Neuroscience Updates


Rhythms of the Brain

Gregory Hickok, The New York Times, 5/10/15
We perceive the world in rhythmic pulses rather than a continuous flow. Different rhythms correlate with what we are doing and are stronger if we concentrate on what we do. Brain rhythms are not a reflection of mental activity but a cause of it, sampling the world in discrete chunks. It correlates with the electrical rhythms of the brain. Rhythms in the environment create a neural tempo, synchronizing the brain’s rhythms to the outside world.

How the Brain Stores Trivial Memories, Just in Case

Benedict Carey, The New York Times, 1/22/15
Strong emotions linked with memories strengthen their recall. Human memory has a “just-in-case” file, keeping seemingly trivial things in cold storage in case they are useful later on. A recent study presented strong evidence of a specific kind of retroactive enhancement. This is not understood in that memories are not fixed and can be weakened or strengthened by later events. After the stimulus was given to people in the study, enhancement was not immediate and took days or weeks to occur. Research is ongoing.

The Teenage Brain/A Neuroscientist’s Survival Guide to Raising Adolescents & Young Adults

Jensen & Nutt/Harper/HarperCollins, 2015
This book explores the biology of the teenage brain. Teenagers are primed to learn but vulnerable to learning the wrong things, including drug addiction. Their brain signaling is not efficient, the frontal lobes not yet linked to other parts of the brain. Parents are urged to discuss their brain’s shortcomings with their children.


The Trouble with Brain Science

Gary Marcus, The New York Times, 7/12/14
Scientists are very far away from a comprehensive explanation of how the brain works.  There is even disagreement about the best way to study it. What is being looked for is a bridge, some way of connecting two separate scientific languages- those of neuroscience and psychology.

The Brain in Exquisite Detail

James Gorman, The New York Times, 1/7/14
The first interactive wiring diagram of the living, working human brain is being created at Washington University. 1,200 volunteers participated, having brain scans, cognitive, psychological, physical, and genetic testing.  All of these provide a baseline data base for structure and activity in a healthy brain.  This can be cross referenced with personality traits, cognitive skills, and genetics.  The interactive diagram will be offered online and available to all.  This project is part of the Human Connective Project, $40 million for 2014 and a five year effort supported by the National Institutes of Health.  The central question the data may help answer is: How do the differences in our brains relate to the differences in our behaviors, thoughts, emotions, feelings and experiences.

In Europe, the Human Brain Project has $1 billion to develop computer modeling of the human brain.  President Obama announced a “Grand Challenge”, $100 million for a decade long push to understand the human brain.  Much current research is directed at Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s.  However, the complexity of the brain is daunting on many levels, each discovery leading to many new questions.

The Brain’s Inner Language

James Gibson, The New York Times, 2/25/14
The Allen Institute for Brain Science in Seattle is studying the neurons in a live mouse in order to better understand the human mind.  One effort is decoding the million neurons in the visual cortex, from “molecules to behavior”.  Intuition is important, as is passion for getting to the core of the problem.  There are two basic issues.  First is: How does the machine work, starting with its building blocks, cell types, physiology and anatomy.  The second is determining what kind of code is used to pass on information to other brain parts.

Initial Focus of Research in Brain Project is Chosen

James Gorman, The New York Times, 9/17/13
The Brain Initiative, announced by President Obama in 4/13, has decided to focus on systems and circuits that involve thousands to millions of brain cells, and not the entire brain. This agenda is seen as extremely ambitious, taking 10-15 years to complete.  Elusive goals include discovering how many different kinds of neurons there are, what they do, and how to study them. Underfunding is a major concern.

Scientists Create a 3-D Model That Mimics Brain Function

Pam Belluck, The New York Times, 8/12/14
For the first time, scientists have been able to imitate brain function in the lab, using silk on the outside of a doughnut shape, and collagen gel where the jelly would be.  This will allow for study of disease and trauma without the challenges of working on living people.  Nutrients and growth factors were added to the doughnut for two months in order to prepare it for experimentation.

Do Brain Workouts Work?  Science Isn’t Sure

Tara Parker-Pope, The New York Times, 3/11/14
Several companies were formed to improve brain functioning, including Luminosity, Cogmed, Happy Neuron of Mountain View, and Neuronix.  It was found that the brain continues to form new neural connections throughout life. Scientists see no risk in participating in these games, but there is no proof that they actually boost brain power.  It is recommended that each person find a personalized interest they find challenging and to stick with it.

Hurt Before Birth

Jane E. Brody, The New York Times, 5/6/14
Brain injuries affect about three in 1,000 full term babies. About half of the cases relate to oxygen deprivation.  Neonatal encephalopathy is a syndrome of disturbed neurological function that occurs in the first days of life.  The most common is cerebral palsy.  A major advance in the last decade is the use of hypothermia for newborns suffering from oxygen deficiency.  It is hoped that the current approach to health care can be changed from “name and blame” to reducing medical errors. Doctors must be more forthcoming in reporting problems so that corrective action can be taken as soon as possible.