By tracking brain activity when an animal stops to look around its environment, neuroscientists at Johns Hopkins University believe they can mark the birth of a memory.
Recent news from The Johns Hopkins University
This section contains regularly updated highlights of the news from around The Johns Hopkins University. Links to the complete news reports from the nine schools, the Applied Physics Laboratory and other centers and institutes are to the left, as are links to help news media contact the Johns Hopkins communications offices.
Minimizing a person’s sight for as little as a week may help improve the brain’s ability to process hearing, neuroscientists have found.
At the “Touch and the Enjoyment of Sculpture: Exploring the Appeal of Renaissance Statuettes” exhibition — an exhibition at the Walters Art Museum through April 15 – visitors are invited to disregard the usual rule against touching. In fact, handling the objects d’arts – which include replicas of famous 16th century statuettes that are part of the Walters’ collection – is one of the reasons behind the exhibition, explains neuroscientist Steven Hsiao of the Johns Hopkins Brain Science Institute, which is partnering with the Walters on this show – the fourth in a series of projects between the museum and Johns Hopkins.
When legal commentator Nancy Grace and her partner danced a lively rumba to Spandau Ballet’s 1980’s hit, “True,” on a recent “Dancing With the Stars,” more was going on in the legal commentator’s brain than concern over a possible wardrobe malfunction. Deep in Grace’s cortex, millions of neurons were hard at work doing what they apparently had been built to do: act and react to partner Tristan MacManus’s movements to create a pas de deux that had the dancers functioning together (for the most part) like a well-oiled machine. That is because the brain was built for cooperative activity, whether it be dancing on a reality television show, constructing a skyscraper or working in an office, according to a study led by Johns Hopkins behavioral neuroscientist Eric Fortune and published in the November 4 issue of the journal Science.
An existing anti-seizure drug improves memory and brain function in adults with a form of cognitive impairment that often leads to full-blown Alzheimer’s disease, according to a study led by neuroscientist Michela Gallagher of The Johns Hopkins University. The findings raise the possibility that doctors will someday be able to use the drug, levetiracetam, already approved for use in epilepsy patients, to slow the abnormal loss of brain function in some aging patients before their condition becomes Alzheimer’s.
It’s something we just accept: the fact that the older we get, the more difficulty we seem to have remembering things. We can leave our cars in the same parking lot each morning, but unless we park in the same space each and every day, it’s a challenge eight hours later to recall whether we left the SUV in the second or fifth row. Or, we can be introduced to new colleagues at a meeting and will have forgotten their names before the handshake is over. We shrug and nervously reassure ourselves that our brains’ “hard drives” are just too full to handle the barrage of new information that comes in daily. According to a Johns Hopkins neuroscientist, however, the real trouble is that our aging brains are unable to process this information as “new” because the brain pathways leading to the hippocampus-the area of the brain that stores memories-become degraded over time. As a result, our brains cannot accurately “file” new information (like where we left the car that particular morning), and confusion results. A study on the subject appeared in the May 9 Early Online edition of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
In the today’s online issue of Current Biology, a Johns Hopkins team led by neuroscientists Ed Connor and Kechen Zhang describes what appears to be the next step in understanding how the brain compresses visual information down to the essentials. They found that cells in area “V4”, a midlevel stage in the primate brain’s object vision pathway, are highly selective for image regions containing acute curvature. Experiments by doctoral student Eric Carlson showed that V4 cells are very responsive to sharply curved or angled edges, and much less responsive to flat edges or shallow curves.
We run our modern lives largely by the clock, from the alarms that startle us out of our slumbers and herald each new workday to the watches and clocks that remind us when it’s time for meals, after-school pick-up and the like. In addition to those ubiquitous timekeepers, though, we have internal “clocks” that are part of our biological machinery and which help set our circadian rhythms, regulating everything from our sleep-wake cycles to our appetites and hormone levels. Light coming into our brains via our eyes set those clocks, though no one is sure exactly how this happens. Johns Hopkins biologist Samer Hattar, in collaboration with scientists at the University of Southern California and Cornell University, however, has unlocked part of that mystery recently in a study that found that rod cells – one of three kinds of exquisitely photosensitive cells found in the retina of the eye – are the only ones responsible for “setting” those clocks in low light conditions. What’s more, the study found that rods – which take their name from their cylindrical shape – also contribute (along with cones and other retinal cells) to setting internal clocks in bright light conditions. The study appeared in a recent issue of Nature Neuroscience.
Seven Johns Hopkins researchers from four of the university’s schools have been elected by their peers as fellows of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. Pierre A. Coulombe, Ph.D., and Marcelo Jacobs-Lorena, Ph.D, of the Bloomberg School of Public Health; David Draper, Ph.D., of the Krieger School of Arts and Sciences; David J. Linden, Ph.D., and Cynthia Wolberger, Ph.D., of the School of Medicine; and Peter C. Searson, Ph.D., and Denis Wirtz, Ph.D. of the Whiting School of Engineering; are among 531 new fellows around the world. Election as a fellow honors their scientifically or socially distinguished efforts to advance science or its applications.