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Neurobiology and Neurology

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A New View from the Thalamus

In this book, two leading authorities on the thalamus and its relationship to cortex build on their earlier findings to arrive at new ways of thinking about how the brain relates to the world, to cognition, and behavior. Based on foundations established earlier in their book Exploring the Thalamus and Its Role in Cortical Function, the authors consider the implications of these ground rules for thalamic inputs, thalamocortical connections, and cortical outputs.

Edited by Barry E. Stein

Scientists’ attempts to understand the physiology underlying our apprehension of the physical world was long dominated by a focus on the individual senses. The 1980s saw the beginning of systematic efforts to examine interactions among different sensory modalities at the level of the single neuron. And by the end of the 1990s, a recognizable and multidisciplinary field of “multisensory processes” had emerged.

Linguists have mapped the topography of language behavior in many languages in intricate detail. To understand how the brain supports language function, however, we must take into account the principles and regularities of neural function. Mechanisms of neurolinguistic function cannot be inferred solely from observations of normal and impaired language. In The Neural Architecture of Grammar, Stephen Nadeau develops a neurologically plausible theory of grammatic function.

How the Brain Builds Representations, Predicts Events, and Makes Decisions

In Biological Learning and Control, Reza Shadmehr and Sandro Mussa-Ivaldi present a theoretical framework for understanding the regularity of the brain’s perceptions, its reactions to sensory stimuli, and its control of movements. They offer an account of perception as the combination of prediction and observation: the brain builds internal models that describe what should happen and then combines this prediction with reports from the sensory system to form a belief.

Toward a Common Multivariate Framework for Cell Recording and Functional Imaging

Vision is a massively parallel computational process, in which the retinal image is transformed over a sequence of stages so as to emphasize behaviorally relevant information (such as object category and identity) and deemphasize other information (such as viewpoint and lighting). The processes behind vision operate by concurrent computation and message passing among neurons within a visual area and between different areas.

Brain-Immune Connections in Autism, Schizophrenia, and Depression

In Infectious Behavior, neurobiologist Paul Patterson examines the involvement of the immune system in autism, schizophrenia, and major depressive disorder. Although genetic approaches to these diseases have garnered the lion’s share of publicity and funding, scientists are uncovering evidence of the important avenues of communication between the brain and the immune system and their involvement in mental illness. Patterson focuses on this brain-immune crosstalk, exploring the possibility that it may help us understand the causes of these common but still mysterious diseases.

New Perspectives

The notion that neurons in the living brain can change in response to experience—a phenomenon known as "plasticity"—has become a major conceptual issue in neuroscience research as well as a practical focus for the fields of neural rehabilitation and neurodegenerative disease. Early work dealt with the plasticity of the developing brain and demonstrated the critical role played by sensory experience in normal development.

Most neurons in the brain are covered by dendritic spines, small protrusions that arise from dendrites, covering them like leaves on a tree. But a hundred and twenty years after spines were first described by Ramón y Cajal, their function is still unclear. Dozens of different functions have been proposed, from Cajal’s idea that they enhance neuronal interconnectivity to hypotheses that spines serve as plasticity machines, neuroprotective devices, or even digital logic elements.

It has long been known that aspects of behavior run in families; studies show that characteristics related to cognition, temperament, and all major psychiatric disorders are heritable. This volume offers a primer on understanding the genetic mechanisms of such inherited traits. It proposes a set of tools—a conceptual basis—for critically evaluating recent studies and offers a survey of results from the latest research in the emerging fields of cognitive genetics and imaging genetics.

Discovering the Brain of Synesthesia

A person with synesthesia might feel the flavor of food on her fingertips, sense the letter “J” as shimmering magenta or the number “5” as emerald green, hear and taste her husband's voice as buttery golden brown. Synesthetes rarely talk about their peculiar sensory gift--believing either that everyone else senses the world exactly as they do, or that no one else does. Yet synesthesia occurs in one in twenty people, and is even more common among artists.

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