Showing posts with label Neuroscience. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Neuroscience. Show all posts

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

The girl who feels no pain: 3 fascinating neurological disorders

This post is the first in a short series on “What I learned in my undergrad neuroscience classes.” Today, I describe a few fascinating neurological disorders.

Have you watched episodes of medical shows like Grey’s Anatomy or House and wondered where they come up with some of their disorders? Are there really people out there who feel no pain, or who only have half a brain? There are. In undergrad I took a few neuroscience classes and learned fascinating details about neurological disorders. It seems that if you want to understand how the brain works, one of the best approaches is look at what happens when parts of the brain malfunction. Although I’ve forgotten 85% of what I learned, some of the more unbelievable details have stuck with me, and I thought I’d share a few of them with you today. So without further ado, here are some of the neurological disorders that I can’t get out of my head:

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Psychological contagion? The mysterious case of LeRoy, NY

LeRoy, NY
In a small country town, population 7,500, a cheerleader and honor roll student woke up from an afternoon nap to discover she had developed a stutter. Soon, the stutter gave way to uncontrollable twitching. When her mother took her to the doctor, they discovered that she wasn’t the only one with these symptoms - in all, 14 teenage girls, one teenage boy, and one 36 year-old woman had recently developed Tourettes-like symptoms. The local doctors diagnosed the mysterious illness as “conversion disorder,” a disorder in which mental and emotional stress literally plays out in physical symptoms. Sound like the plot of a bad TV movie? Perhaps. But it’s also the latest happenings in LeRoy, New York, where sixteen people suddenly developed twitching, facial tics and vocal outbursts last October, 15 of whom attended the same high school. 

Monday, September 19, 2011

Steer clear of the sleep deprived: The effects of sleep on mood

First I asked you how well you were sleeping here, then I described what is really going on when you sleep here, and today I consider how loss of sleep affect your mood.

Up late watching tv? Watch out world!
Last night you stayed up late (studying for a big exam, preparing for a presentation, watching marathon episodes of Battlestar Galactica), and today, when you’re already running low on sleep, it seems as if the whole world is out to get you. Why is everyone so irritating? Why is the traffic so bad? Who are these awful drivers? Or wait… could it just be you? A plethora of research has shown that sleep deprivation affects your mood. A very basic equation: sleep deprivation = increases in negative mood and decreases in positive mood. But let’s break that down a bit more.

Friday, August 26, 2011

The Plastic Brain

Today we would like to present you with the second of our series of guest bloggers. Allyson Mackey is a graduate student in the neuroscience program at UC-Berkeley. Enjoy!

I was recently challenged by a colleague to come up with an example of a neuroscience finding that changed the way I live my life. I immediately thought of the now quite vast literature on neuroplasticity: the ability of our brains to change and adapt to new experiences. In this post, I’d like to propose that what we’ve learned about neuroplasticity so far can help us lead better lives, and that neuroplasticity research in the future will be poised to influence public policy issues ranging from health to education.  

I want to start by summarizing some exciting results from research on the structure and connectivity of brain cells, called neurons. Scientists have shown that experience can drive changes in the connections between neurons in as little as thirty seconds. Substantial changes in brain inputs, like the loss of a sense like vision or touch in a limb, can lead to remarkable compensatory re-organization in cortex. However, even subtle environmental changes can change brain structure. For example, giving rats interesting toys to play with, or allowing them to run more frequently on an exercise wheel, can lead to more connections between neurons in brain regions that are critical for learning, like the hippocampus. What is even more exciting is that cognitive enrichment and exercise can lead to neurogenesis, the creation of new neurons, in the hippocampus. The formation of new neurons was long thought to be impossible since, unlike other cells in your body, most neurons can’t divide to make more neurons after birth.

Unfortunately, neuroplasticity is often called a double-edged sword. While positive environmental changes can lead to beneficial neural changes, the brain is also susceptible to negative environmental factors. One particularly relevant example is stress.  Chronic stress can prevent the birth of new neurons in the hippocampus, strengthen fear and anxiety circuits, and even effectively turn off brain regions responsible for attention and self-control. In summary, results from animal studies of neural plasticity suggest that our brains have the intrinsic ability to change in response to environmental demands both in adaptive ways, in response to cognitive stimulation and exercise, but also in maladaptive ways, in response to stress.