Category: Neurology

Protecting Newborns’ Brains During Rewarming Stage of Cooling Therapy

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Oxygen-deprived newborns who undergo hypothermia therapy have a higher risk of seizures and brain damage during the rewarming period, according to a new study. The finding, published online in JAMA Neurology, could lead to better ways to protect these vulnerable patients during an often overlooked yet critical period of hypothermia therapy.

“A wealth of evidence has shown that cooling babies who don’t receive enough oxygen during birth can improve their neurodevelopmental outcomes, but few studies have looked at events that occur as they are rewarmed to a normal body temperature,” said study leader Lina Chalak, MD, MSCS, Professor at UT Southwestern. “We’re showing that there’s a significantly elevated risk of seizures during the rewarming period, which typically go unnoticed and can cause long-term harm.”

Millions of newborns around the world are affected by neonatal hypoxic-ischaemic encephalopathy (HIE), brain damage initially caused by hypoxia during birth. Although the World Health Organization estimates that birth asphyxia is responsible for nearly a quarter of all neonatal deaths, those babies that survive oxygen deprivation are often left with neurological injuries, Dr Chalak explained.

To help improve outcomes, babies diagnosed with HIE are treated with hypothermia, using a cooling blanket that brings the body temperature down to as low as 33.5°C, said Dr. Chalak.

Studies initially showed that during cooling, babies with HIE commonly have symptomless seizures, which are neurological events that can further damage the brain, prompting the addition of electroencephalographic (EEG) monitoring to the hypothermia protocol. However, Dr Chalak explained, babies typically haven’t been monitored during the rewarming period, in which the temperature of the blanket is increased by 0.5°C every hour.

To better understand seizure risk during rewarming, Dr. Chalak and colleagues studied 120 babies who were enrolled in another study that compared two different cooling protocols, one longer and colder than the other. The babies in the study were also monitored with EEG to check for seizures both during the cooling and the rewarming phases of hypothermia.

When the researchers compared data from the last 12 hours of cooling and the first 12 hours of rewarming, they found that rewarming roughly tripled the odds of seizures. Additionally, babies who had seizures during rewarming, there was twice the risk of mortality or neurological disability by age 2, compared with those who didn’t have seizures during this period. This finding held true even after adjusting for differences in medical centers and the newborns’ HIE severity.

While it is not known how to prevent seizures from occurring in babies with HIE, treating seizures when they do occur can help prevent further brain damage, Dr Chalak said. Thus, monitoring during both cooling and rewarming can help protect the babies’ brains from further insults while they heal.

“This study is telling us that there’s an untapped opportunity to improve care for these babies during rewarming by making monitoring a standard part of the protocol,” said Dr Chalak.

Source: EurekAlert!

Long Stays in Space can Cause Brain Injury

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A study of five Russian cosmonauts who had stayed on the International Space Station (ISS) reveals that extended time in space causes signs of brain injury. The study is published in the scientific journal JAMA Neurology

Scientists followed five male Russian cosmonauts working on the permanently manned International Space Station (ISS), in an orbit 400km above the surface of the Earth.

Early on in spaceflight history, extended time in zero gravity was found to result in muscle atrophy and bone loss. More recently, changes in vision were discovered during long flights, a potentially serious hazard. The vision changes were ascribed to increased cerebral pressure caused by the lack of gravity no longer pulling fluid into the lower extremities. On Earth this is similar to lying with a head-down tilt, causing fluids to pool in the upper body and head.

Blood samples were taken from the cosmonauts, whose mean age was 49, 20 days before their departure to the ISS, where they had an average stay of 169 days.

After landing on Earth, follow-up blood samples were taken one day, one week, and about three weeks after landing. Concentrations of three of the biomarkers analysed – NFL, GFAP and the amyloid beta protein Aβ40 – were increased after their stay in space. The peak readings did not occur simultaneously after the men’s return to Earth, but their biomarker trends nonetheless broadly tallied over time.

“This is the first time that concrete proof of brain-cell damage has been documented in blood tests following space flights. This must be explored further and prevented if space travel is to become more common in the future,” said Henrik Zetterberg, professor of neuroscience and one of the study’s two senior coauthors.

”To get there, we must help one another to find out why the damage arises. Is it being weightless, changes in brain fluid, or stressors associated with launch and landing, or is it caused by something else? Here, loads of exciting experimental studies on humans can be done on Earth,” he continued.

Changes also seen in magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) of the brain after space travel add evidence to the notion of spaceflight causing brain injurt. Clinical tests of the men’s brain function that show deviations linked to their assignments in space further support this, but the present study was too small to investigate these associations in detail.

Prof Zetterberg and his coauthors are currently discussing follow-up studies.

“If we can sort out what causes the damage, the biomarkers we’ve developed may help us find out how best to remedy the problem,” Prof Zetterberg said.

Source: University of Gothenburg

A Step Closer to Effective Electrical Pain Blocking

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New research from the University of Connecticut has brought the drug-free technology of electrical anaesthesia for all chronic pain sufferers a step closer. 

Pain stimuli, or ‘nociceptive stimuli’ is picked up by nociceptors which send signals to the spinal cord, which passes it on to the brain where the perception of pain is manifested.

Bin Feng, associate professor in the Biomedical Engineering Department, led research which discovered how electrical stimulation of the dorsal root ganglia (DRG), sensory neural cell body clusters, can block nociceptive signal transmission to the spinal cord and prevent the brain from perceiving chronic pain signals. The findings are reported in PAIN.

Electrical devices to treat pain typically deliver electrical signals to the peripheral nervous system and spinal cord to block nociceptive signals from reaching the brain.

A major obstacle with these devices is that while some patients find them beneficial in relieving their chronic pain, others have little or no pain reduction. Despite incremental developments of neurostimulator technologies, there has not been much improvement in getting the devices to work for these patients.

“The trouble with this technology is that it can benefit a portion of patients very well, but for a larger portion of patients it has little benefit,” Prof Feng said.

One of the reasons is that such devices lag behind research into neural stimulation.

“We’re sitting on a huge pile of clinical data,” Prof Feng says. “But the science of neuromodulation remains understudied.”

Neurostimulators relieve pain according to a ‘gate control’ theory. Our bodies can detect both innocuous stimuli, like something brushing against the skin, and painful stimuli, through low- and high-threshold sensory neurons, respectively.

The spinal cord ‘gate’ can be shut by activating low-threshold sensory neurons, preventing painful nociceptive signals from high-threshold sensory neurons from crossing the spinal cord to the brain.

Neurostimulators reduce pain in patients by activating low-threshold sensory neurons with electrical pulses. This usually causes a non-painful tingling sensation in certain areas of the skin, or paresthaesia, masking the perception of pain.

Many patients receiving DRG stimulation treatment reported pain relief without the expected paraesthesia.

Seeking to understand this, Prof Feng’s lab discovered that electrical stimulation to the DRG can block transmission to the spinal cord at frequencies as low as 20 hertz. This is in contrast to previous research indicating that blocking requires kilohertz electrical stimulation.

“The cell bodies of sensory neurons form a T-junction with the peripheral and central axons in the DRG,” Feng says. “This T-junction appears to be the region that causes transmission block when DRG is stimulated.”

More remarkably, sensory nerve fibres with different characteristics are blocked by different electrical stimulation frequency ranges at the DRG, allowing the development of new neural stimulation protocols to enhance selective transmission blocking with different sensory fibre types.

“A-fibre nociceptors with large axon diameters are generally responsible for causing acute and sharp pain,” Prof Feng explained. “It is the long-lasting and dull-type pain that bothers the chronic pain patients mostIn a chronic pain condition, C-fibre nociceptors with small axon diameter and no myelin sheath play central role in the persistence of pain. Selectively blocking C-fibres while leaving A-fibres intact can be a promising strategy to target the cause of chronic pain.”

This provides evidence to place more electrodes for devices that target the DRG and surrounding neuronal tissues, letting doctors provide more precise neuromodulation.

“The next-generation neurostimulators will be more selective with fewer off-target effects,” Prof Feng said. “They should also be more intelligent by incorporating chemical and electrical sensory capabilities and ability to communicate bidirectionally to a cloud-based server.”

Prof Feng hopes that more people will be eventually able to achieve chronic pain relief with this technology. He is now working toward conducting clinical studies with his collaborators at UConn Health to test the efficacy of this method in humans.

Source: University of Connecticut

A Distinct Neural Signature for Teams ‘in the Zone’

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Researchers have discovered that there are brain waves and regions sensitive to team flow (ie, being ‘in the zone’ together) compared to non-engaging teamwork or a solo flow.

Flow experiences are considered to be some of the most enjoyable, rewarding, and engaging experiences of all, and typically involve automatic and effortless action coupled with intense focus. The benefits of having flow experiences are still being catalogued, but include improved overall quality of life, increased self-efficacy, and a stronger sense of self.

This is the first study to objectively measure this psychological state. These neural correlates not only can be used to understand and predict the team flow experience, but could be used to monitor and predict team performance. This is an area the authors are currently investigating/
Team flow is experienced when team players get ‘in the zone’ to accomplish a task together. Successful teams experience this psychological phenomenon, ranging from sports to bands and even in the office. When teamwork reaches the team flow level, one can observe the team perform in harmony, breaking their performance limits.

In order to investigate neural processing of this team flow state, something which has been a challenge for decades, it has to be reproduced in the lab and measured.

Researchers at at Toyohashi University of Technology and California Institute of Technology found solutions to these challenges and provided the first neuroscience evidence of team flow. Using 10 teams of two playing a music video game together, the researchers measured the team members’ brain activity using EEG. In some trials, a partition separated the teammates so they couldn’t see each other while they played, allowing a solo flow state but preventing team flow.

The research team scrambled the music in other trials, thereby preventing a flow state but still enabling teamwork. Participants also answered questions after each game to assess their level of flow. The researchers also developed an objective neural method to evaluate the depth of the team flow experience. Team flow was marked by a unique signature: increased beta and gamma brain waves in the middle temporal cortex, a type of brain activity linked to information processing. In comparison to the regular teamwork state, teammates also had more synchronised brain activity during the team flow state.

Neural models from this study can inform more effective team-building strategies in areas where human performance and pleasure matters, such as sports, business and music. This will also enable improved team performance.

Enhancing performance while maintaining enjoyment will improve quality of life, which could result in reduced mental health problems.

Source: Medical Xpress

MRI and Massage Stones Help Unlock Mystery of Sensory Associations

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By using hot and cold massage stones, scientists have found that the brain’s prefrontal cortex conjures up sensations based on other sensory information, such as feeling warmth when viewing a beach.

Publishing their findings in The Journal of Neuroscience, the researchers investigated patterns of neural activity in the prefrontal cortex as well as the other regions of the brain known to be responsible for processing stimulation from all the senses and discovered significant similarities.

“Whether an individual was directly exposed to warmth, for example, or simply looking at a picture of a sunny scene, we saw the same pattern of neural activity in the prefrontal cortex,” said Dirk Bernhardt-Walther, an associate professor in the department of psychology in the Faculty of Arts & Science, and coauthor of a study published last week in the Journal of Neuroscience describing the findings. “The results suggest that the prefrontal cortex generalizes perceptual experiences that originate from different senses.”

To understand how the human brain processes the torrent of information from the environment, researchers often study the senses in isolation, with much prior work focused on the visual system. Bernhardt-Walther says that while such work is illuminating and important, it is equally important to find out how the brain integrates information from the different senses, and how it uses the information in a task-directed manner. “Understanding the basics of these capabilities provides the foundation for research of disorders of perception,” he said.

Capturing brain activity with functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), the researchers conducted two experiments with the same participants, based on knowing how regions of the brain respond differently depending on the intensity of stimulation.

In the first, the participants viewed images of various scenes, such as beaches, city streets, forests and train stations, and were asked to judge if the scenes were warm or cold and noisy or quiet.

For the second experiment, participants were first handed a series of massage stones that were either heated to 45C or cooled to 9C, and later exposed to a variety of sounds such as birds, people and waves at a beach.

“When we compared the patterns of activity in the prefrontal cortex, we could determine temperature both from the stone experiment and from the experiment with pictures as the neural activity patterns for temperature were so consistent between the two experiments,” said lead author of the study Yaelan Jung, who recently completed her PhD at U of T working with Bernhardt-Walther and is now a postdoctoral researcher at Emory University.

“We could successfully determine whether a participant was holding a warm or a cold stone from patterns of brain activity in the somatosensory cortex, which is the part of the brain that receives and processes sensory information from the entire body – while brain activity in the visual cortex told us if they were looking at an image of a warm or cold scene.”

“Overall, the neural activity patterns in the prefrontal cortex produced by participants viewing the images were the same as those triggered by actual experience of temperature and noise level,” said Dr Jung.

This opens up insights into how the brain processes and represents complex real-world attributes that span multiple senses, even without directly experiencing them.

“In understanding how the human brain integrates information from different senses into higher-level concepts, we may be able to pinpoint the causes of specific inabilities to recognise particular kinds of objects or concepts,” said Bernhardt-Walther.

“Our results might help people with limitations in one sensory modality to compensate with another and reach the same or very similar conceptual representations in their prefrontal cortex, which is essential for making decisions about their environment.”

Source: University of Toronto

Why REM Sleep is Important in Animals

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Researchers in Japan have discovered that capillary blood flow in the brain is increased in mice during the dream-active REM phase of sleep, possibly preventing a buildup of waste products.

Scientists have long wondered why almost all animals sleep, despite the disadvantages to survival of being unconscious. Now, researchers led by a team from the University of Tsukuba have found new evidence of brain refreshing that takes place during a specific phase of sleep: rapid eye movement (REM) sleep, where dreaming occurs.

Previous studies have seen conflicting results when measuring differences in blood flow in the brain between REM sleep, non-REM sleep, and wakefulness using various methods. For this study, the investigators used a technique to directly visualise red blood cell movement in the brain capillaries of mice during awake and asleep states.

“We used a dye to make the brain blood vessels visible under fluorescent light, using a technique known as two-photon microscopy,” explained the senior study author, Professor Yu Hayashi. “In this way, we could directly observe the red blood cells in capillaries of the neocortex in non-anaesthetised mice.”

The researchers also measured electrical activity in the brain to identify REM sleep, non-REM sleep, and wakefulness, and looked for differences in blood flow between these phases.

“We were surprised by the results,” said Professor Hayashi. “There was a massive flow of red blood cells through the brain capillaries during REM sleep, but no difference between non-REM sleep and the awake state, showing that REM sleep is a unique state”

The research team then disrupted the mice’s sleep, resulting in ‘rebound’ REM sleep, which is a stronger form of REM sleep to compensate for the earlier disruption. During rebound REM sleep, blood flow was increased even further, suggesting an association between blood flow and REM sleep strength. However, when the researchers repeated the same experiments in mice without adenosine A2a receptors (blocking these receptors makes you feel more awake after a coffee), there was less of an increase in blood flow during REM sleep, even during rebound REM sleep.

“These results suggest that adenosine A2a receptors may be responsible for at least some of the changes in blood flow in the brain during REM sleep,” said Professor Hayashi.

Given that reduced blood flow in the brain and decreased REM sleep are correlated with the development of Alzheimer’s disease, in which waste products are seen to build up in the brain, this increased blood flow in the brain capillaries during REM sleep could be important for waste removal from the brain. This study highlights the role of adenosine A2a receptors in this process, perhaps leading to the development of new treatments for Alzheimer’s disease and other conditions.

Source: University of Tsukuba

Foetal Brain Development Mapped in Great Detail

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Researchers at Karolinska Institute have charted a highly detailed molecular atlas of the foetal development of the brain.

The study, published in Nature, made use of single-cell technology which was performed on mice. In this way, researchers have identified almost 800 different cells that are active during foetal development – far more than previously known.

“Brain development is well described and the main cell types are known. What is new about our atlas is the high resolution and detail,” said Sten Linnarsson, head of research and professor at the Department of Medical Biochemistry and Biophysics, Karolinska Institutet.

In their work, the researchers followed the brain development of the mice from day seven, when the brain is just forming, to the end of pregnancy on day 18.

Using single-cell technology, they were able to identify the detailed composition of the brain during foetal development: what cell types exist, how many cells of each type, and how this changes at the various stages of development.

The researchers also studied gene activity in each individual cell, classifying cells according to these activity patterns.

Creating a molecular atlas

The result is a molecular atlas that accurately illustrates how all cells in the brain develop from the early embryo. The atlas shows, for example, the way early neural stem cells first increase and then decrease in number, being replaced by transitional forms in several waves that eventually mature into ready-made neurons.

The researchers also demonstrated how early stem cell lines branch much like a family tree, giving rise to several different types of mature cells. The next step is mapping out atlases of the human brain, both in adults and during foetal development.

“Atlases like this are of great importance for research into the brain, both to understand brain function and its diseases. Cells are the body’s basic building blocks and the body’s diseases are always expressed in specific cells. Genes that cause serious diseases are found in all of the body’s cells, but they cause disease only in specific cells in the brain,” said Prof Linnarsson.

Source: Karolinska Institute

Journal information: “Molecular Architecture of the Developing Mouse Brain”, Gioele La Manno, et al. Nature, online 28 July 2021, doi:10.1038/s41586-021-03775-x.

Good Outcomes for Severe Brain Injury Still Possible

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A new study adds to the growing body of evidence that decisions regarding moderate-to-severe traumatic brain injury (TBI) should not be made too soon after the injury, as a good prognosis can still emerge.

Researchers followed 484 patients with moderate-to-severe TBI and found that among the patients in a vegetative state, one quarter “regained orientation” — awareness of who, when and where they were —  within 12 months of their injury.

“Withdrawal of life-sustaining treatment based on early prediction of poor outcome accounts for most deaths in patients hospitalised with severe TBI,” said senior author Geoffrey Manley, MD, PhD,  noting that 64 of the 92 fatalities in the study occurred within two weeks of injury. Dr Manley is professor and vice chair of neurological surgery at UCSF and chief of neurosurgery at Zuckerberg San Francisco General Hospital.

“TBI is a life-changing event that can produce significant, lasting disability, and there are cases when it is very clear early on that a patient will not recover,” he said. “But results from this study show a significant proportion of our participants experienced major improvements in life functioning, with many regaining independence between two weeks and 12 months after injury.”

The patients in the study were enrolled by the brain injury research initiative TRACK-TBI, of which Dr Manley is the principal investigator. All patients were 17 and older and had presented to hospitals with level 1 trauma centers within 24 hours of injury. Their exams met criteria for either moderate TBI or severe TBI. The causes were falls, assault and primarily crashes involving a motor vehicle.

The patients, whose average ages were 35 in the severe TBI group (78 percent males) and 38 in the moderate TBI group (80 percent males), were assessed using the Glasgow Outcomes Scale Extended (GOSE), which ranges from 1 for death to 8 for “upper good recovery” and resumption of normal life. Impairment was also categorised with the Disability Rating Scale (DRS).

At two weeks post-injury, 93 percent of the severe TBI group and 79 percent of the moderate TBI group had moderate-to-severe disability, according to the DRS, and 80 percent had GOSE scores from 2 to 3, meaning they required assistance in basic everyday functioning.

But by 12 months, half of the severe TBI group and three-quarters of the moderate TBI group had GOSE scores of at least 4, indicating they could function independently at home for at least eight hours per day. Moreover, 19 percent of the severe TBI group had no disability, according to the DRS, and a further 14 percent had only mild injury, the researchers noted.

Most surprising were the findings for the 62 surviving patients who had been in a vegetative state. By the 12-month mark all patients had recovered consciousness and 1 in 4 had regained orientation. All but one survivor in this group recovered at least basic communication ability.

“These patients made the cut for favorable outcome,” said co-first author, Joseph Giacino, PhD, of Spaulding Rehabilitation Hospital, Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard Medical School. “Their GOSE scores were 4 or higher, which meant they could be at home unsupervised for at least eight hours a day, since they were able to take care of basic needs, such as eating and toileting.”

In prior work, a significant percentage of patients with grave impairments had been shown to achieve favorable functionality after many months or years. This study coincided with the recommendation in 2018 from the American Academy of Neurology that in the first 28 days after injury, clinicians should refrain from telling families that a patient’s prognosis is beyond hope.

“While a substantial proportion of patients die or suffer lasting disability, our study adds to growing evidence that severe acute impairment does not portend uniformly poor long-term outcome,” said Manley, who is also affiliated with the UCSF Weill Institute for Neurosciences. “Even those patients in a vegetative state – an outcome viewed as dire – may improve, since this is a dynamic condition that evolves over the first year.”

Source: University of California, San Francisco

Journal information:JAMA Neurology (2021). DOI: 10.1001/jamaneurol.2021.2043

Internal Body Sensing Ability Varies with Age

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A Chinese study has found that the ability to sense nervous signals such as heartbeat varies with age, peaking in young adulthood, but does not seem to be associated with autism.

Interoception is the ability to process and integrate internal signals originating from one’s body, such as heartbeats and breathing patterns. This ability is important for maintaining homeostasis. Recent findings have suggested that autism spectrum disorders are associated with a wide range of sensory integration impairments including interoceptive accuracy.

However, it is still not clear whether individuals with subclinical features of autism, which only moderately impact daily life, also exhibit similar impairments in interoceptive accuracy. It is also not clear how interoceptive ability and its association with autistic traits varies with age.

In order to address this issue, Dr Raymond Chan’s team from the Institute of Psychology of the Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS) has developed an innovative paradigm involving eye-tracking measures to examine the multidimensional interoception and autistic traits in different age groups.

In so doing, they recruited 114 healthy university students aged 19–22 and explored the correlations among autistic traits and interoceptive accuracy using an “Eye-tracking Interoceptive Accuracy Task” (EIAT), which presents two bouncing shapes and requires participants to look at the one whiches bounces in time with their heartbeat.

Since this task requires no verbal report or button-pressing, it enables the exploration of interoceptive accuracy in preschool children and individuals with psychiatric disorders or speech impairments.

However, while autistic traits correlated significantly with the ability to describe and express emotion (alexithymia) but not with the different dimensions of interoception such as interoceptive accuracy (performance of interoceptive ability on behavioural tests), interoceptive sensibility (subjective sensitivity to internal sensations on self-report questionnaires) and interoceptive awareness (personal insight into interoceptive aptitude).

They then recruited 52 preschool children aged four to six, 50 adolescents aged 12–16 and 50 adults aged 23–54 to specifically examine the relationship of autistic traits and interoceptive accuracy across these three age groups. The researchers found that interoceptive accuracy evolves from childhood to early adulthood, and then declines with age. The highest average accuracy was seen in 12-16 year olds. The dataset showed that the developmental trajectory of interoceptive accuracy has a reverted U-shape trend peaking around early adulthood.

The findings suggest that interoceptive accuracy significantly differs between typically-developing preschool children, adolescents and adults. The study also highlights the need for future study into preschool children with suspected autism spectrum disorders.

Source: Medical Xpress

Dopamine Involved in Both Autistic Behaviour and Motivation

Dopamine can help explain both autistic behaviours and men’s need for motivation or ‘passion’ in order to succeed compared to women’s ‘grit’, according to a new study.

Men – more often than women – need passion to succeed at things. At the same time, boys are diagnosed as being on the autism spectrum four times as often as girls. Both statistics may be related to dopamine, one of our body’s neurotransmitters.

“This is interesting. Research shows a more active dopamine system in most men” than in women, says Hermundur Sigmundsson, a professor at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology’s (NTNU) Department of Psychology.

He is behind a new study addressing gender differences in key motivating factors to excel in something. The study uses men’s and women’s differing activity in the dopamine system as an explanatory model. The study enrolled 917 participants aged 14 to 77, consisting of 502 women and 415 men.

“We looked at gender differences around passion, self-discipline and positive attitude,” said Prof Sigmundsson. The study refers to these qualities as passion, grit and mindset. The researchers also applied theories to possible links with dopamine levels. Dopamine, a neurotransmitter that is released in the brain, is linked to learning, attention and our ability to focus. It can contribute to a feeling of satisfaction.

Men generally secrete more dopamine, but it plays a far more complex role than simply being a ‘happy hormone’. Dopamine is linked to learning, attention and our ability to focus.Previous studies on Icelandic students have shown that men are more dependent on passion in order to succeed at something. This study confirms the earlier findings. In six out of eight test questions, men score higher on passion than women.

However, the association with dopamine levels has not been established previously.

“The fact that we’ve developed a test to measure passion for goal achievement means that we can now relate dopamine levels to passion and goal achievement,” explained Prof Sigmundsson.

Women, on the other hand, may have greater self-discipline – or grit – and be more conscientious, according to other studies. Their level of passion may not be as pronounced in general, but they are also able to use this to excel.

The results for the women, however, are somewhat more ambiguous than men’s need to have a passion for something, and this study found no such gender difference. Nor did the researchers find any difference between the sexes in terms of growth mindset.

Previous studies have associated the dopamine system with many different conditions, such as ADHD, psychoses, manias and Parkinson’s disease. However, it may also be related to a certain form of autistic behaviour.

Some individuals with autism may develop a deep interest in certain topics, something which others may find strange or even off putting. People on the autism spectrum can focus intensely on these topics or pursuits, at least for a while, and dopamine may play a role in this.

“Other research in neuroscience has shown hyperactivity in the dopamine system in individuals with autism, and boys make up four out of five children on the autism spectrum. This, and dopamine’s relationship to passion, might be a mechanism that helps to explain this behaviour,” concluded Prof Sigmundsson.

Source: Norwegian University of Science and Technology

Journal reference: 
Sigmundsson, H., et al. (2021) Passion, grit and mindset: Exploring gender differences. New Ideas in Psychology.