October 2011 Archives

A Better Illistration of Right V. Left

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When taking an intro psychology class most people learn some nonsense about how the brain is segregated into the right and left hemisphere, one which does everything logical and other everything creative. When taking an intro neuroscience class one learns, and quickly, the brain is a cohesive organ that is much more complex than the simply division psychology books sometimes make it out to be. However, the brain is divided and a video by Iain McGilchrist explains this beautifully.

The video starts off with brief introduction where misconceptions between the right and the left side of the brain are demystified. The human brain is then introduced as being the organ that works to slow things down so we can step back from the world. The corpus callosum is labeled by the video as the layer of cells most responsible for the retardation of these communications from the outside to our cognition.

McGilchrist goes on to explains the right side of the brain is not so much creative as it is broad spectrum side of our minds. The right side scans for discrepancies in our environment, that is the things we do not expect. The right side perceives the the body and other parts of the world as separate pieces removing the biases we approach things with. The right side of the brain is the child like approach to the world that is often talked of a gone missing, our Hubble telescope, exploring the deep unknowns of our daily lives.

The left side is more focused, it works on making what we see concrete. McGilchrist describes it as the lifeless organ that works towards perfection to the point of emptiness. He explains how the left allows us to put things into categories, manipulate our environment, and think ahead of the other party. He describes the left as not so much our logical side but the side that is capable of logic amongst related tasks that involve focus.

The video incorporates an evolutionary perspective, cartoon drawings along the way that keep the video funny and interesting, and is filled with neat facts but rotates slowly enough to where concepts can be taken home easily. On the down side it has the feeling of a conspiracy theory or self help video to it, even though it is informative it makes one uneasy at the thought of who this video was marketed towards (am I silly for liking it? please feel free to comment back). All and all, I would recommend watching it, at the very least it is an entertaining 12 minutes.

A Quantitative PET 4-aquaporin (AQP4)

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Aquaporin 4 channels or AQP4 channels are water channels distributed heavily within the central nervous system. The AQP4 channel are of interest to scientists because they are known to cause or be involved in a few different types of brain disorders. The next question is what goes wrong in these channel and how to treat it. However, another important question must be answered before treatment. How does one know what areas of the brain are being affected my non-funcational AQP4 channels?

The answer to this question is 2-nicotinamido-1,3,4-thiadiazole (TGN-020), a recently developed AQP4 channel block which when synthesized with a carbon-11 isotope allows for PET scans to pick up on where functional AQP4 channels are located by blocking the functional ones. The development on TGN-020 has been proven affective in mice at locating AQP4 channels and will hopefully help shed light on the causes or the effects of certain human brain disorders.

I thought this article was interesting because of the methods used. The study took regular mice and gave them TGN-020 and took pictures, then they took mice with AQP4 knocked out and administered the same amount of the drug and took pictures. They compared the two results, but the interesting thing about this is that they took the extra step. Not only was it enough to prove TGN-020 had infinity to AQP4 (which they had done in prior experiments) they also wanted to prove how how much compared to baseline levels (that don't exist in nature).

One can take the amount of pick-up from non-AQP4 aquaporins, from the mice without AQP4 (these channels do resemble each other some, so while selective, nothing is 100% exclusive), and subtract it from the AQP4 mice's results. The subtraction would give accurate readings on how much and where was AQP4 activated in the mouse. The part that struck me as being neat here is how much time this is going to save someone who is trying to figure this same thing out in humans, because unlike mice we can't just knock out AQP4 channels but you can apply the results from mice, into people to give a lot better estimate.

Kudos The University of Niigata, you win. If you would like to read the article it can be found here.

Embryonic and early post-natal development are crucial periods in determining the expression of certain traits in an organism. Environmental factors can influence crucial periods of development, these factors can be physical (things such as chemicals, nutrition, radiation, ect...) and positive (the presence of something causing harm) or negative (a lack of something can cause harm too). Today I would like to present a negative-nutritional affect in post-natal development dealing specifically with cell proliferation in the hippocampus of mammals and how it relates to cognitive impairments and disorders.Or more simply, how malnutrition in babies (humans or rats) leads to slowed learning, depression, and schizophrenia.

This study focused specifically on an observed phenomena that mammals reared in an environment lacking proper nutrition often have a higher frequency of sub-average cognitive abilities. The study worked at answering whether this phenomena was due to cell differentiation or cell proliferation being stopped.

The study found malnutrition works by stopping proliferation not differentiation. The study came to this conclusion based on variations in their experimental design that boosted the malnourished rats nutrition, which allowed them to make a almost full recovery, both the recovered and well fed rats expressed more of a particular type of neuron however, had the same number of types. If cell differentiation had been the cause, this could not have happened because when given more nourishment one should have seen an increase in types of cells (not to mention if it was due to cell differentiation, one could have just used the number of types of cells from the initial two groups). The study concluded by speculating that the depression and schizophrenia associated with malnutrition is probably due to the recovery stage (when nutrition is available) increasing cell proliferation and delaying neurogenesis which results in neurons that are not trimmed to function.

This article is extremely detailed, if you are interested, you should read up.

For Names Sake

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When watching television it is not uncommon to see an add for this or that product which blocks allergies or increases dopamine release and from this information one can conclude what the product could be used for. The field of neuroscience is no different, substances are given a name and when testing them its function is determined. Take the any ion channel in the body for example, a substance that increases its function is called an opener and a substance that reduces its function is called a blocker.

A substance that increases an enzymes function is called an opener, that's straight forward right? Now imagine you just get done taking a run and you have a cup with a lid and straw that is a quarter full of water (remember you are thirsty and have to optimize what you have!). You would want to get the most water out of the cup as possible, so maybe you take and lid off and remove the straw between the water and you, maybe you get a bigger straw so you can drink the water quicker, or maybe you could cloud seed the entire sky and have all the water you could want. The first two examples play by the rules, the second just changes the environment.

This is often the case with openers and blockers, they often work by affecting the environment around the cell. Take Retigabine for example, this Kv7 potassium channel opener that it works by inhibiting higher membrane potentials (that does sound like it opens the channel any).

In a recent research paper I did I found a number of examples like this, which I just found humorous, see scientists can be just and silly and illogical as everyone else!

Social Interactions and Neuroscience

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This week I have been exploring social neuroscience. The subject of human social interactions as a biological science is fairly new and I was curious what was known. Currently the two prevailing theories, as to the root of social interactions, are 'the theory of mind' and mirror neurons.

The theory of mind states previous social interactions allow us to speculate future interactions. These speculations lie mostly below our conscious mind but they are mechanisms that allow us to quickly recognize organic life as opposed to ball being thrown, allow us to infer intent of an object, and reciprocate emotions in an individual that we don't necessarily feel our self (empathize). When all these strange phenomena add up we react in a manner that we have previously used in a similar situation.

Mirror neurons are a type of neurons that have been found in macaque monkeys but have not been found in people. These mirror neurons take a much more neurological approach although they have yet to be found in humans so the theory is moot however worth consideration. Mirror neurons work my firing when an action is made by something the monkey perceives as similar to itself, these neurons are also fired when the monkey makes the same actions. The idea is that everything we do is a result of observed behavior that we learn to replicate.

I thought this article was very interesting and there is a great deal more to it including potential causes of autism, how our brain interprets cooperation and individual greed, and talks a little about the location of the neurons that fire for both theories. If you are interest check out the video (click "The social brain") and article. While the area of study needs a great deal of work I thought the article was very interdisciplinary and very well written in that regard.

Sorry about the delayed post (busy),
-Frenz059

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