Animals, including us human animals, and our sacrificial laboratory rodents, seek novelty quite innately and readily. We use a variety of mazes in the laboratory setting that rely on the a rat’s innate curiosity, which motivates them to explore and then move through its new environment. Without that curiosity it would be hard for us to provoke the rat into moving and then we could not test things like memory, motor skills, sensations, perceptions, fear, or motivation, which means we would not be able to create animal models of disorders like Alzheimer’s disease, amnesia, stroke, Parkinson’s disease, vision, smell, audition, anxiety, or depression. 

 

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AuthorMandy Wintink

I went to dinner with my former PhD supervisor and her lab. It was so refreshing being back in that intellectual space among people sharing their topics of study. I was particularly happy to be in the presence of my former supervisor, Lisa. I thoroughly enjoyed my time with her and all of the research I had done in her lab. She was an incredible mentor, scientist, and friend. She supported my productivity in many ways, including emotionally by being passionate about research herself and physically with lots of hired technical support. She really was my perfect supervisor and I couldn’t have asked for anything better. 

 

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AuthorMandy Wintink

Such a hot topic! And probably not going away anytime soon. Likewise in hotness is neurogenesis, the adult brain’s capacity to grow new brain cells, known as neurons. These two phenomena collide in a wonderful way to suggest that exercising is great for our brains and our memory! 

Neurogenesis has been noted in several brain regions but of particular interest to me (and other behavioural neuroscientists) is that there is a hot bed of new neuron growth in the hippocampus, an area that of the brain that has a very important role in memory. Typically, things that increase neurogenesis tend to correlate with increased memory and those that decrease neurogenesis tends to have a negative effect on memory. There are a few exceptions to this, which I hope to discuss in an upcoming post on hyper-plastic brains, but for now, a simple way of noting the relationship between neurogenesis and memory is that increase equals increase and vice versa.

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AuthorMandy Wintink

A few months ago I found myself in a conversation with my brother about the game Grand Theft Auto. Until that point my only experience with it was through the advertising campaign that plagued the billboards of Toronto in anticipation of it’s release. This naiveness didn’t stop me from having an opinion that I proceeded to impart upon my brother. But before I went too far, I stopped and ask him what it was like. “Is it all just about killing people?” I asked. “No, no, I mean ya you kill people but they come back to life and sometimes you just kill your friends because it’s funny.” 

 

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AuthorMandy Wintink

Saturday morning at SfN14 I went to a refreshing session in the “Meet the Expert” series with Dr. Julie Fiez. She was discussing how she came to find herself embedded within the scientific culture of “educational neuroscience”. In describing the field of study she talked about a bridge that needed to be formed with neuroscience, cognitive neuroscience, cognitive science, and education science in order to really drive the field of educational neuroscience. Several pieces caught my immediate attention, including the big “so what?” question that many of us neuroscientists face (whether we know it or not). “So what if the brain lights up here?” “So what if there is brain activity over there when we do this or that?” “So what if the brain changes over time or with age or during different cognitive tasks or with learning?” The answer that many of us basic researchers thrives off of...

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AuthorMandy Wintink

Science can baffle even scientists with its incredible technological power. Imagine being able to control your own brain by simply shining a light into it. All of a sudden you might feel particularly sexual or defensive or aggressive or creative or loving. This may not be possible with humans YET but some of that has been demonstrated in laboratory animals using a technique called “optogenetics”, which was the buzz word at dinners, coffee breaks, and lectures that I was at last week at the Society for Neuroscience Annual Meeting.  

 

Optogenetics is a technique that allows researchers to very discretely control activity within single brain cells of living brain tissue.

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AuthorMandy Wintink

Imagine being accused of murder and being able to blame your brain? Imagine, perhaps, you committed the crime but don’t totally remember it. You were, of course, in a fit of rage because you came home and found your spouse in bed with another person. In hindsight, of course, you know that it was wrong but at the time, you were blinded by rage and barely even felt conscious while doing it. Perhaps the head injury that you suffered from the car accident a few months before, an incident that left you never feeling the same, contributed to your rage. Perhaps, it wasn’t the car accident but, instead, it was your upbringing, the horrific experiences you endured because of an abusive parent. Perhaps you inherited experiences from your mother orfather. Could you blame your brain?

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AuthorMandy Wintink

Last night I was out with one of my favorite characters from Dalhousie, and I say “character” because that’s exactly what she is. Rahia is creative, funny, outspoken, and has a great scientific mind. Rahia is also currently a PhD student at Columbia University in New York (http://champagnelab.psych.columbia.edu/rahia.html). 

 

Over (great) beer at this off-the-beaten-path bar, Downtown Johnny Brown’s, Rahia was telling me about her research on the transmission of experiences from fathers, via epigenetic mechanisms to the offspring (see previous post:http://mandywintink.blogspot.com/2012/11/epigenetics-stress-science-review-part-1.html). That in itself is interesting but what was of particular interest -- both to me that night and to Rahia for the past year as she slaved away in the lab -- was whether or not the mothers could regulate the expression of the fathers experiences in utero such that it would change the fate of the offspring. Indeed, Rahia’s data suggest that moms can!  As Rahia put it, it’s like the mom looks at the dad and say “You sucks” and then compensates for that dad inadequacies!

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AuthorMandy Wintink

I just heard an amazing talk by Ed Catmull, co-founder of Pixar and president of Disney.  After Pixar became a success and went public (a 20-year goal they had) he asked himself, “what’s next?” and came up with the idea that he wanted to make creativity sustainable. His thinking about it lead to several concepts that he now claims blocks creativity. He has come to believe that facilitating creativity is about removing the barriers to creativity rather than being more creative.

Not feeling able to be honest or candid was one of those barriers. 

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AuthorMandy Wintink