Archive for the 'Behavioral Neuro' category

When do feel the beat, do you really feel it? Singing and heartrate

Jul 08 2013 Published by under Behavioral Neuro

Sci is at SciAm blogs today, with a brand new study on singing and heart rate. Can singing affect your heart rate? How? And why? The study is interesting, but there's a lot of caution to be taken with it. Head over and check it out.

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Being a Bookworm to Help the Aging Brain

Jul 03 2013 Published by under Behavioral Neuro, Uncategorized

I'm sure everyone has heard that activities like Sudoku and doing lots of math can help maintain your cognitive function as you age. This is because these activities require increased "cognitive load", they are hard to do and therefore take more cognitive effort. Doing this as you age (and preferably starting long before you age) is thought to do things like preserve memory and cognitive abilities.

Now, I don't know about you, but I HATE Sudoku. I just really don't find putting numbers in order to be particularly fun. But what I do love to do is READ. I just got a Kindle (I love physical books, it was a tough decision, but you really can't beat the portability!) and it's already well loaded. I read on the train, at the gym, at home, on planes, car trips, you name it. Every time I see those articles about Sudoku (which, honestly, are not always that well supported), I try to tell myself that yeah, I don't do a lot of math, but I do do a lot of READING and that surely has to do something! But I never really had much support for it.

But as it turns out, I might be right!

A tower of used books


Wilson et al. "Life-span cognitive activity, neuropathologic burden, and cognitive aging" Neurology, 2013.

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What is dopamine? Dopamine is ______

Jul 03 2013 Published by under Behavioral Neuro

Sci has a piece over at Slate today, asking "What is dopamine?" We often hear about dopamine being motivation, lust, love, reward, addiction. Is it any, or all of these things? The answer is much more complicated, and much, MUCH more interested. Head over and check it out!

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Friday Weird Science: Does your mouse prefer Renoir?

Jun 28 2013 Published by under Behavioral Neuro, Friday Weird Science

…well have you ever ASKED it? Maybe it is more of a Picasso type of mouse.

This seems like a completely absurd question. After all, art is thought to be one of the highest of the human endeavors, making things of beauty may be one of the things that makes us the species that we are. But do other animals have artistic sensibilities? Have we ever asked them?

As it turns out, probably mice don’t care if they’re viewing Renoir or Picasso. But even if they don’t care, they can tell the difference. And that is much more interesting than you might suppose.

(I have seen a lot of Renoir, and I must conclude that, aside from similarities in soft styles and lighting, what Renoir really liked was painting naked women. Source)

Watanabe, S. “Preference for and Discrimination of Paintings by Mice” PLoS ONE, 2013. 10.1371/journal.pone.0065335

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Perfect pitch may not be so perfect

Jun 24 2013 Published by under Behavioral Neuro

Sci is at SciAm blogs today, asking about perfect pitch. Is perfect pitch really perfect? Probably not! It turns out that you can mess with people with perfect pitch, without them even being aware of it. Head over and check it out!

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OCD and optogenetics: turning the lights on to turn the behavior off

Jun 17 2013 Published by under Behavioral Neuro

Sci is at SciAm blogs today, looking at another OCD study (the second in two weeks!). This one is looking at how optogenetics can break a repetitive habit. What does it mean? What is the circuit? Head over and check it out!

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Obesity and OCD: 1+1 = 0

Jun 12 2013 Published by under Behavioral Neuro

What do the overconsumption of food and Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD) have in common? At first, this sounds like a trick question. But deep in the brain, the molecules underlying our behavior may come together for these two conditions.

The first is MC4R, a receptor for melanocortin. It binds hormones and affects feeding behavior, mutations in MC4R are associated with severe overcomsumption of high fat, high calorie foods and with obesity. A mouse without an MC4R gene will become severely obese compared to its wildtype counterparts.

SAPAP3 is a protein that is associated with synapses, the spaces between neurons. It can regulate things like receptor levels that determine how well a neuron responds to excitatory input. But a knockout of SAPAP3 in mice produces something very different: severe overgrooming, a model of OCD. All rodents groom themselves, it's necessary to keep clean. But SAPAP3 knockouts groom themselves far, far too much, to the point of creating terrible lesions on their skin. This has been proposed as a model of OCD, as many people with OCD become obsessed with cleanliness, and will do things like, say, washing their hands, to the point of severely damaging their skin.

So a knockout of MC4R creates obese mice. A knockout of SAPAP3 creates overgrooming mice. You might think that if you combined the two knockouts, you would get severely obese mice that also overgroomed.

But you don't. Instead, you get mice that, to all appearances, seem completely normal. No obesity. No overgrooming.

What gives?

Xu et al. "Double deletion of melanocortin 4 receptors and SAPAP3 corrects compulsive behavior and obesity in mice" PNAS, 2013.

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Fighting stress with adenosine antagonists

Jun 10 2013 Published by under Behavioral Neuro

Sci is at SciAm Blogs today, covering a study that combats the effects of early life stress using adenosine 2A antagonists. Why did this study catch my eye? Caffeine is an adenosine 2A antagonist...head over and check it out.

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Music Training and a Sensitive Period

Jun 05 2013 Published by under Behavioral Neuro

I started piano lessons when I was 4-5 years old. I remember years of piano teachers, forced half hours on the piano, and kicking around my piano teacher's house waiting for my brother to finish his half hour. By the time I entered middle school and took up band instead, we kids were able to successfully petition to be let off the piano lessons. I wish to this day that I was a better pianist, but I definitely don't miss the practicing.

But I've wondered if they did me some good. After I stopped the piano, I picked up the clarinet. And I was pretty good at it. Then I started singing, and I turned out to be a decently talented singer.  Now, I'm no pro, but I think I pass for an ok amateur. For some of this, I know I had a leg up, after all, I could read sheet music and didn't have to be taught from day one (thank you, piano teachers!).

But what if it was more than just being able to tell a treble from a bass clef? What if the early music training made a deep impression on my brain?

Steele et al. "EarlyMusical Training andWhite-Matter Plasticity in the
Corpus Callosum: Evidence for a Sensitive Period" Journal of Neuroscience, 2013.

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The effectiveness of ECT: 5-HT1A receptors

Jun 03 2013 Published by under Behavioral Neuro

Sci is at SciAm Blogs today, wondering why ECT works to treat depression. The truth is, we still don't know. But today's study is looking at 5-HT1A receptors, and what role they have to play. Head over and check it out.


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