Neuron

One Neuron to Rule Them All?

  The brain is arguably the most complex organ in the human body and understanding its structure could help explain a fundamental mystery of human existence: consciousness. The brain is composed of billions of specialized cells called neurons, which communicate with each other via electrical and chemical signals. Neurons are responsible for processes ranging from vital life functions to the ability to walk, talk remember, … Continue reading One Neuron to Rule Them All?

FlyNeuromuscularJunction

Branched synaptic arbor in fillet

The Drosophila neuromuscular junction is a beautiful and yet powerful model synapse for in vivo studies of development, physiology, cell biology and plasticity. This illustration by Saskia Van Vactor shows a field of ventral longitudinal body wall muscles in red, as if stained with phalloidin to highlight filamentous actin, the main protein building block of muscle. Against this background, several branches of intersegmental nerve extend … Continue reading Branched synaptic arbor in fillet

Brain Map Photo

New Detailed Brain Map Could Aide Future Understanding

Researchers have created the most detailed general map of the brain to date by scanning the brains of 1200 people. After recording detailed imaging of the subjects’ brain activity as they performed a variety of mental tasks, the information was used to ‘teach’ a computer to identify spatial ‘regions’ of related activity. These regions span the brain, creating a 3D, puzzle-like map. Also called a … Continue reading New Detailed Brain Map Could Aide Future Understanding

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The Brain is a Series of Tubes

The brain is made of up billions of neurons and even more connections between neurons. We can get an idea of how neurons are connected across the human brain using a type of brain scan called diffusion-weighted magnetic resonance imaging (dMRI). How does dMRI work? It actually measures the direction that water moves throughout the brain. Sometimes, water can move in all directions equally easily – like … Continue reading The Brain is a Series of Tubes

GFAP-Coronin1a Yu Wang

Retinal Corona

Image contributed by Yu Wang, a third year graduate student at Harvard Medical School. Glial cells support the proper function of neuronal cell types and are also responsible for cleaning up cell debris such as leftover neurotransmitter molecules (what neurons use to communicate with each other). Certain types of glia, called microglia, function as the first line of defense in immune-privileged places such as the … Continue reading Retinal Corona

Figure 2: Immune surveillance in the CNS. Immune cells (pink) surveying the CSF present what they see to circulating T cells (purple). Lymphatics (green) provide a route for CSF and circulating immune cells to reach lymph nodes in the neck and return to the rest of the body.
In a healthy brain (left), T cells don’t see a problem and circulate back to the rest of the body. In a diseased brain (right), the T are alerted to infection and respond by infiltrating the parenchyma, which can cause immune-mediated damage. (Cells not to scale).

How a newly discovered body part changes our understanding of the brain (and the immune system)

by Marie Siwicki figures by Anna Maurer At this time of year, researchers, doctors, and recreational nerds alike turn to the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) for the list of the past year’s most important scientific breakthroughs [1]. 2015 saw many significant advances that gained flashy and well-deserved press. The world witnessed the creation of an Ebola vaccine, the first fly-by of … Continue reading How a newly discovered body part changes our understanding of the brain (and the immune system)

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Harmful Algal Blooms Threaten Public Health and Economic Stability Along the West Coast

by Matthew Schwartz A new danger is threatening the economic stability of the west coast of the United States and has the potential to cause a public health crisis. A massive harmful algal bloom has accumulated across most of the west coast and may be the largest toxic algal bloom ever recorded [1]. The bloom is a threat because it is releasing a toxin which … Continue reading Harmful Algal Blooms Threaten Public Health and Economic Stability Along the West Coast