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A neuroscience blog.

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  • October 20, 2008
  • 03:40 PM

The staggering beauty of biology

by Mo in Neurophilosophy

When confronted with threatening stimuli and predators, the crayfish responds with an innate escape machanism called the startle reflex. Also known as tailflipping, this stereotyped behaviour involves rapid flexions of the abdominal muscles which produce powerful swimming strokes that thrust the small crustacean through the water and away from danger. In the struggle for existence, the speed of this response response can mean the difference between life and death, and the crayfish has evolved an........ Read more »

D. Mellon, & K. Christison-Lagay. (2008) A mechanism for neuronal coincidence revealed in the crayfish antennule. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 105(38), 14626-14631. DOI: 10.1073/pnas.0804385105  

  • June 7, 2010
  • 07:55 PM

Hair pulling is a neuroimmunological condition

by Mo in Neurophilosophy

TRICHOTILLOMANIA (or hair pulling) is a condition characterised by excessive grooming and strong, repeated urges pull out one's own hair. It is classified as an obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), and is relatively common, affecting about 2 in 100 people. Sufferers normally feel an increasing sense of tension before pulling out their scalp hair, facial hair, and even pubic hair, eyelashes or eyebrows. This provides gratification, but only briefly.

Hair pulling is usually thought of as being ps........ Read more »

Chen, S., Tvrdik, P., Peden, E., Cho, S., Wu, S., Spangrude, G., & Capecchi, M. (2010) Hematopoietic Origin of Pathological Grooming in Hoxb8 Mutant Mice. Cell, 141(5), 775-785. DOI: 10.1016/j.cell.2010.03.055  

  • April 3, 2009
  • 03:11 PM

New cells in the adult brain migrate long distances by crawling along blood vessels

by Mo in Neurophilosophy

The journey undertaken by newly generated neurons in the adult brain is like the cellular equivalent of the arduous upstream migration of salmon returning to the rivers in which they were hatched. Soon after they are born in the subventricular zone near the back of the brain, these cells migrate to the front-most tip of of the olfactory bulb. This is the furthest point from their birth place, and they traverse two-thirds of the length of the brain to get there.

The first leg of this epic journe........ Read more »

  • October 2, 2009
  • 12:15 PM

Circadian and social cues regulate sodium channel trafficking in electric fish

by Mo in Neurophilosophy

SEVERAL hundred species of fish have evolved the ability to generate electric fields, which they use to navigate, communicate and home in on prey. But this ability comes at a cost - the electric field is generated continuously throughout life, so consumes a great deal of energy, and it can also attract predators which are sensitive to it. Electrogenic fish species therefore utilize various strategies to save energy and to minimize the likelihood of being detected. Some generate irregular pulses ........ Read more »

  • October 12, 2009
  • 03:50 PM

Kicking performance affects perception of goal size

by Mo in Neurophilosophy

ATHLETES who are on a winning streak often claim that they perceive their targets to be bigger than they actually are. After a run of birdies, for examples, golfers sometimes say that the cup appeared to be the size of a bucket, and baseball players who have a hit a few home runs say that the ball is the size of a grapefruit. Conversely, targets are often reported to be smaller than they actually are by athletes who are performing badly.

Research carried out in the past 5 years suggests that th........ Read more »

  • March 3, 2009
  • 05:24 PM

Anatomy of a 300 million year-old brain

by Mo in Neurophilosophy

Nervous tissue is extremely fragile, and so is very well protected. The brain, which has a jelly-like consistency, is encased in the skull, and is surrounded by cerebrospinal fluid, which acts to cushion it against blows that might cause it to come into contact with the inside of its bony case. Likewise, the spinal cord is surrounded by the vertebrae, the series of bones which runs down from the base of the skull.  

Being so soft, the brain and spinal cord decompose quickly. When an animal........ Read more »

  • January 9, 2009
  • 10:26 AM

The harmonic duets of mosquitoes in love

by Mo in Neurophilosophy

The familiar buzzing sound made by a mosquito may be irritating to us humans, but it is an important mating signal. The sound, produced by the beats of the insect's wings, has a characteristic frequency called the "flight tone"; when produced by a female, it signals her presence to nearby males, thereby attracting potential mates.

Attraction is not simply a matter of the male hearing and homing in on the female's flight tone. Females were long believed to be deaf, but two years ago, it was foun........ Read more »

  • May 14, 2010
  • 10:40 AM

Near misses fuel gambling addiction

by Mo in Neurophilosophy

GAMBLING is extremely popular, with lottery tickets, casinos, slot machines, bingo halls and other forms of the activity generating revenues of more than £80 billion each year in the UK alone. For most people, gambling is nothing more than an entertaining way to pass the time. But for some, it becomes a compulsive and pathological habit - they spend increasing amounts of time gambling, because tolerance builds up quickly, and experience withdrawal symptoms when they aren't gambling.

The terms ........ Read more »

  • January 20, 2009
  • 01:52 PM

The delusional brain

by Mo in Neurophilosophy

Delusions are pathological beliefs which persist despite clear evidence that they are actually false. They can vary widely in content, but are always characterized by the absolute certainty with which they are held. Such beliefs reflect an abnormality of thought processes; they are often bizarre and completely unrelated to conventional cultural or religious belief systems, or to the level of intelligence of the person suffering from them.

The delusions experienced by psychiatric patients are so........ Read more »

  • December 30, 2008
  • 11:40 AM

Monkeys categorize objects in the same way as humans

by Mo in Neurophilosophy

Being so closely related to our own species, monkeys serve as important model organisms, and have provided many insights into the workings of the human brain. Research performed on monkeys in the past 30 years or so has, for example, been invaluable in the development of brain-machine interfaces.

Monkeys have also contributed a great deal to our understanding of the visual system -  they were the subjects in many of the classic experiments of Hubel and Wiesel, which showed that the primary........ Read more »

  • March 7, 2011
  • 10:05 AM

Artificial nerve grafts made from spider silk

by Mo in Neurophilosophy

EVERY year, hundreds of thousands of people suffer from paralyzed limbs as a result of peripheral nerve injury. Recently, implantation of artificial nerve grafts has become the method of choice for repairing damaged peripheral nerves. Grafts can lead to some degree of functional recovery when a short segment of nerve is damaged. But they are of little use when it comes to regenerating nerves over distances greater than a few millimeters, and such injuries therefore often lead to permanent paraly........ Read more »

Radtke, C., Allmeling, C., Waldmann, K., Reimers, K., Thies, K., Schenk, H., Hillmer, A., Guggenheim, M., Brandes, G., & Vogt, P. (2011) Spider Silk Constructs Enhance Axonal Regeneration and Remyelination in Long Nerve Defects in Sheep. PLoS ONE, 6(2). DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0016990  

  • November 4, 2008
  • 09:00 AM

You cannot be serious! Perceptual errors by professional tennis referees

by Mo in Neurophilosophy

The Men's Final of the 1981 Wimbledon Tennis Championships is one of the most memorable events in sporting history. John McEnroe, who was playing against Bjorn Borg, famously challenged one of the referee's calls by throwing a tantrum, during which he shouted the immortal line "You cannot be serious!"McEnroe's outburst was controversial, and he was almost eliminated from the championship because of it. But he may have been right to challenge the referee after all: according to a new study publis........ Read more »

  • December 1, 2008
  • 12:30 PM

Tactile-emotion synaesthesia

by Mo in Neurophilosophy

Synaesthesia is a neurological condition in which stimuli of one sensory modality evoke experiences in another modality. This is thought to occur as a result of  insufficient "pruning" during development, so that most of the pathways connecting parts of the brain mediating the different senses remain in place instead of being eliminated. Consequently, there is too much cross-talk between sensory systems, such that activation of one sensory pathway leads simultaneously to activity in another........ Read more »

V. S. Ramachandran, & David Brang. (2008) Tactile-emotion synesthesia. Neurocase, 14(5), 390-399. DOI: 10.1080/13554790802363746  

  • May 21, 2010
  • 05:48 AM

Optogenetic fMRI

by Mo in Neurophilosophy

OF all the techniques used by neuroscientists, none has captured the imagination of the general public more than functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI). The technique, which is also referred to as functional neuroimaging and, more commonly, "brain scanning", enables us to peer into the human brain non-invasively, observe its workings in near-real time, and correlate specific thought processes or stimuli to activity in particular regions. fMRI data affect the way in which people perceive sc........ Read more »

  • February 10, 2009
  • 11:15 PM

Brain & behaviour of dinosaurs

by Mo in Neurophilosophy

Bones have been big news recently, following the publication of two papers which document remarkable fossil finds. First, a group of palaeontologists led by Phil Gingerich of the University of Michigan described Maiacetus inuus, a primitive whale which lived in the water but gave birth on land, and which marks the transition between modern whales and their terrestrial ancestors. This was quickly followed by the report, from Jason Head's group at the University of Toronto, of Titanoboa cerrejone........ Read more »

  • September 11, 2008
  • 08:20 PM

Neurobiology of a hallucination

by Mo in Neurophilosophy

Hallucinations are often associated with psychiatric conditions such as schizophrenia or with LSD and related drugs. Hearing voices is a characteristic symptom which is reported by about 70% of schizophrenic patients, as well as by some 15% of patients with mood disorders such as depression; and those under the influence of LSD often experience extreme spatial distortions and surreal visions.Most common are auditory and visual hallucinations, but the other senses can also produce mirages. Tempor........ Read more »

  • July 2, 2010
  • 05:43 PM

Scared by the light

by Mo in Neurophilosophy

WHO could have guessed that a protein isolated from pond scum would transform the way researchers investigate the brain? The protein, called channelrhodopsin (ChR), is found in algae and other microbes, and is related to the molecules in the human eye that capture light particles. Both versions control the electrical currents that constantly flow in and out of cells, and which are critical for generating the nervous impulses generated by neurons. Unlike its human equivalent, algal ChR controls t........ Read more »

Johansen, J., Hamanaka, H., Monfils, M., Behnia, R., Deisseroth, K., Blair, H., & LeDoux, J. (2010) Optical activation of lateral amygdala pyramidal cells instructs associative fear learning. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. DOI: 10.1073/pnas.1002418107  

  • October 28, 2008
  • 02:15 PM

An eye-opening view of visual development

by Mo in Neurophilosophy

The pioneering experiments performed by Hubel and Weisel in the late 1950s and early 60s taught us much about the development of the visual system. We now know, for example, that neurons in the visual cortex are organized into alternating ocular dominance columns which receive inputs from either the left or right eye and that groups of cells within each of these columns respond selectively to bars or edges of a specific orientation moving in a specific direction.

Hubel and Weisel also found tha........ Read more »

  • July 22, 2010
  • 10:15 AM

Feeling blue, seeing gray: Reduced contrast sensitivity as a marker for depression

by Mo in Neurophilosophy

DEPRESSION has long been associated with vision - and to colour perception in particular - and the link between them is evident in everyday language. Depression is, of course, often referred to as "feeling blue", and those who suffer from it are sometimes told to "lighten up". The link can be found in art, too - Picasso's so-called "Blue Period", for example, which was brought on by the suicide of his close friend Carlos Casagemas, is characterised by a series of striking paintings in shades of ........ Read more »

  • January 13, 2009
  • 01:55 PM

The evolution of manual dexterity

by Mo in Neurophilosophy

The unique capabilities of the human hand enable us to perform exquisite movements, such as those needed to write or to thread a needle. The emergence of these capabilities was undoubtedly essential in human evolution: a combination of individually movable fingers, opposable thumbs and the ability to rotate the smallest finger and ring finger to meet the thumb in the middle of the palm gives us dexterity that is unparalleled in the animal kingdom.

Last year, geneticists identified a stretch of ........ Read more »

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