Brain Cigarette Knowing Neurons

The Strange Relationship between Nicotine and Parkinson’s Disease

According to the World Health Organization, smoking is responsible for approximately 6 million deaths in the world every year or one fatality every six seconds.  71% of all lung cancers and 42% of all chronic obstructive pulmonary diseases are attributable to tobacco use.  Oddly enough, not everything related to smoking is bad news: smokers seem to be protected against Parkinson’s disease.  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 Departure of Skill Memories from Motor Cortex: Deeper Directions for Neuroscience

You probably have certain skills that I don’t.  Each of us, having spent enough time practicing something new, can become an expert.  A simple, ubiquitous example is driving a car with a manual transmission.  The precise sequence and timing of controlling the clutch, giving gas, and shifting the gears are challenging to coordinate when initially learning to drive a stick shift.  But eventually, the precision with which we can perform these sequences of movements is impressive.  Specifically, the errors we make when learning, indicated by gear grinding and stalling, are reduced with repeated practice.  Skill learning is relatively easy to train both in humans and in animals.  It therefore serves as a great way to study how the brain forms memories and uses those memories in the future.Continue reading

Science Advocacy on Capitol Hill: Bridging the Legislative Gap to Medical Research Funding

Last Thursday, September 17th I had the privilege of joining over 300 organizations including patients, physicians and fellow researchers in the Rally for Medical Research on Capitol Hill. Now in the third year of gathering to raise awareness for medical research, we met with Congressional representatives and staff from 40 states to demand “robust, sustainable and predictable funding increases for the NIH (National Institutes of Health)” in the coming fiscal year and beyond.Continue reading

The emotional mechanics of the robot-human interaction

The emotional mechanics of the robot-human interaction

First impressions are pivotal.  While reading another person’s cues, an abridged version of them forms as we draw on complex social inferences in merely seconds of interaction.  That is, if they are human.  What if they only resemble a human, but are incapable of inner experience or independent thought?  Is it possible to truly form an emotional connection with a robot?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

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

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