Pregnancy Brain: A Neuroscientific Guide for the Expectant Mom (Part 1 of 2)

Neuroscience

By: Jordan Gaines Lewis, 5th year student in the Neuroscience Graduate Program

image-20151106-16273-xkzzpl

Shutterstock

A few months ago, my friend asked me, “Why have I become so forgetful since I became pregnant?” I told her I didn’t know, but that I’d look into it and write an article for her.

She then followed with, “I was going to ask you to explain something else to me, but I totally forgot what it was.”

Does “pregnancy brain” actually exist? There’s no doubt that many changes are happening to a woman’s body during pregnancy, but how do these changes affect (or originate in) the brain? To answer my friend’s question – and in an effort to address whatever else she was forgetting at the time – here is Part 1 of my expectant mom’s guide to the crazy neuroscience of pregnancy.

What is Déjà Vu?

Neuroscience

By: Jordan Gaines Lewis, 5th year student in the Neuroscience Graduate Program

upset-534103_640

Erika Wittlieb (Pixabay)

What is déjà vu?  Many of us know the feeling. You’ll be going about your day, minding your own business, folding some laundry…nothing out of the ordinary.

Suddenly a sensation of familiarity washes over you, and you’re completely aware that it’s happening. I’ve been here before. Except you haven’t. Or have I? You might try to think back and pinpoint when you’d experienced this moment before. But just as quickly as the feeling hits you, it’s gone again.

Did you predict the future? Were you seeing something from a past life? What is déjà vu, anyway?

C, D, E, F, G, A, Brain: Music as Therapy

Neuroscience

By: Cecilia Bove, 1st year student in the Neuroscience Graduate Program

11704-a-beautiful-girl-listening-to-music-with-headphones-pv

Petr Kratochvil (Public Domain)

You may recall from my “Meet a Scientist” interview that I grew up in a music-rich home. I like to say that I can fluently speak Italian, English and Music – because it is, in all respects, a language.

Music can make us feel without saying a single word as much as any intense situation can: being with your special someone, grieving a loss, or handling the stress of an experiment that just does not work. (This is something that every graduate student can relate to!)

But did you now that music may also be an effective medication? Music has been under the spotlight of the scientific community for long time, but now its importance is emerging more and more in neuroscience research.

Smells Ring Bells: How Smells Can Trigger Emotions and Memories

Neuroscience

By: Amanda White, Research Technologist in the Department of Psychiatry

A_Day_in_the_Life_013

A day in the life.

Autumn has arrived, bringing with it some of my favorite scents:  bonfire smoke, pumpkin spice (DON’T JUDGE!), and, most of all, crisp autumn air. Stepping outside on an October morning and breathing instantly transports me back in time.

I’m at Penn State. It’s a cool, crisp morning and there’s not a cloud in the sky as I walk up Shortlidge Road. I’m a freshman on my way to class and I’m a little nervous, but overall I’m excited to be in a new place on my own and for the future.

That complex emotion and memory can be triggered by a simple sensory cue:  the smell of autumn air. How do smells trigger such strong emotions and memories?

A Prosthesis to Fix Broken Memories

Neuroscience

By: Daniel Hass, 2nd year PhD candidate in the Neuroscience Graduate Program

ibm_human_brainThe Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) has been a major funding source for the development of unique and innovative technologies under its motto of “driving technological surprise.”  Some of DARPA’s current projects include designing bullets that can adjust their course in-flight, novel techniques to investigate brain function (see my previous post on CLARITY), and brain-controlled prosthetic limbs.

As if the line between reality and science fiction was not blurred enough, aid is now being given to researchers for the development of a prosthetic device that will improve the recall and formation of long-term memories.

From Sacks to Suicidality: Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy and the NFL

Neuroscience

By: Jordan Gaines Lewis, 3rd year PhD candidate in the Neuroscience Graduate Program

2006_Pro_Bowl_tackleAh, football. The great American pastime.

The fresh cut grass and crisply-painted yard lines. The sound of helmets clashing in an epic stack of large men vying for a single ball. Stands packed high with thousands upon thousands of crazed, prideful, body-painted fanatics. The cheerleaders. The roar of the crowd. Chips, dip, and booze. Hilarious touchdown dances. Dementia, confusion, and depression.

Wait, what?

That last bit may not be present on game day, but for many football players, it’s brewing all along—with every clash, tackle, and fall.

Cases of chronic traumatic encephalopathy, or CTE, are only now beginning to unfold with postmortem diagnoses and early symptoms of memory loss, depression, confusion, and aggression being reported by former NFL players.

And with the recent settlement involving 4,500+ former footballers against the NFL, the topic of CTE has quickly shifted from being more than just a medical issue.

The Surprising Effects of Exercise on Memory

Neuroscience

By: Amanda White, research technologist in the Department of Psychiatry

Running_Man_Kyle_CassidyNow that winter has descended upon central Pennsylvania, all I want to do is burrow into a pile of blankets and drink tea. But in the weeks ahead, I have to finish up projects, get together with family and friends, write cards, shop for last-minute gifts, and bake 6 different kinds of cookies.

There’s a lot to going on during the holiday season, but exercise may help you keep track of things in ways you might not expect.

Why Do People Sleep? Surprisingly, Nobody Knows

Neuroscience

By: Jordan Gaines, 2nd year PhD candidate in the Neuroscience Graduate Program

SleepWhy do people eat?

The answer is obvious: to convert food into energy for us to do work. We wouldn’t be able to move or think otherwise, and lack of food would eventually starve us to death.

Now consider: why do people sleep?

According to William C. Dement, renowned sleep researcher and founder of the U.S.’s first sleep laboratory, “the only reason we need to sleep that is really, really solid is because we get sleepy.”

In other words, after decades of research—nobody quite knows.