11. Blog post

This week was about the excursion to Aalto behavior laboratory to see a live demo on EEG. Setting up the measurement setup was interesting. I was expecting some kind of salt water sponges to be inserted under the electrodes, but the conductive gel application seemed much more practical in the end. We did a short measurement on reaction time when the test subject was given a visual or aural stimulus.

It was also interesting to do another kind of course assignment related to the measurement by analyzing some of the EEG butterfly plots and topographical maps. Having not done this before took me some time to figure out how to read the graphs and figure out what I was looking specifically in those graphs. Yet the results were in a way kind of fascinating demonstration of visualizing what happens in the brain when we interact with the world.

Watching the noise level on signal made me think that how many variables actually play into setting up the experiment. Considering if all the mechanical factors are eliminated or disregarded being the same every time and the only ones originating from the test subject itself were counted, I wonder how much their mental state or alertness of that time plays into the signal or the end up affecting the data. Or let’s say if the same person would perform 10 measurements during various times, how much the results differ during each time?

Posted by Juha Laitinen

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10. Blog post

This was a week of excursions. Most of all it woke my interest towards the study of sleeping. After seeing the sleep lab at the Finnish institute of occupational health, I started to think how it would be like to have your sleeping pattern studied. The tiny room itself didn’t feel like a nice place to sleep without any contact to outer world due to sound proofing and lack of windows.

They mentioned a study in which they had played white noise in the room during a certain sleep phase and had noticed that the sleep had deepened. Incorporating outside world sounds to sleep is interesting. I have some times overslept because I haven’t recognized my alarm clock in my sleep. My clock plays radio classic to me as an alarm and sometimes hilarity ensues. I have for example dreamt of ending up in a baroque ball instead of waking up to the alarm clock.

Some activity trackers claim that they can monitor your sleep. I wonder how they do it. Of course they can monitor movement during sleep and heart rate to some extent, but how reliable it actually is then? I’ve considered buying and activity tracker as a curiosity. It could motivate to actually pay attention to own health and activity.

Posted by Emilia

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9. Blog Post

Reading about the wiring of the brain made me think about a lot of questions, since the book used numerous animal study examples. Why do we do so many tests on animals? Do we really need to test all these things? Is this information relevant, important or useful? What do we do with these results other than publish them in books and articles? Why would researchers want to give frogs upside down eyes or make kittens blind to try and figure out a tiny bit of information about eyes? Wouldn’t it be more useful to study aborted foetuses? That way we could see what the development of features is like in actual humans. Though I don’t think that is allowed, even though the use of stem cells is.

I found the use of stem cells in Parkinson’s disease fascinating. I didn’t realise we were at that point in stem cell research. My understanding of the field was limited to the hormones and signals necessary to induce stem cells to differentiate to specific cells, and how tricky and time consuming that process is. Does the brain successfully differentiate the inserted stem cells into useful cells?

The animal study line of questioning made me think of the people who dedicate their corpses to scientific research. What about cases of infant mortality? Can the bodies of deceased infants be used for science? Older humans can dedicate their corpses to science, why not other ages? Would we maybe clone humans someday and use those clones for human testing? Is that an ethical possibility? Mostly it boils down to why are we conducting some of these tests. Is it just human curiosity to understand how we came to be, or can this information be utilised in treatments?

Posted by Natalia

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8. Blog Post

I thought the points about different types of muscle fibres in different kind of meat cuts was interesting and informative. The idea that different cuts of meat taste different because of the fibre composition and biochemistry. Dark meat has many mitochondria and enzymes specialized in oxidative energy metabolism and can be found in the antigravity muscles of the leg and torso, and in the flight muscles of birds that fly, but not in domesticated chickens. White meat contains fewer mitochondria and relies mainly on anaerobic metabolism and can be found in the jumping muscles of frogs and rabbits. It made me think about how the death of an animal might affect the flavour of the meat, as is sometimes talked about. How different does an escaping rabbit taste from an unmoving rabbit that was slaughtered?  How different do different parts of a chicken taste?

The information about muscles being able to change phenotype was also new. According to research conducted by Terje Lømo, this switch in muscle phenotype can be induced by changing the activity in the motor neuron from a fast pattern.  The results of some of these studies suggest that neurons can switch phenotype based on synaptic activity. The more I read about the brain and neurons the more I think about plasticity, and how much the nervous system and brain can change. Funny to think that not so long ago the brain was thought to be the one unchanging thing in the human body. The idea that exercise could maybe change synaptic connections or alter brain chemistry is fascinating.

 

Posted by Natalia

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7. Blog post

Reading about the neurological side of functioning of human motor system brought some new light for me for how our body functions. With various parts of the brain working together to produce the complex movements human body can produce when practiced enough, such as moves done by gymnastics and acrobats makes the system fascinating. Learning more about the motor system made me also get to know more about the neurological diseases related to motor system decline, such as ALS, Parkinsson’s and Duchenne muscular dystrophy.

Movement related disorders and the chapter in general reminded me of Oliver Sack’s book “The man who mistook his wife for a hat”. A book by a neurologist who gathered various cases about his patients with various neurological disorders.

In chapter 14 there was introduced a concept of mirror neurons which fire even when a person or a monkey is not performing the movement but rather only sees it happen. However, when the monkey saw a human pick the peanut with forceps the neuron didn’t fire. Was this because the monkey did not have a concept of picking a peanut with forceps or some other reason? What if the monkey was taught to pick peanuts with forceps, would the mirror neuron fire in this case?

Posted by Juha Laitinen

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6. Blog post

Ear is a fascinating piece of machinery with interesting structural details and  functions. It is an interesting topic to study since, just like vision, it is something you use every day without giving it much thought.

Music has been a hobby of mine for 17 years and still I never think of how the sounds I play cause vibrations that are transferred through mechanical systems to nerve impulses and perceived by the brain. When you realize how many small structural parts like the oscillators etc. it takes to create  the sensation of hearing, it is easier to appreciate it. A good reason to remember to protect your hearing when necessary.

It is interesting how different sound and harmonies are connected with feelings. Like how can you say that a chord is in a minor when it sounds sad? Also the mixture of sounds and physical feelings is interesting. Most people have experienced that  loud thump of a bass drum that makes your whole body tremble. This is also a way for  the deaf to enjoy music. Could this be used in some kind of device to provide a larger scale of physical feelings in relation to different pitches. Also automatic reactions are interesting, why some high pitched sounds make the hair in your arms to stand up and give you shivers?

Sound and hearing related synesthesias would be an interesting topic of study. Like how people with auditory-tactile synesthesia associate certain sounds with certain physical sensations without actual touching. Or how in lexical-gustatory synesthesia, hearing a word evokes a taste sensation. How is this caused in the nervous system?

 

Posted by Emilia

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5. Blog post

Visual systems and the anatomy of the eye are not the most interesting brain related topic I have read about. The fascinating aspects are more along the lines of philosophical questions, which can almost be answered by science now. Like how do people perceive colour and do they see it differently? I remember discussing the idea that someone might see blue as red with a friend years ago. Is that even possible? Why do children have such a different understanding of colour compared to adults? They paint purple dogs and yellow trees and it seem completely normal to them. Most adults lose this and end up painting things as they appear in their everyday lives. Is it just a matter of imagination, or do our visual systems change over time somehow?

The idea that some humans may have 4 cones and therefore perceive colour very differently is new. It reminds me of a documentary I once saw comparing the colour perception of people living in different habitats. The people living in wet, northern climates could recognise more shades of green than those living in dry, desert climates, for example. Or how generally men and women seem to identify a different number of colour shades. I would be very interested in learning more about the evolution of colour perception and how our eyes adjusted as we transition into moving on two legs. How much did things change when we finally created the first civilizations and cities?

I guess I would say I am more interested in how colour might affect mood or behaviour. The internet is full of generalizations about how differently painted walls may affect the person in the room. Or what the colour of your shirt means. I would like to know how much truth there is to that kind of talk. Can orange/red walls really increase your appetite? Is blue really a calming colour? How does living in a colourful, bright neighbourhood affect you mentally, would it really be better than living in a monotonous area? Is eating multicoloured food better than eating items of similar shades? As you could be eating all green things, all beige things or all brown things during a meal. Purple and blue are rarely seen at meal times. Yellows, oranges and reds are also not present at every meal. Why?

Posted by Natalia

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4. Blog post

It was interesting to read more about the neurotransmitters and their functions in more detail. Previously I’ve been introduced to them only on a basic level. There’s quite many of them to remember and with everything affecting everything so to speak, structuring all of it will take some work.

MEGIN excursion brought a nice change to normal exercises routine, however it would have been even better to actually see a MEG instrument in addition to the lecture. Even though I already had an idea of the technicality of brain imaging it was still little surprising how theoretical application it really is. Also, some of the solutions people have invented to work around certain problems like noise cancellation in signal are quite ingenious. Still it feels like a huge part is highly focused on handling the signal data in way to get more out of it instead of tuning various bits and bobs around.

This made me think how much actually needs to be corrected in the signal for example if the person has a dental implant because the metals used in those are usually titanium alloys or other such non-ferromagnetic metals.

Also, what can be done for imaging techniques in the future with the likelihood of increasing amounts of various implants in humans due to medical reasons; pacemakers, pain relieving stimulators or even some procreational ones.

Posted by Juha Laitinen

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3. Blog post

From the point of view of a student, the world of neurotransmitters and receptors is full of wonders and big questions. How many types or subtypes of reseptors we haven’t found yet? Could a solution to some of the problematic brain diseases lie in some undiscovered receptor? Could we still find new pain relieving or sedating molecules based on GABA agonism?

If from approximately 100 of known neurotransmitters ten do most of the work, how many effects or possibilities are hidden in the lesser known ones? What would happen if we altered these rarer neurotransmitters and how would they work after it or would they function at all. How many possible receptor agonists or antagonist are still unfound somewhere in nature?

With my background in pharmacy I cannot help thinking, about all the possible opportunities for neurodisease treatment we could still find in neuroreseptors.

When studying neuronal impulses and how they travel via electric impulses and chemical neurotransmitters, I rarely stop to think how fast they actually travel. Sure I have calculated the speed as an exercise, but it is hard to truly understand the sheer speed of impulses untill you do a reaction time test.

Imagine it, you see a shape or hear a sound and it takes only around 200-300 ms to react, not to mention the speed at which you react to pain. Feels like you react faster than you even feel the pain. At that short time, impulses have travelled a long distance and chemical neurotransmitters have . The idea is overwhelming.

Posted by Emilia

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2. Blog post

It is hard to wrap my head around the fact that amino acids can also be neurotransmitters. For so many years amino acids have only ever been discussed in the context of protein synthesis, so thinking about their other functions is bizarre. It also makes me wonder, why are so few amino acids neurotransmitters, and why those specific ones? Or is there more the book did not mention?

The same confusion applies to hormones that are also neurotransmitters. When are they hormones and when are they neurotransmitters? Are they still synthesised in the same place? The book discusses the example of noradrenaline. Before this, I did not know that nuclei in the brain also synthesised noradrenaline, I thought only adrenal glands were responsible for their synthesis.

Having or making a long list of common neurotransmitters, their place of synthesis and alternative functions would be useful. The classification by the book also seemed very broad. Though I am not sure how I would prefer to classify neurotransmitters.

When working on the brain structure homework, I started wondering how specifically should we know the structures in the brain? The structures always remain in the same place, but when looking at them from a different perspective, it can be challenging to identify certain areas. The parts can look so different from a different angle. And when looking at a real brain, the tissue all looks similar, no purple or blue areas to identify a specific structure.

Posted by Natalia

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