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

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

Brain Battery

“The human generates more bio-electricity than a 120-volt battery and over 25,000 BTVs of body heat.  There are fields…endless fields, were human beings are no longer born.  We are grown…  The Matrix is a computer-generated dream world, built to keep us under control in order to change a human being into this.”  – Morpheus, The Matrix (1999).

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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

My, oh myelin!

How many neural processes are going on within your body as you read this sentence?  The answer to this question is hard to fathom, I know, but give it a shot.   Try to imagine all the physiological events that are being controlled by your nervous system at this very moment.  Our nervous systems control a dizzying array of sensory, motor, and cognitive processes simultaneously, without us granting them “permission” to do so.  In fact, most of our neural functions require no mental energy on our part whatsoever!  For this reason, it is extremely easy to take these basic processes for granted.  However, if we were to witness the suffering of an individual with multiple sclerosis, we might begin to appreciate these things a little more.Continue reading

The Reward Pathway Reinforces Behavior

If you think about it, most of our daily lives revolve around food: when our next meal will be, what it will be, and how yummy it will be!  Evolutionarily, these have been essential thoughts for our survival, so that when we find food, we are compelled to eat as much as we can.  Not only does this ensure that we get all our necessary nutrients, but it also keeps competitors from stealing our meals.Continue reading