Wakefulness Cells

Certain groups of neurons determine whether light keeps us awake or not, says a new study. In the hypothalamus – a brain structure responsible for regulating hormone levels – specific kinds of neurons release a hormone called hypocretin (also known as hcrt or orexin). Hypocretin lets light-sensitive cells in other parts of the brain – such as the visual pathway – know that they should respond to incoming light by passing along signals for us to stay awake. Scientists have understood for centuries that most animals and plants go through regular cycles of wakefulness and sleep – they call these patterns circadian rhythms … Continue reading Wakefulness Cells

Autistic Genetics

Some forms of autism seem to be linked with variations in certain genes, a new study says. The deletion of a certain cluster of 27 genes on the mammalian chromosome 16 – specifically a region known as 16p11.2 – causes autism-like features to develop in mouse brains. These mice exhibited hyperactivity, repetitive behaviors, and difficulty adjusting to new environments, much like human children with autism. (As I mention a lot on this blog, mouse brains provide pretty reliable models of certain human brain functions, which is why neuroscientists experiment on them.) The idea that chromosome 16 might be linked to autism dates … Continue reading Autistic Genetics

The Splort Hormone

At the end of my last post, I promised I’d explain more about inner dialogue, and get into some practical tips on self-programming. A draft of that write-up is almost finished [SCIENCE UPDATE! It’s here.] but I came across an article today that brought up some intriguing points – and some common misconceptions – about neurochemistry. I couldn’t resist such a perfect opportunity to explain some concepts more clearly. The article is mainly about the chemistry of eye contact, and…well, I’d better let the author speak for herself. A loved one’s lingering look can trigger a rush of happiness, but … Continue reading The Splort Hormone