Discover the most talked about and latest scientific content & concepts.

Journal: Frontiers in neuroscience


Diffusion Tensor Imaging (DTI) studies are increasingly popular among clinicians and researchers as they provide unique insights into brain network connectivity. However, in order to optimize the use of DTI, several technical and methodological aspects must be factored in. These include decisions on: acquisition protocol, artifact handling, data quality control, reconstruction algorithm, and visualization approaches, and quantitative analysis methodology. Furthermore, the researcher and/or clinician also needs to take into account and decide on the most suited software tool(s) for each stage of the DTI analysis pipeline. Herein, we provide a straightforward hitchhiker’s guide, covering all of the workflow’s major stages. Ultimately, this guide will help newcomers navigate the most critical roadblocks in the analysis and further encourage the use of DTI.

Concepts: Scientific method, Medical imaging, Magnetic resonance imaging, Research, Management, Imaging, Tensors, The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy


Hitting a baseball is often described as the most difficult thing to do in sports. A key aptitude of a good hitter is the ability to determine which pitch is coming. This rapid decision requires the batter to make a judgment in a fraction of a second based largely on the trajectory and spin of the ball. When does this decision occur relative to the ball’s trajectory and is it possible to identify neural correlates that represent how the decision evolves over a split second? Using single-trial analysis of electroencephalography (EEG) we address this question within the context of subjects discriminating three types of pitches (fastball, curveball, slider) based on pitch trajectories. We find clear neural signatures of pitch classification and, using signal detection theory, we identify the times of discrimination on a trial-to-trial basis. Based on these neural signatures we estimate neural discrimination distributions as a function of the distance the ball is from the plate. We find all three pitches yield unique distributions, namely the timing of the discriminating neural signatures relative to the position of the ball in its trajectory. For instance, fastballs are discriminated at the earliest points in their trajectory, relative to the two other pitches, which is consistent with the need for some constant time to generate and execute the motor plan for the swing (or inhibition of the swing). We also find incorrect discrimination of a pitch (errors) yields neural sources in Brodmann Area 10, which has been implicated in prospective memory, recall, and task difficulty. In summary, we show that single-trial analysis of EEG yields informative distributions of the relative point in a baseball’s trajectory when the batter makes a decision on which pitch is coming.

Concepts: Discrimination, Baseball, Pitcher, Fastball, Base on balls, Batting average, Curveball, Slider


Decision-making often involves using sensory cues to predict possible rewarding or punishing reinforcement outcomes before selecting a course of action. Recent work has revealed complexity in how the brain learns to predict rewards and punishments. Analysis of neural signaling during and after learning in the amygdala and orbitofrontal cortex, two brain areas that process appetitive and aversive stimuli, reveals a dynamic relationship between appetitive and aversive circuits. Specifically, the relationship between signaling in appetitive and aversive circuits in these areas shifts as a function of learning. Furthermore, although appetitive and aversive circuits may often drive opposite behaviors - approaching or avoiding reinforcement depending upon its valence - these circuits can also drive similar behaviors, such as enhanced arousal or attention; these processes also may influence choice behavior. These data highlight the formidable challenges ahead in dissecting how appetitive and aversive neural circuits interact to produce a complex and nuanced range of behaviors.

Concepts: Psychology, Neuroanatomy, Hypothalamus, Brain, Human brain, Cerebrum, Hippocampus, Limbic system


Psychostimulants like Adderall and Ritalin are widely used for cognitive enhancement by people without ADHD, although the empirical literature has shown little conclusive evidence for effectiveness in this population. This paper explores one potential explanation of this discrepancy: the possibility that the benefit from enhancement stimulants is at least in part motivational, rather than purely cognitive. We review relevant laboratory, survey, and interview research and present the results of a new survey of enhancement users with the goal of comparing perceived cognitive and motivational effects. These users perceived stimulant effects on motivationally-related factors, especially “energy” and “motivation,” and reported motivational effects to be at least as pronounced as cognitive effects, including the effects on “attention.”

Concepts: Cognition, Educational psychology, Attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder, Motivation, Stimulant, Amphetamine, Narcolepsy, Stimulants


Over the past 5 years numerous reports have confirmed and replicated the specific brain cooling and thermal window predictions derived from the thermoregulatory theory of yawning, and no study has found evidence contrary to these findings. Here we review the comparative research supporting this model of yawning among homeotherms, while highlighting a recent report showing how the expression of contagious yawning in humans is altered by seasonal climate variation. The fact that yawning is constrained to a thermal window of ambient temperature provides unique and compelling support in favor of this theory. Heretofore, no existing alternative hypothesis of yawning can explain these results, which have important implications for understanding the potential functional role of this behavior, both physiologically and socially, in humans and other animals. In discussion we stress the broader applications of this work in clinical settings, and counter the various criticisms of this theory.

Concepts: Scientific method, Weather, Science, Heat, Climate change, Hypothesis, Theory, Explanation


Mexico City Metropolitan Area children chronically exposed to high concentrations of air pollutants exhibit an early brain imbalance in genes involved in oxidative stress, inflammation, innate and adaptive immune responses along with accumulation of misfolded proteins observed in the early stages of Alzheimer and Parkinson’s diseases. A complex modulation of serum cytokines and chemokines influences children’s brain structural and gray/white matter volumetric responses to air pollution. The search for biomarkers associating systemic and CNS inflammation to brain growth and cognitive deficits in the short term and neurodegeneration in the long-term is our principal aim. We explored and compared a profile of cytokines, chemokines (Multiplexing LASER Bead Technology) and Cellular prion protein (PrP©) in normal cerebro-spinal-fluid (CSF) of urban children with high vs. low air pollution exposures. PrP© and macrophage inhibitory factor (MIF) were also measured in serum. Samples from 139 children ages 11.91 ± 4.2 years were measured. Highly exposed children exhibited significant increases in CSF MIF (p = 0.002), IL6 (p = 0.006), IL1ra (p = 0.014), IL-2 (p = 0.04), and PrP© (p = 0.039) vs. controls. MIF serum concentrations were higher in exposed children (p = 0.009). Our results suggest CSF as a MIF, IL6, IL1Ra, IL-2, and PrP© compartment that can possibly differentiate air pollution exposures in children. MIF, a key neuro-immune mediator, is a potential biomarker bridge to identify children with CNS inflammation. Fine tuning of immune-to-brain communication is crucial to neural networks appropriate functioning, thus the short and long term effects of systemic inflammation and dysregulated neural immune responses are of deep concern for millions of exposed children. Defining the linkage and the health consequences of the brain / immune system interactions in the developing brain chronically exposed to air pollutants ought to be of pressing importance for public health.

Concepts: Immune system, Inflammation, Antibody, Signal transduction, Innate immune system, Adaptive immune system, Interleukin, Cerebrospinal fluid


Background: A major challenge in the field of neural interfaces is to overcome the problem of poor stability of neuronal recordings, which impedes long-term studies of individual neurons in the brain. Conceivably, unstable recordings reflect relative movements between electrode and tissue. To address this challenge, we have developed a new ultra-flexible electrode array and evaluated its performance in awake non-restrained animals. Methods:An array of eight separated gold leads (4 × 10 μm), individually flexible in 3D, were cut from a gold sheet using laser milling and insulated with Parylene C. To provide structural support during implantation into rat cortex, the electrode array was embedded in a hard gelatin based material, which dissolves after implantation. Recordings were made during 3 weeks. At termination, the animals were perfused with fixative and frozen to prevent dislocation of the implanted electrodes. A thick slice of brain tissue, with the electrode array still in situ, was made transparent using methyl salicylate to evaluate the conformation of the implanted electrode array. Results: Median noise levels and signal/noise remained relatively stable during the 3 week observation period; 4.3-5.9 μV and 2.8-4.2, respectively. The spike amplitudes were often quite stable within recording sessions and for 15% of recordings where single-units were identified, the highest-SNR unit had an amplitude higher than 150 μV. In addition, high correlations (>0.96) between unit waveforms recorded at different time points were obtained for 58% of the electrode sites. The structure of the electrode array was well preserved 3 weeks after implantation. Conclusions: A new implantable multichannel neural interface, comprising electrodes individually flexible in 3D that retain its architecture and functionality after implantation has been developed. Since the new neural interface design is adaptable, it offers a versatile tool to explore the function of various brain structures.

Concepts: Nervous system, Neuron, Brain, Human brain, Cerebral cortex, Cerebellum


The scientific interest in meditation and mindfulness practice has recently seen an unprecedented surge. After an initial phase of presenting beneficial effects of mindfulness practice in various domains, research is now seeking to unravel the underlying psychological and neurophysiological mechanisms. Advances in understanding these processes are required for improving and fine-tuning mindfulness-based interventions that target specific conditions such as eating disorders or attention deficit hyperactivity disorders. This review presents a theoretical framework that emphasizes the central role of attentional control mechanisms in the development of mindfulness skills. It discusses the phenomenological level of experience during meditation, the different attentional functions that are involved, and relates these to the brain networks that subserve these functions. On the basis of currently available empirical evidence specific processes as to how attention exerts its positive influence are considered and it is concluded that meditation practice appears to positively impact attentional functions by improving resource allocation processes. As a result, attentional resources are allocated more fully during early processing phases which subsequently enhance further processing. Neural changes resulting from a pure form of mindfulness practice that is central to most mindfulness programs are considered from the perspective that they constitute a useful reference point for future research. Furthermore, possible interrelations between the improvement of attentional control and emotion regulation skills are discussed.

Concepts: Scientific method, Psychology, Attention, Neuroscience, Attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder, Hyperactivity, Buddhist meditation, Resource allocation


Retinal prostheses, which restore partial vision to patients blinded by outer retinal degeneration, are currently in clinical trial. The Argus II retinal prosthesis system was recently awarded CE approval for commercial use in Europe. While retinal prosthesis users have achieved remarkable visual improvement to the point of reading letters and short sentences, the reading process is still fairly cumbersome. This study investigates the possibility of using an epiretinal prosthesis to stimulate visual braille as a sensory substitution for reading written letters and words. The Argus II retinal prosthesis system, used in this study, includes a 10 × 6 electrode array implanted epiretinally, a tiny video camera mounted on a pair of glasses, and a wearable computer that processes the video and determines the stimulation current of each electrode in real time. In the braille reading system, individual letters are created by a subset of dots from a 3 by 2 array of six dots. For the visual braille experiment, a grid of six electrodes was chosen out of the 10 × 6 Argus II array. Groups of these electrodes were then directly stimulated (bypassing the camera) to create visual percepts of individual braille letters. Experiments were performed in a single subject. Single letters were stimulated in an alternative forced choice (AFC) paradigm, and short 2-4-letter words were stimulated (one letter at a time) in an open-choice reading paradigm. The subject correctly identified 89% of single letters, 80% of 2-letter, 60% of 3-letter, and 70% of 4-letter words. This work suggests that text can successfully be stimulated and read as visual braille in retinal prosthesis patients.

Concepts: Psychology, Visual perception, Prosthetics, Book of Optics, Wearable computer, Blindness, Camera, Braille


Repeated experience of winning in a social conflict setting elevates levels of aggression and may lead to violent behavioral patterns. Here, we use a paradigm of repeated aggression and fighting deprivation to examine changes in behavior, neurogenesis, and neuronal activity in mice with positive fighting experience. We show that for males, repeated positive fighting experience induces persistent demonstration of aggression and stereotypic behaviors in daily agonistic interactions, enhances aggressive motivation, and elevates levels of anxiety. When winning males are deprived of opportunities to engage in further fights, they demonstrate increased levels of aggressiveness. Positive fighting experience results in increased levels of progenitor cell proliferation and production of young neurons in the hippocampus. This increase is not diminished after a fighting deprivation period. Furthermore, repeated winning experience decreases the number of activated (c-fos-positive) cells in the basolateral amygdala and increases the number of activated cells in the hippocampus; a subsequent no-fight period restores the number of c-fos-positive cells. Our results indicate that extended positive fighting experience in a social conflict heightens aggression, increases proliferation of neuronal progenitors and production of young neurons in the hippocampus, and decreases neuronal activity in the amygdala; these changes can be modified by depriving the winners of the opportunity for further fights.

Concepts: Psychology, Amygdala, Brain, Hippocampus, Neurogenesis, Aggression, Behavior, Human behavior