Birds: primate-level intelligencee without a layered cortex

Fascinating NYTimes article on how birds may be as intelligent as primates, and how the assumption that a layered cortex is the hallmark of higher intelligence may be wrong. Mentions the work of the Avian Brain Nomenclature Consortium (see to modernize avian anatomical nomenclature.
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IBNS travel award apps due feb 7

The International Behavioral Neuroscience Society (IBNS) will have their
Annual Meeting June 1-5 in Santa Fe this year.
More information about the IBNS and the Annual Meeting can be found here:

Undergraduates, graduate students and postdocs can apply for a travel award
for this meeting, which consist of $1000 and waiving of the conference fee.
The deadline for travel award applications is February 7 (i.e. VERY SOON).

Requirements and application procedures are outlined below and can also be
seen at:
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Antibiotics for treating excitotoxicity-related disease

In a Nature article from two weeks agp, Rothstein et al. demonstrate how standard, penicillin-like antibiotics are able to prevent excitotoxic glutamate damage by upregulating glutamate re-uptake transporters. They found the antibiotic treatment effective in animal models of ALS (Lou Gerig’s disease) and stroke-induced ischemic shock; of course, the potential (but yet unproven) benefits of this drug could be much greater — any excitotoxicity-related disease, including spinal cord injury, could be aided by increased glutamate clearance from the extracellular medium.

What’s even neater is how they did it: A blind screen of 1,000 already FDA-approved drugs. Very smart. This is a peek at the kind of power possible with automated assays, like the immunoblotting-densitometry combination used in this work.

A very good summary can be found in this week’s Science.

Bursting in culture = lack of input

Steve Potter, Jerry Pine and colleagues believe that a lack of normal input in high-density hippocampal cultures is the primary cause of synchronized bursting. By using MEA stimulation spread across several electrodes, they change the electrical behavior of the culture to show more dispersed spiking and less bursting. They suggest that these findings can be directly applied to epilepsy… interesting idea: epilepsy as a loss of normal cortical input to the epileptic focus. Click here for the entire article from this week’s J. Neurosci or below for the abstract.
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Betrayed by fMRI! You actually like W…

A fun fMRI result (which should be taken with the usual caveats [PLoS Biology]) showing that Democrats and Republicans might actually like the other side’s candidate but that there are strong emotional responses in the brain that try to surpress this attraction. The tip-off: Anterior cingulate and dorsolateral prefrontal cortex activation when viewing the opposing candidate — both areas are active during mental conflict (and, since this is fMRI, I should note that these areas most likely are active in many other situations, too).

Click here for the entire NYT article.

Temporal coding in transcription factor levels

“The researchers…have studied transcription factors, the signalling molecules inside cells that activate or deactivate genes. They found that the strength of the signal is less important than the dynamic frequency pattern that is used.

‘The timing of the repeating signal is essential for its interpretation. It seems that cells may read the oscillations in level of transcription factors in a similar way to Morse code.’


BBSRC article

Roland Piquepaille’s weblog

Neuroplasticity applied to prosthetics

This review article (NRN Jan 2005) has a nice summary of cross-modal neuroplasticity in humans, mostly dealing with how occipital cortex (primarily visual for normals) takes over tactile and auditory processing duties in blind patients. The authors go on to speculate that these neuroplasticity insights could be applied to neural prothestic users to speed adaptation to their new sensory apparati, like combining tactile/auditory information with the prosthetic based stimulation. There’s also a nice comparison of visual implants at several levels, including retina, optic nerve, and cortex.

Synchrony in SCN via gap junctions

Neat article in this month’s Nature Neuroscience on how gap junctions (ie. direct, non-synaptic coupling) between neurons in the superchiasmatic nucleus might be responsible for their millisecond-scale synchrony and time-keeping abilities. Also, a variation in the amount of coupling (eg. number of gap junctions) was observed that followed a night-day cycle. Read on below for the news and views.
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