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THE NEUROSCIENCE PORTAL

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Neuroscience is a scientific discipline that studies the structure, function, development, genetics, biochemistry, physiology, pharmacology, pathology of the nervous system, and psychology. Traditionally it was seen as a branch of biological sciences. However, recently there has been a convergence of interest from other disciplines, including computer science, statistics, physics, philosophy, mathematics, and medicine. The scope of neuroscience has now broadened to include any systematic scientific experimental and theoretical investigation of the central and peripheral nervous system of biological organisms. The methodologies employed by neuroscientists have been enormously expanded, from biochemical and genetic analysis of dynamics of individual nerve cells and their molecular constituents to imaging representations of perceptual and motor tasks in the brain.

Furthermore, neuroscience is at the frontier of investigation of the brain and mind. The study of the brain is becoming the cornerstone in understanding how we perceive and interact with the external world and, in particular, how human experience and human biology influence each other. It is likely that the study of the brain will become one of the central intellectual endeavors in the coming decades.

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Major depressive disorder (also known as clinical depression, major depression, unipolar depression, or unipolar disorder) is a mental disorder typically characterized by a pervasive low mood, low self-esteem, and loss of interest or pleasure in usual activities. The term was selected by the American Psychiatric Association for the 1980 version of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-III) classification for the symptom cluster, and has become widely used since. The general term depression is often used to describe the disorder, but since it is also used to describe temporary sadness or a depressed mood, more precise terminology is preferred in clinical use and research. Major depression is an often disabling condition which adversely affects a person's family, work or school life, sleeping and eating habits, and general health. In the United States around 3.4% of people with major depression commit suicide, and up to 60% of all people who commit suicide have depression or another mood disorder.

The diagnosis of major depressive disorder is based on the patient's self-reported experiences, behavior reported by relatives or friends, and mental state. There is no laboratory test for major depression, although physicians generally request tests for physical conditions that may cause similar symptoms. The most common time of onset is between the ages of 30 and 40 years, with a later peak between 50 and 60 years. Major depression occurs about twice as frequently in women as in men, although men are at higher risk for suicide.

Most patients are treated in the community with antidepressant medication and supportive counseling, and some with psychotherapy. Admission to hospital may be necessary in cases associated with self-neglect or a significant risk of harm to self or others. A minority with severe illness may be treated with electroconvulsive therapy (ECT), under a short-acting general anaesthetic. The course of the disorder varies widely, from a once-only occurrence lasting months to a lifelong disorder with recurrent major depressive episodes. Depressed individuals have a shorter life expectancy than those without depression, being more susceptible to medical conditions such as heart disease. Sufferers and former patients may be stigmatized.

The understanding of the nature and causes of depression has evolved over the centuries; nevertheless, many aspects of depression are still not fully understood, and are the subject of debate and research. Psychological, psycho-social, evolutionary and biological causes have been proposed. Psychological treatments are based on theories about personality, interpersonal communication, and unduly negative thoughts. The monoamine chemicals serotonin, norepinephrine, and dopamine are naturally present in the brain and assist communication between nerve cells. Monoamines have been implicated in depression, and most antidepressants work to increase the active levels of at least one.

...Archive Last updated: 12th December 2008 Read more...

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Regions of the vertebrate brain

Main regions of the vertebrate brain, shown for a shark and a human brain (the human brain is sliced along the midline). The two brains are not on the same scale.

...Archive Last updated: 12th December 2008 Read more...

Neuroscience News


Memory: A team of researchers lead by Itzhak Fried, recording from electrodes implanted in the brains of human epileptic patients, found many neurons in the hippocampus that were activated both while viewing specific parts of video clips, and while recollecting the same episodes that activated them during viewing.[1]

Fibromyalgia: This chronic pain condition has been so difficult to study that some physicians have doubted that it really exists. A study published in the November issue of the Journal of Nuclear Medicine used SPECT imaging to examine brain activity of fibromyalgia sufferers with controls, and found that the patients showed enhanced blood flow in regions involved in discriminating pain, together with reduced blood flow in other regions. This supports other recent findings of measurable neural differences in fibromyalgia patients.[2]

Birdsong: A report in the November 13 issue of Nature sheds light on the neural mechanisms that control the timing of birdsong. Michale Fee and colleagues at MIT implanted cooling probes in two areas of the zebra finch brain known to be involved in generating songs, the High Vocal Center (HVC) and the robust nucleus of the arcopallium (RA). Cooling of the RA region had no effect, but cooling of the HVC slowed the song by as much as 30%.[3]

Placebo: For many conditions, pharmacologically inactive treatments such as sugar pills may have effects in some people comparable to those of more potent treatments. A study by a group of Swedish researchers, published in the Journal of Neuroscience, shows that genetic factors may at least partly underlie individual differences in the effectiveness of placebo. People with specific variants of the serotonin transporter gene or the dopamine hydroxylase gene showed greater anxiety-reduction responses to a placebo treatment than people with other variants.[4]

References

  1. ^ Gelbard-Sagiv (2008). Internally generated reactivation of single neurons in human hippocampus during free recall. 322. pp. 96-101. http://www.sciencemag.org/cgi/content/abstract/sci;322/5898/96.  
  2. ^ Guedj et al (2008). "Clinical correlate of brain SPECT perfusion abnormalities in fibromyalgia". J Nuclear Med 49: 1798-1803. http://jnm.snmjournals.org/cgi/content/abstract/49/11/1798.  
  3. ^ Michael A. Long, Michale S. Fee (2008). "Using temperature to analyse temporal dynamics in the songbird motor pathway". Nature 456: 189-94. http://www.nature.com/nature/journal/v456/n7219/abs/nature07448.html.  
  4. ^ Furmark et al (2008). "A link between serotonin-related gene polymorphisms, amygdala activity, and placebo-induced relief from social anxiety". J Neuroscience 28: 13066-74. http://www.jneurosci.org/cgi/content/abstract/28/49/13066.  
...Archive

Did you know...

Human brain NIH.jpg

...that the human brain contains more than 100,000,000,000 (100 billion) neurons?

...that nerve impulses can travel at 120 meters/second?

...that the amygdala plays an important role in the processing and memory of emotional reactions?

...that fluoxetine acts by inhibiting reuptake of serotonin in brain neurons?

...that some neurons are over a meter long?

...that the cerebellum (the region behind the brainstem) contains half of the neurons in the brain?

...that when areas of the brain are damaged other areas can actually take over the job of the damaged area?

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