What is music? It’s something I listen to when I want to relax or when I want to focus. If I’m missing home, I listen to Bollywood. When it’s Christmas, I listen to carols, both classic and modern. So clearly, I think of music as a source of entertainment. In fact, in both ancient and modern times, music has been a key component of celebrations, like weddings and cultural events. Interestingly, scientific research on music and the brain has shown that music has more benefits than entertainment alone.
Not one for sour food? Look no further than miracle berries – the fruit of the shrub Synsepalum dulcificum – to turn sour delicacies into sweet treats. A New York Times article reported the drastic changes in the taste sensation that consumers experienced after eating these berries. A tart concoction of lemon sorbet and Guinness tasted like a chocolate milkshake, a drizzle of tabasco sauce could have been mistaken for donut glaze – just one berry is enough to turn your taste buds upside down.
This miracle is achieved by the appropriately named miraulin, a glycoprotein contained in the fleshy portion of the berry. It binds to taste receptors on the taste buds, and for the most part does not affect taste sensation. However, when sour foods are consumed, the acid contained lowers the pH in the mouth. The miraculin on the receptors binds to the protons released by acidic substances, activating sweet receptors. It has been suggested that it changes the structure of taste receptors on the tongue, but any evidence towards this has been inconclusive. It is interesting to note that miraculin itself is not sweet.In fact, the berry has very little sugar.
Imagine you’re on your first date and you and your partner are hitting it off big time. It’s probably his/her witty comments or good sense of humor, his/her intelligence or impeccably beautiful smile that makes you feel extremely attracted to your date. As time goes on, you look deeply into each other’s eyes and giggle. You wonder, “am I falling in love?” The answer is: probably not (you’re only on your first date here, come on). You may not be falling in love, but you are feeling a stronger and closer bond being formed; and you’re feeling this way with some help from the hormones norepinephrine, dopamine, and oxytocin.
That’s right, kids– everything your parents told you about your crazy hormones when you had “The Talk” is true. Your hormones really are going crazy, and they really are helping you feel the way you do. When in love, areas in the brain that are known for their dopamine and norepinephrine production light up.
Telling apart identical twins can be embarrassingly difficult at first, so it’s pretty nice to be able to tell apart the rest of the population from one another. But what about those people we see that we give a second glance because they resemble a classmate? Or what about stunt doubles? In the movies, stunt doubles resemble the main actors so closely that we can’t see the difference. But in real life, if we saw Johnny Depp and his stunt double side by side, we would easily be able to see who’s who. This is because of the way the brain recognizes faces.
At the age of 82, Laura Cuartas is watching her four children deteriorate in front of her eyes. Starting around the age of 45, they developed what she describes as “the most terrifying illness of the world”, Alzheimer’s disease (AD). This early onset of the disease is due to a genetic mutation and it progresses rapidly. Within a few years after symptoms arise, around the age of 45, almost all sensation and function is gone. At age 61, Cuarta’s daughter Maria Elsy, is mute and fed by a nose tube. Her son, Dario, is 55 and babbles incoherently. Laura Cuarta is not the only parent who must take care of her children as they fall victim to this disease. In Antioquia, Colombia, she is a part of the largest known extended family to have this familial Alzheimer’s disease. Of the 5,000 members, about a third of them have the presenilin-1 dominant genetic mutation, guaranteeing they will get the disease.
Familial Alzheimer’s only accounts for about 10% of cases of AD. Most cases come from a genetic mutation at presenilin-1, presenilin-2 or the APP gene. Mutations to these genes almost guarantee that an individual will get the disease. For many years, this extended family’s strain of the disease was thought to be isolated, giving us no information about the Alzheimer’s most of us are familiar with- Sporadic Alzheimer’s Disease. This form has an onset of 65 years old. Other than age and family history, there has been no solid risk factor to explain why more than five million American’s are suffering. The APO4 gene has found to be a risk gene, meaning that mutations to this will increase your chances of developing AD, but the disease is not guaranteed. While Sporadic and Familial Alzheimer’s may have different causes, they both result in the same brain changes and symptoms. Plaques and tangles occur in the brain, along with a reduction of synaptic density and neuronal loss.
L-S-D. For many, these three letters may conjure up images of peace signs, rainbows, and hippie circles. Some users claim it has profound, positive short and long term effects on their thinking and perception. Others may see it negatively, as just another recreational drug that naive folks may abuse. One trait that is often overlooked, however, is its potential for medicinal use for certain psychological conditions. Indeed, before it was made illegal in 1966, researchers studied its effects on patients with depression, anxiety, and alcoholism immensely, with over a thousand studies published on the subject. The first American study on the drug concerned how it could be used alongside psychotherapy; subsequently, a government-funded LSD-purpose unit was built into a hospital in Worcester, England in 1955. But now, for the first time in more than 40 years, its benefits when coupled with psychotherapy are being tested once again.
With the diagnosis of ADHD in children on the rise, there is a push for researching a treatment and possible solution as well. There have been numerous studies done on a correlation between increased physical activity and a higher degree of paying attention in those children with ADHD. So, is exercise the treatment that we are looking for?
In a study in the Journal of Abnormal Child Psychology, children in an elementary school classroom setting were randomly assigned to either a physical activity (PA) group or a sedentary classroom (SC) group for 31 minute periods per day for 12 weeks. Parents and teachers were asked to rate ADHD symptoms such as inattention, hyperactivity/ impulsivity, oppositional behavior and moodiness before and after the study was completed. The first analyses of this study found that the PA group was more effective at reducing inattention and moodiness at home. Follow up analyses found that the PA intervention reduced impairment associated with ADHD both at home and at school. An unexpected finding that the SC intervention was potentially useful for managing these ADHD symptoms was also found in this experiment. This study was done with a liberal analysis and without a control group, so that is important to note as well.
Have you ever watched the show “I Didn’t Know I Was Pregnant”? I don’t know about you, but I have never understood how that could happen, because of all of the symptoms and telltale signs that come with pregnancy. What I am about to talk about is a condition that is completely opposite of this reality television show. It is a condition where a woman actually believes she is pregnant and gets all of the symptoms, including an enlarged belly and breasts, but there is no baby inside of her. This is called Pseudocyesis, or more commonly, Phantom Pregnancy.
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?
It’s every student’s favorite time of the semester: midterm week. As you are freaking out about the upcoming exams that you have, you notice that others around you are relatively calm. You envy them and their ability to cope with stress. But here’s the thing: keeping calm under pressure isn’t a character trait or ability, it’s a skill that you can teach yourself in minutes. You’re probably thinking that that sounds ridiculous, but by following a few simple steps one can easily improve one’s ability to manage stress.