Heady times are on the horizon for brain research with efforts underway across the globe. As a leading partner in the U.S. BRAIN Initiative, launched in 2013, the National Science Foundation (NSF) is advancing fundamental research of the brain’s structure, activity and function. NSF also plays an integral role in efforts to coordinate large brain projects in various countries with an aim toward launching a Global Brain Initiative.
To mark Brain Awareness Week (March 13-19), the following images showcase some of the NSF-funded tools and insights that are deepening the understanding of the 3 pound parallel processor that sits atop our shoulders.
Simple brains offer insights into the more complex human brain. At left, pink and green highlight the fruit fly’s center of smell.
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Researchers are using the sea hare model to learn about individual cells function, discover the chemical pathways controlling various brain activities and to study how memories are processed and stored.
Understanding how to control specific chemicals could advance new ways to diagnose and treat chronic pain, drug addiction and neurological diseases.
This research marks the first time brain activity and blood flow were simultaneously imaged. The work provides a completely new view of brain activity and could lead to a better understanding of how various brain regions interact. The work also lays a foundation for pursuing new treatments for various neurological diseases.
The mini-brain lasts about a month and it could be used to study a range of challenges in neuroscience including transplanting nerve cells that could help treat Parkinson’s disease and studies on how adult nerve stem cells develop.
Details on social behavior of the network will help researchers understand the design of brain tissue and the complex process that creates the brain and spinal cord. Such insights will also aid researchers in their quest for new treatments to repair damage to the nervous system.
Thinking and behavior rely on a give and take between neurons that excite brain circuits and those that inhibit them. Neurons that turn off brain circuits do so by decreasing electrical activity to target nerve cells. These off-switches make up 20 percent of the outer layer of the brain (the cerebral cortex) and when they malfunction, they can lead to a variety of brain disorders including autism and epilepsy.
DTI is one imaging technique researchers are using to identify regions in the brain that change when humans learn how to use technology. By looking at both human and chimpanzee brains, it may be possible to determine whether and how the human brain adapted to support technology skills that are uniquely human from stone toolmaking to computer programming.