Chapter 1. An Introduction to Brain and Behavior
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Doctors describe 16-year-old Sebastian DeLeon as a walking miracle — he is only the fourth person in the U.S. to survive an infection from the so-called brain-eating amoeba. Infection from Naegleria fowleri is extremely rare but almost always fatal. Between 1962 and 2015, there were only 138 known infections due to the organism, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Just three people survived. This summer, two young people, one in Florida and one in North Carolina, became infected after water recreation. Only one had a happy ending. DeLeon is a 16-year-old camp counselor. The Florida Department of Health thinks he got the infection while swimming in unsanitary water on private property in South Florida before his family came to visit Orlando's theme parks. So many things had to go right for DeLeon to survive. On a Friday, he had a bad headache. The next day, his parents decided this was way more than just a migraine and took him to the emergency room at Florida Hospital for Children. Doctors persuaded the family to do a spinal tap to rule out meningitis, even though he didn't have a stiff neck, the telltale symptom. Sheila Black, the lab coordinator, looked at the sample and assumed she saw white blood cells. But then she took a second, longer look. "We are all detectives," Black said. "We literally had to look at this and study it for a while and watch for the movement because the amoeba can look like a white cell. So unless you're actually visually looking for this and looking for the movement, you're going to miss it." © 2016 npr
Link ID: 22608 - Posted: 08.29.2016
By Gary Stix In recent decades neuroscience has emerged as a star among the biological disciplines. But its enormous popularity as an academic career choice has been accompanied by a drop in the percentage of trained neuroscientists who actually work in academic research positions—largely because of a lack of funding. In 2014 the National Academies organized a workshop to ponder the question of whether this trend bodes well for the scientists-to-be who are now getting their Ph.D.s. The findings were published this summer in Neuron. Steven Hyman of the Broad Institute of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Harvard University, who helped to plan the workshop and was recently president of the Society for Neuroscience (SfN), welcomes the flood of doctoral students choosing the field but warns: “Insofar as talented young people are discouraged from academic careers by funding levels so low that they produce debilitating levels of competition or simply foreclose opportunities, the U.S. and the world are losing an incredibly precious resource.” Because there are not enough academic positions to go around, it is now the responsibility of professors to prepare students for alternative careers, says Huda Akil of the University of Michigan Medical School, lead author of the paper. “It's not just academia and industry” where trained neuroscientists can make contributions to society, says Akil, also a former SfN president: “It's nonprofits. It's social policy. It's science writing. It's man-machine interfaces. It's Big Data, or education, or any area where knowledge of the brain is relevant.” © 2016 Scientific American
Link ID: 22564 - Posted: 08.17.2016
By JoAnna Klein I expected a bumpy ride on a whitewater trip, so when I fell off my raft and coughed up the water I’d inhaled, I wasn’t afraid. But at the time I didn’t know I was swimming with a deadly parasite. I’d been at a bachelorette party at the U.S. National Whitewater Center in Charlotte, N.C., but after returning home I learned that I had shared the churning rapids with Naegleria fowleri, a single-celled amoeba found mostly in soil and warm freshwater lakes, rivers and hot springs. An Ohio teenager had contracted the amoeba infection after visiting the center around the same time I did, and some of the waters and sediment at and around the center had tested positive for the bug. News that my friends and I had all been at risk of exposure triggered a few days of worry. The illness is rare and, if infected, symptoms show up between one and 10 days after exposure. Chances were that we were fine (we were), but the experience prompted me to learn more about the parasite. Naegleria fowleri lives in fresh water, but not in salt water. If forced up the nose, it can enter the brain and feed on its tissue, resulting in an infection known as primary amebic meningoencephalitis. Death occurs in nearly all of those infected with the parasite, usually within five days after infection. The 18-year-old Ohio woman who died most likely contracted the parasite when she sucked water through her nose after falling from a raft during a church trip. Samples from a channel at the rafting center, collected by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, tested positive for the bug. The center’s channels are man-made, and it gets its water from the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Utilities Department and two wells on its property. The center has announced that it disinfects all water with ultraviolet radiation and chlorine, and it added more after the water tests. © 2016 The New York Times Company
Link ID: 22514 - Posted: 08.04.2016
Nisha Gaind Most people in the United States are more worried than enthusiastic about the prospect of scientific advances such as gene editing and brain-chip implants, a survey of thousands suggests. The Pew Research Center in Washington DC asked 4,726 US people about the potential uses of three biomedical technologies that it classified as ‘potential human enhancement’: gene editing to reduce disease risk in babies; brain implants to enhance concentration and brain processes, and transfusions of synthetic blood to improve strength and stamina. (None of these procedures are a reality, but the underlying technologies are being researched.) Those who took the survey were overwhelmingly wary about all of the ideas. In each case, more than 60% said that they would be worried about the technologies, and fewer than half expressed enthusiasm about them — with the prospect of brain implants prompting the most concern and least excitement. More than 70% thought that the procedures would become available before they were well understood or officially deemed safe. Around one-third thought the technologies were morally unacceptable, and about 70% were concerned that such enhancements would widen social divides — for instance, because initially only wealthy people would be able to afford them. © 2016 Macmillan Publishers Limited
Link ID: 22505 - Posted: 08.02.2016
Every year, hundreds of human brains are delivered to a network of special research centres. Why do these "brain banks" exist and what do they do? Rachael Buchanan was given rare access. A neuroscientist once told me with great insistence that brains are beautiful. His words came back to me as I watched a technician at the Bristol brain bank carefully dissect one of the facility's freshly donated specimens. The intricate folds and switchbacks of its surface and its delicate branching structures, revealed by her cuts, were entrancing. They seem only faintly to echo the complexity and power that tissue had held in life. The brain being methodically portioned up for storage was one of around 40 donations the South West Dementia Brain Bank receives each year. This bank in Bristol is one of 10 centres that make up the Medical Research Council's Brain Bank Network. Between them annually they supply hundreds of samples of research tissue to scientists in the UK and abroad. One of the thousand brains already fixed and frozen in the store rooms at Bristol is that of Angela Carlson. Written into that 3lb (1.4kg) of dissected tissue are the experiences, memories and knowledge of a very adventurous woman, for her time. She spent her teens in the land army during World War Two, followed by stints as a cook and child minder in the USA, and in what was then Persia. Twice widowed and without children, she eventually settled in Dorset to be near her niece Susan Jonas. She died there from dementia, aged 89. © 2016 BBC
Dean Burnett On July 31st 2016, this blog will have been in existence for four years exactly. A huge thanks to everyone who’s made the effort to read it in that time (an alarming number of you). Normally there’d be a post on the day to mark the occasion, but this year the 31st is a) a Sunday, and b) my birthday, so even if I could be bothered to work that day, it’s unlikely anyone would want to read it. However, today also marks the ridiculously-unlikely-but-here-we-are American release of my book. How did it get to this point? I’ve been a “professional” science writer now for four years, and I’ve been involved in neuroscience, in one guise or another, since 2000, the year I started my undergraduate degree. In that time, I’ve heard/encountered some seriously bizarre claims about how the brain works. Oftentimes it was me not understanding what was being said, or misinterpreting a paper, or just my own lack of competence. Sometimes, it was just a media exaggeration. However, there have been occasions when a claim made about the brain thwarts all my efforts to find published evidence or even a rational basis for it, leaving me scratching my head and wondering “where the hell did THAT come from?” Here are some of my favourites. In the past, one terabyte of storage capacity would have seemed incredibly impressive. But Moore’s law has put paid to that. My home desktop PC presently has 1.5 TB of storage space, and that’s over seven years old. Could my own clunky desktop be, in terms of information capacity, smarter than me? Apparently. Some estimates put the capacity of the human brain as low as 1TB. A lifetimes worth of memories wouldn’t fill a modern-day hard drive? That seems far-fetched, at least at an intuitive level.
Keyword: Development of the Brain
Link ID: 22477 - Posted: 07.26.2016
by Bethany Brookshire There’s an osprey nest just outside Jeffrey Brodeur’s office at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution in Massachusetts. “I literally turn to my left and they’re right there,” says Brodeur, the organization’s communications and outreach specialist. WHOI started live-streaming the osprey nest in 2005. For the first few years, few people really noticed. All that changed in 2014. An osprey pair had taken up residence and produced two chicks. But the mother began to attack her own offspring. Brodeur began getting e-mails complaining about “momzilla.” And that was just the beginning. “We became this trainwreck of an osprey nest,” he says. In the summer of 2015, the osprey family tried again. This time, they suffered food shortages. The camera received an avalanche of attention, complaints and e-mails protesting the institute’s lack of intervention. One scolded, “it is absolutely disgusting that you will not take those chicks away from that demented witch of a parent!!!!! Instead you let them be constantly abused and go without [sic] food. Yes this is nature but you have a choice to help or not. This is totally unacceptable. She should be done away with so not to abuse again.” By mid-2015, Brodeur began to receive threats. “People were saying ‘we’re gonna come help them if you don’t,’” he recalls. The osprey cam was turned off, and remains off to this day. Brodeur says he’s always wondered why people had such strong feelings about a bird’s parenting skills. Why do people spend so much time and emotion attempting to apply their own moral sense to an animal’s actions? The answer lies in the human capacity for empathy — one of the qualities that helps us along as a social species. © Society for Science & the Public 2000 - 2016.
By Aviva Rutkin MONKEYS controlling a robotic arm with their thoughts. Chicks born with a bit of quail brain spliced in. Rats with their brains synced to create a mind-meld computer. For two days in June, some of neuroscience’s most extraordinary feats were debated over coffee and vegetarian food at the Institute for Research in Cognitive Science in Philadelphia. The idea wasn’t to celebrate these accomplishments but to examine them. Martha Farah, a cognitive neuroscientist at the University of Pennsylvania, assembled a group of scientists, philosophers and policy-makers to discuss the moral implications for the animals involved. “An animal would go from being a thing to a person, with all the moral and legal status that implies“ “Neuroscience is remodelling – in sometimes shocking ways – the conventional boundaries between creatures versus organs versus tissue, between machines versus animals, between one species versus blended species,” Farah told New Scientist. “We thought, let’s look at the ways in which advances in animal neuroscience might raise new ethical issues that haven’t been encountered before, or that might have changed enough that they need revisiting.” It’s a timely question. Animal welfare has been hotly debated in some corners for years, but a handful of recent cases have brought the issue to the fore. Last year, under pressure from activists and Congress, the US National Institutes of Health shut down its chimp research programme, and sent the animals to sanctuaries. © Copyright Reed Business Information Ltd.
Keyword: Animal Rights
Link ID: 22381 - Posted: 06.30.2016
By Ben Panko Everyone needs a stretch every now and then, but most lab rats don’t get the chance. According to new research, they are simply too confined in standard-sized cages to move naturally, potentially affecting their health and the outcomes of some experiments. Knowing that lab rat cages are a far cry from the rodents’ natural habitats, a team of scientists set out to observe the movements of some slightly more free-range rats. Most lab rats in the United States, Canada, and the European Union are housed in cages at least 18–20 centimeters tall, by regulation. But mature rats can reach almost twice that height when standing—between 26 and 30 centimeters. In the new experiment, scientists observed rats in much larger, multilevel habitats with a height of 125 centimeters. Compared with their tightly caged counterparts, who were unable to stand upright, 3-month-old rats stood an average of 178 times per day and 13-month-old rats stood an average of 73 times per day. They were also much more active: Three-month-old rats were seen climbing 76 times per day on average, whereas rats of all ages burrowed for about 20–30 minutes per day. The tightly caged rats, who don't have the space for these behaviors, seemed to stretch to make up for it, extending their bodies lengthwise nine times more often than rats housed in the larger cages, the scientists report today in Royal Society Open Science. The scientists say their findings are just the beginning of research into how standard laboratory cages may interfere with rats' normal movements. To find out how this may affect experimental results in fields like medicine and psychology, they say many more studies need to be done. © 2016 American Association for the Advancement of Science
Keyword: Animal Rights
Link ID: 22372 - Posted: 06.29.2016
By Elahe Izadi It's referred to as the "brain-eating amoeba." Naegleria fowleri resides in warm freshwater, hot springs and poorly maintained swimming pools. When the single-celled organism enters a person's body through the nose, it can cause a deadly infection that leads to destruction of brain tissue. These infections are extremely rare; 138 people have been infected since 1962, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. But over the weekend, the amoeba claimed another victim when an 18-year-old died from a meningitis infection caused by N. fowleri, said health officials in North Carolina. Lauren Seitz of Westerville, Ohio, died from a suspected case of primary amebic meningoencephalitis (PAM), and officials are investigating whether she contracted the infection while whitewater rafting in Charlotte during a church trip, the Charlotte Observer reported. The N. fowleri infection "resulted in her developing a case of meningitis ... and inflaming of the brain and surrounding tissues, and unfortunately she died of this condition," Mecklenburg County Health Department director Marcus Plescia told reporters Wednesday. Plescia said that, while they were still gathering information from health officials in Ohio, they do know one of the stops Seitz's group made was to the U.S. National Whitewater Center.
Link ID: 22355 - Posted: 06.24.2016
Agata Blaszczak-Boxe, People with higher levels of education may be more likely to develop certain types of brain tumors, a new study from Sweden suggests. Researchers found that women who completed at least three years of university courses were 23 percent more likely to develop a type of cancerous brain tumor called glioma, compared with women who only completed up to nine years of mandatory education and did not go to a university. And men who completed at least three years of university courses were 19 percent more likely to develop the same type of tumor, compared with men who did not go to a university. Though the reasons behind the link are not clear, "one possible explanation is that highly educated people may be more aware of symptoms and seek medical care earlier," and therefore are more likely to be diagnosed, said Amal Khanolkar, a research associate at the Institute of Child Health at the University College Londonand a co-author of the study. [Top 10 Cancer-Fighting Foods] In the study, the researchers looked at data on more than 4.3 million people in Sweden who were a part of the Swedish Total Population Register. The researchers tracked the people for 17 years, beginning in 1993, to see if they developed brain tumors during that time. They also collected information about the people's education levels, income, marital status and occupation. During the 17-year study, 5,735 men and 7,101 women developed brain tumors, according to the findings, published today (June 20) in the Journal of Epidemiology & Community Health. Copyright 2016 LiveScience,
Gary Stix Unlike biochemistry and psychology, brain science did not exist as a separate academic field until the middle of the 20th century. In recent decades, neuroscience has emerged as a star among the biological disciplines. In 2014 a workshop organized by the National Academy of Medicine met to ponder the question of whether all bodes well for the scientists-to-be who are now getting their PhDs and laboring away at postdoctoral fellowships. Will the field be able to absorb this wealth of new talent—and is it preparing students with the quantitative skills needed to understand the workings of an organ with some 86 billion neurons and hundreds of trillions of connections among all of those cells? Steven Hyman of the Broad Institute of Harvard and MIT, who helped with the planning of the workshop and was recently president of the Society for Neuroscience (SfN), welcomed the flood of doctoral students choosing neuroscience, but warned: “Insofar as talented young people are discouraged from academic careers by funding levels so low that they produce debilitating levels of competition or simply foreclose opportunities, the U.S. and the world are losing an incredibly precious resource.” I got in touch with one member of the National Academy of Medicine panel, Huda Akil of the University of Michigan Medical School, the lead author on a paper in Neuron that summarized the workshop’s findings. Akil, also a former SfN president, is a noted researcher in the neurobiology of emotions. © 2016 Scientific American,
Link ID: 22338 - Posted: 06.20.2016
By NICHOLAS ST. FLEUR Nine scientists have won this year’s Kavli Prizes for work that detected the echoes of colliding black holes, revealed how adaptable the nervous system is, and created a technique for sculpting structures on the nanoscale. The announcement was made on Thursday by the Norwegian Academy of Science Letters in Oslo, and was live-streamed to a watching party in New York as a part of the World Science Festival. The three prizes, each worth $1 million and split among the recipients, are awarded in astrophysics, nanoscience and neuroscience every two years. They are named for Fred Kavli, a Norwegian-American inventor, businessman and philanthropist who started the awards in 2008 and died in 2013. Eve Marder of Brandeis University, Michael M. Merzenich of the University of California, San Francisco, and Carla J. Shatz of Stanford won the neuroscience prize. Dr. Marder illuminated the flexibility and stability of the nervous system through her work studying crabs and lobsters and the neurons that control their digestion. Dr. Merzenich was a pioneer in the study of neural plasticity, demonstrating that parts of the adult brain, like those of children, can be reorganized by experience. Dr. Shatz showed that “neurons that fire together wire together,” by investigating how patterns of activity sculpt the synapses in the developing brain. The winners will receive their prizes in September at a ceremony in Oslo. © 2016 The New York Times Company
Keyword: Development of the Brain
Link ID: 22279 - Posted: 06.04.2016
By Amina Zafar, Tragically Hip frontman Gord Downie's resilience and openness about his terminal glioblastoma and his plans to tour could help to reduce stigma and improve awareness, some cancer experts say. Tuesday's news revealed that the singer has an aggressive form of cancer that originated in his brain. An MRI scan last week showed the tumour has responded well to surgery, radiation and chemotherapy, doctors said. "I was quickly impressed by Gord's resilience and courage," Downie's neuro-oncologist, Dr. James Perry of Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre, told a news conference. Perry said it's daunting for many of his patients to reveal the diagnosis to their family, children and co-workers. "The news today, while sad, also creates for us in brain tumour research an unprecedented opportunity to create awareness and to create an opportunity for fundraising for research that's desperately needed to improve the odds for all people with this disease," Perry said. Dr. James Perry, head of neurology at Toronto's Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre, calls Gord Downie's sad news an unprecedented opportunity to fundraise for brain tumour research. (Aaron Vincent Elkaim/Canadian Press) "Gord's courage in coming forward with his diagnosis will be a beacon for all patients with glioblastoma in Canada. They will see a survivor continuing with his craft despite its many challenges." ©2016 CBC/Radio-Canada.
Link ID: 22251 - Posted: 05.26.2016
Scott O. Lilienfeld1*, Katheryn C. Sauvigné2, Steven Jay Lynn3, Robin L. Cautin4, Robert D. Latzman2 and Irwin D. Waldman1 The goal of this article is to promote clear thinking and clear writing among students and teachers of psychological science by curbing terminological misinformation and confusion. To this end, we present a provisional list of 50 commonly used terms in psychology, psychiatry, and allied fields that should be avoided, or at most used sparingly and with explicit caveats. We provide corrective information for students, instructors, and researchers regarding these terms, which we organize for expository purposes into five categories: inaccurate or misleading terms, frequently misused terms, ambiguous terms, oxymorons, and pleonasms. For each term, we (a) explain why it is problematic, (b) delineate one or more examples of its misuse, and (c) when pertinent, offer recommendations for preferable terms. By being more judicious in their use of terminology, psychologists and psychiatrists can foster clearer thinking in their students and the field at large regarding mental phenomena. Scientific thinking necessitates clarity, including clarity in writing (Pinker, 2014). In turn, clarity hinges on accuracy in the use of specialized terminology. Clarity is especially critical in such disciplines as psychology and psychiatry, where most phenomena, such as emotions, personality traits, and mental disorders, are “open concepts.” Open concepts are characterized by fuzzy boundaries, an indefinitely extendable indicator list, and an unclear inner essence (Pap, 1958; Meehl, 1986). © 2007 - 2015 Frontiers Media S.A
Link ID: 22096 - Posted: 04.12.2016
By Neuroskeptic Do you want to be more successful? Happier? More intelligent? Don’t despair. The answer, we’re told, is right in front of your nose—or rather, right behind it. It’s your own brain. Thanks to neuroscience, you can hack your gray matter. According to the sales pitch, almost anything is possible, if you can master your brain—and if you can afford to buy the products that promise to help you do that. But how many of these neuroproducts are neurobullshit? And what makes neuroscience so attractive to people with something to sell? I’m a neuroscientist who has been blogging about the brain for the past eight years. Over this time I’ve noticed a steady increase in the number of neuroscience-themed commercial products. There are brain pills to optimize your mental focus. There are futuristic-looking headbands that promise to measure or stimulate your neural activity in order to make you smarter, or help you sleep better, or even meditate better. There is no end of “brain training” apps and neuroscience-themed self-help books. These products tend to have names based around “Neuro” or “Brain.” And they will come advertised as being “created by neuroscientists,” “based on the latest brain research,” or at least endorsed by some leading brain expert. Once you look beyond the “neuro” gloss, however, you’ll see that many of these products aren’t new at all, but just old products in new packaging. A recent, and notorious, example of this was “Fifth Quarter Fresh,” a brand of chocolate milk.
Link ID: 22090 - Posted: 04.11.2016
Bianca Nogrady Nicholas Price works to understand the brain's fundamental functions, with a view towards developing a bionic eye. The neuroscientist uses marmosets and macaques in his experiments at Monash University’s Biomedicine Discovery Institute in Melbourne. In late January, he was shocked to discover a bill before the Australian Parliament that calls for a ban on the import of non-human primates for medical research. Australia’s three main breeding colonies of research primates consist of several hundred macaques, marmosets and baboons. Regular imports of the animals are vital to maintain the genetic diversity of these colonies, says Price. Senator Lee Rhiannon, a member of the Greens party, introduced the bill on 17 September last year as an amendment to Australia’s federal Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act. But because the Senate committee that deals with this piece of legislation is not usually of interest to those in the medical research community, the amendment almost slipped under the community's radar, says Price. By the time he heard about the proposed ban, from another researcher, the window for public comment was days away from closing, though it was later extended. As soon as they found out, Price and his Monash colleagues James Bourne and Marcello Rosa began e-mailing researchers around the world. Several institutions rushed to submit statements opposing the bill, including the Federation of European Neuroscience Societies (FENS), the Society for Neuroscience, headquartered in Washington DC, and the Basel Declaration Society, which promotes the open, transparent and ethical use of animals in research. Australia’s National Health and Medical Research Council and the Australasian Neuroscience Society also sent statements of opposition to the Senate committee. © 2016 Nature Publishing Group
Keyword: Animal Rights
Link ID: 21924 - Posted: 02.23.2016
Sara Reardon In July 2015, the major antibody provider Santa Cruz Biotechnology owned 2,471 rabbits and 3,202 goats. Now the animals have vanished, according to a recent federal inspection report from the US Department of Agriculture (USDA). The company, which is headquartered in Dallas, Texas, is one of the world’s largest providers of antibodies — extracting them from animals such as goats and rabbits by injecting the animals with proteins to stimulate antibody production. Biomedical researchers can then use these antibodies to detect and label the same protein in cell or tissue samples. But Santa Cruz Biotech is also the subject of three animal-welfare complaints filed by the USDA after its inspectors found evidence that the firm mistreated goats at its facility in California. Santa Cruz Biotech has contested the complaints, prompting a hearing in August before a USDA administrative law judge in Washington DC. Four days into the hearing, both parties asked to suspend the proceedings in order to negotiate a settlement. But those negotiations fell through in September. The USDA hearing is set to resume on 5 April. If Santa Cruz Biotech is found to have violated the US Animal Welfare Act, it could be fined or lose its licence to keep animals for commercial use. The USDA says that the company could face a maximum fine of US$10,000 per violation for each day that a given violation persists. The agency has reported 31 alleged violations by the company. © 2016 Nature Publishing Group
Keyword: Animal Rights
Link ID: 21916 - Posted: 02.20.2016
Fergus Walsh Medical correspondent When I picked up the human brain in my hands, several things ran through my mind. My immediate concern was I might drop it or that it would fall apart in my hands - fortunately neither happened. Second, I was struck by how light the human brain is. I should say this was half a brain - the right hemisphere - the left had already been sent for dissection. The intact human brain weighs only around 3lbs (1.5kg) - just 2% of body-weight, and yet it consumes 20% of its energy. The brain I was holding had been steeped in formalin, a preserving fluid, for about three weeks and is one of several hundred brains donated every year for medical research. It was only after I'd got used to the feel of the brain in my hands that I could then start to wonder about how such a simple-looking structure could be capable of so much. This brain had experienced, processed, interpreted an entire human life - the thoughts, emotions, language, memory, emotion, cognition, awareness, and consciousness - all the things that make us human and each of us unique. You may think yuck, but I'm with the scientists and surgeon who declare: "Brains are beautiful". The pathology team at the Bristol Brain Bank had kindly allowed us to film as part of the BBC "In the Mind" season, looking at many aspects of mental health. My brief was to examine some of the latest advances in neuroscience. There is a genuine sense of excitement among researchers about the direction and progress being made in our knowledge of the brain. © 2016 BBC.
Link ID: 21904 - Posted: 02.17.2016
Sara Reardon Mice are sensitive to minor changes in food, bedding and light exposure. It’s no secret that therapies that look promising in mice rarely work in people. But too often, experimental treatments that succeed in one mouse population do not even work in other mice, suggesting that many rodent studies may be flawed from the start. “We say mice are simpler, but I think the problem is deeper than that,” says Caroline Zeiss, a veterinary neuropathologist at Yale University in New Haven, Connecticut. Researchers rarely report on subtle environmental factors such as their mice’s food, bedding or exposure to light; as a result, conditions vary widely across labs despite an enormous body of research showing that these factors can significantly affect the animals’ biology. “It’s sort of surprising how many people are surprised by the extent of the variation” between mice that receive different care, says Cory Brayton, a pathologist at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, Maryland. At a meeting on mouse models at the Wellcome Genome Campus in Hinxton, UK, on 9–11 February, she and others explored the many biological factors that prevent mouse studies from being reproduced. Christopher Colwell, a neuroscientist at the University of California, Los Angeles, has first-hand experience with these issues. He and a colleague studied autism in the same genetically modified mouse line, but obtained different results on the same behaviour tests. Eventually they worked out why: Colwell, who studies circadian rhythms, keeps his mice dark in the daytime to trick their body clocks into thinking day is night, so that the nocturnal animals are more alert when tested during the day. His colleague does not. © 2016 Nature Publishing Group