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Billion-euro brain simulation and graphene projects win European funds

The European Commission has selected the two research proposals it will fund to the tune of half-a-billion euros each after a two-year, high-profile contest. The Human Brain Project, led by neuroscientist Henry Markram at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology (EPFL) in Lausanne, plans to simulate everything known about the human brain in a supercomputer — a breathtaking ambition that has been
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Grid cells require excitatory drive from the hippocampus

To determine how hippocampal backprojections influence spatially periodic firing in grid cells, the author recorded neural activity in the medial entorhinal cortex (MEC) of rats after temporary inactivation of the hippocampus. They report two major changes in entorhinal grid cells. First, hippocampal inactivation gradually and selectively extinguished the grid pattern. Second, the same grid cells that
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Human brain evolution: transcripts, metabolites and their regulators

What evolutionary events led to the emergence of human cognition? Although the genetic differences separating modern humans from both non-human primates (for example, chimpanzees) and archaic hominins (Neanderthals and Denisovans) are known, linking human-specific mutations to the cognitive phenotype remains a challenge.  The new strategy is to focus on human-specific changes at the level of intermediate
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Light Switch Inside Brain: Laser Controls Individual Nerve Cells in Mouse

Activating and deactivating individual nerve cells in the brain is something many neuroscientists wish they could do, as it would help them to better understand how the brain works.  Scientists in Freiburg and Basel, Switzerland, have developed an implant that is able to genetically modify specific nerve cells, control them with light stimuli, and measure their electrical activity all at the same
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Memory on time

Considerable recent work has shown that the hippocampus is critical for remembering the order of events in distinct experiences, a defining feature of episodic memory. Correspondingly, hippocampal neuronal activity can ‘replay’ sequential events in memories and hippocampal neuronal ensembles represent a gradually changing temporal context signal. Most strikingly, single hippocampal neurons – called
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Layer-specific excitatory circuits differentially control recurrent network dynamics in the neocortex

In the absence of external stimuli, the mammalian neocortex shows intrinsic network oscillations. These dynamics are characterized by translaminar assemblies of neurons whose activity synchronizes rhythmically in space and time. How different cortical layers influence the formation of these spontaneous cellular assemblies is poorly understood. The author found that excitatory neurons in supragranular
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Feedback Inhibition Enables Theta-Nested Gamma Oscillations and Grid Firing Fields

Cortical circuits are thought to multiplex firing rate codes with temporal codes that rely on oscillatory network activity, but the circuit mechanisms that combine these coding schemes are unclear. The authors establish with optogenetic activation of layer II of the medial entorhinal cortex that theta frequency drive to this circuit is sufficient to generate nested gamma frequency oscillations in synaptic
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Eliminating Useless Information Important to Learning, Making New Memories

As we age, it just may be the ability to filter and eliminate old information -- rather than take in the new stuff -- that makes it harder to learn, scientists report.  "When you are young, your brain is able to strengthen certain connections and weaken certain connections to make new memories," said Dr. Joe Z. Tsien, neuroscientist at Georgia Regents University.  It's that critical weakening
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New Information on Autism and Genetics

Research out of the George Washington University reveals another piece of the puzzle in a genetic developmental disorder that causes behavioral diseases such as autism. "It tell us that in very early development, those with 22q11.2 deletion syndrome do not make enough cells in one case, and do not put the other cells in the right place. This occurs not because of some degenerative change, but because
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Your Brain On Big Bird: Sesame Street Helps to Reveal Patterns of Neural Development

Using brain scans of children and adults watching Sesame Street, cognitive scientists are learning how children's brains change as they develop intellectual abilities like reading and math,Scientists are just beginning to use brain imaging to understand how humans process thought during real-life experiences. For example, researchers have compared scans of adults watching an entertaining movie to see
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A cellular mechanism for cortical associations: an organizing principle for the cerebral cortex

A basic feature of intelligent systems such as the cerebral cortex is the ability to freely associate aspects of perceived experience with an internal representation of the world and make predictions about the future. Here, a hypothesis is presented that the extraordinary performance of the cortex derives from an associative mechanism built in at the cellular level to the basic cortical neuronal unit:
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Neuronal reference frames for social decisions in primate frontal cortex

Steve Chang et. al. studied encoding of the outcomes of social decisions in three frontal cortical areas as monkeys performed a social reward allocation task. Orbitofrontal cortex neurons signaled received rewards, anterior cingulate (ACC) sulcus neurons signaled foregone rewards, and the ACC gyrus was involved in the computation of shared experience and social reward. Nature Neuroscience (2012) doi:10.1038/nn.3287
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Like Math? Thank Your Motivation, Not IQ

It's not how smart students are but how motivated they are and how they study that determines their growth in math achievement. That's the main finding of a new study that appears in the journal Child Development. The study was conducted by researchers at the University of Munich and the University of Bielefeld. "While intelligence as assessed by IQ tests is important in the early stages of developing
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Woman With Quadriplegia Feeds Herself Chocolate Using Mind-Controlled Robot Arm

Reaching out to high five someone, grasping and moving objects of different shapes and sizes, feeding herself dark chocolate. For Jan Scheuermann and a team of researchers from the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine and UPMC, accomplishing these seemingly ordinary tasks demonstrated for the first time that a person with longstanding quadriplegia can maneuver a mind-controlled, human-like robot
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Evolution of GluN2A/B cytoplasmic domains diversified vertebrate synaptic plasticity and behavior

Understanding the mechanisms underlying the many forms of vertebrate behavior is a central objective of neuroscience and, although studied extensively at the cellular and circuit levels, very little is known about the underlying molecular evolutionary events. How did genome evolution give rise to the many forms of learning, emotional behavior and motor functions and generate the subtlety of synaptic
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Neurogliaform cells dynamically regulate somatosensory integration via synapse-specific modulation

Despite the prevailing idea that neurogliaform cells produce a spatially unrestricted widespread inhibition, the authors demonstrate here that their activity attenuates thalamic-evoked feed-forward inhibition in layer IV barrel cortex but has no effect on feed-forward excitation. The result of this circuit selectivity is a dynamic regulation in the temporal window for integration of excitatory thalamic
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Synaptic scaffold evolution generated components of vertebrate cognitive complexity

The origins and evolution of higher cognitive functions, including complex forms of learning, attention and executive functions, are unknown. A potential mechanism driving the evolution of vertebrate cognition early in the vertebrate lineage (550 million years ago) was genome duplication and subsequent diversification of postsynaptic genes. Here the authors report the first genetic analysis of a vertebrate
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Long-term modification of cortical synapses improves sensory perception

Synapses and receptive fields of the cerebral cortex are plastic. However, changes to specific inputs must be coordinated within neural networks to ensure that excitability and feature selectivity are appropriately configured for perception of the sensory environment. The authors induced long-lasting enhancements and decrements to excitatory synaptic strength in rat primary auditory cortex by pairing
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A prefrontal cortex–brainstem neuronal projection that controls response to behavioural challenge

The prefrontal cortex (PFC) is thought to participate in high-level control of the generation of behaviours (including the decision to execute actions); indeed, imaging and lesion studies in human beings have revealed that PFC dysfunction can lead to either impulsive states with increased tendency to initiate action, or to amotivational states characterized by symptoms such as reduced activity, hopelessness
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Cross-sensory transfer of sensory-motor information: visuomotor learning affects performance on an audiomotor task, using sensory-substitution

Visual-to-auditory sensory-substitution devices allow users to perceive a visual image using sound. Using a motor-learning task, researchers in Israel found that new sensory-motor information was generalized across sensory modalities. They imposed a rotation when participants reached to visual targets, and found that not only seeing, but also hearing the location of targets via a sensory-substitution
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Humans can learn new information during sleep

During sleep, humans can strengthen previously acquired memories, but whether they can acquire entirely new information remains unknown. The nonverbal nature of the olfactory sniff response, in which pleasant odors drive stronger sniffs and unpleasant odors drive weaker sniffs, allowed us to test learning in humans during sleep. Using partial-reinforcement trace conditioning, the authors paired pleasant
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Multisensory brain mechanisms of bodily self-consciousness

Recent research has linked bodily self-consciousness to the processing and integration of multisensory bodily signals in temporoparietal, premotor, posterior parietal and extrastriate cortices. Studies in which subjects receive ambiguous multisensory information about the location and appearance of their own body have shown that these brain areas reflect the conscious experience of identifying with
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The Attention System of the Human Brain: 20 Years After

Here, the author update their 1990 Annual Review of Neuroscience article, “The Attention System of the Human Brain.” The framework presented in the original article has helped to integrate behavioral, systems, cellular, and molecular approaches to common problems in attention research. Research on orienting and executive functions has supported the addition of new networks of brain regions. Developmental
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Rethinking the Emotional Brain

The author, LeDoux, proposes a reconceptualization of key phenomena important in the study of emotion—those phenomena that reflect functions and circuits related to survival, and that are shared by humans and other animals. The approach shifts the focus from questions about whether emotions that humans consciously feel are also present in other animals, and toward questions about the extent to which
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Pattern separation in the hippocampus

The ability to discriminate among similar experiences is a crucial feature of episodic memory. This ability has long been hypothesized to require the hippocampus, and computational models suggest that it is dependent on pattern separation. However, empirical data for the role of the hippocampus in pattern separation have not been available until recently. This review summarizes data from electrophysiological
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Epigenetic Mechanisms in Cognition

Although the critical role for epigenetic mechanisms in development and cell differentiation has long been appreciated, recent evidence reveals that these mechanisms are also employed in postmitotic neurons as a means of consolidating and stabilizing cognitive-behavioral memories. In this review, we discuss evidence for an “epigenetic code” in the central nervous system that mediates synaptic plasticity,
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Experimental and Theoretical Approaches to Conscious Processing

Recent experimental studies and theoretical models have begun to address the challenge of establishing a causal link between subjective conscious experience and measurable neuronal activity. The present review focuses on the well-delimited issue of how an external or internal piece of information goes beyond nonconscious processing and gains access to conscious processing, a transition characterized
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The Extraction of 3D Shape in the Visual System of Human and Nonhuman Primates

Depth structure, the third dimension of object shape, is extracted from disparity, motion, texture, and shading in the optic array. Gradient-selective neurons play a key role in this process. Such neurons occur in CIP, AIP, TEs, and F5 (for first- or second-order disparity gradients), in MT/V5, in FST (for speed gradients), and in CIP and TEs (for texture gradients). Most of these regions are activated
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DNA methylation and memory formation

Memory formation and storage require long-lasting changes in memory-related neuronal circuits. Recent evidence indicates that DNA methylation may serve as a contributing mechanism in memory formation and storage. These emerging findings suggest a role for an epigenetic mechanism in learning and long-term memory maintenance and raise apparent conundrums and questions. For example, it is unclear how
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