Long-term exposure to air pollution may harm your brain

Long-term exposure to fine particle air pollution may cause subtle structural changes in the brain that could precede cognitive impairment and hidden brain damage, according to research in the American Heart Association journal Stroke.

Fine particle air pollution – smaller than 2.5 micrometers in diameter (PM2.5) – may be the most common and hazardous type of air pollution. It comes from burning wood or coal, car exhaust and other sources.

“Long-term exposure to air pollution showed harmful effects on the brain in this study, even at low levels, particularly with older people and even those who are relatively healthy,” said Elissa H. Wilker, Sc.D., study lead author and researcher in the Cardiovascular Epidemiology Research Unit at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center and the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health in Boston.

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The future is now: Reining in procrastination

Procrastination is the thief of time that derails New Year's resolutions and delays saving for college or retirement, but researchers have found a way to collar it. The trick? Think of the future as now.

Brain scan reveals out-of-body illusion

The feeling of being inside one’s own body is not as self-evident as one might think. In a new study from Sweden’s Karolinska Institutet, neuroscientists created an out-of-body illusion in participants placed inside a brain scanner. They then used the illusion to perceptually ‘teleport’ the participants to different locations in a room and show that the perceived location of the bodily self can be decoded from activity patterns in specific brain regions.

The sense of owning one’s body and being located somewhere in space is so fundamental that we usually take it for granted. To the brain, however, this is an enormously complex task that requires continuous integration of information from our different senses in order to maintain an accurate sense of where the body is located with respect to the external world. Studies in rats have shown that specific regions of the brain contain GPS-like ‘place cells’ that signal the rat’s position in the room – a discovery that was awarded the 2014 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine. To date, however, it remains unknown how the human brain shapes our perceptual experience of being a body somewhere in space, and whether the regions that have been identified in rats are involved in this process.

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