Degenerative protein aggregates: a whole body view

A few weeks ago, Vivian wrote a post about prion disease, discussing how understanding the mechanisms of Kuru could help us design treatments for other neurodegenerative disorders characterized by protein aggregations. The accumulation of protein as a pathological process has also been investigted outside the brain. Aging and degeneration are complex system-wide phenomena and studies like the one by Demontis and Perrimon (2011) show that by looking outside the brain we can unveil new whole-body regulatory mechanisms for neurodegeneration.FoxO_blog  (more…)

How eating it helped in treating it

This episode of Brain Celebrities will take us to the mountainous highlands of New Guinea, where the Fore people live. Until the 1960’s, the Fore had an interesting habit: they ate their dead. This gruesome tradition might help us understand neurological diseases such as Creutzfeldt-Jakob and Alzheimer’s disease.
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What does cocaine do in the brain?

Not all drugs can completely change who we are. Cocaine is one of the few with this power. Like many other psychoactive drugs, cocaine was first used as an anesthetic, but its potential effect on one’s mind and will was soon discovered and overshadowed its original usage. Cocaine’s power does not lie within the molecule itself, but rather in its interaction with the brain’s reward system (see a previous TBT post for the discovery of this system).

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The winter blues: Is it all in your head?

“February is my favorite month.” said no one living in Boston ever. The short days, cold temperatures, and repetitive snow really throw a dagger (presumably made of ice) into good times. I tend to think of Dec-Feb as my hibernating months; I am more lethargic, less motivated, and my fiancé and labmates can vouch for the fact that I am slightly more irritable than the good natured loving person I always am in better weather.  I’ve come to attribute my noticeable seasonal downswing to Seasonal Affective Disorder, or SAD (an acronym that ironically makes me quite happy), a self-diagnosis I probably made from seeing a commercial. Being the curious graduate student that I am I decided to do a little research on the subject and see what I could learn—really trying to go above and beyond what pharmaceutical advertising taught me.

Boston Winter, 2015. Image from CBS News Feb. 16, 2015

 

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Zika virus: from mosquito bites to locating centrosomes?

 

Since the beginning of this year, pregnant women are advised not to travel to Brazil or a long list of other Central and South American countries. The reason is a dramatic increase in the number of Brazilian newborns with microcephaly.

Dashboard 1

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The neuroscience behind mindfulness

Mindfulness is currently a very hot topic. It seems like every health website, magazine and newspaper is touting the benefits of meditation and yoga practices. Wired posted an article on how meditation can calm the anxious mind and help one manage emotions, Shape magazine relays that meditation can provide greater pain relief than morphine, while many other articles convey that mindfulness will help with weight loss, sleep, disordered eating, and even addiction. Amidst all of the articles promoting mindfulness we also see the backlash—a New York Times op-ed from October 2015 calls for us to take a step back and remember that mindfulness has not been proven to be the panacea to our society.  Personally, as a stressed out graduate student, I wonder if a mindfulness practice would increase my happiness and well-being, and as a neuroscientist I wonder what is true and how does it work, so I recently attended a lecture on the topic given by Dr. Sara Lazar, who works at Harvard Medical School and Mass General Hospital as a leading neuroscientist in the field of meditation.

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Love to tan? Blame Coco Chanel & your skin cells.

Coco Chanel, 1920

Coco Chanel, 1920 Source Hal Vaughan. Sleeping with the Enemy: Coco Chanel’s Secret War. Random House (2011)

Sometime in the summer of 1923, a forty-year-old French woman named Gabrielle returned from a holiday cruise in the French Riveria with a sunburn. I imagine this must have been a common occurrence, and surely would have gone unnoticed except for one thing: Gabrielle was actually known as Coco. As in Coco Chanel. The fashion icon’s newly bronzed skin became an instant trend among her fans that subsequently catalyzed a widespread obsession with sun-tanning.

No disrespect to the immense influence of Coco Chanel (apparently she is also credited with freeing women from the suffocating corset), but her sunburn was particularly timely. Not only was the Victorian-era aesthetic reverence for pale skin already fading, but sun exposure was just recently being heralded as the new ‘cure-all’ for a wide variety of diseases and illnesses. So it’s easy to understand the enthusiasm with which people embraced sun-tanning. Good for your health and fashionable – when does that ever happen? (more…)