Tag: neuroscience

Chemical Behind the Smell of Rotting Flesh Prevents Seizures (in Tadpoles)

By Patrick Morgan | March 14, 2011 5:59 pm

Most people try not to associate themselves with bad breath, let alone the smells of purifying flesh. But that doesn’t deny the fact that your body naturally contains the same chemical underlying both of these smells—and in the future, people may even pay good money for that chemical, as new research shows that it helps (amphibian) victims of epileptic seizures.

The chemical is called putrescine (1,4 diaminobutane), a malodorous organic compound within the polyamine family—a group of molecules already known to play a crucial role in important functions like cell division. In large doses, it is quite toxic, and scientists weren’t so sure why this rotten-smelling compound shows up in the brains of seizure-stricken patients. Until now.

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Researchers Say: Fill Your Bladder To Clear Your Mind

By Patrick Morgan | March 1, 2011 6:11 pm

Before you make any life-altering decisions in the future, you may want to guzzle a few liters of water. At least, that’s according to new research that found that people with water-filled bladders are better at making decisions about their future—a finding that not only counters common sense, but also flies in the face of past psychological consensus.

Lead author of the study published in Psychological Science, Mirjam Tuk, a scientist at the Netherland’s University of Twente, landed upon this unique research topic after she drank too much coffee during a lengthy lecture. As the coffee made its way to her bladder,  she asked herself a question: “What happens when people experience higher levels of bladder control?” And with that start, she devised an experiment to test whether people’s ability to control their bladders allowed them to better control other desires.

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CATEGORIZED UNDER: What’s Inside Your Brain?

Prairie Voles: The Social Drinkers of the Rodent World

By Joseph Calamia | July 12, 2010 12:30 pm

fieldvoleMice might turn up their noses at alcohol, but not the prairie vole. This usually upstanding rodent, famous for mating for life and sharing pup-raising duties, apparently likes a stiff drink.

“They not only drink alcohol, they prefer it over water,” Allison Anacker, a neuroscience graduate student at Oregon Health & Science University told The Oregonian.

Anacker, working under behavioral neuroscience professor Andrey Ryabinin, was looking for a model organism to study some humans’ troubled relationship with alcohol. Mice and rats fail in this role–it’s unusual to find ones that want even a sip of the stuff.

In a study published in Addiction Biology last month, Ryabinin’s team records the drunken misadventures of prairie voles. After chugging their preferred 6 percent alcohol drink (about the equivalent of beer), some thirsty voles shoved off parental responsibilities and even walked out on their mates. Though some drank responsibility, others drank to excess, stumbling away from the bar/spiked water bottle.

The study suggests that like humans, the voles also make drinking buddies, seemingly encouraging each other to have another. When caged together, the voles appear to match one another drink for drink, a practice that apparently has nothing to do with who’s buying the next round.

Related content:
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Discoblog: NCBI ROFL: Beer Consumption Increases Human Attractiveness to Malaria Mosquitoes.
Not Exactly Rocket Science: Pocket science – sperm races and poison-stealing voles
Not Exactly Rocket Science: Of voles and men: exploring the genetics of commitment

Image: flickr / Gilles Gonthier / field vole

Can a Brain Scan Predict Your Behavior Better Than You Can?

By Joseph Calamia | June 24, 2010 2:17 pm

sunblockIt would be an advertiser’s dream: knowing the exact location in your brain that indicates whether an ad has worked, and whether you intend to buy that cat food or wear that suntan lotion. Now, some researchers claim they’ve found a region which might predict whether viewers will act on what a commercial tells them.

For a study published yesterday in The Journal of Neuroscience, researchers asked 20 participants to listen to a series of “persuasive messages.” While the test subjects listened, researchers used an fMRI to record the activity in various regions in their brains. The study was small–but researchers say that, with these 20 participants, they could determine many of these listeners’ intentions by looking at a region associated with self-consciousness, called the medial prefrontal cortex.

The subjects listened to messages covering a range of subjects, but the team, lead by Matthew Lieberman at UCLA, was really interested in a public service message about the importance of using sunscreen. Before the brain scans, researchers surveyed the participants about a variety of their behaviors, including their expected sunscreen use for the next week.

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CATEGORIZED UNDER: What’s Inside Your Brain?

Researchers Discover How Ice Cream Controls Your Brain

By Brett Israel | September 14, 2009 12:02 pm

ice_cream_webSo your date this weekend didn’t turn out like you’d hoped. A pint of Ben and Jerry’s  sounds like the perfect remedy, right? But while a bowl of Phish Food might make you feel good now, if a recent study is any indication, the ice cream binge may trick your brain into scarfing high-fat foods for the next several days.

From PhysOrg.com:

Findings from a new UT Southwestern Medical Center study suggest that fat from certain foods we eat makes its way to the brain. Once there, the fat molecules cause the brain to send messages to the body’s cells, warning them to ignore the appetite-suppressing signals from leptin and insulin, hormones involved in weight regulation.

While we’ve known full well that a high-fat diet is bad for you, and that obesity is on the rise, the study’s results helps explain fats’ role in thwarting the hormones that control appetite. One type of fat, palmitic acid—a saturated fatty acid found in foods like butter, cheese, milk and beef—is particularly skilled at shutting your brain up and letting your body eat more. The effect can last up to three days, which is bad news for those trying to watch their weight during beer-and-wing-fueled football weekends.

The study was performed on rats and mice, but the scientists say their results reinforce common dietary recommendations. Next up, the research team wants to investigate how long it takes to rebound from short-term, high- fat intake.

Related Content:
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Discoblog: Let Them View Cake: Looking at Food Pics Equals Less Eating
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Image: flickr/stu_spivack

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Food, Nutrition, & More Food
MORE ABOUT: food, neuroscience, obesity

Military Members to Donate Their Brains to Science

By Allison Bond | June 25, 2009 11:37 am

brainResearchers hoping to literally get inside the heads of soldiers will have their chance: 20 retired and active members of the U.S. military have pledged to donate their brains for research on the physical effects of war on the brain.

The program will be looking for evidence of brain damage caused by explosions and other wartime trauma, and the researchers involved have already examined the brains of athletes for similar problems. According to the New York Times:

Just as researchers at the Boston University center and elsewhere have linked some athletes’ later-life emotional problems to their on-field brain trauma, the research on military personnel will try to determine whether some soldiers with post-traumatic stress disorder—a psychological diagnosis—actually retain physical brain damage caused by battlefield blasts. Some signs of P.T.S.D., particularly depression, erratic behavior and the inability to concentrate, appear similar to those experienced by concussed athletes.

Such a link could have effects beyond medicine. Disability benefits for veterans can vary depending on whether an injury is considered psychological or physical. And veterans with P.T.S.D. alone do not receive the Purple Heart, the medal given to soldiers wounded or killed in enemy action, because it is not a physical wound.

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Will Neuroscience Help the Army Create the Ultimate Soldier?

By Melissa Lafsky | May 21, 2009 1:45 pm

marinesNew Scientist is reporting that a paper by the U.S. National Academies of Science has thrown out the possibility of using genetic testing and analysis to match soldiers with specific duties/specialties, and monitor their brains for signs of stress or weakness. For instance:

If a soldier is struggling, a digital “buddy” might step in and warn them about nearby threats, or advise comrades to zap them with an electromagnet to increase their alertness. If the whole unit is falling apart, biosensors could warn central commanders to send in a replacement team….

Sponsored by the U.S. army and written by a panel of 14 prominent neuroscientists, the report focuses on those areas with “high-payoff potential” – where the science is sufficiently reliable to turn into useful technologies….

Within five years, biomarkers might be used to assess how well a soldier’s brain is functioning, and within 10 years, it should be possible to predict how individuals are likely to respond to environmental stresses like extreme heat and cold, or endurance exercises.

There’s also the matter of matching people to combat specialties based on a combo of psych and genetics tests:

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CATEGORIZED UNDER: What’s Inside Your Brain?
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