Brain circuit can tune anxiety

Anxiety disorders, which include posttraumatic stress disorder, social phobias and obsessive-compulsive disorder, affect 40 million American adults in a given year. Currently available treatments, such as antianxiety drugs, are not always effective and have unwanted side effects.

To develop better treatments, a more specific understanding of the brain circuits that produce anxiety is necessary, says Kay Tye, an assistant professor of brain and cognitive sciences and member of MIT’s Picower Institute for Learning and Memory.

Brain circuit can tune anxiety

The tips of long neuronal extensions from the amygdala (green) contact neurons of the hippocampus (blue). This communication pathway helps to modulate anxiety. 


via Brain circuit can tune anxiety – MIT News Office.


Miniature brains grown in test tubes – a new path for neuroscience?

Scientists have grown miniature human brains in test tubes, creating a “tool” that will allow them to watch how the organs develop in the womb and, they hope, increase their understanding of neurological and mental problems.

Just a few millimetres across, the “cerebral organoids” are built up of layers of brain cells with defined regions that resemble those seen in immature, embryonic brains.

The scientists say the organoids will be useful for biologists who want to analyse how conditions such as schizophrenia or autism occur in the brain. Though these are usually diagnosed in older people some of the underlying defects occur during the brain’s early development.

The organoids are also expected to be useful in the development and testing of drugs. At present this is done using laboratory animals or isolated human cells; the new organoids could allow pharmacologists to test drugs in more human-like settings.Organoid 'brain' from test tube

Stem cell scientists at Edinburgh and the Institute of Molecular Biotechnology in Vienna grew this organoid, or tiny ‘brain’, which measures just 4mm across. Photograph: Madeline A Lancaster/PA

via Miniature brains grown in test tubes – a new path for neuroscience? | Science | The Guardian.

Could the triple whammy technique that beat HIV/Aids win battle against cancer?

The key development that has transformed scientists’ strategy for battling cancer has been the recent discovery that tumours are far more genetically complex than previously realised. “By analysing cancer tissue samples from patients we have found there is an enormous genetic difference between cells found within a single tumour,” said Professor Martin Gore of London’s Royal Marsden hospital. “It was a surprise.”

Chris Jones of The Institute of Cancer Research (ICR), London, agreed. “Until recently, it was assumed cancer cells were more or less identical clones of each other. We have found this is not true. Cells, taken from a single tumour from one person, can have many different genetic alterations within them. This presents us with a huge challenge in trying to develop treatments, though in the long term our new awareness should also provide us with an opportunity to create powerful anti-cancer drug regimes.”

For most of the past 40 years, cancers have been treated by surgery, radiotherapy or chemotherapy. This last technique involves the use of cytotoxic drugs which can kill cells that they encounter. By carefully adjusting doses of these drugs, doctors have been able to kill off cancer cells while leaving normal cells unaffected – in many cases. But the considerable toxicity of chemotherapy drugs means they can only be administered for a few weeks, which limits their tumour-killing potential.

Could the triple whammy technique that beat HIV/Aids win battle against cancer? | Science | The Observer.

▶ High Cholesterol

This 3D medical animation explains hyperlipidemia, commonly known as “high cholesterol.” The animation includes common diet and lifestyle treatments as well as cholesterol-lowering medications. The animation includes both LDL, what is called “bad” cholesterol, and HDL, or “good” cholesterol.


Disease laughs at researchers

Disease laughs at researchers.

In this highly-unusual image, beta-catenin (green) was monitored moving into the nucleus, the round shape in the centre. The dark patches in the nucleus that bear an uncanny resemblance to a smiley face, with eyes and a mouth, are actually parts of the nucleus where the beta-catenin cannot enter.

WMI researchers are trying to understand how beta-catenin moves into the nucleus and in future design drugs to stop its entry into the nucleus.

Researchers reveal how the brain keeps eyes on the prize.

“Are we there yet?”

As anyone who has traveled with young children knows, maintaining focus on distant goals can be a challenge. A new study from MIT suggests how the brain achieves this task, and indicates that the neurotransmitter dopamine may signal the value of long-term rewards. The findings may also explain why patients with Parkinson’s disease — in which dopamine signaling is impaired — often have difficulty in sustaining motivation to finish tasks.

The work is described this week in the journal Nature.

Previous studies have linked dopamine to rewards, and have shown that dopamine neurons show brief bursts of activity when animals receive an unexpected reward. These dopamine signals are believed to be important for reinforcement learning, the process by which an animal learns to perform actions that lead to reward.Are we there yet?

Illustration of the chemical structure of a molecule of dopamine 

via Are we there yet? – MIT News Office.

World’s first lab-grown burger is eaten in London

Scientists took cells from a cow and, at an institute in the Netherlands, turned them into strips of muscle that they combined to make a patty.

One food expert said it was “close to meat, but not that juicy” and another said it tasted like a real burger.

Researchers say the technology could be a sustainable way of meeting what they say is a growing demand for meat.

The burger was cooked by chef Richard McGeown, from Cornwall, and tasted by food critics Hanni Ruetzler and Josh Schonwald.

Upon tasting the burger, Austrian food researcher Ms Ruetzler said: “I was expecting the texture to be more soft… there is quite some intense taste; it’s close to meat, but it’s not that juicy. The consistency is perfect, but I miss salt and pepper.

via BBC News – World’s first lab-grown burger is eaten in London.

Apocalypse soon, if we keep on cutting science

Radical budget cuts are threatening not just US science, but its way of life

PESTILENCE, war, famine, death. I recently came face-to-face with all four at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, in a rare viewing of Albrecht Dürer’s 15th-century woodcut Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse.

In Dürer’s time fear of the apocalypse loomed large. It wasn’t so different when I was a child. Fear of nuclear Armageddon was a constant presence, but it helped fuel the US government’s investment in science and science education, propelling the country to the top – and directly benefiting me.

Now the fears of the 1960s have receded, the US government – or parts of it – are reopening the door to the four horsemen through a radical retrenchment of the science programme.

Scientists are sometimes criticised for exaggerating the importance of their work, but I think they underplay it. Science is the main force that keeps the horsemen at bay. The US still leads the world in science spending overall. But if the spectacular shrinkage of government science funding continues, we will be inviting all four of them into our homes.

via Apocalypse soon, if we keep on cutting science – opinion – 05 August 2013 – New Scientist.

We each live in our own little world — smellwise

There are some smells we all find revolting. But toward a handful of odors, different people display different sensitivities—some can smell them, while some can’t, or some find them appealing, while others don’t. A pair of studies appearing online on August 1 in the journal Current Biology, a Cell Press publication, now identifies the genetic differences that underpin the differences in smell sensitivity and perception in different individuals. The researchers tested nearly 200 people for their sensitivity for ten different chemical compounds that are commonly found in foods. They then searched through the subjects’ genomes for areas of the DNA that differed between people who could smell a given compound and those who could not. This approach—known as a genome-wide association study—is widely used to identify genetic differences.
Continue reading “We each live in our own little world — smellwise”