The National Council for Prevention and Treatment of Cardiovascular Diseases has warned the public not to stop taking statins – the class of drugs often prescribed to lower cholesterol levels in the blood – despite talk on the Internet and elsewhere that the drugs can be “harmful.”The council, which advises the Health Ministry on heart disease, stroke and other vascular diseases and is headed by Prof. Alexander Battler (chief of cardiology at the Rabin Medical Center), said it felt bound to inform the public of the danger from stopping the taking of statins by patients who have been prescribed the drugs. No longer taking them can cause “significant and sometimes even irreversible harm, as proven in scientific research published in recent years.” This position, it continued, is identical to that of all professional groups in Israel and abroad that there is no doubt about the quality of the research on which it is based.By lowering the levels of low-density (“bad”) cholesterol, the council said, they help prevent heart attacks and stroke. Studies show that, in certain people, statins reduce the risk of heart attack, stroke, and even death from heart disease by 25% to 35%.They can cause side effects such as headache, difficulty sleeping, muscle aches, tenderness, diarrhea, drowsiness or nausea, and in rare cases, memory loss, mental confusion, high blood sugar and type 2 diabetes. When their pluses are weighed against their minuses, the council said, their use should not be discontinued, certainly not by patients who make the decision on their own. Consult your doctor when in doubt.‘ELECTRICITY’ OF HUMAN NERVE CELLS’ MAKES A DIFFERENCE The human brain’s advanced cognitive capabilities are often attributed to our “recently evolved” neocortex. Comparison of human and rodent brains shows that the human cortex is thicker, contains more white matter, has larger neurons, and its abundant pyramidal cells (formerly called “psychic” neurons) have more synaptic connections per cell as compared to rodents.However, scientists have yet to determine whether there are important differences at the biophysical level of the basic building blocks of the human neocortex, the pyramidal neurons.To answer the question whether these cells possess unique biophysical properties that might impact on cortical computations, a Hebrew University team collaborated with universities in Amsterdam and Madrid. Their findings appeared in the peer-reviewed journal eLife. HU Prof. Idan Segev, working with experimental colleagues at Vrije Universiteit in Holland and Instituto Cajal in Spain, built detailed 3-D models of pyramidal cells from the human temporal neocortex. These first-ever detailed models of human neurons were based on in-vitro intracellular physiological and anatomical data from human cells.“This is the first direct evidence for the unique electrical properties of human neurons,” said researcher Guy Eyal, a doctoral student in HU’s neurobiology department.“The results of this work imply that human cortical neurons are efficient electrical microchips, compensating for the larger brain and large cells in humans, and processing sensory information more effectively,” said Segev, from the department of neurobiology and the Edmond and Lily Safra Center for Brain Sciences.Indeed, the study shows that even at the level of the individual building blocks of the nervous system (the nerve cells), humans are distinct, compared to rodents. More research should be performed in this direction on non-human primates.”The researchers suggest the distinctive biophysical membrane properties of human pyramidal neurons are an outcome of evolutionary pressure to compensate for the increase in size and distances in the human brain.BILINGUALISM COULD BOLSTER BRAIN RESOURCES AS YOU AGE New research findings show that bilingual people are great at saving brain power. To do a task, the brain recruits different networks – the highways on which different types of information flow, depending on the task to be done. The team of University of Montreal Prof.Ana Inés Ansaldo compared what are known as functional brain connections between seniors who speak one language and seniors who are bilingual. Her team established that years of bilingualism change how the brain carries out tasks that require concentrating on one piece of information without becoming distracted by other information. This makes the brain more efficient and economical with its resources.To arrive at this finding, Ansaldo’s team asked two groups of seniors (one of monolinguals and one of bilinguals) to perform a task that involved focusing on visual information while ignoring spatial information. The researchers compared the networks between different brain areas as people did the task. They found that monolinguals recruited a larger circuit with multiple connections, whereas bilinguals recruited a smaller circuit that was more appropriate for the required information: two different ways of doing the same task The participants did a task that required them to focus on visual information (the color of an object) while ignoring spatial information (the position of the object). The research team observed that the monolingual brain allocates a number of regions linked to visual and motor function and interference control, which are located in the frontal lobes. This means that the monolingual brain needs to recruit multiple brain regions to do the task. These findings were published in the Journal of Neurolinguistics.“After years of daily practice managing interference between two languages, bilinguals become experts at selecting relevant information and ignoring information that can distract from a task. In this case, bilinguals showed higher connectivity between visual processing areas located at the back of the brain. This area is specialized in detecting the visual characteristics of objects and therefore is specialized in the task used in this study.These data indicate that the bilingual brain is more efficient and economical, as it recruits fewer regions and only specialized regions,” explained Ansaldo.Bilinguals therefore have two cognitive benefits.First, having more centralized and specialized functional connections saves resources compared to the multiple and more diverse brain areas allocated by monolinguals to accomplish the same task. Second, bilinguals achieve the same result by not using the brain’s frontal regions, which are vulnerable to aging.This may explain why the brains of bilinguals are better equipped at staving off the signs of cognitive aging or dementia.“We have observed that bilingualism has a concrete impact on brain function and that this may have a positive impact on cognitive aging. We now need to study how this function translates to daily life, for example, when concentrating on one source of information instead of another, which is something we have to do every day. We have yet to discover all the benefits of bilingualism,” concluded Ansaldo.