Weird Animal Brain: Octopus

The octopus almost reaches alien status when it comes to its brain and nervous system.  And yet, the differences can help us understand more about the human brain as well as unique solutions nature has come up with for difficult problems like camouflage.  Octopuses can see polarized light, but cannot see color.  However, their skin changes both color and texture to camouflage with the surroundings.Continue reading

Learning from Disorder: The Paradox of Information in the Brain

In Dante’s Inferno, the fifth circle of Hell is a place where the wrathful fight each other for eternity.  Similarly, I often consider YouTube comments to be an extracanonical circle of Hell where the trolls fight each other for eternity.  You might, then, imagine my surprise when I found many thoughtful comments expressing wonder and intrigue on a YouTube video of brain activity in a zebrafish.  Continue reading

WIDE AWAKE at #SfN14

There’s always one person snoring through the talk you’re trying to listen to at SfN.  That person might even be you at some point during this meeting!  Whether you are sleepy because of the time change, or because you finished your poster at 3AM, or because you were up late catching up with friends and colleagues, sleep is an essential behavior that is regulated by two independent processes: (1) a circadian clock that regulates the timing of sleep, and (2) a homeostatic mechanism that influences the amount and depth of sleep.  Surprisingly, despite significant progress in our understanding of the molecular clock, the mechanisms by which the circadian clock regulates the timing of sleep is poorly understood.Continue reading

Science with a Touch of Art: A Conversation with David Ginty

David GintyIf you think about it, the surface of the human body, the skin, is actually one huge sheet of tactile receptors. The dozens of types of receptors that innervate the skin help us connect with our surroundings. But the properties of these neurons – how they are organized in the skin, where the project into the spinal cord and brainstem, and how this organization gives rise to the sense of touch – are actually poorly understood! I spoke with David Ginty, Ph.D., who is Professor of Neurobiology at Harvard Medical School and an investigator with the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, to find out about the newest ways his lab is studying sensory biology.Continue reading

Hubel and Wiesel & the Neural Basis of Visual Perception

Snap!  Crackle!  Pop!

Those are the sounds that Professors David Hubel and Torsten Wiesel heard in the early 1950s when they recorded from neurons in the visual cortex of a cat, as they moved a bright line across its retina.  During their recordings, they noticed a few interesting things: (1) the neurons fired only when the line was in a particular place on the retina, (2) the activity of these neurons changed depending on the orientation of the line, and (3) sometimes the neurons fired only when the line was moving in a particular direction.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

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

What do single cell green algae have to do with the state of the art of neuroscience?

Well, a lot actually!  Green algae, or Chlamydomonas reinhardtii to be formal, are the unicellular organisms with a unique trait that has been helping make huge advances in modern neuroscience in only the past eight years.  In their natural environment, these little organisms use an “eye spot” located inside the cell to detect light and to swim toward it (phototaxis).  Researchers have been studying these little critters for years and discovered the algae use a unique photosensitive ion channel that converts a light signal into a voltage change that provides information to the algae.Continue reading