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.

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

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

The Smell of the Good Ol Days Knowing Neurons Cover

The Smell of the Good Ol’ Days

The innumerable ways in which our parents contribute to our physical and mental identities are as complex as they are fascinating.  From the genetic information they share with us to their efforts to mold our values and social lives, it is clear that we owe much of “who we are” to our parents.  But a new study in Nature Neuroscience reveals that our grandparents may also influence us – even before we are born!  Researchers Brian Dias and Kerry Ressler of Emory University showed that an animal’s experience could have substantial impacts on the neuroanatomy and behavioral sensitivity of its offspring in at least two subsequent generations.Continue reading

What is Pain Cover Spinal Cord Knowing Neurons Neuropathic Dorsal Root Ganglia C-fiber

What is Pain?

For many, pain is an indescribably awful feeling that causes suffering and emotional distress.  It is a sensation that is so unpleasant – so unbearable – that most people will go to great lengths to avoid it.  For others, enduring pain has become a rite of passage (tattoo, anyone?) that signifies mental strength and discipline.  The ceremony, however, does not diminish the pain itself or one’s primal urge to avoid it.  Regardless, many people live a relatively pain-free life, and those that choose to endure pain do so on their own free will.  For those that suffer from neuropathic pain, however, pain has become an unavoidable specter that haunts every moment of their lives.Continue reading

The Newest Cupid on the Block: Epigenetics

Genes are no different from individuals. Sometimes they behave in a simple, logical way. Other times, they are unpredictable and influenced by their surroundings. The central dogma (DNA to RNA to protein) describes a sequential two-step process that is very similar to the linear progression from school to college and then to work. But sometimes, things get in the way that might delay our journey from school to work or might take us off course altogether! Similarly, genes can also be influenced by intangible “external” factors. The science of epigenetics studies how the expression of genes can be influenced by factors other than changes in the DNA sequence itself.Continue reading

You Are Here: Mapping The World With Neurons

“You are here.”  It’s the phrase that you’ll find on almost any map, punctuated with the ubiquitous oversized arrow.  It is the salient mark in a sea of confusing lines, shapes and labels that provides orientation and a sense of direction.  Since the release of Google Maps and smart phones, many of us have become accustomed to having a boundless map in the palms of our hands, one that constantly updates according to our position in the world, complete with a large arrow.  But in the absence of a map, directory, or an oversized arrow, how do you find your way?  Where is the internal map in your brain and how does it store information about the world in a sea of connected neurons?  Neuroscientists have been asking these questions for nearly thirty years now, and we only have a vague idea of how the brain forms internal representations of the outside world.Continue reading

The Road to Post Traumatic Stress Disorder Begins at the Intersection of DNA and Childhood Trauma

Shakespeare left out a crucial component for understanding human behavior when he wrote:

it is not in the stars to hold our destiny but in ourselves.

Our genetic predispositions are only part of the equation when it comes to determining our risk for developing psychiatric disorders. Exposure to stressful environments during critical periods of brain development plays a dramatic role in changing gene function and influencing response to traumatic events in adulthood.Continue reading

Let There Be Light!

When I was an undergraduate student, I was an expert at pulling “all-nighter” study sessions prior to exams and project deadlines.  Once everything was said and done the next day, many of my classmates moved on to celebratory happy hours, while the only thing that could make me happy at the time was heading to bed!  Even after some rest, however, I was slow, lethargic, and felt misplaced.Continue reading