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 Epigenetic Legacy of Trauma

The evening of November 9th, 1938, began with typical fall solemnity for many Jews living across Germany: closing up their shops and businesses, returning home from school, and preparing family suppers. It would end with terror, as mobs ransacked storefronts, assaulted Jews on the street, and set fire to their homes. That terrible night would be known to history by the glittering debris of shattered windows lining the streets: “Kristallnacht.”

Kristallnacht, and the subsequent atrocities of Germany’s holocaust against the Jews, changed the world. Modernity had to forever acknowledge a surprising and abhorrent crime. Societies would undergo lasting changes, attempting to prevent such crimes, and the victims themselves, sadly, would suffer long-lasting impacts to their psyche.Continue reading

Copy Number Variants: A Window into Psychiatric Illness

The human genome consists of nearly 25,000 protein-coding genes – and a mutation in just one of these can have dramatic effects on our brains.  Remarkably, one tiny change in our genes (which can be as small as 0.000000025 cm!) can lead to visible changes in our behavior.  Schizophrenia, autism, bipolar disorder, and ADHD have all been linked to variations in our DNA.  But how do changes in our genetic code result in these complex psychiatric disorders?Continue reading

How Do We Know? The Value of Scientific Models.

Last month, astronomers announced the prediction of a new giant planet in our solar system dubbed Planet IX, a genuine ninth planet with ten times the mass of Earth.  The announcement lead to some confusion on the Internet as to the whether the planet had actually been discovered.  In fact, no direct observation of this planet has been made. Rather, the planet has been predicted by a model, a simplified description of a system which often incorporates hypothetical elements to explain the variance in data.  Because many models use equations to describe a system, a model can often be thought of as a theory with a mathematical backbone.Continue reading

CRISPR-Cas9 Knowing Neurons

CRISPR-Cas9: Targeted Genome Editing

CRISPR_Updated_FINAL_size

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Infographic by Jooyeun Lee and Kate Fehlhaber.

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References:

Hsu P. & Feng Zhang (2014). Development and Applications of CRISPR-Cas9 for Genome Engineering, Cell, 157 (6) 1262-1278. DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.cell.2014.05.010

Fineran P.C. (2014). Gene regulation by engineered CRISPR-Cas systems, Current Opinion in Microbiology, 18 83-89. DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.mib.2014.02.007

Doudna J.A. (2014). The new frontier of genome engineering with CRISPR-Cas9, Science, 346 (6213) 1258096-1258096. DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1126/science.1258096

From Stevens to Synapses: A Conversation with Kelsey Martin

martin_10_18Take your wildest guess.  How many neurons make up the human brain?  You’re not guessing wild enough if you said anything less than a trillion.  The circuitry of the human brain consists of a quadrillion (1015) synapses.  These neural circuits aren’t necessarily hard-wired and have the capacity to be re-wired in response to experience. In our interview with Dr. Kelsey C. Martin, Professor of Psychiatry and Biological Chemistry at University of California, Los Angeles, we discuss the long-lasting forms of plasticity that enable memories to be formed.  During the course of our conversation, Dr. Martin shares stories from her time in the Peace Corps. and discusses what it was like to study memory formation as a post-doc in the lab of the Nobel Prize winning scientist, Eric Kandel.  In this highly anticipated interview from Knowing Neurons, we sit down with Dr. Martin to get advice on what it takes to become a Principal Investigator, to discuss her upcoming Presidential lecture at SFN, and to find out exactly what this English major turned M.D./Ph.D. is currently reading.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