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Saturday, January 9, 2010

A Light Switch For The Brain

"A Light Switch For The Brain"
written by Jonathan Fahey

"Ed Boyden, a neuroscientist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, has developed a way to shut down parts of a brain just by shining light on them. When the light is turned off, the brain switches back on."

"We can now digitally turn off regions of the brain," says Boyden. "We can alter the information in the brain in a strategically useful way."

"Boyden's discovery, published in the journal Nature this week, is a powerful new tool for neuroscientists struggling to understand the complexity of the brain. With it, researchers will be able to probe how the circuitry of the brain works by silencing certain very specific areas or types of brain cells and studying the effects."

"Boyden thinks that his discovery will also soon be used as a prosthetic device in humans. It could quickly, and temporarily, shut down overactive brain regions implicated in conditions like epilepsy and depression."

To read the entire article please click on the following link: http://www.forbes.com/2010/01/06/brain-neurons-control-technology-breakthroughs-light.html


It would be great to have a device to shut down regions of my brain responsible for my depression and anxiety. Think of the gain to society that this finding could have? People could have much happier and much more productive lives. Medicine is simply not that useful for some medical conditions. In fact recently a new medical research indicated that anti-depressant medication is not much help to people who suffer from some kinds of depression.

Here is some additional information concerning this new finding about this light switch:

"This new found ability to precisely control neurons could finally bring answers to major questions about the brain. It might help scientists find the specific cells or neural activity patterns that are involved in cognitive processes, such as attention, or in particular diseases, such as epilepsy."

"The switch could also help decode the language of the brain by helping neuroscientists determine how different patterns of neural activity give rise to complex thoughts and actions. For example, recent research has suggested that rhythmic electrical patterns in our brain are important to our ability to pay attention.Scientists could use the switch to induce electrical patterns and see if this improves a human being''s focus."

source:http://www.technologyreview.com/biomedicine/18488/page2/

Here is an image which shows which regions of the human brain are involved in response to fear and stress:



"Functional imaging studies in combat veterans have revealed that the amygdala, a cerebral structure of the temporal lobe known to play a key role in fear and anxiety, is hyperactive in PTSD  (Post-Traumatic-Stress Disorder) subjects. Potentially paving the way for more effective treatments of anxiety disorders, a recent Nature report by Denis Paré, professor at the Center for Molecular and Behavioral Neuroscience at Rutgers University in Newark, has identified a critical component of the amygdala’s neural network normally involved in the extinction, or elimination, of fear memories. Paré’s laboratory studies the amygdala and how its activity impacts behavior."

"It is estimated that nearly 15 percent of U.S. soldiers returning from Iraq and Afghanistan develop PTSD, underscoring the urgency to develop better treatment strategies for anxiety disorders. These disorders can lead to myriad problems that hinder daily life – or ruin it altogether – such as drug abuse, alcoholism, marital problems, unemployment and suicide."

"Functional imaging studies in combat veterans have revealed that the amygdala, a cerebral structure of the temporal lobe known to play a key role in fear and anxiety, is hyperactive in PTSD subjects. Potentially paving the way for more effective treatments of anxiety disorders, a recent Nature report by Denis Paré, professor at the Center for Molecular and Behavioral Neuroscience at Rutgers University in Newark, has identified a critical component of the amygdala’s neural network normally involved in the extinction, or elimination, of fear memories."

"Paré’s laboratory studies the amygdala and how its activity impacts behavior. His research was published online by Nature on July 9, 2008 and appeared in the print edition later in July."

"Earlier research has revealed that in animals and humans, the amygdala is involved in the expression of innate fear responses, such as the fear of snakes, along with the formation of new fear memories as a result of experience, such as learning to fear the sound of a siren that predicts an air raid."

"In the laboratory, the circuits underlying learned fear are typically studied using an experimental paradigm called Pavlovian fear conditioning. In this research model on rats, a neutral stimulus such as the sound of a tone elicited a fear response in the rats after they heard it paired with an noxious or unpleasant stimulus, such as a shock to the feet. However, this conditioned fear response was diminished with repetition of the neutral stimulus in the absence of the noxious stimulus. This phenomenon is known as extinction. This approach is similar to that used to treat human phobias, where the subject is presented with the feared object in the absence of danger."

"Behavioral studies have demonstrated, however, that extinction training does not completely abolish the initial fear memory, but rather leads to the formation of a new memory that inhibits conditioned fear responses at the level of the amygdala. As such, fear responses can be expressed again when the conditioned stimulus is presented in a context other than the one where extinction training took place.
For example, suppose a rat is trained for extinction in a grey box smelling of roses, and later hears the tone again in a different box, with a different smell and appearance. The rat will show no evidence of having been trained for extinction. The tone will evoke as much fear as if the rat had not been trained for extinction.
“Extinction memory will only be expressed if tested in the same environment where the extinction training occurred, implying that extinction does not erase the initial fear memory but only suppresses it in a context-specific manner,” notes Paré."

"Importantly, it has been found that people with anxiety disorders exhibit an “extinction deficit,” or a failure to “forget.” However, until recently, the mechanisms of extinction have remained unknown."

"As reported by Nature, Paré has found that clusters of amygdala cells, known as the intercalated (ITC) neurons, play a key role in extinction. His findings indicate that ITC cells inhibit amygdala outputs to the brain stem structures that generate fear responses. Indeed, Paré and his collaborators have shown that when ITC cells are destroyed with a targeted toxin in rats, extinction memory is impeded, mimicking the behavior seen in PTSD."

"The significance of this finding derives from earlier results suggesting that PTSD reflects an extinction deficit and that the amygdala is hyperactive in this disorder. As a result, it might be possible to compensate for this abnormality and facilitate extinction with pharmacological interventions that enhance the excitability of ITC cells to inhibit amygdala outputs."

Source: Nature advance online publication 9 July 2008 | doi:10.1038/nature07167 Letter

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Thoughts worth thinking about

"Our subconscious minds have no sense of humor, play no jokes and cannot tell the difference between reality and an imagined thought or image. What we continually think about eventually will manifest in our lives."-Sidney Madwed



Laws alone can not secure freedom of expression; in order that every woman and man present their views without penalty, there must be spirit of tolerance in the entire population.- Albert Einstein Too often we underestimate the power of a touch, a smile, a kind word, a listening ear, an honest compliment, or the smallest act of caring, all of which have the potential to turn a life around. - Leo Buscaglia



A person's true wealth is the good he or she does in the world. - Mohammed



Our task must be to free ourselves... by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature and its beauty. -Albert Einstein



The best way to find yourself, is to lose yourself in the service of others. - Ghandi



The unselfish effort to bring cheer to others will be the beginning of a happier life for ourselves. - Helen Keller



Aim for success, not perfection. Never give up your right to be wrong, because then you will lose the ability to learn new things and move forward with your life. Remember that fear always lurks behind perfectionism. Confronting your fears and allowing yourself the right to be human can, paradoxically, make yourself a happier and more productive person. - Dr. David M. Burns



Life is as dear to a mute creature as it is to man. Just as one wants happiness and fears pain, just as one wants to live and not die, so do other creatures. -His Holiness The Dalai Lama



Mankind's true moral test, its fundamental test (which lies deeply buried from view), consists of its attitude towards those who are at its mercy: animals. And in this respect mankind has suffered a fundamental debacle, a debacle so fundamental that all others stem from it. -



Milan Kundera, The Unbearable Lightness of Being



The worst sin towards our fellow creatures is not to hate them, but to be indifferent to them. That's the essence of inhumanity. -George Bernard Shaw

Ego's trick is to make us lose sight of our interdependence. That kind of ego-thought gives us a perfect justification to look out only for ourselves. But that is far from the truth. In reality we all depend on each other and we have to help each other. The husband has to help his wife, the wife has to help the husband, the mother has to help her children, and the children are supposed to help the parents too, whether they want to or not.-Gehlek Rinpoche Source: "The Best Buddhist Writing 2005 pg. 165

The hostile attitude of conquering nature ignores the basic interdependence of all things and events---that the world beyond the skin is actually an extension of our own bodies---and will end in destroying the very environment from which we emerge and upon which our whole life depends.