The Brain’s Building Blocks: Of Protons and Voxels

What’s in a brain? That which we call a voxel by any other name would sound far less confusing.

Imagine all of the atoms in your brain. Now imagine how these atoms might behave inside of a giant magnet. Fortunately, there’s a technique that makes this thought experiment possible. Structural magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) uses the behavior of basic building blocks—like atoms and their protons within—to form a truly interdisciplinary technique that spans physics, biology, and computer science in order to “photograph” the brain.

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Schizophrenia in a Vial? The Story of Ketamine

Note: Ketamine is a controlled substance in the US and many other countries. Do not use ketamine illicitly.

Imagine an injection that briefly gives you schizophrenia. Now imagine that this injection is all at once the same drug once abused by Steve-O of MTV’s Jackass, the same drug popped in karaoke bars in East Asia, the same drug given as anesthesia to animals and children, and the same drug that holds promise as an emergency antidote to suicidal thoughts.

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The Quest for a Successful TBI Treatment

A military veteran who survived a gunshot wound to the head suffers from frequent seizures and memory problems. A motorcycle crash survivor experiences chronic depression and is unable to hold a job. A 7-year-old boy who fell down the stairs as a toddler now has behavioral problems and difficulty focusing at school.

What do these people have in common? All these individuals are all afflicted with the long-term effects of traumatic brain injuries, or TBI.

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Risky Business, or Is It?

Biologist Marston Bates once described research as “the process of going up alleys to see if they are blind.” Bates was referring to the inherent uncertainty in predicting and managing the scientific process. Research funding, particularly for fundamental science, can be a seemingly risky investment because of the uncertainty of a study’s impact. However, it is imperative that fundamental science is not viewed as a luxury, but as a necessary investment that has the potential to yield significant returns.

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How Humans Speak and Mice Learn: The Widespread Effects of FOXP2

From bird songs to frog ribbits, animals engage in countless forms of vocalization. However, no other species in the animal kingdom matches humans in complexity of language. The versatility of human speech allows us to discuss anything from what we ate for breakfast to the nature of the universe, and our ability to communicate is essential in all aspects of our lives. Because of this, it is natural for neuroscientists to search for an evolutionary explanation showing us how our unique language capabilities came about. One potential answer to this complicated question lies in the gene FOXP2.Continue reading