Introduction to Neuroscience

Get the Flash Player to see this player.

Video Presentation Narrated
by Alan Alda

Armed with new knowledge and technologies, scientists hope not only to uncover the secrets behind our most devastating neurological diseases, but how the brain makes us who we are. (Running time: 5:59.)

Belying an old view that the nervous system is hardwired from birth, experts found that brain cells retain some capacity to adapt and reorganize in response to experience.

Frontiers in Neuroscience

One of the strangest and most wondrous things in the universe is the wrinkled lump in every person’s head: the human brain. Weighing about three pounds for the average adult, within the brain are 100 billion neurons that give us the ability to see, smell and move, as well as think, weep, talk and read. Furthermore, all we experience and remember – in essence, every little thing that makes us who we are – is rooted in the neocortex, the seat of the "thinking" brain. Understanding how such a miracle is possible is the vast mission of the relatively young field of neuroscience.

Part of an illustration on how HCN channels on PFC spines can gate information coming into the neuron based on the level of cAMP in the spine compartment. (Graphic cropped) See article for full illustration. (Courtesy of Amy Arnsten, Yale University)In the past few decades, researchers have learned much about the fundamental workings of the brain, with tremendous gains in knowledge about the molecules that make it run. Scientists identified genes for receptor proteins that detect smell and taste. They determined that the stuff of memories is, literally, a cascade of biochemical changes at the connections, or synapses, between neurons. And belying an old view that the nervous system is hardwired from birth, experts found that its cells retain some capacity to adapt and reorganize in response to experience.

Now armed with the human genome and a combination of cutting-edge genetic methods and brain imaging techniques, lab scientists are exploring the neural circuitry of living animals in ways they could likely have never dreamed of 20 years ago. Rather than scrutinizing one or two neurons at a time, they aim to study how networks or systems of the cells function to influence behavior. Such efforts promise to bridge the gap between studies of the cognitive powers of the mind – traditionally the turf of psychologists and linguists – and investigations of the physical brain by neurobiologists. Read Article