Links for Keyword: Brain imaging

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Virginia Gewin Corey White felt pretty fortunate during his job search late last year. Over the course of 4 months, he found at least 25 posts to apply for — even after he had filtered the possibilities to places where his wife also had job prospects. Competition for the jobs was, as he expected, fierce, but he secured three interviews. In the end, he says, it was his skills in functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) that helped him to clinch a post at Syracuse University in New York, where they were eager to elevate their neuroscience profile. The human brain is something of an enigma. Much is known about its physical structure, but quite how it manages to marshal its myriad components into a powerhouse capable of performing so many different tasks remains a mystery. Neuroimaging offers one way to help find out, and universities and government initiatives are betting on it. Already, an increasing number of universities across the United States and Europe are buying scanners dedicated to neuroimaging — a clear signal that the area is set for growth. “Institutions feel an imperative to develop an imaging programme because everybody's got to have one to be competitive,” says Mark Cohen, an imaging pioneer at the Semel Institute for Neuroscience and Human Behavior at the University of California, Los Angeles. At the same time, a slew of major projects focusing on various aspects of the brain is seeking to paint the most comprehensive picture yet of the organ's organizing principles — from genes to high-level cognition. As a result, young scientists with computational expertise, a fluency in multiple imaging techniques and a willingness to engage in interdisciplinary collaborations could readily carve out a career in this dynamic landscape. © 2013 Nature Publishing Group

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: 18894 - Posted: 11.08.2013

Helen Shen A mixture of excitement, hope and anxiety made for an electric atmosphere in the crowded hotel ballroom. On a Monday morning in early May, neuroscientists, physicists and engineers packed the room in Arlington, Virginia, to its 150-person capacity, while hundreds more followed by webcast. Only a month earlier, US President Barack Obama had unveiled the neuroscience equivalent of a Moon shot: a far-reaching programme that could rival Europe's 10-year, €1-billion (US$1.3-billion) Human Brain Project (see page 5). The US Brain Research Through Advancing Innovative Neurotechnologies (BRAIN) Initiative would develop a host of tools to study brain activity, the president promised, and lead to huge breakthroughs in understanding the mind. But Obama's vague announcement on 2 April had left out key details, such as what the initiative's specific goals would be and how it would be implemented. So at their first opportunity — a workshop convened on 6 May by the National Science Foundation (NSF) and the Kavli Foundation of Oxnard, California — researchers from across the neuroscience spectrum swarmed to fill in the blanks and advocate for their favourite causes. The result was chaotic, acknowledges Van Wedeen, a neurobiologist at Harvard Medical School in Boston, Massachusetts, and one of the workshop's organizers. Everyone was afraid of being left out of 'the next big thing' in neuroscience — even though no one knew exactly what that might be. “The belief is we're ready for a leap forward,” says Wedeen. “Which leap, and in which direction, is still being debated.” © 2013 Nature Publishing Group

Related chapters from BP7e: Chapter 2: Functional Neuroanatomy: The Nervous System and Behavior; Chapter 7: Life-Span Development of the Brain and Behavior
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 2: Cells and Structures: The Anatomy of the Nervous System; Chapter 13: Memory, Learning, and Development
Link ID: 18893 - Posted: 11.08.2013

From supercomputing to imaging, technologies have developed far enough that it is now possible for us to imagine a day when we will understand the murky workings of our most complex organ: the brain. True, that day remains distant, but scientists are no longer considered crazy if they report a glimpse of it on the horizon. This turning point has been marked by the independent launches this year of two major brain projects: US President Barack Obama’s Brain Research Through Advancing Innovative Neurotechnologies (BRAIN) Initiative and the European Commission’s Human Brain Project. Even if they fail to achieve the ambitions the research community sets for them, they are signals of a new confidence. Right now, the two projects are not equal. The BRAIN Initiative is in an early phase of development, and has so far been promised little new money. The impetus behind it was a brash proposal by a group of neuroscientists for a billion-dollar project to measure the activity of every neuron in the human brain. That ambition was lost on the starting block when peers, justifiably, deemed it scientifically inappropriate — but it is yet to be replaced by a single goal of equivalently Apollo-programme proportions (see page 26). This may make it hard to maintain the political support large projects always need. Conversely, the Human Brain Project — headquartered in Switzerland, where it will soon relocate from Lausanne to its new base in Geneva — has 135 partner institutes and is blessed with a plenitude of money and planning. And it has a romantic Moon-landing-level goal: to simulate the human brain in a computer within ten years, and provide it to scientists as a research resource. Programme leaders have committed €72 million (US$97 million) to the 30-month ramp-up stage; those monies started to flow into labs after the project’s launch last month. The project has a detailed ten-year road map, laden with explicit milestones. © 2013 Nature Publishing Group

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: 18892 - Posted: 11.08.2013

Posted by Gary Marcus On Monday, the National Institutes of Health released a fifty-eight-page report on the future of neuroscience—the first substantive step in developing President Obama’s BRAIN Initiative, which seeks to “revolutionize our understanding of the human mind and uncover new ways to treat, prevent, and cure brain disorders like Alzheimer’s, schizophrenia, autism, epilepsy, and traumatic brain injury.” Assembled by an advisory panel of fifteen scientists led by Cori Bargmann, of Rockefeller University, and William Newsome, of Stanford, the report assesses the state of neuroscience and offers a vision for the field’s future. The core challenge, as the report puts it, is simply that “brains—even small ones—are dauntingly complex”: Information flows in parallel through many different circuits at once; different components of a single functional circuit may be distributed across many brain structures and be spatially intermixed with the components of other circuits; feedback signals from higher levels constantly modulate the activity within any given circuit; and neuromodulatory chemicals can rapidly alter the effective wiring of any circuit. To tackle the brain’s immense complexity, the report outlines nine goals for the initiative. No effort to study the brain is likely to succeed without devoting serious attention to all nine, which range from creating structural maps of its static, physical connections to developing new ways of recording continuous, dynamic activity as it perceives the world and directs action. A less flashy, equally critical goal is to create a “census” of the brain’s basic cell types, which neuroscientists haven’t yet established. (The committee also devotes attention to ethical questions that could arise, such as what should happen if neural enhancement—the use of engineering to alter the brain—becomes a realistic possibility.) © 2013 Condé Nast.

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: 18668 - Posted: 09.18.2013

By Associated Press, Former Grateful Dead drummer Mickey Hart has a new piece of equipment accompanying him on his latest tour: a cap fitted with electrodes that capture his brain activity and direct the movements of a light show while he’s jamming on stage. The sensor-studded headgear is an outgrowth of collaboration between Hart, 70, and Adam Gazzaley, a University of California at San Francisco neuroscientist who studies cognitive decline. The subject has been an interest of the musician’s since the late 1980s, as he watched his grandmother deal with Alzheimer’s disease. When he played the drums for her, he says, she became more responsive. Since then, Hart has invested time and money exploring the therapeutic potential of rhythm. Thirteen years ago, he founded Rhythm for Life, a nonprofit promoting drum circles for the elderly. Hart first publicly wore his electroencephalogram cap last year at an AARP convention where he and Gazzaley discussed their joint pursuit of research on the link between brain waves and memory. He wore it again while making his new album, “Superorganism,” translating the rhythms of his brain waves into music. Hart’s bandmates, with input from other researchers in Gazzaley’s lab, paired different waves with specific musical sequences that were then inserted into songs. © 1996-2013 The Washington Post

Related chapters from BP7e: Chapter 3: Neurophysiology: The Generation, Transmission, and Integration of Neural Signals; Chapter 11: Motor Control and Plasticity
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 3: Neurophysiology: The Generation, Transmission, and Integration of Neural Signals; Chapter 5: The Sensorimotor System
Link ID: 18656 - Posted: 09.17.2013

By JAMES GORMAN In the first hint of how the Brain Initiative announced by President Obama in April could take shape, an advisory group on Monday recommended that the main target of research by the National Institutes of Health should be systems and circuits involving thousands to millions of brain cells — not the entire brain or individual cells and molecules. The National Institutes of Health working group was meant to focus specifically on how the federal agency should spend its $40 million brain initiative budget in 2014. However, Dr. Rafael Yuste, a neuroscientist at Columbia University who was not a member of the group, said that the recommendations, which he agreed with, were so ambitious that it “could be a charter for neuroscience for the next 10 to 15 years.” Dr. Francis S. Collins, director of the N.I.H., who accepted the report and its recommendations, said that he had asked the group, led by Cori Bargmann of Rockefeller University and Bill Newsome of Stanford, to think big, and that it would be the job of the N.I.H. to make actual spending decisions. Dr. Bargmann agreed that the overall goal of figuring out “how circuits in the brain generate complex thoughts and behavior” was not something to be tackled with the $40 million that the N.I.H. hopes to have for 2014. “You can’t do all of that in year one, you can’t do all of that with $40 million, and you can’t do all of that at N.I.H. either,” she said. The $40 million for the N.I.H. is part of a White House proposal for $100 million in spending on the initiative in the 2014 budget. The initiative also includes money for the National Science Foundation and the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency. Several major private research foundations are also joining in the effort with their own research. © 2013 The New York Times Company

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: 18653 - Posted: 09.17.2013

By Jay Van Bavel and Dominic Packer On the heels of the decade of the brain and the development of neuroimaging, it is nearly impossible to open a science magazine or walk through a bookstore without encountering images of the human brain. As prominent neuroscientist, Martha Farah, remarked “Brain images are the scientific icon of our age, replacing Bohr’s planetary atom as the symbol of science”. The rapid rise to prominence of cognitive neuroscience has been accompanied by an equally swift rise in practitioners and snake oil salesmen who make promises that neuroimaging cannot yet deliver. Critics inside and outside of the discipline have both been swift to condemn sloppy claims that MRI can tell us who we plan to vote for, if we love our iPhones, and why we believe in God. Yet, the constant parade of overtrumped results has lead to the rise of “The new neuro-skeptics” who argue that neuroscience is either unable to answer the interesting questions, or worse, that scientists have simply been seduced by the flickering lights of the brain. The notion that MRI images have attained an undue influence over scientists, granting agencies, and the public gained traction in 2008 when psychologists David McCabe and Alan Castel published a paper showing that brain images could be used to deceive. In a series of experiments, they found that Colorado State University undergraduates rated descriptions of scientific studies higher in scientific reasoning if they were accompanied by a 3-D image of the brain (see Figure), rather than a mere bar graph or a topographic map of brain activity on the scalp (presumably from electroencephalography). © 2013 Scientific American

Related chapters from BP7e: Chapter 2: Functional Neuroanatomy: The Nervous System and Behavior; Chapter 18: Attention and Higher Cognition
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 2: Cells and Structures: The Anatomy of the Nervous System; Chapter 14: Attention and Consciousness
Link ID: 18652 - Posted: 09.17.2013

By Ben Thomas As Albert Einstein famously said, “No problem can be solved from the same level of consciousness that created it.” The history of science is littered with so-called “intractable” problems that researchers later cracked wide open using techniques their ancestors could hardly imagine. Biologists in the 1950s looked at the staggeringly complex (and beautiful) three-dimensional shapes into which proteins fold and declared that a reliably predictive mathematical model of these convolutions might be unachievable in our lifetimes. But over the past few years, folks with home computers have joined forces to crack many longstanding protein-folding problems using the online game FoldIt. Instead of relying on the number-crunching power of a single supercomputer or network, crowdsourced games like FoldIt translate vast and complex data sets into simple online interfaces that anyone can learn to operate. The crowdsourced astronomy game Galaxy Zoo also depends on an army of “citizen scientists” for classification of stars hundreds of light years away; while Google built its image search technology on an image-labeling game. In fact, every time you “verify your humanity” on a web form by typing out nonsensical reCAPTCHA text, you’re actually helping Google transcribe books from the world’s libraries into a digital format. And now, a worldwide team of neuroscience researchers have begun using this crowdsource approach to crack open one of the greatest problems in any scientific field: The construction of a complete wiring diagram for a mammalian brain. © 2013 Scientific American,

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: 18634 - Posted: 09.12.2013

By Nathan Seppa A tiny probe equipped with a laser might reveal what the human eye doesn’t always see: the difference between a tumor and healthy tissue. A new study suggests the device might provide brain surgeons with a roadmap as they go about the delicate business of removing tumors. Surgeons try to excise as much of brain tumors as possible, but they risk harming the patient if they remove healthy tissue. “This problem,” says surgeon Daniel Orringer of the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, “has vexed brain surgeons for as long as they have taken out tumors,” since the first half of the 20th century. “Basically, we do it by feel — the texture, color and vascularity of the tissues. Tumors tend to bleed a little more than normal brain.” Although removing and testing tissue samples, or biopsies, can help to characterize the tissue at the tumor margins, it’s a cumbersome and time-consuming process. In the new study, Orringer and his colleagues instead exposed such borderline brain tissues to a weak laser. Then they used Raman spectroscopy, a technique that reveals vibrations of specific chemical bonds in tissues. The revved up form of Raman spectroscopy that the researchers used is sensitive enough to distinguish between proteins and lipids. Since tumors are higher in protein than healthy brain tissue, the authors designed the technique to present protein signatures as blue images on a screen, and lipids as green. © Society for Science & the Public 2000 - 2013

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: 18622 - Posted: 09.09.2013

By ERIC R. KANDEL THESE days it is easy to get irritated with the exaggerated interpretations of brain imaging — for example, that a single fMRI scan can reveal our innermost feelings — and with inflated claims about our understanding of the biological basis of our higher mental processes. Such irritation has led a number of thoughtful people to declare that we can never achieve a truly sophisticated understanding of the biological foundation of complex mental activity. In fact, recent newspaper articles have argued that psychiatry is a “semi-science” whose practitioners cannot base their treatment of mental disorders on the same empirical evidence as physicians who treat disorders of the body can. The problem for many people is that we cannot point to the underlying biological bases of most psychiatric disorders. In fact, we are nowhere near understanding them as well as we understand disorders of the liver or the heart. But this is starting to change. Consider the biology of depression. We are beginning to discern the outlines of a complex neural circuit that becomes disordered in depressive illnesses. Helen Mayberg, at Emory University, and other scientists used brain-scanning techniques to identify several components of this circuit, two of which are particularly important. One is Area 25 (the subcallosal cingulate region), which mediates our unconscious and motor responses to emotional stress; the other is the right anterior insula, a region where self-awareness and interpersonal experience come together. These two regions connect to the hypothalamus, which plays a role in basic functions like sleep, appetite and libido, and to three other important regions of the brain: the amygdala, which evaluates emotional salience; the hippocampus, which is concerned with memory; and the prefrontal cortex, which is the seat of executive function and self-esteem. All of these regions can be disturbed in depressive illnesses. © 2013 The New York Times Company

Related chapters from BP7e: Chapter 2: Functional Neuroanatomy: The Nervous System and Behavior; Chapter 16: Psychopathology: Biological Basis of Behavior Disorders
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 2: Cells and Structures: The Anatomy of the Nervous System; Chapter 12: Psychopathology: Biological Basis of Behavioral Disorders
Link ID: 18621 - Posted: 09.09.2013

A "window to the brain" implant which would allow doctors to see through the skull and possibly treat patients has been devised by US researchers. It uses a see-through version of the same material used for hip implants. The team at University of California, Riverside, say it could allow lasers to be fired into the brain to treat neurological disorders. The implant was reported in the journal Nanomedicine: Nanotechnology, Biology and Medicine. The researchers say emerging laser-treatments in stroke and cancer care and brain imaging require access to the brain. However, they are limited as a part of the skull needs to be removed and replaced each time a treatment is performed. Instead the team of scientists have devised a transparent implant that would replace a small section of the skull. They have converted a material - yttria-stabilized zirconia that is used in some ceramic hip implants and dental crowns - to make it transparent. They argue the material would be safe to implant, but would also provide a window onto the brain. Professor of mechanical engineering, Guillermo Aguilar, said: "This is a case of a science fiction sounding idea becoming science fact, with strong potential for positive impact on patients. BBC © 2013

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: 18604 - Posted: 09.04.2013

by Adam Gopnik Good myths turn on simple pairs— God and Lucifer, Sun and Moon, Jerry and George—and so an author who makes a vital duo is rewarded with a long-lived audience. No one in 1900 would have thought it possible that a century later more people would read Conan Doyle’s Holmes and Watson stories than anything of George Meredith’s, but we do. And so Gene Roddenberry’s “Star Trek,” despite the silly plots and the cardboard-seeming sets, persists in its many versions because it captures a deep and abiding divide. Mr. Spock speaks for the rational, analytic self who assumes that the mind is a mechanism and that everything it does is logical, Captain Kirk for the belief that what governs our life is not only irrational but inexplicable, and the better for being so. The division has had new energy in our time: we care most about a person who is like a thinking machine at a moment when we have begun to have machines that think. Captain Kirk, meanwhile, is not only a Romantic, like so many other heroes, but a Romantic on a starship in a vacuum in deep space. When your entire body is every day dissolved, reënergized, and sent down to a new planet, and you still believe in the ineffable human spirit, you have really earned the right to be a soul man. Writers on the brain and the mind tend to divide into Spocks and Kirks, either embracing the idea that consciousness can be located in a web of brain tissue or debunking it. For the past decade, at least, the Spocks have been running the Enterprise: there are books on your brain and music, books on your brain and storytelling, books that tell you why your brain makes you want to join the Army, and books that explain why you wish that Bar Refaeli were in the barracks with you. The neurological turn has become what the “cultural” turn was a few decades ago: the all-purpose non-explanation explanation of everything. Thirty years ago, you could feel loftily significant by attaching the word “culture” to anything you wanted to inspect: we didn’t live in a violent country, we lived in a “culture of violence”; we didn’t have sharp political differences, we lived in a “culture of complaint”; and so on. In those days, Time, taking up the American pursuit of pleasure, praised Christopher Lasch’s “The Culture of Narcissism”; now Time has a cover story on happiness and asks whether we are “hardwired” to pursue it. © 2013 Condé Nast.

Related chapters from BP7e: Chapter 2: Functional Neuroanatomy: The Nervous System and Behavior; Chapter 18: Attention and Higher Cognition
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 2: Cells and Structures: The Anatomy of the Nervous System; Chapter 14: Attention and Consciousness
Link ID: 18602 - Posted: 09.03.2013

Erika Check Hayden US behavioural researchers have been handed a dubious distinction — they are more likely than their colleagues in other parts of the world to exaggerate findings, according to a study published today. The research highlights the importance of unconscious biases that might affect research integrity, says Brian Martinson, a social scientist at the HealthPartners Institute for Education and Research in Minneapolis, Minnesota, who was not involved with the study. “The take-home here is that the ‘bad guy/good guy’ narrative — the idea that we only need to worry about the monsters out there who are making up data — is naive,” Martinson says.

 The study, published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences1, was conducted by John Ioannidis, a physician at Stanford University in California, and Daniele Fanelli, an evolutionary biologist at the University of Edinburgh, UK. The pair examined 82 meta-analyses in genetics and psychiatry that collectively combined results from 1,174 individual studies. The researchers compared meta-analyses of studies based on non-behavioural parameters, such as physiological measurements, to those based on behavioural parameters, such as progression of dementia or depression.

 The researchers then determined how well the strength of an observed result or effect reported in a given study agreed with that of the meta-analysis in which the study was included. They found that, worldwide, behavioural studies were more likely than non-behavioural studies to report ‘extreme effects’ — findings that deviated from the overall effects reported by the meta-analyses.
 And US-based behavioural researchers were more likely than behavioural researchers elsewhere to report extreme effects that deviated in favour of their starting hypotheses.

 © 2013 Nature Publishing Group

Related chapters from BP7e: Chapter 2: Functional Neuroanatomy: The Nervous System and Behavior; Chapter 18: Attention and Higher Cognition
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 2: Cells and Structures: The Anatomy of the Nervous System; Chapter 14: Attention and Consciousness
Link ID: 18568 - Posted: 08.27.2013

By Laura Sanders Despite the adage, there actually is such a thing as bad publicity, a fact that brain scientists have lately discovered. A couple of high-profile opinion pieces in the New York Times have questioned the usefulness of neuroscience, claiming, as columnist David Brooks did in June, that studying brain activity will never reveal the mind. Or that neuroscience is a pesky distraction from solving real social problems, as scholar Benjamin Fong wrote on August 11. Let’s start with Brooks. Some of his complaints about brain scans, with their colorful blobs lighting up active parts of the brain, are quite legitimate. Functional MRI studies are notoriously difficult to make sense of. In fact, this powerful technology has been used to find brain activity in a dead salmon. Dubious fMRI studies do trickle into the hands of sensationalistic journalists, medical hucksters and marketers, who twist the results into self-serving sound bites. All true. But Brooks’ essay conflates the entire field of neuroscience with some bad seeds. Some studies should never have been done, others mislead people, waste resources and sensationalize their results. But for every one of those studies, countless others tell us something important about how the human brain works. Serious scientists use a huge variety of techniques — yes, even fMRI — responsibly, and interpret their results cautiously. Judging the whole enterprise of neuroscience by its weakest studies is disingenuous. There is bad science, just like there’s bad food, bad music and bad TV. Trashing all brain research because a tiny bit of it stinks is like throwing your new flat screen off a balcony because you accidentally turned on Jersey Shore. © Society for Science & the Public 2000 - 2013

Related chapters from BP7e: Chapter 2: Functional Neuroanatomy: The Nervous System and Behavior; Chapter 18: Attention and Higher Cognition
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 2: Cells and Structures: The Anatomy of the Nervous System; Chapter 14: Attention and Consciousness
Link ID: 18564 - Posted: 08.27.2013

By: George Will, Washington Post PRINCETON, N.J. — Fifty years from now, when Malia and Sasha are grandmothers, their father’s presidency might seem most consequential because of a small sum — $100 million —for studying something small. “As humans,” Barack Obama said when announcing the initiative to study the brain, “we can identify galaxies light-years away ... but we still haven’t unlocked the mystery of the three pounds of matter that sits between our ears.” Actually, understanding the brain will be a resounding success without unlocking the essential mystery, which is: How does matter become conscious of itself? Or should we say, how does it become — or acquire — consciousness? Just trying to describe this subject takes scientists onto intellectual terrain long occupied by philosophers. Those whose field is the philosophy of mind will learn from scientists such as Princeton’s David Tank, aleader of the BRAIN Initiative, which aims at understanding how brain regions and cells work together, moment to moment, throughout our lives. If, as is said, a physicist is an atom’s way of knowing about atoms, thena neuroscientist like Tank is a brain cell’s way of knowing about brain cells. Each of us has about 100 billion of those, each of which communicates with an average of 10,000 other nerve cells. The goal of neuroscientists is to discover how these neural conversations give rise to a thought, a memory ora decision. And to understand how the brain functions, from which we may understand disorders such as autism, schizophrenia and epilepsy. © 2013 Forum Communications Co.

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: 18560 - Posted: 08.26.2013

By Scicurious There are lots of challenges when it comes to studying the brain, but one of the biggest is that it’s very hard to see. Aside from being, you know, inside your skull, the many electrical and chemical signals which the brain uses are impossible to see with the naked eye. We have ways to look at neurons and how they convey information. For example, to record the electrical signals from a single neuron, you can piece it with a tiny electrode, to get access inside the membrane (electrophysiology). You can then stimulate the neuron to fire, or record as it fires spontaneously. For techniques like optogenetics, you can insert a gene into the neuron that makes it fire (or not) in response to light. When you shine the light, you can make the neuron fire. So you can make a neuron fire, or see a neuron fire. With things like voltammetry, we can see neurotransmitters, chemicals as they are released from a neuron and sent as signals on to other neurons. Techniques like these have made huge strides in what we understand about neurons and how they work. But…you can only do this for a few neurons at a time. This becomes a problem, because the brain does not work as one neuron at a time. Instead, neurons organize into networks, A neuron fires, which impinges upon many more neurons, all of which will react in different ways, depending on what input they receive and when. Often many neurons have to fire to get a result, often it’s a single specific pattern of neurons. An ideal technique would be one where we could see neurons fire spontaneously, in real time, and then see where those signals GO, to actually see a network in action. And where we could see it…without taking the brain out first. It looks like that technique might be here. © 2013 Scientific American

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: 18496 - Posted: 08.13.2013

By Neuroskeptic Thanks to newly-developed “super-resolution” microscopy techniques, a group of French neuroscientists have discovered a remarkable world of complexity on a tiny scale. Writing in the Journal of Neuroscience, Deepak Nair colleagues report that: Super-Resolution Imaging Reveals That AMPA Receptors Inside Synapses Are Dynamically Organized in Nanodomains Regulated by PSD95 Neurons communicate with each other via chemical synapses. Here, two cells almost touch each other, and one of them can release a messenger molecule (neurotransmitter) which activates proteins (receptors) on the receiving (postsynaptic) neuron, thus conveying information. Here’s part of a single cell: the synapses are where the little ‘spines’ or ‘bulbs’ meet those present on another cell (not pictured).Until now, it’s been believed that within a synapse, receptors are just randomly distributed over the postsynaptic cell membrane. However, Nair et al’s work reveals an unsuspected level of organization. It turns out that receptors – or at least AMPA receptors, the only kind they looked at – are in fact clustered together into structures the authors dub nanodomains. Each nanodomain contains about 20 receptors, and is about 70 nanometers across. This is small. It’s roughly the size of a virus, and about 1/1000th the width of a human hair. When I saw this picture, it didn’t call to mind anything else I’d ever seen in neuroscience. Rather, it reminded me of the Hubble Deep Field images of distant galaxies… and funnily enough, one of the proteins that plays a secondary role in this paper is called stargazin.

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: 18492 - Posted: 08.12.2013

By Daniel Engber Brain-bashing, once an idle pastime of the science commentariat, went mainstream in June. At the beginning of the month, Slate contributor Sally Satel and Scott O. Lilienfeld published Brainwashed: The Seductive Appeal of Mindless Neuroscience, a well-informed attack on the extravagances of “neurocentrist” thought. We’re living in dangerous era, they warn in the book’s introduction. “Naïve media, slick neuroentrepreneurs, and even an occasional overzealous neuroscientist exaggerate the capacity of scans to reveal the contents of our minds, exalt brain physiology as inherently the most valuable level of explanation for understanding behavior, and rush to apply underdeveloped, if dazzling, science for commercial and forensic use.” In the United Kingdom, the neuro-gadfly Raymond Tallis—whose own attack on popular brain science, Aping Mankind, came out in 2011—added to the early-summer beat-down, complaining in the Observer that “studies that locate irreducibly social phenomena … in the function or dysfunction of bits of our brains are conceptually misconceived.” By mid-June, these sharp rebukes made their way into the mind of David Brooks, a long-time dabbler in neural data who proposed not long ago that “brain science helps fill the hole left by the atrophy of theology and philosophy.” Brooks read Brainwashed and became a convert to its cause: “From personal experience, I can tell you that you get captivated by [neuroscience] and sometimes go off to extremes,” he wrote in a recent column with the headline “Beyond the Brain.” Then he gave the following advice: “The next time somebody tells you what a brain scan says, be a little skeptical. The brain is not the mind.” © 2013 The Slate Group, LLC

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: 18424 - Posted: 07.30.2013

By Simon Makin One common complaint about psychiatry is its subjective nature: it lacks definitive tests for many diseases. So the idea of diagnosing disorders using only brain scans holds great appeal. A paper published recently in PLOS ONE describes such a system, although it was presented only as an initial proof of concept. News reports, however, trumpeted the advent of “objective” psychiatric diagnoses. The paper used data from several earlier studies, in which researchers outlined key brain regions in MRI scans of people with bipolar disorder, ADHD, schizophrenia or Tourette's syndrome; people with low or high risk of developing major depressive disorder; and a healthy group. The scans were also labeled with the disorder or depression risk level of the original study participant. In the new study, scientists divided the scans randomly into two sets, one to build the diagnostic system and the other to test it. Their software then grouped the scans in the first set by the shape of various regions. Each group was labeled with the most common diagnosis found within it. During testing, the system analyzed the shapes of brain regions in each test scan and assigned it to the group it most resembled. The scientists checked its work by comparing the new labels on the test scans with the original clinical diagnoses. They repeated the procedure several times with different randomly generated sets. When the system chose between two disorders or one ailment and a clean bill of health, its accuracy was nearly perfect. When deciding among three alternatives, it did much worse. © 2013 Scientific American

Related chapters from BP7e: Chapter 2: Functional Neuroanatomy: The Nervous System and Behavior; Chapter 16: Psychopathology: Biological Basis of Behavior Disorders
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 2: Cells and Structures: The Anatomy of the Nervous System; Chapter 12: Psychopathology: Biological Basis of Behavioral Disorders
Link ID: 18404 - Posted: 07.23.2013

Alison Abbott When neurobiologist Bill Newsome got a phone call from Francis Collins in March, his first reaction was one of dismay. The director of the US National Institutes of Health had contacted him out of the blue to ask if he would co-chair a rapid planning effort for a ten-year assault on how the brain works. To Newsome, that sounded like the sort of thankless, amorphous and onerous task that would ruin a good summer. But after turning it over in his mind for 24 hours, his dismay gave way to enthusiasm. “The timing is right,” says Newsome, who is based at Stanford University School of Medicine in California. He accepted the task. “The brain is the intellectual excitement for the twenty-first century.” It helped that the request for the brain onslaught was actually coming from Collins's ultimate boss — US President Barack Obama. Just two weeks after that call, on 2 April, Obama announced a US$100-million initial investment to launch the BRAIN Initiative, a research effort expected to eventually cost perhaps ten times that amount. The European Commission has equal ambitions. On 28 January, it announced that it would launch the flagship Human Brain Project with a 2013 budget of €54 million (US$69 million), and contribute to its projected billion-euro funding over the next ten years (see Nature 482, 456–458; 2012). Although the aims of the two projects differ, both are, in effect, bold bids for the neuroscientist's ultimate challenge: to work out exactly how the billions of neurons and trillions of connections, or synapses, in the human brain organize themselves into working neural circuits that allow us to fall in love, go to war, solve mathematical theorems or write poetry. What's more, researchers want to understand the ways in which brain circuitry changes — through the constant growth and retreat of synapses — as life rolls by. © 2013 Nature Publishing Group

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: 18382 - Posted: 07.18.2013