Sci is at SciAm today, talking about the much-talked-of BRAIN initiative. What is it? What are its goals? And will it work? Will it be a BAM (Brain Activity Map) or a BUST (Badly Underfunded S**T)? What do you think? Head over and check it out.
Archive for the 'Neuroscience' category
Sci is at SciAm Blogs today, talking about the recent backlash against neuro-hype (which I am ALL in support of, obviously), highlighting the excellent work of Neuroskeptic and The Neurocritic, and asking...does neuroscience need a Newton? I personally think the question, especially now, is pointless. Newtons aren't the way science works anymore, and with the millions of possibilities in neuroscience...we need millions of neuroscientists. Head over and check it out.
Since I first saw a post by Jesse Bering, responding to a question by a “Deep Thinking Hebephile”, I have wished to write a response of my own, covering more of the literature on the subject, and clarifying some points. It’s taken a while to gather my sources. For starters, I do not think that Jesse intended to, explicitly or implicitly, condone hebephilia. But this is where taking risks in scientific writing can lead to unintended consequences, and where choosing the wrong words, failing to adequately define the right ones, and mixing it all up with a lack of context and a paucity of references can produce a very unfortunate result. So I’d like to tackle this issue a little bit myself, from all the angles that were questioned in the original piece, with a few more sources, and a lot more context. This topic dovetails quite nicely with my upcoming Science Online discussion section with Kate Clancy, on writing about sex, and the line between education and titillation.
One of the interesting things about being a scientist is reading how science is interpreted in the mainstream media, and then comparing the headlines back to the science that was, you know, actually done. When I was a young, and highly naive little scientist, I would read the headlines and go "oh, wow, they found that brain structure and hormone use are correlated in women and makes them behave differently. They must have done all of that stuff in the study".
HAHAHAHAHAHAHAAHA. No, no they didn't. At first I was often surprised to find that the media would put all the hypotheses and suggestions in the discussion of the article in as fact, and it turns out that the people doing the study wouldn't have done ANY of those bits AT ALL.
Now, I am not as young (sniff), and I am slightly less naive. So when I saw headlines like "Salt Appetite Is Linked to Drug Addiction, Research Finds", "Cocaine Addiction Uses Same Brain Paths as Salt Cravings", "Appetite for salt linked to drug addiction", I know that you can't ASSUME that they tested the actual drug addiction propensities implies in the studies.
So when you see headlines like this...don't put down the Fritos. Put down the Fritos because those things are gross and probably terrible for you, sure (have you SEEN the fat content on those things?!), but not because they make you a crack junkie.
Liedtke, et al. "Relation of addiction genes to hypothalamic gene changes subserving genesis and gratiﬁcation of a classic instinct, sodium appetite" PNAS, 2011.
This does not mean this is a bad paper. On the contrary, it's a fine paper. But it does mean, yet again, that you shouldn't believe everything you read.
For starters: "salt appetite" doesn't just mean that you prefer butter style popcorn to kettle corn.
(mmmm, salt. Source)
(And finally a small rant. ", research finds"? ", research finds"?!?! Who the heck thinks that's good sentence structure or in anyway improves the headline?!!? I see this all the time and it always makes me cringe a little. Argh)
Sci's been meaning to cover this paper for a while, honestly. There is really so much to blog and so little time, you know? I saw this paper make a minor splash when it came out back in June, and I've been wanting to read it myself. And what better way to really READ a paper than to blog it?
So let me introduce the subject of today's paper, the monogamous prairie vole.
The prairie vole is kind of a darling of the research vole. I mean, it's got nothing on mus musculus, but we do tend to like our voles. They're monogamous! Isn't that sweet! It's cute and easy to breed, and...monogamous! Really, that's the defining feature that makes them interesting, because there really are relatively few species out there other than primates that ARE monogamous. Only 3% of mammals, in fact. So some research has gone in to what it is that MAKES them monogamous, especially when compared to their extremely close cousins the mountain voles.
And then of course, once you've got through all the monogamy issues with the oxytocin and the vasopressin, you start to look at other aspects of this rare kind of social behavior. Things that can be affected by it and things that can affect it.
Things like drugs.
Liu et al. "Social Bonding Decreases the Rewarding Properties of Amphetamine through a Dopamine D1 Receptor-Mediated Mechanism" J. Neuroscience, 2011.
A tweet via @Vaughnbell yesterday shared this paper, and I just couldn't let it go by. Sigh. So very much to blog, so very little time.
I don't know how you all feel about breakfast, but for Sci, it's a little essential. I NEED it. If I don't get breakfast by 10am I am a ravening hunger beast appeased only by large amounts of coffee and Snickers. In fact, even WITH breakfast this happens. There's just no way to really be sure.
I wasn't always this way. In fact, in middle school and high school, you were lucky if I also ate LUNCH. No breakfast, no lunch. Yeah, by the end of the day I often had no energy, was grumpy, and no fun to be around. But I was also a teenager, so I have to figure most people didn't notice anything. In fact, it wasn't until grad school that I began to really comprehend the importance of having something with the coffee in the morning. It made me feel better, gave me higher energy...and it even made me a little sharper.
But now I look back upon my breakfast-less ways with suspicion. Could they have hurt more than my energy? Could I have missed out on something important?! Was a little lady-Einstein just SITTING in my head waiting to get out, and I will never know because my breakfast...CHANGED MY BRAIN?
Taki et al. "Breakfast Staple Types Affect Brain Gray Matter Volume and Cognitive Function in Healthy Children" PLoS ONE. 2011.
BREAKFAST!! BREAKFAST WILL COME for you in the day and CHANGE YOUR BRAIN STRUCTURE.
I think we've heard this one before.
(Source. Used under Creative Commons License)
(Also, I'd like to all to know that Sci ate breakfast as she read this paper. Just in case, you know.)
When most people think of dopamine, they think of things that can get you high. Things that feel good. Cocaine. Sex. Food. We imagine floods of dopamine in our brains as the pleasurable feelings take hold. As more and more media outlets cover neuroscience, we get the idea that serotonin means happiness, but dopamine means...pleasure.
And sure, sometimes it does. But dopamine is nothing without its RECEPTORS. And the D2 receptor is one of the big ones. Sure, D2 is a dopamine receptor. But it doesn't mean pleasure, and it's a wonderful example of the ways that the brain uses to put the brakes on such an...addictive system.
This current paper looks at the way we look at D2 receptor function. But it also provides an interesting perspective on possible targeting of those who might be at risk for addiction. Because it turns out, the ability to stop a cocaine binge is only as good as the brakes on your system.
Bello, et al. "Cocaine supersensitivity and enhanced motivation for reward in mice lacking dopamine D2 autoreceptors." Nature Neuroscience. 2011.
Ok, I had a lot of fun writing about the Trigeminal. Making it all about a Bollywood movie makes EVERYTHING better. Unfortunately, Bollywood movies do not apply to everything (but they DO apply to most things).
So now, we move on to Cranial Nerve VII, the Facial nerve. Why, you say, WHERE was Cranial Nerve VI? I covered it with cranial nerve IV, actually, the trochlear and abducens together, since both innervate very similar muscles in the eye.
And so now we move onward to cranial nerve VII, the facial nerve. This is another mixed nerve, one that does BOTH sensory and motor functions. And being the facial nerve, it's ALL about the FACE.
The question becomes: can I illustrate this ENTIRE post using nothing but pictures of different facial expressions?
(This is an example of an internet meme known as rage comics. They are user made and thus only sometimes funny, but i discovered them via this, which is both funny and horribly, horribly true. Basically, you have a limited number of faces, male or female, and you make comics out of them, and they all look a little like this guy. And I hope whoever invented them (I think it's Reddit) doesn't hurt me, cause I love Reddit. If you think these are funny, you can build them yourself, using the memebuilder, which is what I used for all of these).
Today we continue ONWARD with the series on the Cranial Nerves. But we're doing something a little different. Because last time we covered the Oculomotor Nerve, which innervates FOUR of the SIX muscles which control the eye, today we're going to round out the eye (heh, round, eye, heh) and do the other TWO. But we're going to have to go out of order. The order of the Cranial Nerves (with convenient mnemonic!) goes like this:
We've been through the Oh, Oh, Oh (cranial nerves I, II, and III), but the two cranial nerves that control motor movements of the rest of the eye are NOT IV and V. Instead, they are IV and VI, the Trochlear Nerve and the Abducens. And we're going to cover them together, because each one is a motor nerve that moves exactly one muscle, and each one sends signals out from exactly one nucleus. Nice and relatively simple.
So here we go. And we'll start out seeing where they peek out from the brain:
You can see the trochlear nerve poking out, all thin, just to either side of the top of that rounded trapezoid that is the basal pons, while the abducens comes out of the bottom of the basal pons.
In the last few posts we've covered the first two cranial nerves, the Olfactory and the Optic nerves (remember our mnemonic: Oh, Oh, Oh, To Touch And Feel Virginia's Gucci Vest, Ah Heaven). Both of these cranial nerves carry sensory information IN to the brain for processing, and don't really control motion. For nerves like the olfactory, you wouldn't expect much motion (can't really move our nose around very well), but for the visual system, eye movements are extremely important, allowing you to focus the eye on the things that are most important in the visual field. Being able to do this accurately and at speed is extremely for complete processing of our visual field.
So today is for the third "Oh", the oculomotor nerve. Move those eyeballs!