Posts Tagged ‘brain’

Brains compensate for a stuffy nose

// August 13th, 2012 // Comments Off on Brains compensate for a stuffy nose // Recent Research

Image by Miguel Angel Pasalodos, licensed on Creative Commons CC BY-SA 2.5

Nothing like a stuffy nose to ruin your day. You sound like a ponce, food tastes like cardboard and you have to sleep with your mouth open for spiders to crawl in. No joke. It happened to a friend of a friend of mine.

But have you ever noticed how quickly your sense of smell returns? Almost as soon as the sniffles are gone, you’re back to sniffing roses, and new research is finding out how our brain can adjust so fast to changes in sensory input.

What I love about this study is how they did it.

For a whole week, 14 people had their noses completely blocked during the day. At night, they slept sans-nose-blockers in a special low-odour hospital room.

A low odour hospital room? All the ones I’ve been to smell weirdly like custard. I wonder if all 14 shared the same room, or if they were spread out… I mean, even if you do have a spesh no-custard hospital dorm, if 14 people spending the night there it won’t be low odour for long.

Brain activity in response to odours changed after a week of smell deprivation in two regions. Activity increased in the orbital frontal cortex, but decreased in the piriform cortex, both are related to our sense of smell.

“These changes in the brain are instrumental in maintaining the way we smell things even after seven days of no smell,” said lead author Keng Nei Wu, Northwestern University Feinburg School of Medicine, in the press release.

“When your nostrils are blocked up, your brain tries to adjust to the lack of information so the system doesn’t break down. The brain compensates for the lack of information so when you get your sense of smell back, it will be in good working order.”

Once the 14 participants were released to sniff wildly, their brains soon returned to normal, showing pre-experimental levels of excitement when offered something smelly.

This rapid reversal in the realm of smell is quite different to sight, where deprivation usually has longer-lasting effects. Wu suggests this could be because smell deprivation is pretty common, given our penchant for catching colds and having allergies. Perhaps it has evolved to be more agile, or perhaps the endless sniffles we get in primary school gave our brains ample chance to practice.

Either way, it seems the quick adjustments by our brains protect our sense of smell, so it can rebound quicker than you can say “the one who smelt it dealt it.”

Wu ends by saying “more knowledge about how the system reacts to short-term deprivation may provide new insights into how to deal with this problem in a chronic context.”

Chronic loss of smell is nothing to be sniffed at (lol.) It really takes the fun out of life. This column, 20 years of living without a sense of smell, was clearly written from the pits of despair for want of a whiff of fabric softener.

ResearchBlogging.orgKeng Nei Wu, Bruce K Tan, James D Howard, David B Conley & Jay A Gottfried (2012). Olfactory input is critical for sustaining odor quality codes in human orbitofrontal cortex
Nature Neuroscience : 10.1038/nn.3186

Gift ideas for a biochemist, medical scientist or neuroscientist

// December 2nd, 2010 // Comments Off on Gift ideas for a biochemist, medical scientist or neuroscientist // Jibber Jabber, Science Art

Get a pair of double helix earrings or a neuron necklace. Each piece began as a sketch, then was modeled digitally, and finally cut with a laser beam.

These gorgeous creations are courtesy of Morphologica, a Sydney-based scientist completing a PhD in neuroscience.

More brain style jewelry from etsy: Funky anatomy style jewelry here – mostly pictures printed on plastic. Proper plastic models, brightly coloured and very cool brain earrings. Simple, stylized, silver neurons.

These happy anatomy magnets are incredibly cute, and would probably make you feel happier every time you walked past your fridge. $10 is a good deal, and they ship to the US & Canada (but worth a shot getting international shipping if you live elsewhere like me.) I also like this hotdog wielding anglerfish. Not exactly sciencey, but undeniably awesome.

There is no better way to say “you’re the best dang neuroscientist I know” than to give someone a brain in a jar. This one is green because it’s A ZOMBIE BRAIN IN A JAR!!! Awesome. They also come in pink.

And as decorations for a truly terrific tree. I’ll stop with the excessive linking, you should just check out the Your Organ Grinder etsy shop.

There’s heaps of handmade anatomy including lungs, hearts, ovaries, livers, kidneys, testicles. Ships worldwide.

You might also be interested in
Gift Ideas for a Pathologist or Microbiologist
Gift Ideas for a Chemist or Chemistry Grad

Thought controlled computers? Recent research says yes.

// October 29th, 2010 // 6 Comments » // Recent Research

computer thinking

Image by Amarand Agasi

Imagine being able to control a computer with your mind!

No longer would we be tied down to keyboards, mice and touchscreens!

We need NEVER put down our coffee to work!

It’s not fantasy, that just happened.

Twelve subjects sat in front of a computer and looked at two superimposed images on a screen, focusing their mind on one of the pictures. The computer responded by making the image stronger while fading the other image away until only one was visible. They picked the image they wanted to look at, and made it so!

All the subjects had epilepsy, and had fine wires inside their brains to monitor seizures. These wires were attached to neurons and connected to the computer. Now not everyone has wires in their brain… YET. But to be honest I would consider it.

The images were picked during a screening process earlier that morning, which selected pairs that activated very different neurons. Marilyn Monroe and Michael Jackson were two famous faces used as pictures in the experiment. The Marilyn Monroe image might make some neurons fire faster, while the Michael Jackson image would make others fire. The pairs were used several times during the tests, half the time one picture was the target (ie. Marilyn) and the rest of the time, the other (Jackson.)

To quote the letter, published in Nature “The subject was instructed to enhance the target image from the hybrid image on the screen by ‘continuously thinking of the concept represented by that image.'” The concept? Like Marilyn Monroe and sex? Maybe. All the images were ones that would be familiar to the subjects, though I would like to know if you can choose between two completely new pictures.

Success rate (making the target picture take up the whole screen) was about 70%. Not bad… not great, but not bad.

This new research could shed light on how information is used in the brain, and how interactions between single brain cells let us make decisions. I personally hope this is the one of many steps towards real mind-control in the computer realm. Come on science, I’m sick of typing! Give me my mind mouse!

Here is the research paper. FYI, it was a bitch to read! Very confusing.

ResearchBlogging.orgCerf, M., Thiruvengadam, N., Mormann, F., Kraskov, A., Quiroga, R., Koch, C., & Fried, I. (2010). On-line, voluntary control of human temporal lobe neurons Nature, 467 (7319), 1104-1108 DOI: 10.1038/nature09510

Mice make morphine, humans might too

// May 16th, 2010 // 1 Comment » // Drugs, Recent Research

Image licensed Armin Kübelbeck

A recent study has found that mice are able to turn something normally found in mice brains into morphine.

Morphine is a potent painkiller harvested from opium poppies. We can make it synthetically in the lab, but it’s cheaper to let plants do the hard work. If you haven’t taken morphine, you may have taken its sibling codeine. Codeine in converted to morphine in your liver, so it’s much the same thing albeit in a smaller dose.

For the study they labeled tetrahydropapaveroline (THP) found normally in mice brains. Labeling is often used in molecular biology, you can label things by including rare radioactive atoms, or by sticking another molecule onto the original molecule. It works like a tracking device.

The labeled THP was injected into mice, and out of their urine appeared labeled salutaridine which is a precursor to morphine in the opium poppies.

Then they labeled some synthetic salutaridine and injected it into the mice, and in the urine came out labeled thebaine. Labeled thebaine was injected and finally, lo and behold, labeled morphine appeared.

It took several steps, but the mouse converted THP into morphine. Here’s the kicker, THP is found normally in mice brains AND human brains! So this process could be happening in people. Right now, you could be making your own morphine. Indeed traces of morphine are found in human urine, but until now they weren’t sure if it was something in the diet.

If morphine is made in humans, what is it doing there? It could help control pain, which would explain why our bodies respond so strongly to a dose of morphine.

ResearchBlogging.orgGrobe, N., Lamshoft, M., Orth, R., Drager, B., Kutchan, T., Zenk, M., & Spiteller, M. (2010). Urinary excretion of morphine and biosynthetic precursors in mice Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 107 (18), 8147-8152 DOI: 10.1073/pnas.1003423107






Buy me a Beer!
    If you don't want me to mention your donation just check the box above.
  • $ 0.00
Twittarrr
Follow @CaptainSkellett (571 followers)