Photo by Caroline Attwood on Unsplash
These were the top neuroscience stories for the week of July 13, 2020.
Eating Fish May Protect Older Women’s Brains From Air Pollution
Eating fish may mitigate the harmful effects of air pollution on the brain, researchers reported July 15 in Neurology. Using brain imaging data from more than 1,300 women between the ages of 65 and 80, they found women who lived in areas with high air pollution levels had less white matter, the insulated nerve fibers connecting various brain regions. But those who ate more fish — and had higher levels of omega-3 fatty acids in their blood — were somewhat protected from the detrimental effects of air pollution.
Big picture: A growing body of research shows air pollution does more than irritate the lungs and aggravate breathing problems — it also hurts the brain. Exposure to higher levels of air particulates has been linked to increased risk of autism and lower IQ in children, as well as higher rates of dementia and Alzheimer’s disease in older adults.
Read more: Eating Fish May Protect the Brain From Pollutants (The New York Times)
Ecuadorian Hummingbirds Hear Ultrasonic Vocalizations
A species of hummingbird residing in the high-altitude grasslands of the Andes chirps — and can hear — high-frequency tunes, researchers reported July 17 in Science Advances. Previously, scientists knew the Ecuadorian Hillstar produced these ultrasonic songs, which register about 13.4 kilohertz, well outside the hearing range of most birds. But there was no evidence the birds could actually hear such high frequencies — or whether they were used for communication. So, researchers recorded male Hillstars singing. When they played the tunes back in the wild, other Hillstars tilted their heads and looked toward the source of the sound. They also conducted experiments in the lab showing the sounds activated auditory processing areas in the hummingbirds’ brains.
Related: ICYMI: Hummingbirds See Ultraviolet Colors Imperceptible to Humans
Read more: Ecuadorian hummingbirds chirp ultrasonic songs of seduction (Associated Press)