Can rats read minds? Perhaps not usually, but researchers at Duke University have developed what they call a brain-to-brain interface, which transfers information directly from one rat’s brain to another. The interface allows the decisions of a rat on one continent to control the behaviors of a rat on another.
To accomplish this, researchers in North Carolina implanted tiny electrodes into the brain of a rat to record its activity, and then trained the rat to distinguish between a wide chute and a narrow one by whisker feel. The rat had to correctly match the sensation (wide or narrow) with a corresponding hole (left or right) by poking it with its nose. When the rat correctly matched the width and hole, which it did 96 percent of the time, the rat was rewarded with a drink of water. Researchers called this rat the encoder.
Every person thinks and acts a little differently than the other 7 billion on the planet. Scientists now say that variations in brain connections account for much of this individuality, and they’ve narrowed it down to a few specific regions of the brain. This might help us better understand the evolution of the human brain as well as its development in individuals.
Each human brain has a unique connectome—the network of neural pathways that tie all of its parts together. Like a fingerprint, every person’s connectome is unique. To find out where these individual connectomes differed the most, researchers used an MRI scanning technique to take cross-sectional pictures of 23 people’s brains at rest.
Thanks to NASA and emerging commercial space flight companies, there will likely be more astronauts in the future, and they’ll be traveling farther and more frequently into space. Space travel has known risks for bones, eyesight and other bodily systems, but a new study is the first to show that space travel could lead to Alzheimer’s disease l
ater in life.
Outside the protection of the Earth’s magnetic field, astronauts are exposed to cosmic radiation. These high-mass, highly-charged particles can penetrate solid objects—spaceships, astronauts and brains included.
Gift-giving is at its peak this time of year. As much as we all enjoy receiving gifts, there is also joy in giving gifts to others. Seeking such selfless enjoyment is an important social behavior, and thanks to a new study published in Nature Neuroscience this week, there’s evidence that humans may not be the only species to pursue these social rewards.
Researchers at Duke University tracked the brain activity of rhesus macaques making simple sharing decisions. In one scenario the monkeys could choose to keep a reward (juice) or give it to another monkey. Most kept the juice. In the second scenario the monkeys could choose to give the juice to another monkey, or to have the reward removed. Most gifted the juice.
Anyone who’s ever watched a horror film will know that the sound of two clashing notes evokes a visceral response in most people. Among Western listeners there’s a strong preference for consonance, which exists even from infancy; consonance is the pleasing mixture of two tones, while dissonance is their clashing. (For a good example of both, see this video.) It’s controversial whether the same preferences exist in other cultures, but new research indicates the preferences might be wired in our brains.
The prevailing theory of music in the brain is that dissonant combinations share frequencies that are a bit too close. When these frequencies are perceived by the cochlea, the part of the inner ear that translates sounds to nerve impulses, they can’t be well distinguished. Because similar frequencies are processed next to one another on the cochlea, their nerve signals can interfere with one another. The perception is a grating effect, called “beating.” Read More
An oligodendrocyte—the type of cell that manufactures myelin.
At first, the infants seem to be progressing normally. But it soon turns out they may have vision or hearing problems, and when the time comes to lift their heads, the milestone comes and goes. It often gets worse from there. Children with the rare Pelizaeus–Merzbacher disease, like others who lack the usual insulating sheaths on their neurons, have trouble controlling their muscles, and often develop serious neurological and motor problems early in life. There is no cure for the genetic disorder. Nor is there a standardized treatment.
PMD, as it’s called, and related diseases are some of the leading candidates for potential treatment with stem cells. The idea is that if stem cells that produce the missing insulator, the fatty substance called myelin, can be successfully implanted in the brains of patients, perhaps they will pitch in what the patient’s native cells cannot.
Some women always have men on the brain. And some women literally have men in their brains. A new study in PloS ONE found that quite a few female brains contain male DNA. This genetic material presumably passes into a mother while she is pregnant with a male fetus. Although we already knew that fetal cells can enter a mother’s body, until now, it was unknown whether the cells could pass into the brain as well, because the blood brain barrier normally blocks large molecules and foreign substances from entering the brain.
To explore the possibility of brain microchimerism—the presence of genetically distinct cells in a host’s body—researchers examined autopsy specimens from 59 deceased female subjects, who either had no neurological disease or had suffered from Alzheimer’s. The scientists found that 63 percent of the brains contained male cells distributed throughout the organ, and that this microchimerism did not fade away over time: the brain of one 94-year-old woman still contained male cells. And interestingly, the brains of subjects with Alzheimer’s disease were less likely to contain male DNA, and when they did, they generally had less of it than the healthy brains did.
We humans aren’t the most logical creatures. Take information processing: if we were perfect reasoners, we would absorb all the new facts we learn and use them to modify our view of the world. But while we do something like this with good news, bad news tends to go in one ear and out the other. While this good news / bad news effect gives you a more positive outlook on life, it can make you blindly optimistic, unprepared for the real consequences of medical problems or natural disasters.
Young children need attention—and not just to keep them from wandering off or yelling their lungs out. Social interactions actually help their developing brains. We know about this from studying children and animals raised in relative isolation: Neglected children, like those raised in Romanian orphanages, suffer from behavioral and cognitive deficits as adults, and isolated young monkeys grow up to have weaker memory and learning abilities than their socialized peers. Just what is happening in the brain to trigger these mental problems?
According to a new paper in the journal Science, it’s all about the fatty tissue myelin, and the cells that produce it. Babies are born with very little myelin in the brain—as they develop, specialized cells called oligodendrocytes wrap insulating myelin sheaths around the long, rod-like sections of certain neurons. These myelin coatings help electrical signals travel more quickly through children’s brains. Read More
Neuroscientists have made a brain implant that restored decision-making ability in laboratory monkeys whose faculties had been experimentally addled by cocaine. Eventually, researchers hope, such prostheses could boost cognitive abilities of brain-damaged patients.