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7 Brain Functions We May Soon Control

While you think most of the behavior, moods and feelings you have are something you control, much of it is beyond our ability and is in fact involuntary reactions in our brains. Luckily scientists have been hard at work investigating neurons, and whether some of them can be controlled, like the on and off of light switches.

Thirst

The hypothalamus area of the brain controls thirst and inquiring neuroscientists at Colombia University identified two sets of neurons relating to hydration. Via experiments with mice, the scientists activated these neurons. They found that the mice became extremely thirsty despite being adequately hydrated, and the inverse happened when the second neuron was activated: they failed to drink despite not being properly hydrated.

 

Hunger

Like with thirst, scientists at John Hopkins University wanted to see if hunger could be controlled. After locating the neurons responsible for eating impulse, these researchers activated and blocked these neurons in mice. They had similar results to their Colombia University peers, with the mice overeating despite being full and showing no interest in food despite having real hunger. This discovery has tremendous relevance for eating disorders and weight control.

Consciousness

It seems consciousness and awareness go hand in hand. While researchers at George Washington University were stimulating a woman’s claustrum (a passage of neurons in the cerebrum), they unintentionally caused her to lose consciousness but not fall asleep. The result was puzzling as the patient was awake but remained stationary, not responding to any stimuli and had no memory of this time when she regained consciousness. Similarly, through other studies it’s been shown that the humans can switch off their self-awareness when stressed. It has also been observed that when forced to focus on deadlines, the cortex ushers in a robotic like mode of consciousness.

Pain

While pain can be dulled and eased with drugs, there is the drawback of nasty side effects. Through their work trying to alleviate chronic pain researchers at St. Louis University found that activating the A3 adenosine receptor in either the brain or the spinal cord of rodents allowed for pain to be successfully blocked.

Violence

Neuroscientists at New York University manipulated neurons associated with violence in mice. The team effectively transformed mice into violent aggressors and then placated them into peaceful creatures. Interestingly the team also found that the neurons relating to violence overlap with neurons relating to love making, and that love making would temporarily curb the mice’s need for violence.

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Habits

Neuroscientists working with rats discovered that there are neurons associated with forming habits and that these could also be controlled. Experiments set up in mazes allowed the rats to be cured of repetitive habits. While at present this is not transferable to humans, there is value in further research down this avenue for future habit curtailing treatments.

Depression, Parkinson’s, and Possibly Alzheimer’s

The University of Toronto neurosurgeon Andres Lozano has been using electricity to trigger misfiring neurons to work and curb abnormal neurons from firing. He has been using this method to treat depression and shaking in Parkinson’s. Presently Lozano has launched a clinical trial for mild Alzheimer’s sufferers to see if electrical stimulation works with rejuvenating memory and cognitive decline. The results will be released in a few months. It’s exciting to know the ways scientists are researching our brains and to hear about the possibilities that await us in the future.

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