Jon Hamilton

Scientists have found specialized brain cells in mice that appear to control anxiety levels.

The finding, reported Wednesday in the journal Neuron, could eventually lead to better treatments for anxiety disorders, which affect nearly 1 in 5 adults in the U.S.

Older brains may forget more because they lose their rhythm at night.

During deep sleep, older people have less coordination between two brain waves that are important to saving new memories, a team reports in the journal Neuron.

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KELLY MCEVERS, HOST:

All this week we are talking to our friends here at NPR about their favorite things from 2017. And we're nerding out here. These are not, like, simple best-of lists.

You're in your car, heading for an intersection. The light turns yellow, so you decide to hit the gas. Then you see a police car.

Almost instantly, you know that stomping on the accelerator is a big mistake. But there's a good chance you'll do it anyway, says Susan Courtney, a professor in the Department of Psychological & Brain Sciences at Johns Hopkins University.

People who experience frequent migraines may soon have access to a new class of drugs.

In a pair of large studies, two drugs that tweak brain circuits involved in migraine each showed they could reduce the frequency of attacks without causing side effects, researchers report in the New England Journal of Medicine.

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LULU GARCIA-NAVARRO, HOST:

The light coming from screens, like the one on your smartphone, is known as blue light, and it can interfere with sleep. So some people use apps to filter out some of that blue light. NPR's Jon Hamilton had some questions, so he rang up some scientists.

If you're losing sleep over the blue light coming from your phone, there's an app for that.

In fact, there are now lots of apps that promise to improve sleep by filtering out the blue light produced by phones, tablets, computers and even televisions.

But how well do these apps work?

There haven't been any big studies to answer that question. So I phoned a couple of scientists who study the link between blue light exposure and sleep.

The goal is simple: a drug that can relieve chronic pain without causing addiction.

But achieving that goal has proved difficult, says Edward Bilsky, a pharmacologist who serves as the provost and chief academic officer at Pacific Northwest University of Health Sciences in Yakima, Wash.

"We know a lot more about pain and addiction than we used to," says Bilsky, "But it's been hard to get a practical drug."

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MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

When people don't get enough sleep, certain brain cells literally slow down.

A study that recorded directly from neurons in the brains of 12 people found that sleep deprivation causes the bursts of electrical activity that brain cells use to communicate to become slower and weaker, a team reports online Monday in Nature Medicine.

People who are thinking about killing themselves appear to have distinctive brain activity that can now be measured by a computer.

In these people, words like "death" and "trouble" produce a distinctive "neural signature" not found in others, scientists report in the journal Nature Human Behaviour. More than 44,000 people commit suicide in the U.S. each year.

When it comes to brain training, some workouts seem to work better than others.

A comparison of the two most common training methods scientists use to improve memory and attention found that one was twice as effective as the other. The more effective method also changed brain activity in a part of the brain involved in high-level thinking.

Brain imaging studies have a diversity problem.

That's what researchers concluded after they re-analyzed data from a large study that used MRI to measure brain development in children from 3 to 18.

Like most brain imaging studies of children, this one included a disproportionate number of kids who have highly educated parents with relatively high household incomes, the team reported Thursday in the journal Nature Communications.

Fresh evidence that the body's immune system interacts directly with the brain could lead to a new understanding of diseases from multiple sclerosis to Alzheimer's.

A study of human and monkey brains found lymphatic vessels — a key part of the body's immune system — in a membrane that surrounds the brain and nervous system, a team reported Tuesday in the online journal eLife.

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