Links for Keyword: Brain imaging

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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

By Scicurious In his State of the Union this year, President Obama referred to increasing support for science and technology, and mentioned the “Brain Activity Map”. Of course neuroscientists were instantly atwitter. It was the first we’d all heard of any Brain Activity Map. What is it? What did it mean? After a lot of speculation and some quickly formed opinions about whether or not it was a good idea…the White House has now unveiled what the project actually is: BRAIN, Brain Research through Advancing Innovative Neurotechnologies. And what is the project exactly? Will the BRAIN project end up as a BAM (Brain Activity Map)? Or a BUST (Badly Underfunded S**T)? I’d like to explore what I know, and I’d like to hear what everyone else knows as well. Am I wrong? Am I too optimistic? Too pessimistic? Have at. What is the BRAIN Project about? What are its goals? Well, nobody knows, actually. I certainly don’t know. But it appears that no one else knows either. “This working group, co-chaired by Dr. Cornelia “Cori” Bargmann (The Rockefeller University) and Dr. William Newsome (Stanford University), is being asked to articulate the scientific goals of the BRAIN initiative and develop a multi-year scientific plan for achieving these goals, including timetables, milestones, and cost estimates.” So basically, BRAIN is a very fancy initiative, with a fancy name…and so far, no goals. And of course, we’re all excited and trying to figure out what it’s going to be and whether or not it will work. Maybe it would have been in the better interest of the White House to wait until there were…you know, goals. But there is one goal that seems established here: new technologies. © 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: 18004 - Posted: 04.09.2013

By Sara Reardon and Bob Holmes, When President Obama called for $100 million in federal funding last week to map the human brain, he said he was hoping to “unlock the mystery of the three pounds of matter that sits between our ears.” Scientists hope that tracking brain activity neuron by neuron — an effort now called the Brain Research Through Advancing Innovative Neurotechnologies (BRAIN) Initiative — will revolutionize our understanding of brain function in the same way that the Human Genome Project is transforming our understanding of our genes. But just how do you go about mapping a brain? This is a question that two projects with similar lofty goals are already grappling with. The Human Brain Project aims to do it by creating a computer simulation of the entire brain. The Human Connectome Project is using magnetic resonance imaging to track the fibers that connect different regions of the brain on the millimeter scale, giving a rough-grained road map of the brain. To succeed, researchers will need to find noninvasive ways to record the firing of individual neurons, because all current methods involve opening the skull and, often, sticking electrodes into brain tissue. “Right now, you’re literally driving posts into the brain. It’s not very sophisticated,” says neurobiologist John Ngai of the University of California at Berkeley. A few groups are working on new approaches. The MindScope project at the Allen Institute for Brain Science in Seattle aims to map the visual cortex of mice. The team identifies where neurons are firing by injecting the brain with dyes or using genetically engineered proteins that bind to calcium molecules. When a neuron fires, calcium flows into the cell and activates the dye or protein. © 1996-2013 The Washington Post

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: 18003 - Posted: 04.09.2013

by Emily Underwood For neuroscientist Rafael Yuste, sitting in an ornate White House chamber yesterday listening to President Barack Obama heap praise—and some $100 million—on a brain-mapping initiative that he helped hatch was a "luminous" experience. "It felt like history," says the researcher, who works at Columbia University. "There is this enormous mystery waiting to be unlocked," Obama told the East Room crowd packed with leaders of American neuroscience during a 12-minute paean to brain research (likely the most expansive yet delivered by an American president). By "giving scientists the tools they need to get a dynamic picture of the brain in action," he said, the new initiative will help scientists find a cure for complex brain processes such as traumatic brain injury and Parkinson's, and create jobs that "we haven't even dreamt up yet." For all the lofty rhetoric, however, the White House didn't provide many details about how the BRAIN (Brain Research through Advancing Innovative Neurotechnologies) Initiative will accomplish its mission. And the lack of detail is worrying not only BRAIN skeptics—who argue that it targets the wrong goal and could detract from other research efforts—but also even some staunch advocates such as Yuste. The way that the White House has packaged and plans to fund and coordinate the initiative, they say, is creating some unease. "As the proposal stands, it's still awfully vague, so it's hard not to have some reservations," says biophysicist Jeremy Berg of the University of Pittsburgh in Pennsylvania, who is a former director of the National Institute of General Medical Sciences at the National Institutes of Health (NIH). © 2010 American Association for the Advancement of Science

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: 17990 - Posted: 04.05.2013

Dana Smith In January, the European Commission pledged 500 million euros to work towards creating a functional model of the human brain. Then, yesterday, Barack Obama officially announced an initiative to advance neuroscience, funding a large-scale research project aimed at unlocking the secrets of the brain that involves over $100 million in federal spending in the first year alone, as well as investments from private organizations. Both projects are geared towards creating a working model of the brain, mapping its 100 billion neurons. The first, the Human Brain Project, is being spearheaded by Professor Henry Markram of École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne. Together with collaborators from 86 other European institutions, they aim to simulate the workings of the human brain using a giant super computer. This would mean compiling information about the activity of individual neurons and neuronal circuits throughout the brain in a massive database. They then hope to integrate the biological actions of these neurons to create theoretical maps of different subsystems, and eventually, through the magic of computer simulation, a working model of the entire brain. Neurologic and psychiatric disorders collectively "affect 100 million Americans and cost us $500 billion each year in terms of health-care costs." Similarly, the United States' recently renamed Brain Research Through Advancing Innovative Neurotechnologies, or BRAIN (previously the Brain Activity Map Project, or BAM), is an initiative that will be organized through the National Institutes of Health, National Science Foundation, and Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, and carried out in a number of universities and research institutes throughout the U.S. © 2013 by The Atlantic Monthly 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: 17989 - Posted: 04.05.2013

By Puneet Kollipara President Barack Obama has unveiled a long-term neuroscience research initiative that will develop new tools and technologies to study human and animal brains on larger scales than currently possible. Announced April 2, the BRAIN Initiative could ultimately help researchers better understand human behavior and thought and develop new ways to diagnose, treat and cure neurological and psychiatric diseases. The initiative is slated to begin in October, with $100 million budgeted for the project in fiscal year 2014. The National Institutes of Health, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency and the National Science Foundation will lead the effort, which Obama likened to the Human Genome Project in terms of its ambitious aims and the scientific and health benefits the initiative could yield. The human brain remains one of the greatest scientific mysteries. Researchers can now probe only a small number of neurons simultaneously or get relatively crude looks at specific regions or the entirety of the brain. But scientists believe that understanding the action of circuits containing thousands or millions of coordinated neurons could lead to a better understanding of how the brain works — as well as what goes wrong when it doesn’t. Short for Brain Research through Advancing Innovative Neurotechnologies, the BRAIN Initiative would seek to develop tools and technologies to measure and manipulate the firing patterns of all neurons in a circuit. Other new tools — hardware, software and databases — would store the data, make it public and analyze it. The initiative takes its inspiration from a research vision known as the Brain Activity Map, which originated from a group of neuroscientists, nanoscientists and research groups. © 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: 17984 - Posted: 04.03.2013

By John Horgan Does anyone still remember “The Decade of the Brain“? Youngsters don’t, but perhaps some of my fellow creaky, cranky science-lovers do. In 1990, the brash, fast-growing Society for Neuroscience convinced Congress to name the ’90s the Decade of the Brain. The goal, as President George Bush put it, was to boost public awareness of and support for research on the “three-pound mass of interwoven nerve cells” that serves as “the seat of human intelligence, interpreter of senses and controller of movement.” One opponent of this public-relations stunt was Torsten Wiesel, who won a Nobel Prize in 1981 for work on the neural basis of vision. When I interviewed him in 1998 for my book The Undiscovered Mind, he grumbled that the Decade of the Brain was “foolish.” Scientists “need at least a century, maybe even a millennium,” to understand the brain, Wiesel said. “We are at the very beginning of brain science.” I recalled Wiesel’s irritable comments as I read about big new neuroscience initiatives in the U.S. and Europe. In January, the European Union announced it would sink more than $1 billion over the next decade into the Human Brain Project, an attempt to construct a massive computer simulation of the brain. The project, according to The New York Times, involves more than 150 institutions. Meanwhile, President Barack Obama is reportedly planning to commit more than $3 billion to a similar project, called the Brain Activity Map. © 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: 17943 - Posted: 03.25.2013

Monya Baker At first glance, it looks like an oddly shaped campfire: smoky grey shapes light up with red sparks and flashes. But the video actually represents a different sort of crackle — the activity of individual neurons across a larval fish brain. It is the first time that researchers have been able to image an entire vertebrate brain at the level of single cells. “We see the big picture without losing resolution,” says Phillipp Keller, a microscopist at the Howard Hughes Medical Institute's Janelia Farm Research Campus in Ashburn, Virginia, who developed the system with Janelia neurobiologist Misha Ahrens. The researchers are able to record activity across the whole fish brain almost every second, detecting 80% of its 100,000 neurons. (The rest lie in hard-to-access areas, such as between the eyes; their activity is visible but cannot be pinned down to single cells.) The work is published today in Nature Methods1. “It’s phenomenal,” says Rafael Yuste, a neuroscientist at Columbia University in New York. “It is a bright star now in the literature, suggesting that it is not crazy to map every neuron in the brain of an animal.” Yuste has been leading the call for a big biology project2 that would do just that in the human brain, which contains about 85,000 times more neurons than the zebrafish brain. The resolution offered by the zebrafish study will enable researchers to understand how different regions of the brain work together, says Ahrens. With conventional techniques, imaging even 2,000 neurons at once is difficult, so researchers must pick and choose which to look at, and extrapolate. Now, he says, “you don't need to guess what is happening — you can see it”. © 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: 17922 - Posted: 03.19.2013

By TIM REQUARTH For months, Henry Markram and his team had been feeding data into a supercomputer, four vending-machine-size black boxes whirring quietly in the basement of the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Lausanne. The Blue Brain computer has 10,000 virtual neurons. The colors represent the neurons' electric voltage at a specific moment. The boxes housed thousands of microchips, each programmed to act like a brain cell. Cables carried signals from microchip to microchip, just as cells do in a real brain. In 2006, Dr. Markram flipped the switch. Blue Brain, a tangled web of nearly 10,000 virtual neurons, crackled to life. As millions of signals raced along the cables, electrical activity resembling real brain waves emerged. “That was an incredible moment,” he said, comparing the simulation to what goes on in real brain tissue. “It didn’t match perfectly, but it was pretty good. As a biologist, I was amazed.” Deciding then that simulating the entire brain on a supercomputer would be possible within his lifetime, Dr. Markram, now 50, set out to prove it. That is no small feat. The brain contains nearly 100 billion neurons organized into networks with 100 trillion total connections, all firing split-second spikes of voltage in a broth of complex biological molecules in constant flux. In 2009, Dr. Markram conceived of the Human Brain Project, a sprawling and controversial initiative of more than 150 institutions around the world that he hopes will bring scientists together to realize his dream. © 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: 17921 - Posted: 03.19.2013

By Ben Thomas In 1956, a legion of famed scientific minds descended on Dartmouth College to debate one of mankind’s most persistent questions: Is it possible to build a machine that thinks? The researchers had plenty to talk about – biologists and mathematicians had suggested since the 1940s that nerve cells probably served as binary logic gates, much like transistors in computer mainframes. Meanwhile, computer theorists like Alan Turing and Claude Shannon had been arguing for years that intelligence and learning could – at least in theory – be programmed into a machine of sufficient complexity. Within the next few decades, many researchers predicted, we’d be building machines capable of conscious thought. Fifty-odd years after that first Dartmouth Conference, our sharpest supercomputers still struggle to hold basic conversations. We’ve created software that can drive our cars and predict our purchases, but the dreams of a true artificial brain – and of a working neuron-by-neuron model of the human brain itself – look even more distant than they did in the 1950s. The more we learn about how the brain works, the more interwoven and inextricable we realize its components and processes are – and the less like a computer it seems. Take synapses, for example – the points where neurons link up and exchange information. Neuroscientists estimate that a human brain may contain about 150 trillion of them, and no two are quite identical – either to one another, or to any synapse in anyone else’s brain. On top of this complexity, every neuron in a brain is constantly learning, adapting, fine-tuning its sensitivity, tinkering with its synaptic connections – rarely wired the same way from one day to the next. In light of all this, it’s not hard to see why many scientists seriously doubt that we’ll map an entire human brain any time this century – much less engineer a digital version from scratch. © 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: 17920 - Posted: 03.19.2013

By Charles Q. Choi and Txchnologist Scientists scanning the human brain can now tell whom a person is thinking of, the first time researchers have been able to identify what people are imagining from imaging technologies. Work to visualize thought is starting to pile up successes. Recently, scientists have used brain scans to decode imagery directly from the brain, such as what number people have just seen and what memory a person is recalling. They can now even reconstruct videos of what a person has watched based on their brain activity alone. Cornell University cognitive neuroscientist Nathan Spreng and his colleagues wanted to carry this research one step further by seeing if they could deduce the mental pictures of people that subjects conjure up in their heads. “We are trying to understand the physical mechanisms that allow us to have an inner world, and a part of that is how we represent other people in our mind,” Spreng says. His team first gave 19 volunteers descriptions of four imaginary people they were told were real. Each of these characters had different personalities. Half the personalities were agreeable, described as liking to cooperate with others; the other half were less agreeable, depicted as cold and aloof or having similar traits. In addition, half these characters were described as outgoing and sociable extroverts, while the others were less so, depicted as sometimes shy and inhibited. The scientists matched the genders of these characters to each volunteer and gave them popular names like Mike, Chris, Dave or Nick, or Ashley, Sarah, Nicole or Jenny. © 2013 Scientific American

Related chapters from BP7e: Chapter 18: Attention and Higher Cognition; Chapter 2: Functional Neuroanatomy: The Nervous System and Behavior
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 14: Attention and Consciousness; Chapter 2: Cells and Structures: The Anatomy of the Nervous System
Link ID: 17906 - Posted: 03.15.2013

By Partha Mitra The Sherlock Holmes novel The Hound of the Baskervilles features the great Grimpen Mire, a treacherous marsh in Dartmoor, England. Holmes’ protagonist, the naturalist Stapleton, knows where the few secure footholds are, allowing him to cross the mire and reach the hills with rare plants and butterflies, but he warns Dr. Watson that a false step can be fatal, the bog inexorably consuming the unsuspecting traveller. Trying to unravel the complexities of the brain is a bit like crossing the great Grimpen Mire: one needs to know where the secure stepping-stones are, and a false step can mean sinking into a morass. As we enter the era of Big Brain Science projects, it is important to know where the next firm foothold is. As a goal worthy of a multi-billion dollar brain project, we have now been offered a motto that is nearly as rousing as “climb every mountain”: “record every action potential from every neuron.” According to recent reporting in the New York Times, this goal, proclaimed in a paper published in 2012, will be the basis of a decade-long “Brain Activity Map” project. Not content with a goal as lofty as this in worms, flies and mice, the press reports imply (and the authors also speculate) that these technologies will be used for comprehensive spike recordings in the human brain, generating a “Brain Activity Map” that will provide the answers to Alzheimers and Schizophrenia and lead us out of the “impenetrable jungles of the brain” that hapless neuroscientists have wandered over the past century. Neuroscience is most certainly in need of integration, and brain research will without doubt benefit from the communal excitement and scaled up funding associated with a Big Brain Initiative. However, success will depend on setting the right goals and guarding against irrational exuberance. Successful big science projects are engineering projects with clear, technically feasible goals: setting a human on the moon, sequencing the Human Genome, finding the Higgs Boson. The technologies proposed in the paper under discussion may or may not be feasible in a given species (they will not be feasible in the normal human brain, since the methods involved are invasive and require that the skull be surgically opened). However, technology development is notoriously difficult to predict, and may carry unforeseen benefits. What we really need to understand is whether the overall goal is meaningful. © 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: 17879 - Posted: 03.09.2013

Meredith Wadman Ron Kalil, a neuroscientist at the University of Wisconsin–Madison, didn’t expect to see his son among the 28,500 attendees at the meeting of the Society for Neuroscience in New Orleans last October. And he wondered why Tom Kalil, deputy director for policy at the White House’s Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP), was accompanied by Miyoung Chun, vice-president of science programmes at the Kavli Foundation in Oxnard, California. Tom Kalil told his father that the Kavli Foundation had wanted his help in bringing nanoscientists together behind an ambitious idea. Ron Kalil says he thought: “Why are you talking about it at a neuroscience meeting?” He understands now. These two people, neither of them a working scientist, had been quietly pushing into existence the Brain Activity Map (BAM), the largest and most ambitious effort in fundamental biology since the Human Genome Project — and one that would need advances in both nanoscience and neuroscience to achieve its goals. This is the kind of science — big and bold — that politicians like. President Barack Obama praised brain mapping in his State of the Union address on 12 February. Soon after, Francis Collins, director of the US National Institutes of Health (NIH) in Bethesda, Maryland, which will be the lead agency on the project, talked up the idea in a television appearance. The Obama administration is expected to provide more details about the initiative this month, possibly in conjunction with the release of the federal 2014 budget request. But already, some scientists are wondering whether the project, a concept less than two years old and still evolving, can win new funding from Congress, or whether it would crowd out projects pitched by individual scientists. “Creative science is bottom-up, not top-down,” says Cori Bargmann, a neurobiologist at the Rockefeller University in New York. “Are we talking about central planning inside the Beltway?” © 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: 17875 - Posted: 03.07.2013

By JOHN MARKOFF In setting the nation on a course to map the active human brain, President Obama may have picked a challenge even more daunting than ending the war in Afghanistan or finding common ground with his Republican opponents. In more than a century of scientific inquiry into the interwoven cells known as neurons that make up the brain, researchers acknowledge they are only beginning to scratch the surface of a scientific challenge that is certain to prove vastly more complicated than sequencing the human genome. The Obama administration is hoping to announce as soon as next month its intention to assemble the pieces — and, even more challenging, the financing — for a decade-long research project that will have the goal of building a comprehensive map of the brain’s activity. At present, scientists are a long way from doing so. Before they can even begin the process, they have to develop the tools to examine the brain. And before they develop tools that will work on humans, they must succeed in doing so in a number of simpler species — assuming that what they learn can even be applied to humans. Besides the technological and scientific challenges, there are a host of issues involving storing the information researchers gather, and ethical concerns about what can be done with the data. Also highly uncertain is whether the science will advance quickly enough to meet the time frames being considered for what is being called the Brain Activity Map project. Many neuroscientists are skeptical that a multiyear, multibillion dollar effort to unlock the brain’s mysteries will succeed.“I believe the scientific paradigm underlying this mapping project is, at best, out of date and at worst, simply wrong,” said Donald G. Stein, a neurologist at the Emory University School of Medicine in Atlanta. “The search for a road map of stable, neural pathways that can represent brain functions is futile.” © 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: 17850 - Posted: 02.26.2013

By Gary Stix The era of Big Neuroscience has arrived. In late January, The Human Brain Project—an attempt to create a computer simulation of the brain at every scale from the nano nano to the macro biotic—announced that it had successfully arranged a billion Euro funding package for a 10-year run. And then on Feb. 18, an article in The New York Times took the wraps off a plan to spend perhaps billions of dollars for an effort to record large collections of brain cells and figure out what exactly they are doing. Is this the Large Hadron Collider vs. the Superconducting Supercollider redux? Not yet. The billions for the Brain Activity Map, the U.S. project, are still a wish that has yet to be granted. But, despite as-always hazy government finances, brain researchers are thinking large as they never have before, and invoking the attendant rhetoric of moon shots, next-generation Human Genome Projects and the need for humankind to muster the requisite visionary zeal to tackle one of science’s “last frontiers.” Oy, spare me that last part. The challenges these projects have set for themselves, though, illustrate the challenge of going from today’s crude profiles of a biological machine of incomprehensible complexity to an accurate rendering of the goings-on of some 100 billion neurons woven together by a pulsating tapestry of 100 trillion electrical interconnections. © 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: 17849 - Posted: 02.26.2013