Canonical transient receptor potential (TRPC) channels are a family of non-selective cation channels that play a crucial role in modulating neuronal excitability due to their involvement in intracellular Ca2+ regulation and dendritic growth. TRPC5 channels a) are one of the two most prevalent TRPC channels in the adult rodent brain; b) are densely expressed in deep layer pyramidal neurons of the prefrontal cortex (PFC); and c) modulate neuronal persistent activity necessary for working memory and attention. In order to evaluate the causal role of TRPC5 in motivation/reward-related behaviors, conditional forebrain TRPC5 knock-down (trpc5-KD) mice were generated and trained to nose-poke for intravenous cocaine. Here we present a data set containing the first 6 days of saline or cocaine self-administration in wild type (WT) and trpc5-KD mice. In addition, we also present a data set showing the dose-response to cocaine after both groups had achieved similar levels of cocaine self-administration. Compared to WT mice, trpc5-KD mice exhibited an apparent increase in self-administration on the first day of cocaine testing without prior operant training. There were no apparent differences between WT and trpc5-KD mice for saline responding on the first day of training. Both groups showed similar dose-response sensitivity to cocaine after several days of achieving similar levels of cocaine intake.  (for more see our recent publication)

How can we change the culture of minimizing an injury, often times referred to as a “ding” or “getting your bell rung”, to a culture recognizing that concussions are brain injuries? (for my full article published in Nature Precedings April 3 click here) The number of emergency department visits concerning sport related TBI in youth increased 57% from 2001 to 2009 and while a fraction of that increase may be attributed to injuries that were once missed now being identified due to greater general awareness, the fact remains that there are nearly 200,000 children every year who suffer sport related concussion or other TBI serious enough to prompt a visit to the ED. 40% of sports related concussions involve children between the ages of 8 and 13, and in this group the rate of concussion doubled between 1997 and 2007. The risk of concussion is highest in football and there are nearly 67,000 diagnosed concussions in high school football every year.

In other sports that males and females play, such as basketball, girls seem to be at a higher risk. In high schools, concussions account for 15% of all sports related injuries resulting in at least one day of play lost. The risk of a suffering a concussion when participating in a contact sport may be as high as 20% per season. In both girls’ and boys’ soccer and basketball 20% of the concussions were repeat concussions. These statistics just further illustrate the gravity of the problem of sport related concussions. Here we describe the need for more work on education, legislation and research in order to change in the concussion/mTBI culture.

In 2008, more than 15 years after the Gulf War had ended, the US Government acknowledged the Gulf War Syndrome as a legitimate illness. That year a congressionally mandated Research Advisory Committee issued a 452-page report that stated, “scientific evidence leaves no question that Gulf War illness is a real condition with real causes and serious consequences for affected veterans. Because it wasn’t acknowledged as an illness there were no significant funds available to research the illness, so next to nothing was known about which brain regions might be involved.

In 2008, my laboratory obtained a VA sponsored contract to study the role of the toxic organophosphate metabolite, chlorpyrifos oxon on various brain regions in order to shed light into the cellular mechanisms of a number of psychological symptoms associated with deployed Gulf War veterans. Over the past few years, we have published a couple papers on the subject. Most recently, (July 8, 2011) we published our most recent findings in Nature Precedings implicating a brain region critically involved in attention, addition and arousal. Visit the site and Vote for our paper and leave us a comment there or at http://www.neuro-cloud.info if you are interested in collaborating with us on this project.

“Gulf War syndrome is a chronic multi-symptom illness that has affected about a quarter of the deployed veterans of the 1991 Gulf War. Exposure to prolonged low-level organophosphate insecticides and other toxic chemicals is now thought to be responsible. Chlorpyrifos was one commonly used insecticide. The metabolite of chlorpyrifos, chlorpyrifos oxon, is a potent irreversible inhibitor of acetylcholinesterase, much like the nerve agent Sarin. To date, the target brain region(s) most susceptible to the neuroactive effects of chlorpyrifos oxon have yet to be identified. To address this we tested ability of chlorpyrifos oxon to influence neuronal excitability and induce lasting changes in the locus coeruleus, a brain region implicated in anxiety, substance use, attention and emotional response to stress. Here we used an ex vivo rodent model to identify a dramatic effect of chlorpyrifos oxon on locus coeruleus noradrenergic neuronal activity. Prolonged exposure to chlorpyrifos oxon caused acute inhibition and a lasting rebound excitatory state expressed after days of exposure and subsequent withdrawal. Our findings indicate that the locus coeruleus is a brain region vulnerable to chlorpyrifos oxon-induced neuroplastic changes possibly leading to the neurological symptoms affecting veterans of the Gulf War.


Don Cooper, Professor, Institute for Behavioral Genetics

Our brain’s short-term memory system has been likened to the rewritable
RAM memory of a computer. To perform normal functions, we need the ability
to transiently store, quickly and reliably, large amounts of data, but
only a small amount of this needs to be retained in the longer term.
Scientists have spent decades working out which parts of the brain are
responsible for this memory buffer system, and how neural networks manage
this feat. Given the wealth of detailed information gathered from
neuroscience we are now at a point where we can begin to design pedagogies
that capitalize on the learning and memory models developed from
neuroscience. Professor Cooper will discuss what neuroscience has to say
about attention and learning at the neuronal level and how we can design a
“neuropedagogical” approach to promote learning.

What do you get when you give a team of international Rubik’s cube nerds access to Google’s most powerful computers? The answer is 20… and it is a number that previously only God knew. Google’s computers prove that Rubik’s Cube puzzle can always be solved in 20 moves or less. Nerdy Rubik’s researchers claim, “One may suppose God would use a much more efficient algorithm, one that always uses the shortest sequence of moves; this is known as God’s Algorithm. The number of moves this algorithm would take in the worst case is called God’s Number. At long last, God’s Number has been shown to be 20.”

Google’s motto is “Don’t be evil” and now they have proven to have divine insight, but I am not sure the researchers interpretation of God’s nature is accurate. Knowing what we know about the nature of God, since when does God solve problems in the most efficient and elegant manner (the Great Flood notwithstanding), after all God is eternal and doesn’t need to be efficient. Natural selection, the driver underlying the theory of evolution, is a perfect example of the unbiased and patient approach that is more consistent with the nature of God. One wonders how many iterations it would take to arrive at 20 moves using a “natural selection-like” random move-and-learn approach. Using this approach all Rubik’s cube solutions should converge on 20 given enough iterations and memory of prior successful attempts.

The Whole Brain Catalog is a crowdsourcing project where scientists enter data from across the research spectrum, in a variety of forms, like MRI data, stained neurons and theoretical diagrams of brain circuitry and presents them in a way that scientists, doctors and 3-D animators can digest in a unified way. Those users then contribute back to the site, wiki-style, to produce an increasingly full model of the brain at every scale, down to the molecular level. Check out the article (Click picture)

A new study reveals how casinos capitalize on a glitch in human decision-making to keep gamblers glued to their slot machines.

As anyone who has come oh-so close to winning a computer solitaire game and been unable to resist clicking “new game,” or who has found it harder to walk away from a slot machine after spinning two bells and a lemon (a near-miss) than after getting a bell, a lemon, and a three-bar (a total miss), knows, near-misses are like crack.  (Sharon Begley, Newsweek.com).

When an amateur hunter shoots his hunting companion in the face while quail hunting in Texas, it is a brain region known as the right temporo-parietal junction which is activated when we make judgments about his intentions. Was it an accident or was he trying to harm his buddy?
New research by neuroscientists at MIT identify the locus of moral judgement.

Moral judgments can be altered … by magnets.

“We have no more free will than a bowl of sugar”

Harold Erickson summarizes a new paper out in Proceedings of the National Academy of Science that describes the biological basis of free will.

This fascinating paper is about free will. Dr Cashmore presents compelling arguments that free will does not exist, and that the behavior of every human is completely determined by their genetic make-up, environmental history, and stochasticism (which obscures the determinism). He raises the remarkable point that “relatively few biologists seriously question the concept of free will. This holds in spite of the fact that we live in an era when few biologists would question the idea that biological systems are totally based on the laws of physics and chemistry.” A belief in free will is really a continued belief in vitalism, which we thought disappeared 100 years ago.

Dr Cashmore discusses in some detail how consciousness plays a major role in giving us the illusion of free will, but he raises the anomaly (recognized by the ancient Greeks) that ‘will’ is thought to be a non-physical entity that can influence conscious thought yet ‘will’ itself lacks any causal component — a kind of magic. He summarizes arguments that the evolution of society has likely selected for the illusion of free will and ‘responsibility’. He concludes by discussing the implications for our criminal justice system. It would not actually change that much in practice, since it will still be necessary to incarcerate people to protect society and act as a deterrent. We should, however, eliminate psychiatrists from initial judicial proceedings — so gone is the insanity defense. A final summary point is “not only do we have no more free will than a fly or a bacterium, in actuality we have no more free will than a bowl of sugar.”

A new study has been released that tests visual attention and focus amidst distractors and reports that humans cannot simultaneously multitask, but rather switch attention from one thing to another. This is a type of multiplexing (rapid switching back and forth between two channels) and it is very demanding on cognitive resources.

Another related study says humans are subject to “change blindness”, like when you fail to notice that your husband got his hair cut. Essentially this article posits that humans are poor at remembering information that doesn’t grab our attention. The prefrontal cortex is what prioritizes how the information is processed, so it decides what is important and directs attention. It is possible that individuals with Autism may actually be better at detecting change blindness because their prefrontal cortex has a more difficult time discerning the most important information amidst unimportant information. In my opinion, it is not in our interest to develop means to improve our change vision, because it will come as a result of being focus blind.