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If the Brain Cannot Decide, It Alternates the Possibilities: The Remarkable "Curvature Blindness" Illusion

If the Brain Cannot Decide, It Alternates the Possibilities: The Remarkable "Curvature Blindness" Illusion | Amazing Science | Scoop.it

A new optical illusion has been discovered, and it’s really quite striking. The strange effect is called the ‘curvature blindness’ illusion, and it’s described in a new paper from psychologist Kohske Takahashi of Chukyo University, Japan. Here’s an example of the illusion: A series of wavy horizontal lines are shown. All of the lines have exactly the same curvature.

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Your Pun-Divided Attention: How the Brain Processes Wordplay

Your Pun-Divided Attention: How the Brain Processes Wordplay | Amazing Science | Scoop.it

To understand puns, the left and right brain hemispheres have to work together.

 

Puns are divisive in comedy. Critics groan that they are the “lowest form of wit,” a quote attributed to various writers. Others—including Shakespeare—pun with abandon. The brain itself seems divided over puns, according to a recent study published in Laterality: Asymmetries of Body, Brain and Cognition. The results suggest the left and right hemispheres play different roles in processing puns, ultimately requiring communication between them for the joke to land.

 

To observe how the brain handles this type of humor, researchers at the University of Windsor in Ontario presented study participants with a word relating to a pun in either the left or right visual field (which corresponds to the right or left brain hemisphere, respectively). They then analyzed a subject's reaction time in each situation to determine which hemisphere was dominant. “The left hemisphere is the linguistic hemisphere, so it's the one that processes most of the language aspects of the pun, with the right hemisphere kicking in a bit later” to reveal the word's dual meanings, explains Lori Buchanan, a psychology professor and co-author of the study.

 

This interaction enables us to “get” the joke because puns, as a form of word play, complete humor's basic formula: expectation plus incongruity equals laughter. In puns—where words have multiple, ambiguous meanings—the sentence context primes us to interpret a word in a specific way, an operation that occurs in the left hemisphere. Humor emerges when the right hemisphere subsequently clues us in to the word's other, unanticipated meaning, triggering what Buchanan calls a “surprise reinterpretation.”

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Whales and dolphins have rich 'human-like' cultures and societies

Whales and dolphins have rich 'human-like' cultures and societies | Amazing Science | Scoop.it
Whales and dolphins (Cetaceans) live in tightly-knit social groups, have complex relationships, talk to each other and even have regional dialects - much like human societies.

 

A major new study, published today in Nature Ecology & Evolution, has linked the complexity of Cetacean culture and behaviour to the size of their brains. The research was a collaboration between scientists at The University of Manchester, The University of British Columbia, Canada, The London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE) and Stanford University, United States.

 

The study is first of its kind to create a large dataset of cetacean brain size and social behaviors. The team compiled information on 90 different species of dolphins, whales, and porpoises. It found overwhelming evidence that Cetaceans have sophisticated social and cooperative behavior traits, similar to many found in human culture.

 

The study demonstrates that these societal and cultural characteristics are linked with brain size and brain expansion—also known as encephalisation. The long list of behavioral similarities includes many traits shared with humans and other primates such as:

  • complex alliance relationships - working together for mutual benefit
  • social transfer of hunting techniques - teaching how to hunt and using tools
  • cooperative hunting
  • complex vocalizations, including regional group dialects - 'talking' to each other
  • vocal mimicry and 'signature whistles' unique to individuals - using 'name' recognition
  • interspecific cooperation with humans and other species - working with different species
  • alloparenting - looking after youngsters that aren't their own
  • social play

 

Dr Susanne Shultz, an evolutionary biologist in Manchester's School of Earth and Environmental Sciences, said: "As humans, our ability to socially interact and cultivate relationships has allowed us to colonize almost every ecosystem and environment on the planet. We know whales and dolphins also have exceptionally large and anatomically sophisticated brains and, therefore, have created a similar marine based culture. "That means the apparent co-evolution of brains, social structure, and behavioral richness of marine mammals provides a unique and striking parallel to the large brains and hyper-sociality of humans and other primates on land. Unfortunately, they won't ever mimic our great metropolises and technologies because they didn't evolve opposable thumbs."

 

The team used the dataset to test the social brain hypothesis (SBH) and cultural brain hypothesis (CBH). The SBH and CBH are evolutionary theories originally developed to explain large brains in primates and land mammals. They argue that large brains are an evolutionary response to complex and information-rich social environments. However, this is the first time these hypotheses have been applied to 'intelligent' marine mammals on such a large scale.

 

Dr Michael Muthukrishna, Assistant Professor of Economic Psychology at LSE, added: "This research isn't just about looking at the intelligence of whales and dolphins, it also has important anthropological ramifications as well. In order to move toward a more general theory of human behavior, we need to understand what makes humans so different from other animals. And to do this, we need a control group. Compared to primates, cetaceans are a more "alien" control group."

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Computer approaches human skill for first time in mapping brain

Computer approaches human skill for first time in mapping brain | Amazing Science | Scoop.it

A WSU research team for the first time has developed a computer algorithm that is nearly as accurate as people are at mapping brain neural networks—a breakthrough that could speed up the image analysis that researchers use to understand brain circuitry.

 

For more than a generation, people have been trying to improve understanding of human brain circuitry, but are challenged by its vast complexity. It is similar to having a satellite image of the earth and trying to map out 100 billion homes, all of the connecting streets and everyone's destinations, said Shuiwang Ji, associate professor in the School of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science and lead researcher on the project.

 

Researchers, in fact, took more than a decade to fully map the circuitry of just one animal's brain—a worm that has only 302 neurons. The human brain, meanwhile, has about 100 billion neurons, and the amount of data needed to fully understand its circuitry would require 1000 exabytes of data, or the equivalent of all the data that is currently available in the world.

 

To map neurons, researchers currently use an electron microscope to take pictures—with one image usually containing a small number of neurons. The researchers then study each neuron's shape and size as well as its thousands of connections with other nearby neurons to learn about its role in behavior or biology.

 

"We don't know much about how brains work," said Ji. With such rudimentary understanding of our circuitry, researchers are limited in their ability to understand the causes of devastating brain diseases, such as Alzheimer's, schizophrenia, autism or Parkinson's disease, he said. Instead, they have to rely on trial and error experimentation to come up with treatments. The National Academy of Engineering has listed improving understanding of the human brain as one of its grand challenges for the 21st century.

 

In 2013, MIT organized a competition that called on researchers to develop automated computer algorithms that could speed up image analysis, decode and understand images of brain circuitry.

 

As part of the competition, the algorithms are compared to work that was done by a real team of neuroscientists. If computers can become as accurate as humans, they will be able to do the computations much faster and cheaper than humans, said Ji.

 

WSU's research team developed the first computational model that was able to reach a human level of performance in accuracy.

Just as a human eye takes in information and then analyzes it in multiple stages, the WSU team developed acomputational model that takes the image as its input and then processes it in a many-layered network before coming to a decision. In their algorithm, the researchers developed an artificial neural network that imitates humans' complex biological neural networks.

 

While the WSU research team was able to approach human accuracy in the MIT challenge, they still have a lot of work to do in getting the computers to develop complete and accurate neural maps. The computers still make a large number of mistakes, and there is not yet a gold standard for comparing human and computational results, said Ji. Although it may not be realistic to expect that automated methods would completely replace human soon, improvements in computational methods will certainly lead to reduced manual proof-reading, he added.

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How to map the circuits and understand how tangles of neurons produce complex behaviors

How to map the circuits and understand how tangles of neurons produce complex behaviors | Amazing Science | Scoop.it

Neuroscientists want to understand how tangles of neurons produce complex behaviors, but even the simplest networks defy understanding.

 

Marta Zlatic owns what could be the most tedious film collection ever. In her laboratory at the Janelia Research Campus in Ashburn, Virginia, the neuroscientist has stored more than 20,000 hours of black-and-white video featuring fruit-fly (Drosophila) larvae. The stars of these films are doing mundane maggoty things, such as wriggling and crawling about, but the footage is helping to answer one of the biggest questions in modern neuroscience: how the circuitry of the brain creates behavior. It's a major goal across the field: to work out how neurons wire up, how signals move through the networks and how these signals work together to pilot an animal around, to make decisions or — in humans — to express emotions and create consciousness.

 

Even under the most humdrum conditions — “normal lighting; no sensory cues; they're not hungry”, says Zlatic — her fly larvae can be made to perform 30 different actions, including retracting or turning their heads, or rolling. The actions are generated by a brain comprising just 15,000 neurons. That is nothing compared with the 86 billion in a human brain, which is one of the reasons Zlatic and her teammates like the maggots so much.

 

 

“At the moment, really, the Drosophila larva is the sweet spot,” says Albert Cardona, Zlatic's collaborator and husband, who is also at Janelia. “If you can get the wiring diagram, you have an excellent starting point for seeing how the central nervous system works.”

Zlatic and Cardona lead two of the dozens of groups around the world that are generating detailed wiring diagrams for brains of model organisms. New tools and techniques for slicing up brains and tracing their connections have hastened progress over the past few years. And the resulting neural-network diagrams are yielding surprises — showing, for example, that a brain can use one network in multiple ways to create the same behaviors.

 

But understanding even the simplest of circuits — orders of magnitude smaller than those in Zlatic's maggots — presents a host of challenges. Circuits vary in layout and function from animal to animal. The systems have redundancy that makes it difficult to pin one function to one circuit. Plus, wiring alone doesn't fully explain how circuits generate behaviors; other factors, such as neurochemicals, have to be considered. “I try to avoid using the word 'understand',” says Florian Engert, who is putting together an atlas of the zebrafish brain at Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts. “What do you even mean when you say you understand how something works? If you map it out, you haven't really understood anything.”

 

Still, scientists are beginning to detect patterns in simple circuits that may operate in more complex brains. “This is what we hope,” says Willie Tobin, a neuroscientist at Harvard Medical School in Boston, Massachusetts: “that we can come across general principles that can help us understand larger systems.”

 
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Neural stem cells steered by electric fields can repair brain damage

Neural stem cells steered by electric fields can repair brain damage | Amazing Science | Scoop.it

Limited migration of neural stem cells in adult brain is a roadblock for the use of stem cell therapies to treat brain diseases and injuries. Here, scientists report a strategy that mobilizes and guides migration of stem cells in the brain in vivo. They developed a safe stimulation paradigm to deliver directional currents in the brain. Tracking cells expressing GFP demonstrated electrical mobilization and guidance of migration of human neural stem cells, even against co-existing intrinsic cues in the rostral migration stream. Transplanted cells were observed at 3 weeks and 4 months after stimulation in areas guided by the stimulation currents, and with indications of differentiation. Electrical stimulation thus may provide a potential approach to facilitate brain stem cell therapies.

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Blue Brain team discovers a multi-dimensional universe of brain networks

Blue Brain team discovers a multi-dimensional universe of brain networks | Amazing Science | Scoop.it

For most people, it is a stretch of the imagination to understand the world in four dimensions but a new study has discovered structures in the brain with up to eleven dimensions - ground-breaking work that is beginning to reveal the brain's deepest architectural secrets. Using algebraic topology in a way that it has never been used before in neuroscience, a team from the Blue Brain Project has uncovered a universe of multi-dimensional geometrical structures and spaces within the networks of the brain.

 

The research, published today in Frontiers in Computational Neuroscience, shows that these structures arise when a group of neurons forms a clique: each neuron connects to every other neuron in the group in a very specific way that generates a precise geometric object. The more neurons there are in a clique, the higher the dimension of the geometric object.

 

"We found a world that we had never imagined," says neuroscientist Henry Markram, director of Blue Brain Project and professor at the EPFL in Lausanne, Switzerland, "there are tens of millions of these objects even in a small speck of the brain, up through seven dimensions. In some networks, we even found structures with up to eleven dimensions."

 

Markram suggests this may explain why it has been so hard to understand the brain. "The mathematics usually applied to study networks cannot detect the high-dimensional structures and spaces that we now see clearly."

 

If 4D worlds stretch our imagination, worlds with 5, 6 or more dimensions are too complex for most of us to comprehend. This is where algebraic topology comes in: a branch of mathematics that can describe systems with any number of dimensions. The mathematicians who brought algebraic topology to the study of brain networks in the Blue Brain Project were Kathryn Hess from EPFL and Ran Levi from Aberdeen University.

 

"Algebraic topology is like a telescope and microscope at the same time. It can zoom into networks to find hidden structures - the trees in the forest - and see the empty spaces - the clearings - all at the same time," explains Hess.

 

In 2015, Blue Brain published the first digital copy of a piece of the neocortex - the most evolved part of the brain and the seat of our sensations, actions, and consciousness. In this latest research, using algebraic topology, multiple tests were performed on the virtual brain tissue to show that the multi-dimensional brain structures discovered could never be produced by chance.

 

Experiments were then performed on real brain tissue in the Blue Brain's wet lab in Lausanne confirming that the earlier discoveries in the virtual tissue are biologically relevant and also suggesting that the brain constantly rewires during development to build a network with as many high-dimensional structures as possible.


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What if you could type directly from your brain at 100 words per minute?

What if you could type directly from your brain at 100 words per minute? | Amazing Science | Scoop.it

Regina Dugan, PhD, Facebook VP of Engineering, Building8, revealed on April 19, 2017 at the Facebook F8 conference 2017 a plan to develop a non-invasive brain-computer interface that will let you type at 100 wpm — by decoding neural activity devoted to speech. Dugan previously headed Google’s Advanced Technology and Projects Group, and before that, was Director of the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA).

 

She explained in a Facebook post that over the next two years, her team will be building systems that demonstrate “a non-invasive system that could one day become a speech prosthetic for people with communication disorders or a new means for input to augmented reality.”

 

Dugan said that “even something as simple as a ‘yes/no’ brain click … would be transformative.” That simple level has been achieved by using functional near-infrared spectroscopy (fNIRS) to measure changes in blood oxygen levels in the frontal lobes of the brain, as KurzweilAI recently reported. Near-infrared light can penetrate the skull and partially into the brain.

 

Dugan agrees that optical imaging is the best place to start, but her Building8 team team plans to go way beyond that research — sampling hundreds of times per second and precise to millimeters. The research team began working on the brain-typing project six months ago and she now has a team of more than 60 researchers who specialize in optical neural imaging systems that push the limits of spatial resolution and machine-learning methods for decoding speech and language.

 

The research is headed by Mark Chevillet, previously an adjunct professor of neuroscience at Johns Hopkins University. Besides replacing smartphones, the system would be a powerful speech prosthetic, she noted — allowing paralyzed patients to “speak” at normal speed.


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'Neuron-reading' nanowires could accelerate development of drugs for neurological diseases

'Neuron-reading' nanowires could accelerate development of drugs for neurological diseases | Amazing Science | Scoop.it

A team led by engineers at the University of California San Diego has developed nanowires that can record the electrical activity of neurons in fine detail. The new nanowire technology could one day serve as a platform to screen drugs for neurological diseases and could enable researchers to better understand how single cells communicate in large neuronal networks.

 

"We're developing tools that will allow us to dig deeper into the science of how the brain works," said Shadi Dayeh, an electrical engineering professor at the UC San Diego Jacobs School of Engineering and the team's lead investigator.

 

"We envision that this nanowire technology could be used on stem-cell-derived brain models to identify the most effective drugs for neurological diseases," said Anne Bang, director of cell biology at the Conrad Prebys Center for Chemical Genomics at the Sanford Burnham Medical Research Institute.

 

The project was a collaborative effort between the Dayeh and Bang labs, neurobiologists at UC San Diego, and researchers at Nanyang Technological University in Singapore and Sandia National Laboratories. The researchers published their work Apr. 10 in Nano Letters.


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Neuroscientists identify brain circuit necessary for memory formation

Neuroscientists identify brain circuit necessary for memory formation | Amazing Science | Scoop.it

When we visit a friend or go to the beach, our brain stores a short-term memory of the experience in a part of the brain called the hippocampus. Those memories are later “consolidated” — that is, transferred to another part of the brain for longer-term storage.

 

A new MIT study of the neural circuits that underlie this process reveals, for the first time, that memories are actually formed simultaneously in the hippocampus and the long-term storage location in the brain’s cortex. However, the long-term memories remain “silent” for about two weeks before reaching a mature state.

 

“This and other findings in this paper provide a comprehensive circuit mechanism for consolidation of memory,” says Susumu Tonegawa, the Picower Professor of Biology and Neuroscience, the director of the RIKEN-MIT Center for Neural Circuit Genetics at the Picower Institute for Learning and Memory, and the study’s senior author. The findings, which appear in Science on April 6, may force some revision of the dominant models of how memory consolidation occurs, the researchers say.

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Graphene-based neural probe detects brain activity at high resolution and signal quality

Graphene-based neural probe detects brain activity at high resolution and signal quality | Amazing Science | Scoop.it

Researchers from the European Graphene Flagship have developed a new microelectrode array neural probe based on graphene field-effect transistors (FETs) for recording brain activity at high resolution while maintaining excellent signal-to-noise ratio (quality). The new neural probe could lay the foundation for a future generation of in vivo neural recording implants, for patients with epilepsy, for example, and for disorders that affect brain function and motor control, the researchers suggest. It could possibly play a role in Elon Musk’s just-announced Neuralink “neural lace” research project.

 

Neural activity is measured by detecting the electric fields generated when neurons fire. These fields are highly localized, so ultra-small measuring devices that can be densely packed are required for accurate brain readings.

 

The new device has an microelectrode array of 16 graphene-based transistors arranged on a flexible substrate that can conform to the brain’s surface. Graphene provides biocompatibility, chemical stability, flexibility, and excellent electrical properties, which make it attractive for use in medical devices, especially for brain activity, the researchers suggest.

 

For a state-of-the-art example of microelectrode array use in the brain, see "Brain-computer interface advance allows paralyzed people to type almost as fast as some smartphone users."

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VX Nerve Agent: The Deadly Weapon Engineered in Secret

VX Nerve Agent: The Deadly Weapon Engineered in Secret | Amazing Science | Scoop.it

In January 1958, two medical officers at Porton Down, Britain’s military science facility, exposed their forearms to 50-microgram droplets of a substance called VX, which was a new, fast-acting nerve agent that could kill by seeping through the skin.

 

VX, short for “venomous agent X,” is tasteless, odorless and causes uncontrollable muscle contractions that eventually stop a person’s breathing within minutes. That experiment in 1958, according to University of Kent historian Ulf Schmidt, was perhaps the first human test of VX in the Western world.

 

Though VX is outlawed under the 1997 Chemical Weapons Convention, it was used to kill North Korean leader Kim Jong-un’s half-brother, Kim Jong-nam, in Malaysia. North Korea maintains the third largest stockpile of chemical weapons, trailing only the United States and Russia, according to the Nuclear Threat Initiative project. As such, South Korea has pinned blame for the attack on the North Korean government, and the use of a banned weapon may increase pressure on the international community to formulate a response.

 

Given these recent developments, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that this lethal chemical agent has a checkered, infamous past.

 

In the mid-1990s, the Japanese cult Aum Shinrikyo used VX in attempts to kill three people—one was successful. In 1969, the U.S. Army admitted that VX was responsible for the deaths of 6,000 sheep in Utah. But VX was trouble from the very start. You see, that first first-of-its-kind human trial in 1958 at Porton Down was actually an unauthorized experiment conducted in shadows, as Schmidt revealed in his 2015 book “Secret Science”.

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Brian Chew's comment, March 8, 10:14 AM
I am greatly impressed by the abilities of mankind to use organic chemistry to form a deadly nerve agent, VX. However, with great power comes great responsibility. Although, true, mankind is capable of doing feats such as crafting a deadly nerve toxin, we must be very careful with its production, and limits for the production and usage of such dangerous chemicals should be more strictly implemented. This is to reduce the chances of cases such as Kim-Jong-Nam's being killed by the inappropriate usage of such deadly chemicals.
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The discovery of a giant neuron could help explain how the brain creates consciousness

The discovery of a giant neuron could help explain how the brain creates consciousness | Amazing Science | Scoop.it

Nobody yet understands how a collection of mushy cells in the brain gives rise to the brilliance of consciousness seen in higher-order animals, including humans. But two discoveries give scientists vital clues to how human consciousness works.

 

In 2014, a 54-year-old woman went to George Washington University Medical Faculty Associates in Washington, DC, for epilepsy treatment. In extreme cases like hers, one option is to introduce electrodes into the brain regions that may be causing epileptic seizures. During the treatment, however, doctor Mohamad Koubeissi and his teamaccidentally found what seemed to be a consciousness on-off switch in the brain.

 

When electrodes near a region called the claustrum were stimulated in the woman’s brain, she stopped reading and blankly stared into space. She didn’t respond to calls or gestures, and her breathing slowed down. When the stimulation was stopped, she regained consciousness and had no memory of the lost period. This only happened when the stimulation was to the claustrum, and no other region.

 

The woman’s case proved to be just the evidence that Christof Koch of the Allen Institute for Brain Science was looking for to advance his understanding of consciousness. Koch believes that the densely connected claustrum is the “seat” of consciousness in the brains of at least humans and mice, which he has studied extensively.

 

Now in an announcement first reported in Nature, Koch has found additional evidence that supports his hypothesis. While studying imaging techniques on mouse brains, Koch uncovered three giant neurons—brain cells that transmit signals—emanating from the claustrum and connecting to many regions in both hemispheres of the brain. One of those neurons wraps around the entire brain like a “crown of thorns,” Koch told Nature. He believes that the giant neuron may be coordinating signals from different brain regions to create consciousness.

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3D map of mouse neurons reveals complex connections

3D map of mouse neurons reveals complex connections | Amazing Science | Scoop.it
Reconstructions of single cells highlight how far they can reach into the brain.

 

The 70 million neurons in the mouse brain look like a tangled mess, but researchers are beginning to unravel the individual threads that carry messages across the organ. A 3D brain map released on 27 October, called MouseLight, allows researchers to trace the paths of single neurons and could eventually reveal how the mind assembles information.

 

The map contains 300 neurons and researchers plan to add another 700 in the next year. “A thousand is just beginning to scratch the surface,” says Nelson Spruston, a neuroscientist at the Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI) Janelia Research Campus in Ashburn, Virginia.

 

To create the maps, Spruston and HHMI neuroscientist Jayaram Chandrashekar injected mouse brains with viruses that infect only a few cells at a time, prompting them to produce fluorescent proteins1. The team made the organs transparent using a sugar-alcohol treatment to obtain an unobstructed view of the glowing neurons, and then scanned each brain with a high-resolution microscope. Computer programs created 3D models of the glowing neurons and their projections, called axons, which can be half a meterlong and branch like a tree.

 

MouseLight has already revealed new information, including the surprisingly extensive number of brain regions that a single axon can reach. For instance, four neurons associated with taste stretch into the region that controls movement and another area related to touch. Chandrashekar says the group is now working on identifying which genes each neuron expresses, which will help to pin down their function.

 

 

“This is a tremendous project,” says Hongkui Zeng, a molecular biologist at the Allen Institute for Brain Science in Seattle, Washington, who plans to collaborate with the Janelia group on MouseLight. The Janelia technique is similar to one that Zeng and her colleagues developed using a line of mice genetically engineered so that a certain drug activates glowing proteins in a handful of their neurons.

 

MouseLight is just one of several methods being used to reconstruct individual neurons, says Rafael Yuste, a neurobiologist at Columbia University in New York City. Accurately labelling neurons with markers such as fluorescence, he says, will probably be the key challenge in the eventual goal of creating a “census” of different cell types in the brain.


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Navigational View of the Brain Thanks to Powerful X-Rays

Navigational View of the Brain Thanks to Powerful X-Rays | Amazing Science | Scoop.it
How the brain computes can arguably be best studied on the "meso" scale, and new imaging makes brain tissue visible on that level.

 

If brain imaging could be compared to Google Earth, neuroscientists would already have a pretty good “satellite view” of the brain, and a great “street view” of neuron details. But navigating how the brain computes is arguably where the action is, and neuroscience’s “navigational map view” has been a bit meager.

 

Now, a research team led by Eva Dyer, a computational neuroscientist and electrical engineer, has imaged brains at that map-like or “meso” scale using the most powerful X-ray beams in the country. The imaging scale gives an overview of the intercellular landscape of the brain at a level relevant to small neural networks, which are at the core of the brain’s ability to compute.

 

Dyer, who recently joined the Georgia Institute of Technology and Emory University, also studies how the brain computes via its signaling networks, and this imaging technique could someday open new windows onto how they work.

 

A powerful X-ray tomography scanner allowed the researchers to image particularly thick sections of the brains of mice, which afforded them views into intact neural areas much larger than are customary in microscope imaging. The scanner operated on the same basic principle as a hospital CT scanner, but this scan used high-energy X-ray photons generated in a synchrotron, a facility the size of dozens of football fields.

 

"Argonne National Laboratory (ANL) generates the highest-energy X-ray beams in the country at its synchrotron," said Dyer, who co-led the study with ANL's Bobby Kasthuri at the Advanced Photon Source synchrotron. "They've studied all kinds of materials with really powerful X-rays. Then they got interested in studying the brain."

 

The technique also revealed capillary grids interlacing brain tissues. They dominated the images, with cell bodies of brain cells evenly speckling capillaries like pebbles in a steel wool sponge.

"Our brain cells are embedded in this sea of vasculature," said Dyer, an assistant professor in the Wallace H. Coulter Department of Biomedical Engineering at Georgia Tech and Emory.

 

The study on the new images appeared in the journal eNeuro on Tuesday, October 17, 2017. The team included researchers from Johns Hopkins University, the University of Chicago, Northwestern University, the Argonne National Laboratory, and the University of Pennsylvania. The work was funded by the U.S. Department of Energy, the National Institutes of Health, the Intelligence Advanced Research Projects Activity, and the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency.

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New imaging approach maps whole-brain changes from Alzheimer's disease in mice

New imaging approach maps whole-brain changes from Alzheimer's disease in mice | Amazing Science | Scoop.it

An estimated 5.5 million Americans live with Alzheimer's disease, a type of dementia that causes problems with memory, thinking and behavior. 

 

Optical visualization of pathological changes in Alzheimer’s disease (AD) can facilitate exploration of disease mechanisms and treatments. However, existing optical imaging methods have limitations on mapping pathological evolution in the whole mouse brain. Previous research indicated endogenous fluorescence contrast of senile plaques. Therefore, it is important to develop cryo-micro-optical sectioning tomography (cryo-MOST) to capture intrinsic fluorescence distribution of senile plaques at a micrometer-level resolution in the whole brain. Validation using immunofluorescence demonstrates the capacity of cryo-MOST to visualize and distinguish senile plaques with competent sensitivity and spatial resolution. Compared with imaging in room temperature, cryo-MOST provides better signal intensity and signal-to-noise ratio. Using cryo-MOST, the inventors obtained whole-brain coronal distribution of senile plaques in a transgenic mouse without exogenous dye. Capable of label-free brainwide visualization of Alzheimer’s pathology, cryo-MOST may be potentially useful for understanding neurodegenerative disease mechanisms and evaluating drug efficacy.

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Brain Training Has No Effect on Decision-making or Cognitive Function

Brain Training Has No Effect on Decision-making or Cognitive Function | Amazing Science | Scoop.it

During the last decade, commercial brain-training programs have risen in popularity, offering people the hope of improving their cognitive abilities through the routine performance of various “brain games” that tap cognitive functions such as memory, attention and cognitive flexibility.

 

But a recent study at the University of Pennsylvania found that, not only did commercial brain training with Lumosity™ have no effect on decision-making, it also had no effect on cognitive function beyond practice effects on the training tasks.

 

The findings were published in the Journal of Neuroscience.

 

Seeking evidence for an intervention that could reduce the likelihood that people will engage in unhealthy behaviors such as smoking or overeating, a team of researchers at Penn, co-led by Joseph Kable, PhD, the Baird Term associate professor in the department of Psychology in the School of Arts & Sciences, and Caryn Lerman, PhD, the vice dean for Strategic Initiatives and the John H. Glick professor in Cancer Research in the Perelman School of Medicine, examined whether, through the claimed beneficial effect on cognitive function, commercial brain training regimes could reduce individuals’ propensity to make risky or impulsive choices.

 

Lerman’s prior work had shown that engagement of brain circuits involved in self-control predicts whether people can refrain from smoking. This work provided the foundation for examining whether modulating these circuits through brain training could lead to behavior change. 

 

“Our motivation,” Kable said, “was that there are enough hints in the literature that cognitive training deserved a real, rigorous, full-scale test. Especially given the addiction angle, we're looking for things that will help people make the changes in their lives that they want to make, one of which is being more future-oriented.”

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Seeing the colored light: Bee brains open way for better cameras

Seeing the colored light: Bee brains open way for better cameras | Amazing Science | Scoop.it
Cameras in drones and robots have trouble dealing with detecting color when the light is changing. But bees, it turns out, have a mechanism that solves this problem and that can be used to improve cameras.

 

New research into the way that honeybees see color could pave the way for more accurate cameras in phones, drones and robots.

Identifying color in complex outdoor environments is extremely difficult because the color of light is continuously changing.

Researchers in Melbourne, Australia, looked to see how honeybees solve this problem and discovered a totally new mechanism for processing color information.

 

The results of the work by academics at RMIT University, Monash University, University of Melbourne and Deakin University were published today in the journal, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America (PNAS).

 

The project, supported by an Australian Research Council (ARC) grant, was coordinated by Associate Professor Adrian Dyer at RMIT, who has been working with Professor Marcello Rosa at Monash University and the ARC Centre of Excellence for Integrative Brain Function to solve this classic problem of how color vision works.


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Projecting a visual image directly into the brain, bypassing the eyes

Projecting a visual image directly into the brain, bypassing the eyes | Amazing Science | Scoop.it
Imagine replacing a damaged eye with a window directly into the brain — one that communicates with the visual part of the cerebral cortex by reading from a million individual neurons and simultaneously stimulating 1,000 of them with single-cell accuracy, allowing someone to see again.

That’s the goal of a $21.6 million DARPA award to the University of California, Berkeley (UC Berkeley), one of six organizations funded by DARPA’s Neural Engineering System Design program announced this week to develop implantable, biocompatible neural interfaces that can compensate for visual or hearing deficits.*

The UCB researchers ultimately hope to build a device for use in humans. But the researchers’ goal during the four-year funding period is more modest: to create a prototype to read and write to the brains of model organisms — allowing for neural activity and behavior to be monitored and controlled simultaneously. These organisms include zebrafish larvae, which are transparent, and mice, via a transparent window in the skull.

 

“The ability to talk to the brain has the incredible potential to help compensate for neurological damage caused by degenerative diseases or injury,” said project leader Ehud Isacoff, a UC Berkeley professor of molecular and cell biology and director of the Helen Wills Neuroscience Institute. “By encoding perceptions into the human cortex, you could allow the blind to see or the paralyzed to feel touch.”

 

To communicate with the brain, the team will first insert a gene into neurons that makes fluorescent proteins, which flash when a cell fires an action potential. This will be accompanied by a second gene that makes a light-activated “optogenetic” protein, which stimulates neurons in response to a pulse of light.

 

To read, the team is developing a miniaturized “light field microscope.” Mounted on a small window in the skull, it peers through the surface of the brain to visualize up to a million neurons at a time at different depths and monitor their activity. This microscope is based on the revolutionary “light field camera,” which captures light through an array of lenses and reconstructs images computationally in any focus.

 

The combined read-write function will eventually be used to directly encode perceptions into the human cortex — inputting a visual scene to enable a blind person to see. The goal is to eventually enable physicians to monitor and activate thousands to millions of individual human neurons using light.

 

Isacoff, who specializes in using optogenetics to study the brain’s architecture, can already successfully read from thousands of neurons in the brain of a larval zebrafish, using a large microscope that peers through the transparent skin of an immobilized fish, and simultaneously write to a similar number.

 

The team will also develop computational methods that identify the brain activity patterns associated with different sensory experiences, hoping to learn the rules well enough to generate “synthetic percepts” — meaning visual images representing things being touched — by a person with a missing hand, for example. This technology has a lot of potential in the future.

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Donald Schwartz's curator insight, July 18, 7:08 PM

Science fiction no more. Now this is what I call visualization.

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Build-A-Face: Brains encode faces piece by piece

Build-A-Face: Brains encode faces piece by piece | Amazing Science | Scoop.it

A monkey’s brain builds a picture of a human face somewhat like a Mr. Potato Head — piecing it together bit by bit. The code that a monkey’s brain uses to represent faces relies not on groups of nerve cells tuned to specific faces — as has been previously proposed — but on a population of about 200 cells that code for different sets of facial characteristics. Added together, the information contributed by each nerve cell lets the brain efficiently capture any face, researchers report June 1 in Cell.

 

“It’s a turning point in neuroscience — a major breakthrough,” says Rodrigo Quian Quiroga, a neuroscientist at the University of Leicester in England who wasn’t part of the work. “It’s a very simple mechanism to explain something as complex as recognizing faces.”

 

Until now, Quiroga says, the leading explanation for the way the primate brain recognizes faces proposed that individual nerve cells, or neurons, respond to certain types of faces (SN: 6/25/05, p. 406). A system like that might work for the few dozen people with whom you regularly interact. But accounting for all of the peripheral people encountered in a lifetime would require a lot of neurons.

 

It now seems that the brain might have a more efficient strategy, says Doris Tsao, a neuroscientist at Caltech. Tsao and coauthor Le Chang used statistical analyses to identify 50 variables that accounted for the greatest differences between 200 face photos. Those variables represented somewhat complex changes in the face — for instance, the hairline rising while the face becomes wider and the eyes becomes further-set.

 

The researchers turned those variables into a 50-dimensional “face space,” with each face being a point and each dimension being an axis along which a set of features varied. Then, Tsao and Chang extracted 2,000 faces from that map, each linked to specific coordinates. While projecting the faces one at a time onto a screens in front of two macaque monkeys, the team recorded the activity in single neurons in parts of the monkey’s temporal lobe known to respond specifically to faces. All together, the recordings captured activity from 205 neurons.

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LEONARDO WILD's curator insight, June 9, 10:04 AM
When writing facial descriptions, one of the hard things is to differentiate characters, to give them their unique visual appearance. Perhaps this can help find some key elements that could make those facial descriptions make more sense, both to the writer and the reader.
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Harvard Scientists Think They’ve Pinpointed The Physical Source Of Consciousness

Harvard Scientists Think They’ve Pinpointed The Physical Source Of Consciousness | Amazing Science | Scoop.it
Only together we can make a difference! The truth awaits to be known.

 

What is it that causes us to be aware of our existence, and is it related to the mind, the physical realm, or something more profound? Many scientists typically just relate consciousness to the mind, confusing it with self-awareness, whereas others recognize that these elements are all interconnected.

Researchers at Harvard University believe that they’ve finally pinpointed the physical source of consciousness in human beings. The team found that there are three particular regions of the human brain that appear to be fundamental to consciousness.

“For the first time, we have found a connection between the brainstem region involved in arousal and regions involved in awareness, two prerequisites for consciousness,” explained the lead researcher, Michael Fox, from the Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Centre at Harvard Medical School. “A lot of pieces of evidence all came together to point to this network playing a role in human consciousness.”

In terms of arousal, researchers had already determined that it’s regulated by the brainstem, the part of the brain that’s connected to the spinal cord, which regulates sleep cycle, heart rate, and breath. When you think about the spinal cord’s relation to the chakra system and Kundalini energy, it’s not surprising that this is suspected to be a fundamental part of human consciousness in the physical body.

Awareness, on the other hand, has proven to be much more difficult to pinpoint in the past, although it’s been speculated that it lies somewhere in the cortex, or the outer layer of the brain. However, the Harvard team has located two cortex regions that appear to work together to essentially “create consciousness.”

36 hospital patients with brainstem lesions participated in the study, 12 of whom were in comas. The scientists mapped their brainstems in order to figure out why some people stayed conscious despite their injuries, while others became comatose. Their findings suggest that the rostral dorsolateral pontine tegmentum, an area of the brainstem, is associated with comas, as 10 out of the 12 coma patients suffered injuries to this area.

They then compared the cortex to this area of the brainstem and identified which parts were connected to it. They found that two parts of the cortex are connected to this part of the brainstem, thus concluding that they’d be the most likely areas to play an important role in consciousness. The first was in the left, ventral, anterior insula (AI), and the other was in the pregenual anterior cingulate cortex (pACC).

The team also looked at fMRI scans of 45 other coma patients, all of which indicated that the patients suffered some sort of injury or disruption between these three integral regions of the brain. To the researchers, this suggests that these three regions play a fundamental role in consciousness. Perhaps this study will bring us one step closer to understanding why coma patients lose their conscious awareness!


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Melding mind and machine: How close are we in 2017?

Melding mind and machine: How close are we in 2017? | Amazing Science | Scoop.it
Brain-computer interfacing is a hot topic in the tech world, with Elon Musk's announcement of his new Neuralink startup. Here, researchers separate what's science from what's currently still fiction.

 

Just as ancient Greeks fantasized about soaring flight, today’s imaginations dream of melding minds and machines as a remedy to the pesky problem of human mortality. Can the mind connect directly with artificial intelligence, robots and other minds through brain-computer interface (BCI) technologies to transcend our human limitations?

 

Over the last 50 years, researchers at university labs and companies around the world have made impressive progress toward achieving such a vision. Recently, successful entrepreneurs such as Elon Musk (Neuralink) and Bryan Johnson (Kernel) have announced new startups that seek to enhance human capabilities through brain-computer interfacing.

 

How close are we really to successfully connecting our brains to our technologies? And what might the implications be when our minds are plugged in?

 

Eb Fetz, a researcher here at the Center for Sensorimotor Neural Engineering (CSNE), is one of the earliest pioneers to connect machines to minds. In 1969, before there were even personal computers, he showed that monkeys can amplify their brain signals to control a needle that moved on a dial. Much of the recent work on BCIs aims to improve the quality of life of people who are paralyzed or have severe motor disabilities.

 

You may have seen some recent accomplishments in the news: University of Pittsburgh researchers use signals recorded inside the brain to control a robotic arm. Stanford researchers can extract the movement intentions of paralyzed patients from their brain signals, allowing them to use a tablet wirelessly.

 

Similarly, some limited virtual sensations can be sent back to the brain, by delivering electrical current inside the brain or to the brain surface.

 

What about our main senses of sight and sound? Very early versions of bionic eyes for people with severe vision impairment have been deployed commercially, and improved versions are undergoing human trials right now. Cochlear implants, on the other hand, have become one of the most successful and most prevalent bionic implants – over 300,000 users around the world use the implants to hear.


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This Neural Probe Is So Thin, The Brain Doesn't Know It's There

This Neural Probe Is So Thin, The Brain Doesn't Know It's There | Amazing Science | Scoop.it

Wiring our brains up to computers could have a host of exciting applications – from controlling robotic prosthetics with our minds to restoring sight by feeding camera feeds directly into the vision center of our brains. Most brain-computer interface research to date has been conducted using electroencephalography (EEG) where electrodes are placed on the scalp to monitor the brain’s electrical activity. Achieving very high quality signals, however, requires a more invasive approach.

 

Integrating electronics with living tissue is complicated, though. Probes that are directly inserted into the gray matter have been around for decades, but while they are capable of highly accurate recording, the signals tend to degrade rapidly due to the buildup of scar tissue. Electrocorticography (ECoG), which uses electrodes placed beneath the skull but on top of the gray matter, has emerged as a popular compromise, as it achieves higher-accuracy recordings with a lower risk of scar formation.

 

But now researchers from the University of Texas have created new probes that are so thin and flexible, they don’t elicit scar tissue buildup. Unlike conventional probes, which are much larger and stiffer, they don’t cause significant damage to the brain tissue when implanted, and they are also able to comply with the natural movements of the brain.

 

In recent research published in the journal Science Advances, the team demonstrated that the probes were able to reliably record the electrical activity of individual neurons in mice for up to four months. This stability suggests these probes could be used for long-term monitoring of the brain for research or medical diagnostics as well as controlling prostheses, said Chong Xie, an assistant professor in the university’s department of biomedical engineering who led the research.

 

“Besides neuroprosthetics, they can possibly be used for neuromodulation as well, in which electrodes generate neural stimulation,” he told Singularity Hub in an email. “We are also using them to study the progression of neurovascular and neurodegenerative diseases such as stroke, Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s.”

 

The group actually created two probe designs, one 50 microns long and the other 10 microns long. The smaller probe has a cross-section only a fraction of that of a neuron, which the researchers say is the smallest among all reported neural probes to the best of their knowledge.

 

Because the probes are so flexible, they can’t be pushed into the brain tissue by themselves, and so they needed to be guided in using a stiff rod called a “shuttle device.” Previous designs of these shuttle devices were much larger than the new probes and often led to serious damage to the brain tissue, so the group created a new carbon fiber design just seven microns in diameter.

 

At present, though, only 25 percent of the recordings can be tracked down to individual neurons – thanks to the fact that neurons each have characteristic waveforms – with the rest too unclear to distinguish from each other. “The only solution, in my opinion, is to have many electrodes placed in the brain in an array or lattice so that any neuron can be within a reasonable distance from an electrode,” said Chong. “As a result, all enclosed neurons can be recorded and well-sorted.”

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Giant Neuron Found That Wraps Around the Entire Circumference of the Brain

Giant Neuron Found That Wraps Around the Entire Circumference of the Brain | Amazing Science | Scoop.it

For the first time, scientists have detected a giant neuron wrapped around the entire circumference of a mouse's brain, and it's so densely connected across both hemispheres, it could finally explain the origins of consciousness. 

 

Using a new imaging technique, the team detected the giant neuron emanating from one of the best-connected regions in the brain, and say it could be coordinating signals from different areas to create conscious thought.

 

This recently discovered neuron is one of three that have been detected for the first time in a mammal's brain, and the new imaging technique could help us figure out if similar structures have gone undetected in our own brains for centuries.

 

At a recent meeting of the Brain Research through Advancing Innovative Neurotechnologies initiative in Maryland, a team from the Allen Institute for Brain Science described how all three neurons stretch across both hemispheres of the brain, but the largest one wraps around the organ's circumference like a "crown of thorns". 

 

You can see them highlighted in the image at the top of the page.

Lead researcher Christof Koch told Sara Reardon at Nature that they've never seen neurons extend so far across both regions of the brain before.

 

Oddly enough, all three giant neurons happen to emanate from a part of the brain that's shown intriguing connections to human consciousness in the past - the claustrum, a thin sheet of grey matter that could be the most connected structure in the entire brain, based on volume.


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compressedpiano's comment, February 28, 10:51 PM
This is so great!
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The Purpose of Sleep is to Forget

The Purpose of Sleep is to Forget | Amazing Science | Scoop.it

Over the years, scientists have come up with a lot of ideas about why we sleep. Some have argued that it’s a way to save energy. Others have suggested that slumber provides an opportunity to clear away the brain’s cellular waste. Still others have proposed that sleep simply forces animals to lie still, letting them hide from predators.

 

A pair of papers published on Thursday in the journal Science offer evidence for another notion: We sleep to forget some of the things we learn each day.

 

In order to learn, we have to grow connections, or synapses, between the neurons in our brains. These connections enable neurons to send signals to one another quickly and efficiently. We store new memories in these networks.

 

In 2003, Giulio Tononi and Chiara Cirelli, biologists at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, proposed that synapses grew so exuberantly during the day that our brain circuits got “noisy.” When we sleep, the scientists argued, our brains pare back the connections to lift the signal over the noise.

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