Month: September 2008

New Understanding in Neuron Axon Guideance from the Salk Institute

How neurons develop their vast networks of axons and dendrites with apparently accurate targeting to generate a functioning brain remains a core question in neuroscience. Although some of the interconnections might be partially “random” with the resulting complex network still managing to generate meaningful neural function, it still seems that the network connects in a directed way. How neurons know with whom to connect remains mostly unclear.


Image from Salk Institute for Biological Studies

Using genetically-modified neurons from a mouse, the O’Leary research group from the Salk Institute for Biological Studies found a surprising additional function of a well-known protein called “p75.” Also involved in the regulation of keeping a neuron alive, it has now been observed to affect and direct axon growth.

And the function is rather interesting: the protein apparently does not act to attract an axon to follow a certain path… (“come follow me to the promised land!”), but rather it repulses the growth cone to head in another direction… (“yer git on outta here!”).

The important aspect of this research is leading to a complete understanding of neuron network growth and development, in particular the understanding of what controls how and where the network connections develop. If we know what are the biological controls, then we can in turn control or influence these factors to guide neurons implanted on a neurotechnological device to connect in specific ways that might be needed for a particular application.

Read more about this interesting work, and think about how this p75 protein might be involved in your next neurotech implant…

“A second career for a growth factor receptor: keeping nerve axons on target” :: Salk Institute Press Release :: September 11, 2008 :: [ READ ]

How Neuron Networks Form and Recall Memories will Guide Neuron Device Development

New experimental evidence for how human brains form “memories” and later access them via the neural network has been reported by researchers lead by Dr. Itzhak Fried from the UCLA Medical Center.

By directly recording neuronal activity through implanted electrodes in a group of epilepsy patients at the hospital, data was first taken while the patients watched scenes in familiar video clips. The group was then later asked to freely recall any of the videos while neuron recordings continued.

Although single (or very small collections) of neurons were being directly recorded, it was determined that they were not acting alone while accessing the “stored memory.” Rather, the recall process was part of a much larger network, possibly comprised of hundreds of thousands of neuron nodes. In addition, the work provides a bit of experimental confirmation of the previously theoretical notion that “memory recall” involves the same neurons that are active during “memory formation.”

This understanding is vital for the development of neural devices because it is becoming even more evident that large, interconnected networks of neurons are required to create create memories and any form of human “thought.” If we want to create technologies that will directly integrate into human neural networks, there must be a full understanding of not just the structure of the network, but also how the network can re-use the same neurons (or, network nodes) with possibly different patterns of activity to perform multiple brain functions or represent different “thoughts” of the mind.

“How memories are made, and recalled” :: PhysOrg.com :: September 8, 2008 :: [ READ ]

Dr. Michio Kaku Presents a little Neurotechnology

The popular Dr. Michio Kaku presents a documentary exploration of the current advancements of neurotechnology featuring recent research on successes in direct neural implants into the brains of mice.

He also take a moment to ask how far will we go with neurotechnological implants before we become… more (or less?) human. With interviews with Ray KurzweilProf. Rodney BrooksDr. John GranackiProf. Marvin MinskyProf. Susan Greenfield, this is a great 7 minute watch of several important views in neurophilosophy and the coming impact of neurotechnological developments… and the resulting neurorevolution.

Dr. Kaku blatantly reminds us that we must begin address the issues of neurotechnology today, because it will lead to a Brave New World that we cannot yet even imagine.

Broken Neuron Network Re-wires Itself to Compensate for Lost Function

Here at Neuron News we will preach until the End of Days and beyond that it’s all about the network when it comes to fully understanding brain function. This knowledge will thereby lead to someday better understanding how to develop neuron devices that directly interconnect with the brain.

Researchers at the Max Planck Institute of Neurobiology recently reported on their observations of how versatile and amazing our neuron networks actually are, and how powerful the system really can be when trauma strikes.

After a literal tear in the retina, the research group watched as the remaining neurons, who lost their original network connections, re-wired to other neurons in the system with up to three-times the amount of brand-new interconnectivity. The network compensated for its breakdown, and re-worked itself to attempt to regain new functionality.

The observation of this sort of restructuring activity in an adult brain is extremely exciting for further research into efforts to help patients recover after serious brain injuries. Even more so, this network adaptability is key to understanding how to best design and develop cultured neuron networks in ways that will most likely and most successfully connect with a host brain.

Just throwing a plate of neurons onto a host brain is not quite enough to create a useful and functional neuron device; we must have a deep understanding of how neurons network themselves and how we might tailor the cultured devices to better link in with the brain. If this form of “hyper-networking” is a result of neurons sensing a local trauma, then we might even be able to manipulate stronger, more complex interconnections between device and brain by introducing faux “traumas” in the cultured neuron networks of implanted devices.

Let our readers know what you think by responding after reading the following articles.

“Neighbour’s aid for jobless nerve cells” :: PhysOrg.com :: September 1, 2008 :: [ READ ]

Max Planck Society Press Release – pdf [ READ ]

New Tools to Help Amateurs Visualize Data

Emerging from the IBM Watson Research Center is a wonderful new online tool for interactively visualizing data sets of nearly any sort. The service is called Many Eyes, and could provide quite useful for citizen scientists to work collaboratively across the world in analyzing data and gaining new insights into amateur research efforts.

The Many Eyes software is free with a registration, and contains tools to upload and organize your data into world maps, line and stack graphs, comparison charts, scatter plots, network maps, and other visualization options. We have not yet explored the interesting service, but DPRI will be in the the site in the near future to test the system and to see what sort of opportunities there might be for the amateur science community, including how we might be able to collaboratively work together through DPRI on future projects.


“Lines and Bubbles and Bars, Oh My! New Ways to Sift Data” :: The New York Times :: August 30, 2008 :: [ READ ]

Many Eyes [ VISIT ]

Learn more about the Many Eyes program [ READ ]

If you would be interested in working with DPRI in the near future on citizen science collaborations, potentially using the Many Eyes system, please contact us or leave a comment below. Or, better yet, send us your FREE registration and we’ll be in touch with you soon about what sort of opportunities we will have!

Amateurs Watch the Perseids on the Moon

In late July, we reminded you to “look up” in early August to enjoy the annual Perseid meteor shower (read). Hopefully, many of you had an enjoyable and awe-inspiring experience (this author went out and saw one flash in the corner of his eye, but had to get back into bed for an upcoming long day). This year, a few amateur astronomers took their ‘looking up” a step further beyond Earth’s upper atmosphere, and focused their telescopes onto the surface of the Moon. Amazing bright flashes of meteor explosions on the surface of the Moon were seen using typical backyard telescopes!

This specific form of moon-gazing is actually quite important right now, as NASA has a program established to monitor meteor activity on the surface of the Moon. This effort is to better understand the safety requirements for the next generation of astronauts who will hopefully set up camp for a while.

The Lunar Impact Monitoring program at the Marshall Space Flight Center trains its telescopes toward the Moon as frequently as possible, but Moon phases and atmospheric conditions will often limit their coverage. In fact, they were unable to monitor the Moon during the Perseids. So, developing a world-wide team of amateur astronomers will greatly enhance the programs ability to accurately predict and monitor meteor activity, which will lead to better considerations for activity recommendations for lunar landings and extended camps.

DPRI already features this important citizen science project in our collection of Amateur Science Opportunities, and we will plan to write a more thorough review of the program in the near future.
“Amateur Astronomers See Perseids Hit the Moon” :: Science@NASA News :: September 2, 2008 :: [ READ ]

Last updated April 5, 2020