Archive for the ‘Nature Neuroscience’ Category

By Tanya Lewis

Just as humans lament not pursuing a lover or bemoan having eaten that extra slice of chocolate cake, rats may experience feelings of regret, too, new research suggests.

When rats were given the option of visiting rooms that contained different foods, and they skipped a good deal for a worse one, they glanced back at the former room, rushed through eating the snack and were more likely to tolerate longer wait times for what they considered the more desirable food , researchers found.

Furthermore, the rats’ brain activity represented the missed opportunity, suggesting the animals were, in fact, experiencing regret over their choice.

“The rat is representing the counterfactual — the ‘what might have been,'” David Redish, a neuroscientist at the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis, and senior author of the study detailed today (June 8) in the journal Nature Neuroscience.

No other studies have shown convincingly that any animal besides humans experience regret, though some studies hinted it was possible, the researchers said.

How do you define regret? You can’t exactly ask a rat if it feels regret, but even if you could, it wouldn’t be proof, just as it can be difficult to tell if a human feels regret just by asking them.

It’s important to distinguish between regret and disappointment, Redish told Live Science. Regret occurs when you make a mistake, but recognize there’s an alternate action you could have taken that would have resulted in a better outcome, he said. Disappointment happens when “the world’s just not as good as you hoped, but it’s not necessarily your fault,” he said.

To test whether rats could feel regret, Redish and his graduate student Adam Steiner designed a kind of “restaurant row” for the animals — a circular enclosure with pathways leading off it to “restaurants” with different kinds of food, which were dispensed after some delay.

As a rat passed each pathway, it heard a tone that told the animal how long it would have to wait for the food (like being told the wait time at a restaurant). Each rat had its own favorite food, such as banana or chocolate, and would wait longer to get it, Redish said. Each rat was given an hour to explore the enclosure, during which it could only move in one direction between restaurants.

If the rat passed up a good deal — for instance, bypassing a food it liked in favor of a shorter wait time — and encountered a worse deal at the next restaurant, it would glance backward at the one it passed up. Not only that, the rat rushed through eating its chosen food, much like a regretful human would, and was more likely to take a “worse deal” in the future, the researchers said.

But the rats’ behavior was only part of the story. The researchers also made electrical recordings of the rats’ brains during the task, from neurons in the orbitofrontal cortex, the part of the brain that is active in human brain scans when people feel regret. Decoding these signals allowed the researchers to “read the rat’s mind,” Redish said.

Surprisingly, when the rats were looking back at the restaurant they ultimately passed up, their brains showed a representation of entering that restaurant — not of the food they missed. The findings suggest the animals were expressing regret over their actions, rather than just disappointment, the researchers said.

If rats can feel regret, what about other animals? Redish speculates that any mammal might be capable of the feeling, because they have many of the same brain structures as rats and humans.

“Regret is something we think of as very human and very cognitive,” Redish said, but “we’re seeing that the rats are much more cognitive than we thought.”

http://www.livescience.com/46184-rats-experience-regret.html

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ooold-neurons

bomb

by Leonie Welberg

The question of whether adult neurogenesis occurs in the human hippocampus has been a hotly debated topic in neuroscience. In a study published in Cell, Frisén and colleagues now settle the debate by providing evidence that around 1,400 dentate gyrus cells are born in the human brain every day.

The authors made use of a birth-dating method that is based on the principle that 14C in the atmosphere is taken up by plants and — because humans eat plants and animals that eat plants — eventually also by humans. As 14C is incorporated into DNA during cell division, the 14C content of a cell is thought to reflect 14C levels in the atmosphere at the time of the birth of the cell. Importantly, atomic bomb testing in the 1950s and 1960s resulted in a spike in atmospheric 14C levels, and levels declined after 1963; this means that the level of 14C in cellular DNA can be used as a relatively precise marker of a cell’s birth date.

The authors applied the 14C birth-dating method to whole hippocampi dissected from post-mortem brains donated by individuals who were born in different years in the twentieth century. They separated neurons from non-neuronal hippocampal cells, purified the neuronal DNA and determined 14C levels. Neuronal 14C levels did not match atmospheric 14C levels in the individual’s birth year but were either higher (for people born before 1950) or lower (for people born after 1963), suggesting that at least some of the hippocampal cells were born after the year in which an individual was born.

Computer modelling of the data revealed that the best-fit model was one in which 35% of hippocampal cells showed such turnover, whereas the majority did not (that is, they were born during development). Assuming that, in humans, adult neurogenesis would take place in the dentate gyrus rather than in other hippocampal areas (as it does in rodents), and as the dentate gyrus contains about 44% of all hippocampal neurons, this model suggests that about 80% of human dentate gyrus cells undergo renewal in adulthood. This is in striking contrast to the scenario in mice, in which only ~10% of adult dentate gyrus neurons undergo renewal. The study further showed that there is very little decline in the level of hippocampal neurogenesis with ageing in humans, which is again in contrast to rodents.

It is now well established that adult-born neurons have a functional role in the mouse and rat dentate gyrus and olfactory bulb. A previous study using the same neuronal birth-dating method established that no adult neurogenesis takes place in the olfactory bulb and cortex in humans, but the new study has elegantly shown that the situation is different in the dentate gyrus. Whether the adult-born neurons have functional implications in humans remains a topic for future investigation.

http://www.nature.com/nrn/journal/v14/n8/full/nrn3548.html?WT.ec_id=NRN-201308

Thanks to Kebmodee for bringing this to the attention of the It’s Interesting community.

panic-attack

By JAMES GORMAN
Published: February 3, 2013
New York Times

In the past few years, scientists have learned a lot about fear from a woman who could not experience it. A rare illness had damaged a part of her brain known as the amygdala and left her eerily unafraid.

Both in experiments and in life, the woman, known as SM, showed no fear of scary movies, snakes, spiders or very real domestic assaults, death threats, and robberies at knife- and gunpoint.

Although she lived in an area “replete with crime, drugs and danger,” according to an earlier study, because she lacked a functioning amygdala, an evolutionarily ancient part of the brain long known to process fear, nothing scared her.

But recently SM had a panic attack. And the simple fact that she was able to feel afraid without a working amygdala, experts say, illuminates some of the brain’s most fundamental processes and may have practical value in the study of panic attacks.

SM’s moments of fear occurred during an experiment that involved inhaling carbon dioxide through a mask in amounts that are not harmful but create a momentary feeling of suffocation. Not only SM, but two other women, identified as AM and BG, identical twins with amygdala damage similar to SM’s, showed all the physical symptoms of panic, and reported that, to their surprise, they felt intense fear.

The researchers, who report on the experiment in the current issue of Nature Neuroscience, had hypothesized that SM would not panic. John A. Wemmie, a neuroscientist at the University of Iowa and the senior author of the paper, said, “We saw the exact opposite.”

Antonio Damasio, of the University of Southern California, who had worked with SM and some of the researchers involved in this study on previous papers but did not participate in this research, said he was delighted with the results. It confirmed his own thinking, he said, that while the amygdala was central to fear generated by external threats, there was a different brain path that produced the feeling of fear generated by internal bodily experiences like a heart attack. This idea was put forth in a 2011 paper about SM on which he was a co-author.

“I think it’s a very interesting and important result,” he said.

Dr. Joseph E. LeDoux, of New York University, who has extensively studied the amygdala but was not involved in the research, said in an e-mail, “This is a novel and important paper” in an area where there is much left to learn. He said scientists still did not understand “how the brain creates a conscious experience of fear,” whether the amygdala or other systems are involved.

SM scores in the normal range on I.Q. and other tests, and she voluntarily participated in this and earlier studies, all of which showed her lacking in any sort of fear response until now. In one, for example, she walked through a Halloween haunted house and never gasped, recoiled or screamed, as others did, when a person in a costume leapt out of the dark. She also did not seem to learn fear from life experiences.

So what was so unusual about carbon dioxide?

The answer seems to lie in the way the brain monitors disturbances in the world outside the body — snakes and robbers — compared with the way it monitors trouble inside the body — hunger, heart attacks, the feeling of not being able to breathe. External threats clearly are processed by the amygdala. But she had never been tested for internal signals of trouble.

In the experiment that SM and others participated in, they took one deep breath with plenty of oxygen but much more carbon dioxide than air usually contains. Humans are actually not sensitive to how much oxygen they are breathing, but they are sensitive to how much carbon dioxide is accumulating in the body, since it builds up quickly when a person cannot breathe. The sensation is familiar to people who have tried to hold their breath.

The researchers suggest that excess carbon dioxide produces signals that may be picked up in the brainstem and elsewhere, activating a fear-generating system in the brain that a venomous snake or a mugger with a gun would not set off.

One puzzling aspect of the results is that SM and the two other women all reacted so strongly. Among people with normal brains, only those with panic disorder are reliably terrified in carbon dioxide experiments. Most people are not so susceptible, said Colin Buzza, a co-author of the study and a medical student at the University of Iowa Carver College of Medicine, suggesting that perhaps the amygdala is not functioning properly in people with panic disorder.

http://www.nytimes.com/2013/02/04/health/study-discovers-internal-trigger-for-the-previously-fearless.html?_r=0

 

 

Stanford researchers have designed the fastest, most accurate mathematical algorithm yet for brain-implantable prosthetic systems that can help disabled people maneuver computer cursors with their thoughts. The algorithm’s speed, accuracy and natural movement approach those of a real arm.

 

 

On each side of the screen, a monkey moves a cursor with its thoughts, using the cursor to make contact with the colored ball. On the left, the monkey’s thoughts are decoded with the use of a mathematical algorithm known as Velocity. On the right, the monkey’s thoughts are decoded with a new algorithm known as ReFITT, with better results. The ReFIT system helps the monkey to click on 21 targets in 21 seconds, as opposed to just 10 clicks with the older system.

 

 

When a paralyzed person imagines moving a limb, cells in the part of the brain that controls movement activate, as if trying to make the immobile limb work again.

Despite a neurological injury or disease that has severed the pathway between brain and muscle, the region where the signals originate remains intact and functional.

In recent years, neuroscientists and neuroengineers working in prosthetics have begun to develop brain-implantable sensors that can measure signals from individual neurons.

After those signals have been decoded through a mathematical algorithm, they can be used to control the movement of a cursor on a computer screen – in essence, the cursor is controlled by thoughts.

The work is part of a field known as neural prosthetics.

A team of Stanford researchers have now developed a new algorithm, known as ReFIT, that vastly improves the speed and accuracy of neural prosthetics that control computer cursors. The results were published Nov. 18 in the journal Nature Neuroscience in a paper by Krishna Shenoy, a professor of electrical engineering, bioengineering and neurobiology at Stanford, and a team led by research associate Dr. Vikash Gilja and bioengineering doctoral candidate Paul Nuyujukian.

In side-by-side demonstrations with rhesus monkeys, cursors controlled by the new algorithm doubled the performance of existing systems and approached performance of the monkey’s actual arm in controlling the cursor. Better yet, more than four years after implantation, the new system is still going strong, while previous systems have seen a steady decline in performance over time.

“These findings could lead to greatly improved prosthetic system performance and robustness in paralyzed people, which we are actively pursuing as part of the FDA Phase-I BrainGate2 clinical trial here at Stanford,” said Shenoy.

The system relies on a sensor implanted into the brain, which records “action potentials” in neural activity from an array of electrode sensors and sends data to a computer. The frequency with which action potentials are generated provides the computer important information about the direction and speed of the user’s intended movement.

The ReFIT algorithm that decodes these signals represents a departure from earlier models. In most neural prosthetics research, scientists have recorded brain activity while the subject moves or imagines moving an arm, analyzing the data after the fact. “Quite a bit of the work in neural prosthetics has focused on this sort of offline reconstruction,” said Gilja, the first author of the paper.

The Stanford team wanted to understand how the system worked “online,” under closed-loop control conditions in which the computer analyzes and implements visual feedback gathered in real time as the monkey neurally controls the cursor toward an onscreen target.

The system is able to make adjustments on the fly when guiding the cursor to a target, just as a hand and eye would work in tandem to move a mouse-cursor onto an icon on a computer desktop.

If the cursor were straying too far to the left, for instance, the user likely adjusts the imagined movements to redirect the cursor to the right. The team designed the system to learn from the user’s corrective movements, allowing the cursor to move more precisely than it could in earlier prosthetics.

To test the new system, the team gave monkeys the task of mentally directing a cursor to a target – an onscreen dot – and holding the cursor there for half a second. ReFIT performed vastly better than previous technology in terms of both speed and accuracy.

The path of the cursor from the starting point to the target was straighter and it reached the target twice as quickly as earlier systems, achieving 75 to 85 percent of the speed of the monkey’s arm.

“This paper reports very exciting innovations in closed-loop decoding for brain-machine interfaces. These innovations should lead to a significant boost in the control of neuroprosthetic devices and increase the clinical viability of this technology,” said Jose Carmena, an associate professor of electrical engineering and neuroscience at the University of California-Berkeley.

Critical to ReFIT’s time-to-target improvement was its superior ability to stop the cursor. While the old model’s cursor reached the target almost as fast as ReFIT, it often overshot the destination, requiring additional time and multiple passes to hold the target.

The key to this efficiency was in the step-by-step calculation that transforms electrical signals from the brain into movements of the cursor onscreen. The team had a unique way of “training” the algorithm about movement. When the monkey used his arm to move the cursor, the computer used signals from the implant to match the arm movements with neural activity.

Next, the monkey simply thought about moving the cursor, and the computer translated that neural activity into onscreen movement of the cursor. The team then used the monkey’s brain activity to refine their algorithm, increasing its accuracy.

The team introduced a second innovation in the way ReFIT encodes information about the position and velocity of the cursor. Gilja said that previous algorithms could interpret neural signals about either the cursor’s position or its velocity, but not both at once. ReFIT can do both, resulting in faster, cleaner movements of the cursor.

Early research in neural prosthetics had the goal of understanding the brain and its systems more thoroughly, Gilja said, but he and his team wanted to build on this approach by taking a more pragmatic engineering perspective. “The core engineering goal is to achieve highest possible performance and robustness for a potential clinical device,” he said.

To create such a responsive system, the team decided to abandon one of the traditional methods in neural prosthetics.

Much of the existing research in this field has focused on differentiating among individual neurons in the brain. Importantly, such a detailed approach has allowed neuroscientists to create a detailed understanding of the individual neurons that control arm movement.

But the individual neuron approach has its drawbacks, Gilja said. “From an engineering perspective, the process of isolating single neurons is difficult, due to minute physical movements between the electrode and nearby neurons, making it error prone,” he said. ReFIT focuses on small groups of neurons instead of single neurons.

By abandoning the single-neuron approach, the team also reaped a surprising benefit: performance longevity. Neural implant systems that are fine-tuned to specific neurons degrade over time. It is a common belief in the field that after six months to a year they can no longer accurately interpret the brain’s intended movement. Gilja said the Stanford system is working very well more than four years later.

“Despite great progress in brain-computer interfaces to control the movement of devices such as prosthetic limbs, we’ve been left so far with halting, jerky, Etch-a-Sketch-like movements. Dr. Shenoy’s study is a big step toward clinically useful brain-machine technology that has faster, smoother, more natural movements,” said James Gnadt, a program director in Systems and Cognitive Neuroscience at the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, part of the National Institutes of Health.

For the time being, the team has been focused on improving cursor movement rather than the creation of robotic limbs, but that is not out of the question, Gilja said. Near term, precise, accurate control of a cursor is a simplified task with enormous value for people with paralysis.

“We think we have a good chance of giving them something very useful,” he said. The team is now translating these innovations to people with paralysis as part of a clinical trial.

This research was funded by the Christopher and Dana Reeve Paralysis Foundation, the National Science Foundation, National Defense Science and Engineering Graduate Fellowships, Stanford Graduate Fellowships, Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (“Revolutionizing Prosthetics” and “REPAIR”) and the National Institutes of Health (NINDS-CRCNS and Director’s Pioneer Award).

Other contributing researchers include Cynthia Chestek, John Cunningham, Byron Yu, Joline Fan, Mark Churchland, Matthew Kaufman, Jonathan Kao and Stephen Ryu.

http://news.stanford.edu/news/2012/november/thought-control-cursor-111812.html

Thanks to Kebmodee for bringing this to the attention of the It’s Interesting community