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Showing entries tagged memory.  Show all entries

December 5, 2011

To Toke, or Not to Toke: Who Knows the Answer?


Growing up during the "war on drugs", we have all heard the plethora of myths and propaganda used to keep youth away from drugs, especially marijuana. "If you smoke dope you will go on to do heroin." "Marijuana will kill your brain cells." "Marijuana causes people to become violent and irrational." Despite these claims, it is a common belief, often found through personal experiences, that this may not be the case (not to mention the lack of data supporting the claims). This blurriness is not only seen in claims regarding the drug's effects, but in the contradiction between state and federal laws. There are currently 17 states (including Washington DC) which permit the use of medical marijuana for a variety of prescribed medical issues; while federal law on the other hand continues to classify cannabis as a Schedule I drug, defining the substance as having a high potential for abuse and having no accepted medical use in the United States. Wait, what duuude? Yep, you read it right! While United States law claims marijuana has no medical benefits, the state of Colorado currently supports over 100,000 medical marijuana patients (Colorado Medical Marijuana Industry)1.

So with such a lack of consistent information regarding cannabis' effects, how do we know what to believe? In 2006, neuroscientists Ivan Soltesz and Kevin Staley teamed up in order to attempt to identify any relationship between cannabinoids and memory. This research examined the effects various cannabinoids, such as THC, a phytocannabinoid that is the major psychoactive principle of marijuana, and CP55940, a synthetic cannabinoid, on the CB1 cannabinoid receptors. This type of cannabinoid receptor is the most abundant G-protein-coupled receptor in the brain and has an extremely high density in the hippocampal formation, suggesting a possible link between cannabinoids and memory deficits.

This study found that in vivo, THC depressed hippocampal and neocortical EEGs at several frequencies. This process was then repeated using the synthetic cannabinoid CP55940, which acts as a CB1 receptor agonist, to confirm THC acted as an agonist to the receptor. Similar results were observed, finding that these cannabinoids lessened the power of hippocampal EEG activity in theta, fast ripple, and gamma oscillations. These oscillations play a critical role in several memory functions such as working memory, coordination of neuronal discharges across regions and memory consolidation. These results successfully show a correlation between memory deficits and the binding of an exogenous cannabinoid receptor agonist to hippocampal CB1 receptors. As a control, these trials were repeated, this time preadministering SR141716A, a CB1 receptor antagonist. As expected, the effects of the cannabinoids were successfully blocked.

This research is important for providing the groundwork for future marijuana research, which can be useful in future memory studies as well as studying models of addiction. So, before you go light up that joint, remember not everything you hear about marijuana is a myth: phytocannabinoids in marijuana are associated with memory deficits.

Sources:

Soltesz, Ivan, and Kevin Staley. "High times for Memory: Cannabis Disrupts Temporal Coordination among Hippocampal Neurons." Natureneuroscience.com. Nature Neuroscience, 2006. Web. .

1 Colorado Medical Marijuana Registry
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Pay Attention! The Relationship Between Memory and Attention


Memory and attention are not always seen as being related, however Johnson and Chun's article, the connections between the two of these processes are looked at in detail. This article would be considered a meta-analysis of several studies on the topic of memory and the different attention states themselves. Both perceptual and reflective attention was studied and reported, showing interesting results about how the brain categorizes and retrieves memories in relation to these types of attention. The majority of the studies that were focused on within the article had been arranged and performed by the authors of the article, giving an interesting perspective.

Neuroimaging was used to determine the areas of the brain most activated by certain stimuli. Functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) was the technique most referred to in this article; fMRI's are used to visualize the neural activity based on the hemodynamic response of glucose release within the brain. With this technique, it was seen that similar areas of the brain are activated when a stimulus is first observed (what the article refers to as perception) and when the same stimulus is being recalled (referred to as reflection). For instance, a cue for a visual memory will cause a higher activity level in the visual cortex in the same way that the visual cortex was originally stimulated when the cue was first observed. Similar responses are seen in both short term and long term memory recollection.

It has also been observed that certain activities that relate to either perceptual attention, like repetition attenuation, or reflective attention, like reactivating and retrieving, activate areas that are generally similar to the areas activated during the experience of remembering. Beyond the areas originally involved, there are other areas involved in the processes of memory and attention. These areas include frontal and parietal areas such as the hippocampus, the anterior cingulate cortex, and other various areas of the frontal and parietal lobes of the brain. The article demonstrates that refreshing perceptual events, using both types of memory also shows similarity in both activity levels and in the sections that are activated. The studies have shown that there can be severe interference if a participant is told to recall multiple objects or situations that were encoded with similar attention states and that are located in similar areas.

This article could have improved if it had looked at multiple sources of stimulus rather than just visual stimulants, as there could be vastly different results from memories of different senses. Furthermore, reviewing their own experimental studies could give rise to a bias in the analysis of the studies. However, this article did bring up some important ideas.

The conclusions drawn from this article could lead to many other topics of research that could help in the understanding of how the ways of memory, attention, and how they are able to work together. Further knowledge of these relationships could provide information on how to improve educational systems and could promote more effective ways of learning.




Chun, M. M., Johnson, M. K. (2011). Memory: Enduring traces of perceptual and reflective attention. Neuron, 72(4), 520-535. Retrieved from http://download.cell.com/neuron/pdf/PIIS0896627311009615.pdf?intermediate=true
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December 4, 2011

This Proves We're Obsessed with Shiny Things


How does a predator within 4 seconds of scanning an environment map it, memorize it, and sort out all unnecessary information from the info needed to be able to survive? Many theories have to do with the difference between top down and bottom up visual processing. Top down processing refers to the slower, executive cognition behind vision while bottom up is fast and not consciously driven and heavily influenced by environmental cues. Those environmental cues have been studied as to their effect and also as to what exactly grants them salience, or the property that allows the stimulus to stand out against its backdrop. While many studies have already been done studying the effect of salience on such things as saccade movements in the eyes to fixation periods to mapping brain location, little to no experiments have been done trying to illuminate salience and its relationship to memory.
A simple task was devised consisting of having 12 participants focus on a scene for a brief period of time. The view is then removed from the participants and they are subjected to a wait period. Once that time is completed the participants are asked to recall the position of several figures in the scene to test their memory. They varied the difficulty of the scenes and the salience of the objects to see if there was any correlation between the two, and as it turns out there was indeed. The salience of the object was directly correlated with the performance of the participants meaning they were more successful at recalling the objects exhibiting greater degrees salience than they were recalling inconsequential items. Furthermore, they tested this with varying degrees of difficulty and found that the more difficult the recollection task was, the greater the positive effect of salience had on the performance of the participants. While one could argue that they perhaps were drawn to those items and they simply focused on those items more than the others thus increasing the chances of memorization, they mapped and timed their eye movements to measure any fixation times on the items and found no difference in the fixation times between the salient objects and the non-salient objects meaning that they spent the same amount of time memorizing each object.
To summarize the findings, they showed that human�??s ability to recall objects within a certain space is positively dependent upon the salience of the object, and it is not due to any differences in memorization periods. A positive correlation between the increasing difficulty of the task and the positive effect of salience on memorization suggests that perhaps the brain may use salience to identify objects of value and omit objects deemed unimportant when the brain is forced to compromise.
They did make sure to mention another study with conflicting results. The study opted for a test involving people to assess whether a certain object was in a scene. They authors asserted that the difference in the findings could be attributed to the inherent difference in the tests, as one dealt with object identification and another with object location and spatial memory. They conclude that salience of an object and the effect it has on memory needs to be studied on a brain system to brain system basis, analyzing which systems are involved and what that would then imply.
This study provides more insight into the evolution of sight and how vision has been used and fine tuned throughout evolution. Recognition of the salience of an object is conserved throughout most species and clearly plays a pivotal role in the utility of vision as a whole. The ability to quickly asses an environment for all the information essential for survival is something that if without many animals would fall prey much more often due to lack of attention. This often taken-for-granted aspect of our vision that we are mostly unaware of is something that most certainly needs to be studied further and fully understood.
Original Article: http://www.jneurosci.org/content/29/25/8016.full
Posted by      Christopher R. at 10:37 PM MST
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Reasons You Should (not) Text and Read


Tap tap tap tap tap Bam Bam Bam *moaning* TAP TAP TAP TAP BAM BAM BA-BAM BAM BAM!

Take a page out of the Dr. Chun and Johnson book: if your roommate is having wild and kinky sex just next door, find someplace else to write your Civil War research paper. Keep in mind, this advice does extend beyond sex as a distraction and a research paper as a task. In the November 17, 2011 issue of Neuron the review Memory: Enduring Traces of Perceptual and Reflective Attention made several assertions about the aggrandizing body of literature concerned with the networks involved in and interactions between attention and memory. Research concerned with the dynamic interplay of memory and attention, currently, is sparse; until very recently, neuroscience research has focused either on attention or memory. Lately, however, researchers have found that their results about attention or memory phenomena cannot be explained without more information about how they are conjoined. The purpose of this review was to assess advances that have been made, possible applications of the results, and hypotheses to be tested in future studies.

Looking back at the poor sap listening to his roommate get it on not five feet away, while he is attempting to concentrate on how Union soldiers mistreated Confederate women and children, made me wonder if he can pay any attention to the task he is supposed to at the moment (his paper). Thankfully, I do not have to conduct a research experiment myself to see if he will succeed: this question was already answered in A general mechanism for perceptual decision-making in the human brain. The answer is simple: if the task you are concentrating on is easily accomplished then the amount of attention you need to devote to it is low (low load), and, unfortunately, distractions will impact your efforts much more than if the task is not easily accomplished. If the task is difficult, the cognitive load will be high and distractions are not as likely to detract from your concentration. I think the paper he is writing has a high cognitive load, but I also am inclined to think that the amount of sensory input he is getting, from task-irrelevant sources, is not low on the cognitive load scale and, therefore, his reflective attention on the paper will suffer.

Beyond informing us how to respond to demanding situations, this review reflects on various findings that have been made, and steps to be taken, in the exploration of the pathways implicated in memory and attention. A major discovery that was made recently, (July 2011) by a conglomeration of researchers from the Netherlands, is that, not only do attention and memory interact, memories of images, (reflective representations specifically) when retrieved, activate the same pathways as though the image was seen twice. The implications are clear: that picture in your head of your long lost lover perfectly replicates what he or she looks like in real life, right? Not quite, all that Oliver et al. discovered is that the same pathways are activated in the perception and recall of a dot or shape, which cannot be extrapolated any further.

However, that is not to say that none of the studies in this review came to similar conclusions; a few even arrived at conclusions, and observed results, that are salient to the human condition. A few of the more scintillating results include, but are not limited to, the fact that when we are not distracted the amount of and detail in which we remember information is extraordinary (implications for people with ADD/ADHD); the harder a task actually is, the more likely we are to focus on it than on distracting stimuli (studying habits); and, the ability of older adults to enhance memory (learn new things), while simultaneously being unable to distinguish false memories from true memories, and remember salient information from the past (memory loss due to aging).

The study of memory and attention interactions is new and, because of the information already gleaned from studies focused solely on attention or memory, certain questions can already be answered about their interactions. I, like the Civil War historian listening to his obnoxious roommate slam his way to a TBI, am not satisfied to simply sit around and listen (in my case about studies that have been performed, in his case sex). I am interested to learn more about attention-memory interactions and, someday, contribute to this fascinating field of study.

Now, who is ready for a pop quiz on the interactions of memory and attention?

Source: http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0896627311009615
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December 1, 2011

Seeing With Your Mind.


When asked to imagine a particular object the mind seems to conjure the image instantly and you can observe it's many features with your mind's eye. Given that we all do this dozens of times a day it seems like a fairly boring and menial occurrence. However if you stop to think of the mental processes that underlay this phenomena you'll see how complex and important it is.

To first test the manner in which mental images are formed participants were shown an empty grid with a lower case letter beneath it. They were asked to imagine the corresponding uppercase letter in the grid as quickly as possible and state whether the letter would cover a particular block in the grid. As the letters became more complex (containing more segments) the response time increased. This finding led the researchers to believe that an image was not formed all at once, but rather as individual parts. (the letter F should take longer to recall because you must recall three parts as opposed to an L which contains only two parts). It also appears as if the parts were imaged in almost the same order in all cases. This is based off the fact that when the subjects were asked to draw individual letters they were imaged in the same sequence at least 75% of the time.

These findings were further supported by auxiliary evidence of the brain forming patterns. For example ------ is viewed as a straight line, not six dashes. Similarly XXX XXX is viewed as two groups not six X's as is XXXooo. Thus the brain is predisposed to organizing things as parts or "perceptual units." Given this it seems likely that the brain stores the letter F by its three individual parts rather than as a whole, and when the letter is recalled it is imaged a part at a time based off previously stored perceptual units.

Why is this the case? Why not simply remember something as a whole rather than by its parts? The answer comes via the limitations of the brain.

Previous research has shown that it is more difficult to hold onto a mental image while you are paying attention to actual visual stimulation. This would seem to say that some of the cortices involved in visual sensory input are implicated in mental imagery. To test why the things are organized by parts the researchers look at the processing of visual stimuli.

The two primary visual cortices are located in the inferior temporal lobe and the parietal lobe. Ablations in monkeys of the inferior temporal lobe causes the monkey difficulty in discriminating against patterns and shapes but have no difficulties in object location. The reverse is true in animals with ablations of the parietal lobe indicating that each lobe has a different functional relevance in visual processing. Thus the observation of "what" and "where" are processed separately.

This explains why we image things sequentially. The shape of a part is stored separately from it's location relative to other parts. For example an F is composed of vertical bar connected on top and in the middle to two horizontal bars. Given that 94% of the participants drew an F by drawing the vertical line first then top and bottom shows that there are parts prerequisite to other parts and thus must be imaged one part at a time.

This division of objects into parts has great importance. It is why we are able to recognize letters in different fonts. Rather than memorizing how an F looks in every form and being confused upon seeing a new font we merely have to know the parts of an F and how they relate to each other. This can be further extrapolated out away from the simplicity of letters. A person can assume many forms. We can stand, sit, curl in the fetal position and still we are able to recognize it as a person because we recognize the parts and how they are connected to one another, as opposed to knowing exactly how a person looks when they are curled.

This division relieves us of having to know much more specific information thus freeing up brain power so we can say, know how to write a blog.

Aspects of a Cognitive Neuroscience of Mental Imagery. Kosslyn et al. Science Journal.
http://wjh-www.harvard.edu/~kwn/Kosslyn_pdfs/1988Kosslyn_Science240_Aspects.pdf
Posted by      Zach I. at 4:22 PM MST
displaying most recent comments (1 ommitted) | Comments (4)
  Zach Irell  says:
Yeah I was wondering the same thing...they don't mention it at all in the paper most likely because they don't have a good answer. I think that there is definitely merit in that answer but from an evolutionary stand point it makes more sense for us to encode things in the way presented by these researchers. The letters are a very simplistic way for them to explain this and thats why we can call it into question but I think the results and direction of the paper point to things on a much larger and more complicated scale.
Posted on Sun, 4 Dec 2011 4:51 PM MST by Zach I.
  Christina Uhlir  says:
Did the paper get into templates and expectations? By templates I'm referring to mental representations of objects, people, scenes that act as a prototype that influences a person's perceptual experience (e.g. drawing from memory a letter and comparing it to the one you see in front of you) and based on that, the expectation a person has about the stimulus, and problematic interactions that could result.
Posted on Sun, 4 Dec 2011 5:04 PM MST by Christina U.
  Zach Irell  says:
This paper refers to how mental representation of objects, people and scenes are stored and how we recall them.
Posted on Thu, 8 Dec 2011 8:42 PM MST by Zach I.

October 23, 2011

The Urge to Experience, How We Respond to Novelty


Human beings once were localized to a a few locations on earth, and yet over time they explored and expanded. The need to travel and experience new areas and landscapes and discover new worlds is what led the polynesians to discover all the islands in the south pacific, Columbus to the new world, and Niel Armstrong to our own moon, and that same desire to experience the unknown is the topic of interest in Brian Knutson's and Jeffrey C. Cooper's article The Lure of the Unknown in the 51 volume, issue 3 of the August 3 2006 copy of the Neuron.

Before this study, the Ventral Tegmental Area and the Substantia Nigra were heavily implicated in the process of conferring salience onto a stimuli. For the purpose of this experiment, the researchers defined salience as one of 4 different pictures presented. One set of pictures depicted novel scenes, one set showed negative scenes, one set was behavioral in nature, as when showed the picture the subjects then were expected to perform a simple action, and one set were simply neutral, and repeated for the last portion of the experiment. These different pictures represented the different forms of salience that could be conferred onto such stimuli. It turns out that the novel pictures through use of fMRI showed the most activity in the VTA and SN, as well as portions of the striatum and the hippocampus, implicating that we place the most salience onto novel pictures and stimuli as opposed to others. Other pictures then showed increased activity in different regions of the brain, such as the negative stimulus activating the locus coeruleus and the amygdala while the neutral pictures activating the hippocampus and the anterior cingulate.

The question of memory stimulation was raised, and contrary to the prediction made due to the fact that the hippocampus was stimulated by novel pictures, memory of novel pictures was not higher than that of repeated pictures. However, an interesting outcome of a related study showed that repeated pictures with the prescence of a few novel pictures thrown in were granted a temporary memory boost, undetectable 1 day later but present after 20 minutes. This contrasted with studies showing that stimuli coupled with reward cues also received memory enhancements implies the possibility that novel stimuli elicit a reward response throughout the brain. Unfortunately the study did not have a category designated for positive pictures which could have played the role as the reward response and then compared to the novel pictures to look for any similarities in the response of the VTA and the SN, as well as the effect it has on memory to see whether novel pictures play reward roles.

These studies collectively form a new basis for further study into the human response to novelty, potentially discovering whether we gain a reward sensation from novelty and whether that even makes us go in search of it, just as historical examples such as Galileo and Niel Armstrong would seem to suggest in their descriptions of experiencing the novelties of space and the limits of the world.

Full Article: http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0896627306005575
Posted by      Christopher R. at 11:22 PM MDT
Tags: amygdala, fmri, memory

Will this Blog Affect How you Read the Rest?


It's intuitive that memory and perception are linked, but the underlying neural mechanisms for this interaction are still unclear. The article "Biasing Perception by Spatial Long-Term Memory" (Summerfield et al.) from the Oct. 19th issue of The Journal of Neuroscience sheds some light on this problem. Their experiment links previous visual perception and subsequent long-term memory generation to increases in brain activity, improved behavioral performance and enhanced perceptual functioning in a recall type task.

This linkage was uncovered by putting subjects through visual identification tasks. The tasks involved finding a gold key, which was inserted into a complex picture after a random short period of time. The subjects were put through 160 trials in one day. These trials were setup in a precise manner that enabled the experimenters to strictly focus on the task and relevant results. EEG recordings, reaction time, accuracy, and optic focus were measured. The next day the subjects were put through the task again. With a number of the trials replicating the previous picture and key location exactly.

The experimenters analyzed the results prior to the experiment and eliminated the outliers and bad trials. The results demonstrate "anticipatory spatial biases were triggered by long-term memory" (5). Long-term memory affects the early stages of visual perceptual processing. The experimenters recorded increases in brain wave activity that mimicked the activity seen in trials where the subjects correctly identified the key on the first day. So when the same picture and key placement were used on the second day the brain wave activity of the first day was replicated before the stimulus was presented. This anticipatory affect is due to the long-term memory prepping the visual system for the expected target.

This study is helpful in generating a greater understanding of how powerful our long-term memory is. It inadvertently points to the possibility of problems that may arise when people find themselves in similar scenarios. The long-term memory bias was beneficial in the case of the study (faster reaction times), but these preconceived ideas may send some down the wrong path in a different scenario. The long-term memory's influence on perception may promote greater speed and fluidity in simple tasks, but what other assumptions and conclusions will it lead people to jump to. Is long-term memory bias causing people to make quick irrational decisions based on what worked last time? What other aspects of perception and action are being affected by long-term memory bias? To what extent do scenarios have to be similar to allow for this anticipation effect? Is this evolutionary adaption losing utility in a world that requires more imagination, understanding, critical thinking, and thoughtful interaction due to technological innovation and globalization?

All these questions and many more are on the cusp of discovery. This article uncovers a key building block to deciphering this neural pathway. Their use of EEG demonstrates the utility of this technique to answer questions about spatial and long-term memory. Applying this technique to novel scenarios will increase our knowledge of memory's role in biasing perception.

The Journal of Neuroscience October, 19th 2011
Link: http://www.jneurosci.org/content/31/42/14952.full.pdf+html
Posted by      Charlie S. at 9:31 PM MDT
Tags: eeg, learning, memory

Flies Like to Get Drunk As Well?


Well, it is unclear whether they get "drunk" or not but they do display hyperactivity after being exposed to intoxicating vapors of ethanol which is similar to that of what humans do after drinking too much. A recent study done by Karla R. Kaun et al shows that flies are attracted to ethanol just as much as humans are. Although humans have various reasons for ingesting alcohol, flies on the other hand, are attracted the rewarding effects that ethanol has on the brain. This attraction towards ethanol and the rewarding effects are so great; one could say that they are addiction to ethanol.
In the study done by Karla R. Kaun et al, they wanted to test whether or not flies displayed addition like behavior such as that in humans. They conditioned flies to be attracted ethanol by various means and tested them for addition like behavior by administering 100 V and 120 V shocks. They found that even after administering shocks to the flies, they were drawn to ethanol. Another test was done with the same voltages except ethanol was replaced with sucrose. This time, the flies only tolerated the 100 V shock and not the 120 V shock. This higher tolerance towards ethanol than sucrose could mean that they associate ethanol as giving them a more rewarding feeling than sucrose and that ethanol is worth the pain.
The flies were, as one could say, addicted to ethanol but why was this? Well, as we know, dopamine plays a role in the reward system and "ethanol amplifies the dopaminergic responses to natural reward and reward-related environmental cues" which causes this attraction and who can blame them, we all like to feel good (Karla R. Kaun et. al, pg. 3). Not only does dopamine play a role in the reward system, but so does memory of that good feeling. Karla R. Kaun et. al also found that the mushroom body and scabrous gene were required for the ethanol reward memory. By blocking various synaptic transmissions in the mushroom body, they found that the formation of ethanol reward memory "may be mediated by dopaminergic innervations of the αβ neurons (Karla R. Kaun et al, pg 5)." Karla R. Kaun et al also found that within the mushroom body, there was the scabrous gene that was required for the ethanol reward memory. It plays a role in this reward memory in that scabrous sends signals to Notch in which Notch mediates the reward memory. And so with the brain releasing chemicals that make you feel good and memories of that good feeling, who wouldn't be addicted to something that made you feel this way?
So why does studying flies and their addiction towards ethanol matter? Well, by studying flies and what influences them in their addictions, it could help researchers better understand human addiction and possibly allow researchers to find ways to help people with these addiction such as finding genes or circuits that makes a person more susceptible to being more addictive to various substances. By being able to identify these factors that influence a person's addiction, there will be better ways of treating a patient who has a drug abuse/addiction problem and better ways of treating the side effects of going off the drug such as withdrawal.

Source:https://cuvpn.colorado.edu/neuro/journal/v14/n5/pdf/,DanaInfo=www.nature.com+nn.2805.pdf
Posted by      Kou X. at 3:14 PM MDT
  Christina Uhlir  says:
Kou,

What is the mushroom body, scabrous gene, and Notch?
Posted on Sun, 23 Oct 2011 5:48 PM MDT by Christina U.

Z is for Zinc


Zinc. Metal. Number 30 on the periodic table. Twenty-fourth most abundant element on Earth. Common oxidation state of 2+.

Did you take your multivitamin today? Did it have zinc in it? Zinc is used to treat a wide variety of ailments from acne to the common cold, but did you also know it's important in memory formation? A new study lead by James McNamara M.D. of Duke University Medical Center shows that zinc can enhance communication between cells, particularly in the hippocampus, a center of memory formation. This data leads to the hypothesis that excessive enhancement mediated by zinc might occur in epilepsy and play a part in the severity of seizures. These findings could lead to developing new drugs for epilepsy.

High concentrations of zinc in synaptic vesicles was discovered in the 1950s and has perplexed neurobiologist ever since. These vesicles are colocalized with glutamatergic neurons of the hippocampus suggesting that zinc might be released and play a role in the plasticity of excitatory synapses. Efforts to determine zinc's function in these synapses has been difficult to determine because of previously available zinc chelators which were not specific for zinc and did not bind fast enough to remove zinc in the time scale of synaptic transmission. In the September issue of Neuron, a collaboration between Steve Lippard from MIT's Department of Chemistry and Duke University Medical Center has synthesized a novel zinc chelator. By using the chelator in mice, they found that zinc promotes presynaptic and inhibits postsynaptic long-term potentiaion in the mossy fiber-CA3 synapse.

The group began by creating a new zinc chelator, called ZX1, that binds zinc fast and has a higher specificity for zinc versus calcium or magnesium than other chelators. By using ZX1 to remove zinc from the synapse as soon as it was released, they were able to look at what happens to long-term potentiation without zinc. Using ZX1 in the hippocampus of mice, the data found that ZX1 inhibited mossy fiber-LTP. Mossy fiber LTP is NMDA independent, working by other mechanisms based in the presynaptic cell. The group also did experiments on ZnT3 null mutant mice, which lack the transporter that packages zinc into vesicles. These experiments were surprising because they saw that, as previously seen in wild type mice, zinc enhanced the presynaptic mf-LTP, but zinc actually inhibited postsynaptic mf-LTP.

Overall, zinc seems to modify the circuits related to learning and memory, but don't start gobbling down zinc supplements just yet. Zinc is a trace metal in biology, and certainly too much can be toxic. Knowing the molecular mechanisms of synaptic plasticity and excitability is an important step in treating diseases such as epilepsy, but as of yet there is no established beneficial level of zinc. In fact, too much zinc might increase the enhancement of these synapses, leading to more severe seizures. A new drug might act like ZX1 to bind zinc and remove it from the synapse, in order to reduce the enhancement of the excitatory synapse.


Source:
Enhui Pan, Xiao-an Zhang, Zhen Huang, Artur Krezel, Min Zhao, Christine E. Tinberg, Stephen J. Lippard, James O. McNamara, Vesicular Zinc Promotes Presynaptic and Inhibits Postsynaptic Long-Term Potentiation of Mossy Fiber-CA3 Synapse, Neuron, Volume 71, Issue 6, 22 September 2011, Pages 1116-1126, ISSN 0896-6273, 10.1016/j.neuron.2011.07.019.
http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0896627311006465

Less in depth summary of paper:
http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/09/110921132334.htm
Posted by      Amanda W. at 1:35 PM MDT
  Christina Uhlir  says:
Amanda,

Did the article actually get into how much zinc you should consume on a daily, weekly, or monthly basis? Or how much could kill a person?
Posted on Sun, 23 Oct 2011 8:37 PM MDT by Christina U.
  Amanda Weaver  says:
No, the study was focused on mouse hippocampal slices and was not advocating zinc supplements in humans, nor exploring the possible benefits or dangers inherent in changing zinc levels. In fact zinc can definitely be harmful. Here is a very interesting case study that was printed in the New York Times: http://www.nytimes.com/2009/09/06/magazine/06fob-diagnosis-t.html
Posted on Mon, 24 Oct 2011 12:37 PM MDT by Amanda W.
  Christina Uhlir  says:
That article was certainly illuminating. I guess I am glad that my vitamins do not contain even trace amounts of zinc.
Posted on Mon, 24 Oct 2011 3:27 PM MDT by Christina U.

August 1, 2011

Making the Mind Spotless


In the movie Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, the average person in the not-too-distant future has the option to erase unwanted memories with ease. The film takes a bizarre trip through Impenetrable Symbolism Lane after the initial setup, but the idea was ultimately painted as residing in an ethical gray area. In that story, a man was forgotten by an ex-girlfriend, but it was implied that the same technology was being used to treat PTSD and help people forget highly secretive information as well. A recent pilot study by University of Montreal researchers at the Centre for Studies on Human Stress has suggested that, while such specific deletion of memories is a pipe dream at best, the dream of removing painful memories with an accessible treatment may not be so far from our grasp.

The drug metyrapone, a drug that inhibits the production of the so-called "stress hormone" cortisol and is used in the treatment of hypercortisolism, was given to 22 men, with half receiving double the dose given to the other and another 11 men receiving a placebo. The men were administered the drug four days after being shown "a slide show having neutral and emotional segments," according to the paper published in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism, and asked to recall parts of the sequence. The study found a statistically significant decrease in the ability of those with the highest dose of the drug to recall those portions of the slide show which were most "emotional," while the more "neutral" parts were easily recalled by all three groups. This suggests a possible use for the drug in the treatment of PTSD.

Yes, sample size was tiny, and I would argue that the experimental design is rife with subjectivity, but the idea is founded on good science. It's fairly well established that cortisol has a significant effect on how our brains process and store memories. Typically, higher levels of cortisol impair accurate memory recall while also causing powerful emotional associations with memories being stored. The idea that we can specifically target and inhibit the recall of these emotional aspects of bad memories, without destroying memories of an event outright, is an intriguing and enticing one. While many may raise concerns over tampering with our memories in this way, the availability of such an option to those struggling with truly agonizing emotional memories would be almost entirely positive, and the effects may well be more permanent than with drugs many use to cope with negative emotions (like alcohol). The truly interesting issue to me is that it is this easy to mess with memories at all.

It's already well established that the ability to process and store memories can be removed by removing certain parts of the brain. It's also well established that certain drugs can inhibit memory recall. This preliminary study hints at the possibility of removing certain associations in the brain with pharmaceuticals. That memories are as beholden to peculiarities of biochemistry as any other biological process is not surprising, but it suggests that the scenario portrayed in Eternal Sunshine isn't very far fetched, or far-off. It's difficult to argue that such a world would be better or worse than the one we have now, but it would be radically different. Imagine being able to purchase this drug over the counter (it has relatively minor side effects) when you lose a loved one, and dramatically cutting down on grieving time. Such a world may well be a more efficient, more callous world, but perhaps callousness is worth having a "cure" for PTSD.

Science Daily article summarizing the paper:
http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/05/110526064802.htm
Original paper:
http://jcem.endojournals.org/content/early/2011/05/18/jc.2011-0226
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July 31, 2011

Synthetic Telepathy: The Army's Bold Plan


Many controversies on the table for neuroscience look at the emerging role of neuroscience, and how it will fit into our futures. This article by time magazine, '''The Army's Bold Plan to Turn Soldiers Into Telepaths''' hones in on the idea that the ways in which neuroscience could impact us are ever growing. Although at first neuroscience seems to find general roles in our emerging everyday lives, soon it will also fill in very specific corners and responsibilities; such as being used in the Army as a means of increasing our variability of weapons.

The article starts by bringing attention to the fact that the concepts associated with the future of neuroscience are just that- very futuristic. Many of the ways in which neuroscience and its findings could be applied to everyday life are concepts that have been talked about for generation but seem to be 'too far out' to be realistic and plausible. The foundations of these roles also need to be reestablished. For instance, the article points out that at first one might think a mind reading individual would be going through ones thoughts collecting memories and associations, when in fact the mind reader can be collecting information which will help protect him or help him protect a fellow solider. This idea is coined by the article as part of a U.S. Army project which is building "thought "helmets' (1).

The basis of synthetic telepathy is relying on research which is currently looking into which regions of the brain are responsible for the various processes of storing and processing thoughts. The overall goal of the US Army project would be to build a helmet which would be embedded with such technologies that can scan a brain similar to in the large scale fashion which are used for the research to identify these regions. The technology that would be embedded into the helmet would be able to carry out such functions as to be able to "target specific brain waves, translate them into words, and transmit those words wirelessly to a radio speaker or an ear piece worn by other soldiers" (1).

The idea and basis for the thought helmets and synthetic telepathy originated from the science fiction book Skylark of Space, a 1946 classic which was read by Elmar Schmeisser. The concepts and potential that neuroscience hold have been around forever, it is now taking the courage f individuals to speak up and realize that these ideas are plausible which is moving neuroscience both in a forward and controversial direction. Schmeisser began to progress with his idea of the thought helmet after a 2006 lecture when he realized the up and coming world of recording individual neurons and extracting signals from the surface of the brain. Although at first the army thought it to be hallucination that such an idea could work, they asked for evidence of its proof and Schmeisser and others are most definitely delivering results. After research results and new findings in the field, Schmeisser had won over many individuals and organizations and began working more in depth on the thought helmet for the Army.

Ultimately Schmeisser wanted to produce answers to big neuroscience questions which would in turn allow future researchers to capture complicate thoughts and ideas (1). He realized though that the rudimentary though helmet, capable of discerning commands, would be a valuable achievement and a step in the right direction to continue to gain supporters and funding for such a project. This point in the article paves way to where most neuroscience controversies come from- the ideas they are based on are as ever growing as the field. Many of the applications of neuroscience to real life open doors for more and more complex application to be found, and therein lies why the topics become so controversial.

Schmeisser himself points out that in actuality little is known about how the brain really functions, more so just about all the players that are present, contributing or not. "This project is attempting to make the scientific breakthrough that will have application for many things. If we can get at the black box we call the brain with the reduced dimensionality of speech, then we will have made a beginning to solving fundamental challenges in understanding how the brain works- and, with that, of understanding individuality" (1).

(1) http://discovermagazine.com/2011/apr/15-armys-bold-plan-turn-soldiers-into-telepaths
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What Does a "Senior Moment" Really Imply?


How many of us have been wary of getting into a conversation with a senior citizen because it may take too long and we are in a hurry? When an older person can't remember a name or a specific event, how often does someone think that that person has Alzheimer's or dementia? Why is it that seniors do not get the benefit of the doubt that their brains may be working, just a little bit more slowly? It seems that our society needs to take into account that seniors? brains do experience a certain amount of decline, but that doesn?t mean that the person is losing their mind.

It is a well known fact that as people age they will have trouble remembering to some degree, but how much of that is normal aging and how much is Alzheimer's Disease. It is common to hear about sons and daughters getting frustrated with their older parents when they forget an appointment or a name. The children will have concerns that their parents are getting Alzheimer's. How much of that forgetfulness can be attributed simply to aging? The distinction between normal aging and dementia has always been fuzzy, until just recently.

Dementia, especially Alzheimer's Disease, has been the main focus of gerontological neuroscience for the purposes of diagnosis and treatment. Just recently, a new focus of neuroscience has been to look at what is normal aging for the brain. Through a battery of studies and tests, there seems to be some understanding of what happens to the brain during normal aging.

Long-term memory is one of the most well known types of age related cognitive decline. The left inferior prefrontal region shows less activity in seniors than in young adults during memory tasks. The activity level in this brain region could be increased with cues and "encoding strategies" (Park & Reuter-Lorenz, 2010). Another one of the main deficits that is associated with aging is a decrease in cognitive speed in memory retrieval. This has been shown to be associated with decreased axonal volume or white matter volume (Park & Reuter-Lorenz, 2010). The implications of the research on cognitive speed could be as simple as wait and give them time. There could one day even be a pharmacological treatment that combats the decrease in white matter volume.

There seems to be a simple way to combat some of the decline in the aging brain. Park and Reuter-Lorenz were able to find that "investments made earlier in life, in the form of intellectual, social, and physical enrichment, may increase neural reserve and potential for effective scaffolding as people meet increasing challenges later in life" (2010). With that said, living a rich and thought provoking life in all the above mention areas of life may lead to brain structure that can withstand the negative effects of aging on the brain.

These advances in research could be monumental for every aspect of a senior's life, such as visits to the doctor, daily interactions, and even long term care. Medical care can be simplified by the simple understanding that cognitive deterioration is automatically Alzheimer's Disease or another form of dementia. If a person exhibits normal cognitive aging, a doctor trained in neuroscience would know not to automatically medicate that individual. The doctor would know to educate the senior and his or her family members about ways to better function everyday, like using the cues and encoding strategies. Seniors with normal aging entering long term care would benefit because the care staff would have a better understanding of how to care for them after becoming educated themselves or consulting with the doctor.

The huge advances in gerontology and neuroscience have allowed us as a society to gain a better understanding of what is going on in our grandparents' brains. It has also allowed us to extend the research and the possible benefits to areas outside gerontology to help the entire lifespan.

From the paper by Park, D.C., Reuter-Lorenz, P.A. "Human Neuroscience and the Aging Mind: A New Look at an Old Problem" in Journal of Gerontology.
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The Google Effect - Why the Internet May Hurt Your Memory


Want to know how many movies Johnny Depp has been in throughout his career? How about the President's birthday? Or the perfect temperature to cook a turkey? Easy, just Google it!

The advent of the Internet has brought us an infinite amount of information, readily available at the click of a button. From dancing birds and obscure trivia to real-time updates on global affairs - you name it, you can find it online. Educators make use of the availability of online information frequently as learning tools for students, and the plethora of scholarly information accessible by students allows for the synthesis of a very rich body of knowledge. It is abundantly clear that the Internet has had incredibly positive effects on the exchange of information on both a local and global scale.

However, the availability of this massive body of information has also had some unexpected negative effects. Several studies by Sparrow, Liu, and Wegner on the effects of having all of this information so readily available reports that people do experience a deficit in recall when they know information will be available to them online. They show how subjects from four different studies are actually primed to think about computers when given difficult questions. Furthermore, when participants expected to be able to access the information later, they not only had lower rates of recall than for information they would not be able to access later, but (and most interestingly) they also showed enhanced recall for where to access this information in the future.

While the article does not directly site any cognitive deficits that arise from the availability of information on the Internet, it is easy to speculate on potential damages. One concern is that students of the "information age" may not be using their brains to encode information as fully as students of generations past. Does this lack of brain "exercise" have further negative consequences for its ability to process information? Little is known about the consequences of always being "plugged in". Or, does this external storage space allow our brains more processing capacity for other, perhaps more important tasks and allow us to store more useful information? More likely, as the authors of this study argue, we are simply evolving. Our brains are adapting to use the Internet as an extra storage space, which has given us the advantage of having a virtually limitless amount of information at our fingertips.

This adaptive phenomenon is also an eloquent demonstration of the social nature of human beings. The Internet is a social form of information storage - we share information with others, and depend on others sharing information with us. We have begun to integrate technology into every bit of our lives, and we feel disconnected from work and our peers without our cell phones and Internet.

As the authors state, "we are becoming symbiotic with our computers", and whether this is a good thing is still up for debate. It will be interesting to see how the use of the Internet and the continuing development of more and more ways to stay connected affect our brains' ability to process and learn new information, and change the way we deal with information in the years to come.

Reference: Sparrow, Betsy, Jenny Liu, and Daniel M. Wegner. "Google Effects on Memory: Cognitive Consequences of Having Information at Our Fingertips." Sciencemag.org. AAAS, 14 July 2011. www.sciencemag.org/lookup/doi/10.1126/science.1207745
Posted by      Sophie L. at 7:39 PM MDT
Tags: learning, memory

Dancing Cockatoo


It?s doubtful that anyone would find a dancing cockatoo relevant to neuroscience, but we would all be wrong in assuming otherwise. Apparently, YouTube videos of a dancing cockatoo named ?Snowball? not only entertain bored college kids during their classes, (not me of course), but also give neuroscientists new insight about animals? response to music. Kathrine Haycock writes, ?No one had ever documented an animal processing and reacting to the beat of music,? noting that these YouTube videos gave clear evidence that animals could do just that.
Until just recently, understanding music was a trait that only belonged to humans; many believed that we evolved historically with the ability because it somehow helped us to survive, (though it?s hard to think of a way in which music aides in survival). These new videos are giving neuroscientists hope that animals have a circuitry similar to our own when it comes to understanding and responding to music. It?s hard to believe, though, that a simple YouTube video with a dancing bird can prove anything other than the fact that we have too much time on our hands. Ani Patel, a neurologist, apparently felt the same way and conducted an experiment to determine whether Snowball really could react to the beat of the music. By playing the same song at twelve different speeds, nine of which Snowball kept rhythm with; Patel showed that it wasn?t merely coincidence that a bird could possibly be able to understand music.
I couldn?t think of a whole lot that could be done with this information besides playing more music for my neighbor?s dog in hopes that it?d dance instead of bark, but Patel explains otherwise. According to Patel, studies involving music therapy could use the idea that animals can comprehend music to further their investigations by studying animal models as well as humans. Also, Alzheimer?s patients may benefit from these findings through animal models, which could potentially explain patients? ability to remember music rather than their own spouses (must make the spouse feel important).
I?m hoping that by using animal models to further research in these departments some breakthroughs will be found. The notion that Alzheimer?s patients remember music very well throughout the progression of the disease raises the idea that perhaps the part of the brain that stores musical memories isn?t necessarily part of the brain that is primarily affected by Alzheimer?s. Using animal models could possibly provide insight as to where exactly music is understood and stored. On the other hand, assuming that animals can process music exactly like humans just because a cockatoo named Snowball can dance to one song no matter how fast it?s played seems nave at best. The significance of this finding is certainly debatable, and neither jumping to conclusions nor writing off the fact that animals can understand music are good ideas. Just as with any scientific discovery, further research must be done involving animal?s ability to understand and react to music before any conclusions can be drawn. Until then, try to just enjoy the fact that a cockatoo likes to dance.

http://www.allpetnews.com/cockatoo-key-to-breakthrough-discovery-in-neuroscience-and-music-videos
Posted by      Daniel H. at 5:03 PM MDT

How Smart Are Smart Pills?


Let me guess: You woke up this morning, dragged your feet downstairs, and first things first, poured yourself a nice, hot cup of coffee. It's no surprise, as shown by the overwhelming number of Starbucks across the globe, that many adults rely on the stimulating effects of caffeine on a day-to-day basis. The boost in alertness, focus, and mood are extremely attractive. However, the overly jittery cardiac stimulation and diuretic properties are not. So, what other options are there for those of us that just can't seem to stay awake throughout the day without our morning cup of joe? The answer is smart pills.

They've been around for years. In the 1940s, they were popularized under the name "pep" pills and "speed" and frequently used by armed forces pilots to stay alert for their many dangerous tasks. Today, "speed" (dextroamphetamine) is no longer used because of its serious side effects, but the prescription drugs Adderall and Ritalin are commonly used. They are prescribed to people suffering from ADHD, to alleviate the frustrating inability to focus. However, in a study conducted by researchers at the University of Maryland in 2008, it was found that 18% of 1,208 college students were taking ADHD medications in order to help them study, even though they had not been prescribed. Not only that, but many people over the age of 35 also reported to be using these drugs in a survey carried out in Nature magazine.

The latest and most talked about pharmaceutical neuro-enhancer is called Provigil and is marketed by the company Cephalon. It contains the compound modifinil, which is known to inhibit the reuptake of neurotransmitters dopamine and norepinephrine in the brain, thus enhancing attention and memory skills. Modifinil also influences the action of glutamate in sending signals across neurons. Researchers using fMRI scans to study the effects of modifinil have found that the use of the drug helps shift the brain into what is called the "exploitation mode", during which neurons are acting in a highly coordinated system to complete a complex task. As scientists begin to isolate which areas of the brain affect which types of concentration and memory, these drugs may be customized to target certain forms of ADHD and memory-deficient diseases, such as Alzheimer's.

But, surely, taking these smart pills can't be quite as intelligent as it sounds. Otherwise, why aren't they already on the market, unregulated, like caffeine? Well, the reason for it is also the number one problem facing neuroscience today, which is that it's still a developing science and we're not really sure of the negative effects that it may have. Perhaps a memory-enhancer of this might is capable of causing a condition called hyperthymestic syndrome, in which the person can remember every moment of his or her life, even the most trivial or minute. Or, as Oliver Sacks reported in a case about a musician who took a drug to cure Tourette's syndrome, which ended up putting a total damper on his musical creativity, it will inhibit us from reaching our highest creative potential. Is it even ethical to consume something that alters our natural abilities to think, remember, and create?

The questions continue to be asked, the scientists continue to search for answers, and all the while, college students are popping pills and downing energy drinks to finish those last-minute papers for their Intro to Neuroscience course. Who knows if smart pills will be the way of the future, as the increasingly competitive global economy and medical world seek new ways to "get ahead" ... All I know is I need another cup of coffee.

From the article, "Rx for Genius" in Discover Magazine: The Brain, by Sherry Baker.
Posted by      Anna V. at 1:36 PM MDT
Tags: fmri, memory

Neurotherapeutics: Helpful or Harmful?


Who wouldn't want to take a pill that would enhance their mental capabilities? Instead of studying for hours and hours, how much more enjoyable would it be if you took a pill, enhanced your memory making capabilities and thus only had to spend an hour or two studying for that big cumulative exam? These days research and scientific developments have allowed the range of pharmaceuticals to alter mood, cognition and other cognitive skills such as memory to go beyond what we previously would have believed to be to be impossible. Drugs that have been developed to treat some of the most heinous diseases now bring the promise of, not only treating illness, but enhancing performance. Today, the debate between treatment and enhancement has already begun to be a hot button topic in neuroscience.

According to an article by Paul Root Wolpe, there are two fundamental questions that we must address pertaining to this issue. First, "what do terms such as average or normal functioning or even disease and enhancement mean when we can improve functioning across the entire range of human capability?" Second, "should we encourage or discourage people to ingest pharmaceuticals to enhance behaviors, skills and traits? What are the social implications of using drugs or other neurotechnologies to micromanage mood, improve memory, to maintain attentiveness or improve sexuality?"

Enhancement has been defined by medicine and its implications. Medicine treats disease but what it does not treat is enhancement. So if we begin allowing or encouraging people to take pharmaceuticals in order to enhance their well-being, where do we draw the line? A good example used in this article is the use of Prozac and other anti-depressant drugs. If drugs like Prozac can increase a user's mood, what emotional state then becomes normal? If it becomes normal for everyone to take mood enhancing drugs, than does being in a sad state become taboo? Furthermore, if more people start taking drugs like Prozac, will insurance companies still cover these sorts of drugs? Insurance companies pay for treatments and injurious events, but if everyone is using a drug does this drug then become a commonality such as the use of Advil, which is not covered by insurance companies?

As humans, we have always been able to find techniques to enhance our performance and general functioning. We go to school, take vitamins, and go through training programs. But is it acceptable to bypass all of these "external" strategies and directly alter our brains? Sure, the drugs we have currently developed may help us increase cognitive function but what about the long term side effects? Take the use of drugs that are supposed to treat disabilities like ADD and ADHD. Drugs like Adderall and Ritalin prescribed for attention deficit disorder are becoming more and more popular among students. These drugs boost cognitive function and enable the user to study for hours with full concentration without getting tired or distracted. But at what cost? Long term use of cognitive enhancers like Ritalin cause serious side effects such as severe sleep deprivation and heart problems. More troubling, however, is that these drugs can be highly addictive. Users can get to the point where what we now define as "normal" cognitive function is unachievable without the use of cognitive enhancers. So if drugs like Adderall can have these results, can our pharmaceutical strategies backfire on us and destroy the delicate balance in our brains?

On the other hand, think about a world where we have not only found a cure for degenerative diseases like Alzheimer's, but where people in general have a higher standard of living because our brains are functioning at the fullest extent! It's a fine line between helpful and hurtful when it comes to our emerging neurotechnologies and pharmaceuticals.

For more information on this debate check out the article by Paul Root Wolpe at: http://www.chem.arizona.edu/courseweb/081/CHEM4361/reading_pdfs/guest_lecturers/treatment_enhancement.pdf
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Cosmetic Neuro-tinkering


Altering your body for aesthetic reasons has become social norm in society. What if you could alter your brain functions to improve motor skills, attention, learning, and mood, would you do it? Advances in neuropharmacology are beginning to progress to the point that they are able to use drugs to enhance these abilities. This emerging technology is becoming known as cosmetic neurology.

In an article entitled, "Cosmetic Neuorlogy: The Controversy Over Enhancing Movement, Mentation and Mood," Anjan Chatterjee MD outlines three general categories, motor systems, attention/learning/memory, and mood, that could have a prospect for better bodies and mind.

Chatterjee says that all three of these areas of improvement already have neuophamagological drugs that can improve them. For example, Insulin-like growth factors (IGF) can be given to men over 60 to increase muscle mass, decrease body fat, and improve skin. This in turn improves the quality of life of these people? In addition to IGFs, there are drugs that can improve plasticity, block receptors that cause depression, and decrease unpleasant memories.

Unfortunately, any time you wish to alter the brain there are several ethical dilemmas. In this case safety, individuality, distribution and coercion become the prominent issues.

Safety is a main concern with any form of drug treatment. In disease, a person weights the risks against the potential benefits. Which is why people with terminal cancer are willing to endure toxic chemotherapies to prolong life. Where as in a healthy state any risk is harder to accept because the alternative is "normal" health (Chatterjee 2004). This is where ethics plays in. Is it ethical to treat someone with something that does not save them for something else? Some people think it is, as long as that person is equipped with enough information about the potential side effect. But then again where did the information come from and did the person use it?

Another issue in this cause is individuality; Chatterjee says that a major concern is that chemically changing the brain threatens to eliminate personhood. This then leads into a more ethical issue of if tinkering with brain chemistry is going to threaten what it means to be human?

As in most discussions, who gets them becomes an important question to ask. Because these mind-altering drugs are expensive it is unlikely that the government or insurance companies are going to pay. Does that mean that the rich prevail again? Then we have to ask ourselves? what happens when the rich get stronger, smarter, and sweeter than "normal" people? A critical ethical issue when talking about new drugs is distribution.

Finally, we must look at how choices can evolve into forces of coercion (Chatterjee 2004). One form of this is the common feeling that you want to be better or at least maintain your position in society. As people become smarter, fast, and stronger, pressures increase and smaller groups of people will be competing for larger prizes. Imagine what you could do if you could work 100 hours a week without becoming tired! Another issue is demand for superior performance. Pilots taking donepezil preformed better in emergencies than those on a placebo. Should that then mean that all pilots should take it, or that people will pay more for flights where their pilot takes it?

It does not take much imagination to see how the media will advertise for "better brains." We must look follow these topics and developments. Up until now, I did not realize the extent of these mind-altering substances. Did you?
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July 30, 2011

Molding the Plastic Brain


The plasticity of the human brain can be directly related to the deteriorating effects of Alzheimer's disease. Recently conducted studies lead to the implication that one of the most successful approaches to a healthy aging human brain includes consistent prevention early in one?s lifetime. The power of developing Alzheimer?s disease and other forms of dementia lies in our hands every day as we mold our plastic brains to fulfill their final functions.

Alzheimer?s disease can be classified as the most prevalent form of dementia in the human population, affecting over 4.5 million Americans alone (Society for Neuroscience 2011). Alzheimer?s disease comes with memory loss and inability to properly learn and retain new information. As the disease progresses, certain discoveries reveal biochemical changes within the human brain including increased number of beta amyloid deposits, neurofibrillary tangles of hyper phosphorylated tau, and the presence of ApoE4 proteins. As these biochemical changes begin to increase, the strength of synapses between neurons in the brain begins to diminish.

Current research regarding Alzheimer?s disease indicates an explanation for these waning effects by the forever changing human brain. The decline in plasticity of the human brain can directly be correlated to the extreme loss of function these patients encounter. Neurogenesis, the process of developing new neurons, serves to be an extremely important scientific discovery about plasticity in the human brain. Research that involves taking advantage of our brain?s ability to mold into a healthy functioning organ has indications that it could possibly be the most effective and critical treatment in treating not only Alzheimer?s patients, but people with healthy brains just as well.

In order to sustain healthy brain function, one must make a conscious effort to prevent deterioration. Although it may seem taxing and unimportant in a healthily functioning brain, prevention at this point seems to be the best treatment in maintaining one?s dynamic brain. Unpretentious efforts in prevention include simple processes such as consistent social interaction, eating a healthy and well balanced diet, and regular stimulation of one?s cardiovascular system through physical exercise in efforts to promote the process of neurogenesis. With creation of an enriched environment, the plasticity of the human brain is constantly molding into its most healthful state and therefore preventing the loss of proper synaptic connections between neurons in the brain.

Research studies and discovered knowledge indicate some of the essential brain areas involved in learning and memory, and therefore, scientists can use this information as a treatment plan, alongside continuous prevention which seems to be critical in a developing brain. Specifically, the hippocampus is largely affected in Alzheimer?s patients. For example, if scientists can find a way to target the hippocampal region of the brain to reverse or stabilize the proper biochemical properties of its functional region, strides can be made to decrease and possibly eliminate deteriorating forms of dementia in the human population. The plasticity of the human brain is our biggest hope and progressing research sets a positive spotlight in developing a cure for such diseases.
Posted by      Kaci C. at 12:56 PM MDT
Tags: learning, memory

July 29, 2011

Excuse me. Are you a neuroscientist?


Please talk to me...
I am a parent. What can neuroscience tell me about multisensory learning? Can neuroscience tell me how to enrich my child's environment so their brain will develop properly?

Please talk to me...
I am a high school teacher. I'm having a hard time engaging the teens in my classroom. Can neuroscience help me to develop lessons that keep them engaged? Can neuroscience help me to expand their executive judgment capabilities so they realize why school is so important?

Please talk to me...
I am a school principal. The parents at my school think that our school day starts too early. The school board wants to make budget cuts that will eliminate gym class and music class. Can neuroscience provide evidence on how sleep, music and physical education affect learning?

A new discipline, Neuro-Education, is asking neuroscientists and educators to open up a dialogue and to initiate research aimed at finding the best ways to educate our children. This invitation stretches globally from the U.S. to Japan. Neuroscientists already have an abundance of information on the mechanisms of learning and memory that when shared with educators, may bring about more effective evidence-based education practices for children. For example, neuroscientists know testing helps to reinforce learning. Neuroscientists also know that a good night's sleep enhances memory and that too much stress compromises memory and learning. Teachers and neuroscientist can certainly find some common ground when it comes to the retrieval of memories and the consolidation of learning.

The September 9, 2010 edition of Neuron highlights a few of the aspects of this new and exciting avenue for the advocacy of neuroscience. (http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0896627310006380) However, this new endeavor is not without barriers. You guessed it! MONEY! According to this article "Less than one-half of one percent of the federal education budget is spent on research." This is unsatisfactory!

Educators and parents are at risk of teaching and parenting based on miss information. Myths like the belief that people are either 'right-brained' or 'left-brained' is an oversimplification of the way brain hemispheres work and it needs to be debunked. 'Critical periods' in development also run the risk of being oversimplified leading parents to feel guilty if they feel they've missed a window of opportunity. Research and open communication is needed to ensure that information is not only correct but that the information is also correctly understood.

Money is not the only barrier to linking neuroscience and education. Developing a common language and consistency in terminology used also needs to be developed. It is not easy to translate what is learned in the lab into information that the mainstream population can use and understand. And, information gained in the lab is not always immediately ready for practical application.

I find Neuro-Education both fascinating and challenging. As I prepare for graduate school, where I will study Occupational Therapy (OT), I find myself trying to take what I am learning about neuroscience and figure out where the practical applications might be. Are you interested in a dialogue about practical applications to understanding the brain? It is my opinion those in multidisciplinary fields, such as OT or psychology, might be able to help bridge the gap and build a link between neuroscientists and educators.
Posted by      Maria B. at 9:01 AM MDT
  ankit saini  says:
Just try to know online functions and some quick relevent ways by which we math games have authority to know about it quickly. Thanks a lot
Posted on Tue, 30 Jul 2019 12:16 AM MDT by ankit s.




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