Tuesday, 1 September 2015
Memory Loss in Alzheimer’s Reduced for the First Time
On November 4, 1906, German neurologist Alois Alzheimer first described the “particular malady of the cerebral cortex” of his patient Auguste D. Over a century later, this “particular malady” that now bears his name still resists every medication developed so far to treat it: none has yet succeeded in halting the progress of Alzheimer’s disease, or even in slowing it down. At best, some medications reduce some of the disease’s symptoms. In the past decade alone, an estimated $1 billion has been swallowed up by clinical trials of new Alzheimer’s medications, with almost nothing to show for them.
But after decades of disappointment, the tide may be turning at last. A preliminary study published in September 2014 by Dr. Dale Bredesen, in the journal Aging, suggests that the memory losses associated with Alzheimer’s can be reversed through an elaborate 36-point treatment program including dietary changes, exercise, intellectual stimulation and other activities that had already been recognized as Alzheimer’s prevention factors separately. But in this case, it is the unusual step of combining them that seems to have curative value. (more…)
Monday, 10 August 2015
What’s running our show?
Deric Bownds, director of the Biology of Mind program at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, recently gave a lecture at this institution’s seminar series on chaos and complexity. The lecture was entitled “Upstairs/Downstairs in our brains – What’s running our show?” (You can find the full text by following the link at the bottom of this post.) Its subject was the increasingly common distinction, in the literature on the brain, between bottom-up and top-down control. This literature also employs other metaphors for opposing processes in the brain, such as the famous System 1 (fast and unconscious) versus System 2 (slower and conscious), the “upstairs/downstairs” metaphor in the title of Bownd’s lecture, and the distinction between the attention network (the parts in blue in the illustration here) and the default mode network (the parts in orange). (more…)
Saturday, 18 July 2015
Microscopic Synapses and Giant Microscopes
More and more courses are being offered for free online by prestigious universities. Many of these courses deal with various aspects of the cognitive sciences. One such course is “The Fundamentals of Neuroscience”, from Harvard University (see first link below). This course includes various multimedia features, including an excellent 30-minute documentary video entitled “Connectomics: Big Microscopes & Tiny Synapses” (second link below). This video presents the research being done by Professor Jeff Lichtman and his colleagues in his laboratory, who are using images of real human brains to try to map the connections between their neurons—the synapses. (more…)
Tuesday, 30 June 2015
The Physiology of Expanded Consciousness
The results of some studies are exactly what you would have predicted, but that doesn’t make them any less interesting. For example, the study reported in the link below found that taking psilocybin (the psychoactive substance in “magic mushrooms”) puts the brain in a state that is conducive to freer associations, somewhat as in dreams. (more…)
Tuesday, 9 June 2015
The McGurk Effect: An Auditory Illusion
This week’s post will be brief, so that you can get out and enjoy the start of summer and the restoratjve effects of nature, but the subject is very intriguing.
Have you ever heard of the McGurk effect? It’s an auditory illusion that shows just how much our brains construct our auditory perceptions not only from what we hear but also from what we see.
In the case of spoken words, what we see is the mouth of the person who is talking to us. (more…)