The Auditory System: From Sound Waves to Brain Waves

Our human experience is enriched by our senses. The world would appear to be a dull place if the brain did not endow us with the ability to construct visual images, appreciate the complexity of a song, experience the touch of a loved one, and perceive the smells and tastes of our favorite foods. Each of these sensory modalities (vision, hearing, touch, smell, and taste) is incredibly complex, requiring specialized structures working in sync with interconnected network of neural circuits. Together, they allow for a rich experience of the world.Continue reading

Superhuman Fearlessness? Think Again.

There are a handful of things that make me really uneasy. The mere thought of getting onto a roller coaster, especially the kind that slowly ascends hundreds of feet before dropping uncontrollably at high speeds, makes me want to let out a childish high-pitched squeal. Even the “cool” elevators that glide on the outside of buildings, which might give you a beautiful panoramic view, only leave me feeling sick.Continue reading

Why Prairie Voles Fall in Love: A Chemical Romance

Tomorrow is Valentine’s Day, the most romantic day of the year. Couples will stroll down the lane, gaze into each other’s eyes, and experience one of the most enigmatic feelings of all: love. But we won’t be Cupid’s only targets; prairie voles will be falling in love, too! This Valentine’s Day eve, let’s discuss what we have learned about this crazy little thing called love from these little cute animals.Continue reading

Brain Changes for Sculpted, Efficient Memory

While I was growing up, I remember my parents and teachers saying, “Your brain is like a sponge.” Of course, I didn’t understand what they meant, but as cliché as this statement is, it actually reveals a lot about children’s amazing abilities to absorb and remember impressive amounts of information. From new words and concepts, to detailed locations and even foul phrases, I learned to communicate using the complex rules of two languages during my childhood. I looked at the world with wonder, while adapting and making sense of it by remembering its complexities. But as I got older, I grew out of this ultra-powerful learning and memory, as most children do. What changes in our brains as we get older, and how do those changes affect our ability to learn?Continue reading

Mitochondria: More Than Just a Powerhouse

Mitochondria are frequently implicated in several human disease states. From neurological disorders like Alzheimer’s disease and Autism Spectrum Disorder, to metabolic conditions like diabetes and obesity, energy abnormalities are seen in diverse illnesses. In fact, mitochondrial dysfunctions have also been shown to be involved in Parkinson’s disease, Down syndrome, heart failure, and even cancer. What is the relevance of these tiny powerhouses in such diverse, seemingly unrelated conditions?Continue reading

What Songbirds Tell Us About Human Nature

Every once in a while, we hear of amazing scientific feats about how some new drug successfully reduces weight without dieting or exercise in monkeys, or how scientists slowed aging in worms and doubled their lifespans. These studies are often a cause for ridicule in the media, which reduces their significance and validity by implying that mice, flies, birds—any animal really—is not a true representation of the human condition.Continue reading

Let There Be Light!

When I was an undergraduate student, I was an expert at pulling “all-nighter” study sessions prior to exams and project deadlines.  Once everything was said and done the next day, many of my classmates moved on to celebratory happy hours, while the only thing that could make me happy at the time was heading to bed!  Even after some rest, however, I was slow, lethargic, and felt misplaced.Continue reading

A Close Look into the Alzheimer’s Brain

Your brain is able to store massive amounts of memories throughout your lifetime.  There are cases, however, in which this ability progressively degrades and eventually disappears, giving way to problems with thinking, reasoning, and remembering.  When these symptoms occurs faster than normal aging, it is termed dementia.  Alzheimer’s disease (AD) is the most common form of brain function loss, and its neuropathology are summarized here.Continue reading