Tag Archives | Neurology

MIT Scientists Successfully Control Rats’ Dreams

Our dreamtime seems to be ripe for tinkering. Via io9:

Researchers working at MIT have successfully manipulated the content of a rat’s dream by replaying an audio cue that was associated with the previous day’s events, namely running through a maze (what else). The breakthrough furthers our understanding of how memory gets consolidated during sleep — but it also holds potential for the prospect of “dream engineering.”

Wilson and his team trained a group of rats to run through a maze using two distinct audio cues…and…recorded their neural activity. Later, while the rats were sleeping, the researchers once again recorded the neural activity of their brains [and] confirmed that the rats were dreaming of their maze navigating exploits from the day before.

But when the researchers played the audio cues from the experiment, they noticed a very interesting thing: the rats would dream about the section of the maze previously associated with the audio cue.

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Are We Ready For A Morality Pill?

o_wX8Mjxq8zORZf4TIn the New York Times, Peter Singer and Agata Sagan say it’s only a matter of time before we pinpoint chemicals in the brain that produce empathetic behavior. Will religion be rendered obsolete? And, when we develop an ethical-behavior-boosting pill, will it be recommended (or mandatory) that everyone take it?

If continuing brain research does in fact show biochemical differences between the brains of those who help others and the brains of those who do not, could this lead to a “morality pill” — a drug that makes us more likely to help? Given the many other studies linking biochemical conditions to mood and behavior, and the proliferation of drugs to modify them that have followed, the idea is not far-fetched. If so, would people choose to take it? Could criminals be given the option, as an alternative to prison, of a drug-releasing implant that would make them less likely to harm others?

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Freak Accident Turns Macho Rugby Player Into Gay Hairdresser

changeA tabloid-y tale from the U.K.’s Metro, but one that raises a host of interesting questions: Could a completely opposite person (with a different sexuality, even) be waiting, hidden, inside each of us? And can an injury really bring on this sort of change?

Former rugby player Chris Birch suffered a stroke in training and woke up to find he was gay. Mr. Birch was straight and engaged to be married when he suffered a freak accident in the gym. The 26-year-old tried to impress his friends with a back flip but broke his neck and suffered the stroke.

When he woke up, he underwent a drastic personality change that included an attraction to men. ‘I’d never even had any gay friends. But I didn’t care about who I was before, I had to be true to my feelings,’ he said.

Mr Birch broke off his engagement and found a boyfriend.

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Scientists Find Evidence That Hypnotic Trances Are Real

eyesMany people are skeptical of hypnosis, believing it to be a pseudoscientific practice based on some combination of relaxation/image visualization/the power of suggestion, et cetera.

However, a group of Scandinavian scientists say they have evidence that hypnotic trances are a real and unique state of consciousness, which cannot be imitated or faked by the non-hypnotized, and which (at least some) hypnotists can activate and deactivate at will using a one-word cue. So be careful out there. Nano Patents and Innovations writes:

A multidisciplinary group of researchers from Finland and Sweden has found that strange stare may be a key that can eventually lead to a solution to this long debate about the existence of a hypnotic state.

One of the most widely known features of a hypnotized person in the popular culture is a glazed, wide-open look in the eyes. Paradoxically, this sign has not been considered to have any major importance among researchers and has never been studied in any detail, probably due to the fact that it can be seen in only some hypnotized people.

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Aging Brains Made Youthful?

Photo: Mieciu K2 (CC)

Photo: Mieciu K2 (CC)

Can we restore our “mental sketch pads” by renewing how our brain holds memory on the neurological level? The National Geographic reports:

You can’t teach an old brain new tricks—but you can restore its ability to remember the old ones, a new study in monkeys suggests.

Chemicals given to rhesus macaques blocked a brain molecule that slows the firing of the brain’s nerve cells, or neurons, as we age—prompting those nerve cells to act young again.

“It’s our first glimpse of what’s going on physiologically that’s causing age-related cognitive decline,” said study leader Amy Arnsten, a neurobiologist at Yale University.

“We all assumed, given there’s a lot of architectural changes in aged brains … that we were stuck with it,” Arnsten said.

But with the new results, “the hopeful thing is that the neurochemical environment still makes a big difference, and we might be able to remediate some of these things.”

[Continues at National Geographic]… Read the rest

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Scientists Create Artificial Brain With 12-Second Memory

Petri-dish-brain-650The saddest thought ever: if you say ‘I love you’ to the tiny Cheerio-shaped brain in a petri dish, twelve seconds later it won’t remember. PopSci reports:

The technicolor ring is an artificial microbrain, derived from rat brain cells–just 40 to 60 neurons in total–that is capable of about 12 seconds of short-term memory.

Developed by a team at the University of Pittsburgh, the brain was created in an attempt to artificially nurture a working brain into existence so that researchers could study neural networks and how our brains transmit electrical signals and store data so efficiently. The did so by attaching a layer of proteins to a silicon disk and adding brain cells from embryonic rats that attached themselves to the proteins and grew to connect with one another in the ring.

But as if the growing of a tiny, functioning, donut-shaped brain in a petri dish wasn’t enough, the team found that when they stimulate the neurons with electricity, the pulse would circulate the microbrain for a full 12 seconds.

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Brain Scans Show Apple Products Triggering The Same Parts Of The Brain As Religion

1816630067_c70cddc78fGo figure — scans taken when Apple devotees were shown the company’s logo and products demonstrate that we literally worship our favorite brands. Digital Trends writes:

UK neuroscientists suggest that the brains of Apple devotees are stimulated by Apple imagery in the same way that the brains of religious people are stimulated by religious imagery.

Alex Riley contacted the editor of World of Apple, Alex Brooks, an Apple worshipper who claims to think about Apple 24 hours a day, which is possibly 23 hours too many for most regular people. A team of neuroscientists studied Brooks’ brain while undergoing an MRI scan, to see how it reacted to images of Apple products and (heaven forbid) non-Apple products.

According to the neuroscientists, the scan revealed that there were marked differences in Brooks’ reactions to the different products. Previously, the scientists had studied the brains of those of religious faith, and they found that, as Riley puts it: “The Apple products are triggering the same bits of [Brooks'] brain as religious imagery triggers in a person of faith.”

This suggests that the big tech brands have harnessed, or exploit, the brain areas that have evolved to process religion,” one of the scientists says.

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Woman Awakens From Surgery With British Accent

110501_karen_butlerAnother baffling case as foreign accent syndrome (an actual medical condition) strikes again. When will a cure emerge? I prescribe being wrapped tightly in an American flag for two days, followed by 10 cc’s of apple pie. Spokane, WA’s Spokesman-Review reports:

Over the next few days, the swelling subsided and the pain vanished, but Butler’s newly acquired accent did not. Though it has softened over time, she’s never again spoken like a native Oregonian from Madras. To most people, she sounds British.

It took months to find an explanation: foreign accent syndrome, a disorder so rare that only about 60 cases have been documented worldwide since the early 1900s.

Foreign accent syndrome is usually caused by a stroke, though it also has been associated with multiple sclerosis, head injuries and migraines.

One of the first cases was reported at the turn of the last century by a French neurologist. But the best known case, documented by Norwegian neurologist Georg Herman Monrad-Krohn, was a 30-year-old woman who was hit by shrapnel from a German air raid over Oslo in 1941.

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Brain Development May Begin With Faulty Wiring

Photo: Ranveig

Via Live Science:

Very early in life, neurons in the brain begin forming connections with one another. But it turns out that during normal development, a startling number can link up to the wrong cells and must be pushed back in the right direction, according to a new study on baby mice.

The finding, detailed Feb. 8 in the journal PLoS Biology, could shed light on brain disorders such as autism, according to one researcher. Mice are often used as a model for human biology, and the researchers think a similar phenomenon occurs in humans.

An international research team made their discovery by observing the development of the cerebellum – a region of the brain responsible for motor control and also linked with attention, language and emotion in humans. During the first three weeks after a mouse is born, the neurons of the cerebellum connect to one another by forming synapses.

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Brain Scan Can Tell If A Smoker Will Quit

If your New Years resolution is to quit smoking every year, there may be scientific proof as to why you never seem to be able to follow through with it. Or you can keep telling yourself, “I’ll quit tomorrow.” The Vancouver Sun reports:

U.S. researchers have found a way to predict how successful a smoker will be at quitting by using an MRI scan to look for activity in a region of the brain associated with behaviour change.

The scans were performed on 28 heavy smokers who had joined an anti-smoking program, according to the study published Monday in the peer-reviewed journal Health Psychology.

Participants were asked to watch a series of commercials about quitting smoking while a magnetic resonance imaging machine scanned their brains for activity.

[Continues at The Vancouver Sun]… Read the rest

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