Self Reflected: The Best of Neuroscience and Art

The phrase, “beauty is in the eye of the beholder” seems especially true for scientists. What we study becomes not only intellectually beautiful, but also literally beautiful: the form is pleasing to the eyes. Appreciation and endearment develops over time as scientists gaze on their subject for hours, days, years. In fact, research by the psychologist Robert Zajonc shows that the more familiar you are with something, the more likely you are to enjoy it.

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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 Departure of Skill Memories from Motor Cortex: Deeper Directions for Neuroscience

You probably have certain skills that I don’t.  Each of us, having spent enough time practicing something new, can become an expert.  A simple, ubiquitous example is driving a car with a manual transmission.  The precise sequence and timing of controlling the clutch, giving gas, and shifting the gears are challenging to coordinate when initially learning to drive a stick shift.  But eventually, the precision with which we can perform these sequences of movements is impressive.  Specifically, the errors we make when learning, indicated by gear grinding and stalling, are reduced with repeated practice.  Skill learning is relatively easy to train both in humans and in animals.  It therefore serves as a great way to study how the brain forms memories and uses those memories in the future.Continue reading

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

Hiker at Sunset

Heightened Senses: Cross-Modal Neuroplasticity

Envision this scenario.  It’s the end of a grueling hike and you’re racing back to civilization along a trail in the mountains as darkness falls.  You’ve become separated from your fellow hikers when all of a sudden the last beams of sunlight fade and the moonless night descends.  You reach into your backpack for your flashlight only to realize that the batteries are dead.  Accustomed to relying on your visual system, you panic upon being plunged into temporary blindness.  But wait!  All of a sudden the previously inaudible footsteps of your companions become heightened as you discriminate where they are and race off in the direction of their voices.Continue reading

Directed Greatness Knowing Neurons

Is Self-Awareness Humanity’s Greatest Trait?

The adult human brain is comprised of approximately 86 billion neurons on average, with at least as many nonneuronal cells, networked together to create the substance and memories of a human being.  Every skill that you’ve acquired, every memory that you’ve formed, and every experience you’ve ever had is contained and represented by these neural connections and networks.  Continue reading

Resolving New Memories: Adult Neurogenesis by Knowing Neurons

Resolving New Memories: Adult Neurogenesis

When I was young, my family lived in an old farmhouse.  It was cozy and had a lot of character but, at over 150 years old, it showed its age.  My bedroom was unique since it had been updated with blue shag carpet sometime in the 1970’s.  It was also unique because there was a tiny nail that poked up through the floorboards a few inches past the doorway, hidden from view by the shag.  I knew exactly where that nail was though; I had stepped on it late one night and woke the house with my cries of pain!  Continue reading