This Week on NeuroScientistNews: 3 August – 7 August
Dopaminergic neurons & decision making; how animals see the world; transforming skin cells into neurons, and more.
A crucial element for the survival of animals and humans is learning how to acquire rewarding stimuli—food, sex, and social rewards. While learning is powerful skill, nothing in the world remains the same for long, and learning must be adaptive in order to allow an animal to flexibly survive a changing environment. Dopamine has long been known for its critical role in cue-reward associations, and new data provide a much richer and complex image of how dopaminergic neurons function.
Rabbits have long been considered immune to prion disease, but recently scientists have shown that they can--under certain circumstances--get transmissible spongiform encephalopathy (TSE). Two studies published in PLOS Pathogens address what makes rabbits hard to infect with prions and how their resistance can be overcome.
Two labs in China have independently succeeded in transforming skin cells into neurons using only a cocktail of chemicals, with one group using human cells from healthy individuals and Alzheimer's patients, and the other group using cells from mice. The two studies reinforce the idea that a purely chemical approach is a promising way to scale up cell reprogramming research that may avoid the technical challenges and safety concerns associated with the more popular method of using transcription factors.
New camera technology that reveals the world through the eyes of animals has been developed by University of Exeter researchers. The details are published in the journal Methods in Ecology and Evolution. The software, which converts digital photos to animal vision, can be used to analyze colors and patterns and is particularly useful for the study of animal and plant signaling, camouflage and animal predation, but could also prove useful for anyone wanting to measure colors accurately and objectively.
Scientists searched the chromosomes of more than 4,000 Huntington's disease patients and found that DNA repair genes may determine when the neurological symptoms begin. Partially funded by the United State's National Institutes of Health, the results may provide a guide for discovering new treatments for Huntington's disease and a roadmap for studying other neurological disorders.