Expression of combinations of three different fluorescent proteins in a mouse brain produced ten different colored neurons. Individual neurons in a mouse brain appear in different colors in a fluorescence microscope. This “Brainbow” method enables many distinct cells within a brain circuit to be viewed at one time. 

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Resting brainwaves function in specific harmonic patterns, study suggests
Our brains are so awesome.
By Jacinta Bowler

Understanding how the brain’s complex map of neural connections actually works is one of the greatest challenges faced by scientists today, but new research by the University of New South Wales (UNSW) provides greater insight into how our brainwaves function when resting, and it could have huge implications for our understanding the brain’s vast ’connectome’.

“It has been a mystery why these spontaneous patterns of brain activity occur when people are simply lying in a brain scanner not thinking about anything in particular and not doing any explicit task,” said one of the researchers, psychologist Joel Pearson.

Pearson and his team created three-dimensional maps of the structures of 10 patients’ brains using magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) and diffusion tensor imaging (DTI) techniques. “The MRI gave us the structure of their cortex - the wrinkly surface of the brain - and the DTI gave us an anatomical map of the underlying connections of the white matter in the brain,” he says.

Study shows how neural networks adapt to the presence of a toxic HIV protein.

Study shows how neural networks adapt to the presence of a toxic HIV protein. Thoughts health innovators?

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The incidence of HIV-associated dementia has declined dramatically since the introduction of potent combined antiretroviral therapy; however, milder forms of HIV-associated neurocognitive disorders (HAND) persist. Some 30 to 50 % of HIV-infected individuals have HAND.  With an increasing proportion of HIV-infected individuals at risk of HAND, the development of a treatment and mapping of…

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NEW VIDEO! Are Concussions Deadly? I take a look at the science of having a concussion and the NFL’s concussion crisis. 

More Things To Wrinkle Your Brain

1. Apparently brains can look really different: “This is because, although gross neuroanatomical features are generally conserved across people, there can be a huge range of variation. For example, in the frontal lobes, there are usually three longitudinal gyri: inferior, middle, and superior: I’ve seen people with a whole extra fourth gyrus just stuck right in there. Totally surprising! What is that?!“

2. Apparently the folds in our brain provide better protection from traumatic impact (ie smashing your head) than a smooth brain.

3. This may be true, but I’m a bit skeptical about it being an evolutionarily pressured adaptation since dolphin brains are apparently more wrinkly than ours, and it seems to me they’d have even less concern for that than us.

4. The same article notes: “This doesn’t make dolphins necessarily more intelligent than us though as there are other factors to consider; such as the fact that dolphins have a relatively thinner surface of their brain“.

Which may be another great way to pose the question I’m having: Why not have a thinner cortex with even more folds?

(Also interesting to note that: “Some scientists suspected that the number of [cortical neurons] would drive the folding process: add more neurons, and the brain will need more folds to allow them to connect to each other. But this logic didn’t quite hold. Elephants, for example, have twice as many folds in their brains as humans do, but only about one-third the number of neurons.“) 

5. Apparently scientists have known about and even modeled physical forces shaping folds for at least two years, and even have a formula that roughly works out how a particular brain is likely to fold (essentially, surface area  vs thickness of the cortex).

There are several theories about how the brain’s folds form. These include the possibility that more neurons migrate to the hills, making them rise above the valleys, or that the valleys are pulled down by the axons – fibres that connect neurons to each other – linking highly interconnected parts of the brain together.
Mahadevan’s model shows that, as long as the cortex is attached to the white matter beneath, the only thing needed is expansion of the cortex, and it will physically buckle. “Once you have that, everything else follows,” says Mahadevan. “It’s an extremely simple mechanism.”

The NYT similarly asserts that “Human intelligence appears to be related to the branching of brain cells and the formation of complex links between them, not the shape of the platform where the links take place.“

Food for thought.
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Most animals have smooth brains. The brains of humans (and a handful of animals we consider pretty intelligent – dolphins, chimps, elephants, pigs) start out smooth in the early days of gestation and get more and more wrinkled through infancy.

A wrinkled brain makes sense - folding means you can have a really big cortex but the different parts of the brain won’t be as far apart. But how do brains become wrinkled? Is it programmed somehow - does some genetic code determine the pattern of folds?

A new study from Harvard says no - its just simple physics. They created a 3D model of a smooth fetal brain and coated it with an elastomer gel “cortex.” When they immersed this brain in a special solution, the gel swelled, mimicking brain growth.

Lo and behold, the brain began to buckle, creating folds similar to size, shape and location of a real brain.

Image credit: Mahadevan Lab/Harvard SEAS

Since I get asked a lot about where to learn more about the human brain and behaviour, I’ve made a masterpost of books, websites, videos and online courses to introduce yourself to that piece of matter that sits between your ears.

Books

  • The Brain Book  by Rita Carter
  • The Pyschology Book (a good starter book)  by DK
  • Thinking, Fast and Slow  by Daniel Kahneman
  • Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking  by Susan Cain
  • The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat  by Oliver Sacks
  • The Brain: The Story of You  by David Eagleman
  • The Brain That Changes Itself: Stories of Personal Triumph from the Frontiers of Brain Science  by Norman Doidge
  • This Is Your Brain on Music  by Daniel Levitin
  • The Autistic Brain by Richard Panek and Temple Grandin (highly reccomended)
  • Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind  by Yuval Noah Harari (not really brain-related, but it is single handedly the best book I have ever read)

Websites

Videos & Youtube Channels

Online Courses

Music can help you learn

A growing pool of research shows music’s effects on the brain go even deeper than mood, as it has been proven to increase cognitive abilities. For those who learn to play an instrument, music’s benefits on the most important organ in the human body goes a step further by improving memory. Believe it or not, listening to certain types of music can help you learn.

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