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May 20, 2022

How the Brain ‘Constructs’ the Outside World

Posted by in category: neuroscience

Like other young researchers, I began my investigation of the brain without worrying much whether this perception-action theoretical framework was right or wrong. I was happy for many years with my own progress and the spectacular discoveries that gradually evolved into what became known in the 1960s as the field of “neuroscience.” Yet my inability to give satisfactory answers to the legitimate questions of my smartest students has haunted me ever since. I had to wrestle with the difficulty of trying to explain something that I didn’t really understand.

Over the years I realized that this frustration was not uniquely my own. Many of my colleagues, whether they admitted it or not, felt the same way. There was a bright side, though, because these frustrations energized my career. They nudged me over the years to develop a perspective that provides an alternative description of how the brain interacts with the outside world.

The challenge for me and other neuroscientists involves the weighty question of what, exactly, is the mind. Ever since the time of Aristotle, thinkers have assumed that the soul or the mind is initially a blank slate, a tabula rasa on which experiences are painted. This view has influenced thinking in Christian and Persian philosophies, British empiricism and Marxist doctrine. In the past century it has also permeated psychology and cognitive science. This “outside-in” view portrays the mind as a tool for learning about the true nature of the world. The alternative view—one that has defined my research—asserts that the primary preoccupation of brain networks is to maintain their own internal dynamics and perpetually generate myriad nonsensical patterns of neural activity. When a seemingly random action offers a benefit to the organism’s survival, the neuronal pattern leading to that action gains meaning. When an infant utters “te-te,” the parent happily offers the baby “Teddy,” so the sound “te-te” acquires the meaning of the Teddy bear. Recent progress in neuroscience has lent support to this framework.

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May 19, 2022

“Off the Shelf” Engineered Stem Cells Created To Treat Aggressive Brain Cancer

Posted by in categories: biotech/medical, neuroscience

Investigators uncovered a diagnostic method to identify receptors on cancer cells in the blood, then engineered a cell-based therapy to target and kill tumor cells in the brain, paving the way to clinical testing.

Glioblastomas (GBMs) are highly aggressive cancerous tumors of the brain and spinal cord. Brain cancers like GBM are challenging to treat because many cancer therapeutics cannot pass through the blood-brain barrier, and more than 90% of GBM tumors return after being surgically removed, despite surgery and subsequent chemo-and radiation therapy being the most successful way to treat the disease. In a new study led by investigators at Brigham and Women’s Hospital and Harvard Medical School, scientists devised a novel therapeutic strategy for treating GBMs post-surgery by using stem cells taken from healthy donors engineered to attack GBM-specific tumor cells. This strategy demonstrated profound efficacy in preclinical models of GBM, with 100 percent of mice living over 90 days after treatment. Results will be published today (May 19, 2022) in the journal Nature Communications.

“This is the first study to our knowledge that identifies target receptors on tumor cells prior to initiating therapy, and using biodegradable, gel-encapsulated, ‘off-the-shelf’ engineered stem cell based therapy after GBM tumor surgery,” said Khalid Shah, MS, PhD, director of the Center for Stem Cell and Translational Immunotherapy (CSTI) and the vice chair of research in the Department of Neurosurgery at the Brigham and faculty at Harvard Medical School and Harvard Stem Cell Institute (HSCI).

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May 19, 2022

Study shows that behavioral engagement could affect hippocampal place codes

Posted by in categories: mapping, neuroscience

The hippocampus is a region of the brain known to the associated with memory, learning, spatial navigation and emotion. In 1971, neuroscientists discovered that the hippocampus influences spatial navigation through the formation of a series of “spatial codes,” which encode characteristics related to an animal or human’s surrounding environment, including sensory cues and where rewards are located.

These codes are encoded by a type of neurons known as “place cells,” which were found to become active when an animal is entering a specific place or location in its . Together, place cells in the hippocampus form representations of the places that animals are navigating, also known as cognitive maps.

Since place cells were first uncovered, numerous teams worldwide have been conducting studies aimed at better understanding their function and how they encode spatial information. While there is now a large body of research focusing on place cells, some of the factors influencing their functioning are still poorly understood.

May 19, 2022

Suppression weakens unwanted memories via a sustained reduction of neural reactivation

Posted by in categories: futurism, neuroscience

Intentionally preventing the retrieval of an unwanted memory hinders future attempts to reactivate the memory’s neural representation and causes a reduction in the vividness with which it can be recalled.

May 19, 2022

Gene editing could reverse anxiety and alcohol-use disorder

Posted by in categories: bioengineering, biotech/medical, genetics, neuroscience

During that uncomfortable period between puberty and adulthood, the brain undergoes carefully orchestrated changes in gene expression and epigenetic modification. Alcohol, unfortunately, interferes with this biological architecture. Consequently, mistakes are made, and gene expression and modification do not go as planned, leaving the person vulnerable to a lifetime of psychiatric challenges, such as anxiety and alcoholism.

A team of researchers from the University of Illinois Chicago recently found they could reverse these changes in rats via gene editing. If their findings carry through to human studies, gene editing may be a potential treatment for anxiety and alcohol-use disorder in adults who were exposed to binge drinking in their adolescence.

May 19, 2022

Stimulating Brain Circuits Promotes Neuron Growth in Adulthood, Improving Cognition and Mood

Posted by in categories: biotech/medical, genetics, life extension, neuroscience

Summary: Researchers used optogenetics techniques to stimulate specific brain areas to increase neurogenesis and the production of neural stem cells to improve memory, cognition, and emotional processing in animal models.

Source: UNC Health Care.

We humans lose mental acuity, an unfortunate side effect of aging. And for individuals with neurodegenerative conditions such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s, the loss of cognitive function often accompanied by mood disorders such as anxiety is a harrowing experience. One way to push back against cognitive decline and anxiety would be to spur the creation of new neurons.

May 19, 2022

Cartographers of the Brain

Posted by in categories: chemistry, neuroscience

Scientists are attempting to map the wiring of the nearly 100 billion neurons in the human brain. Are we close to uncovering the mysteries of the mind or are we only at the beginning of a new frontier?

PARTICIPANTS: Deanna Barch, Jeff Lichtman, Nim Tottenham, David Van Essen.
MODERATOR: John Hockenberry.
Original program date: JUNE 4, 2017

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May 19, 2022

Memory-restoring molecule provides new hope in the search for a cure for Alzheimer’s

Posted by in categories: biotech/medical, neuroscience

An experiment in mice has shown that a protein in the nervous system can have a rejuvenating effect on older animals, a finding which may help with future research into how to treat the neurological disease.

May 18, 2022

We’re About To Unlock the Secrets of the Brain

Posted by in categories: biotech/medical, business, neuroscience

True stories of indefatigable researchers, heroic engineers, and champions of, neuroscience who are finally turning the corner in the effort to understand, heal, and improve the human brain.


Al has a hard time walking up the stairs to his home’s second floor these days, so he lives on the first. In a lounge chair, surrounded by pictures of his family and the homes he built, he slowly, carefully crosses one knee at the ankle like he’s in a business meeting. His legs are thin and pale and papery. His face, too, has taken on a gauntness since the photo of his daughter’s wedding, mounted on the wall right in front of him, was taken back in 2009. Al lunges forward as if he might stand. But then, when he tries to say hello, all that comes out is a guttural moan. When Al, who is sixty-eight, was diagnosed with progressive supranuclear palsy (PSP) in 2012, he was not guaranteed even this. The disease, caused by degeneration of cells in areas of the brain associated with movement, balance, and thinking, often results in death in about seven years. It has no known cause and no cure.

May 18, 2022

DARPA, IBM Neurosynaptic Chip and Programming Language Mimic the Brain

Posted by in categories: computing, engineering, neuroscience

Engineering is often inspired by nature—the hooks in velcro or dermal denticles in sharkskin swimsuits. Then there’s DARPA’s SyNAPSE, a collaboration of researchers at IBM, XX, and XX universities. Not content with current computer architecture, SyNAPSE takes its cues from the human brain.

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