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The Brain Is a Noisy Place

The human brain is capable of processing 100 trillion calculations per second, the equivalent of 100 teraflops of information. That is a lot of information to process, and some firing neurons may just be carrying messages that are, well, a tad bit unnecessary. Science calls this “noise,” random brain activity that doesn’t have any important function, but have now found that this noise might be making your brain unreliable.

The perennial conundrum facing scientists was how the brain could be so reliable when its circuitry was so variable. The prevailing hypothesis claimed that the circuitry itself is reliable, but because the brain is engaged in so many different tasks at any given moment, there appears to be a high variability in outcomes.

Researchers at UCL tested this hypothesis, using a modern-day, laymen’s scenario: If a butterfly’s wings flapped in one area of the brain, could it cause a tornado in another area? Researchers introduced a nerve pulse into a single neuron of a rat’s brain. As expected, the single pulse raced across other neurons and activated them – much like a line of dominos falling one after another. The pulse triggered about 30 other neurons, and each of those neurons triggered 30 more, eventually leading to a possible total of a few million of neurons affected by a single, involuntary pulse.

“This result indicate that the variability we see in the brain may actually be due to noise, and represents a fundamental feature of normal brain function,” states lead author Dr. Mickey London, from the Wolfson Institute for Biomedical Research.

This means that the brain is far noisier than any known computer, and yet still more accurate and faster than any known computer built. How does the brain do it? The researchers believe that human brains use a strategy called “rate code,” where neurons pay more attention to similar messages from multiple neurons, but ignore their individual “noises.”

Source: Science Daily

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Mouse Tears Are a Turn-On for Female Mice

If I were to ask you to cite a list of common aphrodisiacs, you’d probably be able to name a few off the top of your head. Chocolate? Sure. Oysters? Yup. Mouse tears? Unfortunately, that’s a yes, too. Well, for other mice, that is – there’s a reason www.sexymousetears.xxx isn’t a registered porn site yet. Apparently, a mouse who isn’t afraid to shed a few tears drives the lady mice wild. (And isn’t that really true for humans, as well?)

When mice cry, the tears are full of a pheromone called ESP1, which makes female mice hearts go all aflutter. A marathon of Hugh Grant movies isn’t the only thing that makes male mice weep – they actually cry all of the time in order to keep their eyes from drying up. The tears are spread as they groom themselves, distributing the pheromone-laden liquid all over their bodies and nests. When female mice stop by to get their lent movies back, the nose-like organ – the vomeronasal – is assaulted with the sex hormone. Once she comes into contact with the male mouse or the nest, the pheromone binds to a specific protein receptor and her brain goes crazy. At this moment, female mice are three times more likely to stick out their rumps and tails in anticipation.

Before you men try turning on the waterworks, you should know that we lack the gene that codes for ESP1.

Source:
National Geographic

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Prozac + Ritalin = Cocaine?

Over at Neurotopia, blogger Scicurious has broken down the basics of the ominously titled research paper “Fluoxetine potentiates methylphenidate-induced gene regulation in addiction-related brain regions: Concerns for use of cognitive enhancers?” To put it simply: What are the implications of using Prozac and Ritalin regularly?

Here’s a brief explanation of how Ritalin and Prozac work. Ritalin is a cognitive enhancer which means that, while it won’t make you smarter or improve your memory, it will help you concentrate. Students regularly take this pill while pulling an all-nighter after realizing the final exam is tomorrow and they haven’t studied for it at all. Prozac is an SSRI, or a selective serotonin re-uptake inhibitor. It is frequently given to people who wouldn’t see the silver lining on a storm cloud if it were blinding them. Both drugs work by altering the balance of different neurotransmitters in your brain, such as norepinephrine and dopamine. Dopamine and norepinephine are often found floating around the synapse – spaces between neurons – occasionally, they will bind to a receptor, which creates a signal in one of the neurons. The receptor and the neurotransmitter briefly bind, but then release after the signal is created. On the other side of the synapse are transporters, which re-uptake the dopamine so that it doesn’t continue to just sit around the synapse, stimulating neurons endlessly. Ritalin blocks those transporters, which means that the dopamine and norepinephrine continue to build up within the synapse, and continue to bind to the receptors, and in a process that we’ll just call “science magic,” the Ritalin user gets an enhanced concentration for whatever subject they’re studying.

Prozac does basically the same thing, except it works on serotonin. As it turns out, cocaine does the same thing too, for all three neurotransmitters. So, does that mean that if you take Prozac and Ritalin together, you get the same effect as a dose of cocaine?

To find this out, researchers focused on a part of the brain called the striatum, which is associated with the rewarding and reinforcing properties of drugs like cocaine. They wanted to see if Prozac and Ritalin could produce the same patterns as cocaine did in the striatum. As it turns out, they do.

Rats were given doses of a saline solution, Prozac, Ritalin, and both pills together. In each case, when the rats took both pills together, there was an increase of activity in the reward related areas of the striatum. The authors of the paper concluded, therefore, that Ritalin and Prozac combined have some of the same effects as cocaine does on the brain.

Source: Neurotopia

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Mojoceratops Dubbed Coolest Dinosaur Ever

Mojoceratops is just what it sounds like – the older, cooler cousin of the triceratops. Mojoceratops is the newest species found to belong to the chasmosaurine ceratopsid family, and lived about 75 million years ago during the Late Cretaceous. It was short lived, only living about one million years (a mere hiccup in the time period) – and can only be found in Canada’s Alberta and Saskatchewan provinces.

Nicholas Lonrich, a postdoctoral associate at Yale University, first stumbled across the new species while researching fossil collections in the American Museum of Natural History in New York. He found a fossil with a very distinctive frill – one that didn’t match the frills of other species in the chasmosaurine ceratopsid family. Further trips to other museums in Western Canada qualified his claim. “The fossils didn’t look like anything we’d seen before,” he explained. “They just looked wrong.”

When you discover a new species, you get to name it – them’s just the rules in paleontology. Typically, the names are Latin or Greek in origin, but Mojoceratops enjoyed a more spontaneous creation. Longrich and his colleagues were enjoying a few beers when Longrich blurted out the name. “It was just a joke, but then everyone stopped and looked at each other and said ‘Wait – that actually sounds cool,'” explained Longrich. “I tried to come up with serious names after that, but Mojoceratops just sort of stuck.”

As it turns out, the name fits. The word “mojo” is a 20th century African American term meaning magic charm or talisman, often used to attract members of the opposite sex. Frills were the dinosaur equivalent of Axe spray and fancy cars – there only purpose was to attract the ladies. Though all chasmosaurine ceratopsids rock a frill, mojoceratops’ [frill] is the most ostentatious.”

Source: Yale

Lauren Admire has a cat named Mojo, which is almost cool as a dinosaur.

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