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

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

Understanding the Visual System: A Conversation with Botond Roska

Botond_RoskaWhen we see the world, there is a huge amount of processing that occurs in the neural circuits of the retina, thalamus, and cortex before we can even begin to comprehend our environment. And all of this computation happens very quickly! In this interview with Dr. Botond Roska, Senior Group Leader at the Friedrich Miescher Institute for Biomedical Research in Basel, Switzerland, we discuss his research on the elements of the visual system that compute visual information as well as how this knowledge can be used to help blind patients. Dr. Roska was inspired by the work and scientific approach of David Hubel (more about this on Wednesday!), and continues to follow his example: “Listen to the experiment, and not your colleagues,” says Dr. Roska. But what would he be, if not a neuroscientist? Find out in my conversation with Dr. Roska, who also shares his story of transition from musician, to medicine, to mathematics and to neuroscience!Continue reading

The amygdala: a full brain integrator in the face of fear

You are sitting at your computer quietly reading this article when – BOOM! – there is a sharp loud noise behind you! You instinctively stop what you are doing, jump up, and turn to the source of the noise. You freeze where you stand, and your brain quickly assesses the danger of the situation. Although it may seem like a brief moment, your brain is processing a ton of information and trying to decide if you should run away or stay and fight!Continue reading