Hacking your Brain with Smart Drugs

What if you could take a pill to enhance your cognitive abilities?  What if this pill could help you ace a test, get more work done efficiently, and truly multitask?  For entrepreneurs in Silicon Valley and executives on Wall Street, the answer to these questions is a resounding “Yes!”  In these high stake environments, the use of nootropics, or “smart drugs,” by normal healthy people has become commonplace.  But what exactly are the compounds that are claimed to improve brain function?  And are they safe?Continue reading

Our Year in Neuroscience - 2015 - Knowing Neurons

Our Year in Neuroscience

2015 was a great year for neuroscience and an incredible year for Knowing Neurons.  With the launch of our 52 Brain FactsBrain Books, YouTube channel, and Instagram account, we now have over 5,800 subscribers, 11,800+ likes on Facebook, and 3,600+ followers on Twitter!  We are excited to bring you even more neuroscience research, technologies, interviews, book reviews, brain facts, infographics and so much more in 2016!  Thank you to everyone who made 2015 a great year for neuroscience and Knowing Neurons!Continue reading

The Turing Test: Is that Human or Machine?

I propose to consider the following question, ‘Can machines think?’

Thus begins Alan Turing’s paper “Computing machinery and intelligence.”  It’s 1950 England, and the world’s first computer is being used to calculate the next known largest prime number, a feat meant to show off the power of the computer.  For Turing, the implications of this work go much further and spark a philosophical question: could computers one day acquire cognitive abilities rivaling human intelligence?Continue reading

Dendritic Spines Knowing Neurons

Keeping Memories Fresh by Keeping Glutamate In Check

We are another year older, perhaps a little wiser, and probably more forgetful.  Indeed, making memories is quite a process in the brain: specific synaptic connections are strengthened and new proteins are synthesized.  But as we age, the synapses that make up our memories, such as those in the hippocampus and prefrontal cortex, start to change and can be lost altogether.  The detrimental synaptic alterations may not be permanent, however, and maintaining the health of these synapses may be the key to preventing age-related cognitive decline.Continue reading

WIDE AWAKE at #SfN14

There’s always one person snoring through the talk you’re trying to listen to at SfN.  That person might even be you at some point during this meeting!  Whether you are sleepy because of the time change, or because you finished your poster at 3AM, or because you were up late catching up with friends and colleagues, sleep is an essential behavior that is regulated by two independent processes: (1) a circadian clock that regulates the timing of sleep, and (2) a homeostatic mechanism that influences the amount and depth of sleep.  Surprisingly, despite significant progress in our understanding of the molecular clock, the mechanisms by which the circadian clock regulates the timing of sleep is poorly understood.Continue reading

Science with a Touch of Art: A Conversation with David Ginty

David GintyIf you think about it, the surface of the human body, the skin, is actually one huge sheet of tactile receptors. The dozens of types of receptors that innervate the skin help us connect with our surroundings. But the properties of these neurons – how they are organized in the skin, where the project into the spinal cord and brainstem, and how this organization gives rise to the sense of touch – are actually poorly understood! I spoke with David Ginty, Ph.D., who is Professor of Neurobiology at Harvard Medical School and an investigator with the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, to find out about the newest ways his lab is studying sensory biology.Continue reading

Hubel and Wiesel & the Neural Basis of Visual Perception

Snap!  Crackle!  Pop!

Those are the sounds that Professors David Hubel and Torsten Wiesel heard in the early 1950s when they recorded from neurons in the visual cortex of a cat, as they moved a bright line across its retina.  During their recordings, they noticed a few interesting things: (1) the neurons fired only when the line was in a particular place on the retina, (2) the activity of these neurons changed depending on the orientation of the line, and (3) sometimes the neurons fired only when the line was moving in a particular direction.Continue reading

Understanding the Visual System: A Conversation with Botond Roska

Botond_RoskaWhen we see the world, there is a huge amount of processing that occurs in the neural circuits of the retina, thalamus, and cortex before we can even begin to comprehend our environment. And all of this computation happens very quickly! In this interview with Dr. Botond Roska, Senior Group Leader at the Friedrich Miescher Institute for Biomedical Research in Basel, Switzerland, we discuss his research on the elements of the visual system that compute visual information as well as how this knowledge can be used to help blind patients. Dr. Roska was inspired by the work and scientific approach of David Hubel (more about this on Wednesday!), and continues to follow his example: “Listen to the experiment, and not your colleagues,” says Dr. Roska. But what would he be, if not a neuroscientist? Find out in my conversation with Dr. Roska, who also shares his story of transition from musician, to medicine, to mathematics and to neuroscience!Continue reading