Teleportation! Hippocampal Oscillations during Navigation

Who hasn’t wanted to snap their fingers and dive into the pages of the gorgeous places featured in National Geographic?  Caught in a miserable physics exam that you haven’t studied for?  No problem, with teleportation you can be whisked away to an expedition to Mars or an Australian beach.  Afraid of heights but curious about skydiving?  Immersion into an artificial, computer-simulated environment can emulate the look and feel of the real thing without any danger or risk.  Virtual reality enables the military to train pilots to fly planes without leaving the safety of the base.  Virtual environments are almost limitless in scope, allowing researchers to study complex motor behaviors.  These virtual environments are often experienced with a head mounted display that allows the participant to move freely within the perceived environment — be it a pre-historic landscape or a lunar landing.Continue reading

An Interview with Steve Silberman, Author of NeuroTribes

Ten minutes before I was scheduled to begin my interview with celebrated writer Steve Silberman, I still had not figured out which questions I wanted to ask him.  Staring down at a list of over 50 topics, I was overwhelmed by just how much there is to discuss when it comes to the history of the discovery of autism and misconceptions surrounding the diagnosis.  Silberman was one of the first members of the mainstream media to bring attention to the rise in autism diagnoses, and I wanted to know why autism had captured his interest.  Continue reading

Sarah-Jayne Blakemore Discusses the Mysterious Workings of the Adolescent Brain

What brain regions are employed when we interact with other people?  Cognitive neuroscientist Sarah-Jayne Blakemore explains the “social brain” in her TED talk and sheds light on the complex networks that enable us to evaluate the mental states of other people.  Her research focuses on the development of the social brain during adolescence.  Watch Dr. Blakemore’s TED talk for more information on how the brain matures during the transition from adolescence to adulthood.Continue reading

Book Review: The Superhuman Mind

“It turns out that all brain have hidden superhuman abilities. We just have to use the right keys to unlock them. One such key is synesthesia.”

So, begins Dr. Berit Brogaard and Kristian Marlow’s plunge into the mysteries of human perception explored in the team’s non-fiction debut “The Superhuman Mind.”  As researchers, the two scientists encounter individuals with rather unusual talents for memory and sensory integration.  The book’s thesis is that people with extraordinary capabilities (think Vegas-toppling card counters or synesthetes who experience numbers as colors) are not born with this capacity; rather, every brain is capable of reorganizing to bypass slow thinking in favor of manipulating information to solve problems in new ways.Continue reading

Intracranial EEG and Mental Time Travel

A familiar progression of chords blares out of your speakers as the red lights of the surrounding traffic fade into the memory of a dark stage illuminated by pulsing neon lights.  You replace your current discomfort (horrendous traffic!) with the memory of the last concert you attended – reliving the percussive sensory experience and feeling the intensity of the vibrating sound waves.  As you bust out the occasional air guitar move and tap out the beat on your dashboard, you are successfully retrieving a memory and reinstating a specific pattern of neural activity.  This mental time travel enables you to escape the confinement of your surrounding environment and plunge into the memory of enjoyable past experiences.Continue reading

Smooth Move: How GABAergic Interneurons Regulate Skilled Motor Behavior

In early 2014, the American free-solo rock climber Alex Honnold climbed 2,500 feet of limestone without ropes.  The demanding route called El Sendero Luminoso in El Potrero Chico, Mexico required 3 hours of intense concentration and precise movements. One wrong move and the young climber would have fallen thousands of feet with catastrophic consequences. In the video featured below, you see Honnold’s skilled movements and elegant displays of strength and precision. His ability to dramatically support his body weight with his fingertips and scale the wall like a spider monkey is due to the elaborate neural transformations that are directing each motor act.  The ability to perform an action like a climb is dependent on sensory feedback and refinement of local inhibitory microcircuits. Goal-directed reaching behavior depends on a hardwired control systems that underlies our capacity to smoothly execute movement.Continue reading

From Stevens to Synapses: A Conversation with Kelsey Martin

martin_10_18Take your wildest guess.  How many neurons make up the human brain?  You’re not guessing wild enough if you said anything less than a trillion.  The circuitry of the human brain consists of a quadrillion (1015) synapses.  These neural circuits aren’t necessarily hard-wired and have the capacity to be re-wired in response to experience. In our interview with Dr. Kelsey C. Martin, Professor of Psychiatry and Biological Chemistry at University of California, Los Angeles, we discuss the long-lasting forms of plasticity that enable memories to be formed.  During the course of our conversation, Dr. Martin shares stories from her time in the Peace Corps. and discusses what it was like to study memory formation as a post-doc in the lab of the Nobel Prize winning scientist, Eric Kandel.  In this highly anticipated interview from Knowing Neurons, we sit down with Dr. Martin to get advice on what it takes to become a Principal Investigator, to discuss her upcoming Presidential lecture at SFN, and to find out exactly what this English major turned M.D./Ph.D. is currently reading.Continue reading

(Transneuronal) Attack of the Mutant Huntingtin! Knowing Neurons

(Transneuronal) Attack of the Mutant Huntingtin!

Huntington’s disease (HD) is an incredibly debilitating neurodegenerative disorder. Currently, there is no treatment that effectively reverses the progression of the disease or delays its onset. Huntington’s is a particularly difficult diagnosis because it is an autosomal dominant degenerative disease, meaning that any child of an affected parent has a 50% chance of inheriting the disease. Most children who inherit the disease have inevitably watched their parents battle with it.Continue reading

Itching to Understand Dynorphin Knowing Neurons

Itching to Understand Dynorphin

Bzzzzzz!  Splat!  Ugh!  Anyone who has ever been around a campfire during the summer months is familiar with this progression of noises.  Mosquito bites and the resulting welts provide unwelcome souvenirs of time spent outdoors.  We all know we shouldn’t scratch.  Itch like pain is an aversive stimulus that alerts us to threats to the body.  But when the itch becomes too unbearable, we all give in.  Scratching is designed to remove irritants from the skin (at least temporarily), but don’t be fooled by this instant gratification!  Scratching causes tissue damage that increases the severity of the itch by releasing inflammatory particles.Continue reading

Hiker at Sunset

Heightened Senses: Cross-Modal Neuroplasticity

Envision this scenario.  It’s the end of a grueling hike and you’re racing back to civilization along a trail in the mountains as darkness falls.  You’ve become separated from your fellow hikers when all of a sudden the last beams of sunlight fade and the moonless night descends.  You reach into your backpack for your flashlight only to realize that the batteries are dead.  Accustomed to relying on your visual system, you panic upon being plunged into temporary blindness.  But wait!  All of a sudden the previously inaudible footsteps of your companions become heightened as you discriminate where they are and race off in the direction of their voices.Continue reading