Category Archives: Neuroscience

What’s the difference between us and a psychopath?

In 2005, James Fallon’s life started to resemble the plot of a well-honed joke or big-screen thriller: A neuroscientist is working in his laboratory one day when he thinks he has stumbled upon a big mistake. He is researching Alzheimer’s and using his healthy family members’ brain scans as a control, while simultaneously reviewing the fMRIs of murderous psychopaths for a side project. It appears, though, that one of the killers’ scans has been shuffled into the wrong batch. The … Continue reading

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This single protein influences how your brain copes with stress

Scientists have discovered that a single brain protein can make some people more vulnerable to depression than others. New research has suggested that there’s a single protein that determines whether someone will cope with stress, or whether they’ll be more susceptible to depression. The results challenge the way we currently treat depression, and could lead to the first preventative therapies for the mental illness. While much research has focussed on the effects of various brain chemicals such as serotonin and … Continue reading

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Neuroscientists awaken ‘ghosts’ hidden inside the cortex

Ghosts exist only in the mind, and scientists know just where to find them, an EPFL study suggests. Patients suffering from neurological or psychiatric conditions have often reported feeling a strange “presence”. Now, EPFL researchers in Switzerland have succeeded in recreating this so-called ghost illusion in the laboratory. On June 29, 1970, mountaineer Reinhold Messner had an unusual experience. Recounting his descent down the virgin summit of Nanga Parbat with his brother, freezing, exhausted, and oxygen-starved in the vast barren … Continue reading

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Scientists have invented a brain decoder that could read your inner thoughts

brain

Scientists have figured out how to read the words of our inner monologue, a finding that could help people who cannot physically speak to communicate with the world. Talking to yourself or having mindless internal thoughts is something which most of us can admit to. But imagine if we told you that someone could eavesdrop on your private thoughts? This sounds very creepy, but it’s exactly what scientists are working towards achieving. When you hear someone speak, sound waves activate … Continue reading

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A new type of brain cell has been discovered

pyramidenzelle

A strange new type of nerve cell, or neuron, has been observed in the brain that transmits information without involving the cell body – and, incredibly, it appears to be better at transmitting information than regular brain cells. Neurons rapidly fire messages around our bodies by transmitting electrical signals to one another. Although these cells vary in shape and size, they all have the same general design: signals are received by a nerve cell’s finger-like dendrites, transmitted through its round cell body, … Continue reading

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Atom-scale brain sensors will show exactly how your mind works

Neural activity maps frequently present an incomplete picture of how a brain works; you can measure electrical activity, stimulate it or visualize the anatomy, but you can’t do all three. DARPA and the University of Wisconsin might just pull off that seemingly impossible feat, however. They recently built a hybrid brain sensor that combines both electrical and optical techniques to present a vivid picture of what’s happening inside the mind. The sensor is primarily made of ultra-thin graphene (just four … Continue reading

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How curiosity changes the brain to enhance learning

The more curious we are about a topic, the easier it is to learn information about that topic. New research publishing online October 2 in the Cell Press journal Neuron provides insights into what happens in our brains when curiosity is piqued. The findings could help scientists find ways to enhance overall learning and memory in both healthy individuals and those with neurological conditions. “Our findings potentially have far-reaching implications for the public because they reveal insights into how a … Continue reading

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Strategic or random? In the face of uncertainty, the brain chooses randomness as the best strategy

Many of the choices we make are informed by experiences we’ve had in the past. But occasionally we’re better off abandoning those lessons and exploring a new situation unfettered by past experiences. Scientists at the Howard Hughes Medical Institute’s Janelia Research Campus have shown that the brain can temporarily disconnect information about past experience from decision-making circuits, thereby triggering random behavior. In the study, rats playing a game for a food reward usually acted strategically, but switched to random behavior … Continue reading

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Sleep Drunkenness Explained

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Forgetting Helps You Remember

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Our brains can make decisions while we’re sleeping

Lightbulb-brain

Your brain doesn’t shut down when you go to sleep, in fact, a recent study has shown that it remains quietly active, and can process information to help you make decisions, just like when you’re awake. A new study led by senior research scientist Sid Kouider and PhD student Thomas Andrillon at the Ecole Normale Supérieure de Paris in France has investigated how active our brains are when we’re asleep, and the results could have implications for the Holy Grail … Continue reading

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Don’t underestimate your mind’s eye

Take a look around, and what do you see? Much more than you think you do, thanks to your finely tuned mind’s eye, which processes images without your even knowing. A University of Arizona study has found that objects in our visual field of which we are not consciously aware still may influence our decisions. The findings refute traditional ideas about visual perception and cognition, and they could shed light on why we sometimes make decisions—stepping into a street, choosing … Continue reading

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Neurons in our skin are performing advanced calculations

touch-neurons

Researchers from Umeå University in Sweden have been studying a particular class of sensory neurons in the human tactile, or touch, system called ‘first-order neurons’ to discover that they possess some pretty incredible properties. These neurons branch through our skin to record the sensation of touch from many highly sensitive zones on our fingertips, and it’s now been revealed that they’re not just sending signals to the brain indicating that the skin has encountered some kind of object. It turns … Continue reading

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Proton Beam Therapy

Standard radiation therapy is an effective way to treat many cancers. But it isn’t perfect. It kills cancer cells, but it also kills some healthy cells in its path through the body. That’s just one of the reasons Mayo Clinic is bringing a new type of radiation therapy to its patients. It’s called proton beam therapy, and it has the potential to cure more cancers with greater safely, and help people live longer.

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Your Brain On Coffee

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Changes in eye can predict changes in brain

Researchers at the Gladstone Institutes and University of California, San Francisco have shown that a loss of cells in the retina is one of the earliest signs of frontotemporal dementia (FTD) in people with a genetic risk for the disorder — even before any changes appear in their behavior. Published in the Journal of Experimental Medicine, the researchers, led by Gladstone investigator Li Gan, PhD and UCSF associate professor of neurology Ari Green, MD, studied a group of individuals who … Continue reading

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Train your heart to protect your mind

Exercising to improve our cardiovascular strength may protect us from cognitive impairment as we age, according to a new study by researchers at the University of Montreal. “Our body’s arteries stiffen with age, and the vessel hardening is believed to begin in the aorta, the main vessel coming out of the heart, before reaching the brain. Indeed, the hardening may contribute to cognitive changes that occur during a similar time frame,” explained Claudine Gauthier, first author of the study. “We … Continue reading

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Children with autism have extra synapses in brain

In a study of brains from children with autism, researchers found that autistic brains did not undergo normal pruning during childhood and adolescence. The images show representative neurons from autistic (left) and control (right) brains; the spines on the neurons indicate the location of synapses. Children and adolescents with autism have a surplus of synapses in the brain, and this excess is due to a slowdown in a normal brain “pruning” process during development, according to a study by neuroscientists … Continue reading

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Why Can’t You Remember Being a Baby?

It’s easy to recall events of decades past—birthdays, high school graduations, visits to Grandma—yet who can remember being a baby? Researchers have tried for more than a century to identify the cause of “infantile amnesia.” Sigmund Freud blamed it on repression of early sexual experiences, an idea that has been discredited. More recently, researchers have attributed it to a child’s lack of self-perception, language or other mental equipment required to encode memories. Neuroscientists Paul Frankland and Sheena Josselyn, both at … Continue reading

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Watch 80,000 neurons fire in a zebrafish brain

The video is based on a new imaging technique called light-sheet imaging, which has allowed researchers to get an unprecedented glimpse into the neural mechanisms of a living zebrafish. You’d be hard-pressed to find anything on Earth as complex as the brain – even if that brain happens to belong to a simple zebrafish – and these almost inscrutable organs pose a real challenge to those trying to study them. For decades researchers have had to resort to external devices … Continue reading

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