Tag Archives: Neurobiology

Fish Oil, Statins, and Neural Disease

The “statins” make up a class of cholesterol lowering drugs. Fish oil (oil derived from fish) is rich in certain fatty acids.Both types of compounds can have powerful positive and protective effects in the brain.A study just now coming out (to be published in Brain Research Reviews) looks at the biochemical effects of statins and fish oil in the brain in detail. The study makes specific recommendations for further research, and concludes with a proposal that the way we classify certain neural pathologies be reconsidered to take into account the complex biochemical pathways that produce them rather than their clinical presentation. Continue reading Fish Oil, Statins, and Neural Disease

Nature Neuroscience: Focus on Glia

Blogging on Peer-Reviewed ResearchEver since I started to learn about brains, back in the mid 1980s, from some really brainy brain experts like Terry Deacon and Joe Marcus, I always knew that glial cells were important. But I now read in current material in Nature Neuroscience, that “A decade ago, glia were the neglected stepchildren of neuroscience. Although glia outnumber neurons by about ten to 1 in the adult human brain, providing support for neurons has traditionally been viewed as their primary function. Glial biology has come into its own recently, as researchers have shown that glia are critical for the development of the nervous system and have key roles in various neurodegenerative disorders” (Aamodt 2007). So now I am even more impressed with Terry and Joe’s insights.Essentially, Glia do all the things that happen in the brain except the actual brain circuitry. Filtering, cleaning, structural support, repair of neurons, and so on. They also can do bad things and cause some neruopathies. This sudden (well, this decade anyway) realization of the importance of glial cells prompted piles of research, and this research is being highlighted in the current issue of Nature Neurobiology. The purpose of this blog entry is to provide you with a summary of that issue. Unless you subscribe, you can’t see it, but there area few links that are available to you here. Continue reading Nature Neuroscience: Focus on Glia

Improving Brain Function

How the brain works … what it does, how it does it, and how well it does it … is a matter of how neurons are arranged in relation to each other, in circuits. But that is only part of the story. These neurons also need to function properly, and the connections between them need to function properly. For instance, it is thought that Einstein’s brain (he was a smart-guy, we assume) was not especially large, but it is though the had a somewhat better than average setup for keeping his neurons happy.A protein called postsynaptic density-95 (PSD-95) acts as a structural element around which other components of the synapse … the “connection” between two nerurons” is built. The more PSD-95 available, the better the connection, according to MIT researchers with a recent paper in Nature.It was already known that mice with an altered PDD95 gene … to produce an ineffective protein … had trouble with memory and learning.The newly reported research describes the molecular processes associated with the function of this protein. There could be real-life applications of this work. According to Morgan H. Sheng, Menicon Professor of Neuroscience at MIT’s Picower Institute for Learning and Memory:

“Adding a phosphate group to a single amino acid allows PSD-95 to promote synapse size and strength, … Therefore, promoting this process could help improve cognitive function.”

This will be in the November 8th Nature and is reported here as well.

Evolution Of Language, The Symbolic Species (Terry Deacon)

Evolution of Language: Deacon vs. Pinker

In considering the evolution of human language, I think it is helpful to contrast these two books, and the ideas presented in them:

Terrence Deacon’s “<The Symbolic Species: The Co-evolution of Language and the Brain


Stephen Pinker’s “The Language Instinct: How the Mind Creates Language (P.S.)

Neither book is exceptionally new, and in fact, Pinker has cranked out a number of books since The Language Instinct. However, I think The Language Instinct is the best of Pinker’s volumes for this discussion. In it, he lays out the basic evolutionary psychology argument in a way that is most directly contrasted with the ideas in Deacon’s. Also, The Language Instinct has a great chapter called (if memory serves) “The Language Mavens” which is worth reading whether or not you agree with or even like the rest of Pinker’s book.

Continue reading Evolution of Language: Deacon vs. Pinker