Two sides of the same coin: MSG and umami

Two sides of the same coin: MSG and umami

We all occasionally crave a good cup of instant ramen. But what often holds us back from enjoying one is a combination of factors that make ramen unhealthy: processed ingredients, preservatives—and MSG. We generally know MSG as the menace, the unhealthy additive that makes cheap Asian food distinctively enjoyable but also makes us extremely thirsty afterwards. So what exactly is MSG?

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Have you ever tasted pain?

Have you ever tasted pain?

Think about the last time you ate something spicy, whether it be Hot Cheetos, a jalapeño, or sriracha. Did your nose flush? Did you sweat? Cry? And what did it feel like? Like you were breathing fire or like you were getting your tongue pinched?

Those are sensations many of us have experienced to some degree when we’ve eaten spicy foods. The question is: why?

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Reading Between the Bars: How to see through figures and influence your audience

Reading Between the Bars: How to see through figures and influence your audience

Although we would like to think of ourselves as independent readers and thoughtful evaluators of published data, it turns out that figure format heavily influences our perception of the data – even when the data points represented by the figure are identical. In this edition of "New in Neuroscience," Kat Kozyrytska describes a study by Prof. Barbara Tversky, who looks at the way people have been representing information visually for thousands of years.

Image credit: Kat Kozyrytska 

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Smell memories in the fly brain and what makes individual animals unique

Smell memories in the fly brain and what makes individual animals unique

Have you ever woken up in the morning to the refreshing aroma wafting from the neighborhood cafe? Does it remind you of the last Christmas Eve sitting with family enjoying a cup of coffee, or the cozy conversations with an old friend in you two’s favorite coffee shop? Smelling an odor can cause an emotional reaction or elicit a memory that is unique to that individual person.

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New in Neuroscience: How do different mutations in the same gene contribute to different neurological disorders?

New in Neuroscience: How do different mutations in the same gene contribute to different neurological disorders?

Each year, approximately 61.5 million Americans are afflicted by a mental illness. Although we have not yet determined the underlying cause of these disorders, scientists believe that genetic mutations play a major role. Human genetic testing has identified multiple “risk genes” that are associated with major psychiatric disorders, but little is known about how mutations in the same risk gene can contribute to different disorders.

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Toward understanding our brain’s plasticity: Watching connections appear and disappear in a living mouse brain

Toward understanding our brain’s plasticity: Watching connections appear and disappear in a living mouse brain

Until the late 20th century, scientists believed the adult brain was hardwired. We now know that adult brains are actually quite plastic, capable of generating new neurons and remodeling after experience or injury. A recent study by Villa et al. visualized remodeling in a living mouse brain and proposes a mechanism through which neurons maintain balance in a changing environment, as if walking a tightrope between excitation and inhibition.

Image Credit: George E. Curtis, 1876 (Maria Spelterini crossing Niagara Falls by tightrope)

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