Chapter 1. Introduction: Scope and Outlook

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By Rebecca Horne The drawings and photographs of Santiago Ramón y Cajal are familiar to any neuroscientist—and probably anyone even remotely interested in the field. Most people who take a cursory look at his iconic images might assume that he created them using only direct observation. But that’s not the case, according to a paper published in March 2024 by Dawn Hunter, visual artist and associate professor of art at the University of South Carolina, and her colleagues. For instance, the Golgi-stained tissue Ramón y Cajal drew contained neurons that were cut in half—so he painstakingly reconstructed the cells by drawing from elements in multiple slides. And he also fleshed out his illustrations using educated guesses and classical drawing principles, such as contrast and occlusion. In this way, Ramón y Cajal’s art training was essential to his research, Hunter says. She came across Ramón y Cajal’s drawings while creating illustrations for a neuroscience textbook. “The first time I saw his work, out of pure inspiration, I decided to draw it,” she says. “It was in those moments of drawing that I realized his process was more profound and conceptually layered than merely retracing pencil lines with ink. Examining Ramón y Cajal’s work through the act of drawing is a more active experience than viewing his work as a gallery visitor or in a textbook.” In 2015, Hunter installed her drawings and paintings alongside original Ramón y Cajal works in an ongoing exhibition at the U.S. National Institutes of Health (NIH). That effort led to a Fulbright fellowship to Spain in 2017, providing her access to the Legado Cajal archives at the Instituto Cajal National Archives, which contain thousands of Ramón y Cajal artifacts. Hunter spoke to The Transmitter about her research in Spain and her realizations about how Ramón y Cajal worked as an artist and as a scientist. The Transmitter: What do you think your work contributes that is new? Dawn Hunter: It spells out the connection to [Ramón y Cajal’s] art training. There are some things that to me as a painter are obvious to zero in on that nobody’s really talked about. For example, Ramón y Cajal’s copying of the Renaissance painter Rafael’s entire portfolio. That in itself is a profound thing. © 2024 Simons Foundation

Keyword: Brain imaging
Link ID: 29338 - Posted: 06.04.2024

By Bill Wasik and Monica Murphy What makes a desert tortoise happy? Before you answer, we should be more specific: We’re talking about a Sonoran desert tortoise, one of a few species of drab, stocky tortoises native to North America’s most arid landscapes. Adapted to the rocky crevices that striate the hills from western Arizona to northern Mexico, this long-lived reptile impassively plods its range, browsing wildflowers, scrub grasses and cactus paddles during the hours when it’s not sheltering from the brutal heat or bitter cold. Sonoran desert tortoises evolved to thrive in an environment so different from what humans find comfortable that we can rarely hope to encounter one during our necessarily short forays — under brimmed hats and layers of sunblock, carrying liters of water and guided by GPS — into their native habitat. This past November, in a large, carpeted banquet room on the University of Wisconsin’s River Falls campus, hundreds of undergraduate, graduate and veterinary students silently considered the lived experience of a Sonoran desert tortoise. Perhaps nine in 10 of the participants were women, reflecting the current demographics of students drawn to veterinary medicine and other animal-related fields. From 23 universities in the United States and Canada, and one in the Netherlands, they had traveled here to compete in an unusual test of empathy with a wide range of creatures: the Animal Welfare Assessment Contest. That morning in the banquet room, the academics and experts who organize the contest (under the sponsorship of the American Veterinary Medical Association, the nation’s primary professional society for vets) laid out three different fictional scenarios, each one involving a binary choice: Which animals are better off? One scenario involved groups of laying hens in two different facilities, a family farm versus a more corporate affair. Another involved bison being raised for meat, some in a smaller, more managed operation and others ranging more widely with less hands-on human contact. © 2024 The New York Times Company

Keyword: Animal Rights; Emotions
Link ID: 29268 - Posted: 04.24.2024

By Jyoti Madhusoodanan When the Philadelphia-based company Bioquark announced a plan in 2016 to regenerate neurons in brain-dead people, their proposal elicited skepticism and backlash. Researchers questioned the scientific merits of the planned study, which sought to inject stem cells and other materials into recently deceased subjects. Ethicists said it bordered on quackery and would exploit grieving families. Bioquark has since folded. But quietly, a physician who was involved in the controversial proposal, Himanshu Bansal, has continued the research. Bansal recently told Undark that he has been conducting work funded by him and his research team at a private hospital in Rudrapur, India, experimenting mostly with young adults who have succumbed to traffic accidents. He said he has data for 20 subjects for the first phase of the study and 11 for the second — some of whom showed glimmers of renewed electrical activity — and he plans to expand the study to include several more. Bansal said he has submitted his results to peer-reviewed journals over the past several years but has yet to find one that would publish them. Bansal may be among the more controversial figures conducting research with people who have been declared brain dead, but not by any stretch is he the only one. In recent years, high-profile experiments implanting non-human organs into human bodies, a procedure known as xenotransplantation, have fueled rising interest in using brain-dead subjects to study procedures that are too risky to perform on living people. With the support of a ventilator and other equipment, a person’s heart, kidneys, immune system, and other body parts can function for days, sometimes weeks or more, after brain death. For researchers who seek to understand drug delivery, organ transplantation, and other complexities of human physiology, these bodies can provide a more faithful simulacrum of a living human being than could be achieved with animals or lab-grown cells and tissues.

Keyword: Consciousness
Link ID: 29217 - Posted: 03.26.2024

By Sara Reardon For the past few decades, scientists studying candidate antidepressant drugs have had a convenient animal test: how long a rodent dropped in water keeps swimming. Invented in 1977, the forced swim test (FST) hinged on the idea that a depressed animal would give up quickly. It seemed to work: Antidepressants and electroconvulsive therapy often made the animal try harder. The test remains popular, appearing in about 600 papers per year. But researchers have recently begun to question the assumption that the test really gauges depression and is a good predictor of human responses to drugs. Opposition to the test is snowballing, driven in part by concerns it is unnecessarily cruel given its spotty results. This month, following similar moves by the Australian government, the United Kingdom’s Home Office announced it would require U.K. researchers to justify the use of the test and would encourage other U.K. ministries that regulate animal research to “completely eliminate” it. Such changes add urgency to efforts to develop better animal tests of psychiatric drugs’ effects. Neurobiologist Anne Mallien of Heidelberg University, who studies the effects of the FST on rodents’ well-being, says she would love to have other options. “The thing is that alternatives are somewhat missing.” In the FST, researchers put a mouse or rat in a container of water, usually for about 5 minutes, and time how long it exerts itself before giving up and simply floating. Rodents will often swim longer when treated with psychiatric drugs. “But does that mean something for [human medicine]?” says neuroscientist Carole Morel at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai. The rodents’ high stress levels could complicate the results, and an intelligent animal quickly learns that researchers will rescue it once it gives up.

Keyword: Depression; Animal Rights
Link ID: 29201 - Posted: 03.21.2024

By The Transmitter It has been a year of many firsts for the Transmitter team. Despite launching this site just over a month ago, though, we published dozens of news stories on a range of important topics in neuroscience research earlier in the year in Spectrum. Here, we bring you a short list of some of our favorites, which broke news about changes in research leadership, exposed issues in studies involving human participants, provided new insights into the brain’s neuropeptide signaling network and memory-encoding mechanisms, and gave glimpses into the lives neuroscientists lead outside of work. ‘Wireless’ connectomes detail signaling outside synapses Connectomes were once again all the rage this year. As some teams continued to map the complete circuitry of increasingly larger brains — including those of a larval and an adult fruit fly — other teams went back to basics, plugging some invisible gaps of the humble roundworm’s synaptic connectome. Those latter efforts detail how neurons communicate using short proteins called neuropeptides outside synapses, helping to address key criticisms of conventional wiring diagrams. Neural ‘barcodes’ help seed-stashing birds recall their hidden haul As we enter the throes of winter here in New York City, some of the resident non-migratory birds may begin to seek out the seeds they stashed earlier in the year to help them survive for the next few months. Their ability to relocate their caches may stem from memories stored in the hippocampus in the form of non-overlapping patterns of brain activity, or “barcodes,” new research suggests. These barcodes originate when a bird hides a seed and reappear only when the bird returns to that same seed — and may represent the basis for episodic memories of specific events in time. © 2023 Simons Foundation.

Keyword: Miscellaneous
Link ID: 29068 - Posted: 12.27.2023

By Robert Kolker Barb was the youngest in her large Irish Catholic family — a surprise baby, the ninth child, born 10 years after the eighth. Living in the suburbs of Pittsburgh, her family followed the football schedule: high school games on Friday night, college games on Saturday, the Steelers on Sunday. Dad was an engineer, mom was a homemaker and Barb was the family mascot, blond and adorable, watching her brothers and sisters finish school and go on to their careers. Barb was the only child left at home in the 1980s to witness the seams of her parents’ marriage come apart. Her father all but left, and her mother turned inward, sitting quietly in front of the television, always smoking, often with a cocktail. Something had overtaken her, though it wasn’t clear what. Barb observed it all with a measure of detachment; her parents had been older than most, and her sisters and brothers supplied more than enough parental energy to make up the difference. And so in 1990, when Barb was 14 and her mother learned she had breast cancer and died within months at the age of 62, Barb was shattered and bewildered but also protected. Her siblings had already stepped in, three of them living back home. Together they arrived at a shared understanding of the tragedy. Their mother could have lived longer if she had cut back on her drinking sooner or gone to see a doctor or hadn’t smoked. Six years later, Barb was 20 and in college when someone else in the family needed help. Her sister Christy was the second-born, 24 years older than Barb and the star of the family in many ways. She had traveled extensively as a pharmaceutical-company executive while raising two children with her husband in a nice house in a New Jersey suburb. But where once Christy was capable and professionally ambitious and socially conscious, now, at 44, she was alone, her clothes unkempt and ripped, her hair unwashed, her marriage over. Again, the family came together: Susan, the third-born, volunteered to take care of Christy full time, and Jenny, the eighth, searched for a specialist (the family members asked to be identified by their first names to protect their privacy). Depression was the first suspected diagnosis, then schizophrenia, though neither seemed quite right. Christy wasn’t sad or delusional; she wasn’t even upset. It was more as if she were reverting to a childlike state, losing her knack for self-regulation. Her personality was diluting — on its way out, with seemingly nothing to replace it. © 2023 The New York Times Company

Keyword: Alzheimers; Genes & Behavior
Link ID: 28855 - Posted: 07.22.2023

By John Horgan A neuroscientist clad in gold and red and a philosopher sheathed in black took the stage before a packed, murmuring auditorium at New York University on Friday night. The two men were grinning, especially the philosopher. They were here to settle a bet made in the late 1990s on one of science’s biggest questions: How does a brain, a lump of matter, generate subjective conscious states such as the blend of anticipation and nostalgia I felt watching these guys? Before I reveal their bet’s resolution, let me take you through its twisty backstory, which reveals why consciousness remains a topic of such fascination and frustration to anyone with even the slightest intellectual leaning. I first saw Christof Koch, the neuroscientist, and David Chalmers, the philosopher, butt heads in 1994 at a now legendary conference in Tucson, Ariz., called Toward a Scientific Basis for Consciousness. Koch was a star of the meeting. Together with biophysicist Francis Crick, he had been proclaiming in Scientific American and elsewhere that consciousness, which philosophers have wrestled with for millennia, was scientifically tractable. Just as Crick and geneticist James Watson solved heredity by decoding DNA’s double helix, scientists would crack consciousness by discovering its neural underpinnings, or “correlates.” Or so Crick and Koch claimed. They even identified a possible basis for consciousness: brain cells firing in synchrony 40 times per second. Advertisement Not everyone in Tucson was convinced. Chalmers, younger and then far less well known than Koch, argued that neither 40-hertz oscillations nor any other strictly physical process could account for why perceptions are accompanied by conscious sensations, such as the crushing boredom evoked by a jargony lecture. I have a vivid memory of the audience perking up when Chalmers called consciousness “the hard problem.” That was the first time I heard that now famous phrase.

Keyword: Consciousness
Link ID: 28836 - Posted: 06.28.2023

By Ken Belson and Benjamin Mueller When Jeffrey Vlk played running back in high school in the 1990s and then safety in college, he took and delivered countless tackles during full-contact football practices. Hitting was a mainstay, as were injuries, including concussions. When he became a coach at Buffalo Grove High School outside Chicago in 2005, Vlk did what he had been taught: He had his players hit and tackle in practices to “toughen them up.” By the time he became head coach in 2016, though, he saw that many of his players were so banged up from a week of hitting in practice that they missed games or were more susceptible to being injured in those games. So, starting in 2019, Vlk eliminated full-contact practices. Players wore shoulder pads once a week, on Wednesday, which he called contact day. That’s when they hit tackle bags and crash pads, and wrapped up teammates but did not throw them to the ground. Vlk said no starting player had been injured at his practices in four years. “Those types of injuries can stay with you for a long time,” he said, “and knowing that I’m keeping the kids safe, not just in our program, but beyond the program, is reason enough to go this route.” Vlk’s approach to limiting the number of hits players take has been spreading slowly in the football world, where much of the effort has focused on avoiding and treating concussions, which often have observable symptoms and are tracked by sports leagues. But researchers have for years posited that the more hits to the head a player receives — even subconcussive ones, which are usually not tracked — the more likely he is to develop cognitive and neurological problems later in life. A new study published on Tuesday in the scientific journal Nature Communications added a critical wrinkle: A football player’s chances of developing chronic traumatic encephalopathy, or C.T.E., are related to the number of head impacts absorbed, but also to the cumulative impact of all those hits. © 2023 The New York Times Company

Keyword: Brain Injury/Concussion
Link ID: 28827 - Posted: 06.21.2023

By Brandon Keim In 1970, a graduate philosophy student named Peter Singer happened to meet a fellow student who didn’t eat meat. Even today this is uncommon, but at the time it was radical, and it made Singer pause. “Here I’d been eating meat for 24 years. I was studying ethics. Yet I’d never thought that eating meat might be an ethical problem,” he recalls. “I thought, what does entitle us to treat animals like this? Why is the boundary of our species so important?” Out of the intellectual journey that followed came Animal Liberation, published in 1975 and considered one of the most influential books in modern history. Encyclopedia Britannica called Singer “one of the world’s most widely recognized public intellectuals,” and he and his seminal work are credited with shaping the modern animal rights movement. Now a professor of bioethics at Princeton University, Singer is quick to clarify that his arguments are not fundamentally about rights. Rather, they’re about equality: The interests of similar beings deserve similar moral consideration, regardless of the species they belong to, and avoiding pain is a transcendent interest. “If a being suffers, there can be no moral justification for refusing to take that suffering into consideration,” he writes. “Beings who are similar in all relevant respects have a similar right to life; and mere membership in our own species is not a morally relevant distinction.” © 2023 NautilusNext Inc.,

Keyword: Animal Rights
Link ID: 28813 - Posted: 06.07.2023

A National Institutes of Health team has identified a compound already approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration that keeps light-sensitive photoreceptors alive in three models of Leber congenital amaurosis type 10 (LCA 10), an inherited retinal ciliopathy disease that often results in severe visual impairment or blindness in early childhood. LCA 10 is caused by mutations of the cilia-centrosomal gene (CEP290). Such mutations account for 20% to 25% of all LCA – more than any other gene. In addition to LCA, CEP290 mutations can cause multiple syndromic diseases involving a range of organ systems. Using a mouse model of LCA10 and two types of lab-created tissues from stem cells known as organoids, the team screened more than 6,000 FDA-approved compounds to identify ones that promoted survival of photoreceptors, the types of cells that die in LCA, leading to vision loss. The high-throughput screening identified five potential drug candidates, including Reserpine, an old medication previously used to treat high blood pressure. Observation of the LCA models treated with Reserpine shed light on the underlying biology of retinal ciliopathies, suggesting new targets for future exploration. Specifically, the models showed a dysregulation of autophagy, the process by which cells break down old or abnormal proteins, which in this case resulted in abnormal primary cilia, a microtubule organelle that protrudes from the surface of most cell types. In LCA10, CEP290 gene mutations cause dysfunction of the primary cilium in retinal cells. Reserpine appeared to partially restore autophagy, resulting in improved primary cilium assembly.

Keyword: Vision
Link ID: 28720 - Posted: 03.29.2023

ByRachel Zamzow A long-smoldering debate among scientists studying autism has erupted. At issue is language—for example, whether researchers should describe autism as a “disorder,” “disability,” or “difference,” and whether its associated features should be called “symptoms” or simply “traits.” In scientific papers and commentaries published in recent months, some have decried ableist language among their colleagues whereas others have defended traditional terminology—with both sides saying they have the best interests of autistic people in mind. The vitriol is harming the field and silencing researchers, some fear, but others see it as a long-overdue reckoning. Since autism’s earliest descriptions in the academic literature as a condition affecting social interaction and communication, researchers and clinicians have framed it as a medical disorder, with a set of symptoms to be treated. Historically, autistic children have been institutionalized and subjected to treatments involving physical punishment, food restriction, and electric shocks. Even today, the most widely used autism therapy—applied behavior analysis—is seen by some as a harmful tool of normalization. Many autistic people and their families have instead embraced the view that their difficulties lie not with their autism, but with a society that isn’t built to support them. But according to some autism researchers, the field still too often defaults to terms with negative connotations. For example, in addition to “symptom” and “disorder,” many scientists use the term “comorbid” rather than the more neutral “co-occurring” to describe conditions that tend to accompany autism. Similarly, some argue the oft-used phrase “people with autism,” as opposed to “autistic person,” can imply that autism is necessarily an unwanted harmful condition. In a recent survey of 195 autism researchers, 60% of responses included views about autistic people the study authors deemed dehumanizing, objectifying, or stigmatizing. Some responses described autistic people as “shut down from the outside world” or “completely inexpressive and apparently without emotions,” according to the November 2022 Frontiers in Psychology study. “What is worse than I thought was how blatant a lot of the content was, which shows that, for [a] large proportion of participants, they did not consider the things they were saying to be problematic at all,” says lead author Monique Botha, a psychologist at the University of Stirling.

Keyword: Autism
Link ID: 28660 - Posted: 02.08.2023

By Brandon Keim When Lauren Strohacker received her second Covid-19 vaccine dose in the spring of 2021, she rejoiced. It meant she could see her friends again, go to concerts and live with far less fear that an infection might leave her physically or financially devastated. But it became a bittersweet memory. Not long after Ms. Strohacker, an artist based in Knox County, Tenn., returned home from the vaccination site, she read an article about monkeys used in testing Covid vaccines. “I thought, I’m afraid of a stupid needle,” she said. “And these animals have to deal with this all the time.” She reflected on how her newfound freedom, and quite possibly her health, came at the expense of animals suffering or dying to develop the vaccines. Merely being grateful for those animals seemed insufficient; Ms. Strohacker wanted to give something tangible in return. A little online research returned the National Anti-Vivisection Society’s sanctuary fund, which supports the care of retired lab animals. She made a small donation. “To give thanks was the very least I could do,” Ms. Strohacker said. Her gesture embodies a voice that is not often heard in debates about the use of animals in biomedical research. These tend to be polarized between opponents of the research, who claim that it is unethical and the benefits are overstated, and proponents who argue that the benefits are enormous and justify the harms to animals. The advancement of animal-free methods for developing drugs and testing product safety does raise the possibility that, at least in some cases, the use of animals can be avoided. But it will take years for that to happen, and few researchers think the use of animals will cease altogether. So long as animals are used, then, the question remains: What do people owe them? © 2023 The New York Times Company

Keyword: Animal Rights
Link ID: 28636 - Posted: 01.25.2023

ByDennis Normile After 5 years of planning and debate, China has finally launched its ambitious contribution to neuroscience, the China Brain Project (CBP). Budgeted at 5 billion yuan ($746 million) under the latest 5-year plan, the CBP will likely get additional money under future plans, putting it in the same league as the U.S. Brain Research Through Advancing Innovative Neurotechnologies (BRAIN) Initiative, which awarded $2.4 billion in grants through 2021, and the EU Human Brain Project, budgeted at $1.3 billion. The project “is really on the move,” says one of its architects, neuroscientist Mu-ming Poo, head of the Chinese Academy of Sciences’s (CAS’s) Institute of Neuroscience (ION). The details of the project remain murky. But China’s researchers “seem to be building on their strengths, which is great,” says neuroscientist Robert Desimone of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, who collaborates with colleagues in China. The CBP focuses on three broad areas: the neural basis of cognitive functions, diagnosing and treating brain disorders, and brain-inspired computing. Monkey studies will play a key part in the research, and project leaders hope the virtual absence of animal rights activism in China will help lure talent from overseas. (Poo himself studied and worked in the United States for 40 years, including a decade at the University of California, Berkeley, and moved to China full-time in 2009.) Neuroscience was first identified as a priority in China’s 2016 Five-Year Plan, but soon became “a very contentious project,” says Denis Simon, a China science policy expert at Duke University. “There was hefty debate and discussion about how to choose projects, set priorities, and allocate funds,” Simon says. Deliberations dragged on until brain science was again designated as a priority field in the 2021 Five-Year Plan, adopted in March 2021. Funding for the CBP finally started to flow in December 2021, Poo says.

Keyword: Animal Rights
Link ID: 28483 - Posted: 09.21.2022

By Eduardo Medina An infection caused by a brain-eating amoeba killed a child who swam in a Nebraska river over the weekend, health officials said Friday. It was the first such death in the state’s history and the second in the Midwest this summer. The child, whose name was not released by officials, contracted the infection, known as primary amebic meningoencephalitis, while swimming with family in a shallow part of the Elkhorn River in eastern Nebraska on Sunday, according to the Douglas County Health Department. At a news conference on Thursday, health officials said the typically fatal infection is caused by Naegleria fowleri, also known as brain-eating amoeba, and most likely led to the child’s death. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention confirmed Friday that it had found Naegleria fowleri in the child’s cerebrospinal fluid. Last month, a person in Missouri died because of the same amoeba infection, according to the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services. The person had been swimming at the beach at Lake of Three Fires State Park in Iowa. Out of precaution, the Iowa Department of Public Health closed the lake’s beach for about three weeks. The brain-eating amoebas, which are single-cell organisms, usually thrive in warm freshwater lakes, rivers, canals and ponds, though they can also be present in soil. They enter the body through the nose and then move into the brain. People usually become infected while swimming in lakes and rivers, according to the C.D.C. Infections from brain-eating amoeba are extremely rare: From 2012 to 2021, only 31 cases were reported in the U.S., according to the C.D.C. An infection, however, almost always leads to death. In the United States, there were 143 infections from 1962 through 2017. All but four of them were fatal, the C.D.C. said. More than half of the infections occurred in Texas and Florida, where the climate is warm and water activities are popular. © 2022 The New York Times Company

Keyword: Miscellaneous
Link ID: 28437 - Posted: 08.20.2022

Bill Chappell Its name alone is terrifying. Add the fact that it kills most people it infects — and that while infections are rare, the parasite is fairly common — it's not surprising that a confirmed case of Naegleria fowleri infection in a swimmer in Iowa is drawing attention. Iowa officials closed the beach at Lake of Three Fires State Park on Thursday after confirming that a person who swam there was infected with Naegleria fowleri, an amoeba that causes a disease called primary amebic meningoencephalitis (PAM). It's both extremely rare — and extremely deadly. "The fatality rate is over 97%," the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says of PAM infections. "Only four people out of 154 known infected individuals in the United States from 1962 to 2021 have survived." Details about the Iowa case have not yet been released. The person was visiting from Missouri, which is just over the border from the park in Iowa's southwest. Iowa's Department of Health and Human Services says it's working with the CDC to confirm whether Naegleria fowleri is present in the lake — a process that takes several days. The state agency is also in contact with the Missouri Department of Health, an Iowa representative told NPR. "It's strongly believed by public health experts that the lake is a likely source," Missouri's health department said on Friday. But it added, "Additional public water sources in Missouri are being tested." © 2022 npr

Keyword: Miscellaneous
Link ID: 28392 - Posted: 07.12.2022

By David Grimm In an unprecedented move, members of a confidential group that oversees animal research at the University of Washington (UW) have sued their own school to block the release of their names to an animal rights organization. People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) has been trying to obtain this information for more than a year, charging that the makeup of the university’s Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee (IACUC) violates federal law. But the committee’s members—citing an uptick in animal rights activism at the school, including protests at the homes of individual scientists—say they fear PETA and other animal rights organizations will use their names to target them. “Animal rights groups have created a climate of fear at the university,” says the school’s IACUC chair, Jane Sullivan, who spearheaded the lawsuit. “I’m a huge fan of openness and transparency, but not when it threatens the safety of the members of my committee.” She and others fear PETA’s move is the beginning of a nationwide effort: The advocacy group also wants to name IACUC members at the University of Massachusetts (UMass) Amherst. Kathy Guillermo, a senior vice president at PETA, says her organization just wants UW's committee to comply with the law. “The IACUC is the last line of defense for animals in laboratories,” she says. But PETA suspects the university’s committee is so biased toward research interests that it’s not fulfilling its federal mandate. “The IACUC members’ supposed fear of releasing their names would appear to be more about hiding a flawed process than anything else.” Every U.S. institution that receives federal money for animal research must have an IACUC with five or more members, including scientists, veterinarians, and at least one nonscientist and one person unaffiliated with the institution. That makeup is supposed to ensure that animals are properly cared for and only necessary experiments take place, according to the U.S. National Institute of Health’s Office of Laboratory Animal Welfare (OLAW), which oversees these committees. Nonscientists can include ethicists and clergy members. © 2022 American Association for the Advancement of Science.

Keyword: Animal Rights
Link ID: 28238 - Posted: 03.16.2022

Iris Berent How can a cellist play like an angel? Why am I engrossed in my book when others struggle with reading? And while we’re at it, can you tell me why my child won’t stop screaming? Now neuroscience offers the answers—or so say the news headlines. The brains of musicians “really do” differ from those of the rest of us. People with dyslexia have different neural connections than people without the condition. And your screaming toddler’s tantrums originate from her amygdala, a brain region linked to emotions. It’s all in the brain! Neuroscience is fascinating. But it is not just the love of science that kindles our interest in these stories. Few of us care for the technical details of how molecules and electrical charges inthe brain give rise to our mental life. Furthermore, invoking the brain does not always improve our understanding. You hardly need a brain scan to tell that your toddler is enraged. Nor is it surprising that an amateur cellist’s brain works differently than Yo-Yo Ma’s—or that the brains of typical and dyslexic readers differ in some way. Where else would those differences reside? These sorts of science news stories speak to a bias: As numerous experiments have demonstrated, we have a blind spot for the brain. In classic work on the “seductive allure of neuroscience,” a team of researchers at Yale University presented participants with a psychological phenomenon (for instance, children learning new words), along with two explanations. One invoked a psychological mechanism, and the other was identical except it also dropped in a mention of a brain region. The brain details were entirely superfluous—they did nothing to improve the explanation, as judged by neuroscientists. Yet laypeople thought they did, so much so that once the brain was invoked, participants overlooked gross logical flaws in the accounts. © 2021 Scientific American,

Keyword: Attention
Link ID: 28105 - Posted: 12.11.2021

Monique Brouillette Last summer a group of Harvard University neuroscientists and Google engineers released the first wiring diagram of a piece of the human brain. The tissue, about the size of a pinhead, had been preserved, stained with heavy metals, cut into 5,000 slices and imaged under an electron microscope. This cubic millimeter of tissue accounts for only one-millionth of the entire human brain. Yet the vast trove of data depicting it comprises 1.4 petabytes’ worth of brightly colored microscopy images of nerve cells, blood vessels and more. “It is like discovering a new continent,” said Jeff Lichtman of Harvard, the senior author of the paper that presented these results. He described a menagerie of puzzling features that his team had already spotted in the human tissue, including new types of cells never seen in other animals, such as neurons with axons that curl up and spiral atop each other and neurons with two axons instead of one. These findings just scratched the surface: To search the sample completely, he said, would be a task akin to driving every road in North America. Lichtman has spent his career creating and contemplating these kinds of neural wiring diagrams, or connectomes — comprehensive maps of all the neural connections within a part or the entirety of a living brain. Because a connectome underpins all the neural activity associated with a volume of brain matter, it is a key to understanding how its host thinks, feels, moves, remembers, perceives, and much more. Don’t expect a complete wiring diagram for a human brain anytime soon, however, because it’s technically infeasible: Lichtman points out that the zettabyte of data involved would be equivalent to a significant chunk of the entire world’s stored content today. In fact, the only species for which there is yet a comprehensive connectome is Caenorhabditis elegans, the humble roundworm. Nevertheless, the masses of connectome data that scientists have amassed from worms, flies, mice and humans are already having a potent effect on neuroscience. And because techniques for mapping brains are getting faster, Lichtman and other researchers are excited that large-scale connectomics — mapping and comparing the brains of many individuals of a species — is finally becoming a reality. Share this article Simons Foundation All Rights Reserved © 2021

Keyword: Brain imaging
Link ID: 28104 - Posted: 12.08.2021

By Jillian Kramer Mice are at their best at night. But a new analysis suggests researchers often test the nocturnal creatures during the day—which could alter results and create variability across studies—if they record time-of-day information at all. Of the 200 papers examined in the new study, more than half either failed to report the timing of behavioral testing or did so ambiguously. Only 20 percent reported nighttime testing. The analysis was published in Neuroscience & Biobehavioral Reviews. West Virginia University neuroscientist Randy Nelson, the study's lead author, says this is likely a matter of human convenience. “It is easier to get students and techs to work during the day than [at] night,” Nelson says. But that convenience comes at a cost. “Time of day not only impacts the intensity of many variables, including locomotor activity, aggressive behavior, and plasma hormone levels,” but changes in those variables can only be observed during certain parts of the diurnal cycle, says University of Wyoming behavioral neuroscientist William D. Todd. This means that “failing to report time of day of data collection and tests makes interpretation of results extremely difficult,” adds Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center staff scientist Natalia Machado. Neither Todd nor Machado was involved in the new study. The study researchers say it is critical that scientists report the timing of their work and consider the fact that animals' behavioral and physiological responses can vary with the hour. As a first step, Nelson says, “taking care of time-of-day considerations seems like low-hanging fruit in terms of increasing behavioral neuroscience research reliability, reproducibility and rigor.” © 2021 Scientific American

Keyword: Biological Rhythms
Link ID: 27953 - Posted: 08.21.2021

By Laura Sanders A brush with death led Hans Berger to invent a machine that could eavesdrop on the brain. In 1893, when he was 19, Berger fell off his horse during maneuvers training with the German military and was nearly trampled. On that same day, his sister, far away, got a bad feeling about Hans. She talked her father into sending a telegram asking if everything was all right. To young Berger, this eerie timing was no coincidence: It was a case of “spontaneous telepathy,” he later wrote. Hans was convinced that he had transmitted his thoughts of mortal fear to his sister — somehow. So he decided to study psychiatry, beginning a quest to uncover how thoughts could travel between people. Chasing after a scientific basis for telepathy was a dead end, of course. But in the attempt, Berger ended up making a key contribution to modern medicine and science: He invented the electroencephalogram, or EEG, a device that could read the brain’s electrical activity. Berger’s machine, first used successfully in 1924, produced a readout of squiggles that represented the electricity created by collections of firing nerve cells in the brain. © Society for Science & the Public 2000–2021.

Keyword: Sleep
Link ID: 27895 - Posted: 07.08.2021