Why Dopamine Makes People More Impulsive

Over the past few decades, the neurochemical dopamine has earned the reputation of being the brain’s reward molecule.  This image is built on observations that when animals and humans experience surges of dopamine, they feel rewarded and motivated to pursue more of the experience or substance which triggered the dopamine release.  Researchers theorize that this neurochemical is at the root of an ancient system that evolved to make us feel gratified and thus more likely to approach situations and objects that might satisfy our needs — anything from nutrition to the more sophisticated desires for social approval or even money, a universal ticket for access to most resources.Continue reading

The Fugue of Life: Why Complexity Matters in Physiology and Neuroscience

People like simplicity. Each decade, corporate logos grow progressively minimalistic, pop songs use ever simpler melodies, and visual art embraces simpler compositions, as Monet gives way to Picasso and Picasso gives way Rothko.  This zeitgeist, summarized as “simplicity is the ultimate sophistication,” shapes our perceptions of physiology in interesting ways.  The thumping of a beating heart is often celebrated as nature’s beautifully simple rhythm.  Listening through a doctor’s stethoscope, one expects any deviation from perfect rhythmicity to be an omen of disease.Continue reading

(Transneuronal) Attack of the Mutant Huntingtin! Knowing Neurons

(Transneuronal) Attack of the Mutant Huntingtin!

Huntington’s disease (HD) is an incredibly debilitating neurodegenerative disorder. Currently, there is no treatment that effectively reverses the progression of the disease or delays its onset. Huntington’s is a particularly difficult diagnosis because it is an autosomal dominant degenerative disease, meaning that any child of an affected parent has a 50% chance of inheriting the disease. Most children who inherit the disease have inevitably watched their parents battle with it.Continue reading

Split Brain Knowing Neurons

The Split Brain: Making Two Hemispheres Whole

Admit it!  You’ve taken one of those online quizzes to see if you’re more “right-brained” or “left-brained.”  Too bad it’s all bunk!    Popular culture would have you believe that creative and artistic people are right-brain dominated, while logical, methodical, and analytical people are left-brain dominated.    The fact of the matter is that you use all parts of your brain equally, no matter your personality traits!  So, how did this myth even come to be?Continue reading

Decoding the Brain’s “Low Fuel” Signal

The human body is an efficient model to explore the popular theory of supply and demand.  When you physically exert yourself, your bioenergetic “supply” is down, so you feel hungrier as your system “demands” more food.  In much the same way, the neurons in your brain are busy firing action potentials, and their bioenergetic fuel quickly gets used up.  So, how do these neurons signal that they need more energy?Continue reading

Tangerines, Tomatoes, and Neuroinflammation! Oh My! Knowing Neurons

Tangerines, Tomatoes, and Neuroinflammation! Oh My!

While we are still in the midst of the flu season, we all try to stay as healthy as possible by consuming large quantities of Vitamin C.  Whether it’s chewable tablets, a powder to mix in your drink, or just plain orange juice, we have all learned the immune-boosting benefits of Vitamin C.  Interestingly, new evidence from citruses and tomatoes show that they may do more than fight the flu.  They can also prevent neuronal loss.Continue reading

Your Brain Breathes Too by Knowing Neurons

Your Brain Breathes Too

I live in Los Angeles and it’s unfortunate, but true, that the brown cloud of smog hanging over our city is as much an icon of LA as the Hollywood hills.  My morning bike commute is spent sucking on the tailpipes of my fellow Angelenos, and it turns out this doesn’t just make me cranky.  A recent article published in Neurotoxicology suggests that those of us who live in urban environments are much more likely to experience cognitive decline with age.  The culprit?  Air pollution.Continue reading

The Sum of All Fears Knowing Neurons

The Sum of All Fears… Includes Safety?

Identifying safe or dangerous situations are essential for survival.  A child may be fearful of crossing a road alone, but he will be completely relaxed while crossing the same road with his mom.  The inability to discriminate between dangerous and safe situations produces responses that may lead to anxiety disorders or post-traumatic stress disorder (Pitman et al., 2012).  The fear circuitry in the brain has been extensively mapped out with many studies focusing on the amygdala as the primary player in fear regulation (LeDoux, 2000).  In fact, many undergraduate students in psychology and physiology are taught that the amygdala is the “fear center” of the brain.  However, recent experiments demonstrate that the amygdala is responsible for regulating safety, too!Continue reading