised in most places they must be considered differently to alcohol. From a neuroscience perspective pure compounds have very predictable effects at known doses in different organisms and on the brain. Theoretically the correct dose of MDMA will have a safety margin and a desired effect. However, when taken out of a research context it is difficult to argue that is safe. Technically alcohol is a toxin and causes damage to all cells. There is no safe amount of alcohol recomended for a pregnant women because of the effects on the developing fetus. The body does not require these compounds for normal function and so when talking about recreational/illicit drug use one has to be very careful as there is very little regulation as to what a pill may contain.

AngelFace7132 karma

I have focol motor seizures and had brain surgery (removed a benign tumor)in 2013. My memory is getting bad to the point where I used to be able to remember my family's birthdays. Now I only remember my kids, bf's and mine. I'm feeling bad as if I'm selfish, but every day I forget to take my meds on time. I'm afraid to ask for help since I'm a single parent. Is it the left side brain surgery causing this? Or my seizures? I've yet to have another mri since I can't afford it, because I lost hearing in my left ear 1 year after surgery.

QldBrainInst1 karma

I am sorry to hear that. I hope you can find a team of health care professionals, friends and family who can assist you and support you through your journey.

3dDude2 karma

Sorry for being extra late and don't know if you're still answering

This may seem unrelated but,... Does brain games / brain-enhancing games work? Thank you for your time

QldBrainInst2 karma

Most of the evidence suggests that you will get better playing the game but they mostly do not generalise to improve your cognitive ability. But it depends on the type of game/app and what you mean by do the work. Playing chess would be a good example of how you can improve at the game, develop some strategies that may be helpful, but will not enhance your brain as such. Mostly these games are fun to play, but will not make an overall impact on your brain.

badhoccyr2 karma

Why some areas of the brain are neuroplastic others aren't? Could you explain which parts are and aren't and why?

QldBrainInst1 karma

The amount of plasticity decreases as the brain develops. In an adult there are only a few areas that are able to regenerate, such as the olfactory bulb, the subventricular zone and the dentate gyrus of the hippocampus. However, plasticity is broader than regeneration, and the brain has the ability to strengthen or weaken connections and enable you to learn knew things throughout life and you can learn and remember things because of this plasticity. Other parts become very structured and rigid, in the sense that those areas need to be consistent. Your visual cortex needs to retain inforamtion about the world (colour, shape, lines) to reconstruct in image. So variation in plasticity is a good thing in order to grow, learn and consolidate memories.

badhoccyr2 karma

Do you think there will ever be a study akin to what was shown with football players but linking insomnia to prolonged and consistent sleep deprivation such as is common in the military with concrete evidence for brain damage not just a named condition? How strong is plasticity in the areas of the brain that regulate sleep? What is the hope for recovering this brain function and therefore normal sleep cycles over the years after the intense period of sleep deprivation and stress?

QldBrainInst1 karma

You should check out this AMA on sleep from QBI, which may help answer your question

https://www.reddit.com/r/IAmA/comments/7udzqs/im_a_scientist_who_studies_sleep_attention_and/

Patrol562 karma

I work long swings offshore. Typically 6 weeks and its 12hr days 7 days a week. Do you think these sort of prolonged extended shifts could affect brain function negatively. Ive been looking for an excuse as to why I feel 'dumber' (see i cant even articulate properly) the longer I am away. Unfortunately i dont see any sun working the 6-1800 shift locked away inside. Vit D deficiency? I also blame lack of mental stimulation. Gym and a book at night helps but I worry chasing the dollars may impact me in my senior years. Cheers

QldBrainInst1 karma

Vitamin D can be sourced from the diet and supplements (D3 or D2). Sun exposure is another source. Shift work, and broken sleep can have long term detrimental effects, but then so can sitting all day at a desk, or standing all day in an emergency department. Mental stimulation is important as we all need a purpose and a challenge. Exercise and reading should be part of everyones routine, but like all good gym routines the body needs to change it up.

maveriks-wingman2 karma

I suffered a DAI in a car accident (diffuse axonal injury). Does the brain ever fully recover?

QldBrainInst1 karma

I am sorry to hear that. It depends on the extent of the injury. As your brain ages recovery becomes more of a challenge. Recovery is possible. The brain has many networks and sometimes despite damage, different networks can be recruited. Deep Brain Stimulation has demonstrated that recovery can be acheive by activating different brain circuits. Olfactory nerves can regenerate, but unfortunatley most nerves do not have this capacity. There is wonderful research going on in C.elegans looking at repairing injured axons and the hope is that we can unlock the molecular mechanism to repair damaged axons in the future. I wish you all the best with your recovery.

MrNichum2 karma

I have panic anxiety, and I am starting to get a really good sense of control over it.
I can now (almost) all the time keep the anxiety build up on a low so it wont take over and go into an attack.

Will my mind adapt and not send out danger signals to my brain and body whenever I feel something in my body that I am not used to?
Can I re-wire my brain to not feel danger at all (atleast not in an axiety kind of way, like regular people), when experiencing new things? I know I can adapt my brain to overcome and not to feel danger by repeating the things that make me angst, but can I ever get free of this repitition?
I guess what I am trying to say, I want to be normal like I was back in the day.
Is that possible?

QldBrainInst1 karma

You should check out this recent story from QBI, which may help answer your question

https://www.reddit.com/r/science/comments/as3o5m/a_small_region_of_the_prefrontal_cortex_plays_a/

S4CW2 karma

What’s the one thing that you think more people should know about ?

QldBrainInst2 karma

We are more than the some of our parts.

denotdeblong2 karma

My Brain always malfunctioning at every lectures, does Vitamin D helps?

QldBrainInst1 karma

In a recent study of undergraduate students, supplementing with vitamin D or placebo did not affect their cognitive outcomes in any meaningful way. It is likely that they were not deficient in vitamin D or their levels were sufficient and they had no other conditions affecting their health. So this would suggest that having optimal vitamin D levels would be ideal, but would be unlikely to affect your performance in a lecture theatre. If you are concerned about your cognition (attention, memory) then you should consult your doctor.

addalittlesparkle2 karma

About what percentage of the brain does science understand today?

QldBrainInst1 karma

Compared with Aristotle who thought that intelligence came from the heart, and that the lump of fat in your skull was a blood cooling mechanism we have come a long way. We have mapped what we can see in terms of cell types, brain regions, neural connections, and identified different patterns of brain activity. But, we still do not understand completely how we remember things, or what brain regions/networks/cells are required for someone to be addicted to a drug. We have theories and data to back them up, but we do not fully understand the different mechanisms to account for how the brain works. Recent data suggests that each neuron in the brain has a unique gene expression pattern. If we assume that the average human has ~100 thousand million (billion) neurons, and each individual has a unique genetic makeup, then the level of complexity is simply mind blowing. Each neuron can have 1000 synaptic connections. So for context try to imagine remembering the name of every person on the planet. 7,000,000,000 names give or take. There are at least 100,000,000,000,000 connections in the brain. We are unable to prevent or cure most brain diseases (Alzheimer's, depression, schizophrenia, etc..) and so I argue that we do not understand enough. It is hard to put a percentage when the numerator is what we know and the denominator is what we don't know. What I can say is that we still have a long way to go.

spider_842 karma

This is a random question about people who have different shaped heads. Some are flat, round, long, short, etc. My friend has a flat head because his parents laid him on his back all the time when he was a baby. Does the shape of the head influence the shape of the brain, and inturn have any side effects regarding the brain either positive or negative?

QldBrainInst2 karma

The brain sits within the skull and the shape of both are intimately linked. The study of phrenology held the view that the bumps, lumps and shapes on the surface of the skull held key information about personality, intelligence and behaviour. Unfortunately, this has largely been debunked as the connections within the brain (the neural networks) are not slaves to the shape of the skull. There are clearly areas within the brain that have certain functions (such as Broca's area in the left hemisphere for language), but superficial features such has head shape has no general impact on brain function. Cases of microcephaly (small head) or megalencephaly (enlarged head) are a different scenario, because they could be caused by a lack of brain tissue, enlarged ventricles, or excessive brain connections (too many synapses can be as bad as too few), which would lead to changes in brain function. But for normal patterns of brain development variety in head shape is not a guide to brain function.

panosc2 karma

How much of the brain do we use ?

I mean of course for memory, thinking, processing, conscience etc and not for supporting our senses (smelling,vision,touch,hearing) or controlling other organs (walking,breathing etc).

Is it possible (in the future of course) to remove some sense or stop controlling of an organ, to give more "space" for thinking or memory ?

QldBrainInst2 karma

People who are born blind have heightened senses that remain (hearing, touch, smell). The brain rewires the "visual" areas to accomodate the other senses. So in that sense you can remove something and give more space for another sense. However, memory requires disparate parts of the brain with key integration areas for learning, consolidation and remembering. It is unclear what you would have to lose to free up more areas. Use it or lose it may be the best advise for a typical brain. Environmental enrichment is key to maximising potential, but it has to be voluntary. Forced enrichment can be detrimental. The whole brain is made up of trillions of connections, it has various oscillations and synchronised activity patterns, so each part plays a role. Most of the brain functions have little to do with our conscious experience, but have the networks, connections and information to do what we need, but that also includes a virtually unlimited capacity for imagination. So in that sense we already have an infinite capacity for thinking. The brain is probably the most complex organ in the known universe so the idea of removing something to boost something else seems like a strange concept to me. The brain is not like a computer that has a finite memory chip.

you-are1the_best2 karma

ways To Train your brain To Process information Faster Without Giving much Effort ?

QldBrainInst2 karma

you get out what you put in. Eat well and sleep well for minimal effort. Challenge your ideas and read widely if you have some more effort. If you still have more effort then exercise. If more still then maintain (and build) social networks. Probably the hardest is get our of your comfort zone and try something new.

you-are1the_best3 karma

i m not sure what is comfort zone to me right now, i try to think outside the box and challenge myself every moment

thanks for your reply.

I think , if you give less effort to a project , you are able to focus and work on more projects( less effort=more energy, more energy=can work on more projects, of course less effort=less results) so work smarter <=> less effort & more results

here is an example about less effort: a kid if he will hear a "bad" word in another language , he will learn that word faster than other words. But if he needs to learn normal words in a language, he will have to give more effort to learn them.

so question: how to make people learn everything the way kids learn bad words . haha

QldBrainInst2 karma

The brain works on meaning, value and reward. If something has a positive or negative valence it is more easily remembered than a neutral stimlus. Give things meaning and they will take less effort to remember.

kaylossusus2 karma

What are some books about the brain, cognition and mind that you would recommend for an interested layman?

And in case this is an area one of your areas of interest, What are your thoughts on philosophy of mind? In particular do you have a take on the hard problem of consciousness and what are your thoughts on the seeming irreducibility of subjective experience?

Thanks!

QldBrainInst2 karma

a few suggestions would include,

Oliver Sacks has some very interesting books about what happens when things go wrong (such as, The man who mistook his wife for a hat).

Norman Doidge has written an excellent book called "The brain that changes itself"

Steven Pinker has a fascinating book called "So how does the mind work?"

Eric Kandel has written an outstanding book called "In Search of Memory: The Emergence of a New Science of Mind"

Scarbarella1 karma

What are your suggestions on naturally obtaining Vitamin D especially in a cold climate? Do you really need to have most of your skin exposed to the sun?

QldBrainInst3 karma

In our research we modify vitamin D levels in rodents entirely through the diet. We never expose them to the sun or UVB, and with adequate levels in the food, they have optimal vitamin D (at least in control animals). Curiously rat skin is very efficient at synthesising vitamin D from UVB exposure.

People can obtain vitamin D from multiple sources, including the diet (oily fish), supplements (D2 or D3) or through exposure to the sun (UVB at wavelengths of 290-320 nm). Unfortunatley UVA (320-400 nm is very damaging to DNA and skin). Although you can not get too much vitamin D from the sun, you can dramatically increase your risk of skin cancer. So one only needs a relatively small amount of sun exposure to benefit. The problem is that the correct amount depends on the time of day, time of year, amount of skin exposed, skin thickness, skin pigmentation, age, etc., so there is no set time in the sun that would apply to everyone.

funkjunky19891 karma

do you see a serious link to head trauma and depression?

QldBrainInst3 karma

I do not work on traumatic brain injury, but I am aware of studies that show that the recovery from head injury in animal models, such as a rat, is made worse if they are vitamin D deficient, compared to rats that have sufficient levels of vitamin D.

I think that up to 1 in 5 people aged 16-85 in Australia will be affected by mental illness in their lives and most will not have had any head trauma. Of course head trauma is not good for the brain. Our thoughts are that vitamin D offers neuroprotection and will be good for the brain.

heroinz1 karma

I have focal hand dystonia (writer's cramp). Is there any cure for this or is there anything that is close to a cure? What would be the best treatment for this disorder if there is no cure? I have been suffering from this for 2 years. I really need a solution

QldBrainInst1 karma

This can occur because of over use in a restricted fine motor pattern, such as in musicians. Early diagnosis would be ideal, but the reasons why seem unclear. I am aware of specific treatments, but you should see a clinician for advice. Generally, vitamin D supplements (if you are deficient), as part of a balanced diet, may be able to help with cramps, muscle spasms and ease muscle pain.

heroinz2 karma

Is there any medication that you would recommend to help my situation?? Previously, I was prescribed artane and it worked for a while. Then I was prescribed baclofen, which didn't work at all. After that, I tried some tramadol which actually work for quite a while before the cramp came back. I have injected botox as well and all it did was weaken my hand

QldBrainInst1 karma

I am not able to provide any clinical advice and you should seek the opinion of a specialist or your GP. I wish you all the best.

goldstandardalmonds1 karma

Have you done any research with MS?

QldBrainInst1 karma

I have been looking at the role of vitamin D on brain function, and not MS specifically.

marchese511 karma

The common myth is that we only use about 10 percent of our brains. What kind of changes would we see in everyday life if that increased?

QldBrainInst1 karma

Yes it is a myth. Every cell in your brain is active at some level, and made up of complex networks. Much of the brain has to be "quiet" for networks to operate. If all the cells are active at the same time then you would not survive. Think of an epileptic seizure, which is caused by a small area of brain all being active at once.

In cognition we talk about cognitive reserve, this capacity enables the brain to function for longer periods as we age. In Parkinson's disease the brain can cope with 50% death of dopaminergic neurons. Once the cell death increases beyond about 70% (in the population of dopamine neurons in the substantia nigra) then people start to get symptoms.

The brain is much more about meaning, timing and connections.

Perez_The_Owl1 karma

Recomendations for people who live in zones where the sun seems to not get to them?, i mean places like east Europe, that envinroment is different from most part of the world, i have read in a book that they have vitamin D deficiency because the environment. Thank you! :)

QldBrainInst1 karma

vitamin D can be hard to get from the diet, and with little sun exposure (UVB) then there can be an issue. For example, in the industrial revolution in England, nearly 90% of children had some form of vitamin D deficiency that led to ricketts. This can be treated with sun exposure (too much sun exposes skin to DNA damage from UVA, increasing the risk of cancer), diet or pills. However, even today people still do not have optimal levels of vitamin D. If there is not enough sun to synthesize vitamin D, then sources from the diet and supplements will be required. This has been very important for our evolution because this largely explains the gradient in skin colour as one moves further away from the equator. There is a decrease in melanin to allow more uvb to penetrate the skin. This association can change if people have a high vitamin D content in the diet.

So our vitamin D levels are a mixture of our ethnic background, our vitamin D metabolism, diet and our environment

trex0051 karma

I have treatment resistant depression. I have read all sorts of great things about ketamine and psylocibin but they are both illegal where I live. What are your opinions, do you feel they should at least warrant more study?

QldBrainInst2 karma

In animal studies ketamine has been used to model model many things, such as addiction, psychosis and as an antidepressant. It all depends on the dose, route and duration of administration. Low dose ketamine has been shown to be very effective in treating depression-like behaviour in animals. It turns out that much of the effect is due to a metabolite of ketamine produced in the liver that enters the brain. More work is needed to ensure efficacy and safety, but there is definitely a role for compounds that bind to glutamate receptors in the brain and treating depression. If these drugs are proven to work then hopefully they are available under prescription from a clinician. Certainly these compounds should not be freely available to self medicate because the dose and drug regime needs to be tailored to each individual and monitored for potential side effects. I absolutely believe we need to do more research to understand fundamental mechanisms of mental illness, and prevention/treatment can come in many forms (diet, exercise, pharmacotherapies, enrichment).

Scarbarella1 karma

What are your thoughts on the “co-factors” I’ve read about for vitamin D absorption like vitamin K2 or magnesium? Is D3 really better than D2?

QldBrainInst1 karma

Vitamin D2 or ergocalciferol is from plants and vitamin D3 or cholecalciferol is from animal sources. In rodents they can utilise D2 or D3 equally efficiently. Humans appear to have more bioavailability from D3. There are 2 main ways to acquire D3, either from the diet, from exposure to uvb radiation from the sun (in moderation of course). The only way to acquire D2 is from the diet. We do not know whether the human brain can utuilise the metabolites of D2 or D3 differently, and more work needs to be done.

There is a very strong relationship between calcium and vitamin D in the diet, and you need optimal levels of both.

EdwardHutchinson2 karma

Role of Magnesium in Vitamin D Activation and Function
https://jaoa.org/article.aspx?articleid=2673882
You may find ensuring magnesium status in the brain aids vitamin d activation.
Timeline (Bioavailability) of Magnesium Compounds in Hours:
Which Magnesium Compound Works Best?
http://sci-hub.tw/10.1007/s12011-018-1351-9#

QldBrainInst1 karma

A diet formulation with adequate levels of trace elements should be sufficient. I would not discount the role of zinc. The vitamin D receptor has a zinc binding domain, and so zinc is crucial to proper vitamin D receptor function. However, this is not for absorption. I think that calcium is more important for absorption, and the gut has a calcium independent lactose uptake system as well. As for bioavailability in the brain, most cells in the brain have the enzymes to convert the vitamin D precursor into active vitamin D. With a balanced diet trace elements and micronutrients should be abundant so that this is not an issue.

SunshineRN20191 karma

Many of my patients who are in recovery from alcohol and other chemicals have brain changes due to their chemical use. My question is.. Does the brain ever return back to normal after year of drug/alcohol use? What supplements would you recommend someone to take who is in this situation to optimize their brain function?

QldBrainInst1 karma

In Australia the government was concerned about alcohol use and vitamin D deficiency, and so supplemented thiamin (vitamin B1) in the bread so that at least there would be a minimum amount in the diet (most people will eat bread). B complex vitamins are important. In terms of alcohol and pregnancy, the developing fetus is very sensitive to the amount of alcohol consumed. So it depends on the age of the brain that was exposed to alcohol.

If you are talking about drug induced changes in neurotransmitters, then these can return to a pre-drug state if there is no effect of tolerance or sensitisation. If there is, then changes may take longer. Obviously reducing exposure to harmful substances is a good idea, even if abstinence can not be acheived. In order to repair the brain it depends on the extent of damage. If there has been atrophy or cell death then these are irreversible. However, new cells may form or other networks may take over function of a previous area. Deep brain stimulation has been used successfully in cases where there is neurological damage, such as in parkinson's to restore function.

Many alcoholics have low vitamin D levels, mainly due to liver damage.

unsweetened-1 karma

My 6yo wants to know: is there a physiological reason that we react emotionally to certain colors? For example, he noticed fast food signs are often red/yellow, so I explained there have been several studies done showing red/yellow get people to eat and buy more food. We read a few of the articles and he wants to know if it’s really something in the brain that makes us react that way.

QldBrainInst1 karma

I think that red/yellow are useful to grab your attention. I agree that people typically feel different emotions when looking at different colours (e.g. blue/green for calm). The perception of colour is depending on many things, light levels, the receptors in the retina, processing in the visual cortex, memory and learned associations. It certainly appears that we are hardwired to respond to some colours differently to others, but much of what we know is learned. For example if you show someone a banana that is grey, many people report seeing yellow. Also most people have their attention drawn to red images over green or blue images. Most animals respond differently to different colours (but it depends on their make up of receptors, visual network as well).

BoBx71 karma

Why can't I write as well with my "non-favorite" hand?

QldBrainInst1 karma

fine motor control is largely learnt in a social context. How much practice have you had with your dominant hand versus your non-dominant hand? It just happens that most people are right handed and so that hand is favoured. Many people in Australia growing up in the 50's would be forced to write with their right hand and punished for writing with their left hand. Nowadays there is more tolerance to allow people to write with whichever hand they choose and so I think the proportion of left handers in the community is greater than it may have been. Many famous Australian cricketers have learnt to bat left handed (even though they are right handed) to have a competitive edge on getting on the team. With practice one can develop control in both hands (such as in piano players). While there are predisposing factors to having a dominant limb (hand or foot). If you are worried, try switching your computer mouse (and the buttons) to your non-dominant hand and practice and see if your fine motor control changes.

LadyLynxXx1 karma

Didn't know if I was too late or not but, I have 2 questions. 1. I work in a store that has no access to windows to get sunlight during most of the day. I maybe get to see 2 hours of sunlight a day (wake up at 7:30, shift starts at 10 am and ends at 9pm). How can this harm me long term and what could I do to stop any issues this may cause? 2. My almost 2 year old is incredibly intelligent for her age, and loves being outside, but probably doesn't see the sunlight enough either, I just want her brain to develop normally and her intelligence to surpass all her classmates (in the future). How can I help her brain develop into the smartest little girl possible?

QldBrainInst2 karma

Thanks for the questions.

Vitamin D can be sourced from your diet, supplements or from the sun. Although it is good get outdoors you do not have to do that everyday. Vitamin D has a very long half life of about 15 days.

The ability to acquire and apply knowledge and skills is an important part of normal brain development. I have said it in another post, but will say again here that my best advice is to eat well, sleep well, have a network of friends and family, read widely and challenge your ideas. Having optimal brain development does not mean you surpass everyone else, but that you have the capacity to adapt and change as you need to.

I think it is good to remember a quote from Charles Darwin, " It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent that survives. It is the one that is most adaptable to change."

kevinkemple1 karma

what is the best brain "exercise" to stimulate or increase brain growth?

QldBrainInst3 karma

Eat well, sleep well, have a network of friends and family, read widely and challenge your ideas.

spamantha1 karma

I have Multiple Sclerosis. Every neurologist tells me to take vitamin D, and more than it seems like I need to, but I cannot understand why, or what the link to MS is.

What do you think the link of Vitamin D to MS is, and in your opinion, are they linked in some way?

QldBrainInst3 karma

Vitamin D has many roles in the body, but one is by modulating the immune system, and that is the link to MS, which is essentially an automimmune disorder where the myelin sheath around neurons is targeted. Vitamin D is neuroprotective and is thought to help with remyelination. The dose of vitamin D recomended is dependent on many things, including the clinicians opinion, recent evidence, and will vary depending on your age, skin colour, outdoor activities, diet, and health condition. There is strong evidence to suggest that vitamin D supplementation is beneficial for MS. There is quite a wide range of safe doses to take, and we have not established the optimal dose for each individual. It is generally thought that maintaining vitamin D levels at 40-60 ng/ml is optimal, although currently 20 ng/ml is considered the miminum for sufficiency. So one might argue that you need to take enough supplements to reach optimal circulating levels.

PaulErdos_0 karma

What's hypnosis? How does it work?

QldBrainInst1 karma

sorry but I do not know much about hypnosis or the neuroscience behind it.

freakofnature1110 karma

Is there a link between behavior and penis size?

QldBrainInst1 karma

This question is off topic, but what I can say is that there is evidence that low levels of vitamin D may be linked to erectile dysfunction.

Herminizer-1 karma

Did you provide the rats with vitamin D again after the 20 weeks of deficiency? And if so, did their ability to remember and learn go back to normal?

QldBrainInst0 karma

That is a really interesting question. Can we restore the deficits with supplementation? We have not conducted those studies yet in rats or mice. Our hope is that the changes are reversible, but we will have to wait and see the result.

Herminizer1 karma

I hope you do conduct those studies! Maybe vitamin D is a key factor in fighting Alzheimer's

QldBrainInst1 karma

We are cautiously optomisitc. We do not have strong evidence from clinical trials that supplementing with vitamin D will cure brain disease. We think that it may slow disease progresssion, or at least modify symptoms. It may be that one needs to maintain optimal vitamin D levels throughout the lifespan to reduce your risk. At the end of the day vitamin D is one of many risk factors and needs to be taken in a broader context (healthy diet, adequate sleep, mental stimulation, etc.). Because vitamin D is relatively safeand cheap we hope that it may provide some benefit, and hope that it is based on a good understanding of the mechanism of action.

TRON1160-1 karma

A bit off topic from what you say you're studying currently but have you ever done any research with anything to do with sleep or sleep disorders such as narcolepsy?

QldBrainInst2 karma

Take a look at another AMA we did with a sleep researcher, which may provide some answers: https://www.reddit.com/r/IAmA/comments/7udzqs/im_a_scientist_who_studies_sleep_attention_and/

coppasaurus-1 karma

Probably a dumb question, but can an external force cause the brain to move or shift in position so much to cause (permanent) harm to a person?

QldBrainInst3 karma

Often people lose their sense of smell following a car accident. The brain moves in the skull and can whip back severing the olfactory nerves through the ethmoid bone. The nerves can regrow, and many people will get their sense of smell back. The olfactory system has the ability to regenerate, but this is not the case for most of the brain (apart from some parts of the hippocampus). The extent of damage depends on the amount and type of force .

AkivaE-1 karma

What inspired you to study brain function?

QldBrainInst2 karma

I think it started looking at the sky and wondering why it was blue and what lay beyond, and wondering if other people and animals see the world the same way I do. I used to think the world was fixed, but have learnt that the brain makes sense of all this information and puts it all together in a slightly different way for each of us, so the world is actually how we perceive it.

bdhili-1 karma

How does a brain funcion during a heartbreak?

QldBrainInst1 karma

I imagine that it would activate similar areas in the brain that also respond to pain and grief. It is not something that I have worked on though.

thekillercook-1 karma

How does vitamin D, b and fish oil help the brain? I am prescribed all 4 as part of my Post Concussion Syndrome treatment

QldBrainInst3 karma

Vitamin D is neuroprotective, regulates the immune system and helps with calcium balance. It is also involved with regulating many genes important for brain function. Vitamin B is an important co factor, and the right balance of Omega 3:6 fatty acids important for brain function. These nutrients are important for brain health. Although vitamin D is thought of as a vitamin, it acts as a neurosteroid and plays important roles in the brain.

Shadow_Of_-1 karma

What "component" in our brains makes us smarter? Are there different types of intelligence or is there only one intelligence concentrated into different things?

QldBrainInst3 karma

Our enlarged cortex and frontal lobes are important for cognition. However, we can show that many organisms with a brain have attention, executive function and working memory, from the honey bee, to a mouse, to an elephant. We study cognition, and it is made up of many different components (such as spatial memory, social cognition, etc.) and it is difficult to identify a single component in the brain. The brain is a network that is very adaptable. For example one can be very goal directed and use a number of strategies to solve a problem, which might lead to brain activation in a particular network. Once the problem is solved, we can become habitual in how we respond and then a different network may be activated. The former will look intelligent, and the latter very simple, but it depends on how the information is used.

Kyle_Cr-1 karma

Are side effects on brain caused by a vitamin D deficiency permanent?

Does every variant of vitamin D (let’s say 1, 2 or 3) act the same way once absorbed?

QldBrainInst3 karma

Vitamin D2 (ergocalciferol) is from plants and Vitamin D3 (cholecalciferol) is from animals. Humans can utilise either source, although D3 is probably more bioavalable than D2. In other animals, such as rats, the bioavailability is different, such that they are equally available.

We believe that some of the effects of low vitamin D are reversible, and others are not. Some of our evidence suggests that it is neuroprotective and one needs optimal levels of vitamin D to reduce the effects of an adverse event. For example, think of a seat belt in a car. If you have a crash and then put the seat belt on it will not do much good, but if you wear your seat belt, although most of the time you will not notice a benefit, in the event of a crash, it will reduce the extent of damage done to your body. It may be that so many studies do not see a benefit of vitamin D because they are focussed on the wrong time, or have the wrong dose, or did not start prior to the insult (or brain injury).

The term vitamin D1 is not used any more. It turns out to be a mixture of D2 and D3, and so those are the two main compounds we refer to.

zig_anon-1 karma

Do you study APOE?

If so what selection advantage is their for ApoE4? Why does it persist in populations?

QldBrainInst1 karma

Unfortunately I do not study APOE. However, I am aware that mice with the APOE4 allele have higher vitamin D levels than those with the APOE2 allele. It may relate to vitamin D metabolism or calcium absorption, which are important for survival and growth.

nigerfaggot69420-3 karma

Why am I stupid ?

QldBrainInst1 karma

Being stupid may be innate, assumed or reactive.