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(Anatomy) Brain and Central Nervous System
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PostPosted: Fri May 04, 2007 1:16 pm    Post subject: Mirror Neurons: How We Reflect on Behavior Reply with quote

Mirror Neurons: How We Reflect on Behavior
By Eric Jaffe
May 2007

In the mid-1990s, scientists at the University of Parma, in Italy, made a discovery so novel that it shifted the way psychologists discuss the brain. After researchers implanted electrodes into the heads of monkeys, they noticed a burst of activity in the premotor cortex when the animals clutched a piece of food. In a wonderfully fictitious account of the discovery, neuroscientist Giacomo Rizzolatti was licking ice cream in the lab when this same region again fired in the monkeys. In an equally wonderful truthful account, the neurons in this region did, in fact, fire when the monkeys merely watched researchers handle food.

Mirror neurons — the tiny neurological structures that fire both when we perceive action and take it, exposing the true social nature of the brain — had been identified. Since that time, the term has become a powerful buzz phrase: technical enough to impress at dinner parties; simple enough to explain to Grandma; sweeter sounding than, say, the Bose-Einstein condensate. Recently, I wrote an article for this magazine about the power of movies on behavior; to my surprise, many researchers discussed, without prompting, the role mirror neurons play in explaining why viewers connect so strongly with on-screen emotions. A short while later I read an article in Time magazine that said mirror neurons might form the basis for empathy, social behavior, and even language. One psychologist placed these neurons on the same plane as DNA in the realm of scientific discovery.

Mirror neurons, it seems, are of the utmost importance in human mind, and on the tip of the collective psychological tongue.

“It’s going to make a big change,” says neuroscientist Marco Iacoboni, University of California, Los Angeles, of the discovery’s impact on psychology. “Psychological studies started with the idea that a solitary mind looks at the world in a detached way. Mirror neurons tell us we’re literally in the minds of other people.”

Multitasking Mental Cells
The striking implication of mirror neurons is that the same brain region that controls action also supports perception, writes Günther Knoblich, Rutgers University, in the June 2006 Current Directions in Psychological Science. If observing behavior occurs in the same area as actually behaving, then social interaction would seem to play a large role in cognition. It explains, for example, why spectators at a boxing match sometimes jab at the air and why seeing a violent blow to the head makes them recoil physically. The poet John Donne was on the right track: We are not islands, unto ourselves.

This social link between perception and action can be traced back to William James, says Knoblich. James explained that performing a movement required first having a mental picture of that movement. In the 1970s and 1980s, psychologists like APS Fellow Anthony Greenwald and Wolfgang Prinz extended this ideomotor principle, demonstrating that seeing and doing branch off the same tree.

But it was the work done with monkeys in Rizzolatti’s lab that gave a name to the multitasking mental cells that make this possible. Mirror neurons fire when monkeys break peanuts in their hands, when they see others break peanuts — even when, in total darkness, they merely hear peanuts being broken. “That’s why it’s called a mirror neuron,” says Iacoboni. “It’s almost like the monkey is watching his own action reflected by the mirror.”

Mirror neurons haven’t been pinpointed in people with the same precision that electrodes can pinpoint them in monkeys. (As a result, many researchers refer to a general “mirror system.”) Still, several recent functional imaging studies support a social side to human cognition, with which people internally replay the actions they view in another before acting themselves.

In a 2003 study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, a research team that included Iacoboni found that imitating and observing facial expressions activated the same regions of the brain. A study in Science a year later showed activity in similar neural regions whether a subject actually experienced a painful stimulus or simply observed a loved one receiving the same shock. To many researchers, these and similar findings suggest that mirror neurons play a large role in empathy.

The multitalented mirror system might even understand another person’s intentions, suggests research published in PLoS Biology in 2005. To test whether the mirror system simply recognizes action or also grasps the meaning of an action, Iacoboni and his colleagues showed different types of videos to 23 subjects. “Context” clips, free of action, showed a teapot, a mug, and some cookies before and after tea time. “Intention” clips showed the same before and after scene, but included a hand getting ready to either drink the cup (before tea time) or clean up the cup (after).

While mirror regions showed similar activity during context videos, they showed significantly more activity during the “drinking” intention clips than during the “cleaning” intention clips. Mirror neurons, the test suggests, might do more than acknowledge action; they might codify it.

“Our social dimension would be completely destroyed” without mirror neurons, Iacoboni says. “The only way I could understand you would be by complicated mechanisms. It would be a very different world.”

Baby See, Baby Do
People don’t waste much time becoming part of this social world. Babies can imitate behavior two to three weeks after they’re born, says developmental psychologist and APS Fellow and Charter Member Andrew Meltzoff, University of Washington. In a 1977 issue of Science, decades before the term “mirror neurons” existed, Meltzoff published evidence that infants this young can imitate a mouth opening, a finger moving or a tongue peeking through lips. The discovery of mirror neurons was a neurophysiological explanation for the developmental behaviors Meltzoff had been noticing for decades.

“Human beings are not born exclusively with a set of reflexes or fixed action patterns,” says Meltzoff. “A key mechanism is learning from social others by observing.”

Meltzoff’s findings flew in the face of Jean Piaget’s solipsistic theories that people begin life in asocial isolation, slowly gaining an understanding of the relationship between the self and other. “Babies don’t become social,” Meltzoff says, “they’re social at birth.”

This early work set the stage for what he now calls the “Like Me” theory of child development. In the first months and years of life, babies realize that other people are like them. “From the moment we’re born, we’re organizing movement as ‘like me,’” or not like me, he says. “A tree blows, but it’s not moving like me. A ball flies, but it’s not moving like me. But a mother opens her hands, and suddenly the baby’s riveted. They can begin to learn.”

Over time, babies learn that they can act with intent and variety. They experience the ability to perform an action differently from the person they are imitating. Eventually they realize internal states, such as desire; further down the line they develop empathy.

The child-rearing implications for this work are powerful: Imitative social games, such as patty-cake, can help create the mental maps of others that lead to empathic feelings. “Empathy doesn’t emerge miraculously, as a virgin birth,” Meltzoff says. “It grows out of things that are simpler beginnings.”

Recently, however, Meltzoff and his colleague Betty Repacholi have found that infants aren’t simply sponges that absorb imitation only to spill it back out as processed. Infants as young as 18 months old can regulate their imitation, the researchers report in the March/April 2006 Child Development.

To test such regulation, the researchers played with an object in front of infant subjects. After a while, another person entered the room. Sometimes this person expressed anger toward the experimenter performing the task; other times, the person remained neutral.

After this person left the room, the infants were given the chance to play with the object. At this point, the person who had been either angry or neutral returned to the room. Infants who had seen the neutral person were more likely to play with the object than those who had witnessed the angry outbreak, the researchers report.

What’s more, infants who had seen an angry response were more likely to play with the object if the angry person either didn’t return to the room or faced away from the infant. The research, says Meltzoff, shows for the first time that 18-month-olds can modify their imitation on the basis of their surroundings.

“That’s what makes humans different from monkeys,” he says. “Mirror neurons show how what you see can be connected with what you do, but human beings can also regulate their behavior.”

My Brain’s a Blender
Psychologists are finding that the mature adult mirror system does indeed seem to regulate itself, particularly when it comes to empathy. Such checks and balances occur for our own good. If, through the mirror system, we were able to completely experience the pain of another person, we might constantly feel distressed.

Clarifying this phenomenon might require a temporary substitute for the term “mirror system.” A regulated mirror system acts not as a complete mirror, merely flipping around another’s emotions, nor as a sponge, expelling only what it soaks up. Perhaps the mind is more like a kitchen blender: We understand the raw feelings of a friend in pain, but instead of devouring them whole we mix, chop, and purée them into a more digestible serving. Our blender brains enable us to simultaneously provide support and avoid emotional paralysis.

“The best response to another’s distress may not be distress, but efforts to soothe that distress,” says Jean Decety, University of Chicago, who discusses the subject in the April 2006 Current Directions in Psychological Science. “Empathy has a sharing component, but also self-other distinctions and the capacity to regulate one’s own emotions and feelings.”

In one study, writes Decety, researchers showed subjects a video of patients feeling pain as a result of medical treatment. Some subjects imagined themselves in the patient’s position, whereas others merely considered the patient’s feelings. Patients who put themselves in the painful shoes showed stronger neural responses in regions of the brain involved in experiencing real pain.

“If we were to consciously feel what [others] feel all the time, we would be in permanent emotional turmoil, leaving no room for our own emotions,” report Frédérique de Vignemont and Tania Singer in a recent Trends in Cognitive Science. When subjects playing a game witness a fair opponent in pain, neural regions controlling empathy are activated, the researchers found. But that’s not always the case when subjects, particularly males, see a deceptive opponent in pain. The way that relationships qualify empathy might explain why some people appear to lack compassion. Experiencing empathy for someone considered an enemy, after all, may not be a beneficial behavioral characteristic.

More primitive motivations, such as hunger, might also govern the mirror system. In a study that appeared in Cerebral Cortex, Decety, Meltzoff, and Yawei Cheng showed two groups of subjects a video of a person grasping food. Some of the subjects had fasted for at least 12 hours before the viewing; others had a meal before the session. Using functional imaging, the researchers found greater activity in the mirror systems of the hungry subjects. When a blender brain is running on empty it reacts strongly to the site of fresh fruit; when it’s filled to the brim with a smoothie, it’s less interested.

“There is a functional link between motivation and the motor system that will be used to achieve a goal,” Decety says. “When you want something badly, our perception-action system is readily tuned to perceive and act upon the aspects in the environment that will satisfy our internal state.”

What remains unclear about mirror system regulation is the order in which it occurs. Empathic response might occur automatically, only to be modified later; it might also be the outcome of a split-second neurological appraisal.

Cracks in the Mirror System
The evolutionary benefits of an efficient and well-regulated perception-action system that swings into action shortly after birth are numerous. A glimpse into another person’s emotions might help predict that person’s behavior. Understanding the face of pain from an early age could keep us from touching a hot stove. At a greater social level, a personal insight into the experiences of others could aid cooperation.

But as the functions of a healthy mirror system become clearer, some researchers have turned attention to what happens when the system falters. Many have discovered a connection between dysfunctional mirror regions and social disorders — namely, autism.

“At this point, it seems that autism is the field in which [the mirror system] will have the most immediate impact,” says Iacoboni.

To investigate this connection, Iacoboni and his colleagues studied the neurological activity of 20 child subjects, half of whom had autism. The subjects saw 80 pictures of faces expressing anger, fear, happiness, sadness, or nothing in particular. The researchers asked some subjects to merely view the faces and others to imitate them.

In the group of autistic children asked to imitate the faces, the researchers found no activity in brain regions associated with mirror neurons they report in a 2006 issue of Nature Neuroscience — the first report to demonstrate a difference in mirror activity between a control group and autistic children. The more severe the condition, says Iacoboni, the less active the mirror-neuron system seems to be.

Others believe it’s too early to know the role mirror regions play in social impairments. So many theories have connected autism and brain dysfunction that the only responsible way to approach any new one, however promising, is with caution, says Decety.

“People tend to overgeneralize when there’s some exciting finding,” says Knoblich. Mirror neurons play a clear and important role in social cognition, he says, but the scope of that role — and how it is influenced by other processes, such as language — remains to be seen. “There’s a lot of hype around the mirror system, but I don’t think it’s arrived yet in psychology enough.”


- Eric Jaffe is an Observer contributor and Associate Web Editor of Smithsonian magazine
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PostPosted: Mon May 07, 2007 10:47 am    Post subject: Sex on the brain Reply with quote

Heidelberg/New York, 7 May 2007
Archives of Sexual Behavior

Sex on the brain

Survey reveals brain differences between the sexes

New evidence on sex differences in people’s brains and behaviors emerges with the publication of results from the British Broadcasting Corporation’s (BBC) Sex ID Internet Survey. Survey questions and tests focused on participants’ sex-linked cognitive abilities, personality traits, interests, sexual attitudes and behavior, as well as physical traits. The Archives of Sexual Behavior¹ has devoted a special section in its April 2007 issue to research papers based on the BBC data.

For the full article:

http://www.springer-sbm.com/in.....35dfd9816f
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PostPosted: Thu May 24, 2007 11:37 am    Post subject: A First: Brain Cell Seen While Developing Reply with quote

A First: Brain Cell Seen While Developing
By LiveScience Staff

posted: 24 May 2007 11:15 am ET

For the first time, a scientist has observed a neuron developing in real time in the brain of a mammal.

Neurons, or nerve cells, transmit information in the brain through chemical and electrical signals. The human brain is estimated to have about 100 billion neurons.

A new study, published in the online edition of Nature Neuroscience, used mouse models to study how neurons developed from non-specialized cellular spheres into the rich and complex cells found in the brain and spinal cord.

For the full article:

http://www.livescience.com/hea.....ation.html
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PostPosted: Mon May 28, 2007 8:04 am    Post subject: 'Smart' mice teach scientists about learning process, brain Reply with quote

UT Southwestern Medical Center

'Smart' mice teach scientists about learning process, brain disorders

DALLAS – May 27, 2007 -- Mice genetically engineered to lack a single enzyme in their brains are more adept at learning than their normal cousins, and are quicker to figure out that their environment has changed, a team led by researchers at UT Southwestern Medical Center has found.

The results, appearing today in the online edition of the journal Nature Neuroscience, reveal a new mechanism of learning in the brain, which might serve in humans as a target for treating disorders such as post-traumatic stress disorder, Alzheimer’s disease or drug addiction, the researchers said.

"It’s pretty rare that you make mice ‘smarter,’ so there are a lot of cognitive implications," said Dr. James Bibb, assistant professor of psychiatry and the study’s senior author.

"Everything is more meaningful to these mice," he said. "The increase in sensitivity to their surroundings seems to have made them smarter."

The engineered mice were more adept at learning to navigate a water maze and remembering that being in a certain box involves a mild shock. Equally important, Dr. Bibb said, when a situtation changed, such as the water maze being rearranged, the engineered mice were much faster to realize that things were different and work out the new route.

Dr. Bibb cautioned that while the mice learn faster, studies on the long-term effects of deleting the enzyme, called Cdk5, from the brain are continuing.

The group is also beginning a search for drugs that might create the same effects without genetic manipulation and monitoring the animals’ health and behavior over time.

The findings may have applications in treating post-traumatic stress disorder, where getting a patient to learn that a once-threatening situation no longer poses a danger is a major goal.

In addition, Cdk5 is heavily implicated in Alzheimer’s disease and addiction to drugs of abuse, so understanding how the enzyme affects the brain and behavior might aid in the development of new treatments for these and other conditions, Dr. Bibb said.

The key in this study was being able to "knock out" the gene for Cdk5 only in the brain, and only when the mice were adults. This technique, only recently developed and called conditional knockout, allows much more sophisticated experiments than traditional knockout, which entirely eliminates the gene.

"Being able to turn a gene off throughout a brain is a really advanced thing to do," Dr. Bibb said. "It’s been shown that it can be done, but we put the system together and actually applied it."

Normally, Cdk5 works with another enzyme to break up a molecule called NR2B, which is found in nerve-cell membranes and stimulates the cell to fire when a nerve-cell-signaling molecule, or neurotransmitter, binds to it. NR2B previously has been implicated in the early stages of learning.

The new research showed that when Cdk5 is removed from the brain, the levels of NR2B significantly increase, and the mice are primed to learn, Dr. Bibb said.

"We made the animals ‘smarter,’ but in doing so and applying this technology, we also found biochemical targets that hold promise for future treatments of a variety of cognitive disorders," he said.

The researchers also recorded nerve-cell firings in the hippocampus, an area of the brain associated with learning. Hippocampus slices from the knock-out mice responded much more strongly to an electrical stimulation, supporting the finding that the mice were more prepared to learn.

###
Other UT Southwestern researchers involved in the study were Ammar Hawasli, David Benavides and Chan Nguyen, students in the Medical Scientist Training Program; Dr. Janice Kansy, instructor in psychiatry; Dr. Kanehiro Hayashi, postdoctoral researcher in psychiatry; Dr. Craig Powell, assistant professor of neurology; and Dr. Donald Cooper, assistant professor of psychiatry. Researchers from the Institut de Génétique et de Biologie Moléculaire et Cellulaire in Strausbourg, France, and The Rockefeller University also participated.

The work was supported by the National Institute on Drug Abuse, the National Institutes of Health, NARSAD, the National Institute of Mental Health and the Ella McFadden Charitable Trust Fund at the Southwestern Medical Foundation.

This news release is available on our World Wide Web home page at
http://www.utsouthwestern.edu/home/news/index.html

To automatically receive news releases from UT Southwestern via e-mail,
subscribe at www.utsouthwestern.edu/receivenews

Dr. James Bibb - http://www.utsouthwestern.edu/.....15,00.html
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PostPosted: Wed Jun 06, 2007 1:42 pm    Post subject: Adults Brains Still Make Youthful Cells Reply with quote

Adults Brains Still Make Youthful Cells
By Corey Binns, Special to LiveScience

posted: 06 June 2007 09:33 am ET

The brains of adult mammals are slowly, constantly churning out new brain cells. Previously scientists assumed the fresh neurons acted simply as replacements for old and dying cells.

But recent research suggests that these new adult neurons may help old cells adapt to new experiences and could someday be used to rejuvenate aging brains.

The study, detailed in the May 24 issue of the journal Neuron, shows new brain cells act just as youthful in adult mammals as those generated in young ones.

Hongjun Song at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine and colleagues tagged cells in the brains of mice so that brand new nerve cells glowed green and were easy to track. At 1 to 2 months old, the cells showed the ability to alter chemical inputs from nerves nearby, an indicator of youthfulness in cells that is often referred to as plasticity.

Not only were the novel cells acting young and agile, they were able to reinvigorate their elderly neighbors too.

For the full article:

http://www.livescience.com/hea.....cells.html
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PostPosted: Wed Jun 20, 2007 9:10 am    Post subject: Brain's voluntary chain-of-command ruled by not 1 but 2 capt Reply with quote

Washington University School of Medicine

Brain's voluntary chain-of-command ruled by not 1 but 2 captains

June 19, 2007 -- A probe of the upper echelons of the human brain's chain-of-command has found strong evidence that there are not one but two complementary commanders in charge of the brain, according to neuroscientists at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis.

It's as if Captains James T. Kirk and Jean-Luc Picard were both on the bridge and in command of the same starship Enterprise.


For the full article:

http://www.eurekalert.org/pub_.....061907.php
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PostPosted: Fri Jun 29, 2007 11:53 am    Post subject: Brain Scans Reveal Why Meditation Works Reply with quote

Brain Scans Reveal Why Meditation Works
By Melinda Wenner, Special to LiveScience

posted: 29 June 2007 09:08 am ET

If you name your emotions, you can tame them, according to new research that suggests why meditation works.

Brain scans show that putting negative emotions into words calms the brain's emotion center. That could explain meditation’s purported emotional benefits, because people who meditate often label their negative emotions in an effort to “let them go.”

Psychologists have long believed that people who talk about their feelings have more control over them, but they don't know why it works.

UCLA psychologist Matthew Lieberman and his colleagues hooked 30 people up to functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) machines, which scan the brain to reveal which parts are active and inactive at any given moment.

For the full article:

http://www.livescience.com/hea.....tions.html
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PostPosted: Mon Jul 02, 2007 7:12 am    Post subject: Study Reveals Why We Learn From Mistakes Reply with quote

Study Reveals Why We Learn From Mistakes
By Jeanna Bryner, LiveScience Staff Writer

posted: 01 July 2007 07:01 pm ET

Researchers have pinpointed an area in the brain that alerts us in less than a second of an impending mistake so we don’t repeat it.

Scientists have long known that mistakes are conducive to learning, suggesting the reason lies in the element of surprise upon finding out we are wrong. But how the brain manages to learn from mistakes and how quickly it does so have been unknowns.

“It's a bit of a cliché to say that we learn more from our mistakes than our successes,” said lead author of the study Andy Wills, a psychologist at the University of Exeter, “but for the first time we’ve established just how quickly the brain works to help us avoid repeating errors.”

For the full article:

http://www.livescience.com/hea.....takes.html
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PostPosted: Fri Jul 06, 2007 9:35 am    Post subject: Chemical in brain acts like a fuel gauge Reply with quote

Chemical in brain acts like a fuel gauge
USC
5 July 2007

A single neurotransmitter can carry the signal that alerts the brain to low blood sugar levels, say USC neuroscientists
The concept that a drop in blood sugar triggers a craving for food is best understood just before lunchtime.

But exactly how the process unfolds has proven difficult to explain, even on a full stomach.

Solving the puzzle would yield new insights in the fight against diabetes. Neuroscientists at the University of Southern California provide a partial answer in the July 4 issue of The Journal of Neuroscience.

Their study, highlighted by the journal on its news page, identifies a chemical that sends a “low blood sugar” message to a part of the brain that can do something about it.

The neurotransmitter norepinephrine travels from the hindbrain, which receives warnings of low glucose levels from the body, to the paraventricular hypothalamus, which authorizes the consumption of energy stores to replace the missing sugars.

The energy stores help for a while, but the end result is a feeling that the body is running on empty. Lunch, anyone"

While the study has few near-term clinical implications, except perhaps for diabetics with low blood sugar (hypoglycemia) from insulin overdoses, it is of fundamental interest in the field.

“There’s a huge interest in how the body senses glucose,” said Alan Watts, director of the Neuroscience Research Institute at USC and a co-author of the study.

“How that information is processed by the brain is really a hot current topic.”

Knowing how neurons relay hypoglycemia warnings is critical to understanding the overall glucose sensing mechanism in the brain, added corresponding author Arshad Khan, a research assistant professor at USC.

“That’s why I’m interested in this system, because it’s very poorly understood,” Khan said.

“If we don’t know how an automobile’s fuel system works to begin with, then how can we expect to fix one when it is not burning fuel appropriately"”

In his study, Khan injected insulin in a group of animals to drop their blood sugar levels. In another group, he injected norepinephrine directly into the paraventricular nucleus.

Khan then compared brain tissue sections from both groups of animals and also examined blood samples for the presence of hormones released by paraventricular nucleus activity.

The same paraventricular neurons lit up in both sets of animals, and the animals displayed similar increases in hormone levels, suggesting that norepinephrine plays a role in transmitting the hypoglycemia warning.

“Norepinephrine is capable of activating these signals just like hypoglycemia does,” Khan said.

Khan then confirmed his findings with analogous experiments in vitro carried out in collaboration with neuroscientists at the University of California, Riverside.

Additional results from an ongoing study suggest that norepinephrine is not only sufficient but necessary for conveying hypoglycemia signals from the hindbrain, Khan added.

The current study, funded by the National Institute of Mental Health and the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, was inspired by earlier work published in the journal Endocrinology by Sue Ritter of Washington State University.

In her studies, one of which was co-authored by Watts, Ritter showed that hypoglycemic animals lost their feeding and hormonal responses to hypoglycemia after damage to the norepinephrine pathways connecting the hindbrain to the hypothalamus.

###
Besides Watts, the other co-authors on Khan’s study were research associate Graciela Sanchez-Watts of USC and Todd Ponzio, Glenn Stanley and Glenn Hatton of UC Riverside.
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PostPosted: Tue Jul 10, 2007 7:58 am    Post subject: 'Virtual' mouse brains now available online Reply with quote

Duke University
9 July 2007

'Virtual' mouse brains now available online

DURHAM, N.C. -- A multi-institutional consortium including Duke University has created startlingly crisp 3-D microscopic views of tiny mouse brains -- unveiled layer by layer -- by extending the capabilities of conventional magnetic resonance imaging.

"These images can be more than 100,000 times higher resolution than a clinical MRI scan," said G. Allan Johnson, Duke's Charles E. Putman Distinguished Professor of radiology and professor of biomedical engineering and physics. He is first author of a report describing the innovations set for publication in the research journal NeuroImage. View it online at http://tinyurl.com/2upj7n .

Images on the website for Duke's Center for In Vivo Microscopy http://www.civm.duhs.duke.edu/ , which Johnson directs, reveal examples of these innovations in action. In one video two different mouse brains -- one from a normal animal and the other from a rodent missing a gene linked to mental abnormalities -- seem to assemble themselves before the viewer's eyes, structure by structure.

Watch the video with Johnson at http://realmedia.oit.duke.edu/.....imaging.rm (RealMedia) or http://quicktime.oit.duke.edu/.....maging.mov (Quicktime).

After building up like time-lapse photos of opening flowers, the side-by-side brain images begin revolving as overlying tissues dissolve into computer-rendered transparency. What remains visible, seemingly floating over the bases of the animals' skulls, are two color-coded brain structures -- the ventricles and hippocampus -- showing different volumes resulting from specific genetic differences.

Under funding from the National Center for Research Resources, the new imaging technologies are being developed and shared by six institutions that form the Mouse Bioinformatics Research Network (MBIRN).

Those six schools -- Duke, the California Institute of Technology, the University of Tennessee at Memphis, the University of California at Los Angeles, Drexel College of Medicine and the University of California at San Diego -- are connected via a very high speed network with each other as well as with the San Diego Supercomputing Center.

The consortium has developed the computer infrastructure to collect a rapidly growing library of 3-D mouse brain data, and make all the data available on the web http://tinyurl.com/3cgj6z . The goal is to use mouse brains as surrogates for human brains to study the connections between genes and brain structure. Investigators from all over the world are sending their models to Duke where the 3-D images are acquired in a standardized fashion and made available via high speed web connections.

High resolution magnetic resonance imaging -- which the researchers call "MRI histology" provides distortion-free 3-D images with superb ability to distinguish subtle tissue differences in the brain, according to Johnson.

"The specimen is still actually in the skull," he said. "It hasn't been cut by a knife. It has not been dehydrated and distorted as it would be in conventional histological techniques."

Using computer-guided statistical methods, the data can be segmented into more than 30 anatomical structures with quantitative volume measurements. These structures can then be computer-enhanced to produce color-coded and labeled volume renderings of selected anatomical details in 3-D, seen at any angle.

MRI scanning is also quicker and costs less than conventional histology, he said. MRI histology permits study of an entire brain, which would be prohibitively expensive using conventional methods.

The Duke center has pioneered the development of MRI microscopy to image the micro-anatomies of small biological specimens. The NeuroImage study describes the ways his group have devised to manipulate the signals to achieve varieties of contrasts and resolutions.

For instance, the technology can discriminate grey matter from the white matter within mouse brains. "We have the ability to highlight soft tissue differences with extraordinary clarity," Johnson said.

###
Other authors of the NeuroImage report, all affiliated with the center for in vivo microscopy, are Anjum Ali-Sharief, Alexandra Badea, Jeffrey Brandenburg, Gary Cofer, Boma Fubara, Sally Gewalt, Laurence Hedlund and Lucy Upchurch.
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PostPosted: Wed Jul 11, 2007 8:11 am    Post subject: How Brain Knows When Body 'Hits the Wall' Reply with quote

How Brain Knows When Body 'Hits the Wall'
By Robin Lloyd, LiveScience Senior Editor

posted: 10 July 2007 09:53 am ET

Scientists have pinned down a chemical signal that gives that sudden feeling that you've hit the wall and need candy now.

Norepinephrine was previously known to operate as a stress hormone as well as a neurotransmitter that plays a role in mood regulation and other physical processes, but the new research makes clear that it's also the final chemical step in warning the brain that it's out of gas.

USC neuroscientist Arshad Khan and his colleagues found that norepinephrine travels from the hindbrain, which receives warnings of low glucose levels, to a brain region called the paraventricular hypothalamus. There, the norepinephrine authorizes the consumption of energy stores to replace the missing sugars.

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http://www.livescience.com/hea.....sugar.html
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PostPosted: Thu Aug 02, 2007 2:49 pm    Post subject: Greatest Mysteries: How Does the Brain Work? Reply with quote

Greatest Mysteries: How Does the Brain Work?
By Jeanna Bryner, LiveScience Staff Writer

posted: 02 August 2007 09:04 am ET

Our brains can fathom the beginning of time and the end of the universe, but is any brain capable of understanding itself?

With billions of neurons, each with thousands of connections, one's noggin is a complex, and yes congested, mental freeway. Neurologists and cognitive scientists nowadays are probing how the mind gives rise to thoughts, actions, emotions and ultimately consciousness.

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http://www.livescience.com/str.....brain.html
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PostPosted: Tue Aug 07, 2007 9:35 am    Post subject: Greatest Mysteries: Who Are You? Reply with quote

Greatest Mysteries: Who Are You?
By Melinda Wenner, Special to LiveScience

posted: 07 August 2007 09:13 am ET

You might think you know yourself, but you’re wrong.

Scientists who study how the brain shapes identity and behavior say that we are actually quite unaware of who we really are. Much of what drives our actions and shapes our personality is unconscious.

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http://www.livescience.com/str.....sness.html
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PostPosted: Wed Sep 12, 2007 1:47 pm    Post subject: New Theory: How Intelligence Works Reply with quote

New Theory: How Intelligence Works
By Ker Than, LiveScience Staff Writer

posted: 11 September 2007 11:06 am ET

Like memory, human intelligence is probably not confined to a single area in the brain, but is instead the result of multiple brain areas working in concert, a new review of research suggests.

The review by Richard Haier of the University of California , Irvine , and Rex Jung of the University of New Mexico proposes a new theory that identifies areas in the brain that work together to determine a person's intelligence.

"Genetic research has demonstrated that intelligence levels can be inherited, and since genes work through biology, there must be a biological basis for intelligence," Haier said.

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http://www.livescience.com/hea.....twork.html
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PostPosted: Thu Sep 13, 2007 5:17 pm    Post subject: Brain's Capacity Limited by Connectivity Issues Reply with quote

Brain's Capacity Limited by Connectivity Issues
By Dave Mosher, LiveScience Staff Writer

posted: 13 September 2007 10:08 am ET

If you can't remember where you left the car keys, take comfort in a new study that suggests the brain's memory capacity may be far lower than once thought.

About 100 billion neurons, or brain cells, make up the average adult's brain, but the computer-based discovery shows our memory isn't based simply on neuron numbers. Instead, the limited amount of connections a neuron can make to other neurons may cut memory capacity.

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http://www.livescience.com/hea.....eries.html
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PostPosted: Sat Sep 15, 2007 9:02 am    Post subject: Consciousness in the Raw Reply with quote

Week of Sept. 15, 2007; Vol. 172, No. 11 , p. 170

Consciousness in the Raw
The brain stem may orchestrate the basics of awareness
Bruce Bower

In October 2004, Swedish neuroscientist Bjorn Merker packed up his video camera and joined five families for a 1-week get-together in Florida that featured several visits to the garden of childhood delights known as Disney World. For Merker, though, the trip wasn't a vacation. With the parents' permission, he came to observe and document the behavior of one child in each family who had been born missing roughly 80 percent of his or her brain.

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http://sciencenews.org/articles/20070915/bob9.asp
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PostPosted: Tue Sep 18, 2007 1:03 pm    Post subject: Sleeping Babies' Brains Buzz Reply with quote

Sleeping Babies' Brains Buzz
By Jeanna Bryner, LiveScience Staff Writer

posted: 17 September 2007 05:03 pm ET

The serene façade of a resting baby belies a brain churning with activity.

A new study, published online this week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, reveals active brain regions in sleeping infants.

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http://www.livescience.com/hea.....brain.html
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PostPosted: Thu Oct 25, 2007 2:20 pm    Post subject: Hold your horses Reply with quote

University of Arizona
25 October 2007

Hold your horses

For those who suffer with the debilitating symptoms of Parkinson's disease, Deep Brain Stimulation offers relief from the tremors and rigidity that can't be controlled by medicine. A particularly troublesome downside, though, is that these patients often exhibit compulsive behaviors that healthy people, and even those taking medication for Parkinson's, can easily manage.

Michael Frank, an assistant professor of psychology and director of the Laboratory for Neural Computation and Cognition at The University of Arizona, and his research colleagues have shed some light on how DBS interferes with the brain's innate ability to deliberate on complicated decisions. Their results are published in the current (Oct. 26) issue of the journal Science.

DBS implants affect the region of the brain called the subthalamic nucleus (STN), which also modulates decision-making.

"This particular area of the brain is needed for what's called a 'hold-your-horses' signal," Frank said. "When you're making a difficult choice, with a conflict between two or more options, an adaptive response for your system to do is to say 'Hold on for a second. I need to take a little more time to figure out which is the best option.'"

The STN, he said, detects conflict between two or more choices and reacts by sending a neural signal to temporarily prevent the selection of any response. It's this response that DBS seems to interrupt. DBS acts much like a lesion on the subthalamic nucleus. Frank's hypothesis predicted that DBS would negate the "hold-your-horses" response to high-conflict choices. Surprisingly, it actually sped up the decision-making process, a signature, he said, indicated of impulsive decision making.

The tendency toward impulsive behavior in Parkinson's patients is well-documented but only dimly understood. How is the STN involved in decision-making and why should things go awry when you stimulate it"

For those taking them, medications did not slow down decision-making conflict. Regardless of whether these patients are on or off medication, for the purposes of the experiment they looked like healthy people or people who are off DBS.

But what Frank found was that medications prevent people from learning from negative outcomes of their choices. That could be one explanation for why patients develop gambling habits. If you learn from the positive outcomes instead of the negative, it could cause you to become a gambler.

"Whereas the DBS had no effect on positive v. negative learning, but it had an effect on your ability to 'hold your horses,' so it was a dissociation between two treatments which we think reveal different mechanisms of the circuit of the brain that we're interested in.

Frank said the results of his experiments are a test of a basic science mechanism for how the brain makes adaptive decisions. The same basal ganglia is involved in other disorders. People who are addicts, for example, are more likely to make impulsive choices, and DBS and medication used to treat Parkinson's have been shown to cause pathological gambling to some degree.

"We may be able to use this to understand that from this more basic sciences perspective. Maybe the same circuits are involved in gamblers who don't have Parkinson's," Frank said.

He also hinted that the study might also offer clues to consumer behavior.

"I think that you can have the opposite effect, where the hold-your-horses signal is too strong in responding to decision conflict. One thing that has been shown in healthy people who have been presented with too many options exhibit is a kind of 'decision paralysis,'" he said.

For example, if shoppers are exposed to two dozen varieties of essentially the same product, research shows very few will actually make a purchase. Employees faced with too many options for 401k plans are less likely to invest in any of them, even though their employer is going to match their contributions.

Frank is interested in whether impulsive decision making can be prevented in DBS patients. One long-range goal, he said, is to be able to test the STN during the implant surgery, avoiding the decision-making areas and target only the brain's motor function.

We hope that in the operating room we can actually when they record this brain area, we can determine selective parts of it that respond to this conflict-based decision-making and use that as a potential way of avoiding stimulating that area and have it be selective to just the pure motor function.


###
Frank's collaborators include Johan Samanta (UA Neurology Department and Banner Good Samaritan Medical Center in Phoenix), Ahmed A. Mousafa (UA Psychology Department) and Scott J. Sehrman (UA Neurology Department).
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PostPosted: Mon Oct 29, 2007 12:40 pm    Post subject: What's the brain got to do with education? Reply with quote

University of Bristol
29 October 2007

What's the brain got to do with education?

Quite a lot - according to teachers in a recent survey commissioned by The Innovation Unit and carried out by researchers at the University of Bristol. Although current teacher training programmes generally omit the science of how we learn, an overwhelming number of the teachers surveyed felt neuroscience could make an important contribution in key educational areas. The research was undertaken to inform a series of seminars between educationalists and neuroscientists organised by the Teaching and Learning Research Programme (TLRP) and the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC).

Dr Sue Pickering and Dr Paul Howard-Jones, at Bristol University's Graduate School of Education, asked teachers and other education professionals whether they thought it was important to consider the workings of the brain in educational practice. Around 87 per cent of respondents felt it was. Teachers considered both mainstream and special educational teaching could benefit from the neuroscientific insights emerging from modern scanning techniques, such as functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI).

The researchers also investigated where teachers got their knowledge about neuroscience from and what impact, if any, it was having on their classroom practice. Some teachers already use so-called 'brain-based''teaching methods in their classrooms. These include initiatives such as Brain Gym and methods intended to appeal to different brain-based learning styles (e.g. visual, auditory and kinaesthetic learning - or VAK). Although the scientific basis of these methods is highly contentious, many teachers said they had found them very useful, particularly when children were less receptive to more traditional teaching methods. One respondent said such approaches "improved the success of the teaching and learning" and led to "happier children who are more engaged in the activities".

However, teachers are concerned to find out more about the science of the brain. In follow-up interviews, one teacher described her frustration when scientists identified serious flaws in the brain-based teaching method she had been using: ".......we've been a bit misguided about that sort of thing haven't we - but not having the time to verify it for ourselves, we have no choice......."

Dr Paul Howard-Jones, who is leading several research initiatives in this area and co-author of the report, said: "Much of what teachers perceive as brain-based teaching, such as educational kinesiology, is promoted in very dubious pseudo-scientific terms and we still don't really know how, and even if, it works.

"Other programmes, such as those involving learning styles, draw on some meaningful science but, when children get labelled as "a visual learner" or "an auditory learner" and are only ever taught in either a visual or auditory way, then the science is being seriously over-interpreted and misapplied. The good news, however, is that efforts to bridge the gap between neuroscience and education are debunking many of these ideas, and opening up fresh opportunities for valuable and exciting initiatives that are both scientifically and educationally sound."

Although there is concern about the seriously contested science used to promote current brain-based learning programmes, teachers are clearly strongly supportive of future collaboration between neuroscience and education and keen to keep in touch with the latest developments in this interdisciplinary field. The findings from the research suggest that communication with practitioners may become a key factor influencing the success of attempts to enrich classroom practice with scientific understanding about the brain and mind.


###
For more information and a full copy of the report, go to: www.innovation-unit.co.uk or www.bris.ac.uk/education/resea...../neuroview
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PostPosted: Tue Oct 30, 2007 12:55 pm    Post subject: New brain cells listen before they talk Reply with quote

Yale University
30 October 2007

New brain cells listen before they talk

New Haven, Conn.—Newly created neurons in adults rely on signals from distant brain regions to regulate their maturation and survival before they can communicate with existing neighboring cells—a finding that has important implications for the use of adult neural stem cells to replace brain cells lost by trauma or neurodegeneration, Yale School of Medicine researchers report in The Journal of Neuroscience.

In fact, certain important synaptic connections—the circuitry that allows the brain cells to talk to each other—do not appear until 21 days after the birth of the new cells, according to Charles Greer, professor of neurosurgery and neurobiology, and senior author of the study, In the meantime, other areas of the brain provide information to the new cells, preventing them from disturbing ongoing functions until the cells are mature.

It was established in previous studies that several regions of the adult brain continue to generate new neurons, which are then integrated into existing brain circuitry. However the mechanisms that allowed this to happen were not known.

To answer this question, Greer and Mary Whitman, an M.D./Ph.D. candidate at Yale, studied how new neurons are integrated into the olfactory bulb, which helps discriminate between odors, among other functions.

They found that new neurons continue to mature for six to eight weeks after they are first generated and that the new neurons receive input from higher brain regions for up to 10 days before they can make any outputs. The other brain regions then continue to provide information to the new neurons as they integrate into existing networks.

The discovery of this previously unrecognized mechanism is significant, said Greer, because “if we want to use stem cells to replace neurons lost to injury or disease, we must ensure that they do not fire inappropriately, which could cause seizures or cognitive dysfunction.”


###
The Journal of Neuroscience 27: 9951-9961 (October 2007)
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PostPosted: Wed Oct 31, 2007 1:52 pm    Post subject: Brain Cells Colored To Create 'Brainbow' Reply with quote

Brain Cells Colored To Create 'Brainbow'
By Ker Than, LiveScience Staff Writer

posted: 31 October 2007 02:04 pm ET

Borrowing genes from bacteria, coral and jellyfish, scientists have set mice brains aglow in a bold panoply of colors, revealing the intricate highways and byways of neuronal connections.

The technique, dubbed "Brainbow" by its Harvard University inventors, is detailed in the Nov. 1 issue of the journal Nature.

For the full article:

http://www.livescience.com/ani.....inbow.html
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PostPosted: Thu Nov 08, 2007 4:57 pm    Post subject: Adult Brain Circuitry Surprisingly Flexible Reply with quote

Adult Brain Circuitry Surprisingly Flexible
By LiveScience Staff

posted: 08 November 2007 12:04 pm ET

The brains of young people are very flexible—one reason teens can be so flighty and forgetful. But scientists have long thought that by adulthood, the circuitry becomes hard-wired and truly fixed in place.

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http://www.livescience.com/hea.....-flex.html
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PostPosted: Sat Nov 10, 2007 11:39 am    Post subject: Looking At How The Brain Works In Real-time Reply with quote

Looking At How The Brain Works In Real-time


Development of a Fully Real-time FMRI Analysis System
by Epifanio Bagarinao

The technique known as functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) has been extensively used to elucidate the functions of the human brain. Functional MRI provides a "window" where we can see what part of the brain is involved when we think, smell, taste, feel, or move. These windows are the activation maps indicating sites in the subject's brain that are activated while the subject performs a given task and are usually obtained after analyzing voluminous amount of functional MRI images.

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http://www.bahaykuboresearch.n.....mp;view=13
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PostPosted: Wed Dec 05, 2007 1:44 pm    Post subject: Aging Brains Get Out of Sync Reply with quote

Aging Brains Get Out of Sync
By Steven Reinberg, HealthDay Reporter

posted: 05 December 2007 12:24 pm ET

(HealthDay News) -- In a finding that uncovers the biological underpinnings of "senior moments," new research shows that communication between different parts of the brain begins to break down as a person grows older.

"We wanted to see how the brain changes in cognition in normal aging," said lead researcher Randy Buckner, a professor of psychology at Harvard University. "We were interested in normal aging, aging that isn't accompanied by even the earliest signs of Alzheimer's disease."

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http://www.livescience.com/healthday/610630.html
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PostPosted: Mon Dec 10, 2007 2:01 pm    Post subject: Belief, disbelief and uncertainty activate distinct brain re Reply with quote

Wiley-Blackwell
10 December 2007

Belief, disbelief and uncertainty activate distinct brain regions

The capacity of the human mind to believe or disbelieve a statement is a powerful force for controlling both behavior and emotion, but the basis of these states in the brain is not yet understood. A new study found that belief, disbelief and uncertainty activate distinct regions of the brain, with belief/disbelief affecting areas associated with the pleasantness/unpleasantness of tastes and odors. The study will publish online in the Annals of Neurology ( http://www.interscience.wiley.com/journal/ana ), the official journal of the American Neurological Association.

Led by Sam Harris of the University of California, Los Angeles, the study involved 14 adults who underwent functional MRI scans during which they were presented with short statements that they had to evaluate as true, false or undecided. Each participant underwent three scans while they evaluated statements from a broad variety of categories such as mathematical, geographical, autobiographical, religious and factual. The statements were designed to be clearly true, false or undecidable.

Contrasting belief and disbelief trials yielded increased signal in the ventromedial prefrontal cortex (VMPFC), which is involved in linking factual knowledge with emotion. “The involvement of the VMPFC in belief processing suggests an anatomical link between the purely cognitive aspects of belief and human emotion and reward,” the authors state. The fact that ethical belief showed a similar pattern of activation to mathematical belief suggests that the physiological difference between belief and disbelief is not related to content or emotional associations, they note.

The contrasts between disbelief and belief showed increased signal in the anterior insula, a region involved in the sensation of taste, the perception of pain, and the feeling of disgust, indicating that “false propositions might actually disgust us,” the authors state. “Our results appear to make sense of the emotional tone of disbelief, placing it on a continuum with other modes of stimulus appraisal and rejection,” they add.

Uncertainty evoked a positive signal in the anterior cingulate cortext (ACC) and a decreased signal in the caudate, a region of the basal ganglia, which plays a role in motor action. Noting that both belief and disbelief showed an increased signal in the caudate compared to uncertainty, the authors suggest that the basal ganglia may play a role in mediating the cognitive and behavioral differences between decision and indecision.

The study raises the possibility that the differences between belief, disbelief and uncertainty may one day be reliably distinguished by neuroimaging techniques. They conclude: “This would have obvious implications for the detection of deception, for the control of the placebo effect during the process of drug design, and for the study of any higher-cognitive phenomenon in which the differences between belief, disbelief, and uncertainty might be a relevant variable.”


###
Article: “Functional Neuroimaging of Belief, Disbelief, and Uncertainty,” Sam Harris, Sameer Sheth, Mark S. Cohen, Annals of Neurology, December 2007.
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