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A neuroscience blog.

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  • July 21, 2009
  • 08:27 PM

Mobile phone microscopy

by Mo in Neurophilosophy

RESEARCHERS at the University of California, Berkeley have developed a microscope attachment which enables a standard mobile phone with a camera to be used for high-resolution clinical microscopy. Daniel Fletcher and his colleagues describe the CellScope in a paper published today in the open access journal PLoS One, and demonstrate that it can be used to capture high quality bright field images of the malaria parasite and sickle blood cells, as well as fluorescence images of cells infected with........ Read more »

Breslauer, D. N. et al. (2009) Mobile Phone Based Clinical Microscopy for Global Health Applications. PLoS One, 4(7).

  • July 17, 2009
  • 01:11 PM

Tiger moths jam bat sonar

by Mo in Neurophilosophy

BATS USE BIOSONAR, or echolocation, to navigate complex environments, and also to forage and then accurately pinpoint the flying insects on which they prey. Insects in turn have evolved various counter-measures to evade capture. Some species have ears which are in tune to the echolocation signals, while others are capable of performing complex evasive flight maneuvers in response to the clicks produced by attacking bats.Tiger moths have evolved the ability to produce ultrasonic clicks in respons........ Read more »

Corcoran, A., Barber, J., & Conner, W. (2009) Tiger Moth Jams Bat Sonar. Science, 325(5938), 325-327. DOI: 10.1126/science.1174096  

  • July 13, 2009
  • 03:02 PM

Swearing increases pain tolerance

by Mo in Neurophilosophy

SWEARING OCCURS IN most cultures - people swear to let off steam, or to shock or insult others. It is also a common response to a painful experience. We've all done it: after stubbing our toe, or hitting our thumb with a hammer, we draw a sharp breath and mutter a swear word. Until now, though, whether swearing actually alters our perception of pain had not been investigated. But according to a new study due to be published next month in the journal NeuroReport, swearing increases pain tolerance........ Read more »

Stephens, R., Atkins, J., & Kingston, A. (2009) Swearing as a response to pain. NeuroReport, 20(12), 1056-1060. DOI: 10.1097/WNR.0b013e32832e64b1  

  • July 10, 2009
  • 06:17 PM

Selective aphasia in a brain damaged bilingual patient

by Mo in Neurophilosophy

IN THE 1860s, the French physician Paul Broca treated two patients who had lost the ability to speak after suffering strokes. When they died, he examined their brains, and noticed that both had damage to the same region of the left frontal lobe. About a decade later, neuropsychiatrist Carl Wernicke described a stroke patient who was unable to understand written words or what was said to him, and later found in this patient's brain a lesion towards the back of the left temporal lobe. 

Thus ........ Read more »

  • July 3, 2009
  • 11:19 AM

Evolutionary origins of the nervous system

by Mo in Neurophilosophy

THE HUMAN BRAIN is a true marvel of nature. This jelly-like 1.5kg mass inside our skulls, containing hundreds of billions of cells which between them form something like a quadrillion connections, is responsible for our every action, emotion and thought. How did this remarkable and extraordinarily complex structure evolve? This question poses a huge challenge to researchers; brain evolution surely involved thousands of discrete, incremental steps, which occurred in the mists of deep time across ........ Read more »

  • June 26, 2009
  • 10:37 AM

Brain mechanisms of hypnotic paralysis

by Mo in Neurophilosophy

THE TERM 'HYPNOSIS' was coined by the Scottish physician James Braid in his 1853 book Neurypnology. Braid defined hypnosis as "a peculiar condition of the nervous system, induced by a fixed and abstracted attention of the mental and visual eye". Braid argued that hypnosis was a form of "nervous sleep", and tried to distinguish his theory from that of the mesmerists, who believed that the effects of hypnosis were mediated by a vital force, or animal magnetism.Because of mesmerism, and its associa........ Read more »

  • June 15, 2009
  • 02:10 PM

Mental time travel

by Mo in Neurophilosophy

Memory, Blake wrote, enables us to "traverse times and spaces far remote". It constitutes mental time travel, with which we can recollect, in vivid detail, events that took place many years ago. We have known, for the best part of a century, that memory is reconstructive rather than reproductive. That is, recollection involves piecing together specific details of the event, and mixing these with our own biases and beliefs. While not being completely accurate, our memories are, in most cases, rel........ Read more »

  • June 8, 2009
  • 08:25 PM

How we feel affects what we see

by Mo in Neurophilosophy

People who place an emphasis on positive things and are generally optimistic are sometimes said to "see the world through rose-tinted glasses". According to a new study by Canadian researchers, this is more than just an idiom. The study, which has just been published in the Journal of Neuroscience, provides the first direct evidence that the mood we are in affects the way we see things by modulating the activity of the visual cortex. Their findings show that putting on the proverbial rose-tinted........ Read more »

  • May 26, 2009
  • 07:56 PM

Confabulatory hypermnesia, or severe false memory syndrome

by Mo in Neurophilosophy

What did you do on March 13th, 1985? People with hyperthymesia (which has been characterized only recently, and of which just a handful of cases have so far been reported) would likely provide a vivid account of what happened on that day. And if this particular date has personal significance for you - if, for example, it was your wedding day, or the birth date of one of your children - then you will probably remember it quite well. But for most of us, the answer to this question is likely to be ........ Read more »

  • May 18, 2009
  • 06:49 PM

Decoding the brain's response to vocal emotions

by Mo in Neurophilosophy

The ability to interpret other peoples' emotions is vital for social interactions. We recognize emotions in others by observing their body language and facial expressions. The voice also betrays one's emotional state: words spoken in anger have a different rhythm, stress and intonation than those uttered with a sense of joy or relief. But how the emotional content of a voice is encoded in the brain was unclear.

Now though, Swiss researchers report that they have decoded the neural activity in t........ Read more »

Ethofer, T., Van De Ville, D., Scherer, K., & Vuilleumier, P. (2009) Decoding of Emotional Information in Voice-Sensitive Cortices. Current Biology. DOI: 10.1016/j.cub.2009.04.054  

  • May 11, 2009
  • 01:59 PM

Music affects how we perceive facial expressions

by Mo in Neurophilosophy

Music can be thought of as a form of emotional communication, with which the performer conveys an emotional state to the listener. This "language" is remarkably powerful - it can evoke strong emotions, and make your heart race or send tingles down your spine. And it is universal - the emotional content of a piece of music can be understood by anyone, regardless of cultural background.

Are the emotions evoked by  piece of music similar to, and can they influence, other emotional experiences........ Read more »

Logeswaran, N., & Bhattacharya, J. (2009) Crossmodal transfer of emotion by music. Neuroscience Letters, 455(2), 129-133. DOI: 10.1016/j.neulet.2009.03.044  

  • May 4, 2009
  • 10:43 PM

The universal grammar of birdsong is genetically encoded

by Mo in Neurophilosophy

Human cultural traits such as language, dress, religion and values are generally said to be passed from one generation to the next by social learning. And in animal species which have language, the same is true; male song birds, for example, learn the songs with which they serenade potential mates from older male relatives.

A new study, published online in the journal Nature, shows that the songs of isolated zebra finches evolve over multiple generations to resemble those of birds in natural co........ Read more »

  • April 14, 2009
  • 07:30 AM

The waterfall illusion can be transferred between vision and touch

by Mo in Neurophilosophy

If you look at a waterfall for about 30 seconds, and then shift your gaze to a nearby stationary object, such as a rock or a tree, that object will seem to drift slowly upwards. This well known optical illusion demonstrates a phenomenon called the motion after-effect, which is thought to occur as a result of adaptation - the brain compensates for movement in one direction, causing us to momentarily perceive a stationary objects to be moving in the other.

Although illusory motion can also be ind........ Read more »

  • 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 »

  • April 1, 2009
  • 04:26 PM

MicroRNAs regulate adult neurogenesis

by Mo in Neurophilosophy

It is now well established that the adult mammalian brain contains stem cells which continue to generate new neurons throughout life. This discovery, and subsequent research, has transformed the way we think about the brain. It is, for example, known that physical and mental exercise can stimulate the growth of new nerve cells in a part of the brain which shrinks in Alzheimer's and depression, and so it is believed that such activities can reduce the risk of both conditions.

Despite all this, l........ Read more »

  • March 27, 2009
  • 09:01 PM

Voluntary amputation and extra phantom limbs

by Mo in Neurophilosophy

If someone told you that they wanted to have a perfectly good leg amputated, or that they have three arms, when they clearly do not, you would probably be inclined to think that they are mentally disturbed. Psychiatrists, too, considered such conditions to be psychological in origin. Voluntary amputation, for example, was regarded as a fetish, perhaps arising because an amputee's stump resembles a phallus, whereas imaginary extra limbs were likely to be dismissed as the products of delusions or ........ Read more »

Khateb, A., Simon, S., Dieguez, S., Lazeyras, F., Momjian-Mayor, I., Blanke, O., Landis, T., Pegna, A., & Annoni, J. (2009) Seeing the phantom: A functional MRI study of a supernumerary phantom limb. Annals of Neurology. DOI: 10.1002/ana.21647  

  • March 24, 2009
  • 08:50 AM

Optogenetics controls brain signalling and sheds light on Parkinson's therapy

by Mo in Neurophilosophy

Optogenetics is a recently developed technique based on a group of light-sensitive proteins called channelrhodopsins, which which were isolated recently from various species of micro-organism. Although relatively new, this technique has already proven to be extremely powerful, because channelrhodopsins can be targeted to specific cells, so that their activity can be controlled by light, on a millisecond-by-millisecond timescale.

A group of researchers from Stanford University now report a new a........ Read more »

Airan, R., Thompson, K., Fenno, L., Bernstein, H., & Deisseroth, K. (2009) Temporally precise in vivo control of intracellular signalling. Nature. DOI: 10.1038/nature07926  

Gradinaru, V., Mogri, M., Thompson, K., Henderson, J., & Deisseroth, K. (2009) Optical Deconstruction of Parkinsonian Neural Circuitry. Science. DOI: 10.1126/science.1167093  

  • March 20, 2009
  • 09:17 PM

How we perceive others influences our sense of touch

by Mo in Neurophilosophy

The way we perceive other people has a big influence on how we interact with them. For example, attractive people are more likely to be perceived as talented than less attractive people, and this so-called "halo-effect" is often reflected in our behaviour towards them. Similarly, we tend to favour people perceived to like us over people who are perceived to be different ("in-group bias").

It turns out that the way we perceive others can also influence our own sense of touch. In a new study publ........ Read more »

Serino, A., Giovagnoli, G., & Làdavas, E. (2009) I Feel what You Feel if You Are Similar to Me. PLoS ONE, 4(3). DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0004930  

  • March 18, 2009
  • 01:57 PM

Brain waves predict successful memory for an event before it occurs

by Mo in Neurophilosophy

Memory has intrigued us for millenia, and today is the most active area of research for neuroscientists. Much of this research has aimed to understand how memories are laid down, and a picture of how this happens is beginning to emerge. Hundreds of studies published over the past few decades provide evidence that memory formation involves widespread reorganization of connections in the brain.  

The vast majority of memory research has therefore pertained to the neural processes which occur........ Read more »

  • March 17, 2009
  • 06:40 AM

Igniting the flame of consciousness

by Mo in Neurophilosophy

We all know what it means to be conscious. You are, of course, conscious right now - if you were not, you would be unable to read this. And while you read, you will be conscious of the words on your computer screen; of tactile sensations originating from the mouse you are holding and the chair you are sitting in; and possibly of some background noise, even though you are not explicitly paying attention to it.

Nevertheless, the term consciousness still has no adequate definition, and the questio........ Read more »

Gaillard, R. et al. (2009) Converging Intracranial Markers of Conscious Access. PLoS Biology.

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