How researchers use new tools to map the structure and function of the brain

4. Seizures hijack memory pathways

Seizures are sudden surges of electrical activity in the brain. People who experience temporal lobe seizures are sometimes unable to remember what happened immediately prior. This may be due to disruptions to the circuitry in the hippocampus, the part of the temporal lobe key to memory consolidation.

Neurology researchers Anastasia Brodovskaya and Jaideep Kapur of the University of Virginia hypothesized that seizures can cause memory loss by using the same pathways the brain uses to process memories. They mapped the neurons of mice learning to navigate a maze and during induced seizures, finding that both cases activated the same brain circuits.

“Because they use the same brain pathways, seizures can disrupt the memory consolidation process by taking over the circuit,” they wrote. “This meant that seizures can hijack the memory pathways and cause amnesia.”

5. What the nose knows

What the eye can’t see, the nose can for many organisms. From dogs to mosquitoes, many animals behave in ways that allow them to detect and pursue an odor long before its source comes into view.

Scientists John Crimaldi, Brian Smith, Elizabeth Hong, and Nathan Urban of the Odor2Action research network use technology to study olfaction, or sense of smell. They trace how the shape of an odor plume informs how it will be detected, how those odor molecules are translated into electrical signals in the brain, and how these electrical signals are reformatted into useful information that influences behavior.

A better understanding of the olfactory system, they wrote, can lead to the development of electronic noses that make searching for chemical weapons and disaster victims safer for people and animals. They also believe that examining the olfactory system can help the advanced study of the brain. “Its relative simplicity is what allows scientists like us to study it from end to end and learn how the brain works as a whole,” they wrote.

Leave a Comment