Neurophilosophy

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DELETION of a single gene switches the sexual orientation of female mice, causing them to engage in sexual behaviour that is typical of males. Korean researchers found that deleting the appropriately named FucM gene, which encodes an enzyme called fucose mutarotase, causes masculinization of the mouse brain, so that female mice lacking the gene avoid…

MAGNETIC nanoparticles targeted to nerve cell membranes can be used to remotely control cellular activity and even the simple reflex behaviours of nematode worms, according to research by a team of biophysicists at the University of Buffalo. The new method, which is described in the journal Nature Nanotechnology, could be very useful for investigating how…

Scared by the light

WHO could have guessed that a protein isolated from pond scum would transform the way researchers investigate the brain? The protein, called channelrhodopsin (ChR), is found in algae and other microbes, and is related to the molecule in human photoreceptors that captures light particles. Both versions control the electrical currents that constantly flow in and…

FOR most of us, the ability to navigate our environment is largely dependent on the sense of vision. We use visual information to note the location of landmarks, and to identify and negotiate obstacles. These visual cues also enable us to keep track of our movements, by monitoring how our position changes relative to landmarks…

APPLYING for a job? The weight of the clipboard to which your CV is attached may influence your chances of getting it. Negotiating a deal? Sitting in a hard chair may lead you to drive a harder bargain. Those are two of the surprising conclusions of a study published in today’s issue of Science, which…

Movable micromotor brain implants

BRAIN implants containing microelectrodes are used widely in the laboratory and clinic, both to stimulate nerve cells and to record their activity. Researchers routinely implant electrode arrays into the brains of rodents to investigate the neuronal activity associated with spatial navigation, or into monkeys’ brains to gain a better understanding of the mechanisms of motor…

THE dangers of obesity are very well known. Being overweight is associated with an increased risk of coronary heart disease and stroke, the two leading causes of death in the Western world. Gout is more common in overweight people, with the risk of developing the condition increasing in parallel with body weight. Obese people are…

TRICHOTILLOMANIA (or hair pulling) is a condition characterised by excessive grooming and strong, repeated urges pull out one’s own hair. It is classified as an obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), and is relatively common, affecting about 2 in 100 people. Sufferers normally feel an increasing sense of tension before pulling out their scalp hair, facial hair, and…

Apparent motion steers the wandering mind

DAYDREAMING is a critical component of conscious experience. The mind can perform mental time travel – it occasionally strays from the present moment, to recollect an experience from the near or distant past, or to imagine an event that has not yet taken place. We know that thinking about the future is dependant on memory,…

Optogenetic fMRI

OF all the techniques used by neuroscientists, none has captured the imagination of the general public more than functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI). The technique, which is also referred to as functional neuroimaging and, more commonly, “brain scanning”, enables us to peer into the human brain non-invasively, to observe its workings and correlate specific thought…