New technologies are allowing us to explore the brain as never before. We are entering a new era in neuroscience where our knowledge of the brain is beginning to match the urgent need to prevent and treat diseases of the brain.



Salk scientists adapt computer program to gauge eye spasm severity

In an attempt to provide a more objective scale for research and diagnosis, Terrence Sejnowski, first author David Peterson and colleagues have developed a computer program that takes over the job, analyzing videos of patients’ faces. The program could eventually be expanded to help study facial tics and twitches in other contexts, including Tourette syndrome, schizophrenia and Parkinson’s disease. The research was described online on October 21, 2016, in Neurology, the medical journal of the American Academy of Neurology.

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“Princess Leia” brainwaves help sleeping brain store memories

Every night while you sleep, electrical waves of brain activity circle around each side of your brain, tracing a pattern that, were it on the surface of your head, might look like the twin hair buns of Star Wars’ Princess Leia. Salk Professor Terrence Sejnowski, first author Lyle Muller and colleagues, who discovered these circular “Princess Leia” oscillations, think the waves are responsible each night for forming associations between different aspects of the day’s memories. The findings were described in the journal eLife on November 15, 2016.
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Cell Reports

Building a better brain

When you build models, whether ships or cars, you want them to be as much like the real deal as possible. This quality is even more crucial for building model organs, because disease treatments developed from these models have to be safe and effective for humans. Salk Professor Joseph Ecker, first author Chongyuan Luo and European collaborators have studied a 3D “mini-brain” grown from human stem cells and found it to be structurally and functionally more similar to real brains than the 2D models in widespread use. The discovery, appearing in the December 20, 2016, issue of Cell Reports, indicates that the new model could better help scientists understand brain development as well as neurological diseases like Alzheimer’s or schizophrenia.

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Worms have teenage ambivalence, too

Work by Sreekanth Chalasani’s lab suggests that, in both roundworms and humans, adolescent brains mature to stable adult brains by changing which brain cells they use to generate behavior. Teen worm brains drive wishy-washy behavior that allows them to stay flexible in an uncertain world, while adult worm brains drive efficient behavior. The discovery, published online in eNeuro in January by Chalasani, first author Laura Hale and colleagues, provides insight into the underlying drivers of neurological development that could help better understand the human brain and disease.

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