Can protein levels in the brain predict early stages of psychosis?

Author: Sofia Ruiz-Sierra

Editors: Chloe Rybicki-Kler, Emily Eberhardt, & Madeline Barron

Illustrator: Jacquelyn Roberts

Imagine a world where doctors had no way of measuring blood pressure. They would have a hard time determining how hard your heart is working or whether you were at risk for serious conditions, like heart disease or stroke. Blood pressure is an example of a biological marker, or biomarker. Simply put, biomarkers provide insights into your health status.

Similarly to how blood pressure serves as a biomarker for heart health, biomarkers may also be critical in understanding psychotic disorders, such as schizophrenia. These biomarkers would allow researchers to obtain objective and reproducible measures to prevent, diagnose, and treat psychotic disorders. Providing an accurate diagnosis to patients increases their opportunities for early treatment and improved prognosis. However, identifying reliable biomarkers that allow scientists to understand and quantify complex cognitive disorders is complicated, as results are often inconclusive. Nevertheless, over the past decade, a brain protein called the Brain Derived Neurotrophic Factor (BDNF) has emerged as a potential biomarker for cognitive deficits in psychotic disorders. 

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Brain Myth 1 – Dopamine and Serotonin: The (Not Just) Happy Chemicals

Written by: Kane York

Illustrated by: Emma Thornton-Kolbe

Editors: Christian Greenhill, Kristen Loesel, and Jennifer Baker

Hey there, reader! This is the first in a series of articles addressing common myths about the brain. You can find my previous article here, in which I discuss the complexity of depression. Expect more to be coming soon! Enjoy reading.

Imagine eating a jelly donut. Imagine your first kiss. Imagine getting a good performance review from your boss. In each case, you may feel a sense of happiness, joy, or pleasure. Now, think about the brain functions that cause these happy feelings. You might guess that each of these scenarios triggers an instant boost of dopamine and serotonin in your brain. Dopamine and serotonin are two of the most talked about (and two of the most misunderstood) neurotransmitters, the chemicals that brain cells use to communicate. Yes, dopamine is associated with pleasure and serotonin with mood, but to stop there would be missing the full picture. Like many myths, there is some truth here. However, these molecules have a much richer role in the body and behavior than just the happy feelings.

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“Birdbrain” May Be a Compliment: Complex Vocal Learning in Avian Species

Written by: Bethany Beekly

Editors: Christina Del Greco, William Dean, Olivia Pifer Alge, and Madeline Barron

…Then this ebony bird beguiling my sad fancy into smiling,
By the grave and stern decorum of the countenance it wore,
“Though thy crest be shorn and shaven, thou,” I said, “art sure no craven,
Ghastly grim and ancient Raven wandering from the Nightly shore—
Tell me what thy lordly name is on the Night’s Plutonian shore!”
            Quoth the Raven “Nevermore.”

While Poe’s raven is generally understood to be metaphorical, the premise of his famous tale is not outside the realm of possibility. Ravens belong to a family of birds called corvids (Latin Corvidae) which also includes other common urban birds such as crows and magpies. Corvids are among the most intelligent avian species studied to date. They also happen to be among the select families of birds capable of mimicking human speech!

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The Science of What Keeps Us Apart

Author: Kaitlin Weskamp

Editors: Shweta Ramdas, Alex Taylor, and Kevin Boehnke

“… in diversity there is beauty and there is strength.” 
             ― Maya Angelou

Over time, there has been a general trend towards acceptance and inclusivity in the civil rights laws of the United States. From the abolition of slavery in 1865, to granting women the right to vote in 1920, to the legalization of gay marriage in 2015, we are making torturously-slow-but-steady progress towards the promise that “all men [and women] are created equal.”

Today, the majority of people in the U.S. agree with Maya Angelou that diversity lends strength to our community. However, racism, sexism, and homophobia remain enormous societal issues. Is there a neurological basis for these ideas? If so, how can we combat it?

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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.

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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.”

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