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

Inhibitory Neurons: Keeping the Brain’s Traffic in Check

Imagine that you’re driving down a road undeterred, no red lights or stop signs to slow you down. While that may seem like a very exciting idea, it is obviously very dangerous, since our roads are not all parallel, but interconnected in a number of different ways. For traffic to go smoothly in all directions, we have stop signs, red lights, speed bumps and police cars to make sure no accidents occur. Continue reading

Forming Memories, One Neuron at a Time

On Monday, Knowing Neurons highlighted a recent research article that described a new miniature microscope that was small enough to sit on a mouse’s head and light enough to allow it to move freely!  This technology represents a great advancement for the field of neuroscience in general and place cell research, specifically!  For the first time, researchers at Stanford are able to literally watch neurons turn on and off in the hippocampus of a mouse, while it explores an open arena (video), all in real time. This technology adds a new twist on a classic way of studying how the brain maps out the world around us.Continue reading

Epilepsy: The Brain’s Cacophony

Imagine sitting in the front row of the Walt Disney Concert Hall on opening night. The LA Philharmonic’s conductor, Gustavo Dudamel, has tirelessly prepared an amazing performance: Mozart’s Symphony No. 40 in G minor. The lights dim as Gustavo enters, and the orchestra stands as he steps on the podium. After a short pause, the musicians sit quietly and ready their instruments. Gustavo reaches for his baton, raises his arms slowly and stands silently for a brief moment. Then, with a slight nod, he leads the orchestra through the subtle first measures of the allegro. The symphony is absolutely wonderful! Every musician plays each individual note beautifully, and every measure of the symphony breathes with a steady rhythm and wonderful harmony.Continue reading

Stopping seizures is as simple as turning on a light (and some genetics)

What if you change your mind with the flip of a light switch?  Over the past decade, optogenetics has become an important component of neuroscience research.  By introducing genes that code for fast light-activated proteins (opsins) into a specific cell-type, researchers can shine a certain color of light onto living tissue to activate these opsins and examine how those specific cells’ activity modulates behavior in real-time.  For example, light-activation of specific neurons in the motor cortex of a mouse causes it to only make right turns, but otherwise behave normally when the light is off.  Thus, optogenetics is a great tool to see how neural activity is coordinated with behavior.Continue reading