Mind the Gap: New Evidence on How Neurons Connect Left and Right Brain Halves

Our brains are split into two halves, a left hemisphere and a right hemisphere. While the left brain specializes in languages, the right brain specializes in faces. But the two halves don’t exist as two separate entities. Instead, both halves or hemispheres are connected at several points. These connections are important to transfer and coordinate information between hemispheres. But how do the correct neurons “know” if and where they should cross? The textbook model so far has described a positive chemical signal called Netrin that diffuses in the developing brain and guides crossing neurons. But new approaches to this question recently suggested a very different answer.

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Bite-size Science: Epigenetics help protect the aging brain

Epigenetics change which genes are active and which are inactive. Research over the past few years has shown that these changes are important for protecting the brain from neurodegeneration and injury. A review paper came out on May 18th in the journal Nature Reviews Neuroscience that summarizes this research. Check out the infographic for a description of the review paper.

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The Slippery Slope of Dishonesty

A kid stealing candy in a convenience store grows up to be a convicted criminal. A husband who flirts with a coworker ends up as a serial cheater. A politician telling a few “white lies” to his or her constituents is eventually convicted of fraud. These are all extreme — but plausible — scenarios where dishonesty might escalate over time, resulting in dramatic and life-changing consequences. But how far does this slippery slope actually go? How can science help us answer this question?Continue reading

We won an award!

We are excited to announce that we received the Society for Neuroscience 2016 Next Generation Award. This award recognizes SfN chapter members who have made outstanding contributions to public communication, outreach, and education about neuroscience. To celebrate the award reflecting our dedication to neuroscience education, we, the team members of Knowing Neurons, reminisce over some of their favorite moments in the past year.Continue reading

How a mother’s voice shapes her baby’s developing brain

It is no surprise that a child prefers its mother’s voice to those of strangers.  Beginning in the womb, a fetus’s developing auditory pathways sense the sounds and vibrations of its mother.  Soon after birth, a child can identify its mother’s voice and will work to hear her voice better over unfamiliar female voices.  A 2014 study of preterm infants showed that playing a recording of the mother’s voice when babies sucked on a pacifier was enough to improve development of oral feeding skills and shorten their hospital stay.  A mother’s voice can soothe a child in stressful situations, reducing levels of cortisol, the stress hormone, and increasing levels of oxytocin, the social bonding hormone.  Scientists have even traced the power of a mother’s voice to infants’ brains: a mother’s voice activates the anterior prefrontal cortex and the left posterior temporal region more strongly than an unfamiliar voice, priming the infant for the specialized task of speech processing.

While it makes intuitive sense that a mother’s voice has special power over infants and toddlers, what happens as children grow up?  Continue reading