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

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

(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

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

Mapping the Information Highway in the Brain Knowing Neurons

Mapping the Information Highway in the Brain

It’s hard to imagine life without Google Maps nowadays.  We use the interactive map daily to find out how to get from point A to point B.  Wouldn’t it be great if there were an online map to guide neuroscientists to study the brain?  In the newest issue of Cell, researchers from University of Southern California published a project mapping the neural networks of the mouse cortex, and they call it the Mouse Connectome Project (MCP).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

Taxi Photoswitch Knowing Neurons

Turning On A “Photoswitch” Helps Blind Mice See The Light

Our senses connect us to the world.  Your visual system lets you know that there is a yellow car ahead of you, and your auditory system lets you know that it is honking its horn.  As unique as each sensory system seems, they actually share basic characteristics and similarities of structure and function.  Beginning with a stimulus (the vision of the car or the sound of the horn), a cascade of complex interactions occurs that send signals through neural circuits so that we can respond to our surroundings.Continue reading