“Consciousness, Dreams & Drugs” — Podcast 2

On the second Connectome podcast, I muse 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.   Click here to play or download: If the SoundCloud link doesn’t play, you can download the original mp3. Enjoy, and feel free to email us questions and suggestions for next time!   (Produced by Devin O’Neill at The Armageddon Club) Continue reading “Consciousness, Dreams & Drugs” — Podcast 2

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

Brain Scans & Lucid Dreams

The brain activity of lucid dreamers – people who become aware that they’re in a dream state – shows some interesting similarities with that of people who are awake, says a new study. By studying the brain activity of lucid dreamers under electroencephalograms (EEGs) and fMRI scans, researchers have found that activity in the somatosensory and motor cortices – regions crucial for touch and movement, respectively – show very similar activation patterns during lucid dreams to those they display when people make or imagine those same movements while awake. Though dreams have fascinated philosophers and scientists since the dawn of history … Continue reading Brain Scans & Lucid Dreams

Enzyme Alarm Clock

Researchers have isolated a protein that sounds our biological clock’s alarm each morning, a new study reports. A gene known as KDM5A codes for an enzyme (i.e., a protein that increases the rate of a chemical reaction) called JARID1a. This enzyme acts as a switch that starts the biochemical process of waking us from sleep – like some kind of weird molecular rooster. Here’s the background: scientists have known for years that levels of a protein called PER rise in the morning and fall toward nighttime. The level of PER in our bodies helps our cells know what time of day it is … Continue reading Enzyme Alarm Clock

Secret Sleep Memory

Our memories for certain types of info seem to improve more during sleep than during wakefulness, a new study reports. Researchers have found that recall for pairs of words improves dramatically after a period of sleep, as does working memory capacity. An equivalent period of wakefulness results in much less improvement in these areas than sleep does, suggesting that a distinct type of memory consolidation may be happening during sleep. Neuroscientists have known for years that sleep can help us learn. Watching or reading information right before you doze off can dramatically improve recall. Even physical skills, like playing an instrument … Continue reading Secret Sleep Memory

Sleepocalypse 2011

For the first time in history, scientists have recorded functional images of brain activity as humans shift from consciousness into unconsciousness. What they’ve learned is that the process of falling asleep involves a variety of areas within the brain. Some of these areas systematically inhibit others, until an entirely different type of functional network is created: The images show that changes in the anesthetized brain start in the midbrain, where certain receptors for a neurotransmitter called GABA are plentiful. From the midbrain, changes move outward to affect the whole brain; as [GABAergic] messages spread from region to region, consciousness dissolves. GABA (short for … Continue reading Sleepocalypse 2011