Chapter 17. Learning and Memory

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By Anil Ananthaswamy To understand human consciousness, we need to know why it exists in the first place. New experimental evidence suggests it may have evolved to help us learn and adapt to changing circumstances far more rapidly and effectively. We used to think consciousness was a uniquely human trait, but neuroscientists now believe we share it with many other animals, including mammals, birds and octopuses. While plants and arguably some animals like jellyfish seem able to respond to the world around them without any conscious awareness, many other animals consciously experience and perceive their environment. Read more: Why be conscious – The improbable origins of our unique mind In the 19th century, Thomas Henry Huxley and others argued that such consciousness is an “epiphenomenon” – a side effect of the workings of the brain that has no causal influence, the way a steam whistle has no effect on the way a steam engine works. More recently, neuroscientists have suggested that consciousness enables us to integrate information from different senses or keep such information active for long enough in the brain that we can experience the sight and sound of car passing by, for example, as one unified perception, even though sound and light travel at different speeds. © Copyright New Scientist Ltd.

Keyword: Consciousness; Learning & Memory
Link ID: 23785 - Posted: 06.28.2017

/ By Rod McCullom Facebook has problem — a very significant problem — with the violent and gruesome content which has quickly found its way, in numerous instances, onto the social network and its Facebook Live feature, which was introduced to American users in January 2016. The disturbing litany of murders, suicides and assaults have already become macabre technological milestones. These include Robert Godwin Sr., the 74-year-old father of nine and grandfather of 14 who was selected by a gunman at random and then murdered in a video posted to Facebook in mid-April. One week later, a man in Thailand streamed the murder of his 11-month old daughter on Facebook Live before taking his own life. The beating and torture of an 18-year-old man with intellectual and development disabilities was live-streamed on the service in January, and the tragic shooting death of two-year-old Lavontay White Jr. followed a month later on Valentine’s Day. “At least 45 instances of violence — shootings, rapes, murders, child abuse, torture, suicides, and attempted suicides — have been broadcast via Live [since] December 2015,” Buzzfeed’s Alex Kantrowitz reported this month. “That’s an average rate of about two instances per month.” Copyright 2017 Undark

Keyword: Aggression; Robotics
Link ID: 23778 - Posted: 06.27.2017

Rebecca Hersher The first problem with the airplane bathroom was its location. It was March. Greg O'Brien and his wife, Mary Catherine, were flying back to Boston from Los Angeles, sitting in economy seats in the middle of the plane. "We're halfway, probably over Chicago," Greg remembers, "and Mary Catherine said, 'Go to the bathroom.' " "It just sounded like my mother," Greg says. So I said 'no.' " Mary Catherine persisted, urging her husband of 40 years to use the restroom. People started looking at them. "It was kind of funny," says Greg. Mary Catherine was more alarmed than amused. Greg has early-onset Alzheimer's, which makes it increasingly hard for him to keep track of thoughts and feelings over the course of minutes or even seconds. It's easy to get into a situation where you feel like you need to use the bathroom, but then forget. And they had already been on the plane for hours. Finally, Greg started toward the restroom at the back of the plane, only to find the aisle was blocked by an attendant serving drinks. Mary Catherine gestured to him. "Use the one in first class!" At that point, on top of the mild anxiety most people feel when they slip into first class to use the restroom, Greg was feeling overwhelmed by the geography of the plane. He pulled back the curtain dividing the seating sections. "This flight attendant looks at me like she has no use for me. I just said 'Look, I really have to go the bathroom,' and she says 'OK, just go.' " © 2017 npr

Keyword: Alzheimers; Learning & Memory
Link ID: 23772 - Posted: 06.26.2017

Andrea Hsu Intuitively, we tend to think of forgetting as failure, as something gone wrong in our ability to remember. Now, Canadian neuroscientists with the University of Toronto are challenging that notion. In a paper published Wednesday in the journal Neuron, they review the current research into the neurobiology of forgetting and hypothesize that our brains purposefully work to forget information in order to help us live our lives. I spoke with Blake Richards, one of the co-authors of the paper, who applies artificial intelligence theories to his study of how the brain learns. He says that in the AI world, there's something called over-fitting — a phenomenon in which a machine stores too much information, hindering its ability to behave intelligently. He hopes that greater understanding of how our brains decide what to keep and what to forget will lead to better AI systems that are able to interact with the world and make decisions in the way that we do. We hear a lot about the study of memory. Is the study of forgetting a relatively new thing? Within psychology, there's a long history of work examining forgetting. So that's not a new field of study. But the neuroscientists — those of us who work with the biology of how the brain works — have not really examined forgetting much in the past. Generally, the focus for the last few decades in neuroscience has been the question of how do the cells in our brains change themselves in order to store information and remember things. It's only been in the last few years that there's been an upswing in scientific studies looking at what's happening inside our brains at the cellular level that might actually produce forgetting. © 2017 npr

Keyword: Learning & Memory
Link ID: 23771 - Posted: 06.24.2017

Staring down a packed room at the Hyatt Regency Hotel in downtown San Francisco this March, Randy Gallistel gripped a wooden podium, cleared his throat, and presented the neuroscientists sprawled before him with a conundrum. “If the brain computed the way people think it computes," he said, "it would boil in a minute." All that information would overheat our CPUs. Humans have been trying to understand the mind for millennia. And metaphors from technology—like cortical CPUs—are one of the ways that we do it. Maybe it’s comforting to frame a mystery in the familiar. In ancient Greece, the brain was a hydraulics system, pumping the humors; in the 18th century, philosophers drew inspiration from the mechanical clock. Early neuroscientists from the 20th century described neurons as electric wires or phone lines, passing signals like Morse code. And now, of course, the favored metaphor is the computer, with its hardware and software standing in for the biological brain and the processes of the mind. In this technology-ridden world, it’s easy to assume that the seat of human intelligence is similar to our increasingly smart devices. But the reliance on the computer as a metaphor for the brain might be getting in the way of advancing brain research. As Gallistel continued his presentation to the Cognitive Neuroscience Society, he described the problem with the computer metaphor. If memory works the way most neuroscientists think it does—by altering the strength of connections between neurons—storing all that information would be way too energy-intensive, especially if memories are encoded in Shannon information, high fidelity signals encoded in binary.

Keyword: Learning & Memory; Consciousness
Link ID: 23764 - Posted: 06.23.2017

By Kerry Grens Memory theories The theory goes that as memories form, they set up temporary shop in the hippocampus, a subcortical region buried deep in the brain, but over time find permanent storage in the cortex. The details of this process are sketchy, so Takashi Kitamura, a researcher in Susumu Tonegawa’s MIT lab, and colleagues wanted to pinpoint the time memories spend in each of these regions. Total recall As mice were subjected to a fearful experience, the team labeled so-called memory engram cells—neurons that are stimulated during the initial exposure and whose later activity drives recollection of the original stimulus (in this case, indicated by a freezing response). Using optogenetics, Kitamura turned off these cells in the prefrontal cortex (PFC) when the memory first formed as mice were exposed to a foot shock. Short-term memory was unaffected, but a couple of weeks later, the animals could not recall the event, indicating that PFC engrams formed contemporaneously with those in the hippocampus, not later, as some had suspected, and that this early memory trace in the cortex was critical for long-term retrieval. Going dark Over time, as untreated mice recalled the fearful event, engrams in the hippocampus became silent as PFC engrams became more active. “It’s a see-saw situation,” says Kitamura, “this maturation of prefrontal engrams and dematuration of hippocampal engrams.” Circuit dynamics Stephen Maren, who researches memory at Texas A&M University and was not part of the study, says the results reveal that the network circuitry involved in memory consolidation (of which Kitamura’s team dissected just one component) is much more dynamic than previously appreciated. “It’s the most sophisticated circuit-level analysis we have to date of these processes.” © 1986-2017 The Scientist

Keyword: Learning & Memory
Link ID: 23735 - Posted: 06.13.2017

Alex Burmester When you need to remember a phone number, a shopping list or a set of instructions, you rely on what psychologists and neuroscientists refer to as working memory. It’s the ability to hold and manipulate information in mind, over brief intervals. It’s for things that are important to you in the present moment, but not 20 years from now. Researchers believe working memory is central to the functioning of the mind. It correlates with many more general abilities and outcomes – things like intelligence and scholastic attainment – and is linked to basic sensory processes. Given its central role in our mental life, and the fact that we are conscious of at least some of its contents, working memory may become important in our quest to understand consciousness itself. Psychologists and neuroscientists focus on different aspects as they investigate working memory: Psychologists try to map out the functions of the system, while neuroscientists focus more on its neural underpinnings. Here’s a snapshot of where the research stands currently. How much working memory do we have? Capacity is limited – we can keep only a certain amount of information “in mind” at any one time. But researchers debate the nature of this limit. Many suggest that working memory can store a limited number of “items” or “chunks” of information. These could be digits, letters, words or other units. Research has shown that the number of bits that can be held in memory can depend on the type of item – flavors of ice cream on offer versus digits of pi. © 2010–2017, The Conversation US, Inc.

Keyword: Learning & Memory; Attention
Link ID: 23711 - Posted: 06.06.2017

By Katie Langin No one likes a con artist. People avoid dealing with characters who have swindled them in the past, and—according to new research—birds avoid those people, too. Ravens, known more for their intelligence, but only slightly less for their love of cheese, were trained by researchers to trade a crust of bread for a morsel of cheese with human partners. When the birds then tried to broker a trade with “fair” and “unfair” partners—some completed the trade as expected, but others took the raven’s bread and kept (and ate) the cheese—the ravens avoided the tricksters in separate trials a month later. This suggests that ravens can not only differentiate between “fair” and “unfair” individuals, but they retain that ability for at least a month, the researchers write this month in Animal Behavior. Ravens have a complex social life involving friendships and rivalries. Their ability to recognize and punish dishonest individuals, even after a single encounter, may help explain how cooperation evolved in this group of birds. For people, though, the moral of the story is simple: Be nice to ravens. © 2017 American Association for the Advancement of Science.

Keyword: Intelligence; Evolution
Link ID: 23709 - Posted: 06.06.2017

In a pair of studies, scientists at the National Institutes of Health explored how the human brain stores and retrieves memories. One study suggests that the brain etches each memory into unique firing patterns of individual neurons. Meanwhile, the second study suggests that the brain replays memories faster than they are stored. The studies were led by Kareem Zaghloul, M.D., Ph.D., a neurosurgeon-researcher at the NIH’s National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS). Persons with drug resistant epilepsy in protocols studying surgical resection of their seizure focus at the NIH’s Clinical Center enrolled in this study. To help locate the source of the seizures, Dr. Zaghloul’s team surgically implanted a grid of electrodes into the patients’ brains and monitored electrical activity for several days. “The primary goal of these recordings is to understand how to stop the seizures. However, it’s also a powerful opportunity to learn how the brain works,” said Dr. Zaghloul. For both studies, the researchers monitored brain electrical activity while testing the patients’ memories. The patients were shown hundreds of pairs of words, like “pencil and bishop” or “orange and navy,” and later were shown one of the words and asked to remember its pair. In one study, published in the Journal of Neuroscience, the patients correctly remembered 38 percent of the word pairs they were shown. Electrical recordings showed that the brain waves the patients experienced when they correctly stored and remembered a word pair often occurred in the temporal lobe and prefrontal cortex regions. Nevertheless, the researchers showed that the waves that appeared when recalling the words happened faster than the waves that were present when they initially stored them as memories.

Keyword: Learning & Memory; Epilepsy
Link ID: 23704 - Posted: 06.03.2017

By Gary Stix In April, DARPA announced contracts for a program to develop practical methods to help someone learn more quickly. In the ensuing press coverage, the endeavor drew immediate comparisons to the The Matrix—in which Neo, the Keanu Reeves character, has his brain reprogrammed so that he instantly masters Kung Fu. DARPA is known for setting ambitious goals for its technology development programs. But it is not requiring contractors for the $50 million, four-year effort to find a way to let a special forces soldier upload neural codes to instantaneously execute a flawless Wushu butterfly kick. The agency did award contracts, though, to find some means of zapping nerves in the peripheral nervous system outside the brain to speed the rate at which a foreign language can be learned by as much as 30 percent, a still not-too-shabby goal. Sending an electrical current into the vagus nerve in the neck from a surgically implanted device is already approved for treating epilepsy and depression. The DARPA program, in tacit acknowledgement that mandatory surgery might be unacceptable for students contemplating an accelerated Mandarin class, wants to develop a non-invasive device to stimulate a peripheral nerve, perhaps in the ear. The goal is to hasten, not just the learning of foreign languages, but also to facilitate pattern recognition tasks such as combing through surveillance imagery. © 2017 Scientific American,

Keyword: Learning & Memory
Link ID: 23699 - Posted: 06.02.2017

By Mitch Leslie Colin Wahl, a market research consultant in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, was recovering nicely from triple bypass surgery last year when he noticed a white spot on the incision. It proved to be an obstinate infection that required three further surgeries to eradicate. Wahl, now 61, says his mind hasn't been as sharp since. "It's little things mostly related to memory." An avid recreational hockey player, he would forget to bring his skates or sticks to the rink. Certain words became elusive. Just hours after talking to a colleague about Tasmania, he couldn't recall the word. Instead, he says, the phrase "Outback Australia" was stuck in his mind. "I'm trying to remember something and something else slips into that memory slot." Many of us can recount a similar story about a friend, colleague, or loved one—usually elderly—whose mental condition deteriorated after a visit to an operating room. "The comment that ‘So-and-so has never been the same after the operation’ is pervasive," says anesthesiologist Roderic Eckenhoff of the University of Pennsylvania. Often, surgical patients are beset by postoperative delirium—delusions, confusion, and hallucinations—but that usually fades quickly. Other people develop what has been dubbed postoperative cognitive dysfunction (POCD), suffering problems with memory, attention, and concentration that can last months or even a lifetime. POCD not only disrupts patients' lives, but may also augur worse to come. According to a 2008 study, people who have POCD 3 months after they leave the hospital are nearly twice as likely to die within a year as are surgical patients who report no mental setbacks. With the ballooning senior population needing more surgeries, "this is going to become an epidemic," says anesthesiologist Mervyn Maze of the University of California, San Francisco. © 2017 American Association for the Advancement of Science.

Keyword: Attention; Sleep
Link ID: 23691 - Posted: 06.01.2017

By David Z. Hambrick Physical similarities aside, we share a lot in common with our primate relatives. For example, as Jane Goodall famously documented, chimpanzees form lifelong bonds and show affection in much the same way as humans. Chimps can also solve novel problems, use objects as tools, and may possess “theory of mind”—an understanding that others may have different perspectives than oneself. They can even outperform humans in certain types of cognitive tasks. These commonalities may not seem all that surprising given what we now know from the field of comparative genomics: We share nearly all of our DNA with chimpanzees and other primates. However, social and cognitive complexity is not unique to our closest evolutionary cousins. In fact, it is abundant in species with which we would seem to have very little in common—like the spotted hyena. For more than three decades, the Michigan State University zoologist Kay Holekamp has studied the habits of the spotted hyena in Kenya’s Masai Mara National Reserve, once spending five years straight living in a tent among her oft-maligned subjects. One of the world’s longest-running studies of a wild mammal, this landmark project has revealed that spotted hyenas not only have social groups as complex as those of many primates, but are also capable of some of the same types of problem solving. This research sheds light on one of science’s greatest mysteries—how intelligence has evolved across the animal kingdom. According to the social brain hypothesis, intelligence has evolved to meet the demands of social life. The subject of many popular articles and books, this hypothesis posits that the complex information processing that goes along with coexisting with members of one’s own species—forming coalitions, settling disputes, trying to outwit each other, and so on—selects for larger brains and greater intelligence. By contrast, the cognitive buffer hypothesis holds that intelligence emerges as an adaption to dealing with novelty in the environment, in whatever form it presents itself. © 2017 Scientific American,

Keyword: Intelligence; Evolution
Link ID: 23685 - Posted: 05.31.2017

By Ulrich Boser A TECHNICIAN SNAPPED a stretchy electrode cap onto my head, and I felt a cold pinch as she affixed each sensor to my scalp with a dose of icy gel. Perched on an office chair, with a rainbow of wires spiraling from my head, I followed the tech’s instructions to stare at a small orange object while an EEG recording device measured the electrical activity in various regions of my brain. I was checking out the Palm Beach Gardens, Fla., branch of Neurocore, a “brain performance” company owned by the family of Education Secretary Betsy DeVos. DeVos resigned her Neurocore board seat when she joined the Trump Cabinet, but she and her husband maintain a financial stake of between $5 million and $25 million, according to a financial disclosure statement filed with the Office of Government Ethics. The DeVoses’ private-equity firm, Windquest, identifies Neurocore as part of its “corporate family.” The Windquest website posts Neurocore news and includes links for job seekers to apply to Neurocore openings. In other words, the family has a lot riding on Neurocore’s claims that it can help you “train your brain to function better” — addressing problems as diverse as attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder, autism, anxiety, stress, depression, poor sleep, memory loss and migraines. “Unlike medication, which temporarily masks your symptoms, neurofeedback promotes healthy changes in your brain to provide you with a lasting solution,” touts a Neurocore overview video. “. . . We’ve helped thousands of people strengthen their brain to achieve a happy, healthier, more productive life for years to come.” The company currently has nine offices in Michigan and Florida, though there’s been talk of making a national move. © 1996-2017 The Washington Post

Keyword: Learning & Memory
Link ID: 23671 - Posted: 05.29.2017

Carl Zimmer In a significant advance in the study of mental ability, a team of European and American scientists announced on Monday that they had identified 52 genes linked to intelligence in nearly 80,000 people. These genes do not determine intelligence, however. Their combined influence is minuscule, the researchers said, suggesting that thousands more are likely to be involved and still await discovery. Just as important, intelligence is profoundly shaped by the environment. Still, the findings could make it possible to begin new experiments into the biological basis of reasoning and problem-solving, experts said. They could even help researchers determine which interventions would be most effective for children struggling to learn. “This represents an enormous success,” said Paige Harden, a psychologist at the University of Texas, who was not involved in the study. For over a century, psychologists have studied intelligence by asking people questions. Their exams have evolved into batteries of tests, each probing a different mental ability, such as verbal reasoning or memorization. In a typical test, the tasks might include imagining an object rotating, picking out a shape to complete a figure, and then pressing a button as fast as possible whenever a particular type of word appears. Each test-taker may get varying scores for different abilities. But over all, these scores tend to hang together — people who score low on one measure tend to score low on the others, and vice versa. Psychologists sometimes refer to this similarity as general intelligence. It’s still not clear what in the brain accounts for intelligence. Neuroscientists have compared the brains of people with high and low test scores for clues, and they’ve found a few. Brain size explains a small part of the variation, for example, although there are plenty of people with small brains who score higher than others with bigger brains. © 2017 The New York Times Company

Keyword: Intelligence; Genes & Behavior
Link ID: 23650 - Posted: 05.23.2017

By MARTIN E. P. SELIGMAN and JOHN TIERNEY We are misnamed. We call ourselves Homo sapiens, the “wise man,” but that’s more of a boast than a description. What makes us wise? What sets us apart from other animals? Various answers have been proposed — language, tools, cooperation, culture, tasting bad to predators — but none is unique to humans. What best distinguishes our species is an ability that scientists are just beginning to appreciate: We contemplate the future. Our singular foresight created civilization and sustains society. It usually lifts our spirits, but it’s also the source of most depression and anxiety, whether we’re evaluating our own lives or worrying about the nation. Other animals have springtime rituals for educating the young, but only we subject them to “commencement” speeches grandly informing them that today is the first day of the rest of their lives. A more apt name for our species would be Homo prospectus, because we thrive by considering our prospects. The power of prospection is what makes us wise. Looking into the future, consciously and unconsciously, is a central function of our large brain, as psychologists and neuroscientists have discovered — rather belatedly, because for the past century most researchers have assumed that we’re prisoners of the past and the present. Behaviorists thought of animal learning as the ingraining of habit by repetition. Psychoanalysts believed that treating patients was a matter of unearthing and confronting the past. Even when cognitive psychology emerged, it focused on the past and present — on memory and perception. But it is increasingly clear that the mind is mainly drawn to the future, not driven by the past. Behavior, memory and perception can’t be understood without appreciating the central role of prospection. We learn not by storing static records but by continually retouching memories and imagining future possibilities. Our brain sees the world not by processing every pixel in a scene but by focusing on the unexpected. © 2017 The New York Times Company

Keyword: Attention; Learning & Memory
Link ID: 23641 - Posted: 05.20.2017

Shelly Fan The first time I heard that shooting electrical currents across your brain can boost learning, I thought it was a joke. But evidence is mounting. According to a handful of studies, transcranial direct current stimulation (tDCS), the poster child of brain stimulation, is a bona fide cognitive booster: By directly tinkering with the brain’s electrical field, some research has found that tDCS enhances creativity, bolsters spatial and math learning and even language aquisition – sometimes weeks after the initial zap. For those eager to give their own brains a boost, this is good news. Various communities have sprung up to share tips and tricks on how to test the technique on themselves, often using self-rigged stimulators powered by 9-volt batteries. Scientists and brain enthusiasts aren’t the only people interested. The military has also been eager to support projects involving brain stimulation with the hope that the technology could one day be used to help soldiers suffering from combat-induced memory loss. But here’s the catch: The end results are inconsistent at best. While some people swear by the positive effects anecdotally, others report nothing but a nasty scalp burn from the electrodes. In a meta-analysis covering over 20 studies, a team from Australia found no significant effects of tDCS on memory. Similar disparities pop up for other brain stimulation techniques. It’s not that brain stimulation isn’t doing anything – it just doesn’t seem to be doing something consistently across a diverse population. So what gives? © 2010–2017, The Conversation US, Inc.

Keyword: Learning & Memory
Link ID: 23624 - Posted: 05.17.2017

By BENEDICT CAREY MONTREAL — The driving instructor wiped his brow with a handkerchief, and not just because of the heat. His student — a grown woman, squinting over the dashboard — was ramming the curb in an effort to parallel park. “We reached an agreement, right then and there: He let me pass the test, and I promised never to drive,” Brenda Milner said, smiling to herself at the decades-old memory. “You see, my spatial skills aren’t so good. That’s primarily a right-brain function.” Dr. Milner, a professor of psychology in the department of neurology and neurosurgery at McGill University in Montreal, is best known for discovering the seat of memory in the brain, the foundational finding of cognitive neuroscience. But she also has a knack for picking up on subtle quirks of human behavior and linking them to brain function — in the same way she had her own, during the driving test. At 98, Dr. Milner is not letting up in a nearly 70-year career to clarify the function of many brain regions — frontal lobes, and temporal; vision centers and tactile; the left hemisphere and the right — usually by painstakingly testing people with brain lesions, often from surgery. Her prominence long ago transcended gender, and she is impatient with those who expect her to be a social activist. It’s science first with Dr. Milner, say close colleagues, in her lab and her life. Perched recently on a chair in her small office, resplendent in a black satin dress and gold floral pin and banked by moldering towers of old files, she volleyed questions rather than answering them. “People think because I’m 98 years old I must be emerita,” she said. “Well, not at all. I’m still nosy, you know, curious.” Dr. Milner continues working, because she sees no reason not to. Neither McGill nor the affiliated Montreal Neurological Institute and Hospital has asked her to step aside. She has funding: In 2014 she won three prominent achievement awards, which came with money for research. She has a project: a continuing study to investigate how the healthy brain’s intellectual left hemisphere coordinates with its more aesthetic right one in thinking and memory. © 2017 The New York Times Company

Keyword: Learning & Memory
Link ID: 23615 - Posted: 05.16.2017

By SHIVANI VORA Forget that he’s 87. Eric R. Kandel, who specializes in the biology of memory and is a professor in the neuroscience and psychiatry departments at Columbia University, works more than he ever has before, he said. Dr. Kandel, who won a Nobel Prize in 2000, continues to write books and is co-director of the Mortimer B. Zuckerman Mind Brain Behavior Institute at Columbia and a senior investigator at the Howard Hughes Medical Institute in Chevy Chase, Md. He lives with his wife of 60 years, Denise Kandel, 84, an epidemiology professor at Columbia, in Harlem. AN EXTRA HOUR Denise and I usually get up at 6:30, but on Sundays we’re out of bed between 7:30 and 8, so instead of sleeping eight hours, we sleep nine. I wake refreshed and ready to go. CREATURES OF HABIT We eat breakfast first thing and have had the same meal for the last five years: a half a grapefruit each, a cup of coffee and oatmeal. We eat at our kitchen table while we read The New York Times. We compete for the National section, but I also like the Book Review. JOG THE MEMORY I’ve been an exerciser my whole life. I think that activity is good for your memory, your body and your mental state. Plus, it’s fun. During the week I swim, and on Saturdays I play tennis, but on Sundays I work out at home. I start with shoulder stretches on the floor, do 15 push-ups and then walk for 15 minutes on our treadmill. Then, our trainer, Chris, comes over and takes us through an hourlong routine of weight lifting and more stretching. THE JOY OF SEPARATE BATHROOMS Right after Chris leaves, we get dressed for the day. Denise and I each have our own bathrooms, which means two things: I don’t have to deal with her nudging me to put away my toiletries I leave on the counter. Also, we can shower and get ready at the same time. LIGHT LUNCH It may be a banana and a yogurt or a vegetable soup. New York has so many great restaurants, but we like eating at home. Denise is a great cook, we have a nice collection of wine that we like to drink, and we have more control over what we eat. © 2017 The New York Times Company

Keyword: Learning & Memory; Development of the Brain
Link ID: 23582 - Posted: 05.06.2017

Laura Beil Scientists have shown why fruit flies don’t get lost. Their brains contain cells that act like a compass, marking the direction of flight. It may seem like a small matter, but all animals — even Siri-dependent humans — have some kind of internal navigation system. It’s so vital to survival that it is probably linked to many brain functions, including thought, memory and mood. “Everyone can recall a moment of panic when they took a wrong turn and lost their sense of direction,” says Sung Soo Kim of the Howard Hughes Medical Institute’s Janelia Research Campus in Ashburn, Va. “This sense is central to our lives.” But it’s a complex system that is still not well understood. Human nerve cells involved in the process are spread throughout the brain. In fruit flies, the circuitry is much more straightforward. Two years ago, Janelia researchers reported that the flies appear to have a group of about 50 cells connected in a sort of ring in the center of their brains that serve as an internal compass. But the scientists could only theorize how the system worked. In a series of experiments published online May 4 in Science, Kim and his Janelia colleagues describe how nerve cell activity in the circle changes when the insects fly. The scientists tethered Drosophila melanogaster flies to tiny metal rods that kept them from wriggling under a microscope. Each fly was then surrounded with virtual reality cues — like a passing landscape — that made it think it was moving. As a fly flapped its wings, the scientists recorded which nerve cells, or neurons, were active, and when. The experiments clusters of about four to five neurons would fire on the side of the ring corresponding to the direction of flight: one part of the ring for forward, another next to it for left, and so on. |© Society for Science & the Public 2000 - 2017.

Keyword: Animal Migration
Link ID: 23578 - Posted: 05.05.2017

Long assumed to be a mere “relay,” an often-overlooked egg-like structure in the middle of the brain also turns out to play a pivotal role in tuning-up thinking circuity. A trio of studies in mice funded by the National Institutes of Health are revealing that the thalamus sustains the ability to distinguish categories and hold thoughts in mind. By manipulating activity of thalamus neurons, scientists were able to control an animal’s ability to remember how to find a reward. In the future, the thalamus might even become a target for interventions to reduce cognitive deficits in psychiatric disorders such as schizophrenia, researchers say. “If the brain works like an orchestra, our results suggest the thalamus may be its conductor,” explained Michael Halassa, M.D., Ph.D. (link is external), of New York University (NYU) Langone Medical Center, a BRAINS Award grantee of the NIH’s National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), and also a grantee of the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS). “It helps ensembles play in-sync by boosting their functional connectivity.” Three independent teams of investigators led by Halassa, Joshua Gordon, M.D., Ph.D., formerly of Columbia University, New York City, now NIMH director, in collaboration with Christoph Kellendonk, Ph.D. (link is external) of Columbia, and Karel Svoboda, PhD (link is external), at Howard Hughes Medical Institute Janelia Research Campus, Ashburn, Virginia, in collaboration with Charles Gerfen, Ph.D., of the NIMH Intramural Research Program, report on the newfound role for the thalamus online May 3, 2017 in the journals Nature and Nature Neuroscience.

Keyword: Attention; Learning & Memory
Link ID: 23571 - Posted: 05.04.2017