May 29, 2011

Short Video: Before and After Deep Brain Stimulation

brain networks,neuroscience,video — alice @ 1:42 am

Although there is still a lot to be learned about deep brain stimulation (DBS), the potential use of DBS seems like it could be promising. Click here to watch a video of a Tourette syndrome patient before and after his DBS operation. After the stimulation is turned on, it appears as if the patient’s Tourette symptoms disappear. However, despite the positive results of DBS for this particular patient, it is important to keep in mind the DBS is not a cure and that it is highly invasive.

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May 28, 2011

A Conversation on the Neuroethics of Deep Brain Stimulation

In this webcast provided by the Dana Foundation, Drs. Philip Campbell, Joseph Fins, Jonathan Moreno and Helen Mayberg discussed the ethical considerations of using deep brain stimulation. The topics covered in this interesting discussion included surgical experimentation, consciousness, depression, technology and public policy. Dr. Judy Illes served as the moderator.

Click here for the webcast.

Click here for an edited transcript of the discussion.

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April 20, 2011

Addiction and Brain Circuits

From Brain Briefings:

Humans have always struggled with addictions to mind-altering substances. Yet, only in the past few decades have neuroscientists begun to understand precisely how these substances affect the brain — and why they can quickly become a destructive and even deadly habit. 

For a long time, society viewed addiction as a moral failing. The addict was seen as someone who simply lacked self-control. Today, thanks to new advances in brain imaging and other technologies, we know that addiction is a disease characterized by profound disruptions in particular routes — or circuits — in the brain.

Scientists are learning how genetics and environmental factors, such as stress, contribute to these neural disruptions and increase the risk of addiction. This ongoing research is allowing researchers to:

  • Understand how addictive substances affect the brain’s reward system.
  • Develop more effective therapies for treating drug abuse and addiction.
  • Establish better methods of detecting people at risk of developing addictions.

Click here to read the complete article.

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April 19, 2011

Scientists find way to map brain’s complexity

From Reuters:

Scientists say they have moved a step closer to developing a computer model of the brain after finding a way to map both the connections and functions of nerve cells in the brain together for the first time.

In a study in the journal Nature on Sunday, researchers from Britain’s University College London (UCL) described a technique developed in mice which enabled them to combine information about the function of neurons with details of their connections.

The study is part of an emerging area of neuroscience research known as ‘connectomics‘. A little like genomics, which maps our genetic make-up, connectomics aims to map the brain’s connections, known as synapses.

By untangling and being able to map these connections — and deciphering how information flows through the brain’s circuits — scientists hope to understand how thoughts and perceptions are generated in the brain and how these functions go wrong in diseases such as Alzheimer’s, schizophrenia and stroke.

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April 12, 2011

Using light to probe the brain’s self-repair after a stroke

Anne McIlroy of The Globe and Mail has written a nice article on how researchers are using optogenetics to study how the brain repairs itself after a stroke.

Click here to read the article.

Click here for videos on optogenetics.

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March 29, 2011

Being rejected a real pain, brain images show

From CBC News:

The pain of rejection is more than just a figure of speech: regions of the brain that respond to physical pain overlap with those that react to social rejection, a brain imaging study shows.

The study used brain imaging on people involved in romantic breakups.

“These results give new meaning to the idea that rejection ‘hurts,”‘ wrote psychology professor Ethan Kross of the University of Michigan and his colleagues. Their findings are reported in Tuesday’s edition of Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Co-author Edward Smith of Columbia University explained that the research shows that psychological or social events can affect regions of the brain that scientists thought were dedicated to physical pain.

Click here to read the rest of the article.

Click here for full access to the study published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

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March 23, 2011

“I Am My Connectome”: TED Talk given by Sebastian Seung

In this TED talk Sebastian Seung, Professor of Computational Neuroscience in the Department of Brain and Cognitive Sciences and the Department of Physics at MIT, discusses the “connectome” – the connections formed between neurons – and its possible role in consciousness. Dr. Seung highlights neuroscientists’ belief that neural activity is the physical basis of thoughts, feelings and perceptions and discusses the relation between neural activity and the connectome: neural activity travels through a connectome, but at the same time, these connections can grow and be modified by neural activity and experience. As Dr. Seung put it “the connectome is where nature meets nurture”.

This is a TED talk (about 20 mins) you don’t want to miss! Click here to watch the talk.

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February 24, 2011

Meditation alters your grey matter, studies show

From the Globe and Mail:

Move over cryptic crosswords and Sudoku, and make way for the ultimate mental workout. It’s called Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction, or MBSR for short. Recent neuroscience research shows that novices using the method – developed at the University of Massachusetts Medical School in the 1970s – can get results in just eight weeks.

Brain-changing results, that is.

A 2010 study found that non-meditators who had eight weeks of MBSR training were more likely than a control group to access the brain region that provides a bodily sense of the “here and now” as opposed to the region associated with worry.

In other research published in January, brain scans of MBSR participants with no previous meditation experience showed increased grey-matter density in regions involved in learning and memory, emotion regulation, self-awareness and perspective taking.

Click here to read the rest of the article.

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February 23, 2011

Scientists look to new imaging techniques to measure metals in the brain

From the Globe and Mail:

We are metal heads. Our brains need iron, copper, manganese and zinc to function, yet there is growing evidence that these metals may play a role in Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease multiple sclerosis and other illnesses.

Canadian scientists are developing new imaging techniques to accurately map and measure metals in the brain, a crucial step toward learning more about why they are so essential, as well as understanding the damage they can cause under some circumstances.

Click here to read the rest of the article.

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February 19, 2011

How Brains Are Built: Principles of Computational Neuroscience

From The Dana Foundation:

Editor’s note: The goal of computational neuroscience is to understand the brain and its mechanisms well enough to artificially simulate their functions. In some areas, like hearing, vision, and prosthetics, there have been great advances in the field. Yet there is still much about the brain that is unknown and therefore cannot be artificially replicated: How does the brain use language, make complex associations, or organize learned experiences? Once the neural pathways responsible for these and many other functions are fully understood and reconstructed, researchers will have the ability to build systems that can match—and maybe even exceed—the brain’s capabilities.

“If I cannot build it, I do not understand it.” So said Nobel laureate Richard Feynman, and by his metric, we understand a bit about physics, less about chemistry, and almost nothing about biology.1

When we fully understand a phenomenon, we can specify its entire sequence of events, causes, and effects so completely that it is possible to fully simulate it, with all its internal mechanisms intact. Achieving that level of understanding is rare. It is commensurate with constructing a full design for a machine that could serve as a stand-in for the thing being studied.  To understand a phenomenon sufficiently to fully simulate it is to understand it computationally.

“Computation” does not refer to computers per se; rather it refers to the underlying principles and methods that make them work. As Turing Award recipient Edsger Dijkstra said, computational science “is no more about computers than astronomy is about telescopes.”2 Computational science is the study of the hidden rules underlying complex phenomena from physics to psychology.

Computational neuroscience, then, has the aim of understanding brains sufficiently well to be able to simulate their functions, thereby subsuming the twin goals of science and engineering: deeply understanding the inner workings of our brains, and being able to construct simulacra of them. As simple robots today substitute for human physical abilities, in settings from factories to hospitals, so brain engineering will construct stand-ins for our mental abilities—and possibly even enable us to fix our brains when they break.

Read the rest of the article.

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February 17, 2011

Emotional processing in anterior cingulate and medial prefrontal cortex

A. Etkinsend, T. Egner, R. Kalisch
Article in Trends in Cognitive Sciences

Abstract
Negative emotional stimuli activate a broad network of brain regions, including the medial prefrontal (mPFC) and anterior cingulate (ACC) cortices. An early influential view dichotomized these regions into dorsal–caudal cognitive and ventral–rostral affective subdivisions. In this review, we examine a wealth of recent research on negative emotions in animals and humans, using the example of fear or anxiety, and conclude that, contrary to the traditional dichotomy, both subdivisions make key contributions to emotional processing. Specifically, dorsal–caudal regions of the ACC and mPFC are involved in appraisal and expression of negative emotion, whereas ventral–rostral portions of the ACC and mPFC have a regulatory role with respect to limbic regions involved in generating emotional responses. Moreover, this new framework is broadly consistent with emerging data on other negative and positive emotions.

Click here for the full article.

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February 2, 2011

Brain Waves and Meditation

From: ScienceDaily.com

Forget about crystals and candles, and about sitting and breathing in awkward ways. Meditation research explores how the brain works when we refrain from concentration, rumination and intentional thinking. Electrical brain waves suggest that mental activity during meditation is wakeful and relaxed.

“Given the popularity and effectiveness of meditation as a means of alleviating stress and maintaining good health, there is a pressing need for a rigorous investigation of how it affects brain function,” says Professor Jim Lagopoulos of Sydney University, Australia. Lagopoulos is the principal investigator of a joint study between his university and researchers from the Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU) on changes in electrical brain activity during nondirective meditation.

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January 26, 2011

How Brain Activity is Linked to Sleep

From: PsychCentral.com

Brain activity during times of wakefulness affects sleep and sleep quality. While researchers have been aware of this for some time, a clear understanding of how the mechanisms triggering sleep occur has remained largely unknown.

Now, a recent study has uncovered valuable insight into how the changeover from wakefulness to sleep occurs. This discovery potentially paves the way for a host of breakthroughs that could affect everything from sleeping aids to treatments for stroke and brain injury.

Led by James Krueger, Ph.D, Washington State University, the findings were recently published in the Journal of Applied Physiology and represent the most significant discovery of Krueger’s 36-year career focused on sleep research.

The study centered on a hypothesis that the major energy currency of the cell — ATP (adenosinetriphosphate) — is a key trigger for brain activity leading up to sleep. Specifically, researchers followed the method behind how ATP assists in the release of cytokines, the regulatory proteins for sleep.

“We know that brain activity is linked to sleep, but we’ve never known how,” Krueger said. “This gives us a mechanism to link brain activity to sleep. This has not been done before.”

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January 13, 2011

“Erasing” Traumatic Memories Moving from Science Fiction to Scientific Reality

From: TheGlobeandMail.com

The brain has a remarkable capacity for keeping track of our past experiences. But detailed memories can sometimes seem more a curse than a blessing. This is especially true for those who’ve suffered significant losses or other traumas. Thus, while the holiday season is meant to be a joyous time, for many it merely provides salient reminders of these debilitating experiences.

Fortunately, researchers are discovering that memories may be far less durable than previously thought. Indeed research on “erasing” traumatic memories is quickly moving from the realm of science fiction to scientifically backed reality.

That each of us may be able to exert some control over what gets in and what then stays in long-term memory arises from our growing understanding of how the brain represents and stores information related to our conscious life experiences.

Read the entire article: “Erasing” Traumatic Memories Moving from Science Fiction to Scientific Reality

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January 7, 2011

Bobby McFerrin Hacks Your Brain with Music

Enjoy this short, amusing video on the power of our human brain with regard to music.

From: Ted.com

Interesting comments:

  • Jeff Weir

    Dec 4 2010: I think beyond the “predictive” nature of the human brain, there lies the simple physics of the harmonic series. Once Bobby McFerrin sings the starting pitch, all of the other pitches of the pentatonic are contained in its harmonic series. I believe that is the main reason why all humans “get” the pentatonic scale… it is “spelled out” inside the harmonic series of any starting pitch.

  • Mitchell Plamondon

    Nov 26 2010: That’s cool. I guess it’s an evolutionary result though. People have learned the ability of prediction. We can familiarize ourselves with sounds, whether this be scales, timbres, chords etc. They are all recognizable. He laid out one of the most simple scales, a 5 note pentatonic scale which by chance just so happens to be the most commonly used scale in popular music of the past nearly 100 years. And just like a driver is able to predict the actions of another driver, or just as we are able to walk down a busy sidewalk without colliding into others (not always true :P) we are able to create sonar expectations. Good video – much better than a lot of the pop-music videos that seem to be polluting the TED music related spectacles. (I’d expect to hear more intellectual music here. Perhaps Penderecki, Lutoslawski, Hétu… anything beyond lyric driven 3-4 chord garage-band tunes please :) )

Watch the video, and read more: Bobby McFerrin Hacks Your Brain with Music

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December 20, 2010

Tracing the Spark of Creative Problem-Solving

brain networks,neuroscience — alice @ 11:59 am

From: NYTimes.com.

Check out the puzzles in this article. They look easy, and mostly they are. Click here to see the puzzles.
Given three words: trip, house, and goal, for example, find a fourth that will complete a compound word with each. A minute or so of mental trolling (housekeeper, goalkeeper, trip?) is all it usually takes.

The payoff of tackling a mental exercise: leaps of understanding that seem to come out of the blue, without the incremental drudgery of analysis.

But who wants to troll?

Let lightning strike. Let the clues suddenly coalesce in the brain as they do so often for young children solving a riddle. As they must have done, for that matter, in the minds of those early humans who outfoxed nature well before the advent of deduction, abstraction or SAT prep courses. Puzzle-solving is such an ancient, universal practice, scholars say, precisely because it depends on creative insight, on the primitive spark that ignited the first campfires.

And now, modern neuroscientists are beginning to tap its source.

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December 3, 2010

‘Consciousness signature’ discovered spanning the brain

From: Newscientist.com:   Electrodes implanted in the brains of people with epilepsy might have resolved an ancient question about consciousness.

Signals from the electrodes seem to show that consciousness arises from the coordinated activity of the entire brain. The signals also take us closer to finding an objective “consciousness signature” that could be used to probe the process in animals and people with brain damage without inserting electrodes.

Previously it wasn’t clear whether a dedicated brain area, or “seat of consciousness”, was responsible for guiding our subjective view of the world, or whether consciousness was the result of concerted activity across the whole brain.

Probing the process has been a challenge, as non-invasive techniques such as magnetic resonance imaging and EEG give either spatial or temporal information but not both. The best way to get both simultaneously is to implant electrodes deep inside the skull, but it is difficult to justify this in healthy people for ethical reasons.

Brainy opportunity

Now neuroscientist Raphaël Gaillard of INSERM in Gif sur Yvette, France, and colleagues have taken advantage of a unique opportunity. They have probed consciousness in 10 people who had intercranial electrodes implanted for treating drug-resistant epilepsy.

Click here for the entire article.

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November 15, 2010

Mental Training Through Meditation Enhances Attentional Stability

A. Lutz, H. Slagter, et al.
Article in Journal of Neuroscience

Abstract
The capacity to stabilize the content of attention over timevaries among individuals, and its impairment is a hallmark ofseveral mental illnesses. Impairments in sustained attentionin patients with attention disorders have been associated withincreased trial-to-trial variability in reaction time and event-relatedpotential deficits during attention tasks. At present, it isunclear whether the ability to sustain attention and its underlyingbrain circuitry are transformable through training. Here, weshow, with dichotic listening task performance and electroencephalography,that training attention, as cultivated by meditation, can improvethe ability to sustain attention. Three months of intensivemeditation training reduced variability in attentional processingof target tones, as indicated by both enhanced theta-band phaseconsistency of oscillatory neural responses over anterior brainareas and reduced reaction time variability. Furthermore, thoseindividuals who showed the greatest increase in neural responseconsistency showed the largest decrease in behavioral responsevariability. Notably, we also observed reduced variability inneural processing, in particular in low-frequency bands, regardlessof whether the deviant tone was attended or unattended. Focusedattention meditation may thus affect both distracter and targetprocessing, perhaps by enhancing entrainment of neuronal oscillationsto sensory input rhythms, a mechanism important for controllingthe content of attention. These novel findings highlight themechanisms underlying focused attention meditation and supportthe notion that mental training can significantly affect attentionand brain function.

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November 12, 2010

Cosmic Symphony — A Deeper Look at Quantum Consciousness

From: ErvinLaszlo.com

The rise of quantum consciousness could be the biggest step our species has taken since it came down from the trees. It would bring us to a new stage of species maturity � and could also enable us to surmount the problems that threaten our life and our future.

But just what is quantum consciousness � QC? I have spoken about QC in my previous posts, but the question merits a further, deeper look.

First of all, what is consciousness? The commonsense assumption is that consciousness is a stream of experience produced by the brain. As long as the brain functions, there is consciousness; when the brain shuts down, consciousness vanishes. This, however, is not necessarily the case. It could be that our brain no more produces consciousness than the radio produces the symphony that comes through its speakers. The symphony, too, disappears when the radio is shut down, yet we know that it�s not produced by the radio. Both the radio and the brain pick up signals, transform them, and display the result in our stream of conscious experience.

Read the entire article

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November 11, 2010

What Makes You Uniquely You?

From: Discovermagazine.com

Feb 2009

Nobel laureate Gerald Edelman says your brain is one-of-a-kind in the history of the universe.

Some of the most profound questions in science are also the least tangible. What does it mean to be sentient? What is the self? When issues become imponderable, many researchers demur, but neuro­scientist Gerald Edelman dives right in.

A physician and cell biologist who won a 1972 Nobel Prize for his work describing the structure of antibodies, Edelman is now obsessed with the enigma of human consciousness—except that he does not see it as an enigma. In Edelman’s grand theory of the mind, consciousness is a biological phenomenon and the brain develops through a process similar to natural selection. Neurons proliferate and form connections in infancy; then experience weeds out the useless from the useful, molding the adult brain in sync with its environment.

Edelman first put this model on paper in the Zurich airport in 1977 as he was killing time waiting for a flight. Since then he has written eight books on the subject, the most recent being Second Nature: Brain Science and Human Knowledge. He is chairman of neurobiology at the Scripps Research Institute in San Diego and the founder and director of the Neurosciences Institute, a research center in La Jolla, California, dedicated to unconventional “high risk, high payoff” science.

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