What is Obsessive Compulsive Disorder?

Our thoughts are often mysterious to us. You probably don’t know why you suddenly think about a Komodo dragon while sitting in traffic or Citizen Kane while shopping for groceries. Such moments remind us that we are each the emergent property of an amazingly complex organ that never stops surprising us. Nonetheless, we usually feel in control of our thoughts. Even with the occasional unexpected thought, life continues as normal.Continue reading

Stimulating Neural Circuits with Magnetism

Brain stimulation might sound like some Frankensteinian demonstration from a Victorian science fair. But in reality, it is a contemporary technique making a huge impact in neuroscience by addressing a longstanding limitation of traditional methods for investigating human brain function. Such techniques, like EEG and fMRI, can only be used to infer the effects of a stimulus or task on brain activity, and not vice versa. For example, a scientist might use EEG to study the effect of a task like arm movement on brain activity, but how can one study the effect of brain activity on arm movement?Continue reading

Digging Out the “Earworms:” Involuntary Musical Imagery Correlates with Cortical Structure

You don’t know you know this song, but you definitely know this song: “Hey Mickey you’re so fine, you’re so fine you…” Did the end of the lyric materialize in your mind, complete with musical accompaniment? Your memory of Toni Basil’s “Mickey” is so ingrained, it will probably continue to annoy for several hours after you finish reading this article. Sorry. However, the example illustrates “stuck song syndrome” or more formally, involuntary musical imagery (INMI), a universal phenomenon of having music looping in one’s head. How do musical tunes affix to the architecture of the brain? Is the structure of some brains “stickier” than others?Continue reading

A Tale of Monogamy and Dopamine

In a recent hack, private information from nearly 30 million users was leaked from Ashley Madison, a “dating” website intended to facilitate extramarital affairs.  The sheer number of Ashley Madison users on this website raises some age-old questions of monogamy: is it instinctual, or even healthy?  What is it about our brains that cause some to seek monogamy and others to reject it?Continue reading

Smells Like Teen Synapses: A Look Inside Adolescent Brains and Behaviors

Smells Like Teen Synapses: A Look Inside Adolescent Brains and Behaviors

“I would there were no age between sixteen and three-and-twenty, or that youth would sleep out the rest; for there is nothing in the between but getting wenches with child, wronging the ancientry, stealing, fighting…”

The old shepherd’s thoughts from Shakespeare’s A Winter’s Tale resonate centuries later when we consider examples of stereotypical teenage behavior – emotional outbursts, angst, and recklessness just to name a few.  But if we dismiss teenagers as lacking emotional discipline, we fail to understand the complex neural underpinnings that drive much of this behavior and allow a concerned adult to guide teens through this critical stage of brain development.Continue reading

Dendritic Spines Knowing Neurons

Keeping Memories Fresh by Keeping Glutamate In Check

We are another year older, perhaps a little wiser, and probably more forgetful.  Indeed, making memories is quite a process in the brain: specific synaptic connections are strengthened and new proteins are synthesized.  But as we age, the synapses that make up our memories, such as those in the hippocampus and prefrontal cortex, start to change and can be lost altogether.  The detrimental synaptic alterations may not be permanent, however, and maintaining the health of these synapses may be the key to preventing age-related cognitive decline.Continue reading