Claustrophobia Can Be Genetic

As a little girl, my favorite part of an overnight train journey in India was the tunnel. My restless, anxious eyes would await the moment when the train made its grand entry into the gigantic passageway only to excitedly celebrate the “light at the end of the tunnel,” quite literally! But one summer, things were slightly different – the train hit a red light and its rear end remained buried inside the pitch-dark tunnel for longer than usual. While my rational sense knew that it was only a matter of seconds before the train started again, an irrational fear of being trapped inside overcame me. It was then that I learned of a form of fear that 1 in 20 people around the world have – claustrophobia – the fear of enclosed spaces.Continue reading

Of Grandfathers, Fathers, and Children: The Coming-of-Age of Autism

Genetics, although ostensibly complicated, is all around us. In our immediate social circle, we often come across genetics at display. Some examples are obvious: The kids wear glasses because both parents wear them. But others are not as straightforward: How is the daughter so tall when both parents are short? These inexplicable traits are often the result of de novo mutations, which are mutations that occur in a child whose parents do not possess that trait.Continue reading

From Neurons to Astrocytes: The Shift of Focus in Stroke

If you think about it, blood vessels are the freeways of the body. The vast array of vasculature enables molecules to reach important destinations (organs) quickly. But, if a small part of the freeway is blocked suddenly, then the constant flow of traffic suffers and previously desired exits now become inaccessible. When such a traffic jam occurs inside a blood vessel en route to the brain, the brain region previously receiving blood and oxygen is now devoid of it. Such a phenomenon where a blood clot obstructs blood flow to a part of the brain is called ischemic stroke.Continue reading

Not just skin deep: Neurons detect pleasurable touch

What separates us from our physical environment is our skin. From the minute we wake up, we use our somatosensation to start our tangible interaction with the world. Is the water in the shower warm enough? Ouch, that razor blade hurts! These socks are really soft! All of these are sensations attributed to numerous neurons that innervate our skin. While some sensations are quick and call for immediate response (like a pinprick), others are relatively slow and grow on us (like the warmth of water or the pleasure during a massage).Continue reading

A New Year. A New You.

Yesterday, millions of people across the world made New Year’s resolutions to lose weight, quit smoking, or follow their dreams.  Chances are that this isn’t the first time they made these resolutions!  We start off the year with much fervor, but inevitably this enthusiasm fades out.  Why are we unable to sustain our New Year’s resolutions?Continue reading

Quick buzz. Slow learning.

Beer and wine are quite possibly the oldest known man-made beverages.  Anthropologists have discovered beer jugs that date back to the Neolithic period (10,000 B.C.), and Egyptian pictographs clearly show that wine was a common beverage as early as 4,000 B.C.  Throughout history, alcohol has been used for both celebratory and practical reasons.  Today, consuming alcohol is a way to mark special occasions, socialize with friends, relax after a long week, and (sadly) ease the pain of rejection.Continue reading