August 19, 2019


MIT engineers have developed a tissue model that mimics the effects on the blood-brain barrier of a protein found in the brains of Alzheimer’s patients. The protein—Beta-amyloid plaques—disrupts many brain functions and can kill neurons. The study shows that this damage can lead molecules such as thrombin, a clotting factor normally found in the bloodstream, to enter the brain and cause additional damage to Alzheimer’s neurons. 
Eating extra servings typically shows up on the scale later, but specifically how this happens has not been clear. A new study shows that a high-fat diet increases levels of gastric inhibitory polypeptide (GIP), a hormone produced in the gut that helps manage the body’s energy balance. When excess GIP travels through the blood to the brain, it inhibits the action of leptin, the satiety hormone. Ultimately, researchers found that blocking the interaction of GIP with the brain restores leptin’s ability to inhibit appetite and results in weight loss.
In this Q&A, natural language processing researcher Yejin Choi (U of Washington) discusses whether her work in machine learning can result in the development common sense in artificial intelligence. Specifically, Choi addresses such topics as how we might teach AI to reason implicitly, what we mean when we use the term commonsense, and whether it is possible for AI to ever learn human characteristics like empathy or curiosity.
While no other animal’s communications can match the complexity and diversity of human language, the trills, peeps and warbles of songbirds come close. In a recent study, scientists played recordings of songs to two types of finches while monitoring their brain activity. They then played synthetic sounds designed to match certain acoustic features of each species’ songs. From this, researchers identified a neural circuit in the auditory cortex where the cells’ responses became specialized for the songs the birds learned from the second set of sounds.
Recently, the BRAIN Initiative held a “Show Us Your Brain Contest!”, which invited researchers involved in the effort to submit their coolest images. The picture above is a closer look at one of the images showcasing the wonder and beauty of the brain. Here you see a still frame from a super resolution, 3D image of pyramidal neurons located in the hippocampus. This image reveals the intricacies of each cell’s structure and branching patterns.
As evidence mounts that brain damage from Alzheimer’s begins years before symptoms develop, worried patients may start turning to PET scans to learn if they show signs of amyloid, a protein associated with increased risk of Alzheimer's. However, shortly after PET amyloid imaging became available in 2013, medicare officials decided that they lacked evidence of its health benefits, and one expert warns of unintended downsides of amyloid imaging, including the overuse of only modestly effective medications.

Recent Reviews of Note

Authors review state of the art technologies that enable discoveries of brain function and the development of novel therapeutic approaches. In particular, these technologies inform the development of future closed-loop therapies for neurological, neuro-immune and neuroendocrine conditions.
Authors discuss emerging technologies for sensing brain activity, anticipated challenges for translation, and perspectives for how to best transition these technologies from academic research labs to useful products for neuroscience researchers and human patients.

Calendar of Events

Mark your calendars for November 19, 2019 as the Brain and Behavior Initiative hosts its 3rd Annual Seed Grant Symposium! Hear from 2018 Seed Grant Program awardees, find out more about the projects recently seeded in 2019, and forge future collaborations at the reception and graduate student poster session. We look forward to seeing you there!

Funding Announcements

New FOA are listed below. Please visit for the complete list of open Funding Announcements.
*New!* The National Endowment for the Arts Research Grants in the Arts program supports projects that seek to investigate the value and impact of the arts for individuals and communities. Proposed projects may use quantitative, qualitative, or mixed-methods approaches. Research Grants in the Arts offers support for projects in two areas: (1) Value & Impact and (2) Experimental & Quasi-experimental Designs. Application due October 3, 2019.
*New!* The NIH Research Education Program (R25) will support creative educational activities with a primary focus on Short Courses on Alzheimer's Disease and Related Dementias for the Behavioral and Social Sciences (RFA-AG-20-031). Letter of Intent due December 21, 2019. Application due January 21, 2020.
*New!* The purpose of the Maximizing Opportunities for Scientific and Academic Independent Careers (MOSAIC) Postdoctoral Career Transition Award to Promote Diversity (K99/R00) (PAR-19-343) program is to support a cohort of early career, independent investigators from diverse backgrounds conducting research in NIH mission areas. The long-term goal of this program is to enhance diversity in the biomedical research workforce. Application due February 12, 2020.
*New!* NIH solicits applications in the area of Explainable Artificial Intelligence (R01) (PAR-19-344) applied to neuroscientific questions of encoding, decoding, and modulation of neural circuits linked to behavior. This FOA encourages collaborations between computationally and experimentally-focused investigators. Application due March 10, 2020, March 10, 2021, and March 10, 2022.

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