Tag Archives | Neuroscience

Brains ‘Learn Addiction’ Via Cocaine

Cocaine3Scientists are hailing a new study that shows how the brain learns addiction as soon as cocaine enters the system. Via BBC News:

Taking cocaine can change the structure of the brain within hours in what could be the first steps of drug addiction, according to US researchers.

Animal tests, reported in the journal Nature Neuroscience, showed new structures linked to learning and memory began to grow soon after the drug was taken.

Mice with the most brain changes showed a greater preference for cocaine.

Experts described it as the brain “learning addiction”.

The team at University of California, Berkeley and UC San Francisco looked for tiny protrusions from brain cells called dendritic spines. They are heavily implicated in memory formation.

Cocaine hunting

The place or environment that drugs are taken plays an important role in addiction.

In the experiments, the mice were allowed to explore freely two very different chambers – each with a different smell and surface texture.

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How The Human Brain Creates Consciousness

optimized_brainMichael Graziano, professor of neuroscience at Princeton University and author of Consciousness and the Social Brain, thinks neuroscience has discovered how consciousness comes about. He explains at Aeon:

Scientific talks can get a little dry, so I try to mix it up. I take out my giant hairy orangutan puppet, do some ventriloquism and quickly become entangled in an argument. I’ll be explaining my theory about how the brain — a biological machine — generates consciousness. Kevin, the orangutan, starts heckling me. ‘Yeah, well, I don’t have a brain. But I’m still conscious. What does that do to your theory?’

Kevin is the perfect introduction. Intellectually, nobody is fooled: we all know that there’s nothing inside. But everyone in the audience experiences an illusion of sentience emanating from his hairy head. The effect is automatic: being social animals, we project awareness onto the puppet. Indeed, part of the fun of ventriloquism isexperiencing the illusion while knowing, on an intellectual level, that it isn’t real.

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Amygdala Myths Revealed: It’s Not All About the Fear

1959_1028_tinglerNeurology has always interested me, and I still remember learning in my undergrad neuropsychology class  that the almond-shaped portion of the brain know as the amygdala was responsible for the emotion of fear. Like so many things we grow up hearing, the truth is a little more complicated, as BoingBoing science writer Maggie Koerth-Baker learns in her interview with scientist Paul Whalen. It turns out that fear is just easier to study.

BoingBoing:

Maggie Koerth-Baker: Your research shows that the amygdala does a lot more than just make us afraid. In fact, your research suggests that the idea of “fear” involves a lot more than just reacting to something scary. But where did these ideas come from, to begin with? Why do we think of the amygdala as a “fear center”?

Paul Whalen: In the early 1980s, the psychologists who wanted to study emotion had to pick one, and fear is the easiest to study in a human or animal.

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Human Cells Added To Their Brains Make Mice Smarter

human cells

Once someone lets them loose into a sewer and they breed freely, we’re in trouble. Scientific American writes:

In spring a band of brainy rodents made headlines for zipping through mazes with savvy navigation and mastering memory tricks. Scientists credited the impressive intellectual feats to human cells transplanted into their brains shortly after birth.

The mice benefited from human stem cells called glial progenitors, immature cells poised to become astrocytes and other glia cells, the supposed support cells of the brain.

Studies since then have revealed how extensively astrocytes interact with neurons, even coordinating their activity in some cases.

Our astrocytes are enormous compared with the astrocytes of other animals—20 times larger than rodent astrocytes—and they make contact with millions of neurons apiece. Neurons, on the other hand, are nearly identical in all mammals, from rodents to great apes like us. Such clues suggest astrocytes could be evolutionary contributors to our outsized intellect.

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Decapitated Worms Able To Regrow Their Heads, And Their Previous Memories

flatwormsMemories may be encoded in their DNA or stored outside of their brain, Smithsonian Magazine writes:

The researchers trained flatworms to travel across a rough surface to access food, then removed their heads. Two weeks later, after the heads grew back, the worms somehow regained their tendency to navigate across the terrain, as recently documented in the Journal of Experimental Biology.

Interest in flatworm memories dates to the 1950s, when a series of strange experiments by Michigan biologist James McConnell indicated that worms could gain the ability to navigate a maze by being fed the ground-up remains of other flatworms that had been trained to run through the same maze. McConnell speculated that a type of genetic material called “memory RNA” was responsible for this phenomenon, and could be transferred between the organisms.

Subsequent research into flatworm memory RNA exploited the fact that the worms could easily regenerate heads after decapitation.

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‘Proof of Heaven’ Disproven

As it turns out, the story of neurosurgeon Dr. Eben Alexander and how he left his body to
experience Heaven was a crock of unscientific folderol (and I had no doubt for a single second).

Dr. Eben Alexander and his

Dr. Eben Alexander and his “Proof of Heaven”

Via The Atlantic:

In his book, Alexander claims that when he was in a coma caused by E. coli bacterial meningitis, he went to heaven. Of course, Dittrich’s piece is not the first time that Alexander’s text has come into question. In April, Michael Shermer at Scientific American explained how the author’s “evidence is proof of hallucination, not heaven.” But Dittrich calls into question not what Alexander experienced so much how he did. While Dittrich looks at legal troubles Alexander had during his time practicing neurosurgery, perhaps the most damning piece of testimony comes from a doctor who was on duty in the ER when Alexander arrived in 2008.… Read the rest

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Is Early-Age Reading Developmentally Appropriate?

Activity_at_the_library6Marsha Lucas asks if introducing children to reading at an early age developmentally appropriate.

via Rewire Your Brain For Love:

Louise Bates Ames, PhD, a superstar in child development and the director of research at the world-renowned Gesell Institute of Child Development, stated that “a delay in reading instruction would be a preventative measure in avoiding nearly all reading failure.” Leapfrogging necessary cognitive developmental skills — and asking a young brain to do tasks for which it isn’t truly ready — is asking for trouble with learning.

The brains of young children aren’t yet developed enough to read without it costing them in the organization and “wiring” of their brain. The areas involved in language and reading aren’t fully online — and aren’t connected — until age seven or eight. If we’re teaching children to do tasks which their brains are not yet developed to do via the “normal” (and most efficient) pathways, the brain will stumble upon other, less efficient ways to accomplish the tasks — which lays down wiring in some funky ways — and can lead to later learning disabilities, including visual-processing deficits.

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Researchers Successfully Use Subjects’ Brain Waves As Personal Identifiers

brain wavesIn coming years, allowing a machine to momentarily observe your mental activity may be the key to open your email account or front door. Via Dark Reading:

It sounds like something straight out of science fiction: brainwaves taking the place of passwords in the name of authentication. A new study by researchers from the U.C. Berkeley School of Information examined the brainwave signals of individuals performing specific actions to see whether they can be consistently matched to the right individual.

Participants were asked to imagine performing a repetitive motion from a sport of their choice, singing a song, watching a series of on-screen images and silently counting the objects, or choose their own thought and focus on it for 10 seconds.

To measure the subjects’ brainwaves, the team used the NeuroSky Mindset, a Bluetooth headset that records Electroencephalographic (EEG) activity. In the end, the team was able to match the brainwave signals with 99 percent accuracy.

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We Must Wake Up to the Threats of New Chemical Weapons

via New Scientist F028-003

Chemical warfare is centuries old, but rapid advances in science could create deadly new weapons. We must act now

SYRIA, AD 256: Persian forces are under siege by the Romans. The attacking forces seek to tunnel under the Persian fortifications, but are met by a toxic mix of fumes from burning sulphur and bitumen. Syria, 2013: as yet unsubstantiated claims and counterclaims abound that chemical weapons have been deployed in the country.

The abhorrent effects of chemical warfare were unequivocally demonstrated during the first world war. This year, we mark the 25th anniversary of the use of chemical weapons against civilians in Halabja in northern Iraq under Saddam Hussein’s leadership.

Most governments now regard such weapons as militarily redundant, as demonstrated by their membership of the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC), which prohibits the production and use of chemical weapons, commits them to destroying all existing stocks, and prevents reacquisition.

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Panting For Breath On A Virtual Shore

adbusters_106_virtualshores_S

Our brains are being reprogrammed — literally. And not for the better, but droolingly bad.

A “detriment to cognition, concentration, contemplation and psychological health,” causing “structural abnormalities in gray matter” to the tune of a “fifteen percent shrinkage in the area of the brain that controls speech, memory, motor control, emotion, sensory, and other information.”

That´s what research in neuroscience is showing about all of the pervasive technologies — video games, cell phones, televisions, etc — so many of us spend numerous hours hyper-connected to all day long.

And, “This shrinkage is cumulative: The more time online, the more grey matter shrivels.”

“New studies are showing that internet and social media use contribute to or instigate even bigger mental breakdowns: split-personality disorder, delusional and paranoid thought, suicidal thinking, even psychosis . . . psychosis, that is defined as, a loss of what is real.”

These technologies, which we have only really had so dramatically present in our lives for the last five years, are contributing greatly to the mental breakdown of millions of people.… Read the rest

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