Links for Keyword: Brain imaging

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by Douglas Heaven Toss a stone into a pool and it leaves ripples long after it sinks. Ideas and experiences have a similar affect on our brains: short bouts of intense neural activity leave ripples in the brain's background activity that can still be detected 24 hours later. The finding effectively opens a window into a person's recent past. Previous studies have shown that it is possible to use brain activity to detect simple thoughts or words, and even what image someone is looking at. But this is the first time activity from the past has been observed. Even when you are doing nothing, the brain is busy. Cut off from external stimuli and left to "idle", the brain enters a resting state. "You would expect it to quieten down," says Rafael Malach at the Weizmann Institute of Science in Rehovot, Israel. But instead, the brain just switches gear, producing patterns of activity that are slower but no less noisy. "The activity is very organised, very rich and very consistent," says Malach. But what it means is largely a mystery. Malach and his colleagues wondered whether the activity might in fact be a kind of echo. Could it tell us something about what the brain had been up to previously? "It might be a window into the previous day's activity," says Malach. To test the idea, the team compared fMRI scans of 20 people taken before, during and after a period of intense cognitive activity. They focused on a region of the brain called the dorsal anterior cingulate cortex, which is linked to decision-making and volition. © Copyright Reed Business Information Ltd.

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: 18326 - Posted: 06.29.2013

By Dwayne Godwin and Jorge Cham A new initiative aims to invent new technologies for understanding the brain

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: 18322 - Posted: 06.29.2013

Helen Shen An international group of neuroscientists has sliced, imaged and analysed the brain of a 65-year-old woman to create the most detailed map yet of a human brain in its entirety (see video at bottom). The atlas, called ‘BigBrain’, shows the organization of neurons with microscopic precision, which could help to clarify or even redefine the structure of brain regions obtained from decades-old anatomical studies. “The quality of those maps is analogous to what cartographers of the Earth offered as their best versions back in the seventeenth century,” says David Van Essen, a neurobiologist at Washington University in St Louis, Missouri, who was not involved in the study. He says that the new and improved set of anatomical guideposts could allow researchers to merge different types of data — such as gene expression, neuroanatomy and neural activity — more precisely onto specific regions of the brain. The brain is comprised of a heterogeneous network of neurons of different sizes and with shapes that vary from triangular to round, packed more or less tightly in different areas. BigBrain reveals variations in neuronal distribution in the layers of the cerebral cortex and across brain regions — differences that are thought to relate to distinct functional units. The atlas was compiled from 7,400 brain slices, each thinner than a human hair. Imaging the sections by microscope took a combined 1,000 hours and generated 1 trillion bytes of data. Supercomputers in Canada and Germany churned away for years reconstructing a three-dimensional volume from the images, and correcting for tears and wrinkles in individual sheets of tissue. © 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: 18296 - Posted: 06.22.2013

By Roland Pease BBC News "I'm a neuroengineer, and one of my goals is building brains." Prof Steven Potter was disarmingly understated as he introduced himself. It's not that tissue engineering is unusual. Nor even that doing it with neural cells should be an issue. If heart cells or skin cells can be reprogrammed, why not neurons? But "building brains" had been my flip way of labelling an intriguing, indeed unnerving, branch of science: the neurophysiology of disembodied brain-cell cultures. It was not a term I was expecting a serious scientist to turn to, as I set out on making "Build Me a Brain" for BBC Radio 4's Frontiers Programme. Yet Steven Potter, professor in the department of biomedical engineering at the Georgia Institute of Technology in the US, is insistent that words like "brain" and "mind" belong to his endeavour. "One of the ways in which I differ from a lot of neuroscientists is to believe that there's a spectrum of minds. There isn't some point where the mind suddenly is there," he said. "I think that there is a different amount of mind in different animals. And even in you, whether you've had your coffee or not, whether you're asleep or awake. "There are always different levels of how much mind you have. So you could carry it all the way down to the cultured network, there is still some sort of proto-mind in there." BBC © 2013

Related chapters from BP7e: Chapter 7: Life-Span Development of the Brain and Behavior; Chapter 2: Functional Neuroanatomy: The Nervous System and Behavior
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 13: Memory, Learning, and Development; Chapter 2: Cells and Structures: The Anatomy of the Nervous System
Link ID: 18279 - Posted: 06.15.2013

By Sally Satel and Scott O. Lilienfeld By now you’ve seen the pretty pictures: Color-drenched brain scans capturing Buddhist monks meditating, addicts craving cocaine, and college sophomores choosing Coke over Pepsi. The media—and even some neuroscientists, it seems—love to invoke the neural foundations of human behavior to explain everything from the Bernie Madoff financial fiasco to slavish devotion to our iPhones, the sexual indiscretions of politicians, conservatives’ dismissal of global warming, and even an obsession with self-tanning. Brains are big on campus, too. Take a map of any major university, and you can trace the march of neuroscience from research labs and medical centers into schools of law and business and departments of economics and philosophy. In recent years, neuroscience has merged with a host of other disciplines, spawning such new areas of study as neurolaw, neuroeconomics, neurophilosophy, neuromarketing, and neurofinance. Add to this the birth of neuroaesthetics, neurohistory, neuroliterature, neuromusicology, neuropolitics, and neurotheology. The brain has even wandered into such unlikely redoubts as English departments, where professors debate whether scanning subjects’ brains as they read passages from Jane Austen novels represents (a) a fertile inquiry into the power of literature or (b) a desperate attempt to inject novelty into a field that has exhausted its romance with psychoanalysis and postmodernism. Brains are in demand. Once the largely exclusive province of neuroscientists and neurologists, the brain has now entered the popular mainstream. As a newly minted cultural artifact, the brain is portrayed in paintings, sculptures, and tapestries and put on display in museums and galleries. © 2013 The Associated Press

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: 18250 - Posted: 06.10.2013

by David Robson NO CREVICE of the human experience is safe. Our deepest fears and desires, our pasts and our futures – all have been revealed, and all in the form of colourful images that look like lava bubbling under the skull. That, at least, is the popular conception of neuroscience – and it's worth big money. The USMovie Camera and the European Union are throwing billions of dollars at two new projects to map the human brain. Yet there is also a growing anxiety that many of neuroscience's findings don't stand up to scrutiny. It's not just sensational headlines reporting a "dark patch" in a psychopath's brain, there are now serious concerns that some of the methods themselves are flawed. The intrepid outsider needs expert guidance through this rocky terrain – and there's no better place to start than Brainwashed by Sally Satel and Scott O. Lilienfeld. Satel, a practising psychiatrist, and Lilienfeld, a clinical psychologist, are terrific sherpas. They are clear-sighted, considered and forgiving of the novice's ignorance. Their first stop is the fMRI scan – a staple of much brain research. Worryingly, the statistical techniques used to construct the images sometimes create a mirage of activity where none should exist. They have a telling example: one research team watching a salmon in an fMRI scanner as images of human faces were flashed at it saw its brain spark into life in certain shots – even though it was dead. © Copyright Reed Business Information Ltd.

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: 18222 - Posted: 06.04.2013

Rebecca J. Rosen What would you draw if somebody told you to draw a neuron? According to a new study, your sketch will depend on how much science education you have, but not in the way you'd expect. In the image above, the top row -- those detailed, labeled, neat renderings -- are the work of undergraduates. The bottom row, with their janky, sparse lines, come from the leaders of neuroscience research laboratories. That martini-glass looking thing over there on the left? That's a neuron, as drawn by a professional scientist. The middle row, some intermediary step, shows drawings from postdocs and graduate students. These drawings come from a new study published in the journal Science Education. Its authors, a team at King's College London led by education professor David Hay, found that nearly every single undergraduate student they studied (all but three of 126) faithfully reproduced textbook-style neurons, something akin to a canonical image from an 1899 book detailing the brain, which, the authors say, "has enjoyed an unusually pervasive influence." These drawings are "typified by a multipolar cell body and truncated, feathery dendritic processes around a clearly demarcated nucleus." Many of the drawings were annotated. For the "trainee scientists" -- those in PhD programs or completing a postdoc -- the neurons appeared more like what would be seen in a microscope image. Nuclei were excluded, the number of dendrites was reduced, and orientation was inconsistent -- all characterizing neurons as you would see them "in nature" not in the pages of a textbook. © 2013 by The Atlantic Monthly 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: 18218 - Posted: 06.03.2013

Kerri Smith When Karl Deisseroth moved into his first lab in 2004, he found himself replacing a high-profile tenant: Nobel-prizewinning physicist Steven Chu. “His name was still on the door when I moved in,” says Deisseroth, a neuroscientist, of the basement space at Stanford University in California. The legacy has had its benefits. When chemistry student Feng Zhang dropped by looking for Chu, Deisseroth convinced him to stick around. “I don't think he knew who I was. But he got interested enough.” Deisseroth is now a major name in science himself. He is associated with two blockbuster techniques that allow researchers to show how intricate circuits in the brain create patterns of behaviour. The development of the methods, he says, came from a desire to understand mechanisms that give rise to psychiatric disease — and from the paucity of techniques to do so. “It was extremely clear that for fundamental advances in these domains I would have to spend time developing new tools,” says Deisseroth. His measured tone and laid-back demeanour belie the frenzy that his lab's techniques are generating in neuroscience. First came optogenetics1, which involves inserting light-sensitive proteins from algae into neurons, allowing researchers to switch the cells on and off with light. Deisseroth developed the method shortly after starting his lab, working with Zhang and Edward Boyden, a close collaborator at the time. Optogenetics has since been adopted by scientists around the world to explore everything from the functions of neuron subtypes to the circuits altered in depression or autism. Deisseroth has lost count of how many groups are using it. “We sent clones to thousands of laboratories,” he says. © 2013 Nature Publishing Group

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: 18210 - Posted: 05.30.2013

By Stan Alcorn After decades languishing in jars in the closet of an animal lab at the University of Texas, approximately 90 brains removed from mental patients are finally being documented--by a photographer and by college freshmen. Photographer Adam Voorhes found the collection a few years ago when he came to Dr. Tim Schallert's lab at UT Austin in search of a brain to help illustrate a Scientific American article. "It was something about `protecting your brain' or `barriers for the brain,'" Voorhes told me. "They wanted to photograph a human brain in like a bell jar or a case or armor. Anything to show a brain being protected." Voorhes got the normal brain he needed, and was about to take it back to his studio to photograph, when Dr. Schallert asked if he wanted to see some more abnormal brains. Voorhes described being led through an animal research facility to a storage closet with one wall lined with chemicals, and another wall lined with jars full of brains unlike any he had ever seen before. "Some of them are huge, some of them are really tiny. There was one that had no wrinkles at all," he said. "I don't even know how to explain it." The brains had been amassed over the course of 30 years by a medical pathologist at the Austin State Hospital, who preserved them after routine autopsies. When they were discovered in the mid-1980s, they were the subject of a high-profile battle , as institutions vied to house and study them. "Harvard Scientists Lose Minds: University of Texas Wins Brain Collection" ran one headline. © 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: 18205 - Posted: 05.30.2013

By Gary Stix The Obama administration’s Big Brain project—$100 million for a map of some sort of what lies beneath the skull—has captured the attention of the entire field of neuroscience. The magnitude of the cash infusion can’t help but draw notice, eliciting both huzzahs mixed with gripes that the whole effort might sap support for other perhaps equally worthy neuro-related endeavors. The Brain Activity Map Project—or the Brain Research through Advancing Innovative Neurotechnologies (BRAIN) Initiative—is intended to give researchers tools to elicit the real-time functioning of neural circuits, providing a better picture of what happens in the brain when immersed in thought or when brain cells are beset by a degenerative condition like Parkinson’s or Alzheimer’s. Current technologies are either too slow or lack the resolution to achieve these goals. One strength of the organizers—perhaps a portent of good things to come—is that they don’t seem to mind opening themselves to public critiques. At a planning meeting earlier this month, George Whitesides, the eminent Harvard chemist and veteran of big government ventures in support of nanotechnology, weighed in on how the project appeared to an informed outsider. Edited excerpting of some of his comments follows. This posting is a bit long, but Whitesides is eloquent and it’s worth reading what he has to say because his views apply to any large-scale sci-tech foray. Whitesides began his talk after listening to a steady cavalcade of big-name neuroscientists furnish their personal wish lists for the program: ultrasound to induce focal lesions, more fruit fly studies to find computational nervous system primitives, more studies on zebra fish, studies on wholly new types of model organisms, avoiding too much emphasis on practical applications and so on. © 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: 18200 - Posted: 05.30.2013

By Neuroskeptic Newly discovered papers have shed light on a fascinating episode in the history of neuroscience: Weighing brain activity with the balance The story of the early Italian neuroscientist Dr Angelo Mosso and his ‘human circulation balance’ is an old one – I remember reading about it as a student, in the introductory bit of a textbook on fMRI – but until now, the exact details were murky. In the new paper, Italian neuroscientists Sandrone and colleagues report that they’ve unearthed Mosso’s original manuscripts from an archive in Milan. Mosso worked in the late 19th century, an era that was – in retrospect – right at the dawn of modern neuroscience. A major question at that time was the relationship between brain function and blood flow. His early work included studies of the blood pressure in the brains of individuals with skull defects. His most ambitious project, however, was his balance – or as he sometimes called it, according to his daughter, his ‘metal cradle’ or ‘machine to weigh the soul’. It was in essence just a large balance. A volunteer lay on a table, their head on one side of the scale’s pivot and their feet on the other. It was carefully adjusted so that the two sides were perfectly balanced. The theory was that if mental activity caused increased brain blood flow, it ought to increase the weight of the head relative to the rest of the body, so that side of the balance would fall.

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: 18188 - Posted: 05.23.2013

Posted by Helen Shen More than 150 neuroscientists descended on Arlington, Virginia this week to begin planning the Brain Research through Advancing Innovative Neurotechnologies (BRAIN) Initiative—an ambitious but still hazy proposal to understand how the brain works by recording activity from an unprecedented numbers of neurons at once. President Barack Obama announced the initiative on 2 April, which will be carried out by three federal agencies—the National Institutes of Health (NIH), the National Science Foundation (NSF), and the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA)—alongside a handful of private foundations. Most neuroscientists have relished the attention on their field, but have also been left wondering what it means in scientific terms to “understand” the brain, what it will take to get there, and how much will be feasible in the programme’s projected 10-year lifespan. They gathered at an inaugural NSF planning meeting taking place from 5-6 May to discuss their ideas and concerns. “The belief is we’re ready for a leap forward,” says Van Wedeen, a neurobiologist at Harvard Medical School in Boston, Massachusetts, and one of the NSF meeting organizers. “Which leap and in which direction is still being debated.” The NSF group invited researchers representing neuroscience, computer science, and engineering — as many as would fit in the hotel conference room. Another estimated 200 or so followed the meeting by live webcast on Monday. Roughly 75 participants accepted NSF’s open invitation to submit one-page documents outlining the major © 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: 18126 - Posted: 05.07.2013

by Sara Reardon An electronic patch can analyse complex brainwaves and listen in on a fetus’s heart MIND reading can be as simple as slapping a sticker on your forehead. An "electronic tattoo" containing flexible electronic circuits can now record some complex brain activity as accurately as an EEG. The tattoo could also provide a cheap way to monitor a developing fetus. The first electronic tattoo appeared in 2011, when Todd Coleman at the University of California, San Diego, and colleagues designed a transparent patch containing electronic circuits as thin as a human hairMovie Camera. Applied to skin like a temporary tattoo, these could be used to monitor electrophysiological signals associated with the heart and muscles, as well as rudimentary brain activity. To improve its usefulness, Coleman's group has now optimised the placement of the electrodes to pick up more complex brainwaves. They have demonstrated this by monitoring so-called P300 signals in the forebrain. These appear when you pay attention to a stimulus. The team showed volunteers a series of images and asked them to keep track of how many times a certain object appeared. Whenever volunteers noticed the object, the tattoo registered a blip in the P300 signal. The tattoo was as good as conventional EEG at telling whether a person was looking at the target image or another stimulus, the team told a recent Cognitive Neuroscience Society meeting in San Francisco. © Copyright Reed Business Information Ltd.

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: 18075 - Posted: 04.27.2013

By Puneet Kollipara Brain research has been on a lot of minds lately in the nation’s capital. After offering a brief shout-out to Alzheimer’s research in his February State of the Union address, President Barack Obama went a step further in April by announcing a decade-long effort to develop advanced tools for tracking human brain activity. The administration dubbed it the Brain Research through Advancing Innovative Neurotechnologies initiative, and proposed spending $100 million on the program in the 2014 fiscal year. Scientists have discussed such an endeavor for years, and pushed hard for it in the past few months. Writing March 15 in Science, researchers say the project would develop technologies to probe brain activity on a far greater scale and with higher resolution than is now possible. Current tools can monitor only small numbers of individual neurons at a time or capture blurry, bird’s-eye views of brain activity. The new tools would enable real-time mapping of how the thousands or millions of neurons in coordinated groups, known as circuits, work together. Brain functions — and, in many cases, dysfunctions — are thought to emerge from this still poorly described circuit level. “There’s no way to build a map until you develop the tools,” says Rafael Yuste, a neuroscientist at Columbia University’s Kavli Institute for Brain Science and one of the project’s proponents. Researchers call for developing three sets of tools to better understand brain circuits. One focus is on the creation of tools to measure the activities of all the individual neurons in a circuit. Another is on technologies to experimentally manipulate these neurons. The third tool set would store, analyze and make the data accessible to all researchers. © 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: 18046 - Posted: 04.20.2013

By Neuroskeptic A new paper could prompt a rethink of a technique that’s become very hot in neuroscience lately: Confounds in multivariate pattern analysis The authors are Princetonians Michael T. Todd and colleagues, and the method in question is multivariate pattern analysis (MVPA). I’ve written about this before and there’s a blog dedicated to it. MVPA searches for relatively subtle patterns of brain activity, most commonly in fMRI data. For example, a conventional fMRI study might compare activity when someone’s looking at a picture, compared to a blank screen, and would find increases of activity in the visual cortex. But MVPA might take two different pictures, and see if there’s a pattern of activity that’s unique to one picture over the other – even if overall activity in the visual cortex is the same. Neuroscientists have fallen in love with MVPA (and related methods) over the past 5 years, mainly I think because it’s promised to let us ‘read’ the brain: to not just see where in the brain things happen, but to glimpse what information is being represented. In the new paper, Todd et al make a very simple point: all MVPA really shows is that there are places where, in most people’s brain, activity differs when they’re doing one thing as opposed to another. But there infinite reasons why that might be the case, many of them rather trivial. The authors give the example of two very similar tasks, A and B. We’ll say these are imagining apples and imagining bananas. You scan some people doing A and B. You run a standard fMRI analysis, and find that nowhere in the brain shows a difference in activity, on average, between the two (as expected – they are similar.)

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: 18045 - Posted: 04.20.2013

by Meredith Wadman Fresh from attending President Barack Obama’s announcement of the BRAIN Initiative at the White House on April 2nd, Society for Neuroscience president Larry Swanson, a neurobiologist at the University of Southern California, composed this letter to SFN’s nearly 42,000 members. In the 5 April missive, Swanson, writing on behalf of SFN’s executive committee, calls the Brain Research through Advancing Innovative Neurotechnologies (BRAIN) Initiative “tremendously positive” for neuroscience. Its aim is to let scientists examine and record the activity of millions of neurons at they function at the speed of thought; ultimately, applications to several human diseases are hoped for. The project comes at a critical time in neuroscience, Swanson writes: a time of huge new opportunities coupled with stagnant or slumping government budgets for basic science research. (In the budget he released last week, Obama asked Congress to provide about $100 million to launch the BRAIN Initiative in 2014.) But the SFN letter makes it clear that Swanson wants a lid put on public criticism of the nascent project, which is expected to last more than a decade and ultimately cost several billion dollars. “It is important that our community be perceived as positive about the incredible opportunity represented in the President’s announcement,” Swanson wrote. “If we are perceived as unreasonably negative or critical about initial details, we risk smothering the initiative before it gets started.” In case anyone missed the point, he adds that he encourages “healthy debate” and “rigorous dialogue” but urges SFN members to “bring all this to the table through our scientific communications channels and venues.” He also notes that the National Institutes of Health has enlisted a team of “distinguished” neuroscientists to conduct a “rigorous” planning process. © 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: 18039 - Posted: 04.16.2013

Geeta Dayal Earlier this month, Barack Obama unveiled a grand, new U.S. government initiative called BRAIN (Brain Research through Advancing Innovative Neurotechnologies) that he said would provide “a dynamic picture of the brain in action” and help humanity “better understand how we think and how we learn and how we remember.” The brain-mapping effort is set to cost $100-million in 2014, and hundreds of millions more in the years to come. This follows last year’s move in Ottawa to create a Canada Brain Research Fund with up to $100-million in matching funds to the Brain Canada Foundation. For Mr. Obama, it may be a way to put a triumphant stamp on the presidential legacy, but to those familiar with the field, the new program is a question mark. “This sounds like, um, a PR splash,” David Hovda, director of the UCLA Brain Injury Research Center, told National Public Radio. Donald Stein, an Emory University neuroscientist, argued on LiveScience.com that “without specific goals, hypotheses or endpoints, the research effort becomes a fishing expedition.” Mr. Obama compared BRAIN to the Human Genome Project for its potential return on investment. The comparison is also apt on another level: Like genetics in the past decade, neuroscience seems to have reached a peak in the public consciousness. And that’s big business not just for science, but for the media and publishing industries. Peruse bestseller lists during the past few years and you’ll find a host of titles in neuroscience and cognitive or social psychology, from Thinking, Fast and Slow and The Brain That Changes Itself to Proof of Heaven: A Neurosurgeon’s Journey Into the Afterlife and How to Create a Mind: The Secret of Human Thought Revealed. The well of material is virtually endless – after all, every aspect of the human experience can be tied, somehow, to the brain. As a result, the hype can be bottomless too. Lately a wave of “neuroskeptics” have been calling for more sober second thought. © Copyright 2013 The Globe and Mail Inc

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: 18033 - Posted: 04.13.2013

by Ed Yong The brain has hit the big time. Barack Obama has just announced $100 million of funding for the BRAIN Intitiative—an ambitious attempt to apparently map the activity of every neuron in the brain. On the other side of the Atlantic, the Human Brain Project will try to simulate those neurons with a billion euros of funding from the European Commission. And news about neuroscience, from dream-decoding to mind-melding to memory-building, regularly dominates the headlines. But while the field’s star seems to be rising, a new study casts a disquieting shadow upon the reliability of its results. A team of scientists led by Marcus Munafo from the University of Bristol analysed a broad range of neuroscience studies and found them plagued by low statistical power. Statistical power refers to the odds that a study will find an effect—say, whether antipsychotic drugs affect schizophrenia symptoms, or whether impulsivity is linked to addiction—assuming those effects exist. Most scientists regard a power of 80 percent as adequate—that gives you a 4 in 5 chance of finding an effect if there’s one to be found. But the studies that Munafo’s team examined tended to be so small that they had an average (median) power of just 21 percent. At that level, if you ran the same experiment five times, you’d only find an effect on one of those. The other four tries would be wasted. But if studies are generally underpowered, there are more worrying connotations beyond missed opportunities. It means that when scientists do claim to have found effects—that is, if experiments seem to “work”—the results are less likely to be real. And it means that if the results are actually real, they’re probably bigger than they should be. As the team writes, this so-called “winner’s curse” means that “a ‘lucky’ scientist who makes the discovery in a small study is cursed by finding an inflated effect.”

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: 18020 - Posted: 04.11.2013

by Sara Reardon The Brain Activity Map project launched recently by President Obama – and funded to the tune of $100 million in the US budget announcement earlier this month – highlights the need for research that focuses both on how individual neurons work and the ways that different regions of the brain work together as a unit. Looking at individual neurons requires slicing up brains into thin sections. However, this damages the axons – the arms that protrude from neurons to make connections with other cells – making it difficult to see exactly how brain cells link up. A few microscopic techniques can focus light deep into the intact brains of dead animals to study its structure without damaging the axons, but much of this light is scattered away by the fatty lipid membranes that surround individual cells, making the technique less than perfect. Now Kwanghun Chung, Karl Deisseroth and their team at Stanford University in California have developed a technique that provides a clearer picture. First, they remove the brain from a mouse and infuse it with a see-through gel that collects in the neurons' lipid membranes. As the gel solidifies, it takes the shape of the membranes and creates a matrix that holds the cells' proteins, DNA and RNA in place. Then the team adds a second chemical that dissolves the lipids, leaving a transparent brain made out of gel that retains the brain's proteins, DNA and RNA in their original positions. © Copyright Reed Business Information Ltd.

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: 18018 - Posted: 04.11.2013

By JAMES GORMAN Scientists at Stanford University reported on Wednesday that they have made a whole mouse brain, and part of a human brain, transparent so that networks of neurons that receive and send information can be highlighted in stunning color and viewed in all their three-dimensional complexity without slicing up the organ. Even more important, experts say, is that unlike earlier methods for making the tissue of brains and other organs transparent, the new process, called Clarity by its inventors, preserves the biochemistry of the brain so well that researchers can test it over and over again with chemicals that highlight specific structures and provide clues to past activity. The researchers say this process may help uncover the physical underpinnings of devastating mental disorders like schizophrenia, autism, post-traumatic stress disorder and others. The work, reported on Wednesday in the journal Nature, is not part of the Obama administration’s recently announced initiative to probe the secrets of the brain, although the senior author on the paper, Dr. Karl Deisseroth at Stanford, was one of those involved in creating the initiative and is involved in planning its future. Dr. Thomas Insel, director of the National Institute of Mental Health, which provided some of the financing for the research, described the new work as helping to build an anatomical “foundation” for the Obama initiative, which is meant to look at activity in the brain. Dr. Insel added that the technique works in a human brain that has been in formalin, a preservative, for years, which means that long-saved human brains may be studied. “Frankly,” he said, “that is spectacular.” © 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: 18017 - Posted: 04.11.2013