Neuroscience

Dale Deutsch, Ph.D., Professor of Biochemistry and Cell Biology at Stony Brook University and colleagues discovered a new molecular mechanism for the processing of endocannabinoids, brain compounds similar to THC, the active ingredient in marijuana, and essential in physiological processes such as pain, appetite, and memory.   Reported online this week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), the finding could pave the way for new medicines for pain, addiction, appetite control and other disorders.
A receptor for glutamate, the most prominent neurotransmitter in the brain, plays a key role in the process of "unlearning," report researchers at the Salk Institute for Biological Studies. Their findings in the Journal of Neuroscience, could eventually help scientists develop new drug therapies to treat a variety of disorders, including phobias and anxiety disorders, particularly post-traumatic stress disorder. 

Post-traumatic stress disorder or PTSD is an anxiety disorder that can develop after exposure to a terrifying event or ordeal in which grave physical harm occurred or was threatened. PTSD is affecting approximately 5.2 million Americans, according to the National Institute of Health. As many as one in eight returning soldiers suffer from PTSD.
Evolutionary theorist Alastair Clarke says eight patterns are the basis of all the humor that has ever been imagined or expressed, regardless of civilization, culture or personal taste. 

That's right, if you thought you heard that Seinfeld joke before, it's because  it is part of your collective unconscious.

Clarke has stated before that humor is based on the 'surprise' recognition of patterns but now he has gone further and identified the precise nature of the patterns involved, addressing the deceptively simple unit and context relationships at their foundation. His research goes on to demonstrate the universality of the theory by showing how these few basic patterns are recognized in more than a hundred different types of humor. 
In a study published in the March issue of Cortex, researchers used a brain scanner to record the activity in each stage while people were in the process of drawing faces. The researchers found that the captured visual information is stored as a series of locations or action plans to reach those locations. It is as if the brain remembers key locations and then 'connect the dots' with a straight or curved line to achieve the desired image on the page.

Participants who had no particular expertise as artists were studied using an MRI scanner to measure levels of oxygen in the brain. They viewed black and white cartoons of faces and were asked to reproduce them using pencil and paper. 
A new study says that the human brain lives "on the edge of chaos", at a critical transition point between randomness and order.   Theoretical speculation?  Well, yeah, but that's the nature of neuroscience.

The researchers say self-organized criticality (where systems spontaneously organize themselves to operate at a critical point between order and randomness), can emerge from complex interactions in many different physical systems, including avalanches, forest fires, earthquakes, and heartbeat rhythms.
They say a picture tells a thousand stories, but can it also tell how smart you are?  Yes, say UCLA researchers. 

In a Journal of Neuroscience study, UCLA neurology professor Paul Thompson and colleagues used a new type of brain-imaging scanner to show that intelligence is strongly influenced by the quality of the brain's axons, or wiring that sends signals throughout the brain. The faster the signaling, the faster the brain processes information. And since the integrity of the brain's wiring is influenced by genes, the genes we inherit play a far greater role in intelligence than was previously thought. 
Synchronized, goal-directed actions are nothing new; that concept is the foundation of civilization.   But it goes much deeper than previously realized, according to research in BMC Neuroscience.    It isn't just voluntary cooperation that happens, sometimes it is at the unconscious brain level.

A new study shows that when musicians play along together it isn't just their instruments that are working together, it is happening at the brain wave level also.  The research details how EEG readouts from pairs of guitarists become more synchronized, a finding with wider potential implications for how our brains interact when we do.
Want to be fearless?   Create an army of super soldiers?   A limited test case may be on to something.  

A team of Dutch researchers led by Vici-winner Merel Kindt at Universiteit van Amsterdam has successfully reduced the 'fear response' - they weakened fear memories in human volunteers by administering the beta-blocker propranolol.   Most interestingly, the fear response does not return. 

Can fear be deleted?
Researchers say they have found the first unambiguous evidence that an animal other than humans can make spontaneous plans for future events. The report in Current Biology highlights a decade of observations of a male chimpanzee calmly collecting stones and fashioning concrete discs that he would later use to hurl at zoo visitors.

While researchers have observed many ape behaviors that could involve planning both in the wild and in captivity, it generally hasn't been possible to judge whether they were really meeting a current or future need, he added. For instance, when a chimp breaks a twig for termite fishing or collects a stone for nut cracking, it can always be argued that they are motivated by immediate rather than future circumstances.
Effective stem cell treatment for strokes has taken a significant step forward as scientists writing in Biomaterials reveal how they have replaced stroke-damaged brain tissue in rats using neural stem cells.

The work, carried out at the King's College London Institute of Psychiatry and University of Nottingham, shows that by inserting tiny scaffolding with stem cells attached, it is possible to fill a hole left by stroke damage with brand new brain tissue within 7 days.

Neural stem cells exist in the adult nervous system of all mammals, though they can also be derived from more primitive embryonic stem cells.