Category: Neuroscience

Methylated Memory

Author: Sarah Kearns

Editors: Nayiri Kaissarian, Patricia Garay, and Shweta Ramdas

If you saw a hippo on campus, you would remember it. But, would you expect that seeing such a pachyderm roaming on a university would alter the expression of your DNA? A recent study found that rats placed in an environment that tested their memory had alterations to their DNA, or epigenetic changes.

For a long while, we have generally known that neurons within the hippocampus of our brains are responsible for memory. The current model for memory storage is due to the plasticity of neuronal connections, but researchers have recently found that it also involves active changes at the genetic level. These changes come from external factors and are linked to retaining long-term memories, which has implications in stress-related learning and memory disorders.

Placebos: Tricking the Brain, Targeting the Body

Author: Shweta Ramdas
Editors: Charles Lu, Whit Froehlich, and Scott Barolo

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Placebo or Nocebo?

Last year, when I pooh-poohed my mother’s alternative medicine regimen, she said, “But these actually work well for me, because I believe in them!” My mother had just outsmarted me with science.

The placebo effect is one of the most remarkable yet least understood phenomena in science. It is a favorable response of our body to a medically neutral treatment (sugar pills, anybody?): in other words, a placebo is a fake treatment that produces a very real response. This is attributed to a physical reaction stemming from a psychological response to the administration of therapy. You could say that a patient sometimes gets better anyway—how many times have we waited out the common cold—and you would be right. This natural return to the baseline which can happen is not considered the placebo effect, which is an improvement in response to a treatment.

Analyzing without Lysing: Non-Damaging Techniques for Monitoring Cells

Author: Sarah Kearns

Editors: Whit Froehlich, Ada Hagan, and Irene Park

The interior of a cell is inherently complex with a myriad of processes going on all at once. Despite the clean images that are commonly shown in diagrams and textbooks, the parts inside are more of a whirlwind of structural components, proteins, and products (see Figure 1).

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Figure 1. Left is a cartoon image of a whole cell highlighting the different organelles (cellular compartments). Right is a computer simulation of the cytoplasm, the fluid between organelles. There are thousands of chemical processes going on within it.

Introverts & Extroverts: It’s Not as Simple as Shy or Outgoing (Part 2)

Author: Ellyn Schinke

Editors: Whit Froehlich, Nayiri Kaissarian, and Irene Park

In my last post, I wrote about the social differences between introverts and extroverts and the misconceptions surrounding the two personalities. This post will focus on the underlying brain biology that contributes to whether a person is an extrovert or an introvert.

The more I read about these personalities, the more I wondered—are there ways in which the biology can explain the social differences? It turns out that there are several known, key differences in the brain biology between introverts and extroverts.

Introverts & Extroverts: It’s Not as Simple as Shy or Outgoing (Part 1)

Author: Ellyn Schinke

Editors: Whit Froehlich, Nayiri Kaissarian, and Irene Park

Seemingly every Friday night, I’m curled up on my couch with a glass of wine and a good movie. Yet, it amazes me how many people scoff or flat-out laugh when I tell them that I’m an introvert. I am! In social situations, my mood can change very suddenly. It’s as if my social batteries have run out, flipping my social switch from on to off. Such changes are confusing for my friends, which might be based on the big misconception surrounding introversion and extroversion in society.

Why “cute” matters

By Irene Park

Life can be exciting sometimes, but it can also just be downright stressful. The dinner event that took me two weeks to plan is attended by only a quarter of the people on the guest list, my to-do list never gets shorter, my car suffers yet another bump in the parking lot, and so on.   

There are many ways that I deal with stress—such as exercising, listening to music, and hanging out with friends. But I have one secret way to de-stress that I usually don’t talk about at work: watching videos or looking at pictures of cute animals, like this one or this one, that melt my heart and force me to let out a huge “awwwww.”

Don’t sweat the small stuff: Exercise is Medicine® for stress relief

By Alison Ludzki

April is Stress Awareness Month

April is a natural fit for Stress Awareness Month, playing host to inevitable final exams and tax season. But is there a way to avoid the stress that comes along with them?

Stress means different things to different people, making it hard to define. Most importantly, stress is a hormonal response to danger. However, stress can also occur in response to not-so-dangerous occasions in our day-to-day lives, including routine events like work, family interactions, and other daily responsibilities. When these stressors are ongoing, they can have physical and mental health consequences.

Coffee: To drink or not to drink, that is the question

My morning usually goes like this: I wake up, shower, eat breakfast, and drink coffee before stepping out of my apartment to face the day.

Depending on how much time I have in the morning, I may skip some of those steps. Next time you see me, ask me how hungry I am and whether my socks actually match. But there is something that I never skip: coffee. And I’m not alone in this ritual—54% of Americans older than 18 drink coffee every day.

The budding brain: How yeast give rise to treatments for neurodegenerative diseases

By Sara Wong

What do humans and baker’s yeast have in common? Surprisingly, they share a massive amount of genetic information and are governed by many of the same cellular processes. Although yeast do not have organs or limbs, they work like human cells and can be used to study a wide range of human diseases. Yeast are cheap, grow quickly, and are easily manipulated. These qualities allow scientists who study yeast to discover new genes and pathways relatively easily compared to other model organisms, like mice. One area of yeast research focuses on understanding neurodegenerative diseases, such as Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s disease.