“2013’s Nobel Prize Winners” — Podcast 11: James Rothman, Randy Schekman & Thomas Südhof

Ben is joined by all three of 2013’s Nobel Prize winners in the Physiology/Medicine category — James Rothman, Randy Schekman and Thomas Südhof! All three of these guys contributed crucial pieces to a longstanding puzzle: How, exactly, do our brain cells communicate with each other? Biologists had known since the 1960s that nerve cells pass chemical messages to one another inside hollow little globs of proteins called synaptic vesicles — and yet, as recently as the early 90s, no one had figured out much of anything about how this process worked. Meanwhile, as James Rothman and Randy Schekman plugged away … Continue reading “2013’s Nobel Prize Winners” — Podcast 11: James Rothman, Randy Schekman & Thomas Südhof

“Using Worms to Crack the Human Brain” — Podcast 4: Scott Emmons

Ben chats with Scott W. Emmons, Ph.D., a professor of neuroscience and genetics at Albert Einstein College of Medicine. Dr. Emmons talks about his cutting-edge connectomics research, which may help us understand how neural circuits “decide” on a particular behavior. Though his recent work focuses on the nervous systems of microscopic worms, its implications may reach all the way to the human brain. Enjoy, and feel free to email us questions and suggestions for next time! (Produced by Devin O’Neill) Continue reading “Using Worms to Crack the Human Brain” — Podcast 4: Scott Emmons

“Consciousness, Dreams & Drugs” — Podcast 2

On the second Connectome podcast, Ben muses about three of the hottest topics in neuroscience today: what “consciousness” might be, how it relates to dreams, and how drugs can play some strange tricks on that relationship. Enjoy, and feel free to email us questions and suggestions for next time!   (Produced by Devin O’Neill) Continue reading “Consciousness, Dreams & Drugs” — Podcast 2

The Memory Master

A gene that may underlie the molecular mechanisms of memory has been identified, says a new study. The gene’s called neuronal PAS domain protein 4 (Npas4 to its friends). When a brain has a new experience, Npas4 leaps into action, activating a whole series of other genes that modify the strength of synapses – the connections that allow neurons to pass electrochemical signals around. You can think of synapses as being a bit like traffic lights: a very strong synapse is like a green light, allowing lots of traffic (i.e., signals) to pass down a particular neural path when the neuron … Continue reading The Memory Master

Synaptic Changes

Synapses – the junctions where neurons communicate – are constantly growing and pruning themselves – and those two processes occur independently of one another, says a new study. As a synapse sees more and more use, it tends to grow stronger, while synapses that fall out of use tend to grow weaker and eventually die off. Collectively, these processes are known as synaptic plasticity: the ability of synapses to change their connective properties. But as it turns out, the elimination of redundant synapses isn’t directly dependent on others being strengthened – instead, it seems to be triggered by its own … Continue reading Synaptic Changes

Chemical Parasites

A certain brain parasite actually turns off people’s feelings of fear by increasing levels of the neurotransmitter chemical dopamine, says a new study. Toxoplasma gondii, a parasitic protozoan (a kind of single-celled organism), mostly likes to live in the brains of cats – but it also infects birds, mice, and about 10 to 20 percent of people in the U.S. and U.K. This might sound like science fiction, but plenty of microbiologists will assure you it’s very real. In fact, T. gondii isn’t the only parasite that controls its hosts’ behavior – a fungus called Ophiocordyceps unilateralis makes infected ants climb to the highest point they can find, sprout fungal spore … Continue reading Chemical Parasites