Stress Intervention

Scientists have discovered a way to shut down the brain’s “stress process” before it gets going, says a new study. By blocking the brain’s ability to manufacture certain chemicals called neurosteroids, researchers have managed to temporarily cut off a biological process crucial for stressful behavior – and for many stressful feelings as well. Animals from amphibians all the way up to humans produce a hormone called corticosterone in their adrenal glands. Corticosterone levels become elevated under stress, and this hormone is a major ingredient in a number of stress-related biological processes, from feelings of nervousness to aggressive behavior. Corticosterone does most of its … Continue reading Stress Intervention

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

Drugs, Neuroscience, and You

Let’s be honest here: if a person really wants to try an illegal drug, he or she is going to find a way to try it. To me, the most reasonable response to this fact seems to be to share clear, science-backed explanations of the effects and risks involved with each drug. So today, I’m going to take a little break from my usual newsy reporting, and provide a condensed rundown on some drugs, in the style of my Memory Menagerie write-up. First, just a couple quick notes about this summary. For one thing, it’s going to focus on drugs … Continue reading Drugs, Neuroscience, and You

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