Links for Keyword: Learning & Memory

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Veronique Greenwood In the moment between reading a phone number and punching it into your phone, you may find that the digits have mysteriously gone astray — even if you’ve seared the first ones into your memory, the last ones may still blur unaccountably. Was the 6 before the 8 or after it? Are you sure? Maintaining such scraps of information long enough to act on them draws on an ability called visual working memory. For years, scientists have debated whether working memory has space for only a few items at a time, or if it just has limited room for detail: Perhaps our mind’s capacity is spread across either a few crystal-clear recollections or a multitude of more dubious fragments. The uncertainty in working memory may be linked to a surprising way that the brain monitors and uses ambiguity, according to a recent paper in Neuron from neuroscience researchers at New York University. Using machine learning to analyze brain scans of people engaged in a memory task, they found that signals encoded an estimate of what people thought they saw — and the statistical distribution of the noise in the signals encoded the uncertainty of the memory. The uncertainty of your perceptions may be part of what your brain is representing in its recollections. And this sense of the uncertainties may help the brain make better decisions about how to use its memories. The findings suggests that “the brain is using that noise,” said Clayton Curtis, a professor of psychology and neuroscience at NYU and an author of the new paper. All Rights Reserved © 2022

Related chapters from BN: Chapter 17: Learning and Memory
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 13: Memory and Learning
Link ID: 28163 - Posted: 01.19.2022

Nicola Davis It’s a cold winter’s day, and I’m standing in a room watching my dog stare fixedly at two flower pots. I’m about to get an answer to a burning question: is my puppy a clever girl? Dogs have been our companions for millennia, domesticated sometime between 15,000 and 30,000 years ago. And the bond endures: according to the latest figures from the Pet Food Manufacturers Association 33% of households in the UK have a dog. But as well as fulfilling roles from Covid detection to lovable family rogue, scientists investigating how dogs think, express themselves and communicate with humans say dogs can also teach us about ourselves. And so I am here at the dog cognition centre at the University of Portsmouth with Calisto, the flat-coated retriever, and a pocket full of frankfurter sausage to find out how. We begin with a task superficially reminiscent of the cup and ballgame favoured by small-time conmen. Amy West, a PhD student at the centre, places two flower pots a few metres in front of Calisto, and appears to pop something under each. However, only one actually contains a tasty morsel. West points at the pot under which the sausage lurks, and I drop Calisto’s lead. The puppy makes a beeline for the correct pot. But according to Dr Juliane Kaminski, reader in comparative psychology at the University of Portsmouth, this was not unexpected. “A chimpanzee is our closest living relative – they ignore gestures like these coming from humans entirely,” she says. “But dogs don’t.” © 2022 Guardian News & Media Limited

Related chapters from BN: Chapter 6: Evolution of the Brain and Behavior; Chapter 17: Learning and Memory
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 13: Memory and Learning
Link ID: 28162 - Posted: 01.19.2022

Sophie Fessl Mice raised in an enriched environment are better able to adapt and change than mice raised in standard cages, but why they show this higher brain plasticity has not been known. Now, a study published January 11 in Cell Reports finds that the environment could act indirectly: living in enriched environments changes the animals’ gut microbiota, which appears to modulate plasticity. The study “provides very interesting new insights into possible beneficial effects of environmental enrichment on the brain that might act via the gut,” writes Anthony Hannan, a neuroscientist at the Florey Institute of Neuroscience and Mental Health in Australia who was not involved in the study, in an email to The Scientist. “This new study has implications for how we might understand the beneficial effects of environmental enrichment, and its relevance to cognitive training and physical activity interventions in humans.” In previous studies, mice raised in what scientists call an enriched environment—one in which they have more opportunities to explore, interact with others, and receive sensory stimulation than they would in standard laboratory enclosures—have been better able to modify their neuronal circuits in response to external stimuli than mice raised in smaller, plainer cages. Paola Tognini, a neuroscientist at the University of Pisa and lead author of the new study, writes in an email to The Scientist that she “wondered if endogenous factors (signals coming from inside our body instead of the external world), such as the signals coming from the intestine, could also influence brain plasticity.” © 1986–2022 The Scientist.

Related chapters from BN: Chapter 13: Homeostasis: Active Regulation of the Internal Environment; Chapter 17: Learning and Memory
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 9: Homeostasis: Active Regulation of the Internal Environment; Chapter 13: Memory and Learning
Link ID: 28159 - Posted: 01.19.2022

Don Arnold All memory storage devices, from your brain to the RAM in your computer, store information by changing their physical qualities. Over 130 years ago, pioneering neuroscientist Santiago Ramón y Cajal first suggested that the brain stores information by rearranging the connections, or synapses, between neurons. Since then, neuroscientists have attempted to understand the physical changes associated with memory formation. But visualizing and mapping synapses is challenging to do. For one, synapses are very small and tightly packed together. They’re roughly 10 billion times smaller than the smallest object a standard clinical MRI can visualize. Furthermore, there are approximately 1 billion synapses in the mouse brains researchers often use to study brain function, and they’re all the same opaque to translucent color as the tissue surrounding them. A new imaging technique my colleagues and I developed, however, has allowed us to map synapses during memory formation. We found that the process of forming new memories changes how brain cells are connected to one another. While some areas of the brain create more connections, others lose them. Mapping new memories in fish Previously, researchers focused on recording the electrical signals produced by neurons. While these studies have confirmed that neurons change their response to particular stimuli after a memory is formed, they couldn’t pinpoint what drives those changes. © 2010–2022, The Conversation US, Inc.

Related chapters from BN: Chapter 17: Learning and Memory
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 13: Memory and Learning
Link ID: 28149 - Posted: 01.12.2022

By Maria Temming It might seem like a fish needs a car like — well, like a fish needs a bicycle. But a new experiment suggests that fish actually make pretty good drivers. In the experiment, several goldfish learned to drive what is essentially the opposite of a submarine — a tank of water on wheels — to destinations in a room. That these fish could maneuver on land suggests that fishes’ understanding of space and navigation is not limited to their natural environment — and perhaps has something in common with landlubber animals’ internal sense of direction, researchers report in the Feb. 15 Behavioural Brain Research. Researchers at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev in Beer-Sheva, Israel taught six goldfish to steer a motorized water tank. The fishmobile was equipped with a camera that continually tracked a fish driver’s position and orientation inside the tank. Whenever the fish swam near one of the tank’s walls, facing outward, the vehicle trundled off in that direction. This goldfish knows how to use its wheels. Successfully navigating in a tank on land suggests that the animals understand space and direction in a way that lets them explore even in unfamiliar habitats. Fish were schooled on how to drive during about a dozen 30-minute sessions. The researchers trained each fish to drive from the center of a small room toward a pink board on one wall by giving the fish a treat whenever it reached the wall. During their first sessions, the fish averaged about 2.5 successful trips to the target. During their final sessions, fish averaged about 17.5 successful trips. By the end of driver’s ed, the animals also took faster, more direct routes to their goal. © Society for Science & the Public 2000–2022.

Related chapters from BN: Chapter 17: Learning and Memory
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 13: Memory and Learning
Link ID: 28148 - Posted: 01.12.2022

By Abdulrahman Olagunju How does our brain know that “this” follows “that”? Two people meet, fall in love and live happily ever after—or sometimes not. The sequencing of events that takes place in our head—with one thing coming after another—may have something to do with so-called time cells recently discovered in the human hippocampus. The research provides evidence for how our brain knows the start and end of memories despite time gaps in the middle. As these studies continue, the work could lead to strategies for memory restoration or enhancement. The research has focused on “episodic memory,” the ability to remember the “what, where and when” of a past experience, such as the recollection of what you did when you woke up today. It is part of an ongoing effort to identify how the organ creates such memories. A team led by Leila Reddy, a neuroscience researcher at the French National Center for Scientific Research, sought to understand how human neurons in the hippocampus represent temporal information during a sequence of learning steps to demystify the functioning of time cells in the brain. In a study published this summer in the Journal of Neuroscience, Reddy and her colleagues found that, to organize distinct moments of experience, human time cells fire at successive moments during each task. The study provided further confirmation that time cells reside in the hippocampus, a key memory processing center. They switch on as events unfold, providing a record of the flow of time in an experience. “These neurons could play an important role in how memories are represented in the brain,” Reddy says. “Understanding the mechanisms for encoding time and memory will be an important area of research.” © 2021 Scientific American

Related chapters from BN: Chapter 17: Learning and Memory; Chapter 18: Attention and Higher Cognition
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 13: Memory and Learning; Chapter 14: Attention and Higher Cognition
Link ID: 28133 - Posted: 12.31.2021

By Elizabeth Preston A person trying to learn the way around a new neighborhood might spend time studying a map. You would probably not benefit from being carried rapidly through the air, upside-down in the dark. Yet that’s how some baby bats learn to navigate, according to a study published last month in Current Biology. As their mothers tote them on nightly trips between caves and certain trees, the bat pups gain the skills they need to get around when they grow up. Mothers of many bat species carry their young while flying, said Aya Goldshtein, a behavioral ecologist at the Max Planck Institute of Animal Behavior in Konstanz, Germany. Egyptian fruit bats, for example, are attached to their mothers continuously for the first three weeks of life. While a mother searches for food, her pup clings to her body with two feet and its jaw, latching its teeth around her nipple. Mothers can still be seen flying with older pups that weigh 40 percent of what they do. It hadn’t been clear why the moms go to this length, instead of leaving pups in the cave where they roost, as some other species do. Dr. Goldshtein worked with Lee Harten, a behavioral ecologist at Tel Aviv University in Israel, where both she and Dr. Goldshtein were graduate students at the time in the lab of Yossi Yovel, a study co-author, to make sense of this maternal mystery. The researchers captured Egyptian fruit bat mothers and pups from a cave just outside Tel Aviv. They attached a tag holding a radio transmitter and miniature GPS device to each bat’s fur that would drop off after a couple of weeks. Then, the researchers brought the bats back to their cave. To track the bats, Dr. Harten held an antenna while standing on the roof of a 10-story building with a view of the cave. She directed Dr. Goldshtein, who was on foot or in a car with her own antenna, to follow the radio signals of bat pairs as they flew out at night. But again and again, there was a problem: The pup’s movement would suddenly stop, while the mother’s signal disappeared. “At the beginning we thought that we were doing our job wrong, and just losing the bats,” Dr. Harten said. © 2021 The New York Times Company

Related chapters from BN: Chapter 17: Learning and Memory; Chapter 12: Sex: Evolutionary, Hormonal, and Neural Bases
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 13: Memory and Learning; Chapter 8: Hormones and Sex
Link ID: 28102 - Posted: 12.08.2021

Alison Abbott There Is Life After the Nobel Prize Eric Kandel Columbia Univ. Press (2021) In 1996, Denise Kandel warned her husband that were he to win the Nobel prize for his pioneering work on memory, then it should be later rather than sooner. Laureates too often turn into socialites, she warned, and stop contributing to the intellectual life of science. Just four years later, Eric Kandel shared the 2000 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine. He was then 71, an age when he could legitimately have rested on his laurels. But resting is not among Kandel’s many strengths. His new book, There Is Life After the Nobel Prize, outlines his achievements of the past couple of decades — numerous enough to dispel Denise’s fears, he writes. It is hard to disagree. The volume adds to Kandel’s respected literary oeuvre, which ranges from neuroscience textbooks to highly original popular science. But it is slight, and feels like a coda. In it, he summarises his post-Nobel research (on learning and memory deficits in addiction, schizophrenia and ageing), writing and public outreach. And he acknowledges colleagues and sponsors of his long career, particularly the Howard Hughes Medical Institute in Chevy Chase, Maryland, and Columbia University in New York City, where he remains a professor and institute director. A fuller and more poignant autobiography can be found in Kandel’s 2006 book In Search of Memory. There, he explains why his traumatic childhood in Austria drew him to study the mechanisms of memory. That book also presents a marvellous history of neuroscience. Making sense Kandel was born in 1929 in Vienna. His family was Jewish and owned a toy shop. When Hitler annexed Austria in 1938, his parents began their year-long effort to emigrate. They finally arrived in New York shortly before the outbreak of World War II, physically unharmed but psychologically traumatized. © 2021 Springer Nature Limited

Related chapters from BN: Chapter 17: Learning and Memory
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 13: Memory and Learning
Link ID: 28100 - Posted: 12.08.2021

By Pam Belluck AURORA, Ill. — There is sobering evidence of Samantha Lewis’s struggle with long Covid on her bathroom mirror. Above the sink, she has posted a neon pink index card scrawled with nine steps (4. Wet brush 5. Toothpaste) reminding her how to brush and floss her teeth. It is one of many strategies Ms. Lewis, 34, has learned from “cognitive rehab,” an intensive therapy program for Covid-19 survivors whose lives have been upended by problems like brain fog, memory lapses, dizziness and debilitating fatigue. Nearly two years into the pandemic, advances have been made in treating Covid itself, but long Covid — a constellation of lingering health problems that some patients experience — remains little understood. Post-Covid clinics around the country are trying different approaches to help patients desperate for answers, but there is little data on outcomes so far, and doctors say it is too soon to know what might work, and for which patients. While some physical symptoms of long Covid, like shortness of breath or nausea, can be addressed with medication, cognitive issues are more challenging. Few drugs exist, and while some deficits can rebound with time, they can also be exacerbated by resuming activities too soon or intensively. Over several months, The New York Times visited Ms. Lewis, interviewed her doctors, attended her therapy sessions and read her medical records. Before she was infected with the coronavirus in October 2020, experiencing a modest initial illness that did not require hospitalization, she was successfully juggling a demanding, detail-oriented job while raising a child with autism and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. But this summer, she scored 25 on a 30-point assessment, placing her in a pre-dementia category called mild cognitive impairment. © 2021 The New York Times Company

Related chapters from BN: Chapter 17: Learning and Memory
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 13: Memory and Learning
Link ID: 28098 - Posted: 12.04.2021

Allison Whitten Every time a human or machine learns how to get better at a task, a trail of evidence is left behind. A sequence of physical changes — to cells in a brain or to numerical values in an algorithm — underlie the improved performance. But how the system figures out exactly what changes to make is no small feat. It’s called the credit assignment problem, in which a brain or artificial intelligence system must pinpoint which pieces in its pipeline are responsible for errors and then make the necessary changes. Put more simply: It’s a blame game to find who’s at fault. AI engineers solved the credit assignment problem for machines with a powerful algorithm called backpropagation, popularized in 1986 with the work of Geoffrey Hinton, David Rumelhart and Ronald Williams. It’s now the workhorse that powers learning in the most successful AI systems, known as deep neural networks, which have hidden layers of artificial “neurons” between their input and output layers. And now, in a paper published in Nature Neuroscience in May, scientists may finally have found an equivalent for living brains that could work in real time. A team of researchers led by Richard Naud of the University of Ottawa and Blake Richards of McGill University and the Mila AI Institute in Quebec revealed a new model of the brain’s learning algorithm that can mimic the backpropagation process. It appears so realistic that experimental neuroscientists have taken notice and are now interested in studying real neurons to find out whether the brain is actually doing it. Simons Foundation All Rights Reserved © 2021

Related chapters from BN: Chapter 17: Learning and Memory; Chapter 3: Neurophysiology: The Generation, Transmission, and Integration of Neural Signals
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 13: Memory and Learning; Chapter 3: The Chemistry of Behavior: Neurotransmitters and Neuropharmacology
Link ID: 28044 - Posted: 10.20.2021

Jordana Cepelewicz Leaping, scurrying, flying and swimming through their natural habitats, animals compile a mental map of the world around them — one that they use to navigate home, find food and locate other points of vital interest. Neuroscientists have chiseled away at the problem of how animals do this for decades. A crucial piece of the solution is an elegant neural code that researchers uncovered by monitoring the brains of rats in laboratory settings. That landmark discovery was awarded a Nobel Prize in 2014, and many scientists think the code could be a key component of how the brain handles other abstract forms of information. Yet lab animals in a box with a flat floor only need to navigate through two dimensions, and researchers are now finding that extending the lessons of that situation to the real world is full of challenges and pitfalls. In a pair of studies recently published in Nature and Nature Neuroscience, scientists working with bats and rats showed — to their surprise — that the brain encodes 3D spaces very differently from 2D ones, employing a mechanism that they are still struggling to describe and understand. “We expected something else entirely,” said Nachum Ulanovsky, a neurobiologist at the Weizmann Institute of Science in Israel who led the work in Nature and has studied neural representations of 3D spaces for more than 10 years. “We had to reboot our thinking.” The findings suggest that neuroscientists might need to reconsider what they thought they knew about how the brain encodes natural environments and how animals navigate those spaces. The work also hints at the possibility that other cognitive processes, including memory, might operate very differently than researchers have come to believe. Simons Foundation All Rights Reserved © 2021

Related chapters from BN: Chapter 17: Learning and Memory
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 13: Memory and Learning
Link ID: 28041 - Posted: 10.16.2021

by Charles Q. Choi Chronic electrical stimulation of the fornix, a bundle of nerve fibers deep in the brain, rescues learning and memory deficits in mice with mutations of the autism-linked gene CDKL5, according to new research. The results support previous work in mice suggesting that electrical jolts to this fiber tract, which links brain regions involved in memory, could help address cognitive problems in multiple models of neurodevelopmental conditions. These animal studies all use deep brain stimulation (DBS), in which electrodes are placed chronically or, in some cases, permanently in specific neuroanatomical regions. In people, severe cognitive impairment, including memory and learning deficits, is a central feature of cyclin-dependent kinase-like 5 (CDKL5) deficiency disorder, which results from mutations that impair production of the CDKL5 protein. Other characteristics include autism traits and epileptic seizures. “Our hope is to help CDKL5 deficiency patients with at least some aspects of their problems — for example, intellectual disability,” says lead investigator Jianrong Tang, associate professor of pediatrics at the Baylor College of Medicine in Houston, Texas. Little is known about how the loss of CDKL5 affects brain circuitry. In the new study, Tang and his colleagues analyzed the brain’s memory center, the hippocampus, in mice with CDKL5 mutations. The connections between neurons there were less flexible, they found, which likely contributed to the animals’ deficits in learning and memory. The mutations also strengthened inhibitory signals in the dentate gyrus, a part of the hippocampus that helps form new memories. © 2021 Simons Foundation

Related chapters from BN: Chapter 17: Learning and Memory
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 13: Memory and Learning
Link ID: 28038 - Posted: 10.16.2021

Sophie Fessl The hormone irisin is necessary for the cognitive benefits of exercise in healthy mice and can rescue cognitive decline associated with Alzheimer’s disease, according to a study published August 20 in Nature Metabolism. According to the authors, these results support the hypothesis that irisin undergirds the cognitive benefits of exercise—a link that has been long debated. In addition, this study has “paved the way for thinking whether irisin could be a therapeutic agent against Alzheimer’s disease,” says biologist Steffen Maak with the Leibniz Institute for Farm Animal Biology in Germany, who has been critical of the methods used to study irisin in the past and was not involved in the study. Many studies have found that exercise is good for the brain, but the molecular mechanisms responsible for the cognitive boost have remained elusive. During her postdoctoral studies, neuroscientist Christiane Wrann found that the gene that codes for irisin becomes highly expressed in the brain during exercise—one of the first studies linking irisin with the brain. See “Irisin Skepticism Goes Way Back” When she joined the faculties at Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard Medical School, she decided to investigate the hormone further. Wrann, who holds a patent related to irisin and is academic cofounder and consultant for Aevum Therapeutics, a company developing drugs that harness the protective molecular mechanisms of exercise to treat neurodegenerative and neuromuscular disorders, began to investigate whether irisin mediates the positive effects of exercise on the brain. © 1986–2021 The Scientist.

Related chapters from BN: Chapter 17: Learning and Memory; Chapter 5: Hormones and the Brain
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 13: Memory and Learning; Chapter 8: Hormones and Sex
Link ID: 27985 - Posted: 09.13.2021

Jordana Cepelewicz Faced with a threat, the brain has to act fast, its neurons making new connections to learn what might spell the difference between life and death. But in its response, the brain also raises the stakes: As an unsettling recent discovery shows, to express learning and memory genes more quickly, brain cells snap their DNA into pieces at many key points, and then rebuild their fractured genome later. The finding doesn’t just provide insights into the nature of the brain’s plasticity. It also demonstrates that DNA breakage may be a routine and important part of normal cellular processes — which has implications for how scientists think about aging and disease, and how they approach genomic events they’ve typically written off as merely bad luck. The discovery is all the more surprising because DNA double-strand breaks, in which both rails of the helical ladder get cut at the same position along the genome, are a particularly dangerous kind of genetic damage associated with cancer, neurodegeneration and aging. It’s more difficult for cells to repair double-strand breaks than other kinds of DNA damage because there isn’t an intact “template” left to guide the reattachment of the strands. Yet it’s also long been recognized that DNA breakage sometimes plays a constructive role, too. When cells are dividing, double-strand breaks allow for the normal process of genetic recombination between chromosomes. In the developing immune system, they enable pieces of DNA to recombine and generate a diverse repertoire of antibodies. Double-strand breaks have also been implicated in neuronal development and in helping turn certain genes on. Still, those functions have seemed like exceptions to the rule that double-strand breaks are accidental and unwelcome. All Rights Reserved © 2021

Related chapters from BN: Chapter 17: Learning and Memory; Chapter 7: Life-Span Development of the Brain and Behavior
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 13: Memory and Learning; Chapter 13: Memory and Learning
Link ID: 27975 - Posted: 09.01.2021

Virginia Morell Goffin’s cockatoos (Cacatua goffiniana) are so smart they’ve been compared to 3-year-old humans. But what 3-year-old has made their own cutlery set? Scientists have observed wild cockatoos, members of the parrot family, crafting the equivalent of a crowbar, an ice pick, and a spoon to pry open one of their favorite fruits. This is the first time any bird species has been seen creating and using a set of tools in a specific order—a cognitively challenging behavior previously known only in humans, chimpanzees, and capuchin monkeys. The work “supports the idea that parrots have a general [type of] intelligence that allows them to innovate creative solutions to the problems they run into in nature,” says Alex Taylor, a biologist who studies New Caledonian crows at the University of Auckland. “[It] establishes this species as one of the avian family’s most proficient wild tool users.” The discovery happened serendipitously when behavioral ecologist Mark O’Hara was working with wild but captive birds in a research aviary on Yamdena Island in Indonesia. “I’d just turned away, and when I looked back, one of the birds was making and using tools,” says O’Hara, of the Messerli Research Institute. “I couldn’t believe my eyes!” The Goffin’s cockatoo is known for being a clever and innovative social learner. In captivity, the birds have solved complex puzzle boxes and invented rakelike tools to retrieve objects. Several other birds, including hyacinth macaws and New Caledonian crows, make and use tools in the wild, often to extract food, but none seems to make a set of tools. For the new study, O’Hara and his colleagues traveled to this cockatoo’s home on Indonesia’s Tanimbar Islands. The birds live high in the tropical forest canopy, making them difficult to observe. The scientists spent almost 900 hours looking up to watch wild cockatoos feed, but didn’t witness tool use.

Related chapters from BN: Chapter 6: Evolution of the Brain and Behavior; Chapter 17: Learning and Memory
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 13: Memory and Learning
Link ID: 27974 - Posted: 09.01.2021

By Gretchen Reynolds An intriguing new study shows how exercise may bolster brain health. The study was in mice, but it found that a hormone produced by muscles during exercise can cross into the brain and enhance the health and function of neurons, improving thinking and memory in both healthy animals and those with a rodent version of Alzheimer’s disease. Earlier research shows that people produce the same hormone during exercise, and together the findings suggest that moving could alter the trajectory of memory loss in aging and dementia. We have plenty of evidence already that exercise is good for the brain. Studies in both people and animals show that exercise prompts the creation of new neurons in the brain’s memory center and then helps those new cells survive, mature and integrate into the brain’s neural network, where they can aid in thinking and remembering. Large-scale epidemiological studies also indicate that active people tend to be far less likely to develop Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia than people who rarely exercise. But how does working out affect the inner workings of our brains at a molecular level? Scientists have speculated that exercise might directly change the biochemical environment inside the brain, without involving muscles. Alternatively, the muscles and other tissues might release substances during physical activity that travel to the brain and jump-start processes there, leading to the subsequent improvements in brain health. But in that case, the substances would have to be able to pass through the protective and mostly impermeable blood-brain barrier that separates our brains from the rest of our bodies. Those tangled issues were of particular interest a decade ago to a large group of scientists at Harvard Medical School and other institutions. In 2012, some of these researchers, led by Bruce M. Spiegelman, the Stanley J. Korsmeyer Professor of Cell Biology and Medicine at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute and Harvard Medical School, identified a previously unknown hormone produced in the muscles of lab rodents and people during exercise and then released into the bloodstream. They named the new hormone irisin, after the messenger god Iris in Greek mythology. © 2021 The New York Times Company

Related chapters from BN: Chapter 17: Learning and Memory; Chapter 5: Hormones and the Brain
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 13: Memory and Learning; Chapter 8: Hormones and Sex
Link ID: 27961 - Posted: 08.25.2021

Natalie Grover Cuttlefish have one of the largest brains among invertebrates and can remember what, where, and when specific things happened right up to their final days of life, according to new research. The cephalopods – which have three hearts, eight arms, blue-green blood, regenerating limbs, and the ability to camouflage and exert self-control – only live for roughly two years. As they get older, they show signs of declining muscle function and appetite, but it appears that no matter their age they can remember what they ate, where and when, and use this to guide their future feeding decisions, said the lead study author, Dr Alexandra Schnell from the University of Cambridge. This is in contrast to humans, who gradually lose the ability to remember experiences that occurred at a particular time and place with age – for instance, what you ate for lunch last Wednesday. This “episodic memory” and its deterioration is linked to the hippocampus, a seahorse-shaped organ in the part of the brain near our ears. Cuttlefish, meanwhile, do not have a hippocampus, but a “vertical lobe” associated with learning and memory. In the study, Schnell and her colleagues conducted memory tests in 24 cuttlefish. Half were 10-12 months old (not quite adults) while the rest were 22-24 months old (the equivalent of a human in their 90s), according to the paper, published in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B. In one experiment, both groups of cuttlefish were first trained to approach a specific location in their tank, marked with a flag, and learn that two different foods would be provided at different times. At one spot, the flag was waved and the less-preferred king prawn was provided every hour. Grass shrimp, which they like more, was provided at a different spot where another flag was waved – but only every three hours. This was done for about four weeks, until they learned that waiting for longer meant that they could get their preferred food. © 2021 Guardian News & Media Limited

Related chapters from BN: Chapter 6: Evolution of the Brain and Behavior; Chapter 17: Learning and Memory
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 13: Memory and Learning
Link ID: 27951 - Posted: 08.18.2021

By Annie Roth As anyone who has ever tried to eat french fries on a beach will attest, stealing is not an uncommon behavior among birds. In fact, many birds are quite skilled at bold and brazen theft. Scientists have documented several species of birds, including magpies, bowerbirds, and black kites, looting everything from discarded plastic to expensive jewelry to decorate their nests. And then there are birds who want hair, and will go to great lengths to get their beaks on it. Hair from dogs, raccoons and even humans has been found in the nests of birds, which scientists believe makes the nests better insulated. For a long time, scientists assumed that birds had to collect hair that had been shed or scavenge it from mammal carcasses. However, a new study, published last week in the journal Ecology, shows that several species of bird, including chickadees and titmice, don’t just scavenge hair, they steal it. The study, based largely on analysis of YouTube videos, shows numerous examples of birds pulling tufts of hair from living mammals, including humans. This phenomenon, which the study’s authors have dubbed “kleptotrichy,” has been well-documented by birders on the web, but this is the first time scientists have formally recognized it. “This is just another example of something that was overlooked in the scientific literature but was common knowledge in the bird watching and bird feeding community,” said Henry Pollock, a postdoctoral researcher in ornithology at the University of Illinois and co-author of the new study. Last spring, Dr. Pollock was participating in his university’s annual spring bird count when a tufted titmouse caught his eye. It was flitting near a raccoon sleeping soundly on a tree branch, inching closer and closer to it. Then, to Dr. Pollock’s amusement, the tiny bird began plucking tufts of the raccoon’s fur. The titmouse managed to steal over 20 beak-fulls of the raccoon’s fur without waking it. © 2021 The New York Times Company

Related chapters from BN: Chapter 6: Evolution of the Brain and Behavior; Chapter 17: Learning and Memory
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 13: Memory and Learning
Link ID: 27937 - Posted: 08.07.2021

By James Gorman You’ve heard of trash pandas: Raccoons raiding the garbage. How about trash parrots? Sulfur-crested cockatoos, which may sound exotic to Americans and Europeans, are everywhere in suburban areas of Sydney. They have adapted to the human environment, and since they are known to be clever at manipulating objects it’s not entirely surprising that they went after a rich food source. But you might say that the spread of their latest trick, to open trash cans, blows the lid off social learning and cultural evolution in animals. Not only do the birds acquire the skill by imitating others, which is social learning. But the details of technique evolve to differ in different groups as the innovation spreads, a mark of animal culture. Barbara C. Klump, a behavioral ecologist at the Max Planck Institute of Animal Behavior in Germany, and the first author of a report on the cockatoo research in the journal Science, said, “It’s actually quite a complex behavior because it has multiple steps.” Dr. Klump and her colleagues broke the behavior down into five moves. First a bird uses its bill to pry the lid from the container. Then, she said, “they open it and then they hold it and then they walk along one side and then they flip it over. And at each of these stages, there is variation.” Some birds walk left, some right, they step differently or hold their heads differently. The process is similar to the spread and evolution of human cultural innovations like language, or a classic example of animal culture, bird song, which can vary from region to region in the same species. Dr. Klump and her colleagues in Germany and Australia plotted the spread of the behavior in greater Sydney over the course of two years. The behavior became more common, but it didn’t pop up in random locations as it might if different birds were figuring out the trash bin technique on their own. It spread outward from its origin, indicating that the cockatoos were learning how to do it from each other. © 2021 The New York Times Company

Related chapters from BN: Chapter 17: Learning and Memory; Chapter 6: Evolution of the Brain and Behavior
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 13: Memory and Learning
Link ID: 27928 - Posted: 07.28.2021

Christie Wilcox One of the most well-studied synapses in the brain continues to surprise neuroscientists. According to a May 18 study in Nature Communications, mossy fiber synapses, so named because their terminals look a bit like moss growing on the axons, have an unexpected way of regulating the flow of information in the hippocampus: the postsynaptic cells that receive neurotransmitter signals can release their own glutamate to tamp down the transmission from the cell on the presynaptic side. This so-called retrograde signaling was totally unexpected and depends on calcium influx to the postsynaptic cell, meaning researchers might have to rethink the results of past experiments that used in vitro conditions with different calcium availability. The findings are “a big deal” for neuroscientists, says Chris McBain, a synaptic physiologist at the National Institutes of Health who was not involved in the study. “Retrograde glutamatergic signaling is a really rare occurrence in the central nervous system,” he notes, and to find it in mossy fibers “adds another layer of complexity onto one of the most complex synapses.” The researchers behind the new paper, led by neurophysiologist Peter Jonas of the Institute of Science and Technology Austria, were investigating the plasticity of hippocampal neurons, the dynamic changes in connections between cells that contribute to the functioning of neural circuits and that ultimately underlie learning, memory, and other cognitive abilities. János Szabadics, a neurophysiologist at the Institute of Experimental Medicine, Budapest, puts it quite simply: “Without synaptic plasticity, the brain would be just a bag of wires,” he says. © 1986–2021 The Scientist.

Related chapters from BN: Chapter 17: Learning and Memory; Chapter 4: The Chemistry of Behavior: Neurotransmitters and Neuropharmacology
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 13: Memory and Learning; Chapter 4: Development of the Brain
Link ID: 27923 - Posted: 07.24.2021