All Posts Tagged: memory

Mental Health Monday—wonderful testimony filled with great news!

 

Your ears will hear words behind you: Go this way. There is your path; this is how you should go.” (Isaiah 30:21) 

Yesterday I promised to share some good news with you. Here’s an inspirational story filled with great news relative to mental illness!

Aimee FranklinAfter Aimee Franklin graduated in 2007 with a degree in biology from Southeastern University in Lakeland, Florida, she moved back home to Alabama and took a job working for her father, who had to leave an Assemblies of God pastorate after a severe heart attack.

Just before leaving campus, Franklin agreed to take the entrance exams for graduate study in biomedical research at the urging of SEU faculty mentor. With little to lose, Franklin applied to the prestigious University of Alabama-Birmingham (UAB) Graduate School.

Miraculously, I got accepted and I quit my paper route,” she says. But a defining moment lurked just around the corner. Could she be open about her Christian faith as a research scientist at a large secular university?

I was interviewing with all of these researchers,” Franklin recalls. “One of them asked why I was going to graduate school. I said, ‘I felt called to do this.’” The researcher asked who called her. “I said, ‘I really feel like God has called me to do this,’” Franklin responded. The interviewer wanted to know if she heard an audible voice. “No, but doors keep opening and it’s something I’m very interested in,” she explained. The interview concluded successfully, and Franklin enrolled in the doctoral program in integrative biomedical sciences.

Aimee Franklin [2]Over the next nine years, more doors opened. In 2009, Franklin began research with Lori McMahon, the renowned neuroscientist who in 2015 became dean of the 5,000-student UAB Graduate School. Under McMahon’s mentorship, Franklin discovered what has become her life’s professional passion: The Human Brain.

Most of the other organs, we have them figured out,” she says. “We know so little about the brain. Everything you discover is something new. Everything is exciting.”

The larger context [of this story] is that federal funding for brain science research is growing rapidly. For 2015, the National Institutes of Health awarded at least $5.5 billion in research grants. Hundreds of millions more in research is spent on brain disorders and diseases. In 2014, NIH announced a new 10-year, “moonshot” plan to spend an additional $4.5 billion to create new tools for brain study. UAB and SEU, through the two women scientists, will support research in three areas:

  • Fragile X Syndrome, a rare inherited intellectual disability primarily in males, in which an area of the X chromosome is vulnerable to damage. This condition accounts for up to 6 percent of autism cases.
  • Major Depressive Disorder (clinical depression). About 3 million people per year are diagnosed with clinical depression.
  • Alzheimer’s Disease. One area of study at UAB is how plaques that build up in the brains of Alzheimer’s patients may interfere with normal blood flow to brain neurons, a possible factor in memory loss.

Source: PE News

Your brain has more memory than the internet

Thank You for making me so wonderfully complex! Your workmanship is marvelous—how well I know it. (Psalm 139:14) 

Whoever said the human brain is the most highly organized collection of matter in the universe was more correct than they could have known. New research modeled tiny structures within nerve cells and discovered a clever tactic brains use to increase computing power while maximizing energy efficiency. Its design could form the basis of a whole new and improved class of computer.

Neurobiologists from the Salk Institute of La Jolla, California, and the University of Texas, Austin, collaborated to build 3-D computer models that mimic tiny sections of rat hippocampus—a brain region in mammals where neurons constantly process and store memories. One of the models, published in the biological journal eLife, helped reveal that the sizes of synapses change within minutes.

synapse1Synapses occur at junctions between nerve cells, like two people holding hands. Each cell can have a thousand “hands” contacting as many neighbors to form a dizzying 3-D array with billions of connections and pathways. Each junction transfers information between cells by passing along tiny chemicals called “neurotransmitters.

Groundbreaking imaging published in 2011 revealed many more of these nerve-to-nerve connections than ever imagined, prompting comparisons between the human brain and the number of switches in all the computers and internet connections on earth. It turns out that the sizes of these connection points, called “synapses,” shifts with use or disuse—a process called “synaptic plasticity.”  Synapses strengthen when learning occurs or weaken when unused.

How do brains do it? They store and transmit information not with the simplistic 0s and 1s of computer code, but with degrees of synapse strength. In other words, they don’t transfer information with a single input spike, but recognize 26 distinguishably different levels of synaptic strength. Authors of the new research looked for possible advantages to this complicated molecular variability. They wrote that synapsesmight reflect a sampling strategy designed for energetic efficiency.” Nerve cells use the size and stability of each synapse to process and record information such as memories.

Separate research, published in Nature Communications, found that biochemical communication inside each synapse constantly monitors and adjusts synaptic plasticity.  This “plasticity-enabling mechanism” includes positive feedback loops and a safety mechanism to prevent cell death, according to a research summary article published in Nature by Christine Gee and Thomas Oertner of the Center of Molecular Neurobiology Hamburg.

Terry Sejnowski, co-senior author of the eLife study, told the Salk Institute, “We discovered the key to unlocking the design principle for how hippocampal neurons function with low energy but high computation power. Our new measurements of the brain’s memory capacity increase conservative estimates by a factor of 10 to at least a petabyte, in the same ballpark as the World Wide Web.”

What’s a petabyte > 8,000,000,000,000,000 bits of information. The mind-boggling levels of organization and necessary regulatory protocols in synapses refute all notions that brains evolved from single cells through merely natural processes. The strategies, algorithms, and design principles brains employ could only have come from an otherworldly Architect whose genius mankind can only dream of copying.

If you would like to do your own research on this, check out the following:

  1. Bartol Jr., T. M. et al. 2015. Nanoconnectomic upper bound on the variability of synaptic plasticity. eLife. 10.7554/eLife.10778.
  2. Thomas, B. Brain’s Complexity ‘Is Beyond Anything Imagined’Creation Science Update. Posted on icr.org January 17, 2011, accessed January 20, 2016.
  3. Tigaret, C. M. et al. 2016. Coordinated activation of distinct Ca2+ sources and metabotropic glutamate receptors encodes Hebbian synaptic plasticity. Nature Communications. 7: 10289.
  4. Gee, C. E. and T. G. Oertner, 2016. Pull out the stops for plasticity. Nature. 529 (7585): 164-165.
  5. Memory capacity of brain is 10 times more than previously thought.” Salk News. Posted on salk.edu January 20, 2016, accessed January 20, 2016.
  6. The new work also answers a longstanding question as to how the brain is so energy efficient and could help engineers build computers that are incredibly powerful but also conserve energy” (Salk News).