Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Nicotine enhances attention by turning off the default network

An article in today's Journal of Neuroscience elaborates on the effects of nicotine previously mentioned here .

The default network is a pattern of spontanious activation that occurs when the brain is at rest - some think of it as the 'daydreaming' or 'zoning out' network. When the brain is engaged in a cognitive task (memory recall, problem solving, shifting attention, etc) the default network is inhibited. When the brain is "just sitting there" (staring at the wall, waiting in line at the bank) the default network fires up.

Here's a picture of it:

(Picture courtesy Justin Vincent.)

In smokers, a nicotine patch switched off scattered parts of the default network and also improved reaction time in an attention task.

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Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Mice made to see a rainbow of colours

Gerald Jacobs at UCSB has introduced one genetic mutation into mice and enabled them to see a wider range of colors. Although the mutation only affected the photoreceptors in the retina, the mouse's cortical circuitry updated to account for the extra photoreceptors and can translate the output into colors.

The implications for humans are pretty cool - night vision without goggles, electromagnetic vision, or bee-like ultraviolet vision could be only one small genetic mutation away.

For more, check out the summary over at (no login required).

(picture from

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Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Neuroscience Lectures

The NIH has over 100 Neuroscience talks available for everyone to watch for free online (Realplayer) or as downloadable Podcasts. I've only scratched the surface of these so far, having watched Bob Wurtz's attention talk and Roger Tootell's ventral stream fMRI talk. The archives are searchable by topic or by author and they are still adding new talks as they happen. They have a whole archive of talks on subjects other than neuroscience as well.

NIH neuroscience talks.

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Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Announcing new mini-blog

I've been really busy with work but hopefully will find time to write a few more posts in the near future. I know you're all (all two of you) on the edge of your seats waiting for more summaries of cutting edge research and pictures of retinotopic activiation.

In the meantime, however, you can check out my shiny (and low maintenance) new tumbalog. It's at: