The Newest Cupid on the Block: Epigenetics

Genes are no different from individuals. Sometimes they behave in a simple, logical way. Other times, they are unpredictable and influenced by their surroundings. The central dogma (DNA to RNA to protein) describes a sequential two-step process that is very similar to the linear progression from school to college and then to work. But sometimes, things get in the way that might delay our journey from school to work or might take us off course altogether! Similarly, genes can also be influenced by intangible “external” factors. The science of epigenetics studies how the expression of genes can be influenced by factors other than changes in the DNA sequence itself.Continue reading

What a Coincidence!

Coincidence is a peculiar thing. We typically think of a coincidence as the occurrence of two events that happen to occur at the same time, but that have no underlying connection. We all experience coincidences throughout our lives, but rarely attribute any meaning or purpose to them. If, for example, your phone rings at the exact moment that you’re reaching for it, you may be amazed at the coincidence, but you realize that reaching for your phone is not what caused it to ring. Likewise, it is unlikely that the phone will ring the next time you reach for it. These coincidences occur all the time, and we typically brush them off as being completely insignificant. For the brain, however, coincidence carries much more meaning and has far greater significance.Continue reading

How does the brain locate sound sources?

The brain has an amazing ability to identify the source of sounds around you. When driving, you can tell where an approaching fire truck is coming from and pull over accordingly. In the classic swimming pool game of “Marco Polo,” the player who is “it” swims toward the players who says “Polo.” In the field of neuroscience, this ability is called sound localization. Humans can locate the source of a sound with extreme precision (within 2 degrees of space)! This remarkable feat is accomplished by the brain’s ability to interpret the information from both ears. So how does your brain do it?Continue reading

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

The amygdala: a full brain integrator in the face of fear

You are sitting at your computer quietly reading this article when – BOOM! – there is a sharp loud noise behind you! You instinctively stop what you are doing, jump up, and turn to the source of the noise. You freeze where you stand, and your brain quickly assesses the danger of the situation. Although it may seem like a brief moment, your brain is processing a ton of information and trying to decide if you should run away or stay and fight!Continue reading

LTP: When Neurons Make a Long-term Commitment

A few months ago, I got a new smart phone that had a bigger screen and a different operating system. For a while, I was annoyed that I made so many typos when texting and emailing, but now I’m completely competent with my new phone! It even feels strange to use the old one. In neuroscience, an experience like this is called synaptic plasticity, which refers to the brain’s ability to change as a result of experience.Continue reading