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By EDWARD ROTHSTEIN PHILADELPHIA — Clambering upward in dim violet light, stepping from one glass platform to another, you trigger flashes of light and polyps of sound. You climb through protective tubes of metallic mesh as you make your way through a maze of pathways. You are an electrical signal coursing through a neural network. You are immersed in the human brain. Well, almost. Here at the Franklin Institute, you’re at least supposed to get that impression. You pass through this realm (the climbing is optional) as part of “Your Brain” — the largest permanent exhibition at this venerable institution, and one of its best. That show, along with two other exhibitions, opens on Saturday in the new $41 million, 53,000-square-foot Nicholas and Athena Karabots Pavilion. This annex — designed by Saylor Gregg Architects, with an outer facade draped in a “shimmer wall” of hinged aluminum panels created by the artist Ned Kahn — expands the institution’s display space, educational facilities and convention possibilities. It also completes a transformation that began decades ago, turning one of the oldest hands-on science museums in the United States (as the Franklin puts it) into a contemporary science center, which typically combines aspects of a school, community center, amusement park, emporium, theater, international museum and interactive science lab — while also combining, as do many such institutions, those elements’ strengths and weaknesses. That brain immersion gallery gives a sense of this genre’s approach. It is designed more for amusement, effect and social interaction (cherished science center goals) than understanding. So I climb, but I’m not convinced. I hardly feel like part of a network of dendrites and axons as I weave through these pathways. I try, though, to imagine these tubes of psychedelically illuminated mesh filled with dozens of chattering children leaping around. That might offer a better inkling of the unpredictable, raucous complexity of the human brain. © 2014 The New York Times Company

Related chapters from BP7e: Chapter 1: Biological Psychology: Scope and Outlook
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 1: An Introduction to Brain and Behavior
Link ID: 19730 - Posted: 06.14.2014

In a new study, scientists at the National Institutes of Health took a molecular-level journey into microtubules, the hollow cylinders inside brain cells that act as skeletons and internal highways. They watched how a protein called tubulin acetyltransferase (TAT) labels the inside of microtubules. The results, published in Cell, answer long-standing questions about how TAT tagging works and offer clues as to why it is important for brain health. Microtubules are constantly tagged by proteins in the cell to designate them for specialized functions, in the same way that roads are labeled for fast or slow traffic or for maintenance. TAT coats specific locations inside the microtubules with a chemical called an acetyl group. How the various labels are added to the cellular microtubule network remains a mystery. Recent findings suggested that problems with tagging microtubules may lead to some forms of cancer and nervous system disorders, including Alzheimer’s disease, and have been linked to a rare blinding disorder and Joubert Syndrome, an uncommon brain development disorder. “This is the first time anyone has been able to peer inside microtubules and catch TAT in action,” said Antonina Roll-Mecak, Ph.D., an investigator at the NIH’s National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS), Bethesda, Maryland, and the leader of the study. Microtubules are found in all of the body’s cells. They are assembled like building blocks, using a protein called tubulin. Microtubules are constructed first by aligning tubulin building blocks into long strings. Then the strings align themselves side by side to form a sheet. Eventually the sheet grows wide enough that it closes up into a cylinder. TAT then bonds an acetyl group to alpha tubulin, a subunit of the tubulin protein.

Related chapters from BP7e: Chapter 2: Functional Neuroanatomy: The Nervous System and Behavior; Chapter 3: Neurophysiology: The Generation, Transmission, and Integration of Neural Signals
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 2: Cells and Structures: The Anatomy of the Nervous System; Chapter 3: Neurophysiology: The Generation, Transmission, and Integration of Neural Signals
Link ID: 19729 - Posted: 06.14.2014

By ANNA NORTH The “brain” is a powerful thing. Not the organ itself — though of course it’s powerful, too — but the word. Including it in explanations of human behavior might make those explanations sound more legitimate — and that might be a problem. Though neuroscientific examinations of everyday experiences have fallen out of favor somewhat recently, the word “brain” remains popular in media. Ben Lillie, the director of the science storytelling series The Story Collider, drew attention to the phenomenon last week on Twitter, mentioning in particular a recent Atlantic article: “Your Kid’s Brain Might Benefit From an Extra Year in Middle School.” In the piece, Jessica Lahey, a teacher and education writer, examined the benefits of letting kids repeat eighth grade. Mr. Lillie told Op-Talk the word “brain” could take the emphasis off middle-school students as people: The piece, he said, was “not ignoring the fact that the middle schooler (in this case) is a person, but somehow taking a quarter-step away by focusing on a thing we don’t really think of as human.” The New York Times isn’t immune to “brain”-speak — in her 2013 project “Brainlines,” the artist Julia Buntaine collected all Times headlines using the word “brain” since 1851. She told Op-Talk in an email that “the number of headlines about the brain increased exponentially since around the year 2000, where some years before there were none at all, after that there were at least 30, 40, 80 headlines.” Adding “brain” to a headline may make it sound more convincing — some research shows that talking about the brain has measurable effects on how people respond to scientific explanations. In a 2008 study, researchers found that adding phrases like “brain scans indicate” to explanations of psychological concepts like attention made those explanations more satisfying to nonexpert audiences. Perhaps disturbingly, the effect was greatest when the explanations were actually wrong. © 2014 The New York Times Company

Related chapters from BP7e: Chapter 1: Biological Psychology: Scope and Outlook
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 1: An Introduction to Brain and Behavior
Link ID: 19703 - Posted: 06.06.2014

Katia Moskvitch The hundreds of suckers on an octopus’s eight arms leech reflexively to almost anything they come into contact with — but never grasp the animal itself, even though an octopus does not always know what its arms are doing. Today, researchers reveal that the animal’s skin produces a chemical that stops the octopus’s suckers from grabbing hold of its own body parts, and getting tangled up. “Octopus arms have a built-in mechanism that prevents the suckers from grabbing octopus skin,” says neuroscientist Guy Levy at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, the lead author of the work, which appears today in Current Biology1. It is the first demonstration of a chemical self-recognition mechanism in motor control, and could help scientists to build better bio-inspired soft robots. To find out just how an octopus avoids latching onto itself, Levy and his colleagues cut off an octopus’s arm and subjected it to a series of tests. (The procedure is not considered traumatic, says Levy, because octopuses occasionally lose an arm in nature and behave normally while the limb regenerates.) The severed arms remained active for more than an hour after amputation, firmly grabbing almost any object, with three exceptions: the former host; any other live octopus; and other amputated arms. “But when we peeled the skin off an amputated arm and submitted it to another amputated arm, we were surprised to see that it grabbed the skinned arm as any other item,” says co-author Nir Nesher, also a neuroscientist at the Hebrew University. © 2014 Nature Publishing Group,

Related chapters from BP7e: Chapter 11: Motor Control and Plasticity
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 5: The Sensorimotor System
Link ID: 19623 - Posted: 05.15.2014

By Matty Litwack One year ago, I thought I was going to die. Specifically, I believed an amoeba was eating my brain. As I’ve done countless times before, I called my mother in a panic: “Mom, I think I’m dying.” As she has done countless times before, she laughed at me. She doesn’t really take me seriously anymore, because I’m a massive hypochondriac. If there exists a disease, I’ve probably convinced myself that I have it. Every time I have a cough, I assume it’s lung cancer. One time I thought I had herpes, but it was just a piece of candy stuck to my face. In the case of the brain amoeba, however, I had a legitimate reason to believe I was dying. Several days prior, I had visited a doctor to treat my nasal congestion. The doctor deemed my sickness not severe enough to warrant antibiotics and instead suggested I try a neti pot to clear up my congestion. A neti pot is a vessel shaped like a genie’s lamp that’s used to irrigate the sinuses with saline solution. My neti pot came with an instruction manual, which I immediately discarded. Why would I need instructions? Nasal irrigation seemed like a simple enough process: water goes up one nostril and flows down the other – that’s just gravity. I dumped a bottle of natural spring water into the neti pot, mixed in some salt, shoved it in my nostril and started pouring. If there was in fact a genie living in the neti pot, I imagine this was very unpleasant for him. The pressure in my sinuses was instantly reduced. It worked so well that over the next couple of days, I was raving about neti pots to anybody who would allow me to annoy them. It was honestly surprising how little people wanted to hear about nasal irrigation. Some nodded politely, others asked me to stop talking about it, but one friend had a uniquely interesting reaction: “Oh, you’re using a neti pot?” he asked. “Watch out for the brain-eating amoeba.” This was hands-down the strangest warning I had ever received. I assumed it was a joke, but I made a mental note to Google brain amoebas as soon as I was done proselytizing the masses on the merits of saltwater nose genies. © 2014 Scientific American

Related chapters from BP7e: Chapter 1: Biological Psychology: Scope and Outlook
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 1: An Introduction to Brain and Behavior
Link ID: 19618 - Posted: 05.15.2014

By Floyd Skloot, March 27, 2009. I was fine the night before. The little cold I’d had was gone, and I’d had the first good night’s sleep all week. But when I woke up Friday morning at 6:15 and got out of bed, the world was whirling counterclockwise. I knocked against the bookcase, stumbled through the bathroom doorway and landed on my knees in front of the sink. It was as though I’d been tripped by a ghost lurking beside the bed. Even when I was on all fours, the spinning didn’t stop. Lightheaded, reaching for solid support, I made it back to bed and, showing keen analytical insight, told my wife, Beverly, “Something’s wrong.” The only way I could put on my shirt was to kneel on the floor first. I teetered when I rose. Trying to keep my head still, moving only my eyes, I could feel my back and shoulders tightening, forming a shell. Everything was in motion, out of proportion, unstable. I barely made it downstairs for breakfast, clutching the banister, concentrating on each step and, when I finally made it to the kitchen, feeling too aswirl to eat anyway. I didn’t realize it at the time, but those stairs would become my greatest risk during this attack of relentless, intractable vertigo. Vertigo — the feeling that you or your surroundings are spinning — is a symptom, not a disease. You don’t get a diagnosis of vertigo; instead, you present with vertigo, a hallmark of balance dysfunction. Or with dizziness, a more generalized term referring to a range of off-kilter sensations including wooziness, faintness, unsteadiness, spatial disorientation, a feeling akin to swooning. It happens to almost everyone: too much to drink or standing too close to the edge of a roof or working out too hard or getting up too fast. © 1996-2014 The Washington Post

Related chapters from BP7e: Chapter 9: Hearing, Vestibular Perception, Taste, and Smell
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 6: Hearing, Balance, Taste, and Smell
Link ID: 19516 - Posted: 04.22.2014

By JAMES GORMAN There are lots of reasons scientists love fruit flies, but a big one is their flying ability. These almost microscopic creatures, with minimalist nervous systems and prey to every puff of wind, must often execute millisecond aerial ballets to stay aloft. To study fly flight, scientists have to develop techniques that are almost as interesting as the flies. At Cornell University, for instance, researchers have been investigating how the flies recover when their flight is momentarily disturbed. Among their conclusions: a small group of fly neurons is solving calculus problems, or what for humans are calculus problems. To do the research, the members of Cornell team — Itai Cohen and his colleagues, including Z. Jane Wang, John Guckenheimer, Tsevi Beatus and Leif Ristroph, who is now at New York University — glue tiny magnets to the flies and use a magnetic pulse to pull them this way or that. In the language of aeronautics, the scientists disturb either the flies’ pitch (up or down), yaw (left or right) or roll, which is just what it sounds like. The system, developed by Dr. Ristroph as a graduate student in Dr. Cohen’s lab, involves both low and high tech. On the low end, the researchers snip bits of metal bristle off a brush to serve as micromagnets that they glue to the flies’ backs. At the high end, three video cameras record every bit of the flight at 8,000 frames per second, and the researchers use computers to merge the data from the cameras into a three-dimensional reconstruction of the flies’ movements that they can analyze mathematically. © 2014 The New York Times Company

Related chapters from BP7e: Chapter 11: Motor Control and Plasticity
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 5: The Sensorimotor System
Link ID: 19388 - Posted: 03.20.2014

By Klint Finley Today’s neuroscientists need expertise in more than just the human brain. They must also be accomplished hardware engineers, capable of building new tools for analyzing the brain and collecting data from it. There are many off-the-shelf commercial instruments that help you do such things, but they’re usually expensive and hard to customize, says Josh Siegle, a doctoral student at the Wilson Lab at MIT. “Neuroscience tends to have a pretty hacker-oriented culture,” he says. “A lot of people have a very specific idea of how an experiment needs to be done, so they build their own tools.” The problem, Siegle says, is that few neuroscientists share the tools they build. And because they’re so focused on creating tools for their specific experiments, he says, researchers don’t often consider design principles like modularity, which would allow them to reuse tools in other experiments. That can mean too much redundant work as researchers spend time solving problems others already have solved, and building things from scratch instead of repurposing old tools. ‘We just want to build awareness of how open source eliminates redundancy, reduces costs, and increases productivity’ That’s why Siegle and Jakob Voigts of the Moore Lab at Brown University founded Open Ephys, a project for sharing open source neuroscience hardware designs. They started by posting designs for the tools they use to record electrical signals in the brain. They hope to kick start an open source movement within neuroscience by making their designs public, and encouraging others to do the same. “We don’t necessarily want people to use our tools specifically,” Siegle says. “We just want to build awareness of how open source eliminates redundancy, reduces costs, and increase productivity.” © 2014 Condé Nast.

Related chapters from BP7e: Chapter 3: Neurophysiology: The Generation, Transmission, and Integration of Neural Signals; Chapter 2: Functional Neuroanatomy: The Nervous System and Behavior
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 3: Neurophysiology: The Generation, Transmission, and Integration of Neural Signals; Chapter 2: Cells and Structures: The Anatomy of the Nervous System
Link ID: 19353 - Posted: 03.12.2014

Penis envy. Repression. Libido. Ego. Few have left a legacy as enduring and pervasive as Sigmund Freud. Despite being dismissed long ago as pseudoscientific, Freudian concepts such as these not only permeate many aspects of popular culture, but also had an overarching influence on, and played an important role in the development of, modern psychology, leading Time magazine to name him as one of the most important thinkers of the 20th century. Before his rise to fame as the founding father of psychoanalysis, however, Freud trained and worked as a neurologist. He carried out pioneering neurobiological research, which was cited by Santiago Ramóny Cajal, the father of modern neuroscience, and helped to establish neuroscience as a discipline. The eldest of eight children, Freud was born on 6 May, 1856, in the Moravian town of Příbor, in what is now the Czech Republic. Four years later, Freud's father Jakob, a wool merchant, moved the family to Austria in search of new business opportunities. Freud subsequently entered the university there, aged just 17, to study medicine and, in the second year of his degree, became preoccupied with scientific research. His early work was a harbinger of things to come – it focused on the sexual organs of the eel. The work was, by all accounts, satisfactory, but Freud was disappointed with his results and, perhaps dismayed by the prospect of dissecting more eels, moved to Ernst Brücke's laboratory in 1877. There, he switched to studying the biology of nervous tissue, an endeavour that would last for 10 years. © 2014 Guardian News and Media Limited

Related chapters from BP7e: Chapter 1: Biological Psychology: Scope and Outlook; Chapter 2: Functional Neuroanatomy: The Nervous System and Behavior
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 1: An Introduction to Brain and Behavior; Chapter 2: Cells and Structures: The Anatomy of the Nervous System
Link ID: 19350 - Posted: 03.12.2014

By JoNel Aleccia The first of 18,000 University of California, Santa Barbara, students lined up for shots Monday as the school began offering an imported vaccine to halt an outbreak of dangerous meningitis that sickened four, including one young man who lost his feet. "My dad's a pediatrician and he's been sending me emails over and over to go get it," said Carly Chianese, 20, a junior from Bayville, N.Y., who showed up a half-hour before the UCSB clinic opened. It’s the second time in three months that government health officials have inoculated U.S. college students with an emergency vaccine, Bexsero, to protect against the B strain of meningitis. More than 5,400 students at Princeton University in New Jersey received the vaccine in December after an outbreak sickened eight there. Another 4,400 got booster shots last week. No new cases have been detected at UCSB since November, but health officials said the vaccine licensed in Europe, Australia and Canada but not in the U.S. would stop future spread of the infection. Current vaccines available in the U.S. protect against four strains of meningitis, but not the B strain. Bacterial meningitis is a serious infection that kills 1 in 10 affected and leaves 20 percent with severe disabilities. Shots will be offered at UCSB from Monday through March 7, with a second series planned for later this spring. “During the last couple of outbreaks on college campuses, there have been additional cases over a year or two years,” said Dr. Amanda Cohn, a medical epidemiologist with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “There is certainly that possibility. We strongly recommend that students get vaccinated.”

Related chapters from BP7e: Chapter 2: Functional Neuroanatomy: The Nervous System and Behavior
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 2: Cells and Structures: The Anatomy of the Nervous System
Link ID: 19289 - Posted: 02.25.2014

By JAMES GORMAN The question of how moles move all that dirt when they tunnel just under the surface of lawns has never attracted the extensive study that other forms of locomotion — like the flight of birds and insects, or even the jet-propulsion of jellyfish — have. But scientists at the University of Massachusetts and Brown University have recently been asking exactly how, and how hard, moles dig. Yi-Fen Lin, a graduate student at the University of Massachusetts, reported at a recent meeting of the Society for Integrative and Comparative Biology that moles seem to swim through the earth, and that the stroke they use allows them to pack a lot of power behind their shovel-like paws. Ms. Lin measured the power of hairy-tailed moles that she captured in Massachusetts and found they could exert a force up to 40 times their body weight. She also analyzed and presented X-ray videos taken of moles in a laboratory enclosure tunneling their way through a material chosen for its consistency and uniform particle size: cous cous. Angela M. Horner recorded the videos while studying the movement of Eastern moles in the lab of Thomas Roberts, a professor at Brown. One reason moles have not been studied as much as some other animals may be that they are not easy to capture or keep in a laboratory. “People said, ‘You won’t be able to catch them and you won’t be able to keep them alive,’ ” said Elizabeth R. Dumont, an evolutionary biologist who is Ms. Lin’s dissertation adviser. Ms. Lin solved the first problem by camping out in mole territory, on golf courses and farms, and marking their tunnels with sticks that she would watch for hours until movement indicated a mole on the move. © 2014 The New York Times Company

Related chapters from BP7e: Chapter 11: Motor Control and Plasticity
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 5: The Sensorimotor System
Link ID: 19179 - Posted: 01.29.2014

By Evelyn Boychuk, Caleb is a 14-year-old who enjoys playing video games and reading any book he can get his hands on – and in his spare time, he edits neuroscience papers for a scientific journal. Frontiers for Young Minds is the first journal to bring kids into the middle of the scientific process by making them editors – and it’s free for everyone. The idea came “from the depths of my mind, in a moment when I was bored at a scientific meeting,” says Bob Knight, editor in chief of Frontiers for Young Minds and a professor of psychology and neuroscience at the University of California, Berkeley. This is one of many science outreach efforts that are trying to get youth excited about science, technology, engineering and math courses. A preview version with 15 articles was released at the Society for Neuroscience conference on Nov. 11. The official launch of the monthly journal is planned for the U.S.A. Science and Engineering Festival in Washington D.C. in April. “The kids have been great,” says Knight. “Their reviews are not filtered, they just tell you what they think.” In an e-mail, one of the young editors said, “'Hey Bob, I have to tell you, I didn’t understand anything in this article. The words are too big and it’s too confusing,'” Knight recounted. When Caleb was asked if he would edit an article for this preview, "it seemed like an interesting opportunity," he said, so he gave it a try. © CBC 2014

Related chapters from BP7e: Chapter 1: Biological Psychology: Scope and Outlook
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 1: An Introduction to Brain and Behavior
Link ID: 19145 - Posted: 01.18.2014

By Ashutosh Jogalekar Often you will hear people talking about why drugs are expensive: it’s the greedy pharmaceutical companies, the patent system, the government, capitalism itself. All these factors contribute to increasing the price of a drug, but one very important factor often gets entirely overlooked: Drugs are expensive because the science of drug discovery is hard. And it’s just getting harder. In fact purely on a scientific level, taking a drug all the way from initial discovery to market is considered harder than putting a man on the moon, and there’s more than a shred of truth to this contention. In this series of posts I will try to highlight some of the purely scientific challenges inherent in the discovery of new medicines. I am hoping that this will make laymen appreciate a little better why the cost of drugs doesn’t have everything to do with profit and power and much to do with scientific ignorance and difficulty; as one leading scientist I know quips, “Drugs are not expensive because we are evil, they are expensive because we are stupid.” I could actually end this post right here by stating one simple, predominant reason why the science of drug discovery is so tortuous: it’s because biology is complex. The second reason is because we are dealing with a classic multiple variable optimization problem, except that the variables to be optimized again pertain to a very poorly understood, complex and unpredictable system. The longer answer will be more interesting. The simple fact is that we still haven’t figured out the workings of biological systems – the human body in this case – to an extent that allows us to rationally and predictably modify, mitigate or cure their ills using small organic molecules. That we have been able to do so to an unusually successful degree is a tribute to both human ingenuity and plain good luck. But there’s still a very long way to go. © 2014 Scientific American

Related chapters from BP7e: Chapter 4: The Chemistry of Behavior: Neurotransmitters and Neuropharmacology
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 4: The Chemistry of Behavior: Neurotransmitters and Neuropharmacology
Link ID: 19105 - Posted: 01.07.2014

by Alyssa Botelho Women with breast cancer often enjoy several years in remission, only to then be given the devastating news that they have developed brain tumours. Now we are finally starting to understand how breast cancer cells are able to spread undetected in the brain: they masquerade as neurons and hijack their energy supply. For every tumour that originates in the brain, 10 arrive there from other organ systems. Understanding how tumours spread, or metastasise, and survive in the brain is important because the survival rate of people with brain metastases is poor – only a fifth are still alive a year after being diagnosed. Rahul Jandial, a neurosurgeon at the City of Hope Cancer Center in Duarte, California, wanted to explore how breast cancer cells are able to cross the blood-brain barrier and escape destruction by the immune system. "If, by chance, a malignant breast cancer cell swimming in the bloodstream crossed into the brain, how would it survive in a completely new, foreign habitat?" Jandial says. He and his team wondered if breast cancer cells that could use the resources around them – neurotransmitters and other chemicals in the brain – would be the ones that survived and flourished. To test the idea, they took samples of metastatic breast cancer cells from the brains of several women and grew them in the lab. They compared the expression of proteins involved in detecting and absorbing GABA – a common neurotransmitter that neurons convert into energy – in these cells with what happens in non-metastatic breast cancer cells. © Copyright Reed Business Information Ltd

Related chapters from BP7e: Chapter 4: The Chemistry of Behavior: Neurotransmitters and Neuropharmacology
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 4: The Chemistry of Behavior: Neurotransmitters and Neuropharmacology
Link ID: 19102 - Posted: 01.07.2014

By Christian Jarrett Christmas is over and the start of the movie awards season is only weeks away! This is my excuse for a post about cinema and the brain. Over the years I’ve been keeping note of actors who studied neuroscience and other similar factoids and now I have the chance to share them with you. So here, in no particular order, are 10 surprising links between the worlds of Hollywood and brain research: 1. Actress Mayim Bialik is a neuroscientist. Bialik currently plays the character of neuroscientist Amy Fowler in the Big Bang Theory, which is neat because Bialik herself has a PhD in neuroscience. Her PhD thesis, completed at UCLA in 2007, has the title: “Hypothalamic regulation in relation to maladaptive, obsessive-compulsive, affiliative, and satiety behaviors in Prader-Willi syndrome.” “I don’t try and rub my neuroscience brain in people’s face[s],” Bialik says, “but when we have lab scenes … I have had to say that’s not where the tectum would be, we need it down here … or I’ve actually carved the fourth ventricle into slices … ’cause you know, why not have me do it.” Among her other acting roles, Bialik also featured in the short film for Michael Jackson’s Liberian Girl and she played the child version of Bette Midler’s character in Beaches (1988). 2. Natalie Portman is a neuroscientist. Perform a Google Scholar search on her name and you won’t get very far. But under her original name of Natalie Hershlag, the Oscar-winning actress co-authored a paper in 2002 on the role of the frontal lobes in infants’ understanding of “object permanence” – recognizing that things still exist even when you can’t see them. According to the Mind Hacks blog, Ms. Portman contributed to this research while working as a research assistant at Harvard University. Her paper has now been cited in the literature over 100 times. © 2013 Condé Nast.

Related chapters from BP7e: Chapter 1: Biological Psychology: Scope and Outlook; Chapter 18: Attention and Higher Cognition
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 1: An Introduction to Brain and Behavior; Chapter 14: Attention and Consciousness
Link ID: 19079 - Posted: 12.31.2013

By Ben Thomas 2013’s Nobel prize in Physiology or Medicine honors three researchers in particular – but what it really honors is thirty-plus years of work not only from them, but also from their labs, their graduate students and their collaborators. Winners James Rothman, Randy Schekman and Thomas Südhof all helped assemble our current picture of the cellular machinery that enables neurotransmitter chemicals to travel from one nerve cell to the next. And as all three of these researchers agree, that process of understanding didn’t catalyze until the right lines of research, powered by the right tools, happened to converge at the right time. Long before that convergence, though, these three scientists began by seeking the answers to three different questions – none of which seemed to have anything to do with the others. When James Rothman started out as a researcher at Harvard in 1978, his goal was to find out exactly how vesicle transmission worked. Vesicles – Latin for “little vessels” – are the microscopic capsules that carry neurotransmitter molecules like serotonin and dopamine from one brain cell to another. By the late 1960s, the old-guard biochemist George Palade, along with other researchers, had already deduced that synaptic vesicles are necessary for neurotransmission – but the questions of which proteins guided these tiny vessels on their journey, and how they docked with receiving neurons, remained mysterious. Yale University's James Rothman set out to break down the process of vesicle transmission, chemical-by-chemical, reaction-by-reaction. Courtesy of Yale University. In other words, although researchers had established the existence of this vesicle transmission process, no one knew exactly what made it work, or how. © 2013 Scientific American

Related chapters from BP7e: Chapter 3: Neurophysiology: The Generation, Transmission, and Integration of Neural Signals; Chapter 4: The Chemistry of Behavior: Neurotransmitters and Neuropharmacology
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 3: Neurophysiology: The Generation, Transmission, and Integration of Neural Signals; Chapter 4: The Chemistry of Behavior: Neurotransmitters and Neuropharmacology
Link ID: 19022 - Posted: 12.11.2013

by Bethany Brookshire When neurons throughout the brain and body send messages, they release chemical signals. These chemicals, neurotransmitters, pass into the spaces between neurons, or synapses, binding to receptors to send a signal along. When they are not in use, neurotransmitters are stored within the cell in tiny bubbles called vesicles. During signaling, these vesicles head to the membrane of the neuron, where they dump neurotransmitter into the synapse. And after delivering their cargo, most vesicles disappear. But more vesicles keep forming, filling with neurotransmitters so neurons can keep sending signals. What goes up must come down. When vesicles go out, they must come back. But how fast to the vesicles re-appear? Must faster, it turns out, than we first thought. Neurotransmission happens fast. An electrical signal comes down a neuron in your brain and triggers vesicles to move to the cell membrane. When the vesicles merge into the membrane and release their chemical cargo, the neurotransmitters float across the open synapse to the next neuron. This happens every time the neuron “fires.” This needs to happen very quickly, as neurons often fire at 100 hertz, or 100 times per second. Some neurons perform a “kiss-and-run,” opening up a temporary pore in the membrane, releasing a little bit of neurotransmitter and darting away again. Other vesicles need to merge with the synapse entirely. With the assistance of docking proteins, these vesicles fuse with the membrane of the neuron to release the neurotransmitters, a process called exocytosis. © Society for Science & the Public 2000 - 2013.

Related chapters from BP7e: Chapter 3: Neurophysiology: The Generation, Transmission, and Integration of Neural Signals; Chapter 4: The Chemistry of Behavior: Neurotransmitters and Neuropharmacology
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 3: Neurophysiology: The Generation, Transmission, and Integration of Neural Signals; Chapter 4: The Chemistry of Behavior: Neurotransmitters and Neuropharmacology
Link ID: 19021 - Posted: 12.11.2013

To expedite research on brain disorders, the National Institutes of Health is shifting from a limited funding role to coordinating a Web-based resource for sharing post-mortem brain tissue. Under a NIH NeuroBioBank initiative, five brain banks will begin collaborating in a tissue sharing network for the neuroscience community. “Instead of having to seek out brain tissue needed for a study from scattered repositories, researchers will have one-stop access to the specimens they need,” explained Thomas Insel, M.D., director of NIH’s National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), one of three NIH institutes underwriting the project. “Such efficiency has become even more important with recent breakthrough technologies, such as CLARITY and resources such as BrainSpan that involve the use of human tissue.” Historically, NIH institutes have awarded investigator-initiated grants to support disease-specific brain bank activities. The NIH NeuroBioBank instead employs contracts, which affords the agency a more interactive role. Contracts totaling about $4.7 million for the 2013 fiscal year were awarded to brain banks at the Mount Sinai School of Medicine, New York City; Harvard University in Cambridge, Mass., the University of Miami; Sepulveda Research Corporation, Los Angeles; and the University of Pittsburgh. These brain and tissue repositories seek out and accept brain donations, store the tissue, and distribute it to qualified researchers seeking to understand the causes of – and identify treatments and cures for – brain disorders, such as schizophrenia, multiple sclerosis, depression, epilepsy, Down syndrome and autism.

Related chapters from BP7e: Chapter 1: Biological Psychology: Scope and Outlook
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 1: An Introduction to Brain and Behavior
Link ID: 18992 - Posted: 12.03.2013

By DONALD G. McNEIL Jr. The World Health Organization has approved a new vaccine for a strain of encephalitis that kills thousands of children and leaves many survivors with permanent brain damage. The move allows United Nations agencies and other donors to buy it. The disease, called Japanese encephalitis or brain fever, is caused by a mosquito-transmitted virus that can live in pigs, birds and humans. Less than 1 percent of those infected get seriously ill, but it kills up to 15,000 children a year and disables many more. Up to four billion people, from southern Russia to the Pacific islands, are at risk; it is more prevalent near rice paddies. There is no cure. The low-cost vaccine, approved last month, is the first authorized by the agency for children and the first Chinese-made vaccine it has approved. It is made by China National Biotec Group and was tested by PATH, a nonprofit group in Seattle with funding from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. Dr. Margaret Chan, W.H.O.’s director-general, said she hoped that approval would encourage other vaccine makers from China and elsewhere to enter the field. China had given the vaccine domestically to 200 million children over many years but had never sought W.H.O. approval. India, which previously bought 88 million doses from China, launched the first locally produced version last month. © 2013 The New York Times Company

Related chapters from BP7e: Chapter 11: Motor Control and Plasticity
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 5: The Sensorimotor System
Link ID: 18872 - Posted: 11.05.2013

/ by Charles Choi, LiveScience Using lasers, scientists can now surgically blast holes thinner than a human hair in the heads of live fruit flies, allowing researchers to see how the flies' brains work. Microscopically peering into living animals can help scientists learn more about key details of these animals' biology. For instance, tiny glass windows surgically implanted into the sides of living mice can help researchers study how cancers develop in real time and evaluate the effectiveness of potential medicines. Surgically preparing small live animals for such "intravital microscopy" is often time-consuming and requires considerable skill and dexterity. Now, Supriyo Sinha, a systems engineer at Stanford University in California, and his colleagues have developed a way to prepare live animals for such microscopy that is both fast -- taking less than a second -- and largely automated. To conduct this procedure, scientists first cooled fruit flies to anesthetize them. Then, the researchers carefully picked up the insects with tweezers and glued them to the tops of glass fibers in order to immobilize the flies' bodies and heads. Then, using a high-energy pulsed ultraviolet laser, the researchers blasted holes measuring 12 to 350 microns wide in the flies' heads. (In comparison, the average human hair is about 100 microns wide.) They then applied a saline solution to exposed tissue to help keep the fly brains healthy. © 2013 Discovery Communications, LLC.

Related chapters from BP7e: Chapter 3: Neurophysiology: The Generation, Transmission, and Integration of Neural Signals
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 3: Neurophysiology: The Generation, Transmission, and Integration of Neural Signals
Link ID: 18861 - Posted: 11.02.2013