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A neuroscience blog.

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  • March 12, 2009
  • 10:49 PM

Where do you think you are? A brain scan can tell

by Mo in Neurophilosophy

Spatial navigation is a complex mental task which is strongly dependent upon memory. As we make our way around a new environment, we look for easily recognisable landmarks and try to remember how their locations are related in space, so that when we return to it we can negotiate our path. 

We know that spatial representations are encoded in the medial temporal lobe, and numerous studies implicate the hippocampus in particular as being crucial for the formation of spatial memories. Informat........ Read more »

Hassabis, D. et al. (2009) Decoding Neuronal Ensembles in the Human Hippocampus. Curr. Biol.

Hassabis, D. et al. (2009) Decoding Neuronal Ensembles in the Human Hippocampus. Curr. Biol.

  • March 10, 2009
  • 05:19 PM

Experience induces global reorganization of brain circuitry

by Mo in Neurophilosophy

One of the central dogmas of neuroscience, which persisted for much of the history of the discipline, was that the adult human brain is immalleable, and could not change itself once fully developed. However, we now know that this is not the case: rather than setting like a piece of clay placed in a mould, the brain remains instead like a piece of putty, on which each new experience makes a lasting impression.    

This phenomenon, referred to as synaptic (or neural) plasticity, involve........ Read more »

Santiago Canals, Michael Beyerlein, Hellmut Merkle, & Nikos K. Logothetis. (2009) Functional MRI Evidence for LTP-Induced Neural Network Reorganization. Current Biology, 19(5), 398-403. DOI: 10.1016/j.cub.2009.01.037  

  • March 9, 2009
  • 06:02 PM

Brain mechanisms of Freudian repression

by Mo in Neurophilosophy

More than 100 years ago, Sigmund Freud, the father of psychoanalysis, proposed a mechanism called repression, whereby desires and impulses are actively pushed into the unconscious mind. For Freud, repression was a defence mechanism - the repressed memories are often traumatic in nature, but, although hidden, they continue to exert an effect on behaviour.

Many of Freud's theories have long since been discredited, but they remain influential to this day. Repression in particular has proven to be ........ Read more »

S. Hanslmayr, P. Leipold, B. Pastotter, & K.-H. Bauml. (2009) Anticipatory Signatures of Voluntary Memory Suppression. Journal of Neuroscience, 29(9), 2742-2747. DOI: 10.1523/JNEUROSCI.4703-08.2009  

  • 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 »

  • March 2, 2009
  • 08:20 PM

Amnesia in the movies

by Mo in Neurophilosophy

Despite occuring only rarely, amnesia (or memory loss) has featured often in Hollywood films for almost a century. By 1926, at least 10 silent films which used amnesia as a plot device had been made; more recent productions, such as 50 First Dates and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, are therefore part of a well established tradition.  

As clinical neuropsychologist Sallie Baxendale of the Institute of Neurology points out, cinematic depictions of amnesia are consistenly inaccurate, ........ Read more »

  • February 24, 2009
  • 11:34 PM

Alzheimer's recapitulates brain development

by Mo in Neurophilosophy

Alzheimer's Disease is the most common form of dementia, affecting more than 400,000 people in the U.K. and some 5.5 million in the U.S. The disease has a characteristic pathology, which often appears first in the hippocampus, and then spreads to other regions of the brain. This is accompanied by impairments in cognition, with cell death and loss of connections leading first to deficits in memory and spatial navigation, and then to global dysfunction. 

The exact cause of Alzheimer's is not........ Read more »

Anatoly Nikolaev, Todd McLaughlin, Dennis D. M. O‚ÄôLeary, & Marc Tessier-Lavigne. (2009) APP binds DR6 to trigger axon pruning and neuron death via distinct caspases. Nature, 457(7232), 981-989. DOI: 10.1038/nature07767  

  • February 19, 2009
  • 08:30 PM

Reading the contents of working memory

by Mo in Neurophilosophy

Working memory refers to the process by which small amounts of information relevant to the task at hand are retained for short periods of time. For example, before cellular phones became so ubiquitous, calling someone usually involved first finding the number and then remembering it for a just few seconds by repeating it to oneself several times. Once the digits had been dialled, they are immediately forgotten.

Very little is known about the neural mechanisms underlying working memory, but very........ 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 »

  • February 9, 2009
  • 03:43 PM

The neurological basis of intuition

by Mo in Neurophilosophy

Most of us have experienced the vague feeling of knowing something without having any memory of learning it. This phenomenon is commonly known as a "gut feeling" or "intuition"; more accurately though, it is described as implicit or unconscious recognition memory, to reflect the fact that it arises from information that was not attended to, but which is processed, and can subsequently be retrieved, without ever entering into conscious awareness.

According to a new study, our gut feelings can en........ Read more »

  • February 5, 2009
  • 09:45 PM

The genetics of synaesthesia

by Mo in Neurophilosophy

When Sir Francis Galton first described the "peculiar habit of mind" we now call synaesthesia, he noted that it often runs in families. Modern techniques have confirmed that the condition does indeed have a strong genetic component - more than 40% of synaesthetes have a first-degree relative - a parent, sibling or offspring - who also has synaesthesia, and families often contain multiple synaesthetes.

Synaesthesia is known to affect females more than males, and although the female predominance ........ Read more »

Julian E. Asher,1,2,* Janine A. Lamb,3 Denise Brocklebank,1 Jean-Baptiste Cazier, Elena Maestrini,, & Laura Addis, Mallika Sen, Simon Baron-Cohen, and Anthony P. Monaco. (2009) A Whole-Genome Scan and Fine-Mapping Linkage Study of Auditory-Visual Synesthesia Reveals Evidence of Linkage to Chromosomes 2q24, 5q33, 6p12, and 12p12. TheAmericanJournal ofHumanGenetics.

Julian E. Asher,1,2,* Janine A. Lamb,3 Denise Brocklebank,1 Jean-Baptiste Cazier, Elena Maestrini,, & Laura Addis, Mallika Sen, Simon Baron-Cohen, and Anthony P. Monaco. (2009) A Whole-Genome Scan and Fine-Mapping Linkage Study of Auditory-Visual Synesthesia Reveals Evidence of Linkage to Chromosomes 2q24, 5q33, 6p12, and 12p12. TheAmericanJournal ofHumanGenetics.

Julian E. Asher,1,2,* Janine A. Lamb,3 Denise Brocklebank,1 Jean-Baptiste Cazier, Elena Maestrini,, & Laura Addis, Mallika Sen, Simon Baron-Cohen, and Anthony P. Monaco. (2009) A Whole-Genome Scan and Fine-Mapping Linkage Study of Auditory-Visual Synesthesia Reveals Evidence of Linkage to Chromosomes 2q24, 5q33, 6p12, and 12p12. TheAmericanJournal ofHumanGenetics.

  • February 2, 2009
  • 09:46 AM

Tracing memories

by Mo in Neurophilosophy

During the first half of the twentieth century, the American psychologist Karl Lashley conducted a series experiments in an attempt to identify the part of the brain in which memories are stored. In his now famous investigations, Lashley trained rats to find their way through a maze, and then lesioned parts of the neocortex in order to try and erase the memory trace (or what he called the "engram").

Lashley failed to find the engram - no matter where he made a lesion, his experimental animals w........ Read more »

  • January 27, 2009
  • 01:24 PM

Single neurons have RAM-like activity

by Mo in Neurophilosophy

In his epic poem Visions of the Daughters of Albion, William Blake asks: "Where goest thou O thought? To what remote land is thy flight?" More than two centuries later, memory remains as one of the enduring mysteries of neuroscience, and despite decades of intensive research using modern techniques, we still have no answer to the questions posed by Blake.

Traditionally, memory has been regarded as consisting of several distinct processes or storage systems. Short-term memory (sometimes referred........ Read more »

Kyriaki Sidiropoulou, Fang-Min Lu, Melissa A Fowler, Rui Xiao, Christopher Phillips, Emin D Ozkan, Michael X Zhu, Francis J White, & Donald C Cooper. (2009) Dopamine modulates an mGluR5-mediated depolarization underlying prefrontal persistent activity. Nature Neuroscience. DOI: 10.1038/nn.2245  

  • January 26, 2009
  • 01:49 PM

Facial sensations modulate speech perception

by Mo in Neurophilosophy

What sensory cues do we rely on during the perception of speech? Primarily, of course, speech perception involves auditory cues - we pay close attention to the sounds generated by the speaker. Less obviously, the brain also picks up subtle visual cues, such as the movements of the speakers mouth and lips; the importance of these can be demonstrated by the McGurk effect, an auditory illusion in which the visual cues accompanying spoken words can alter one's perception of what is being said. ........ Read more »

T. Ito, M. Tiede, & D. J. Ostry. (2009) Somatosensory function in speech perception. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. DOI: 10.1073/pnas.0810063106  

  • 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 »

  • January 19, 2009
  • 01:08 PM

Cellular "tug-of-war" breaks brain symmetry

by Mo in Neurophilosophy

The brains of vertebrates are asymmetrical, both structurally and functionally. This asymmetry is believed to increase the efficiency of information processing - one hemisphere  is specialized to perform certain functions, so the opposite is left free to perform others. In the human brain, for example, the left hemisphere is specialized for speech. This has been known since the 1860s, when the French physician Paul Broca noted that the aphasia (or inability to speak) which is a common sympt........ 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 »

  • 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 »

  • January 7, 2009
  • 01:15 PM

Aging brains lose their connections

by Mo in Neurophilosophy

Healthy aging is characterized by a gradual decline in cognitive function. Mental processes such as attention, memory and the ability to process information are at their peak when people are in their 30s and 40s, but as we get older, we find it increasingly difficult to focus on relevant information and to recall the names of familiar objects or people, and it takes us longer to perform mental tasks.

This age-related cognitive decline varies greatly between individuals. Some people experience l........ 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 »

  • December 25, 2008
  • 04:55 AM

How to morph into another person

by Mo in Neurophilosophy

Your face is a major component of your self-identity, but when you look into a mirror, how do you know that the person you are seeing is really you? Is it because the person in the reflection looks just like you? Or because the reflection moves when you move? Or perhaps because you see the face in the reflection being touched when you reach up to touch yours.

Recent studies have shown that recognizing our own bodies depends upon integrated information from the senses of vision, touch and propri........ Read more »

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