We put a man on the moon. We mapped the entire human genome. And next, we will have access to the brain and all of its connections at our finger tips.
The Brain Research through Advancing Innovative Neurotechnologies Initiative (known most commonly as the BRAIN Initiative) is a collaborative research effort that is a “combination of approaches into a single integrated science of cells, circuits, brain, and behavior”. It will span a variety of institutes in order to engineer new technologies for the study neural systems and apply the technology developed in order to better understand how these systems function in health and disease. President Obama dubbed the Initiative “the next great American project”, following in the hefty footsteps left by the Human Genome Project and the Apollo 11 moon landing. In addition to the President’s endorsement the NIH was heavily involved in the development of the project. NIH Director Francis Collins worked closely with the President and secured a total of 4.5 billion dollars towards the cause. NIH Advisory Committees the 10-12 year project and distributed research areas through 15 NIH Institutes and Centers. Other major players, including the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, the National Science Foundation, the FDA and several private partners, have also contributed major funds and planned specific research projects towards the Initiative. The sudden frenzy for neuroscience research raises many questions – why should this be done now and not in a few decades instead? Should we have been more proactive about advances in neuroscience sooner? What makes this area more in need of financial resources and government attention than research in cancer, nutrition or epidemics?
Have you ever lost something, yet had the feeling that you knew where it was?
Have you ever studied hours for an exam only to forget most of what you have learned?
I am sure you have had an experience in which you were frustrated by a spotty memory. Memory is an extremely complicated process. In a nutshell, it is the ability to store, connect, and retrieve information over time. The key stages are encoding, storage and retrieval. In the encoding phase, our minds process sensory information and convert it into enduring memories, a process that primarily occurs at the hippocampus. As its name suggest, the storage phase is maintenance of information in memory over time. Finally, retrieval is the process by which information is brought back to the consciousness from storage. There are various types of encoding, various types of memory storage, various retrieval cues, as well as many limitations to our memory process.
I think I’m funny. Some people say I’m funny. But when the moment presents itself where its my time to shine, all lights on me, this ‘one’ is going to be a knee slapper…nope, not so much. The first time I realized I wasn’t funny was in the eleventh grade in my calculus class. My teacher’s name was Mr. Butke and he easily is ranked in my top 3 ‘all-time’ of the math professors I’ve encountered in my lifetime. He had a mustache that covered his mouth and you never knew whether he was smiling, smirking, or grimacing at you. It kept you guessing, I liked that. He also presented stories of how he slayed cobras in Kenyan villages while pursuing a multi-purpose cure for malaria, encephalitis’ of sorts, and maybe AIDS. Bottom line, he was memorable and his stage presence resonated with my classmates and I.
Whereas the fields of psychology, sociology, and anthropology have extensively studied group dynamics and popularity, neuroscience is barely starting to scratch the surface. Although the role of power in social status has been well-investigated, research into popularity has been minimal. However, recent research by Kevin Ochsner of Columbia University is exploring how likability determines social status within a group. Using previously established social groups (specifically student organizations), Ochsner used individual ratings to determine which students were the most liked among each group. Then, using fMRI, Ochsner measured each students’ brain response to pictures of the other students in the group.
Ochsner found that how much the displayed student was liked correlated with the activity of two brain systems: the emotional evaluation and reward system centering on the ventral striatum, amygdala, and ventromedial prefrontal cortex, and the social cognition system, centering on the temporopariatal junction, precuneus, and dorsomedial prefrontal cortex. The activity of the former could be explained by the brain recognizing previous pleasure from interactions with those who are likable, and anticipating further rewards. The latter could come from the social awareness required to understand and be cognizant of the complexities of social interactions, and how they could be most advantageous.
Have you ever been interested in someone on a date yet could not figure out if you were truly attracted to them? Well, this is pretty much all up to your medial prefrontal cortex, located near the front of the brain. This area plays a major role in romantic decision-making, and is specifically responsible for judging physical attractiveness within milliseconds of seeing someone’s face. The medial prefrontal cortex helps you know intuitively whether the person in front of you is the one immediately after seeing them.
A study done in Ireland examined how the brain makes initial romantic judgments when participants took part in speed-dating. Before the dates, fMRI was used on half of the participants in order to record their brain activity while looking at pictures of the people they were going to meet. They were told to rank each person on the scale of 1 to 4 based on how much they would want to date them, how attracted they were to them, and how likeable they thought their dates would be. After the participants spent 5 minutes with each other on the speed dates, they filled out a form indicating who they would want to see again. About 63% of the participants were consistent with their initial level of interest based solely on the photographs, and held similar opinions after the date. 10 – 20% of these ended up seeing each other after the “blind” date.
Pregnancy is…? This sentence can end in a multitude of ways depending on whose answering the question. If I ask the ‘teen-mom-too-good-to-be-true-seventeen year-old-boyfriend’ who isn’t worried about nothing, then he’d probably say…well I would’ve asked but he just stormed off in his 92′ Bronco. You know, the one with the flames on the side? If I ask the nervous husband who has been day dreaming of becoming that perfect family man ever since he got into the relationship, then he’d probably say: If it’s a girl, I will be the dragon that protects my princess’ castle. If I ask the soon-to-be-BIG-brother whose busy doing doughnuts in his fisher price corvette yelling “look mom, no hands,” he’d probably say: This doesn’t change the cookie rations, does it? And finally if I ask the pregnant mother-to-be
if she thinks she’s gained weight what she’s praying for, she’d probably say: Just not your father’s personality, PLEASE, not your father’s personality.
Pregnancy is engaging. It brings together families, can tear relationships apart, and creates changes in the daily routine. Most notable is women’s change in body size. Bodily size and the awareness of that size can create multiple obstacles. Typically, pregnant women are thought to be inhibited in their ability to adapt to these obstacles, however, pregnant women are just as capable as non-pregnant individuals. Today, we’ll discuss their ability to asses depth perception and whether or not they can fit through openings such as doorways. Thanks to perceptual-motor-recalibration, pregnant women are just as good at adjusting their spatial awareness of their environment to match their constantly changing bodies.
Schizophrenia is a mental disorder often presented in patients by abnormal thought processes, impaired emotional responses, and negative symptoms. As a chronic disorder that affects ~1% of all people, schizophrenia can be have debilitating effects on patients, especially on their social lives. Due to the lack of knowledge on its pathophysiology and also the heterogeneity of the symptoms, it has been increasingly important to understand the genetics of schizophrenia.
Due to the marked reduction in fecundity seen in schizophrenic patients, the high heritability of the disorder pointed to the possibility that genetic alleles that were risk factors might occur as de novo mutations. Previous exome sequencing studies showed no promising results, but the inconclusive results were likely due to small sample size and a narrow focus on target genes. Two recent studies, the largest of their kind, gathered data from nearly 7000 people (nearly 3500 patients) from Sweden and Bulgaria, and showed that genetic effects on schizophrenia seemed to be very complex. Specifically, both papers published in Nature reflected on the implication of genetic mutations in clusters of specific proteins that governed signaling networks dealing with learning and memory. The studies identified the presence of de novo mutations, often nonsense mutations, notably in genes related to the PSD (post-synaptic density of dendrites), the calcium channels, the postsynaptic ARC complex, and the NMDA receptors.
When the word meditation comes up, people usually think of Monks or Buddhists first. However, there is a reason they meditate so often; meditation does wonders for your brain, and here is how.
There are two main types of meditation: 1) Focused-attention meditation or ‘Mindful meditation‘ and 2) Open-monitoring meditation. In Mindful meditation, you focus on one specific thing ranging from your breathing, a specific sensation in your body, or a particular object in front of you.The key point is to focus on one thing without consideration to other thoughts or events happening around you. When any distractions occur, you must be quick to recognize it and turn your focus back to your focal point. Open-monitoring meditation is where you pay attention to all the things happening around you but you do not react to them.
Traumatic brain injuries, often referred to as TBI, have gained major traction in the field of neuroscience over the past couple years, and for obvious reasons. The name itself suggests that something has gone horrible awry with our BRAIN – you know, the mass of cells inside our skulls responsible for telling our heart to pump and our muscles to contract, the organ that controls all of our cognitive abilities and complex processing, that space between our ears that has been associated with creating the somewhat vague concept of our mind? It’s not surprising that neuroscientists have deemed it important to begin researching ways to at least partially remedy the potentially devastating effects of an injury to our most central organ.
Previous TBI research hasn’t exactly led to the most uplifting results. While research has advanced enough for us to be able to visualize TBIs and generally understand the symptomology of TBI, the field has lagged in suggesting potential therapies for patients with this condition. The broad view has always been that patients with TBI improve up to a certain point, and then they plateau, staying at a consistently impaired state – until now.
Scientists from Duke University and Brazil claim wires connecting one rodent to another can allow communication spanning continents via the internet. Professor Miguel Nicolelis of Duke University in Durham, North Carolina, led a team of researchers who demonstrated that it is possible to transmit instructions from one animal to another by brain-to-brain communication, a process akin to telepathy.
Brain-to-brain communication could be the start of organic-based computing based on networks of interconnected brains. Pairs of laboratory rats were able to communicate with each other using microscopic electrodes implanted into their brains. This occurred as part of an experiment where the two rats had to work together in order to receive a reward (see video at source).