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  • Changing the brain’s real estate

    “To be human is to 'be', that is we are born with the special ability to become what we want and that is why our species is aptly called "human beings".” Abstract: The human brain evolves tremendously, simply put, it is plastic, prone to change when exposed to new stimuli. Until the mid-1960s, the adult brain was thought to be "hard-wired," which could not be mutated to reorganize its structure and function. However, this fundamental notion typically underwent a paradigm shift when studies on rhesus monkeys proved that the mammalian brain could be conditioned to respond to a particular stimulus naturally. When a new map develops in the cerebral cortex out of an existing map, which leads to cortical remapping, the cognitive process of cortical remapping can be interpreted efficiently by studying phantom limbs which is a phenomenon experienced in patients who have lost a limb. Interestingly these patients can feel a limb that no longer exists! How is a map changing? How is it not rigid like the conventional ones? We all use Google maps to move between towns and cities; every state is in its spot, and every country is on its continent. However, if someone said that the maps alter each day one wakes up from a nap? One would think the idea is absurd, but this is accurate when it comes to one's brain; every activity carried out, and every decision made changes the brain a little. What does that mean? Is the brain plastic? Every region in the brain is associated with carrying out a particular function. The cerebrum is responsible for hearing, vision, speech, reasoning, and other higher reasoning tasks, whereas the cerebellum coordinates muscle movements, posture, and balance. However "rigid" the brain might seem, it is not really. Until the early 1980s, the brain was considered a "hard-wired black box." However, this paradigm shifted as more research began in the areas of neural plasticity. When we wake up in the morning and brush our teeth, we do not use our brains consciously; this action is classically conditioned in our brain. When a person learns an automatic conditioned response paired with a specific stimulus, behavior is created. Ivan Pavlov, who is considered the father of classical conditioning, was the first to study this. He realized that over time dogs would salivate not only at the sight of food but also when a bell was rung right before giving the dogs' food. They were quickly able to associate the ringing of the bell with food. What is interesting here is that this conditioning can be changed.[1] Cortical remapping or reorganization is a process through which an existing map in the cortex mutates due to a stimulus leading to the formation of a new cortical map. A very famous example of this is the study conducted by E. T. Rolls at Oxford University in the 1970s. The study was performed on rhesus monkeys who were conditioned to licking a blue light bulb in the cage to receive black currant juice as a reward. After the monkeys were conditioned, the researchers switched black currant with brine, which the monkeys despised. When the monkeys now licked the blue bulb, which led to them receiving brine, within a matter of days, they learned that they were not receiving the expected reward and hence stopped licking the bulb.[6] What does this experiment indicate? Remapping. The monkeys were able to undo a learned behavior, which means the brain is prone to change. Micheal M. Merzenich, a neuroscientist at the University of California, claims that "the brain was constructed to change." [2] Image source - In 1973, Penfield and Boldrey studied the effects of stimulation of the cerebral cortex, which consisted of delineating brain regions with motor and sensory phenomena affecting a particular part of the body. They could precisely confirm the topography of cortical localization and pictorial represent it as the "Penfield Homonculus," a visual representation of the map of body space in the cortex, with the body size representing the size of the area in the cortex devoted to it.[4][7] Two very distinct regions might share neighboring neural representation in the homunculus of the brain. An exciting study by Aglioti suggested that women who underwent mastectomy found that about one-fourth of the patients experienced phantom breast when the pinna region of the ear lobe was stimulated, suggesting that the cortical representation of the two body parts was adjacent to each other.[5] Studying phantoms is crucial because it supports the functional remapping hypothesis.[3] However, what causes these neural maps to strengthen or weaken over time? This happens due to two processes, potentiation and depression. An axon terminal sends neurotransmitters to the receptors of the target cell located on its membrane. A neuron with a high action potential releases abundant neurotransmitters into the synaptic cleft, leading to a higher number of synapses between the two neurons and a more dense network between the dendrites and axon terminals, a process called synaptic sprouting. On the other hand, when the action potential is low, very little neurotransmitter binds to the target receptor; very few synapses form with a very loose connection between the interacting neurons, called synaptic pruning, which leads to the elimination of these unused pathways. Interestingly, newborns are born with way more synapses than adults; over time, the less used synapses get eliminated by pruning.[8] Image source - Simply put, pathways that are accessed frequently get hard-wired into the brain, and others get eliminated. Hebb’s law states that “Neurons that fire together, wire together.”[9] These neurons can wire together only when the areas involved stay activated, and this only happens when an individual’s attention is focused. As it is rightly said, “The power is in focus!”[10] REFERENCES LoLordo V.M. (1979) Classical Conditioning: The Pavlovian Perspective. In: Animal Learning. NATO Advanced Study Institutes Series, vol 19. Springer, Boston, MA. Holloway M. The mutable brain. Sci Am. 2003 Sep;289(3):78-85. doi: 10.1038/scientificamerican0903-78. PMID: 12951831. Halligan, P. W; Zeman, A.; Berger, A. (1999). Phantoms in the brain. BMJ, 319(7210), 587–588. doi:10.1136/bmj.319.7210.587 Schott, G D (1993). Penfield's homunculus: a note on cerebral cartography. Journal of Neurology, Neurosurgery & Psychiatry, 56(4), 329–333. doi:10.1136/jnnp.56.4.329 Aglioti S, Cortese F, Franchini C. Rapid sensory remapping in the adult brain as inferred from phantom breast perception. Neuroreport 1994;5:473-6. Annette Sterr, Matthias M. Müller, Thomas Elbert, Brigitte Rockstroh, Christo Pantev, Edward Taub, Journal of Neuroscience 1 June 1998, 18 (11) 4417-4423; DOI: 10.1523/JNEUROSCI.18-11-04417.1998 Ramachandran VS, HirsteinW. The perception of phantom limbs. Brain 1998;121:1603-30. Low, L. K., & Cheng, H. J. (2006). Axon pruning: an essential step underlying the developmental plasticity of neuronal connections. Philosophical transactions of the Royal Society of London. Series B, Biological Sciences, 361(1473), 1531–1544. Keysers, C., & Gazzola, V. (2014). Hebbian learning and predictive mirror neurons for actions, sensations, and emotions. Philosophical transactions of the Royal Society of London. Series B, Biological Sciences, 369(1644), 20130175. Schwartz, J., & Gladding, R. (2012). You are not your brain: the 4-step solution for changing bad habits, ending unhealthy thinking, and taking control of your life. Avery. About the author Name: Aarushi Chitkara Credentials: Second-year BSc - Life Sciences student at St Xavier’s College, Mumbai Bio: Anything to do with the brain and the mind piques my interest, I enjoy learning new things, reading books, and clicking pictures of the clouds. The constant debate between the tangible brain and an abstract mind is engrossing and enrapturing, The fact that we have simply scratched the surface and there is so much more than the brain needs to learn about the brain is fascinating. Social Media Handles: Instagram - @aarushhy LinkedIn -

  • The Neuroscience of Domestication

    Abstract: From being hunter-gatherers, humans switched to agriculture about 12,000 years ago. This new age saw an increase in plant and animal breeding catering to diverse human needs. Different animals were domesticated for different purposes. However, Darwin noticed that all domesticated animals had similar features. So how are all these animals belonging to unrelated species showing the same traits? Is their motivation to approach and interact with humans influenced by specific genes? This article shall highlight recent studies that aim to answer these questions. Charles Darwin heavily relied on the observations drawn from plant and animal breeding to explain his theory of inheritance. His, then controversial, findings drew a parallel between domestication (artificial selection) and natural selection. He believed that identifying the mechanism of domestication might help in understanding evolution by natural selection(1). Darwin observed that the domesticated animals displayed certain features that set them apart from their wild counterparts. This list of features includes tameness, depigmentation of coat colour, floppy ears, smaller snout, non-seasonal oestrus cycle, prolonged juvenile behaviour and reduced tooth & brain size. The appearance of this ensemble of characters is called domestication syndrome (DS)(2–4). These features have been seen in various animals domesticated based on a different selective pressure. Some of these features are even seen in birds and fish. Hence, it can be concluded that the appearance of this set of features is not a coincidence(3). Despite being a key piece in understanding evolution, the genetic basis of domestication is not well known. One popular theory that tries to explain the domestication syndrome is the neural crest theory. What is the neural crest theory? During the early embryogenesis stage, Neural Crest cells (NC) arise from the dorsal margins of the neural tube. These stem cells then migrate throughout the body and differentiate into different cell types. The broad range of neural crest derivatives include melanocytes which control pigmentation of coat, odontoblasts (tooth precursor cells) and secretory cells in adrenal glands which produces dopamine, epinephrine and non-epinephrine. NCs are also a source of dopaminergic neurons in substantia nigra, the brain region responsible for learning and reward processing. Studies show that NCs, in mammals, tightly regulate transcription factors crucial for induction, differentiation and mineralisation of skeletal features. Hence, the abnormal differentiation, migration and/or survival of neural crest cells might lead to DS traits that consistently occur together. It is, thus, hypothesised that mild neurocristopathy leads to the appearance of an ensemble of characters that are actually unselected by-products in domesticated animals(3,4). However, there are some observations this theory is yet to explain. For example, different dogs have varying degrees of aggression and display a mixture of DS features. Some extremely aggressive breeds like Staffordshire bull terriers have a short rostrum, de-pigmented coat and half pricked ears. However, dogs like Border collie that show increased tameness have longer head and erect ears. In addition, studies on domesticated rats and dogs show no correlation between tameness and coat pigmentation(4). Hence, it is crucial to address the genetic basis of the DS features and the decoupling of some of these features due to varying selection pressures. Is there a genetic basis to tameness? One of the most common traits selected for domestication is tameness. It is a measure of animals’ response to human interaction. Domesticated animals can be divided into two groups based on tameness: actively tamed (motivation to approach humans) and passively tamed (reluctance to avoid humans). Dr Koide and the group designed three behavioural tests to identify the degree of tameness among 17 inbred mice strains comprising both wild-derived and domesticated mice. Interestingly, the domesticated mice exhibited passive tameness, showing no motivation to approach or interact with humans. The study found the heritability of the tame characteristics seen during the tests ranged from 0.15 to 0.79, indicating that tameness has a genetic basis(5). The group further went on to establish a line of mice selectively bred for active tameness. They identified two loci named ATR1 and ATR2 in chromosome 11 to have genes associated with active tameness. Studies on dogs that are actively tamed have reported that specific regions in their genome are selected during domestication. Comparative analysis of these regions with ATR1 and ATR2 loci indicates three candidate genes that might be responsible for tameness. These genes are already known to be associated with anxiety, aggression, sociability and stress response(6). Tameness is a complex trait under the control of multiple loci. Several studies on tamed fox, dogs, rats and mice have identified many potential genes responsible for tameness, aggression and other hallmark traits of domesticated animals(6,7). But how these genes influence the behaviour of a tamed animal is yet to be explored. Understanding the genetic mechanisms underlying tameness in not only important in understanding domestication syndrome but, at large, will help in deciphering evolution by natural selection. Hence, our pet’s behaviour towards us are under the influence of these complex neurogenetic mechanisms. So next time, while showering your pet(s) with love, take a moment to think and appreciate the neuroscience behind all of it. REFERENCES 1. Gregory TR. Artificial Selection and Domestication: Modern Lessons from Darwin’s Enduring Analogy. Evol Educ Outreach [Internet]. 2009 Mar 14;2(1):5–27. Available from: 2. Ahmad HI, Ahmad MJ, Jabbir F, Ahmar S, Ahmad N, Elokil AA, et al. The Domestication Makeup: Evolution, Survival, and Challenges. Front Ecol Evol [Internet]. 2020 May 8;8. Available from: 3. Wilkins AS, Wrangham RW, Tecumseh Fitch W. The “domestication syndrome” in mammals: A unified explanation based on neural crest cell behavior and genetics. Genetics. 2014;197(3):795–808. 4. Sánchez-Villagra MR, Geiger M, Schneider RA. The taming of the neural crest: A developmental perspective on the origins of morphological covariation in domesticated mammals. R Soc Open Sci. 2016;3(6). 5. Goto T, Tanave A, Moriwaki K, Shiroishi T, Koide T. Selection for reluctance to avoid humans during the domestication of mice. Genes, Brain Behav [Internet]. 2013 Nov 7;12(8):760–70. Available from: 6. Matsumoto Y, Goto T, Nishino J, Nakaoka H, Tanave A, Takano-Shimizu T, et al. Selective breeding and selection mapping using a novel wild-derived heterogeneous stock of mice revealed two closely-linked loci for tameness. Sci Rep [Internet]. 2017 Dec 4;7(1):4607. Available from: 7. Matsumoto Y, Nagayama H, Nakaoka H, Toyoda A, Goto T, Koide T. Combined change of behavioral traits for domestication and gene-networks in mice selectively bred for active tameness. Genes, Brain Behav. 2020;(August 2020):1–18. About the author Author: Bharathi Venkatachalam Author Bio: I am an alumna of SASTRA University and CSIR-CCMB, Hyderabad. I am interested in studying neural circuits underlying behaviour. I strongly believe in ‘science for all’ and hope to be more involved in science communication. Twitter: @VenkatBharathy Editor: Dr. Harsh Srivastava

  • Neuroscience and Technology- Optogenetics

    Summary This article talks about how technology and neuroscience can be connected and how they can make a huge impact in the field of medicine and therapy. It also emphasizes the role of engineering and how useful it can be when coupled with biology even though they are two extremely contrasting fields. It is fascinating and almost unbelievable to see how technology has progressed, especially in the field of medicine! We can say that technology is changing the world of medicine in multiple ways: a lot of medical conditions, both physical and mental, such as heart failure, diabetes, depression, schizophrenia, medication noncompliance, etc., are being researched upon with new technologies to come up with a solution. For example, apart from its other benefits, 3D printers help surgeons in performing the operation effectively by providing better visualization and accuracy because they make the human organ models look more realistic than their 2D representation. Similarly, recent progress in the field of engineering technology coupled with biology highlights the use and importance of optogenetics in treating certain neurological ailments. Optogenetics is a vast field rather than a singular technique used in neuroscience, wherein a light sensitive protein can attach to some specific neurons in the brain, modulating their activity, with the help of the light signals. This tiny wireless device is considered a massive boon in the field of neuroscience research. The science behind this is that the device can produce a high-intensity optogenetic light stimulation right through the skull, without passing through the brain in any way. It is wireless, does not require batteries, and most importantly, is minimally invasive due to its subdermal mode of implantation. This approach causes minimal or no damage to the neural tissue compared to other related approaches where the associated probes have damaged the targeted neural tissue, disrupting the blood brain barrier and making optogenetic stimulation of the brain very challenging! Since there is no use of invasive probes in this device, it eases the process of research in optogenetics. [1] The researchers at Ruhr-Universität Bochum (RUB) emphasize on the use of the protein- opsin, in this optogenetic tool. The protein occurs in the brain and eyes of zebrafish and was eventually introduced in the brain of mice. Unlike many other G protein-coupled receptors which are activated by light, opsin is an exception and is permanently active. G protein-coupled receptors that are stimulated by light are known for their key role in ion channels and signal transduction mechanisms in cells, but in Opsin (Opn7b), light permanently damages the active signaling chain. The little research that has been done on the G protein-coupled receptors which are activated without light stimulation, tells us that they play a key role in a lot of neuropsychiatric conditions, night blindness, and in the development of virally induced cancers. Optogenetics and epileptic seizures: Bochum researchers Dr. Jan Claudius Schwitalla and Johanna Pakusch conducted an experiment where they altered a few cells of the cerebral cortex in mice, so as to produce Opsin. Upon deactivating the receptor with light, they sensed cortical hyperexcitability triggering epileptiform activity in the brain, which was then interrupted with the introduction of other light controlled proteins. This experiment made the researchers feel more optimistic about this optogenetic tool and further research is by neuroscientists across the world who are conducting various studies on the development of epileptic seizures. [2] This discovery has allowed experts within the scientific community, particularly within the field of medicine to finally consider and implement pain-free and drug-free therapy techniques in the treatment of disorders like epilepsy, depression, addiction, and many more, by targeting specific neurons. This tiny device which is predicted to deliver significantly fruitful results has proved that merging contrasting fields, such as biology and engineering, can lead wonders! REFERENCES [1] J. Ausra et al., “Wireless, battery-free, subdermally implantable platforms for transcranial and long-range optogenetics in freely moving animals.,” Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. U. S. A., vol. 118, no. 30, Jul. 2021, doi: 10.1073/pnas.2025775118. [2]R. Karapinar et al., “Reverse optogenetics of G protein signaling by zebrafish non-visual opsin Opn7b for synchronization of neuronal networks,” doi: 10.1038/s41467-021-24718-0. About the author Shreya Rao, a student of NMIMS Sunandan Divatia School of Science, currently in the third year of Integrated Master’s in biomedical sciences, is a beginner in the broad and informative world of research. A valued member of Project Encephalon, she aspires to research and delve deep into the area of Neuroscience and Psychology. Her other fields of interest include Embryology and Cancer Biology. Although she has a lot to learn about research and writing, as a beginner, she willingly looks forward to gaining knowledge in this field at every step, as she proceeds in her journey within STEM. Linkedin- Instagram- shreyxrao

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  • Team | Project Encephalon

    Team Pranjal Garg Founder and President Ankit Barana Administrative Officer Anushree Krishnamuthy Vice President Jay Verma Administrative Officer Administrative department Editorial department Harsh Srivastava Executive Editor Rohan Nath Associate Editor Shreyas Gadge Associate Editor Susan Ajith Associate Editor Maalavika Govindarajan Executive Editor Aiendrila Roy Associate Editor Bhagyajyoti P Associate Editor Tanishta Bhattacharya Associate Editor Sumedha Sengupta Associate Editor Madhuri Srinivasan Associate Editor Simran Luthiya Associate Editor DESIGN department Nosratullah Mohammadi Head of Design Vaishnavi B Bhat Assisstant Designer Sveekruth Pai Creative Consultant Puja Kisku Head of Design Navodita Seth Assisstant Designer Aiswarya PS Head of Design Harshini J Anand Assisstant Designer Human resources department Meghana J Chief Human Resources Officer Saakshi Champaneria Assistant Chief Human Resource Officer Yatin Batra Associate Chief Human Resources Officer Gagandeep Kaur Deputy Chief Human Resources Officer Sandeep Padaiyachi Associate Chief Human Resources Officer Kirubes Assistant Chief Human Resource Officer Shivani Pimparkar Associate Chief Human Resources Officer Internal Affairs department Tanya Pattnaik Chief Operating Officer Pratiksha Pawar Deputy Chief Operating Officer Parul Jain Activity Coordinator Pranay Gaikwad Activity Coordinator Shreshth Shekhar Chief Operating Officer Payel Pramanik Activity Coordinator Vaikhari Shyam Ozarkar Activity Coordinator Ranjini Bhattacharya Deputy Chief Operating Officer Dhanashri Satav Activity Coordinator Thasneem Musthafa Activity Coordinator External Affairs department Ankush Chakraborty Chief External Affairs Officer Upasana Gupta Deputy Chief External Affairs Officer Marketing department Manasi S Pawar Chief Marketing officer Yashvi Bhat Associate Chief Marketing officer Anuja Karwa Assisstant Chief Marketing Officer Arupam Biswas Social Media Manager Vishwa Parab Associate Chief Marketing Officer International Affairs department Rithika Chunduri Chief International Officer Saidharshini Muthiah Associate Chief International Officer Jhillika Trisal Chief International Officer Shivani Suresh Regional Director (Europe) technical department Sachin Patalsingh Chief Technical Offier Deepak Khatri Advisor to Chief Techincal Officer Arkadeep Mukhopadhyay Deputy Chief Techincal Officer Swatantra Dhara Associate Chief Technical Officer

  • FAQ | Project Encephalon

    Frequently Asked Questions ​ What is the objective of this Organization? To provide an academic and mentally stimulating platform, for those, who see themselves working in the field of neuroscience, in the near future. Read more in the about us section . ​ ​ What work do you do? We conduct neuroscience discussions on our Discord channel along with fortnightly Journal Clubs, Paper Club for informal discussion, Sapiens in Neuroscience blog series, NeuroPiction series, and an international conference NeuroNovember Convention in 2020. We are very keen to welcome suggestions from our members about academic research-oriented events. ​ ​ I am not a student. Can I join? Anyone whose heart kindles with the passion to learn neuroscience is encouraged to join. We also welcome experienced professionals to join us as ‘Collaborators’ and guide us as future neuroscientists. You can access the link to join us from the ‘Contact’ tab. ​ ​ Who are Collaborators? Senior academicians, faculty, post-docs, or scientists who are willing to mentor students can become collaborators of the Organization. It is not mandatory for them to join every meeting, or attend the discussions on Discord. However, they may be requested to attend a particular meeting, that concerns their research interests, to guide the students. ​ ​ I am from an experimental neuroscience background. Can I participate? Since this Organization caters mainly to students, we do not lay emphasis on any particular aspect of neuroscience. People from almost all subfields of neuroscience are already part of the group, and we are always looking forward to broadening our horizons. ​ ​ Is it mandatory to be a part of the Discord channel? Yes, It is a necessity. Unfortunately, at the present moment, we do not provide any other platform to have discussions on. However, you can still participate in the Journal Club and Paper Club. Please contact send your query to for further details. ​ ​ Is there any fee to join this Organization? There is no fee, either to join or to participate. We are a non-profit, academic Organization and do not have any commercial motives. We intend to keep this Organization free for everybody for as long as possible. How can I become a member of the Organization management team? You may apply for positions whenever the “calls for positions” open up. The advertisement for the same will be published on this website and on all social media accounts of the Organization. However, if you feel, you have a great idea to modify some aspect of the Organization, or to introduce a new section, you can always contact any Board member, and there is a possibility that you would be invited to join the management team. I feel lost in the Organization. What should I do? You are always welcome to contact any member of the management team for details regarding the functioning of the Organization, or the use of the Discord channel. It is our assurance that you will be offered all necessary assistance. How can I leave the Organization? We value your feedback immensely and hence, would love to know how we could serve you better. However, if you feel that the Organization no longer benefits you, please fill this form . ​ ​ I do not feel comfortable in the Organization/ Somebody is causing problems to me. What should I do? You can lodge your complaint to the Code of Conduct Committee. We take violations of the code of conduct very seriously. The member who is found in violation may be banned permanently from the group. You can report violations of the code of conduct by filling this reporting form.

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