After repeated encounters with a friendly rattlesnake last week I have snakes on the brain. Serpents are a storehouse of fascinating neuroscience. Infrared vision, venom, fast-twitch muscles to energize its “warning buzzer,” and more… Continue reading
On January 11, 2015 news swept the globe reporting that scores of people died and 200 were sickened by drinking beer poisoned with crocodile bile in Mozambique. Thinking is now shifting to the possibility of poisoned synapses, not reptilian bile as the cause of these deaths.
Marijuana use is legal in many states for medical purposes, most of them dealing with neurological conditions (pain, epilepsy, tremor, multiple sclerosis, and many others). From the perspective of a neuroscientist researcher, the situation with respect to “medical marijuana” is absurd. Continue reading
Typically we are introduced to the nervous system by analogy to an electrical circuit, like a door bell or a telephone line carrying a signal rapidly over long distances to activate a specific process. Never mind that electrical impulses are not transmitted through nerve axons anything like electrons flowing through a copper wire, this electronic circuit analogy is useful up to a point. If you want to understand how the brain works at a more complex level, you are going to need a new analogy, and if you play an acoustic guitar you’ll find it under your fingertips.
Recently scientists have been exploring part of the brain that has been relatively unexplored in learning–white matter, comprising half of the human brain. Here new research is detecting cellular changes during learning that are entirely different from the synaptic changes between neurons in gray matter. A new study shows that learning a new motor skill requires generation of new myelin, the electrical insulation on nerve axons.
What is optogenetics and how is it used to determine the contribution of brain areas to normal and dysfunctional behaviors? We discuss with Kay Tye, Assistant Professor of Neuroscience at MIT. Continue reading
On the second day of classes, I polled my students to find out how many had taken the #ALSIceBucketChallenge. About half of them raised their hands; the other half looking on either smugly (they hadn’t done it…yet) or embarrassed (they had done it, but they didn’t want to admit it).