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 18, 2011

Language and the Brain: What Makes Us Human

From Brain Briefings:

No other species on the planet uses language or writing — a mystery that remains unsolved even after thousands of years of research. Now neuroscientists are taking advantage of powerful new ways to peer into the brain to provide remarkable insights into this unique human ability.

Do you trip over your words, struggle to listen to a dinner companion in a noisy restaurant, or find it difficult to understand a foreign accent on TV? Help may be on the way. Using powerful new research tools, scientists have begun to unravel the long-standing mystery of how the human brain processes and understands speech.

In some ways, language is one of the oldest topics in human history, fascinating everyone from ancient philosophers to modern computer programmers. This is because language helps make us human. Although other animals communicate with one another, we are the only species to use complex speech and to record our messages through writing. This newly invigorated field, known as the neurobiology of language, helps scientists:

  • Gain important insights into the brain regions responsible for language comprehension.
  • Learn about underlying brain mechanisms that may cause speech and language disorders.
  • Understand the “cocktail party effect,” the ability to focus on specific voices against background noise.

Click here for the complete article.

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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 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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March 10, 2011

Can Someone in a Vegetative State Communicate Thoughts?

In this short video (about 4 mins) from the New York Times, David Corcoran discusses evidence from an fMRI study that suggests that people in a vegetative state can communicate thoughts.

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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 21, 2011

Former CFL players’ brains used to study link between concussions and disease

From the Globe and Mail:

Concussion stories from Bobby Kuntz’s days with the Toronto Argonauts and the Hamilton Tiger-Cats made for family football folklore until a decade ago when they suddenly seemed bittersweet.

Mr. Kuntz, who suffered as many as 20 concussions playing football in the 1950s and 60s, developed a tremor and started to forget things. His golf game went and he had to give up his position as president and chief executive officer of his family’s metal finishing business.

His symptoms were progressive, yet difficult to diagnose. His wife, Mary, took him down to the Mayo Clinic – he was in his late 60s – and doctors suggested Lewy Body dementia and Parkinson’s.

“The only way you’ll ever find out if its Lewy Body disease is to have an autopsy,” Mrs. Kuntz recalled the Mayo Clinic doctors telling her about a decade ago.

She had always planned on having her husband autopsied as she was concerned about whether her five living children were at risk of inheriting his brain disease. Ms. Kuntz wants to know if there is a link between repeated concussions and his Lewy Body disease, a progressive form of dementia, or Parkinson’s, a degenerative disorder of the central nervous system with similar characteristics.

Click here to read the rest of this 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 14, 2011

Brain Awareness Week is Coming

neuroscience — alice @ 4:33 pm

From The Dana Foundation:

March 14-20, 2011 is Brain Awareness Week. Join the global campaign to increase public awareness of the progress and benefits of brain research. Become a partner and plan an event or find an event in your area at

Brain Awareness Week (BAW) is the global campaign to increase public awareness about the progress and benefits of brain research. Every March, BAW unites the efforts of universities, hospitals, patient groups, government agencies, schools, service organizations, and professional associations worldwide in a week-long celebration of the brain. Founded and coordinated by the Dana Alliance for Brain Initiatives and European Dana Alliance for the Brain, BAW’s sixteenth annual celebration will take place from March 14-20, 2011.

During BAW, campaign partners organize creative and innovative activities in their communities to educate and excite people of all ages about the brain and brain research. Events are limited only by the organizers’ imaginations. Examples include open days at neuroscience laboratories; museum exhibitions about the brain; lectures on an array of brain-related topics; displays at malls, libraries, and community centers; classroom workshops; and many other activities and programs.

For more information about Brain Awareness Week

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February 7, 2011

Trends in Neuroscience: Table of Contents February 2011

journal,neuroscience,reviews — alice @ 4:04 pm

The February issue of Trends in Neuroscience is available online

Volume 34, Issue 2, pp. 51-112



Feature Review


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January 26, 2011

How Brain Activity is Linked to Sleep


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


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 12, 2011

Trends in Neuroscience: Table of Contents January 2011

journal,neuroscience — alice @ 4:04 pm

The January issue of Trends in Neuroscience is available online.

Volume 34, Issue 1, pp. 1-50






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January 11, 2011

Neuroscientist, VS Ramachandran: The neurons that Shaped Civilization

Enjoy this short video:


Neuroscientist Vilayanur Ramachandran outlines the fascinating functions of mirror neurons. Only recently discovered, these neurons allow us to learn complex social behaviors, some of which formed the foundations of human civilization as we know it.


Hans Bauer

Jun 24 2010: Any species of comparable level in evolution may attain mirror neurons or something equivalent one day. May even be that this is already happening without our notice. It will hardly happen within a few days. As we heard it took hundreds of thousands of years for us.

May be that some species will develop culture and civilization one day – that is if mankind will not interfere.

By the way – my tom cat sometimes pees standing on two legs. Who knows how he learned it? :)

Watch the video, and read more

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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.


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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January 4, 2011

The Exploration of Meditation in the Neuroscience of Attention and Consciousness

A. Raffoneand N. Srinivasan

Article in Cognitive Processing: International Quarterly of Cognitive Science

Abstract: Many recent behavioral and neuroscientific studies have revealed the importance of investigating meditation states and traits to achieve an increased understanding of cognitive and affective neuroplasticity, attention and self-awareness, as well as for their increasingly recognized clinical relevance. The investigation of states and traits related to meditation has especially pronounced implications for the neuroscience of attention, consciousness, self-awareness, empathy and theory of mind. In this article we present the main features of meditation-based mental training and characterize the current scientific approach to meditation states and traits with special reference to attention and consciousness, in light of the articles contributed to this issue.

Click here for the full article

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December 28, 2010

No Implants Needed: Movement-Generating Brain Waves Detected and Decoded Outside the Head

brain injury,neuroscience — alice @ 2:52 pm


New research holds promise for a noninvasive brain-computer interface that allows mental control over computers and prosthetics.

Our bodies are wired to move, and damaged wiring is often impossible to repair. Strokes and spinal cord injuries can quickly disconnect parts of the brain that initiate movement with the nerves and muscles that execute it, and neurodegenerative disorders such as Parkinson’s disease and amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) draw the process out to the same effect. Scientists have been looking for a way to bypass damaged nerves by directly connecting the brain to an assistive device—like a robotic limb—through brain-computer interface (BCI) technology. Now, researchers have demonstrated the ability to nonintrusively record neural signals outside the skull and decode them into information that could be used to move a prosthetic.

Past efforts at a BCI to animate an artificial limb involved electrodes inserted directly into the brain. The surgery required to implant the probes and the possibility that implants might not stay in place made this approach risky.

Read the entire article

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