Suddenly something streaks into your peripheral vision. Instantly, you jump back and raise your arms defensively. “What was that!” You exclaim in shock. Only then do you realize that the blurred streak you just dodged was a wayward basketball zinging like a missile on a collision course for your face. A rush of adrenaline flushes through your blood setting your heart pounding and muscles twitching, but there is nothing left to do. Your brain’s rapid response defense system has already detected the threat and avoided it before your conscious mind is even engaged. How is that possible, scientist, Peng Cao and colleagues of the Chinese Academy of Sciences wondered?
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