Transcranial Pulsed Ultrasound Stimulates Intact Brain Circuits

Yusuf Tufail, Alexei Matyushov, Nathan Baldwin, Monica L. Tauchmann, Joseph Georges, Anna Yoshihiro, Stephen I. Helms Tillery, William J. Tyler. Transcranial Pulsed Ultrasound Stimulates Intact Brain Circuits. Neuron, Volume 66, Issue 5, 681-694, 10 June 2010.

In motor cortex, ultrasound-stimulated neuronal activity was sufficient to evoke motor behaviors. Deeper in subcortical circuits, we used targeted transcranial ultrasound to stimulate neuronal activity and synchronous oscillations in the intact hippocampus. We found that ultrasound triggers TTX-sensitive neuronal activity in the absence of a rise in brain temperature (<0.01°C). Here, we also report that transcranial pulsed ultrasound for intact brain circuit stimulation has a lateral spatial resolution of approximately 2 mm and does not require exogenous factors or surgical invasion.

Neural Interfaces workshop, conference, June 20-23 (student status letter due tomorrow)

1. Beyond Brain Machine Interface: From Senses to Cognition
Co-sponsored by IEEE Engineering in Medicine and Biology Society and Army Research Office
June 20, 2010, Long Beach, CA
Travel fellowships, poster abstracts, and registration:

2. 39th Neural Interfaces Conference
Co-sponsored by NIH Deep Brain Stimulation Consortium
June 21-23, 2010, Long Beach, CA
Free registration for students (Faculty Advisor letter due May 21)
Program, registration, and further information:
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Frontiers in Neuroscience Journal

The journal, Frontiers in Neuroscience, edited by Idan Segev, has made it Volume 3, issue 1.  Launching last year at the Society for Neuroscience conference, its probably the newest Neuroscience-related journal.

I’m a fan of it because it is an open-access journal featuring a “tiered system” and more.  From their website:

The Frontiers Journal Series is not just another journal. It is a new approach to scientific publishing. As service to scientists, it is driven by researchers for researchers but it also serves the interests of the general public. Frontiers disseminates research in a tiered system that begins with original articles submitted to Specialty Journals. It evaluates research truly democratically and objectively based on the reading activity of the scientific communities and the public. And it drives the most outstanding and relevant research up to the next tier journals, the Field Journals.

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IARPA and trust detection

Neurodudes reader Jason M. sent me some information about a funding agency, IARPA, or Intelligence Advanced Research Projects Activity, that is funding neuroscience-related research. I had never heard of IARPA before but it has existed since 2006 as something of an intelligence-focused DARPA. There upcoming funding deadline (Aug 21) is for projects on detecting trust signals between humans.

Just last night, I watched the tense but amazing film The Hurt Locker (don’t let the name disuade you, see the phenomenal Metacritic rating), which is about a bomb disposal squad during the recent Iraq War. There is one particularly stirring scene with a suicide bomber who claims that he was forced to wear a vest with explosives and doesn’t want to go through with it. The difficulty in the limited time before the bomb explosion revolves around whether to actually trust the man and the challenge of trusting someone when neither party speaks the other’s language. You can certainly at least understand (putting aside the ethics of war itself) why governments are interested in detecting nonverbal trust cues.

Details about the IARPA call for proposals are after the jump. Continue reading

Zeo sleep analyzer

Last night was not a restful one for me. Can neurotechnology help make us more aware of our sleep problems? Over at the NYT, David Pogue thinks so. He recently reviewed an alarm clock with an EEG headband transmitter that analyzes sleep (“To Sleep, Perchance to Analyze Data“).

As he says in the article, the initial reaction to this kind of product might be, I don’t need something to tell me when I didn’t sleep well. I know when I haven’t slept well! As he says in his nice video review, there are some advantages to all this technology (automation is good!… I certainly don’t keep a daily journal of sleep quality…):

But as my wife said, “If I wake up and feel lousy, I don’t need a $400 gadget to tell me it’s because I didn’t sleep well.”

Ah, but that’s where the coaching comes in.

The Zeo stores your sleep records on a memory card. As often as you can, you’re supposed to pop it out and insert it into a U.S.B. card reader (also included) on your computer. At this point, you can go to and upload your data to the Web.

Now the real fun begins. This Web site lets you slice, dice and cross-compare your sleep data in a million ways.

Broad PsychHTS brings chemical biology to neuroscience

There’s a nice editorial in Nature Neuroscience about the Broad Institute’s PsychHTS initiative. The initiative invites scientists from outside the Broad to suggest new high-throughput screens that the Broad will perform. The Broad has invested heavily in capital equipment and expertise for chemical biology screens (ie. small molecule drug libraries with robotic delivery and automated screening). These libraries are huge: 50,000-500,000 molecules can be screened. Although much science is hypothesis driven, this kind of large-scale hypothesis-free exploration just hasn’t been possible before. And this certainly isn’t the kind of thing that can be done in a single lab; only dedicated facilities like those at the Broad could carry out this type of “big science.” For collaborators hoping to use the Broad platform, the key appears to be in developing a good automated assay:

Readouts may be anything from classical enzymatic reactions, through FRET for changes in protein interaction, up to subcellular changes captured by automated high-content imaging. An investigator may send a group member to the Broad to take advantage of its resources or may entirely ‘outsource’ assay development to the chaperone. Assay development typically takes two to three months, sometimes up to a year. The assay is then used to screen one or more compound libraries, encompassing at present up to 400,000 substances and growing. (PsychHTS pays for screening a 50,000-compound subset.) ‘Hits’—compounds that affect the assay results in a way that indicates potential usefulness in a psychiatric research context—are automatically retested at several concentrations. The resulting collection of typically between 50 and 500 confirmed hits is then evaluated and prioritized according to criteria of scientific interest and potential drug promise, and thereby winnowed down to the top 10 or 20. The Broad Institute’s organic chemists then synthesize and retest these compounds plus a series of their chemical derivatives, with goals such as improved solubility and more specific binding to putative targets. The goal of the entire procedure is to deliver small-molecule probes that modulate a specific cellular function—essentially tools for subsequent research into the initial hypothesis regarding a psychiatric disease mechanism.

At this point, the new small-molecule probes will need to be tested in animal models of mental illness.

The most appealing aspect is that the Broad is opening up the process to anyone with good ideas for potential screens. The next application deadline is in September. Considering both PsychHTS and the Allen Brain Atlas, is neuroscience moving away from an individual lab model and more toward a “big science” model of projects with lots of collaboration?