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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  

  • October 20, 2008
  • 03:40 PM

The staggering escape of the crayfish

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 can mean the difference between life and death, and the crayfish has evolved an incredib........ 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  

  • October 16, 2008
  • 09:46 PM

Brain-muscle interface helps paralysed monkeys move

by Mo in Neurophilosophy

Researchers from the University of Washington have demonstrated that paralysed monkeys can move using a simple neuroprosthesis consisting of an external electrical circuit which connects individual neurons in the motor cortex to muscles in the arm.Similar prostheses have been used to move external devices such as a robotic arm, but they required sophisticated algorithms to decode the brain activity associated with generating movements. The researchers adopted the alternative strategy of creating........ Read more »

  • October 14, 2008
  • 09:12 AM

Brain immediately recognizes transplanted hand

by Mo in Neurophilosophy

When David Savage was 19 years old, his right hand was crushed in a metal-stamping machine and subsequently amputated at the wrist by doctors. Afterwards, Savage was fitted a mechanical cable-hook prosthesis, which he wore until December, 2006, when he became the third American recipient of a hand transplant from a cadaver donor (above).Amputation of a limb leads to significant reorganization of the primary somatosensory cortex, that part of the brain which processes touch- and pain-related info........ Read more »

  • October 13, 2008
  • 10:45 AM

Silver nanorod microscopy

by Mo in Neurophilosophy

Japanese researchers have developed a design concept for a light microscope which could in principle be used for imaging of nanoscale objects. The device would rely on a novel subwavelength imaging technique which allows for the visualization of objects that are smaller than the wavelength of the photons used in the device.

Once thought to be impossible, subwavelength imaging can now be performed because of the development of nanostructured metamaterials with a negative refractive index, which ........ Read more »

Satoshi Kawata, Atsushi Ono, & Prabhat Verma. (2008) Subwavelength colour imaging with a metallic nanolens. Nature Photonics, 2(7), 438-442. DOI: 10.1038/nphoton.2008.103  

  • October 8, 2008
  • 10:23 AM

The fluorescent flashing shuttles of the enchanted loom

by Mo in Neurophilosophy

In his 1941 book Man on His Nature, the Nobel Prize-winning physiologist Sir Charles Sherrington described the brain as "an enchanted loom where millions of flashing shuttles weave a dissolving pattern." Little could he have known that within 50 years neuroscientists would have at their disposal techniques for visualizing this pattern.

These techniques are collectively known as calcium imaging. Developed in the 1980s, they use synthetic chemical dyes or genetic constructs whose spectral propert........ Read more »

Damian J Wallace, Stephan Meyer zum Alten Borgloh, Simone Astori, Ying Yang, Melanie Bausen, Sebastian Kügler, Amy E Palmer, Roger Y Tsien, Rolf Sprengel, Jason N D Kerr.... (2008) Single-spike detection in vitro and in vivo with a genetic Ca2 sensor. Nature Methods, 5(9), 797-804. DOI: 10.1038/NMETH.1242  

  • October 7, 2008
  • 01:10 PM

Prion protein infection mechanism identified

by Mo in Neurophilosophy

The transmissible spongiform encephalopathies (TSEs), which include variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease in humans, "Mad Cow" Disease in cattle and scrapie in sheep, are progressive and fatal neurodegenerative disorders characterized by the accumulation within nerve cells of an abnormally folded and insoluble form of the prion protein.

The infectious agent which causes these diseases is generally believed to be the prion protein itself. According to Stanley Prusiner's prion hypothesis, abnormal pr........ Read more »

Jehangir S. Wadia, Monica Schaller, R. Anthony Williamson, Steven F. Dowdy, & Mikhail V. Blagosklonny. (2008) Pathologic Prion Protein Infects Cells by Lipid-Raft Dependent Macropinocytosis. PLoS ONE, 3(10). DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0003314  

  • October 1, 2008
  • 12:55 PM

The Enigma of Op Art

by Mo in Neurophilosophy

Cataract 3, Bridget Riley, 1967.

In the 1960s, the British artist Bridget Riley began to develop a distinctive style characterised by simple and repetitive geometric patterns which create vivid illusions of movement and sometimes colour and often have a disorientating effect usually described by observers as "shimmering" or "flickering". With her explorations of the dynamic nature of optical phenomena, Riley became one of the most prominent exponents of what came to be known as Op Art.

Many o........ Read more »

  • September 29, 2008
  • 02:05 PM

Musical training enhances integration of the senses

by Mo in Neurophilosophy

Learning to play a musical instrument is known to involve both structural and functional changes in the brain. Studies published in recent years have established, for example, that professional keyboard players have increased gray matter volume in motor, auditory and visual parts of the brain, and that violinists have a larger somatosensory cortical representation of the left hand than do non-musicians.

Musical training is a complex process involving simultaneously perceiving the inputs from th........ Read more »

  • September 26, 2008
  • 07:28 PM

New neurons are needed for new memories

by Mo in Neurophilosophy

Around 15 years ago, researchers discovered that the adult rodent brain contains discrete populations of stem cells which continue to divide and generate new cells throughout life. This discovery was an important one, as it overturned a persistent dogma in neuroscience which held that the adult mammalian brain cannot regenerate.

Since then, neural stem cells have been the subject of intensive investigation, in large part because of their potential uses in treating neurological conditions such a........ Read more »

Itaru Imayoshi, Masayuki Sakamoto, Toshiyuki Ohtsuka, Keizo Takao, Tsuyoshi Miyakawa, Masahiro Yamaguchi, Kensaku Mori, Toshio Ikeda, Shigeyoshi Itohara, & Ryoichiro Kageyama. (2008) Roles of continuous neurogenesis in the structural and functional integrity of the adult forebrain. Nature Neuroscience, 11(10), 1153-1161. DOI: 10.1038/nn.2185  

  • September 25, 2008
  • 12:17 PM

Exercise repairs radiotherapy-induced brain damage

by Mo in Neurophilosophy

Radiation therapy is a common treatment for adults and children who present with tumours in or close to the brain. In the last 20 years, advances in radiotherapy have significantly improved the prognosis for brain cancer patients. However, the resulting longer survival rates reveal that the therapy has deleterious effects on brain health - even at low doses, radiation leads to cognitive impairments in later life.

These impairments, which include attention deficits and learning disabilities, occ........ Read more »

A. S. Naylor, C. Bull, M. K. L. Nilsson, C. Zhu, T. Bjork-Eriksson, P. S. Eriksson, K. Blomgren, & H. G. Kuhn. (2008) Voluntary running rescues adult hippocampal neurogenesis after irradiation of the young mouse brain. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 105(38), 14632-14637. DOI: 10.1073/pnas.0711128105  

  • September 23, 2008
  • 02:42 PM

Developmental topographagnosia

by Mo in Neurophilosophy

We continually rely on our abilities of spatial navigation, be it for the daily commute to work, a trip to the local supermarket, or simply to make our way to the bathroom in the middle of the night. These tasks involve complex cognitive processes, yet most people perform them effortlessly and some develop them to a remarkable degree. Take, for example, London taxi drivers, who have a highly detailed knowledge of the 25,000 streets that lie within a six-mile radius of Charing Cross station, as w........ 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 »

  • September 5, 2008
  • 04:54 PM

D'oh! It's not a comedy cell

by Mo in Neurophilosophy

In this clip from The Simpsons, Homer explains why he wouldn't benefit from an adult education course: "How is education supposed to make me feel smarter? Every time I learn something new, it pushes some old stuff out of my brain."

As you watched the clip, multiple brain regions were engaged and acted in parallel to generate a coherent conscious experience. For example, the visual cortical in the occipital lobes process the stream of information entering the eyes; the auditory regions in the te........ Read more »

  • August 23, 2008
  • 10:50 PM

The smell of fear

by Mo in Neurophilosophy

Nearly 70 years ago, Karl von Frisch described the alarm response in a species of small freshwater fish called the European minnow (Phoxinus phoxinus). Frisch, who was one of the founders ethology - the scientific study of animal behaviour - demonstrated that when a minnow was eaten by a predator, a chemical released from its damaged skin elicited defensive behaviour in other minnows that were close by. In response to the chemical, they would at first dart about randomly, form a tight school and........ Read more »

  • August 21, 2008
  • 10:40 PM

Growth factor receptor governs neurogenesis & sensitivity to antidepressants

by Mo in Neurophilosophy

In 2000, researchers from the Yale University School of Medicine made a surprising discovery that would start to change the way we think about the causes of depression. Ronald Duman and his colleagues chronically administered different classes of antidepressants to rats, and found that this stimulated the growth of new neurons in the hippocampus. As a result, researchers and clinicians began to think of depression as something like a mild neurodegenerative disorder, rather than as a chemical imb........ Read more »

  • August 19, 2008
  • 06:00 PM

Who's a clever boy then?

by Mo in Neurophilosophy

Self-recognition was long believed to be unique to humans. However, it was established more than 30 years ago that the great apes are capable of recognizing themselves in the mirror, and more recently it has been found that dolphins and elephants can too. Now Prior et al provide the first evidence of mirror self-recognition in a non-mammalian species. In this film clip from the supplementary materials which accompany the paper, a magpie (which is actually a female) realizes that it has a mark on........ Read more »

  • August 12, 2008
  • 09:09 PM

The baller's brain (and his pinky)

by Mo in Neurophilosophy

Participation in most sports requires agility, impeccable timing and the planning and execution of complex movements, so that actions such as catching a ball or throwing it into a hoop can be performed. Performing well at sports also requires anticipating and accurately predicting the movements of others.Athletes and sportspersons undergo years of specialized training to hone these abilities, and nobody would sensibly argue that they are not more proficient at them than others. Indeed, numerous ........ Read more »

Salvatore Aglioti, Paola Cesari, Michela Romani, & Cosimo Urgesi. (2008) Action anticipation and motor resonance in elite basketball players. Nature Neuroscience. DOI: 10.1038/nn.2182  

  • August 10, 2008
  • 10:11 PM

Cannibalism & the shaking death: A new form of the disease & a possible epidemic

by Mo in Neurophilosophy

National Library of Medicine / Hot Medical NewsThis silent film clip shows several victims of a disease called kuru. They are - or rather were - members of the South Fore, a tribe of approximately 8,000 people who inhabit the Okapa subdistrict of the Eastern Highlands Province of Papua New Guinea. In the 1950s and '60s, a kuru epidemic swept through the South Fore, claiming the lives of more than 1,000 members of the tribe. Later it was established that the disease was transmitted by the tr........ Read more »

Pierluigi Gambetti, Zhiqian Dong, Jue Yuan, Xiangzhu Xiao, Mengjie Zheng, Amer Alshekhlee, Rudy Castellani, Mark Cohen, Marcelo Barria, D Gonzalez‐Romero.... (2008) A novel human disease with abnormal prion protein sensitive to protease. Annals of Neurology, 63(6), 697-708. DOI: 10.1002/ana.21420  

  • August 9, 2008
  • 12:12 AM

The eye tells the brain when to plasticize

by Mo in Neurophilosophy

The classic Nobel Prize-winning studies of David Hubel and Torsten Weisel showed how the proper maturation of the developing visual cortex is critically dependent upon visual information received from the eyes. In what would today be considered highly unethical experiments, Hubel and Weisel sewed shut one eye of newborn kittens. They found that this monocular deprivation had dramatic effects on the visual part of the brain: the columns of cortical tissue that normally receive inputs from the clo........ Read more »

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