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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Smooth Move: How GABAergic Interneurons Regulate Skilled Motor Behavior

In early 2014, the American free-solo rock climber Alex Honnold climbed 2,500 feet of limestone without ropes.  The demanding route called El Sendero Luminoso in El Potrero Chico, Mexico required 3 hours of intense concentration and precise movements. One wrong move and the young climber would have fallen thousands of feet with catastrophic consequences. In the video featured below, you see Honnold’s skilled movements and elegant displays of strength and precision. His ability to dramatically support his body weight with his fingertips and scale the wall like a spider monkey is due to the elaborate neural transformations that are directing each motor act.  The ability to perform an action like a climb is dependent on sensory feedback and refinement of local inhibitory microcircuits. Goal-directed reaching behavior depends on a hardwired control systems that underlies our capacity to smoothly execute movement.Continue reading

Decoding the Brain’s “Low Fuel” Signal

The human body is an efficient model to explore the popular theory of supply and demand.  When you physically exert yourself, your bioenergetic “supply” is down, so you feel hungrier as your system “demands” more food.  In much the same way, the neurons in your brain are busy firing action potentials, and their bioenergetic fuel quickly gets used up.  So, how do these neurons signal that they need more energy?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

Chromosome Silencing: Turning Off Genes in Down Syndrome

Close your eyes and try to imagine medical treatment in the future.  I envision sophisticated robots wielding lasers that precisely eliminate deadly tumors.  I predict that insight from genome wide association studies (GWAS) will explode allowing for personalized human genomics to move center stage.  Effectively identifying genetic abnormalities has the potential to take the guesswork out of choosing the most effective drug treatment for an individual.  In my wildest daydreams, I imagine a technology that would enable silencing of entire extra chromosomes associated with developmental disorders.Continue reading

A World Without Pain Knowing Neurons Jillian Shaw Ouch

A World Without Pain

In Northern Pakistan, a ten-year old street performer awed and horrified crowds with his ability to place knives through his arms and walk across burning coals all seemingly without pain.  Closer examination by physicians revealed that he could perceive sensations of touch, differentiate between hot and cold temperatures, distinguish between a tickle and applied pressure, but had no aversion to painful stimuli.  Continue reading

From Turkey Comas To New Disease Treatments

Crystallography

Neurodegenerative disorders, like Huntington’s and Alzheimer’s disease, are devastating.  As you can imagine, witnessing the slow and progressive loss of a loved one’s mental and emotional states is an extremely painful and heartbreaking experience.  Currently, there are no cures for neurodegenerative diseases, and the drugs that are available only alleviate symptoms, without slowing the progression of the disease.Continue reading

Not just skin deep: Neurons detect pleasurable touch

What separates us from our physical environment is our skin. From the minute we wake up, we use our somatosensation to start our tangible interaction with the world. Is the water in the shower warm enough? Ouch, that razor blade hurts! These socks are really soft! All of these are sensations attributed to numerous neurons that innervate our skin. While some sensations are quick and call for immediate response (like a pinprick), others are relatively slow and grow on us (like the warmth of water or the pleasure during a massage).Continue reading