Review written by Adelaide Minerva (PNI, G4) and Rebekah Rashford (PNI, G5)
Throughout the COVID pandemic, many of us were faced with profound levels of social isolation which took a toll on both our mental and physical health. This has been especially detrimental for children, whose brains and social skills are still developing. Normally, social experience in early life plays a crucial role in guiding this development; but what happens when that guidance is no longer present? Disruptions to the early social environment have been seen to negatively impact other social species besides humans, such as mice, fish, and some insects. Studying how social isolation may disrupt the development of these highly social species can provide insight into the neural mechanisms underlying both typical and aberrant behavior at a level of detail not currently possible in human subjects. Taking advantage of one of these highly social species, Dr. Yan Wang and colleagues in the departments of Ecology & Evolutionary Biology and the Center for Biophysics at Princeton used bumblebees to measure the effects of early life social isolation on behavior, gene expression, and whole-brain neuroanatomy.
Continue reading "Isolation Disorganizes Typical Social Interaction and Whole-Brain Genetic Expression in the Bumblebee"
Review written by Paula Brooks (NEU, G6)
How similar are bears and bulls?
If you ask a biologist, she might say that they are pretty similar, since they are both four-legged mammals found in North America. However, if you ask an economist, he might say they are polar opposites, since they are used to describe distinct stock market conditions. The unique way in which individuals organize their semantic knowledge, or general information gained through life experiences, could cause two people to judge the similarity between two animals in very different ways.
Continue reading "Using Machine Learning to Better Understand Human Behavior"
Review written by Amy Ciceu (NEU, 2024)
Early life adversity, ranging from physical and emotional abuse, neglect, and violence, to poverty and unstable home environments, can have an enduring toll on child development. Some children who experience early life adversity may experience detrimental effects in the moment but develop into adults without pathological behavior. On the other hand, for certain children, the impacts of early life adversity increase the likelihood that they will develop neuropsychiatric disorders as adults. For instance, anxiety disorders are more prevalent amongst survivors of early life adversity compared to the general population. Although diverse in the symptoms they present and the treatments they require, anxiety disorders share one feature in common: heightened levels of anxiety. Normally, anxiety helps us steer clear of dangers. However, if ramped up into overdrive, excessive levels of anxiety can fuel a range of maladaptive behaviors.
Review written by Amy Ciceu (NEU, 2024)
Adeno-associated viruses (AAVs) are some of the most widely used recombinant viral technologies—those that combine different genes to produce unique viral vectors, or tools that convey genetic material into cells—in modern neuroscience. Because they are incapable of being replicated within cells, recombinant AAVs are commonly used in neuroscience research as a means of expressing genes in specific cells. By expressing genes that heighten or dampen the function of certain cells, researchers are able to identify the functions of particular neural circuits.1 This approach can provide scientists with insight into the mechanisms underlying neurobiological processes. To make such circuit-related discoveries, AAVs are typically injected into certain brain regions of animal subjects. After an incubation period, some AAVs encoding fluorescent tracers can induce cells to fluoresce under specialized microscopes, enabling scientists to visualize particular neural circuitry. Furthermore, AAVs have demonstrated clinical potential; for example, AAVs have been used to replenish certain proteins in the treatment of diseases like congenital blindness 2, 3 and spinal muscular atrophy.4, 5 AAV is also currently being investigated as a potential means of treating other brain disorders, including Parkinson’s disease, Alzheimer’s disease, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), and more.6
Review written by Amy Ciceu (2024)
Have you ever found yourself in deep thought in a public setting only to come to your senses and arrive at the uncomfortable realization that you’re making eye contact with another person? Such is the dilemma that faces us when we lose control of our awareness. Awareness—a module of behavior that allows us to be conscious of stimuli in our environment—is fundamentally distinct from but similar to attention—the process of selectively focusing the mind on certain stimuli at the expense of others. In an insightful new study led by graduate student Andrew Wilterson of the Graziano Lab at Princeton University, researchers used stimulus-prediction tasks and MRI imaging to investigate the interrelated nature of awareness and attention in the human brain.
Review written by Amy Ciceu (2024) & Adelaide Minerva (PNI, G2)
As youngsters, we develop memories of and connections to our parents, who nurture us throughout not only our childhoods but also much of our lives. These memories and relationships play vital roles in teaching us how to navigate the world. Do other animals form similar memories? A recent study published by the Gould Lab in Princeton’s departments of Psychology and Neuroscience discovered that mouse pups form memories of their maternal caregivers within days of birth and that these memories endure as the pups age into adulthood.
Written by Paula Brooks (PNI, G4)
Walking through your old high school might release a flood of memories that were locked away for years, perhaps even a decade (or more)! Walking through the cafeteria might remind you of the time you almost scared the timid new girl when you boldly walked up to her to invite her to join your friend group for lunch. Or maybe, going past the gym might bring back the memory of when you face planted in front of the entire class while attempting to do the high jump. (Full disclosure: Both of these things happened to me.)
Review written by Renee Waters (PSY, G2)
Have you ever wondered how you can recognize a familiar friend in a busy environment? Or maybe how you remember a person you’ve seen just once? Social memory is the ability to recognize familiar others and is an essential function across species, not only for safety but also to maintain stable structures in complex and dynamic social networks. Social memory is involved in hierarchy formation, and defense, as well as mate, offspring, and interspecies recognition. A region of the brain called the hippocampus has long been pinpointed for its role in learning and memory generally; however, great strides have been taken recently to understand its role in social memory more specifically.
Review written by Paula Brooks (PNI)
Imagine that you are binge-watching Netflix. In spite of the algorithm’s calculations, you are getting bored by the show that was suggested and you are thinking about stopping before the end of the season. However, to your great surprise, a new character enters halfway through the season and you are hooked. The plot has gotten more interesting and the acting has suddenly improved. What just happened?
Review written by Rebekah Rashford (PNI)
There is much consensus that negative stressful early life experiences impact the development of an individual. Numerous studies in humans have linked childhood adversity (e.g., loss of a caregiver, abuse, natural disaster, etc.) to an increased risk for depression and other psychiatric disorders in adulthood. In other words, the more an individual has experienced negative stressors in childhood, the more likely that individual is to develop depression or anxiety when they experience mild stressors in adulthood. This heightened sensitization and increased risk of mood disorders in humans has a parallel observation in rodents, specifically mice, which are used as model organisms in the discussed study. Principal Investigator Catherine Jensen Peña and colleagues at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai were interested in exploring the epigenetic effects of such early life stressors on reward circuitry in the brain. Throughout this work the authors posit, as does much of the early life stress (ELS) field, that there could be epigenetic mechanisms at work leading to the aforementioned risk of mood disorder development.