Diff’rent Vesicles

A new discovery shows that the rules of synaptic transmission are very different from what we’d thought. In each neuron, tiny sacs called vesicles store neurotransmitter chemicals, and help transport them to other neurons. For decades, scientists had thought all the vesicles of a particular neurotransmitter were more or less identical – but now, they’ve discovered that only one set of vesicles are marked for transmission, while a much larger set lay mysteriously dormant. What causes these differences, you ask? A protein with an awesome name: We now find that the v-SNARE tetanus toxin-insensitive vesicle-associated membrane protein (VAMP7) differs from other … Continue reading Diff’rent Vesicles

Working Off Worry

Want to get rid of gloomy thoughts? Try working some physical activity into your daily routine, says a new study. For people who struggle with depression and anxiety, the research shows, exercise can be just as effective as antidepressant medication. It often prevents symptoms from getting worse – and in some cases, it even helps cure the problem. Doctors have known for decades that a little physical activity can help distract you from your worries, boost positive feelings, and even relieve anxiety and depression. But in recent years, research has shown that exercise’s hidden effects reach much deeper: it tells your body to produce endorphins – natural chemicals that act … Continue reading Working Off Worry

Depression Protection

If you’re starting to feel depressed, try looking around you, a new study suggests. People who tend to ponder their internal feelings are often prone to depression relapses, the research found; while people who focus on what they see can sometimes resist a spiral of negativity.1 As the journal Biological Psychiatry reports, a team led by ACLAB’s Dr. Norman Farb found that the brains of some formerly depressed patients respond to sad imagery by activating the medial prefrontal cortex (mPFC) – a brain area known to be involved in brooding – and that this activation pattern often predicts a relapse into depression over the next year. … Continue reading Depression Protection

Saving the Moment

Want to remember an image forever? Don’t focus on remembering it, but on experiencing it, says a new study. Working to recall a mental image – or to save one in memory – activates your parahippocampal cortex (PHC), a brain area that’s crucial for the formation of memories of visual scenes. If the PHC is already hard at work when you see a new image, you’re much less likely to remember that image later – but if the PHC is primed to absorb new information, a new image is far more likely to be stored. It’s a pretty simple idea, but … Continue reading Saving the Moment

Pain on the Brain

Men and women experience pain in different ways, a new study shows. The behavior of opioids – chemicals that suppress pain – differs between men’s and women’s bodies. This is because the three main types of opioid receptors in the brain and spinal cord interact very differently, depending on whether their owner is a man or a woman. See, scientists have known for years that certain kinds of narcotic analgesics – a certain class of pain relieving drugs – are much more effective on women then on men. It was hard to understand why, though, because both men and women have … Continue reading Pain on the Brain

Neuron Holograms

A new technique will allow us to watch hundreds of neurons in 3D, in real time, at a resolution that’s 50 times greater than before. The technology, known as digital holographic microscopy (DHM), was imported into neuroscience from materials science. It measures differences in the wavelengths of harmless lasers as they travel through a certain region of the brain – and this allows a computer system to construct precise 3D models of neurons at work. Since individual neurons are transparent, scientists used to use various kinds of chemical stains in order to study them.  The cells have to be extracted and placed in a Petri … Continue reading Neuron Holograms

Language Paths

Speaking and understanding speech both use the same parts of the brain, a new study has found. There’s just one exception: the brain areas that control mouth movements aren’t used in understanding speech – not even when we mentally repeat to ourselves what others are saying. This all might sound pretty obvious, but it’s actually a major breakthrough in a century-long debate on how the brain deals with speech – and as you’re about to see, the conclusion isn’t nearly as undeniable as it seems. To understand why, we’ve got to take a quick trip back to the 1800s, when a few neuroscientists … Continue reading Language Paths