Undergraduate institutions are increasingly adopting neuroscience within their curricula, although it is unclear how best to implement this material given the interdisciplinary nature of the field, which requires knowledge of basic physics, chemistry, biology and psychology. This difficulty is compounded by declines over recent decades in the amount of physics education that students receive in high school, which hinders students’ ability to grasp basic principles of neuroscience. Here we discuss our experiences as teacher (BRC) and student (RLS) with an undergraduate course in Vision and Art. The course capitalizes on students’ prior interest in visual art to motivate an understanding of the physiological and computational neural processes that underlie vision; our aim is that the learning strategies that students acquire as a result of the format and interdisciplinary approach of the course will increase students’ critical thinking skills and benefit them as they pursue other domains of inquiry. The course includes both expert lectures on central themes of vision along with a problem-based learning (PBL) laboratory component that directly engages the students as empirical scientists. We outline the syllabus, the motivation for using PBL...
The Internet is enhancing and challenging traditional approaches to teaching undergraduate neuroscience. In addition to the new FUN-supported development of a Society for Neuroscience Portal for higher education, there is a wealth of available teaching resources currently housed on the web. This article discusses the current state of digital libraries and introduces a series of exemplary web-based classroom resources.
In the spring of 2007, the Society for Neuroscience (SfN) did not include support for higher education as a priority in its strategic plan. By the spring of 2009, its priorities had changed. One catalyst for that change was a proposal for a website that would list, review, and rate resources for teaching neuroscience at the graduate and undergraduate level. The proposal was sent to and accepted by SfN Council in August 2008; by spring 2009, SfN had taken initial steps to implement it. Two documents are presented here that mark the change in policy: the website proposal, and SfN Council’s response.
In this paper, we describe and assess a laboratory module that we introduced into an intermediate-level undergraduate course in Neuroscience and Behavior (NEUR201) in order to expose students to the new and rapidly developing neurogenomic and bioinformatics approaches to neuroscience research.
As sponsors of a university Society for Neuroscience (SfN) organization, we and our student members are committed to neuroscience outreach but with limited resources, it is not feasible for us to host a week-long program during National Brain Awareness Week (BAW). Hence, we decided on a half-day program wherein attendees are provided with information about the workings of the nervous system and current research in the field in a fun and interactive environment. Our volunteers — mostly undergraduate students — select hands-on activities, gather required materials, and actively engage participants of all ages. We coined the event Brain Awareness Day (BAD) and organize the annual program on a budget between $100–$300.
We have developed and recently taught a 200 level undergraduate course entitled, ‘Experimental Methods in Neuroscience’. This is a required course in an increasingly popular Neuroscience major at Smith College. Students are introduced initially to issues of animal ethics and experimentation, and are familiarized with our Animal Care Facility. Using an open field and rotarod apparatus, and the elevated plus and Barnes mazes, they conduct behavioral testing of two strains of mice, C57/BL/6J and 129S1/SvImJ, known to exhibit distinct behavioral traits. The group then employs histological techniques to prepare brain sections for observing neuroanatomical variation between strains (for example, 129S1/SvImJ mice are occasionally acallosal). In the final laboratory exercise, they assay the acetylcholinesterase activity in fore- and hindbrains from each strain.
The benefits of undergraduate students taking a professional training year (PTY) as part of their neuroscience degree have been analyzed for fifteen cohorts of students between 1994 and 2008. Those students taking the PTY scored 4.4% more in their final year aggregated total than those who did not. In addition, these students were 2.58 times more likely to gain a first class degree and 4.8 times less likely to gain a second class (division two) degree than those who did not take the placement year. Analysis of final year marks, whether or not they had taken the PTY, indicated a significantly better performance by female students. Progression onwards to postgraduate study for a PhD was almost four times higher for PTY students than for those not taking the PTY. No PTY students progressed on to a Masters scheme of postgraduate study whereas a small number of three year students did. The benefits of a PTY also extended to students’ self-enhancement and maturity as judged by themselves, their peers and by academic staff. This study, the first for the relatively new undergraduate discipline of neuroscience, confirms earlier findings for other academic disciplines.
In this paper we review the works related to muscle synergies that have been carried-out in neuroscience and control engineering. In particular, we refer to the hypothesis that the central nervous system (CNS) generates desired muscle contractions by combining a small number of predefined modules, called muscle synergies. We provide an overview of the methods that have been employed to test the validity of this scheme, and we show how the concept of muscle synergy has been generalized for the control of artificial agents. The comparison between these two lines of research, in particular their different goals and approaches, is instrumental to explain the computational implications of the hypothesized modular organization. Moreover, it clarifies the importance of assessing the functional role of muscle synergies: although these basic modules are defined at the level of muscle activations (input-space), they should result in the effective accomplishment of the desired task. This requirement is not always explicitly considered in experimental neuroscience, as muscle synergies are often estimated solely by analyzing recorded muscle activities. We suggest that synergy extraction methods should explicitly take into account task execution variables...
Understanding how the brain implements social behavior on one hand, and how social processes feedback on the brain to promote fine-tuning of behavioral output according to changes in the social environment is a major challenge in contemporary neuroscience. A critical step to take this challenge successfully is finding the appropriate level of analysis when relating social to biological phenomena. Given the enormous complexity of both the neural networks of the brain and social systems, the use of a cognitive level of analysis (in an information processing perspective) is proposed here as an explanatory interface between brain and behavior. A conceptual framework for a cognitive approach to comparative social neuroscience is proposed, consisting of the following steps to be taken across different species with varying social systems: (1) identification of the functional building blocks of social skills; (2) identification of the cognitive mechanisms underlying the previously identified social skills; and (3) mapping these information processing mechanisms onto the brain. Teleost fish are presented here as a group of choice to develop this approach, given the diversity of social systems present in closely related species that allows for planned phylogenetic comparisons...
Across ontogenetic development, individuals gather manifold experiences during which they detect regularities in their environment and thereby accumulate knowledge. This knowledge is used to guide behavior, make predictions, and acquire further new knowledge. In this review, we discuss the influence of prior knowledge on memory from both the psychology and the emerging cognitive neuroscience literature and provide a developmental perspective on this topic. Recent neuroscience findings point to a prominent role of the medial prefrontal cortex (mPFC) and of the hippocampus (HC) in the emergence of prior knowledge and in its application during the processes of successful memory encoding, consolidation, and retrieval. We take the lateral PFC into consideration as well and discuss changes in both medial and lateral PFC and HC across development and postulate how these may be related to the development of the use of prior knowledge for remembering. For future direction, we argue that, to measure age differential effects of prior knowledge on memory, it is necessary to distinguish the availability of prior knowledge from its accessibility and use.
Neurophenomenology is a scientific research program aimed to combine neuroscience with phenomenology in order to study human experience. Nevertheless, despite several explicit implementations, the integration of first-person data into the experimental protocols of cognitive neuroscience still faces a number of epistemological and methodological challenges. Notably, the difficulties to simultaneously acquire phenomenological and neuroscientific data have limited its implementation into research projects. In our paper, we propose that neurofeedback paradigms, in which subjects learn to self-regulate their own neural activity, may offer a pragmatic way to integrate first-person and third-person descriptions. Here, information from first- and third-person perspectives is braided together in the iterative causal closed loop, creating experimental situations in which they reciprocally constrain each other. In real-time, the subject is not only actively involved in the process of data acquisition, but also assisted to directly influence the neural data through conscious experience. Thus, neurofeedback may help to gain a deeper phenomenological-physiological understanding of downward causations whereby conscious activities have direct causal effects on neuronal patterns. We discuss possible mechanisms that could mediate such effects and indicate a number of directions for future research.
Many computational models of the basal ganglia (BG) have been proposed over the past twenty-five years. While computational neuroscience models have focused on closely matching the neurobiology of the BG, computational cognitive neuroscience (CCN) models have focused on how the BG can be used to implement cognitive and motor functions. This review article focuses on CCN models of the BG and how they use the neuroanatomy of the BG to account for cognitive and motor functions such as categorization, instrumental conditioning, probabilistic learning, working memory, sequence learning, automaticity, reaching, handwriting, and eye saccades. A total of 19 BG models accounting for one or more of these functions are reviewed and compared. The review concludes with a discussion of the limitations of existing CCN models of the BG and prescriptions for future modeling, including the need for computational models of the BG that can simultaneously account for cognitive and motor functions, and the need for a more complete specification of the role of the BG in behavioral functions.
Gambling is pertinent to neuroscience research for at least two reasons. First, gambling is a naturalistic and pervasive example of risky decision making, and thus gambling games can provide a paradigm for the investigation of human choice behavior and “irrationality.” Second, excessive gambling involvement (i.e., pathological gambling) is currently conceptualized as a behavioral addiction, and research on this condition may provide insights into addictive mechanisms in the absence of exogenous drug effects. This article is a summary of topics covered in a Society for Neuroscience minisymposium, focusing on recent advances in understanding the neural basis of gambling behavior, including translational findings in rodents and nonhuman primates, which have begun to delineate neural circuitry and neurochemistry involved.
Large datasets are becoming more and more common in science, particularly in neuroscience where experimental techniques are rapidly evolving. Obtaining interpretable results from raw data can sometimes be done automatically; however, there are numerous situations where there is a need, at all processing stages, to visualize the data in an interactive way. This enables the scientist to gain intuition, discover unexpected patterns, and find guidance about subsequent analysis steps. Existing visualization tools mostly focus on static publication-quality figures and do not support interactive visualization of large datasets. While working on Python software for visualization of neurophysiological data, we developed techniques to leverage the computational power of modern graphics cards for high-performance interactive data visualization. We were able to achieve very high performance despite the interpreted and dynamic nature of Python, by using state-of-the-art, fast libraries such as NumPy, PyOpenGL, and PyTables. We present applications of these methods to visualization of neurophysiological data. We believe our tools will be useful in a broad range of domains, in neuroscience and beyond, where there is an increasing need for scalable and fast interactive visualization.
Adult speech perception reflects the long-term regularities of the native language, but it is also flexible such that it accommodates and adapts to adverse listening conditions and short-term deviations from native-language norms. The purpose of this article is to examine how the broader neuroscience literature can inform and advance research efforts in understanding the neural basis of flexibility and adaptive plasticity in speech perception. Specifically, we highlight the potential role of learning algorithms that rely on prediction error signals and discuss specific neural structures that are likely to contribute to such learning. To this end, we review behavioral studies, computational accounts, and neuroimaging findings related to adaptive plasticity in speech perception. Already, a few studies have alluded to a potential role of these mechanisms in adaptive plasticity in speech perception. Furthermore, we consider research topics in neuroscience that offer insight into how perception can be adaptively tuned to short-term deviations while balancing the need to maintain stability in the perception of learned long-term regularities. Consideration of the application and limitations of these algorithms in characterizing flexible speech perception under adverse conditions promises to inform theoretical models of speech.
Neuroscience labs benefit from reliable, easily-monitored neural responses mediated by well-studied neural pathways. Xenopus laevis tadpoles have been used as a simple vertebrate model preparation in motor control studies. Most of the neuronal pathways underlying different aspects of tadpole swimming behavior have been revealed. These include the skin mechanosensory touch and pineal eye light-sensing pathways whose activation can initiate swimming, and the cement gland pressure-sensing pathway responsible for stopping swimming. A simple transection in the hindbrain can cut off the pineal eye and cement gland pathways from the swimming circuit in the spinal cord, resulting in losses of corresponding functions. Additionally, some pharmacological experiments targeting neurotransmission can be designed to affect swimming and, fluorescence-conjugated α–bungarotoxin can be used to label nicotinic receptors at neuromuscular junctions. These experiments can be readily adapted for undergraduate neuroscience teaching labs. Possible expansions of some experiments for more sophisticated pharmacological or neurophysiological labs are also discussed.
In recent years, research on experience-dependent plasticity has provided valuable insight on adaptation to environmental input across the lifespan, and advances in understanding the minute cellular changes underlying the brain’s capacity for self-reorganization have opened exciting new possibilities for treating illness and injury. Ongoing work in this line of inquiry has also come to deeply influence another field: cognitive neuroscience of the normal aging. This complex process, once considered inevitable or beyond the reach of treatment, has been transformed into an arena of intense investigation and strategic intervention. However, important questions remain about this characterization of the aging brain, and the assumptions it makes about the social, cultural, and biological space occupied by cognition in the older individual and body. The following paper will provide a critical examination of the move from basic experiments on the neurophysiology of experience-dependent plasticity to the growing market for (and public conception of) cognitive aging as a medicalized space for intervention by neuroscience-backed technologies. Entangled with changing concepts of normality, pathology, and self-preservation, we will argue that this new understanding...
Neuro-enhancement by non-invasive brain stimulation (NIBS) has recently made considerable progress, triggering discussions regarding future applications to enhance human performance. We show that neuroscientific research does not aim at improving brain functions per se. Instead, neuro-enhancement is a research tool that has great potential to reveal the neural mechanisms underlying perception, cognition, and behavior. We provide instructive examples that showcase the relevance of neuro-enhancement by NIBS in neuroscience. Importantly, we argue that the scientific value of neuro-enhancement critically depends on our understanding of why enhancing effects occur. This is in contrast to applications of neuro-enhancement in other domains, where such knowledge may not be required. We conclude that neuro-enhancement as a therapeutic tool or in healthy people outside of neuroscience should be kept conceptually distinct, as these are separate domains with entirely different motives for enhancing human performance. Consequently, the underlying principles that justify the application of NIBS will be different in each domain and arguments for or against neuro-enhancement in one domain do not necessarily generalize to other domains.
In problem gamblers, diminished cognitive control and increased impulsivity is present compared to healthy controls. Moreover, impulsivity has been found to be a vulnerability marker for the development of pathological gambling (PG) and problem gambling (PrG) and to be a predictor of relapse. In this review, the most recent findings on functioning of the brain circuitry relating to impulsivity and cognitive control in PG and PrG are discussed. Diminished functioning of several prefrontal areas and of the anterior cingulate cortex (ACC) indicate that cognitive-control related brain circuitry functions are diminished in PG and PrG compared to healthy controls. From the available cue reactivity studies on PG and PrG, increased responsiveness towards gambling stimuli in fronto-striatal reward circuitry and brain areas related to attentional processing is present compared to healthy controls. At this point it is unresolved whether PG is associated with hyper- or hypo-activity in the reward circuitry in response to monetary cues. More research is needed to elucidate the complex interactions for reward responsivity in different stages of gambling and across different types of reward. Conflicting findings from basic neuroscience studies are integrated in the context of recent neurobiological addiction models. Neuroscience studies on the interface between cognitive control and motivational processing are discussed in light of current addiction theories.
The rise of molecular epigenetics over the last few years promises to bring the discourse about the sociality and susceptibility to environmental influences of the brain to an entirely new level. Epigenetics deals with molecular mechanisms such as gene expression, which may embed in the organism “memories” of social experiences and environmental exposures. These changes in gene expression may be transmitted across generations without changes in the DNA sequence. Epigenetics is the most advanced example of the new postgenomic and context-dependent view of the gene that is making its way into contemporary biology. In my article I will use the current emergence of epigenetics and its link with neuroscience research as an example of the new, and in a way unprecedented, sociality of contemporary biology. After a review of the most important developments of epigenetic research, and some of its links with neuroscience, in the second part I reflect on the novel challenges that epigenetics presents for the social sciences for a re-conceptualization of the link between the biological and the social in a postgenomic age. Although epigenetics remains a contested, hyped, and often uncritical terrain, I claim that especially when conceptualized in broader non-genecentric frameworks...