Zombie Weekend

Zombie Weekend

With the end of Syllabus Week comes the tide of papers, problem sets, projects, and required readings. Doesn’t it all make you want to say “Screw it” to the world and set out on a murderous rampage to let off some steam/reduce your insatiable appetite for human flesh? Okay, maybe not. But courtesy of Joanna Zhang, here’s some information about the interesting, complex, tantalizingly delicious human brain.

It’s been what, 3 weeks into school? I’m already feeling like a zombie. Maybe it’s the weather, or maybe it’s because the midseason premiere of The Walking Dead is coming up soon, or maybe there’s a new virus coming around that’s slowly turning all of us into zombies… So on a zombie-related note, let’s talk about brains! Contrary to popular belief, they’re not just food for the undead, sometimes they’re actually useful.

What exactly goes on in the brain? Scientists at the Mind Brain Behavior Institute are one step closer to finding out. By developing a neutered strain of the rabies virus, they were able to brain activity in real-time. Since the rabies virus only infects neurons, they were the perfect medium for mapping brain circuitry. Scientists have long attempted to develop a new strain of rabies that would not harm humans and can be used in experimental animals. The virus would ideally travel across brain cells and subsequently light up a path as it goes. Partnered with Thomas Jefferson University, they were able to “neuter” the virus so that it could spread in the brain without killing the organism. This new strain also allowed neurons to live in the brain for over a month, creating a large window of opportunity to map the brain in detail. Eventually, they envision the development of a strain of rabies virus that could potentially be used to fight brain disease.

Meanwhile, another group at the Mind Brain Behavior Institute have discovered that the loss of brain cells could be linked to various psychiatric disorders such as schizophrenia. These brain cells, categorized as inhibitory neurons, are found within a tiny region within the hippocampus (the brain’s memory center) called CA2. Although it was previously hypothesized that deficiency of the CA2 could be the cause of impaired social behavior, the significance of brain cell loss in the region still remained unclear. For this study, researchers conducted a series of electrophysiological and behavioral experiments on mice models of schizophrenia. They discovered a significant decrease in CA2 inhibitory neurons in schizophrenic mice as compared to healthy mice and also found that social memory in schizophrenic mice was noticeably lower. These all lead to the hypothesis that changes within CA2 may be the source of social behavioral changes in schizophrenic individuals.

At the Medical Center, researchers are conducting a multinational study for a new way to identify brain tumors. Currently, doctors are identifying gliomas, the most common form of malignant brain tumor, by observing the tissue’s appearance under a microscope. However, it is unreliable and often leads to mistreatment. They have now discovered that looking at the molecular makeup of these tissues allows for a much more precise way of predicting tumor growth. By observing 1122 glioma samples, they identified that the best predictor of prognosis is the level of DNA methylation within the tissues. Furthermore, researchers also found new genetic alterations that may be new targets for drug therapy. Although these findings do not provide a concrete way to combat gliomas, they will help clinicians correctly identify brain tumors in the future.

That’s it for this week! Feeling like you’re on the way to becoming a zombie? Hang in there, only three more months of school to go.