Scientist model brain wrinkles with gel in a glass jar

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Have you ever tried to draw a brain? I find it hard to get the wrinkles to look right. Scientists at at the University of Jyväskylä in Finland made a solid model of a fetal brain out of gel that developed its own realistic furrows just by dunking it into a solvent.

From BBC:

They made a solid replica of a foetal brain, still smooth and unfolded, and coated it with a second layer which expanded when dunked into a solvent.

That expansion produced a network of furrows that was remarkably similar to the pattern seen in a real human brain.

This suggests that brain folds are caused by physics: the outer part grows faster than the rest, and crumples.

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How LSD became a brain hemorrhage patient's lifesaver

In GQ, Eric Perry writes about how a brain hemorrhage left him "depressed, stuck in a rut, and strangely fearful of death." Then he learned of new medical research on the benefits of psychedelic therapy to treat anxiety, depression, and post-traumatic stress disorder. So Perry signed up for his own acid test with others who were seeking solace via psychedelic experiences. From GQ:

My guide for the evening had accepted my 400 dollars, the price for my journey, in tie-dyed pants. It was my own fault I wasn’t tripping very hard—I’d told her, out of nervousness, I didn’t want to travel to other planets—though I suspected she knew less about the “sacraments” she was prescribing to us than she purported to. (“Do you know that Peruvians drip ayahuasca into the eyes of their newborns?” she’d told me earlier. “All Peruvians?” I’d asked, and she’d blushed.) Still, I liked her, partly because there was something in her eyes that made me think of the Wordsworth line from “Elegiac Stanzas”: “A deep distress hath humanized my soul.” I sensed there’d been some suffering in her past. Many of the participants, I noticed, had the same benignly haunted look. An ex-physician told us that ten years ago she’d been diagnosed with advanced-stage cancer; she’d recovered, but couldn’t shake the feeling that it would return any second to finish her off. To allay her lingering fear of death, she’d enrolled in a psilocybin trial, and her “whole reality changed.” She divorced her husband and began to juggle motherhood and what full-time psychonauts call “The Work,” traveling the world to partake in aya ceremonies.

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A great brief video introduction to consciousness and its myriad mysteries

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Here's what we know, and what we know we don't know, and what we don't know we know, and what we don't know we don't know. Read the rest

Cross-sectioned brain sample drink coasters

Thinkgeek's Brain Specimen Coasters come in a set of ten, stacking to form a 3D brain. (via Geeky Merch) Read the rest

Neuroscientist groom give neuroscientist bride a 3D print of his brain

Michael sez, "We're both neuroscientists studying human memory with fMRI at the University of Texas at Austin -- I wanted to surprise her with a gift that best symbolized me giving her all that I am. Read the rest

A beautiful, synapse-by-synapse tour of a brain

National Geographic has a nice video (as well as a long story by Carl Zimmer) about scientists who are trying to learn more about the way the brain works by slicing mice brains into incredibly thin sections, fore to aft, and then using scans of those slices to create what amounts to a wiring diagram. The goal is to see how all the parts connect and, hopefully, get a better idea of how they all work together.

The video is lovely, with some great shots of lab work and an animated tour of the mouse brain slices. The animation looks, at first, like a time-lapse thing, but it's actually more like driving down a highway and watching buildings on the roadside appearing, becoming larger, and then shrinking in the rearview. Really great stuff! It also underlines a bit why I'm pretty skeptical of Ray Kurzweil's singularity. Or, at least, his estimations of how long it will take for scientists to understand our brains well enough that they could be replicated digitally.

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Man busted for stealing and selling brains from medical museum

David Charles, 21, was arrested for allegedly stealing jars of brain tissue from the Indiana Medical History Museum. Police tracked Charles down after a California fellow purchased the jars for $100 each on eBay. Museum director Mary Ellen Hennessey Nottage spoke to the man who bought the brains. "He just said he liked to collect odd things," Nottage said.

"Police: Man stole brains, sold them on eBay" (Indianapolis Star) Read the rest

Musical mind-reading experiment

Researchers at the University of Washington scanned the brains of volunteers listening to one of several simple songs. Based on the neural activity they saw, the scientists were able to identify what song the subjects were hearing. Psychology professor Geoff Boynton presented the results of their study at this week's Neuroscience 2013 conference. (via New Scientist) Read the rest

The science of "new baby smell"

TIL: There are studies that suggest new babies really do smell different, and seem to trigger special brain chemical pathways in women. But, simultaneously, the smells we more consciously associate with "new baby" — i.e., the new baby smell used in baby products and baby-fresh scents — varies widely by culture. Make of this what you will. Read the rest

Do IQ test results mean anything at all?

The answer is yes — but only in certain circumstances and that "yes" comes with a whole bunch of caveats. At Discover, Emily Sohn has a nice basic primer on what we know now about intelligence testing and what your score on an IQ test does and doesn't mean. Read the rest

What is dopamine?

Dopamine — the most talked-about human neurotransmitter — isn't a "love drug", or a "lust drug", or an "addiction drug", writes Bethany Brookshire in a smarter-than-average neuroscience story at Slate. It's actually a lot more complicated than that, and if you keep trying to pigeonhole and oversimplify what it does, you're going to completely misunderstand how your brain works. Read the rest

What's it like to be a small bird?

Brandon Keim has an amazing feature up at Aeon Magazine, about the idea of animal consciousness — i.e., how animals think and feel and experience their own lives. After delving into the chimpanzee experience of death for a couple weeks, this story really grabbed my attention. Increasingly, it's an idea that scientists are paying more attention to, as well. Read the rest

What neuroscientists think of the BRAIN Initiative

In general, they seem to like it. But with reservations. The Obama Administration's highly touted brain-mapping program — pitched as a neurological analog to the Human Genome Project — might be approaching the problem of how the brain works in the wrong way. In particular, if the Initiative only focuses on mapping activity in the brain, it's going to miss out on the ways activity and neural architecture work together to create a functioning system. Read the rest

Making brains transparent

Researchers developed a process to make a mouse brain totally transparent, enabling this magnificent fly-through video.

Rat brains linked in first ever brain-to-brain interface

"Scientists have connected the brains of lab rats, allowing one to communicate directly to another via cables. The wired brain implants allowed sensory and motor signals to be sent from one rat to another, creating the first ever brain-to-brain interface." [Jen Whyntie at the BBC] Read the rest

Leaded gasoline and the 20th-century crime wave

Scientists are amassing evidence that suggests exposure to tetraethyl lead — the additive once used in almost all the gasoline sold in the United States — could account for the dramatic increase in crime that happened in this country between the 1960s and 1980s. As leaded gasoline was phased out, they say, children were exposed to less lead, leading to the decline in crime that began to really kick in in the 1990s.

This is the same curve of crime statistics that economist Steven Levitt, of Freakonomics fame, attributed to the legalization of abortion. Levitt's theory was that, after Roe v. Wade, there were fewer unwanted babies born into dire circumstances and, thus, fewer people to grow up on the path to criminal behavior. Levitt matched the rise in abortion rates to the decrease in crime, but frankly, there are a lot of things that you can correlate to the decrease in crime.

What makes the lead theory interesting is that correlations match not just at the national level, but at regional, and even neighborhood levels. Increases in lead relate to increases in crime — usually a couple of decades later. Likewise decreases in lead relate to later decreases in crime. What's more the same correlations exist in countries all over the world. Meanwhile, we know that lead has big impacts on growing bodies — it affects brain function, it's linked to hyperactivity, difficulty managing aggression, and lowered IQ.

Correlation isn't causation. But in this case they definitely seem to be winking suggestively at one another. Read the rest

Temple Grandin's brain doesn't just think differently, it is physically different

This is kind of neat. Scientists conducted several psychological and neuro-imaging tests on Temple Grandin — the woman who has used her own autism as a model for designing better livestock control systems. What they found is that Grandin's brain looks different, structurally, from that of a neuro-typical person.

Grandin’s brain volume is significantly larger than that of three neurotypical controls matched on age, sex and handedness. Grandin’s lateral ventricles, the chambers that hold cerebrospinal fluid, are skewed in size so that the left one is much larger than the right. “It’s quite striking,” Cooperrider says. On both sides of her brain, Grandin has an abnormally large amygdala, a deep brain region that processes emotion. Her brain also shows differences in white matter, the bundles of nerve fibers that connect one region to another. The volume of white matter on the left side of her brain is higher than that in controls, the study found.

Grandin isn't the only person with autism to have had their brain scanned. But the differences that have been found aren't always consistent from one study to another. That, of course, makes some sense, given the fact that the word "autism" encompasses a whole spectrum of differences and disabilities which may or may not represent one single thing. But there have been several studies that did find differences similar to the ones found in Temple Grandin.

And here's the really interesting thing. Some scientists think that the common differences we do keep seeing — especially the bit about the larger brain volume — might be a clue that what eventually becomes autism actually begins in the womb. Read the rest

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