Of Schemes and Memes

NPG Goes Neuro! #NPGsfn11 Part 2

Neuroscience 2011 is this year’s key conference for neuroscientists across the globe. Arranged by the Society for Neuroscience (SfN), the event took place from November 12th – 16th, in Washington, DC. To complement this event, NPG’s Neuroscience blog, Action Potential been hosting a special series of guest posts from some of the attendees. Action Potential’s editor, Noah Gray, has created a Google + circle listing the guest bloggers and you can also follow the hashtag #NPGsfn11 on Twitter to share in the discussion.

So far the series on the Action Potential Blog has been sharing observations, research and news from the conference. We’ve already created a round-up of the first set of posts, and we summarise the next set below.

Hot or not

Scientific American blogger Scicurious, a postdoctoral scientist in neuroscience, beleives that one of the best things about the SfN conference is being kept up-to-date with the latest neuroscience trends; “Optogenetics” is the new hot topic and “Oxytocin?” well that’s so last year. This year, food and reward and particularly the role of serotonin have been a hot topic:

While recent papers on food reward have focused on the hypothalamus, the Pratt lab have started to investigate the role of serotonin receptors in an area of the brain called the nucleus accumbens. Serotonin is the famous neurotransmitter that we all know and love, but remember that drug is only as good as its receptor.

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(This is a slice through a rat brain, the nucleus accumbens is on each side, at the bottom, close to the middle)

You can find out more about this study in her post which includes a video displaying the soft oboe modulating sound of the serotonin receptors in the nucleus accumbens.

How well do you know your internal state?

Sandra Upson summarises an SfN poster session in her latest post, Your Introspective Insula. She looks at our ‘interoceptive sense,’ the ability to sense your internal state:

A group from the University of California at San Diego and the Naval Health Research Center theorizes that the extra edge that allows certain people to perform particularly well in stressful situations may come not from a physiological advantage but from differences in the brain. To explore this question, they tested a group of Navy SEALs, adventure racers, and Marines, all of whom have learned to triumph over physical challenges without succumbing to stress.

Read on to find out what these results mean and how staying in touch with both your insides and your outsides, may give you an added boost when you need it most.

Remember, remember…

In Gary Stix’s second guest post he asks, What Were You Doing on July 10, 1991? Research presented at SFN 2011 by a group of researchers from the University of California, Irvine, suggests that there may be real differences in the brain structures of people who can remember past events in great detail, in comparison to those who can’t:

A question that has persisted about this line of research is whether the brains of these people are distinct from the organs of others who can’t remember yesterday’s lunch, let alone trivial events from 20 years back. Preliminary research presented at SFN 2011 by the Irvine investigators suggests that there may be real differences in the brain structures of these people. MRI studies of 11 study participants demonstrate that multiple areas in the temporal and the parietal lobes tied to autobiographical memory are significantly larger than the same regions in a control group. At the same time, another area, the lentiform nucleus, linked to obsessive-compulsive disorder, is also bigger. Some of the study participants, in fact, have a tendency to hoard things or avoid germs, though none have been diagnosed with OCD.

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(Image from the SfN poster session)

Continue reading Gary’s post to find out more about this research and how an extraordinary memory can become an overwhelming burden.

Don’t worry!

Lucas Glover, a first year graduate student at the NIMH and Oxford in his guest post, Synchronized Anxiety, summarises a session given by Josh Gordon’s lab:

Synchronization between multiple brain areas is how these regions coordinate neural communication and Josh Gordon’s lab captured my attention on this topic with two interesting posters. Likhtik et al examined three brain areas implicated in fear-predictive behaviors and tightly linked to the ability to discriminate between neutral and aversive situations. The inability to discriminate between such situations or contexts can lead to anxiety and perhaps even a more generalized response to the fear/threat. Local field potentials (local activity patterns from many neurons) were recorded from the vHPC, mPFC, dHPC in mice, as well as the basolateral nucleus of the amygdala (BLA). Single unit recordings (activity from an individual cell) were taken from the BLA while the mice learned to discriminate between stimuli that either led to a shock (CS+) or not (CS-).

The Vole story

Zen Faulkes, an Associate Professor in the Department of Biology at The University of Texas-Pan American, explains that whilst browsing through a Neuroscience poster session, he was stopped by an unusual title. Where almost all the posters featured mice, he was intrigues by the one that featured “vole” in the title. He had to find out why:

The presenter, A.M. Anacker, had a great answer. Prairie voles are well known for pair bonding. This is the vole equivalent to going steady or marriage. This has been the subject of some very elegant neuroethology, which was partly responsible for the rise in people’s awareness of oxytocin. This lab was trying to use the vole’s monogamous pair bonds to test for the potential effects of alcoholism on social relationships.

Zen explains the take home messages from this research and how these findings could be used in relation to human relationships.

More links

In our last round up post we linked out to other blogging coverage on the SfN conference. Below are several more posts to add to the mix:

We will continue to update this when new posts are published.

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