It seems that, of all of the behavioral neuroscience findings that make their way into popular press coverage, those that involve structural changes to the brain are most likely to pique the interest of the public. Perhaps this is because we have a tendency to think of brain function as something that is flexible and constantly changing, and thus alterations in function do not seem as dramatic as alterations in structure, which give the impression of being more permanent.After all, until relativ........ Read more »
Lazar, S., Kerr, C., Wasserman, R., Gray, J., Greve, D., Treadway, M., McGarvey, M., Quinn, B., Dusek, J., Benson, H.... (2005) Meditation experience is associated with increased cortical thickness. NeuroReport, 16(17), 1893-1897. DOI: 10.1097/01.wnr.0000186598.66243.19
In Walden, his masterpiece about noncomformity and simple living, Henry David Thoreau wrote, "Every generation laughs at the old fashions, but follows religiously the new." And while Thoreau was specifically talking about society's capriciousness in embracing new styles of clothing, his quote applies just as well to our preference for one shade of skin color over another. For, while many now consider a medium-dark tan to be both healthier-looking and more attractive than pale skin, only 100 year........ Read more »
Petit, A., Karila, L., Chalmin, F., & Lejoyeux, M. (2014) Phenomenology and psychopathology of excessive indoor tanning. International Journal of Dermatology, 53(6), 664-672. DOI: 10.1111/ijd.12336
Ventricles, image courtesy of bruce blaus via wikimedia commons
Where are the ventricles?The ventricles are four interconnected cavities distributed throughout the brain that produce and contain cerebrospinal fluid (CSF). The two lateral ventricles are C-shaped chambers found in the cerebral hemispheres (one in each hemisphere). They are connected to the third ventricle by an opening called the interventricular foramen. The third ventricle is a very narrow ........ Read more »
Mortazavi, M., Adeeb, N., Griessenauer, C., Sheikh, H., Shahidi, S., Tubbs, R., & Tubbs, R. (2013) The ventricular system of the brain: a comprehensive review of its history, anatomy, histology, embryology, and surgical considerations. Child's Nervous System, 30(1), 19-35. DOI: 10.1007/s00381-013-2321-3
Throughout the 1970s, biochemist Stanley Prusiner was obsessed with trying to find the causative agent for a mysterious group of diseases. The diseases, which included kuru and Creutzfeldt–Jakob disease in humans and scrapie in sheep, were characterized by slowly-developing symptoms and neurodegeneration so severe it eventually caused the brain to take on the appearance of a sponge (due to myriad little holes that developed where grey matter was lost). By the time Prusiner began studying these........ Read more »
Brettschneider, J., Tredici, K., Lee, V., & Trojanowski, J. (2015) Spreading of pathology in neurodegenerative diseases: a focus on human studies. Nature Reviews Neuroscience, 16(2), 109-120. DOI: 10.1038/nrn3887
Where is the reward system?The term reward system refers to a group of structures that are activated by rewarding or reinforcing stimuli (e.g. addictive drugs). When exposed to a rewarding stimulus, the brain responds by increasing release of the neurotransmitter dopamine and thus the structures associated with the reward system are found along the major dopamine pathways in the brain. The mesolimbic dopamine pathway is thought to play a primary role in the reward system. It connects the ventral........ Read more »
When the movie Lucy was released in the summer of 2014, it was quickly followed by a flurry of attention surrounding the idea that we only use 10% of our brains. According to this perspective, around 90% of our neurons lie dormant, all the while teasing us by reminding us that we have only achieved a small fraction of our human potential. In the movie, Scarlet Johansson plays a woman who takes an experimental new drug that makes her capable of using upwards of 90% of her brain. Due to this sudde........ Read more »
Where is the ventral tegmental area?
Ventral tegmental area along with other structures in the brain connected by dopamine pathways.
The ventral tegmental area, or VTA, is in the midbrain, situated adjacent to the substantia nigra. Although it contains several different types of neurons, it is primarily characterized by its dopaminergic neurons, which project from the VTA throughout the brain. The VTA is considered an integral part of a........ Read more »
Kalivas, P. (1993) Neurotransmitter regulation of dopamine neurons in the ventral tegmental area. Brain Research Reviews, 18(1), 75-113. DOI: 10.1016/0165-0173(93)90008-N
The pituitary gland (in red). Image courtesy of Life Science Databases (LSDB).
Where is the pituitary gland?The pituitary gland is a small (about the size of a pea) endocrine gland that extends from the bottom of the hypothalamus. It is divided into two lobes in humans, the anterior pituitary and posterior pituitary. The anterior pituitary does not have direct neural connections to the hypothalamus, but is able to communicate with it through a system of blo........ Read more »
In 2006, a company called No Lie MRI began advertising their ability to detect "deception and other information stored in the brain" using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI). They were not the first to make this claim. Two years prior, a company called Cephos had been founded on the same principle. Both companies were launched by entrepreneurs who hoped to one day replace the polygraph machine and its recognized shortcomings with a foolproof approach to lie detection.Within several yea........ Read more »
Farah, M., Hutchinson, J., Phelps, E., & Wagner, A. (2014) Functional MRI-based lie detection: scientific and societal challenges. Nature Reviews Neuroscience. DOI: 10.1038/nrn3589
Some degree of memory decline as we get older is an inevitability that many of us dread. Over the years, countless potential treatments have emerged to mitigate the effects of age-related memory loss; some have been the result of legitimate research efforts, many more have not. Regardless of their origins, very few have stood the test of time.A recent addition to that list of potential memory-enhancing treatments is the intake of a class of compounds called flavanols. Flavanols are naturally-occ........ Read more »
Brickman, A., Khan, U., Provenzano, F., Yeung, L., Suzuki, W., Schroeter, H., Wall, M., Sloan, R., & Small, S. (2014) Enhancing dentate gyrus function with dietary flavanols improves cognition in older adults. Nature Neuroscience, 17(12), 1798-1803. DOI: 10.1038/nn.3850
Over the past several decades we have seen the advent of a number of new pharmaceutical drugs to treat depression, but major depressive disorder remains one of the most common mood disorders in the United States; over 15% of the population will suffer from major depressive disorder at some point in their lives. Despite extensive research into the etiology and treatment of depression, we haven't seen a mitigation of the impact depression has on our society. In fact, there have even been a lot of ........ Read more »
Canli, T. (2014) Reconceptualizing major depressive disorder as an infectious disease. Biology of Mood , 4(1), 10. DOI: 10.1186/2045-5380-4-10
Attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder, or ADHD, has engendered a great deal of debate over the past several decades. ADHD is a psychiatric disorder that involves symptoms of inattention (e.g. being easily distracted, having difficulty focusing) or symptoms of hyperactivity (e.g. being fidgety or restless), or a combination of both types of symptoms. The controversy surrounding ADHD became a bit louder in the 1990s, when the number of children being prescribed stimulant drugs like methylphenid........ Read more »
del Campo, N., Fryer, T., Hong, Y., Smith, R., Brichard, L., Acosta-Cabronero, J., Chamberlain, S., Tait, R., Izquierdo, D., Regenthal, R.... (2013) A positron emission tomography study of nigro-striatal dopaminergic mechanisms underlying attention: implications for ADHD and its treatment. Brain, 136(11), 3252-3270. DOI: 10.1093/brain/awt263
In 1996, a group of researchers at NYU conducted an interesting experiment. First, they had NYU students work on unscrambling letters to form words. Unbeknownst to the students, they had been split up into three groups, and each group unscrambled letters that formed slightly different words. One group unscrambled words with a "rude" connotation like aggressively, bold, and interrupt. Another group unscrambled "polite" words like considerate, patiently, and respect. And the third group unscramble........ Read more »
Despite the fact that it is present in almost all vertebrate species, very little was known about the habenula until fairly recently. In the past several years, however, the habenula has received a significant amount of attention for its potential role in both cognition (e.g. reward processing) and disorders like depression. Still, the habenula remains a little-known structure whose functions are yet to be fully elucidated.Where is the habenula?The habenula is part of the diencephalon and, toget........ Read more »
Hikosaka O. (2010) The habenula: from stress evasion to value-based decision-making. Nature reviews. Neuroscience, 11(7), 503-13. PMID: 20559337
If you asked any self-respecting neuroscientist 25 years ago what causes depression, she would likely have only briefly considered the question before responding that depression is caused by a monoamine deficiency. Specifically, she might have added, in many cases it seems to be caused by low levels of serotonin in the brain. The monoamine hypothesis that she would have been referring to was first formulated in the late 1960s, and at that time was centered primarily around norepinephrine. But in........ Read more »
Miller, B., & Hen, R. (2015) The current state of the neurogenic theory of depression and anxiety. Current Opinion in Neurobiology, 51-58. DOI: 10.1016/j.conb.2014.08.012
Despite the great strides that have been made toward a more egalitarian society in the United States over the past 50 years, events like what occurred in Ferguson last month are a bleak reminder of the racial tensions that still exist here. Of course, the United States is not alone in this respect; throughout the world we can see abundant examples of strain between different races, as well as between any groups with dissimilar characteristics. In fact, it seems that the quickness with which we f........ Read more »
In the 1960s, a psychologist at Stanford named Walter Mischel began a series of experiments exploring the dynamics of self-control in children. In one such experiment, Mischel gave preschoolers the choice between two outcomes, one of which was clearly preferable. For example, they were able to choose between 2 marshmallows and 1 marshmallow (the experiments became known as the Stanford marshmallow experiments for this reason).But there was a catch. The experimenter would tell the children that h........ Read more »
Inzlicht, M., Legault, L., & Teper, R. (2014) Exploring the Mechanisms of Self-Control Improvement. Current Directions in Psychological Science, 23(4), 302-307. DOI: 10.1177/0963721414534256
Some psychological conditions receive a disproportionate amount of attention in popular media relative to how frequently they actually occur in the population. One of those is psychopathy, a personality disorder that is characterized by antisocial behavior, impulsivity, and a lack of empathy. Psychopaths may be charming on the surface but tend towards pathological deception and indifferent manipulation of other people. And they are more likely to have behavioral problems or be involved in crimin........ Read more »
Polaschek, D. (2014) Adult Criminals With Psychopathy: Common Beliefs About Treatability and Change Have Little Empirical Support. Current Directions in Psychological Science, 23(4), 296-301. DOI: 10.1177/0963721414535211
Corpus callosum (in red).CC image courtesy of Life Science Databases(LSDB).
Where is it?The corpus callosum is a large, C-shaped nerve fiber bundle found beneath the cerebral cortex. It stretches across the midline of the brain, connecting the left and right cerebral hemispheres. It makes up the largest collection of white matter tissue found in the brain.What is it and what does it do?To understand the role of the corpus callosum, it is first importan........ Read more »
Gazzaniga MS. (2005) Forty-five years of split-brain research and still going strong. Nature reviews. Neuroscience, 6(8), 653-9. PMID: 16062172
Where are they?
Close-up view of the meninges surrounding the brain.
The term meninges comes from the Greek for "membrane" and refers to the three membranes that surround the brain and spinal cord. The membrane layers (discussed in detail below) from the outside in are the: dura mater, arachnoid mater, and pia mater. Their positioning around the brain can be seen in the image to the right.What are they and what do they do?The brain is s........ Read more »
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