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Bernice Fitzgibbon
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The world around is complex and changing constantly. To put it in order, we devise categories into which we sort new concepts. To do this we apply different strategies. A team of researchers at the Ruhr University Bochum (RUB) led by Dr. Boris Suchan, department of neuropsychology, and Dr. Onur Güntürkün, department of biopsychology, wanted to find our which areas of the brain regulate these strategies.
The results of their study using magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) show that there are indeed particular brain areas, which become active when a certain strategy of categorisation is applied.
When we categorise objects by comparing it to a prototype, the left fusiform gyrus is activated. This is an area, which is responsible for recognising abstract images. On the other hand, when we compare things to particular examples of a category, there is an activation of the left hippocampus. This field plays an important role for the storage or retrieval of memories.

Categories reduce information load
Thinking in categories or pigeonholing helps our brain in bringing order into a constantly changing world and it reduces the information load. Cognitive scientists differentiate between two main strategies which achieve this: the exemplar strategy and the prototype strategy.
When we want to find out, whether a certain animal fits into the category “bird” we would at first apply the prototype strategy and compare it to an abstract general “bird”. This prototype has the defining features of the class, like a beak, feathers or the ability to fly. But when we encounter outliers or exceptions like an emu or a penguin, this strategy may be of no use. Then we apply the exemplar strategy and compare the animal to many different known examples of the category. This helps us find the right category, even for “distant relations”.

Complex interaction
To find out where our brain is activated, when it is ordering the world, the neuroscientists in Bochum performed an MRI scan, while volunteers were completing a categorisation task. The functional imaging data showed that both strategies are triggered by different areas of the brain.
The scientists believe that there is a complex interaction between both learning patterns. The results implicate that both strategies originate from distinct brain areas. We also observed that, during the learning process, the rhythm of activation in the two areas synchronised. This shows that both cognitive processes cannot be neatly separated explains Boris Suchan. Further modelling and research must now clarify this interaction.
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In a startling discovery that raises fundamental questions about human behavior, researchers at the University of Virginia School of Medicine have determined that the immune system directly affects – and even controls – creatures’ social behavior, such as their desire to interact with others.
So could immune system problems contribute to an inability to have normal social interactions? The answer appears to be yes, and that finding could have significant implications for neurological diseases such as autism-spectrum disorders and schizophrenia.
The brain and the adaptive immune system were thought to be isolated from each other, and any immune activity in the brain was perceived as sign of a pathology. And now, not only are we showing that they are closely interacting, but some of our behavior traits might have evolved because of our immune response to pathogens explained Jonathan Kipnis chair of UVA’s Department of Neuroscience. It’s crazy, but maybe we are just multicellular battlefields for two ancient forces: pathogens and the immune system. Part of our personality may actually be dictated by the immune system.

Evolutionary Forces at Work
It was only last year that Kipnis, the director of UVA’s Center for Brain Immunology and Glia, and his team discovered that meningeal vessels directly link the brain with the lymphatic system. That overturned decades of textbook teaching that the brain was “immune privileged,” lacking a direct connection to the immune system. The discovery opened the door for entirely new ways of thinking about how the brain and the immune system interact.
The follow-up finding is equally illuminating, shedding light on both the workings of the brain and on evolution itself. The relationship between people and pathogens, the researchers suggest, could have directly affected the development of our social behavior, allowing us to engage in the social interactions necessary for the survival of the species while developing ways for our immune systems to protect us from the diseases that accompany those interactions. Social behavior is, of course, in the interest of pathogens, as it allows them to spread.
The UVA researchers have shown that a specific immune molecule, interferon gamma, seems to be critical for social behavior and that a variety of creatures, such as flies, zebrafish, mice and rats, activate interferon gamma responses when they are social. Normally, this molecule is produced by the immune system in response to bacteria, viruses or parasites. Blocking the molecule in mice using genetic modification made regions of the brain hyperactive, causing the mice to become less social. Restoring the molecule restored the brain connectivity and behavior to normal. In a paper outlining their findings, the researchers note the immune molecule plays a profound role in maintaining proper social function.
It’s extremely critical for an organism to be social for the survival of the species. It’s important for foraging, sexual reproduction, gathering, hunting said Anthony J. Filiano Hartwell postdoctoral fellow in the Kipnis lab and lead author of the study. So the hypothesis is that when organisms come together, you have a higher propensity to spread infection. So you need to be social, but [in doing so] you have a higher chance of spreading pathogens. The idea is that interferon gamma, in evolution, has been used as a more efficient way to both boost social behavior while boosting an anti-pathogen response.

Understanding the Implications
The researchers note that a malfunctioning immune system may be responsible for social deficits in numerous neurological and psychiatric disorders. But exactly what this might mean for autism and other specific conditions requires further investigation. It is unlikely that any one molecule will be responsible for disease or the key to a cure. The researchers believe that the causes are likely to be much more complex. But the discovery that the immune system, and possibly germs, by extension, can control our interactions raises many exciting avenues for scientists to explore, both in terms of battling neurological disorders and understanding human behavior.
Immune molecules are actually defining how the brain is functioning. So, what is the overall impact of the immune system on our brain development and function? Kipnis said. I think the philosophical aspects of this work are very interesting, but it also has potentially very important clinical implications.
Findings Published
Kipnis and his team worked closely with UVA’s Department of Pharmacology and with Vladimir Litvak’s research group at the University of Massachusetts Medical School. Litvak’s team developed a computational approach to investigate the complex dialogue between immune signaling and brain function in health and disease.
Using this approach we predicted a role for interferon gamma, an important cytokine secreted by T lymphocytes, in promoting social brain functions Litvak said. Our findings contribute to a deeper understanding of social dysfunction in neurological disorders, such as autism and schizophrenia, and may open new avenues for therapeutic approaches.
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The world around is complex and changing constantly. To put it in order, we devise categories into which we sort new concepts. To do this we apply different strategies. A team of researchers at the Ruhr University Bochum (RUB) led by Dr. Boris Suchan, department of neuropsychology, and Dr. Onur Güntürkün, department of biopsychology, wanted to find our which areas of the brain regulate these strategies.
The results of their study using magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) show that there are indeed particular brain areas, which become active when a certain strategy of categorisation is applied.
When we categorise objects by comparing it to a prototype, the left fusiform gyrus is activated. This is an area, which is responsible for recognising abstract images. On the other hand, when we compare things to particular examples of a category, there is an activation of the left hippocampus. This field plays an important role for the storage or retrieval of memories.

Categories reduce information load
Thinking in categories or pigeonholing helps our brain in bringing order into a constantly changing world and it reduces the information load. Cognitive scientists differentiate between two main strategies which achieve this: the exemplar strategy and the prototype strategy.
When we want to find out, whether a certain animal fits into the category “bird” we would at first apply the prototype strategy and compare it to an abstract general “bird”. This prototype has the defining features of the class, like a beak, feathers or the ability to fly. But when we encounter outliers or exceptions like an emu or a penguin, this strategy may be of no use. Then we apply the exemplar strategy and compare the animal to many different known examples of the category. This helps us find the right category, even for “distant relations”.

Complex interaction
To find out where our brain is activated, when it is ordering the world, the neuroscientists in Bochum performed an MRI scan, while volunteers were completing a categorisation task. The functional imaging data showed that both strategies are triggered by different areas of the brain.
The scientists believe that there is a complex interaction between both learning patterns. The results implicate that both strategies originate from distinct brain areas. We also observed that, during the learning process, the rhythm of activation in the two areas synchronised. This shows that both cognitive processes cannot be neatly separated explains Boris Suchan. Further modelling and research must now clarify this interaction.
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The new map of the human cortex contains 180 distinct areas in each hemisphere.
If you ask a neuroscientist to show you a map of the brain, chances are they’ll pick one that’s more than a century old.
In 1909, a German anatomist named Korbinian Brodmann published an intricate map of the brain’s surface. He painstakingly stained brain cells of many kinds to find the anatomical features that set them apart and the rules that governed their layered organization. We now know that neurons that sense a touch on the skin are found in Brodmann area 1; those allowing you to read this article sit in area 17.
Now, scientists have built an updated map of the brain that further refines those areas. Published Wednesday in the journal Nature, the map reveals 97 previously unknown areas of the brain’s surface (the cortex), in addition to 83 areas that were described before.

Unlike Brodmann’s and other brain maps built using just one property (how the cells looked under a microscope, for example), the new atlas is made by combining several types of data that capture multiple properties of these brain areas: their anatomy, their function and the connections between them.
The data was gathered using multiple non-invasive brain imaging measures from 210 people in the NIH Human Connectome Project, and the accuracy of the resulting map was confirmed on another group of 210 people.
The study authors hope that researchers who have previously used Brodmann’s map to identify brain areas will use this new map from the Human Connectome Project instead said Matthew Glasser of Washington University in St. Louis, the study’s lead author.

According to Glasser and his colleagues at six other research centers, combining anatomical data with functional data from fMRI brain scans has allowed for more precise delineation between brain areas.
For example, an area that may look indistinguishable from its neighbor under the microscope or on MRI scans may light up on fMRI scans that measure brain activation during a specific mental task and thus stand out as a distinct region.
The situation is analogous to astronomy where ground-based telescopes produced relatively blurry images of the sky before the advent of adaptive optics and space telescopes Glasser said in a press release.
Researchers hope that a more precise division of the brain can prevent potential confusion in neuroscience studies that may be looking at overly broad areas ― and lead to new discoveries.
The map is a long-awaited advance said B. T. Thomas Yeo and Simon Eickhoff two neuroscientists not involved in the study, in an accompanying article in Nature. They added that it creates a reference atlas that allows neuroscientists studying various aspects of the brain to work within a common framework.
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