NYT: The Pablo Picasso Alzheimer's Therapy

The Pablo Picasso Alzheimer’s Therapy – New York Times

Interesting connection: Art appreciation seems to ease Alzheimer’s symptoms. Less memory loss. Less repetition.

Super interesting… there’s a lot to say here. There are of course many documented cases of particular brain lesions causing marked changes in personality or hobbies. But this appears to be something different. There is both an interest change (ie. people are more interested in art) but the neurological disease itself is somehow lessened (temporarily) by the interest itself.

The article mentions that there is very little research in the area. Does anyone know of any studies? It’s fascinating to think that such a simple, non-invasive therapy could be so powerful.

Either that, or it just means that art critics (“It’s like he’s trying to tell a story using words that don’t exist” — critic or patient?) have something in common with those with neurodegenerative disease. 🙂

Review: Kurzweil's The Singularity is Near

Although Bayle and I are always surprised when we see how many people are actually reading Neurodudes every day (“you really like us! you really do!”), I think we realized we had hit a new milestone when Ray Kurzweil’s book agent called to give us an advance copy of his new book. Let me be clear here: We will gladly review any AI-/neuro-related books you send us. Free books are great! (Heck, we’ll even do an occasional historical biography, if you send us one.)

There’s a lot to say about Kurzweil”s new book, The Singularity is Near (book website; book on Amazon). This book is similar to his previous books (Age of Intelligent Machines, Age of Spiritual Machines) in style and research but the thesis here is that we are on the precipice of a major change in human civilization: We are soon going to create entities of superior intelligence in all aspects to our own selves. This is the Singularity.

Full book review after the jump Continue reading

Basal ganglia activity during task learning, extinction, and reacquisition

Article on what basal ganglia neurons do during learning. In summary,

In Graybiel’s experiments, rats learned via specific cues that there was chocolate at one end of a T-shaped maze. While the rats were still learning, their basal ganglia neurons chattered throughout the maze run
As the rats learned to focus in on guiding cues (in the experiment, an audible tone that guided them toward the chocolate), the behavior of the neurons changed. They fired intensely at the beginning and the end, but remained relatively quiet while the rats scurried through the maze.

Subsequently, the reward was removed. While the audible cue became meaningless, everything in the maze from beginning to end became relevant again. The neurons fired throughout the run. But when the reward reappeared, the pattern of beginning and ending spikes separated by downtime reappeared.

Pop sci article

Terra D. Barnes, Yasuo Kubota, Dan Hu1, Dezhe Z. Jin and Ann M. Graybiel1. Activity of striatal neurons reflects dynamic encoding and recoding of procedural memories. Nature 437, 1158-1161 (20 October 2005)

" Schizophrenics Better at Discerning Illusions"

“Normally, contextual processes in the brain help us to focus on what’s relevant and stop our brains being overwhelmed with information. This process seems to be less effective in the schizophrenic brain, possibly due to insufficient inhibition–that is, the process by which cells in the brain switch each other off,” Dakin observes. The mechanism has more to do with vision than with cognition, such as attention span, the researchers report.

Sci Am article

Steven Dakin, Patricia Carlin and David Hemsley. Weak suppression of visual context in chronic schizophrenia. Current Biology, Volume 15, Issue 20, 25 October 2005, Pages R822-R824.

IBM Teams with Brain-Mind Institute To Model Brain

This project was announced several months ago, but I didn’t see a post here so I thought I would add it.

The project, dubbed “Blue Brain“, represents a team up between Henry Markram, (who co-authored the chapter on the neocortex in the acclaimed reference The Synaptic Organization of the Brain), and IBM’s Blue Gene super computer.

From the New Scientist article: For over a decade Markram and his colleagues have been building a database of the neural architecture of the neocortex, the largest and most complex part of mammalian brains.

Using pioneering techniques, they have studied precisely how individual neurons behave electrically and built up a set of rules for how different types of neurons connect to one another.

Very thin slices of mouse brain were kept alive under a microscope and probed electrically before being stained to reveal the synaptic, or nerve, connections. “We have the largest database in the world of single neurons that have been recorded and stained,” says Markram.


Knowledge management software for neuroscientists

Haven’t tried it but this free, open-source software called Neuroscholar seems interesting. The idea seems to be to provide an easy tool for collecting and comparing facts and interpretations across different papers. It uses a SQL database backend and some graph-like data representation for the front-end.

I’d be curious to hear about anyone’s experiences using it or any similar tools. I still have yet to find a good way to organize my PDFs…

From the website:

NeuroScholar is an open-source and is free for download from http://www.neuroscholar.org/ (click on Software > NeuroScholar ). We also have several demonstration movies available from the movies section to show the functionality of the system.