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

WIDE AWAKE at #SfN14

There’s always one person snoring through the talk you’re trying to listen to at SfN.  That person might even be you at some point during this meeting!  Whether you are sleepy because of the time change, or because you finished your poster at 3AM, or because you were up late catching up with friends and colleagues, sleep is an essential behavior that is regulated by two independent processes: (1) a circadian clock that regulates the timing of sleep, and (2) a homeostatic mechanism that influences the amount and depth of sleep.  Surprisingly, despite significant progress in our understanding of the molecular clock, the mechanisms by which the circadian clock regulates the timing of sleep is poorly understood.Continue reading

Zebrafish

What Zebrafish Teach Us About Touch

Unlike the sense of vision, which is perceived only by light-sensitive photoreceptors in our eyes, the mechanoreceptors that respond to light touch are located in sensory neurons all over the body.  Our sense of touch starts in the skin, where sensory neurons with elaborate dendrites just below the skin’s surface provide dense coverage over the entire area of the body.  When we touch something, the mechanical pressure created by the contact between an object and our skin opens mechanoreceptors that cause the sensory neuron to fire an action potential and activate downstream neurons.  We are constantly coming into physical contact with objects and people in our environment, and as a result a large number sensory neurons are being activated over many different areas of our body at any given moment!  How does the nervous system handle all of this incoming tactile information?Continue reading

Get Ready for #SfN14 with #KnowingNeurons

This is an exciting time for neuroscience!  The Nobel Prize for Physiology and Medicine was just awarded to three neuroscientists “for their discoveries of cells that constitute a positioning system in the brain.”  John O’Keefe is best known for his work on place cells in the hippocampus, and May-Britt Moser and Edvard I. Moser study grid cells in the entorhinal cortex.  Together, these cells provide an internal map of the external environment.  In a way, they act as a GPS in the brain that can even navigate our 3D world!Continue reading

Oh Rats Theyll Regret This Knowing Neurons

Oh, Rats! They’ll Regret This.

We often find ourselves in decision-making dilemmas along the day. For instance, to reach work on time, would you rather take the shorter, faster route or the longer, scenic route? In deciding these actions, the brain promptly fits in a reward versus risk equation, but sometimes the outcome isn’t quite favorable! What if there was an accident along the shorter route, and the traffic delays you even more than the longer route would have?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