Oct 29

Biologists Discover Tiny Neural Computers in the Brain (io9, Oct 28, 2013):

Neuroscientists have learned that dendrites do more than just provide passive wiring in the brain. These nerve cell connectors also process information, essentially functioning as tiny computers. Our brains, it would appear, pack more computing power than we assumed.

Dendrites are those branch-like extensions at the beginning of neurons that increase the surface area of cell bodies, or soma. These tiny outgrowths receive information from other neurons and transmit electrical stimulation to the soma.

Computer interpretation of pyramidal cells, which contain dendrites. (Credit: University College London):

But we’re now learning that this isn’t the full extent of dendritic function. In a new study published in Nature, researchers at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill demonstrated that dendrites do more than transfer information — they also actively process information, effectively multiplying the brain’s computing power.

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Sep 21

Nanoparticles Cause Brain Injury in Fish (Science Daily, Sep. 18, 2011):

Scientists at the University of Plymouth have shown, for the first time in an animal, that nanoparticles have a detrimental effect on the brain and other parts of the central nervous system.

They subjected rainbow trout to titanium oxide nanoparticles which are widely used as a whitening agent in many products including paints, some personal care products, and with applications being considered for the food industry. They found that the particles caused vacuoles (holes) to form in parts of the brain and for nerve cells in the brain to die. Although some effects of nanoparticles have been shown previously in cell cultures and other in vitro systems this is the first time it has been confirmed in a live vertebrate.

The results will be presented at the “6th International meeting on the Environmental Effects on Nanoparticles and Nanomaterials” (21st — 23rd September) at the Royal Society in London.

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Oct 16

Scientists have given fruit flies memories of traumatic experiences that never actually happened by directly manipulating nerve cells in their brains.

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Researchers were able to directly write memories onto the brains of fruit flies.
(iStockphoto)

Researchers in the U.K. and U.S. were able to create an association in the flies’ brains between an odour and an unpleasant experience, akin to an electric shock. The treated flies avoided the smell as if the bad memory had actually happened.

“Flies have the ability to learn, but the circuits that instruct memory formation were unknown,” Gero Miesenboeck of the University of Oxford said in a release.

Miesenboeck and his colleagues were able to isolate a circuit of just 12 neurons in the flies’ brains that was responsible for the memory.

To “write” the memories on the flies’ brains, the researchers injected them with molecules responsible for nerve impulses. The molecules were wrapped in a chemical “cage” that released the molecules when exposed to light.

The caged molecules were genetically targeted to activate only certain neurons.

So, instead of exposing the flies to an electric shock when a particular odour was present, they shone laser light on the flies, releasing the caged molecules and activating the targeted neurons.

Initially, the researchers made guesses as to which areas of the brain would be responsible for the memory, but through repeated experiments, they were able to pinpoint the 12 neurons responsible.

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Mar 29

Researchers have developed a robot capable of learning and interacting with the world using a biological brain.


Credit: Kevin Warkwick

Kevin Warwick’s new robot behaves like a child. “Sometimes it does what you want it to, and sometimes it doesn’t,” he says. And while it may seem strange for a professor of cybernetics to be concerning himself with such an unreliable machine, Warwick’s creation has something that even today’s most sophisticated robots lack: a living brain.

Life for Warwick’s robot began when his team at the University of Reading spread rat neurons onto an array of electrodes. After about 20 minutes, the neurons began to form connections with one another. “It’s an innate response of the neurons,” says Warwick, “they try to link up and start communicating.”

For the next week the team fed the developing brain a liquid containing nutrients and minerals. And once the neurons established a network sufficiently capable of responding to electrical inputs from the electrode array, they connected the newly formed brain to a simple robot body consisting of two wheels and a sonar sensor.

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Mar 01

Source: Scribd

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Feb 22

Fresh neurons arise in the adult brain every day. New research suggests that the cells ultimately help with learning complex tasks—and the more they are challenged, the more they flourish

Recent work, albeit mostly in rats, indicates that learning enhances the survival of new neurons in the adult brain. And the more engaging and challenging the problem, the greater the number of neurons that stick around. These neurons are then presumably available to aid in situations that tax the mind. It seems, then, that a mental workout can buff up the brain, much as physical exercise builds up the body.

The findings may be particularly interesting to intellectual couch potatoes whose brains could benefit from a few cerebral sit-ups. More important, though, the results lend some support to the notion that people who are in the early stages of Alzheimer’s disease or who have other forms of dementia might slow their cognitive decline by keeping their minds actively engaged.

It’s a New Neuron!

In the 1990s scientists rocked the field of neurobiology with the startling news that the mature mammalian brain is capable of sprouting new neurons. Biologists had long believed that this talent for neurogenesis was reserved for young, developing minds and was lost with age. But in the early part of the decade Elizabeth Gould, then at the Rockefeller University, demonstrated that new cells arise in the adult brain—particularly in a region called the hippocampus, which is involved in learning and memory. Similar reports soon followed in species from mice to marmosets, and by 1998 neuroscientists in the U.S. and Sweden had shown that neurogenesis also occurs in humans [see “New Nerve Cells for the Adult Brain,” by Gerd Kempermann and Fred H. Gage; Scientific American, May 1999].

In rodents, studies of neurogenesis generally involve injecting the animals with a drug called BrdU (bromodeoxyuridine), which marks newly formed cells, making them stand out when viewed under a microscope. Those studies indicate that in rats, between 5,000 and 10,000 new neurons arise in the hippocampus every day. (Although the human hippocampus also welcomes new neurons, we do not know how many.)

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Dec 02

Research is confirming the medicinal effects that advocates have long claimed for meditation.

For thousands of years, Buddhist meditators have claimed that the simple act of sitting down and following their breath while letting go of intrusive thoughts can free one from the entanglements of neurotic suffering.

Now, scientists are using cutting-edge scanning technology to watch the meditating mind at work. They are finding that regular meditation has a measurable effect on a variety of brain structures related to attention — an example of what is known as neuroplasticity, where the brain physically changes in response to an intentional exercise.

A team of Emory University scientists reported in early September that experienced Zen meditators were much better than control subjects at dropping extraneous thoughts and returning to the breath. The study, “‘Thinking about Not-Thinking:’ Neural Correlates of Conceptual Processing During Zen Meditation,” published by the online research journal PLoS ONE, found that “meditative training may foster the ability to control the automatic cascade of semantic associations triggered by a stimulus and, by extension, to voluntarily regulate the flow of spontaneous mentation.”

The same researchers reported last year that longtime meditators don’t lose gray matter in their brains with age the way most people do, suggesting that meditation may have a neuro-protective effect. A rash of other studies in recent years meanwhile have found, for example, that practitioners of insight meditation have noticeably thicker tissue in the prefrontal cortex (the region responsible for attention and control) and that experienced Tibetan monks practicing compassion meditation generate unusually strong and coherent gamma waves in their brains.

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Sep 27


Mozart Requiem (KV 626)

(NaturalNews) Music, the universal language of mood, emotion and desire, connects with us through a wide variety of neural systems. Researchers have discovered evidence that music stimulates specific regions of the brain responsible for memory, language and motor control. They have located specific areas of mental activity linked to the emotional responses elicited by music. Now new research conclusions have identified how the affect of music could replicate the effects of hormone replacement therapy in the prevention of Alzheimer’s disease and dementia.

The August 7 issue of Medical Hypotheses reports these conclusions resulting from experience that has shown music to be useful in therapy for neuropsychiatric disorders resulting from both functional and organic origins. However, the mechanisms of the action of music on the brain have remained largely unknown despite an increase in scientific studies on the topic.

The results of past studies have clarified that music influences and affects cranial nerves in humans from fetus to adult. To explain how it works at the cellular level, researchers proposed that the neurogenesis, regeneration and repair of the cerebral nerves are the result of adjustments through the secretion of steroid hormones ultimately leading to cerebral plasticity.

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Aug 27


Tiny thread like cilia on brain cells act as sort of an antennae that directs signals telling stem cells to create new neurons. (Credit: Image courtesy of Yale University)

ScienceDaily (Aug. 25, 2008) – Yale University scientists today reported evidence suggesting that the tiny cilia found on brain cells of mammals, thought to be vestiges of a primeval past, actually play a critical role in relaying molecular signals that spur creation of neurons in an area of the brain involved in mood, learning and memory.

The cilia found on brain cells of mammals until recently had been viewed as a mysterious remnant of a distant evolutionary past, when the tiny hair-like structures were used by single-celled organisms to navigate a primordial world.

“Many neuroscientists are shocked to learn that cells in the brain have cilia. Thus it was even more exciting to show that cilia have a key function in regulating the birth of new neurons in the brain,” said Matthew Sarkisian, post doctoral fellow in the department of neurobiology and co-first author on the study.

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Aug 18

Test by high school student working with researchers reveals food additive’s direct effect on neuronal ability

CALGARY – A Calgary researcher is getting ready to publish a groundbreaking study that links a popular food additive to reduced growth in the brain cells of snails — work that could have major implications for children’s health.

Not bad for a teenager.

Michelle Ah-Seng is a 17-year-old high school student from Cochrane, just west of Calgary. She’s also the lead researcher on a University of Calgary study that offers the first solid proof that high concentrations of MSG, an additive used to boost flavour in everything from fast food to canned soups, can stunt the growth of brain cells.

“It has been shown that (in a pregnant woman), MSG will cross through the placenta and can affect the fetus,” said Ah-Seng.

Related articles:
MSG: Causes obesity, is toxic and destroys your brain
Your Food is Toxic and Makes You Sick, Dr. Russell Blaylock, MD
Chemical Additives – Are They Slowly Killing Our Children?
Interview with Dr. Russell Blaylock on devastating health effects of MSG, aspartame and excitotoxins

“Fetuses are still developing, and their brain cells are starting to grow and starting to reach out to each other. If MSG has been inhibiting or stunting the growth, then the cells basically won’t reach out to one another.”

Ah-Seng is one of 22 Grade 11 students spending six weeks of their summer vacation in labs and clinics at the University of Calgary as part of the 2008 Heritage Youth Researcher Summer Program, funded by the Alberta Heritage Foundation for Medical Research.

Her project involved directly dosing brain cells culled from snails with a concentration of monosodium glutamate equal to what might commonly be found in human blood or cerebral spinal fluid after eating a meal containing the additive, such as a bag of chips. Not only did the MSG inhibit growth of the snail’s brain cells, it also limited communication between them. The implications for human health aren’t hard to infer.

“There’s no difference between a snail brain cell and a rat or a human brain cell, only that there are fewer of them and (they’re) larger,” said Naweed Syed, Ah-Seng’s supervisor and a neuroscientist with the Hotchkiss Brain Institute at the University of Calgary’s faculty of medicine. Continue reading »

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Aug 14

Drugs that make soldiers want to fight. Robots linked directly to their controllers’ brains. Lie-detecting scans administered to terrorist suspects as they cross U.S. borders.

These are just a few of the military uses imagined for cognitive science — and if it’s not yet certain whether the technologies will work, the military is certainly taking them very seriously.

“It’s way too early to know which — if any — of these technologies is going to be practical,” said Jonathan Moreno, a Center for American Progress bioethicist and author of Mind Wars: Brain Research and National Defense. “But it’s important for us to get ahead of the curve. Soldiers are always on the cutting edge of new technologies.”

Moreno is part of a National Research Council committee convened by the Department of Defense to evaluate the military potential of brain science. Their report, “Emerging Cognitive Neuroscience and Related Technologies,” was released today. It charts a range of cognitive technologies that are potentially powerful — and, perhaps, powerfully troubling.

Here are the report’s main areas of focus: Continue reading »

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Apr 06

Neuroscience and marketing had a love child a few years back. Its name – big surprise – is neuromarketing, and the ugly little fellow is growing up. Corporate pitchmen have always wanted to get inside our skulls. The more accurately they can predict how we’ll react to stimuli in the marketplace, from prices to packages to adverts, the more money they can pull from our pockets and transfer to their employers’ coffers.

But picking the brains of consumers hasn’t been easy. Marketers have had to rely on indirect methods to read our thoughts and feelings. They’ve watched what we do in stores or tracked how purchases rise or fall in response to promotional campaigns or changes in pricing. And they’ve carried out endless surveys and focus groups, asking us what we buy and why.

The results have been mixed at best. People, for one thing, don’t always know what they’re thinking, and even when they do, they’re not always honest in reporting it. Traditional market research is fraught with bias and imprecision, which forces companies to fall back on hunches and rules of thumb.

But thanks to recent breakthroughs in brain science, companies can now actually see what goes on inside our minds when we shop. Teams of academic and corporate neuromarketers have begun to hook people up to functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) machines to map how their neurons respond to products and pitches. Continue reading »

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Mar 18

(CNN) — A Florida scientist has developed a “brain” in a glass dish that is capable of flying a virtual fighter plane and could enhance medical understanding of neural disorders such as epilepsy.

The “living computer” was grown from 25,000 neurons extracted from a rat’s brain and arranged over a grid of 60 electrodes in a Petri dish.

The brain cells then started to reconnect themselves, forming microscopic interconnections, said Thomas DeMarse, professor of biomedical engineering at the University of Florida.

storybraindish.jpg

DeMarse's "brain in a dish" contains 25,000 living neurons.

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Mar 18

A recently unclassified report from the Pentagon from 1998 has revealed an investigation into using laser beams for a few intriguing potential methods of non-lethal torture. Some of the applications the report investigated include putting voices in people’s heads, using lasers to trigger uncontrolled neuron firing, and slowly heating the human body to a point of feverish confusion – all from hundreds of meters away.
A US citizen requested access to the document, entitled “Bioeffects of Selected Non-Lethal Weapons,” under the Freedom of Information Act a little over a year ago. There is no evidence that any of the technologies mentioned in the 10-year-old report have been developed since the time it was written. (Of course not!.)

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