Links for Keyword: Brain imaging

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(By Ashley Juavinett) We love talking about cortex. It’s bumpy, it’s got layers, and it’s probably the brain structure that makes us the very verbal, skilled primates that we are. We also love all of the different areas of cortex—there’s one for face recognition, another for motion detection, and many for decision-making. Often, labs stake claims on their cortical area of interest, diving deep into how that particular patch gets its job done. But how well can we really divvy up that important sheet of tissue that makes us human? Can we confidently say we’ve left one area, and moved into the next? And how well can we translate these borders to smaller animal models, such as mice? Tiny brains with big aspirations Mice are super important to neuroscientists. Sure, they’re quite small and not exactly the most brilliant animals, but we’ve been able to engineer them to mark specific cell types, express glowing proteins, and more. As a result of this powerful murine toolbox, mice have gained a lot of attention from scientists who want to understand circuits and cell types in the brain. In particular, the visual cortex of the mouse has been the site of a lot of discussion, with many researchers hoping that we could use our extensive knowledge about the coarse organization of the primate visual system to ask detailed questions in the mouse brain. However, if we want to use powerful genetic and recording tools in mice, we first need to understand how their cortex is organized. So, many neuroscientists have been working to combine textbook knowledge about primate brain organization with novel techniques designed for the tiny mouse brain.

Related chapters from BN8e: 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: 23935 - Posted: 08.09.2017

Eojin Choi It seems simple enough: Your task is to trace lines with your computer mouse while listening to soothing music, drawing the branches of a neuron. You can rotate the block where the spidery neuron is embedded, and zoom in to see the details. It’s fascinating stuff, if you think about how you’re piecing together the parts and wires of your brain. But as you follow faint signals consisting of blurry white dots, you realize that this game is less connect-the-dots, more hide-and-seek -- it’s often about guessing where the branches lead and erasing mistakes in the process, wondering if your work is even remotely correct. Even if you feel like you’re failing, though, you keep trying for one heartening reason: you’re helping advance brain science. And you're at the forefront of a 21st century trend: "citizen science" initiatives that use data from game players to further ongoing research, including brain research. This neuron-tracing game is called "Mozak," the Serbo-Croatian word for brain, and is among the latest entries in this category. Created by the Allen Institute for Brain Science and the Center for Game Science, the free online game has attracted around 2,500 players since its release last November. They're helping to fill a major scientific gap: We still don't really understand how neuron circuits in our brain are structured or how they work. From images of 3-D neurons inside living brain tissue, players can trace and reconstruct shapes of human and mouse neurons, which can then be classified and studied. This information may eventually help scientists understand and develop cures for brain diseases like Alzheimer’s. © Copyright WBUR 2017

Related chapters from BN8e: 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: 23915 - Posted: 08.05.2017

By Leslie Nemo, Liz Tormes Gray, white and wet, an image of the brain by itself can repulse more often than inspire. But when researchers and artists look past its outward appearance, they can reveal thrilling images of the organ that the rest of us would otherwise never see. Though many of these images resulted from lab work and research into how our nervous system functions, they easily stand alone as art—clearly a neuroscience degree is not necessary to appreciate the brain’s intricacies. For the seventh year in a row, the Art of Neuroscience competition out of the Netherlands Institute for Neuroscience in Amsterdam asked researchers and artists to submit their paintings, renderings, magnifications and videos of animal brains. The committee’s winning entry and honorable mentions are presented below, along with a selection of Scientific American editors’ favorites. © 2017 Scientific American

Related chapters from BN8e: 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: 23899 - Posted: 08.01.2017

By Ryan Cross Can you imagine watching 20,000 videos, 16 minutes apiece, of fruit flies walking, grooming, and chasing mates? Fortunately, you don’t have to, because scientists have designed a computer program that can do it faster. Aided by artificial intelligence, researchers have made 100 billion annotations of behavior from 400,000 flies to create a collection of maps linking fly mannerisms to their corresponding brain regions. Experts say the work is a significant step toward understanding how both simple and complex behaviors can be tied to specific circuits in the brain. “The scale of the study is unprecedented,” says Thomas Serre, a computer vision expert and computational neuroscientist at Brown University. “This is going to be a huge and valuable tool for the community,” adds Bing Zhang, a fly neurobiologist at the University of Missouri in Columbia. “I am sure that follow-up studies will show this is a gold mine.” At a mere 100,000 neurons—compared with our 86 billion—the small size of the fly brain makes it a good place to pick apart the inner workings of neurobiology. Yet scientists are still far from being able to understand a fly’s every move. To conduct the new research, computer scientist Kristin Branson of the Howard Hughes Medical Institute in Ashburn, Virginia, and colleagues acquired 2204 different genetically modified fruit fly strains (Drosophila melanogaster). Each enables the researchers to control different, but sometimes overlapping, subsets of the brain by simply raising the temperature to activate the neurons. © 2017 American Association for the Advancement of Science.

Related chapters from BN8e: 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: 23834 - Posted: 07.14.2017

Fergus Walsh Medical correspondent The world's most detailed scan of the brain's internal wiring has been produced by scientists at Cardiff University. The MRI machine reveals the fibres which carry all the brain's thought processes. It's been done in Cardiff, Nottingham, Cambridge and Stockport, as well as London England and London Ontario. Doctors hope it will help increase understanding of a range of neurological disorders and could be used instead of invasive biopsies. I volunteered for the project - not the first time my brain has been scanned. Computer games In 2006, it was a particular honour to be scanned by the late Sir Peter Mansfield, who shared a Nobel prize for his work on developing Magnetic Resonance Imaging, one of the most important breakthroughs in medicine. He scanned me using Nottingham University's powerful new 7 Tesla scanner. When we looked at the crisp, high resolution images, he told me: "I'm a physicist, so don't ask me to tell you to whether there's anything amiss with your brain - you'd need a neurologist for that." I was the first UK Biobank volunteer to have their brain and other organs imaged as part of the world's biggest scanning project. More recently, I had my brain scanned while playing computer games, as part of research into the effects of sleep deprivation on cognition. So my visit to the Cardiff University's Brain Research Imaging Centre (CUBRIC) held no particular concerns. The scan took around 45 minutes and seemed unremarkable. A neurologist was on hand to reassure me my brain looked normal. My family quipped that they were happy that a brain had been found inside my thick skull. But nothing could have prepared me for the spectacular images produced by the team at Cardiff, along with engineers from Siemens in Germany and the United States. © 2017 BBC.

Related chapters from BN8e: 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: 23801 - Posted: 07.04.2017

By Diana Kwon Glioblastomas, highly aggressive malignant brain tumors, have a high propensity for recurrence and are associated with low survival rates. Even when surgeons remove these tumors, deeply infiltrated cancer cells often remain and contribute to relapse. By harnessing neutrophils, a critical player in the innate immune response, scientists have devised a way to deliver drugs to kill these residual cells, according to a study published today (June 19) in Nature Nanotechnology. Neutrophils, the most common type of white blood cell, home in to areas of injury and inflammation to fight infections. Prior studies in both animals and humans have reported that neutrophils can cross the blood-brain barrier, and although these cells are not typically attracted to glioblastomas, they are recruited at sites of tumor removal in response to post-operative inflammation. To take advantage of the characteristics of these innate immune cells, researchers at China Pharmaceutical University encased paclitaxel, a traditional chemotherapy drug, with lipids. These liposome capsules were loaded into neutrophils and injected in the blood of three mouse models of glioblastoma. When the treatment was applied following surgical removal of the main tumor mass, the neutrophil-carrying drugs were able to cross the blood-brain barrier, destroy residual cancer cells, and slow the growth of new tumors. Overall, mice receiving treatment lived significantly longer than controls. © 1986-2017 The Scientist

Related chapters from BN8e: Chapter 2: Functional Neuroanatomy: The Nervous System and Behavior; Chapter 15: Emotions, Aggression, and Stress
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 2: Cells and Structures: The Anatomy of the Nervous System; Chapter 11: Emotions, Aggression, and Stress
Link ID: 23756 - Posted: 06.21.2017

Kathryn Hess can’t tell the difference between a coffee mug and a bagel. That’s the old joke anyway. Hess, a researcher at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology, is one of the world’s leading thinkers in the field of algebraic topology—in super simplified terms, the mathematics of rubbery shapes. It uses algebra to attack the following question: If given two geometric objects, can you deform one to another without making any cuts? The answer, when it comes to bagels and coffee mugs, is yes, yes you can. (They only have one hole apiece, lol.) If that all sounds annoyingly abstract, well, it kind of is. Algebraic topologists have lived almost exclusively in multidimensional universes of their own calculation for decades. It’s only recently that pure mathematicians like Hess have begun applying their way of seeing the world to more applied, real-world problems. If you can call understanding the dynamics of a virtual rat brain a real-world problem. In a multimillion-dollar supercomputer in a building on the same campus where Hess has spent 25 years stretching and shrinking geometric objects in her mind, lives one of the most detailed digital reconstructions of brain tissue ever built. Representing 55 distinct types of neurons and 36 million synapses all firing in a space the size of pinhead, the simulation is the brainchild of Henry Markram. Markram and Hess met through a mutual researcher friend 12 years ago, right around the time Markram was launching Blue Brain—the Swiss institute’s ambitious bid to build a complete, simulated brain, starting with the rat. Over the next decade, as Markram began feeding terabytes of data into an IBM supercomputer and reconstructing a collection of neurons in the sensory cortex, he and Hess continued to meet and discuss how they might use her specialized knowledge to understand what he was creating. “It became clearer and clearer algebraic topology could help you see things you just can’t see with flat mathematics,” says Markram. But Hess didn’t officially join the project until 2015, when it met (and some would say failed) its first big public test.

Related chapters from BN8e: 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: 23741 - Posted: 06.14.2017

By Neuroskeptic A high-profile paper in Cell reports on a new brain stimulation method that’s got many neuroscientists excited. The new technique, called temporal interference (TI) stimulation, is said to be able to reach structures deep inside the brain, using nothing more than scalp electrodes. Currently, the only way to stimulate deep brain structures is by implanting electrodes (wires) into the brain – which is an expensive and potentially dangerous surgical procedure. TI promises to make deep brain stimulation an everyday, non-invasive tool. But will it really work? The paper comes from Nir Grossman et al. from the lab of Edward S. Boyden at MIT. Their technique is based around applying two electrical fields to the subject’s head. Each field is applied using two scalp electrodes. It is the interaction between the two fields that creates brain stimulation. Both fields oscillate at slightly different frequencies, for instance 2 kHz and 2.01 kHz. Where these fields overlap, a pattern of interference is created which oscillates with an ‘envelope’ at a much lower frequency, say 10 Hz. The frequency of the two fields is too high to have any effect on neural activity, but the interference pattern does have an effect. Crucially, while the electric fields are strongest close to the electrodes, the interference pattern is most intense at a remote point – which could be deep in the brain.

Related chapters from BN8e: Chapter 3: Neurophysiology: The Generation, Transmission, and Integration of Neural Signals; Chapter 11: Motor Control and Plasticity
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 3: Neurophysiology: The Generation, Transmission, and Integration of Neural Signals; Chapter 5: The Sensorimotor System
Link ID: 23740 - Posted: 06.14.2017

By Hannah Osborne Scientists studying the brain have discovered that the organ operates on up to 11 different dimensions, creating multiverse-like structures that are “a world we had never imagined.” By using an advanced mathematical system, researchers were able to uncover architectural structures that appears when the brain has to process information, before they disintegrate into nothing. Their findings, published in the journal Frontiers in Computational Neuroscience, reveals the hugely complicated processes involved in the creation of neural structures, potentially helping explain why the brain is so difficult to understand and tying together its structure with its function. The team, led by scientists at the EPFL, Switzerland, were carrying out research as part of the Blue Brain Project—an initiative to create a biologically detailed reconstruction of the human brain. Working initially on rodent brains, the team used supercomputer simulations to study the complex interactions within different regions. In the latest study, researchers honed in on the neural network structures within the brain using algebraic topology—a system used to describe networks with constantly changing spaces and structures. This is the first time this branch of math has been applied to neuroscience. "Algebraic topology is like a telescope and microscope at the same time. It can zoom into networks to find hidden structures—the trees in the forest—and see the empty spaces—the clearings—all at the same time," study author Kathryn Hess said in a statement.

Related chapters from BN8e: 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: 23739 - Posted: 06.14.2017

By Ashley Yeager A database of electron microscopy images reveals the connections of the entire female fruit fly brain. In this image, types of Kenyon cells (KC) in the mushroom body main calyx are labeled by color: αβc-KCs are green, αβs-KCs are yellowish brown, and gamma-KCs are blue. The white arrows point to visible presynaptic release sites.ZHENG ET AL. 2017A 21-million-image dataset of the female fruit fly brain is offering an unprecedented view of the cells and their connections that underlie the animal’s behavior. The full-brain survey, taken by electron microscopy, allowed researchers to describe all of the neural inputs into a region of the fly’s brain linked to learning, examine how tightly neurons are clustered in the area, and identify a new cell type. “This is the biggest whole brain imaged at high resolution,” Davi Bock of the Janelia Research Campus in Ashburn, VA, tells The Scientist. He and his colleagues published a preprint of their results on bioRxiv this month (May 22). Past studies have produced electron microscopy images with resolution high enough to reveal the wiring of the entire brain of smaller organisms, such as a nematode or a fruit fly larva, or sections from larger animals, including parts of the fly brain or a cat’s thalamus. Imaging the complete fruit fly brain “is nearly two orders of magnitude larger than the next-largest complete brain imaged at sufficient resolution to trace synaptic connectivity,” Bock and colleagues wrote in their report. © 1986-2017 The Scientist

Related chapters from BN8e: 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: 23696 - Posted: 06.02.2017

By Alex Hickson This totally unique mash-up between neuroscience and art shows the stunningly complex beauty of the human brain. Your brain is terrifyingly complicated and is made up of approximately 86 billion neurons which work together as a biological machine to create who you are. But it takes some real cranium contortion to get your head around what those billions of signals and connected web of cells look like. Artist and neuroscientist Dr Greg Dunn combined talents with artist and physicist Dr Brian Edwards to produce this unprecedented work of wonder. But the shimmering never-before-achieved works of art are not as they appear. They are not brain scans but have been painstakingly created using a combination of neuroscience research, hand drawing, computer simulations and all finished off with glistening gold leaf. Both the artists say they wanted the work to remind people that the most marvelous machine in the universe is in our own heads and hope that the brilliant display will reveal the root of our shared humanity. ‘Self Reflected was created not to simplify the brain’s functionality for easier consumption, but to depict it as close to its native complexity as possible so that the viewer comes away with a visceral and emotional understanding of its beauty,’ they write.

Related chapters from BN8e: 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: 23673 - Posted: 05.29.2017

Claude Messier, Alexandria Béland-Millar, The short answer is yes: certain brain regions do indeed consume more energy when engaged in particular tasks. Yet the specific regions involved and the amount of energy each consumes depend on the person’s experiences as well as each brain’s individual properties. Before we delve into the answer, it is important to understand how we measure a brain’s energy expenditure. Picture the colorful brain images researchers use to display neural activity. The colors typically represent the amount of oxygen or glucose various brain regions use during a task. Our brain is always active on some level—even when we are not engaged in a task—but it requires more energy to accomplish something that demands concentration such as moving, seeing or thinking. A simple example is that our primary visual cortex lights up more in brain scans—consuming more energy—when our eyes are open than when they are closed. Similarly, our primary motor cortex uses more energy if we move our hands than if we keep them still. Say you are learning a new skill—how to juggle or speak Spanish. Neuroscientists have made the fascinating observation that when we do something completely novel, a broad range of brain areas becomes active. As we become more skilled at the task, however, our brain becomes more focused: we require only the essential brain regions and need increasingly less energy to perform that task. Once we have mastered a skill—we become fluent in Spanish—only the brain areas directly involved remain active. Thus, learning a new skill requires more brainpower than a well-practiced activity. © 2017 Scientific American

Related chapters from BN8e: Chapter 2: Functional Neuroanatomy: The Nervous System and Behavior; Chapter 13: Homeostasis: Active Regulation of the Internal Environment
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 2: Cells and Structures: The Anatomy of the Nervous System; Chapter 9: Homeostasis: Active Regulation of the Internal Environment
Link ID: 23647 - Posted: 05.23.2017

By Ariana Eunjung Cha Congress unveiled a bipartisan budget late Sunday that contains a number of welcome surprises for researchers who had been panicking since March, when President Trump proposed deep funding cuts for science and health. Under the deal, the National Institutes of Health will get a $2 billion boost in fiscal year 2017, as it did the previous year. Trump had proposed cutting the NIH budget by about one-fifth, or $6 billion, in a draft 2018 budget. The NIH budget continues support for key areas of research, such as precision medicine and neuroscience, that were priorities under President Barack Obama; adds funding to target diseases such as Alzheimer's and cancer; and combats emerging threats such as antibiotic-resistant infections. Here are some of the big research winners: 1) Cancer: 2) Alzheimer's: Alzheimer's is now the sixth leading cause of death in the United States, yet it remains a mystery in terms of its cause and possible treatments. Public health experts expect the number of Americans with Alzheimer's to increase dramatically in the coming years as baby boomers age into their 70s and 80s. The new budget sets aside an additional $400 million for a total of $1.39 billion for Alzheimer's research. 5) BRAIN: Another Obama-era initiative, the Brain Research Through Advancing Innovative Neurotechnologies program, seeks to create a comprehensive guide to the anatomy and functioning of the brain. The budget includes $110 million for efforts to map the human brain. © 1996-2017 The Washington Post

Related chapters from BN8e: 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: 23559 - Posted: 05.02.2017

By NICK WINGFIELD SEATTLE — Zoran Popović knows a thing or two about video games. A computer science professor at the University of Washington, Dr. Popović has worked on software algorithms that make computer-controlled characters move realistically in games like the science-fiction shooter “Destiny.” But while those games are entertainment designed to grab players by their adrenal glands, Dr. Popović’s latest creation asks players to trace lines over fuzzy images with a computer mouse. It has a slow pace with dreamy music that sounds like the ambient soundtrack inside a New Age bookstore. The point? To advance neuroscience. Since November, thousands of people have played the game, “Mozak,” which uses common tricks of the medium — points, leveling up and leader boards that publicly rank the performance of players — to crowdsource the creation of three-dimensional models of neurons. The Center for Game Science, a group at the University of Washington that Dr. Popović oversees, developed the game in collaboration with the Allen Institute for Brain Science, a nonprofit research organization founded by Paul Allen, the billionaire co-founder of Microsoft, that is seeking a better understanding of the brain. Dr. Popović had previously received wide attention in the scientific community for a puzzle game called “Foldit,” released nearly a decade ago, that harnesses the skills of players to solve riddles about the structure of proteins. The Allen Institute’s goal of cataloging the structure of neurons, the cells that transmit information throughout the nervous system, could one day help researchers understand the roots of neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s and their treatment. Neurons come in devilishly complex shapes and staggering quantities — about 100 million and 87 billion in mouse and human brains, both of which players can work on in Mozak. © 2017 The New York Times Company

Related chapters from BN8e: 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: 23533 - Posted: 04.25.2017

Angelo Young Billionaire magnate Elon Musk is trying to fill the world with electric cars and solar panels while at the same time aiming to deploy reusable rockets to eventually colonize Mars. As if that weren’t enough for his plate, Musk recently announced the launch of Neuralink, a neuroscience startup seeking to create a way to interface human brains with computers. According to him, this would be part of guarding humanity against what Musk considers a threat from the rise of artificial intelligence. He envisions a lattice of electrodes implanted into the human skull that could allow people to download and upload thoughts as well as treat brain conditions such as epilepsy or bipolar disorders. Musk’s proposition seems as outlandish and unlikely as his vision for the Hyperloop rapid transport system, but like his other big ideas, there’s real science behind it. Figuring out what’s really involved in efforts to sync brains with computers was part of what inspired Adam Piore to write “The Body Builders: Inside the Science of the Engineered Human,” which was released last month by HarperCollins. Written in plain language that gives nonscientists a way to separate the science from the sensational, “The Body Builders” is a fascinating dive into what’s happening right now in bioengineering research — from brain-computer interfaces to bionic limbs — that will redefine human-machine interactions in the years to come. Piore, an award-winning journalist who has written extensively about scientific advances, spoke to Salon recently about just how close we are to being able to read one another’s thoughts through electrodes and the processing power of modern computers. © 2017 Salon Media Group, Inc.

Related chapters from BN8e: Chapter 2: Functional Neuroanatomy: The Nervous System and Behavior; Chapter 18: Attention and Higher Cognition
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 2: Cells and Structures: The Anatomy of the Nervous System; Chapter 14: Attention and Consciousness
Link ID: 23503 - Posted: 04.18.2017

By Ryan Cross Microscopes reveal miniscule wonders by making things seem bigger. Just imagine what scientists could see if they could also make things bigger. A new strategy to blow brains up does just that. Researchers previously invented a method for injecting a polyacrylate mesh into brain tissue, the same water-absorbing and expanding molecule that makes dirty diapers swell up. Just add water, and the tissue enlarges to 4.5 times its original size. But it wasn’t good enough to see everything. The brain is full of diminutive protrusions called dendritic spines lining the signal receiving end of a neuron. Hundreds to thousands of these nubs help strengthen or weaken an individual dendrite’s connection to other neurons in the brain. The nanoscale size of these spines makes studying them with light microscopes impossible or blurry at best, however. Now, the same group has overcome this barrier in an improved method called iterative expansion microscopy, described today in Nature Methods. Here, the tissue is expanded once, the crosslinked mesh is cleaved, and then the tissue is expanded again, resulting in roughly 20-fold enlargement. Neurons are then visualized by light-emitting molecules linked to antibodies which latch onto specified proteins. The technique has yielded detailed images showing the formation of proteins along synapses in mice, as well as detailed renderings of dendritic spines (seen in the image above) in the mouse hippocampus—a center or learning and memory in the brain. The advance could enable neuroscientists to map the many individual connections between neurons across the brain and the unique arrangement of receptors that turn brain circuits on and off. © 2017 American Association for the Advancement of Science

Related chapters from BN8e: 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: 23500 - Posted: 04.18.2017

Richard A. Friedman I was doing KenKen, a math puzzle, on a plane recently when a fellow passenger asked why I bothered. I said I did it for the beauty. O.K., I’ll admit it’s a silly game: You have to make the numbers within the grid obey certain mathematical constraints, and when they do, all the pieces fit nicely together and you get this rush of harmony and order. Still, it makes me wonder what it is about mathematical thinking that is so elegant and aesthetically appealing. Is it the internal logic? The unique mix of simplicity and explanatory power? Or perhaps just its pure intellectual beauty? I’ve loved math since I was a kid because it felt like a big game and because it seemed like the laziest thing you could do mentally. After all, how many facts do you need to remember to do math? Later in college, I got excited by physics, which I guess you could say is just a grand exercise in applying math to understand the universe. My roommate, a brainy math major, used to bait me, saying that I never really understood the math I was using. I would counter that he never understood what on Earth the math he studied was good for. We were both right, but he’d be happy to know that I’ve come around to his side: Math is beautiful on a purely abstract level, quite apart from its ability to explain the world. We all know that art, music and nature are beautiful. They command the senses and incite emotion. Their impact is swift and visceral. How can a mathematical idea inspire the same feelings? Well, for one thing, there is something very appealing about the notion of universal truth — especially at a time when people entertain the absurd idea of alternative facts. The Pythagorean theorem still holds, and pi is a transcendental number that will describe all perfect circles for all time. © 2017 The New York Times Company

Related chapters from BN8e: 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: 23498 - Posted: 04.17.2017

By Niall Firth The firing of every neuron in an animal’s body has been recorded, live. The breakthrough in imaging the nervous system of a hydra – a tiny, transparent creature related to jellyfish – as it twitches and moves has provided insights into how such simple animals control their behaviour. Similar techniques might one day help us get a deeper understanding of how our own brains work. “This could be important not just for the human brain but for neuroscience in general,” says Rafael Yuste at Columbia University in New York City. Instead of a brain, hydra have the most basic nervous system in nature, a nerve net in which neurons spread throughout its body. Even so, researchers still know almost nothing about how the hydra’s few thousand neurons interact to create behaviour. To find out, Yuste and colleague Christophe Dupre genetically modified hydra so that their neurons glowed in the presence of calcium. Since calcium ions rise in concentration when neurons are active and fire a signal, Yuste and Dupre were able to relate behaviour to activity in glowing circuits of neurons. For example, a circuit that seems to be involved in digestion in the hydra’s stomach-like cavity became active whenever the animal opened its mouth to feed. This circuit may be an ancestor of our gut nervous system, the pair suggest. © Copyright Reed Business Information Ltd.

Related chapters from BN8e: Chapter 2: Functional Neuroanatomy: The Nervous System and Behavior; Chapter 6: Evolution of the Brain and Behavior
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 2: Cells and Structures: The Anatomy of the Nervous System
Link ID: 23483 - Posted: 04.12.2017

By Matt Reynolds If you’re happy and you know it, clap someone else’s hands. A muscle stimulation system aims to evoke empathy by triggering involuntary hand gestures in one person in response to mood changes in another. “If you’re moving in the same way as another person you might understand that person better,” says Max Pfeiffer at the University of Hannover in Germany. Pfeiffer and his team wired up four people to an EEG machine that measured changes in the electrical activity in their brain as they watched film clips intended to provoke three emotional responses: amusement, anger and sadness. These people were the “emotion senders”. Each sender was paired with an “emotion recipient” who wore electrodes on their arms that stimulated their muscles and caused their arms and hands to move when the mood of their partner changed. The gestures they made were based on American Sign Language for amusement, anger and sadness. To express amusement, volunteers had their muscles stimulated to raise one arm, to express anger they raised an arm and made a claw gesture, and to express sadness they slowly slid an arm down their chest. These resemble natural movements associated with the feelings, so the team hypothesised that they would evoke the relevant emotion. Asked to rate how well the gestures corresponded to the emotions, the volunteers largely matched the gestures to the correct mood. © Copyright Reed Business Information Ltd.

Related chapters from BN8e: Chapter 11: Motor Control and Plasticity; Chapter 3: Neurophysiology: The Generation, Transmission, and Integration of Neural Signals
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 5: The Sensorimotor System; Chapter 3: Neurophysiology: The Generation, Transmission, and Integration of Neural Signals
Link ID: 23302 - Posted: 03.02.2017

Ed Yong It’s a good time to be interested in the brain. Neuroscientists can now turn neurons on or off with just a flash of light, allowing them to manipulate the behavior of animals with exceptional precision. They can turn brains transparent and seed them with glowing molecules to divine their structure. They can record the activity of huge numbers of neurons at once. And those are just the tools that currently exist. In 2013, Barack Obama launched the Brain Research through Advancing Innovative Neurotechnologies (BRAIN) Initiative—a $115 million plan to develop even better technologies for understanding the enigmatic gray blobs that sit inside our skulls. John Krakaeur, a neuroscientist at Johns Hopkins Hospital, has been asked to BRAIN Initiative meetings before, and describes it like “Maleficent being invited to Sleeping Beauty’s birthday.” That’s because he and four like-minded friends have become increasingly disenchanted by their colleagues’ obsession with their toys. And in a new paper that’s part philosophical treatise and part shot across the bow, they argue that this technological fetish is leading the field astray. “People think technology + big data + machine learning = science,” says Krakauer. “And it’s not.” He and his fellow curmudgeons argue that brains are special because of the behavior they create—everything from a predator’s pounce to a baby’s cry. But the study of such behavior is being de-prioritized, or studied “almost as an afterthought.” Instead, neuroscientists have been focusing on using their new tools to study individual neurons, or networks of neurons. According to Krakauer, the unspoken assumption is that if we collect enough data about the parts, the workings of the whole will become clear. If we fully understand the molecules that dance across a synapse, or the electrical pulses that zoom along a neuron, or the web of connections formed by many neurons, we will eventually solve the mysteries of learning, memory, emotion, and more. “The fallacy is that more of the same kind of work in the infinitely postponed future will transform into knowing why that mother’s crying or why I’m feeling this way,” says Krakauer. And, as he and his colleagues argue, it will not. © 2017 by The Atlantic Monthly Group

Related chapters from BN8e: 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: 23292 - Posted: 02.28.2017