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Author: Brian Krueger, PhD | Views: 4552 | Comments: 2
Last by Brian Krueger, PhD on Sep 08, 2012, 12:05pm
In 1990, the scientific community embarked on a landmark experiment to completely sequence the human genome. At the time, it was assumed that knowing the exact sequence of the human genome would provide scientists all of the information they ever wanted to know about genomics and how DNA contributes to human disease. At least this is how the project was presented to the public, however, every genome scientist knew that obtaining the sequence of the human genome was a lot like getting a cake recipe that listed all of the ingredients but didn't explain at all how much of each ingredient to use, how to mix the ingredients together or how long to bake that mixture to create a delicious cake. Compound that with the fact that the list contains over 35,000 ingredients and you can quickly understand why the sequence alone wasn’t very informative. We spent over 3 billion dollars to obtain this sequence and since the final publication of the sequence in 2003, the media has questioned its usefulness. Apparently, because cancer wasn’t cured in 10 years, the human genome project is largely seen by the media as a colossal waste of money; however, obtaining this sequence has been invaluable in speeding up research and has significantly contributed to our understanding of how som . . . More
Author: Jordan Gaines | Views: 4307 | Comments: 2
Last by Jordan Gaines on Aug 29, 2012, 8:27am
There are few things in this world more entertaining than cats. Except for, perhaps, cats on catnip.

Yes, "on" catnip. I speak of it like a drug, because it is.

Sure, make a laser pointer dance around the room and you've got endless hours of entertainment. But give Mittens a little toy mouse infused with catnip and—well, something changes.

Mittens will rub against the toy, rolling around and ecstatically chewing it. She may drool and become either sleepy or anxious. If you try to take the toy, she might act aggressive, scratching or biting at you.

Forget the mouse—Mittens wants the catnip inside. So what is catnip, and why is it causing your sweet kitty to behave so dichotomously?

What is catnip?

Catnip, also called catswort or catmint, is a plant of the genus Nepeta. Native to Asia and Europe, it's become common worldwide—in fact, you're likely to see it growing along many North American highways and railroads. Catnip is a relative of oregano and spearmint.

In the past, humans consumed the plant in the form of juice, tea, alcohol, or by smoking—for medicinal purposes such as pain, insomnia, colic, and, er, flatulence.

What is it doing to my cat?!

The toys that drive our feline . . . More
Author: Jordan Gaines | Views: 8115 | Comments: 0
I'm willing to bet you've made fun of the expression-less faces on heavily-Botoxed people.

With their vanished crow's feet, missing smile lines, lack of forehead wrinkles, and paralyzed cheeks, eventually we just can't tell whether Botox abusers are happy, sad, angry, worried, or just plain crazy. We can only assume the latter.

As it turns out, this side effect may actually be a good thing for individuals with depression who are resistant to other forms of treatment.

Back in March, I blogged about the neurochemistry of Botox (click here to read). Botox is the trade name for botulinum toxin, a powerful neurotoxin which, in very small medical doses, functions to paralyze the muscles of the face (or wherever it's injected). On the other hand, severe botulism poisoning, which occurs primarily through food contamination, can result in paralysis of respiratory muscles, leading to respiratory arrest, coma, or death if untreated.



Botox functions by blocking the neurotransmitter acetylcholine from being released by the axon terminal of a neuron. Typically, acetylcholine binds to receptors on muscle, causing contraction; inhibiting th . . . More
Author: Jordan Gaines | Views: 29025 | Comments: 4
Last by Doctor Zen on Aug 19, 2012, 10:16am
In 1982, Angela Cavallo of Lawrenceville, Georgia received the Mom of the Year Award. (Not a real award, but if it existed, she would probably win, hands down). Her son Tony was working on the suspension of his 1964 Chevy Impala when the car suddenly slipped off the jack and pinned him in the wheel well.

Angela dashed outside to see her unconscious son trapped under the car. She yelled for a neighbor to get help but it was taking too long, so she took matters into her own hands. Literally. She proceeded to lift the car—high enough to replace the jacks—and pull Tony out from beneath.

Yep, you read that correctly. She lifted a 3,500-pound car from the ground.

There's not much more information to be found about Mrs. Cavallo aside from this incredible story, but I'll safely assume she wasn't a body builder. In fact, I'll bet the same for the other individuals who have also demonstrated this sort of "hysterical strength." But that's beside the point—if you were placed in a similar situation, you could probably lift a car, too!

It's all thanks to the handy little hormone called adrenaline.

Activating the stress response

The kicker abou . . . More
Author: Jordan Gaines | Views: 6910 | Comments: 0
A teacher calls on you when your hand isn't raised, and you feel the familiar sensation as your classmate's eyes immediately dart toward you. Mrs. So-and-So watches expectantly, smirking. A surge of blood races from your gut to your head and your cheeks become warm. Hot. A sheepish smile involuntarily follows. You know you're bright red, and that embarrasses you even more.

Everyone knows what it feels like to blush—whether from embarrassment, emotional stress, or even just receiving a compliment. Perhaps worse than the act itself is knowing that everyone else can see the physical manifestation of your discomfort, which inconveniently functions to further redden your face.

But for 5-7% of the population, blushing is a chronic problem—happening both more frequently and with greater magnitude than the average person. Physically, it's rather harmless—but psychologically, it can be devastating.

In late May, Brandon Thomas, a 20-year-old University of Washington student, committed suicide by jumping from his 11-story dorm. "I am tired of blushing," read his suicide note. "It is exha . . . More
Author: Jordan Gaines | Views: 1727 | Comments: 1
Last by jamie on Oct 15, 2012, 12:49am
For me personally, June has proven to be a rather disappointing and fruitless month. Just when things began to look brighter, I was involuntarily assigned to be the middle vehicle in a double fender-bender two days ago, and my car now needs almost $1,000-worth of repairs. And as a perfect metaphor for the crappiness of the past month, for whatever reason I was not paid my stipend yesterday for the month of June.

I don't often like to talk about my sour feelings with other people because a.) I'm bad at it, and b.) I have another outlet.

Everyday for the past 12 years (save for a few angsty months in 8th grade), I've been writing in a journal. A good, old-fashioned, hardbound, acid-free journal. Most entries are about the frivolous happenings of the day at school, but as I've gotten older, they've increasingly helped me outline my thoughts and feelings while keeping my head on straight.

Feeling so low, I journaled the night before my car accident, listing ten qualities I liked about myself. Remembering what I wrote as I spent the next day at the body shop and on the phone with the police and insurance companies is, I believe, what kept me from simply bursting into tears and throwing up my hands in defeat.

Writin . . . More
Author: Jordan Gaines | Views: 6524 | Comments: 9
Last by Sean Garvin on Jul 17, 2012, 10:23am
Dr. Perry Kendall asserted yesterday that the health risks of 3,4-methylenedioxymethamphetamine—or MDMA, the active ingredient in the drug ecstasy—are exaggerated, and that pure ecstasy is not dangerous when consumed responsibly by adults.

Its lethal dangers arise, he says, when gangs pollute the drug with other chemicals.

I'm not sure when the notion came into play that anything which doesn't kill you automatically means its "safe," but I would like to respectfully debunk Dr. Kendall's remarks with a very powerful and striking study published 13 years ago.

Specifically, MDMA induces release of the neurotransmitter serotonin by causing serotonin-containing vesicles to dock and enter the synapse. Higher-than-normal serotonin levels can result in neurotoxicity in the brain.

What, exactly, causes the euphoria from MDMA is not entirely clear; other drugs that release serotonin, such as fenfluramine, do not have this effect.

Remember those old "Just Say No" PSAs from the late '80s championed by First Lady Nancy Reagan? "This is drugs." An egg cracks into a sizzling skillet. "This is your brain on dr . . . More
Author: Cynthia McKelvey | Views: 3085 | Comments: 0
To many who read this blog, Notes of Ranvier is a title that probably evokes no thoughts of science or history. There is a backstory to the name, however, and a reason why I chose it as the title.

Notes of Ranvier is meant to be a play on words referring to the nodes of Ranvier, anatomical structures in certain types of neurons that have a myelin sheath. Every neuron has a long projection called an axon that transmits electrical signals to other neurons. Around the axons of some neurons is the myelin sheath, a fatty tissue that insulates the axon like plastic around a copper wire. Electricity can't travel though myelin, so there are even gaps between the sheath where the neuron is exposed and electrical currents can be propagated down the axon. These gaps were discovered by French scientist, Louis-Antoine Ranvier (pronounced rahn-vee-yeh), and thus bear his name as Ranvier's nodes or the nodes of Ranvier.

When you learn about Ranvier's nodes in class, not a lot of attention is paid to how they were discovered or why they have Ranvier's name instead of some other scientist. The treatment of the subject is far more along the lines of, "these exist, this is what they do, moving on." But the question still gnaws, who was Ranvier? How did . . . More
Author: Jordan Gaines | Views: 1293 | Comments: 0
3 Quarks Daily is a pretty fascinating site. In essence, the site writers post interesting tidbits daily, from science to art to literature to current affairs—anything they find interesting. I encourage everyone to check it out if they haven't already.

What I've been looking forward to most all year, however, is the 3 Quarks Daily 2012 Science Prize. And guess what? My blog post from back in February on the neuroscience of deja vu has been nominated!

If you are so inclined, I would appreciate a vote and a share! You can vote for me here—find me alphabetically under "Gaines, on Brains" (which is the name of my main blog). Voting is open until this Saturday at 11:59 PM.

Thanks for your support!

. . . More
Author: Jordan Gaines | Views: 8026 | Comments: 4
Last by Sisu on Sep 07, 2012, 9:12am
Check out this short video of "Rusty the Narcoleptic Dog." I was first introduced to Rusty in a video presented to my high school psychology class. As expected in a classroom full of teenagers, we erupted into a fit of laughter when the happy-go-lucky dachshund suddenly collapsed into a deep sleep.

Gallup polls reveal that 56% of Americans complain that daytime drowsiness is a problem in their lives, the majority of which is caused by sleep deprivation. A controlled, objective scientific study once revealed that 34% of participants were considered "dangerously sleepy," even when they didn't complain about daytime sleepiness.

America is a sleepy country—but narcolepsy takes it to a whole new level. Imagine feelings of exhaustion at all times, accompanied by inappropriate sleep attacks. Sure, falling asleep on the job is embarrassing and unprofessional, but also imagine the danger of a narcoleptic attack while driving. What is narcolepsy, and what causes this mysterious disorder?




What is narcolepsy?
Narcolepsy is a curious disorder characterized by excessive sleepiness. The sleep attacks are particularly strange; typically, it takes us at least an hour of s . . . More
Author: Jordan Gaines | Views: 2559 | Comments: 4
Last by SiO2lungs on May 27, 2012, 8:36pm
Today I participated in a brain imaging study! I laid in an MRI machine for 45 minutes and looked at pictures of chocolate while smelling chocolate odors. Tough life, right? (Hershey really is the sweetest place on Earth...even in the labs!)



The MRI machine is rather big, rather loud (I wore headphones), and...rather claustrophobic—but it operates on a rather GENIUS principle! My brain was imaged every two seconds; eventually, the images will be overlaid to create a complete picture of my brain, so it was important that I remain very still.

Some of you may have undergone an MRI so a doctor could examine a particular body part due to injury or to diagnose a problem. The MRI machine works on the principle of magnetism; essentially, the images you're seeing are comprised of the nuclei of the atoms in your body.


Pretty cool, huh?

Images courtesy Heart Healthy Women, Space Inspired, and PSU Hershey NMR Center.

. . . More
Author: Jordan Gaines | Views: 3460 | Comments: 0
I received an e-mail requesting that I write a follow-up to last week's blog post on multiple sclerosis (MS). I was asked to detail the immune-modulating therapies available for MS patients.

As a neuroscientist, the purpose of my original post was to explain the basic neurology behind the disease: what myelin is, what happens to myelin during MS, and why lack of myelin results in the symptoms that manifest. I also wanted to inform readers of the latest research in the field. My intention was not to leave out information or misinform, but given my lack of knowledge in other fields, I confined the blog post to my expertise.

Today I'll take off my brain hat and (do my best to) trade it in for an immunologist's.

Together, let's explore the therapies out there for those suffering this mysterious disorder.


Types of MS
Firstly, I'd like to outline the four types of multiple sclerosis:

1. Relapsing-remitting (RRMS): 75-80% of patients are initially diagnosed with RRMS. People with RRMS experience days- to weeks-long flare-ups, or "relapses," followed by periods of no symptoms, called "remission."

2. Secondary-progressive (SPMS): symptoms worsen over time in this type of MS, with or witho . . . More
Author: Jordan Gaines | Views: 1888 | Comments: 0
Montel Williams and 400,000 other Americans face it everyday. Richard Pryor was confined to a wheelchair in the last few years of his life because of it. Symptoms range from weakness to bladder problems to difficulty talking. Indeed, multiple sclerosis, or MS, is one of the most well-known yet mysterious neurological conditions we know about.

MS and myelin
MS is an inflammatory disorder affecting the central nervous system (brain/spinal cord) and its ability for nerve cells to communicate with one another.

Our individual nerve cells (neurons) have a fatty substance called myelin surrounding the long conducting axon fiber. If you picture the axon like an extremely long hot dog, myelin resembles hot dog buns lined up along its length.



Myelin allows neuron communication to occur much more rapidly. Instead of generating action potentials (rapid electrical changes) along each point in the axon, the action potential can "jump" over the myelin. Instead, action potentials are regenerated only at each node of Ranvier (see above), where there are breaks in the myelin sheath.

In MS, however, the body's immune system attacks the myelin sheath, causing it to break down and scar tissue to form. This process is c . . . More
Author: Jordan Gaines | Views: 4038 | Comments: 2
Last by jimbot on Apr 27, 2012, 7:07pm
In the sleep research lab where I'm currently completing my rotation, we are bringing back students for a follow-up study. Most of them don't seem to recall the uncomfortable beds or having electrodes pasted to their scalp from their baseline test, which was done back when they were in elementary school. (For our sake in recruiting participants, that's probably for the best.)

Nowadays they're older, wiser, more self-aware, and, as teenagers, a bit more judgmental. The researchers in charge of performing psychometric testing—new college grads and not much older or taller than the participants themselves—recently made an interesting observation: if they wear a white coat when interacting with the participants (and their parents), they receive more respect.

According to a study by Hajo Adam and Adam Galinsky of Norwestern University, it's possible that our psych testers not only look more professional, but subconsciously feel more professional. In other words, the clothes may literally make the man (or woman).

The study, published February in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, observed an interesting phe . . . More
Author: Jordan Gaines | Views: 3370 | Comments: 0
The following is a story about a college girl named Jordan.

Jordan blindly, exhaustedly, yet somehow successfully stumbled her way through college. In her final two years, she averaged 4 or 5 hours of sleep every night due to schoolwork, labwork, club responsibilities, and the dreaded 4:55 A.M. alarm for crew practice.

She only drank one coffee, ever—a pumpkin spice latte—simply because the rest of her team regularly raided Starbucks after races. It tasted alright. Oh, and she had some orange energy drink before a Developmental Bio exam once. Her pee was subsequently green.

A graduate student once told her, "If you get into grad school, you'll become addicted to coffee." Jordan scoffed at the silly, weak student, and vowed, "Ha! Never."

Then one day Jordan had a Bob Evans mocha, and her life was forever changed.

Well, maybe that was a bit dramatic. My life hasn't changed that much really, but the unique smell and somewhat bitter taste of coffee is no longer aversive to me. To the contrary, I've come to pleasantly enjoy its energizing effect in small doses. And, because I like to understand what I'm putting in my body, I decided to explore coffee: its history, its neurological mechanism, and—what I'm sur . . . More
Author: Jordan Gaines | Views: 9375 | Comments: 0
All are very attractive options—particularly for the aging population, and particularly for those looking for a fast, relatively painless solution with little effort on our part.

But did you know that Botox—the quick fix solicited by 6 million Americans each year and 75% of celebrities over the age of 35—is composed of the same deadly toxin responsible for botulism poisoning that can cause paralysis and respiratory failure? Let's examine the mechanism behind this potentially deadly neurotoxin and why, for goodness' sakes, Botox can be used as a therapeutic despite its dangerous potential.

Botox is the trade name for botulinum toxin, a protein produced by the bacteriumClostridium botulinum (below, left). With a relatively low LD50 of 40 nanograms, botulinum toxin (below, right) is one of the most powerful neurotoxins known today. That means that injecting just 40 ng of the toxin is lethal in 50% of the primate population in which it was tested. To put 40 ng in perspective: a gram is roughly the mass of a paperclip. A nanogram is one billionth of a gram.

. . . More
Author: Cynthia McKelvey | Views: 3469 | Comments: 2
Last by Cynthia McKelvey on Apr 09, 2012, 12:46pm
The Venture Brothers season 1, episode 5, via [adult swim]
Why yes, penguins do have an organ that converts sea water into fresh water! Except it's not an organ, it's a gland. And it doesn't directly convert sea water to fresh water, it filters salt from the blood.
Hm, maybe I should start from the beginning.
First of all, this organ/gland/whatever that Dean is talking about is called the supraorbital gland, and it's something all marine birds have. Basically any mammal or bird that is going to have to drink sea water to quench thirst is going to need this gland.
Normally, salt that we ingest is absorbed into the blood stream, filtered out by the kidneys, and secreted in urine. However, the penguin's small kidneys can only filter out enough salt to create urine that's about 1/3 the concentration of sea water. If the blood is still too salty, then water must be taken from other tissues to dilute it, and this quickly leads to dehydration.
. . . More
Author: Jordan Gaines | Views: 3412 | Comments: 2
Last by Cynthia McKelvey on Mar 13, 2012, 9:21am

The concept is quite simple. The device works by recording a person's voice as they speak via the directional mike. When the laser pointer is aimed at the speaker and the trigger pulled, their own voice is played back to them with a delay of 0.2 seconds.

Kurihara and Tsukada's tests have revealed some interesting phenomena. The device is most effective against people reading aloud compared to those engaged in conversational, spontaneous speech. It is not as effective toward nonsense sequences, such as "ahhh" or "arghh" (which unfortunately accompany many of those cell phone conversations that so irk us).

The researchers suggest that the gun could be used to silence noisy speakers in public places (mental image of black-clad librarians darting between the stacks, anybody?), or to facilitate proper group discussion and turn-taking. "There are still many cases in which the negative aspects of speech become a barrier to the peaceful resolution of conflicts," say Kurihara and Tsukada.

Let's get back to the science behind the device. Why is this sound delay so powerful in silencing someone who is speaking?

Have you ever spoken over the phone or video-chatted with someone and you can hear your voice echo on the . . . More
Author: Cynthia McKelvey | Views: 2017 | Comments: 2
Last by Cynthia McKelvey on Mar 03, 2012, 7:15pm
That simulation of reality is the only thing you've ever interacted with, it's not that the real world isn't out there--it is--but you've never been there. You've only ever interacted with this simulation of reality that's put together from sparse information from the outside world and the rest is essentially confabulated, just like that blindspot is a confabulation of sorts. . . . More
Author: Jordan Gaines | Views: 2320 | Comments: 5
Last by Cynthia McKelvey on Feb 28, 2012, 11:54am
Déja vu is a French term that literally means "already seen" and is reported to occur in 60-70% of people, most commonly between the ages of 15 and 25. The fact that déja vu occurs so randomly and rapidly—and in individuals without a medical condition—makes it difficult to study, and why and how the phenomenon occurs is up to much speculation. Psychoanalysts may attribute it to wishful thinking; some psychiatrists cite mismatching in the brain causing us to mistake the present for the past. Still, parapsychologists may even believe it is related to a past-life experience. So what do we know for certain about what happens during an episode of déja vu?

Some researchers speculate that déja vu occurs when there is a mismatch in the brain during its constant attempt to create whole perceptions of our world with very limited input. Think about your memory: it only takes small bits of sensory information (a familiar smell, for instance) to bring forth a very detailed recollection. Déja vu is suggested to be some sort of "mix-up" between sensory input and memory-recalling output. This vague theory, however, does not explain why the episode we experience is not necessarily from a true past event.

. . . More
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