The Brain in the News

Over the past couple of weeks neuroscience has produced a couple of public-interest research stories. Normally, I'd be tempted to write blog posts about each one, however a combination of research and coursework has been severely constraining my time. So, here's a roundup of some of the culturally-relevant neuroscience research/stories that have appeared recently. To start us off, the NYTimes this week featured an article written by Olivia Judson (an evolutionary biologist and author of "Dr. Tatiana's Sex Advice to All Creation: The Definitive Guide to the Evolutionary Biology of Sex."). Dr. Judson writes about recent research which suggests that being overweight can cause damage to your brain. Specifically cited are two studies on the role of fat in increasing dementia risk (Whitmer et al 2008) and cognitive decline (Dahl et al 2009). Not mentioned in the article, but well worth reading and comtemplating is a recent Nature study by Paul Johnson and Paul Kenny that examined the possibility that obesity can induce addition-like dysfunction of reward systems (Dopamine D2 receptors in addition-like reward dysfuction and compulsive eating in obsese rats.)

Research published in Nature casts doubt on the efficacy of "brain-training" to increase cognitive function. Discussion of the findings and potential flaws in the study is ongoing. Read the article at Nature, and get a sense for the main complaints about the experimental design at NatureNews. A video segment on the research is also available from Nature - more writing/video on the research and its implications is probably provided by various news media groups (such as TIME).

MIT Physicists have modeled the ability of improvised explosive devices to generate electric fields in the skull. Their research suggests that the shock waves from explosions will interact with the skull bone to produce electric fields. The exact consequences of exposing the brain to such extraneous electricity are not known, though it seems likely that those effects would be detrimental if enough electricity was generated (and if the effects weren't overshadowed by the direct effect of the shockwave itself on the brain). The model is written up by MSNBC, and the research will be presented on April 20 at a Baltimore meeting of the Acoustical Society of America.

Over the the blogosphere, two excellent posts:

Over at LabSpaces, a discussion (and review of a recently published PLoS ONE article) over whether the pressures to publish are pushing researchers to produce positive, publishable results, thus decreasing the overall quality of scientific research. Do Pressures to Publish Increase Scientists' Bias?

Also, the always fantastic NeuroPhilosophy presents a blog post on how bodily motions influence memory and emotions. The post reviews research recently published in the journal Cognition, which "provides evidence of a causal link between motion and emotion, by showing that bodily movements influence the recollection of emotional memories, as well as the speed with which they are recalled." Bodily Motions Influence Memory and Emotions


Astra Bryant

Astra Bryant is a graduate of the Stanford Neuroscience PhD program in the labs of Drs. Eric Knudsen and John Huguenard. She used in vitro slice electrophysiology to study the cellular and synaptic mechanisms linking cholinergic signaling and gamma oscillations – two processes critical for the control of gaze and attention, which are disrupted in many psychiatric disorders. She is a senior editor and the webmaster of the NeuWrite West Neuroblog