Concussion Talk

Alex Bednarek

I thought the presentation by Dr. DiFiori on Concussion Awareness Day was very informative. Although he did not get to give us his full presentation, he focused on an extremely important aspect of concussion injury; the recovery. One of the most difficult aspects of concussive injury today for doctors and sports scientists is determining the best time for an affected athlete to return to play.

When a football or hockey player experiences a hard hit, their brains experience a phenomenon known as cerebral rotation, where the rotational force of their head, in response to the hit, causes axons to tear in a process known as axonal shearing. The shearing of the axon can cause excitotoxicity, where a series of chemicals, normally confined by the axon, are released into the cytoplasm of the brain. The tearing of the axons and release of chemicals can result in significant cognitive impairment. Dr. DiFiori alluded to the fact that some players recover quicker than others, but most concussion victims do not see a significant improvement in their symptoms until 8-10 days after their incident, as he also states in the article.

After hearing that the recovery time is usually 8-10 days after the incident, I thought that, if a player were to get a spinal tap, their results would show a high amount of chemicals in CSF. These chemicals would come from the tearing of the axon and the breaking of the microtubule filaments, which would release damaging tau proteins. This process would also alert the astrocyte cells of the nervous system, which would release S100B molecules, in addition to the cytokines, APP and TDP-43 molecules being released. The release of tau proteins and glutamate causes neuronal cell death. In one of Dr. DiFiori’s articles titled, “A pediatric perspective on concussion pathophysiology”, it is stated that the release of glutamate and other excitatory neurotransmitters causes an ionic flux. Essentially, NMDA and AMPA receptors are activated by the neurotransmitters causing a massive calcium and sodium influx into neurons and surrounding glia. This ionic imbalance can also facilitate the degradation of the axons.

I think the fact doctors and athletic trainers are cracking down on coaches who want to put their injured players back in the game is a good thing for the safety of the players. Coaches and doctors, like the ones at UCLA, should be working cooperatively to deduce not only when their players get concussions, but also when the best time is for them to return to play. Watching the video footage of the University of Washington quarterback getting hit and still playing was a perfect example of what not to do when faced with a situation like that. The first hit that he sustained was quite alarming, as he tried to get up and fell down 3 times, all the while holding his head. It was quite alarming watching him attempt to stand, but his limbs would simply crumble beneath him. It is as if his whole IPO (Input Processing Output) was not functional. He knew he was trying to stand up, but through a confusion of stray neural processing, most likely in the cerebellum and motor cortex, he was not able to properly stand.

Hopefully, through the use of new fMRI technology and various other imaging techniques, neuroscientists will be able to convince coaches, players and families of players of the dangers of concussions. If a recently concussed player gets a concussion, it can be assumed that his brain scan in an fMRI may show signs of neuronal cell death. These images of damaged brains should cause players, families and football fans to really consider helmet safety and TBI. Dr. DiFiori’s talk should be nationally distributed by the NCAA to warn players of what can happen if they get a concussion and worse, lie about the symptoms


Julianne Maisano

On Tuesday, February 16, 2016 Dr. John P. DiFiori, Chief of the Division of Sports Medicine at UCLA, held a lecture entitled, “The Vulnerable Window in Concussion: A Challenge in Determining Return to Play”. Dr. DiFiori discussed the process by which a concussion is diagnosed on the sideline of a game, the pathophysiology of a concussion, and some of the most recent research studies that have examined the consequences of concussions on a cellular and physiological level. In his lecture, Dr. DiFiori the average time (10 days) that it takes for a collegiate athlete’s concussion symptoms to resume, the fact that most athletes are not willing to report a concussion, and that one is most vulnerable to endure long-term cognitive function problems if they receive a second concussion three days after they receive their first one. However, one of the most important things he mentioned was protocol that details the length of time a player should sit out before they are allowed to return to play (RTP), a process that is not only vital to the patient’s immediate well-being, but for their long-term well-being as well.

A concussion can be defined as a traumatic brain injury induced by a disruption in the anatomical structures and pathophysiological processes of the brain (Harmon et al., 2013). Classified as a traumatic brain injury (TBI), concussion severity can range from a mild to severe depending upon the patient’s symptoms. According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC), approximately 1.6-3.2 million people endure concussion a year within the United States, and of those concussions endured, most as classified as mild (Choe et al., 2012). While many people are under the impression that concussions are primarily caused by direct head to head contact, this predisposed notion is not completely true. Dr. DiFiori mentioned, that while most concussions occur as a result of physical contact, most concussions are a result of head to ground or wall contact (DiFiori, 2016).

According to Dr. DiFiori, there is a decline in participation in youth football, as children as being swayed away from participating in contact sports. This decision can be attributed to the increase of knowledge about the symptoms, severity, and long-term effects of concussions, such as chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE). It is known that children’s brain heals more slowly than a mature adult brain. Children’s skulls are not proportional to their neck, which makes them susceptible to concussions. This lack of maturity, allows for the brain to move around significantly during a collision due the weight of the head overwhelming the neck. Likewise, a child’s brain is not completely myelinated and numerous neuronal connections and synapses have yet to be formed. When the brain becomes concussed, it endures an electrical shock and smacks against the inside of the skull. This rapid movement causes axons to tear and disrupt numerous neural connections. As a result, an influx of the protein tau is found within the axons is released into the cerebral spinal fluid (Semple et al., 2015). On average, it takes collegiate athlete cerebral blood flow between nine and ten days to normalize. This is not to say that it takes approximately ten days for all athletes to get back on the field and return to play, but this time point gives the brain a longer rest time and allows it to reset itself, something which is found to be longer in children (DiFiori, 2016).

Dr. DiFiori also discussed the vulnerable window, a period of time after someone receives a concussion, that if they continue to play and received another concussion are at a greater risk to encounter long-term cognition issues, such as chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), as well as psychological disorders. Serious long-term consequences such as CTE could result in depression and/or anxiety, and could possible lead athletes to commit suicide. Dr. DiFiori detailed the various consequences of an athlete retuning to play before they are physically, mentally, and emotionally ready. Subsequently, to explained the differences in and importance of neurological tests prior to athletes beginning a season to determine their baseline score, which will be used to evaluate the athlete’s progress while they have a concussion and post concussion. To express the significance of the vulnerable window, Dr. DiFiori discussed Huang et al. (2013) research study, which analyzed the impact of concussions on animal models and found that of the time points at which concussions were given to mice after they received their first surgery, three days post concussion number one resulted in the worst long-term cognitive functions for the animal.

To conclude his lecture, Dr. DiFiori stated that the best practice for treating a concussion is to remove an athlete immediately from a sporting event if they are expressing concussion symptoms, properly evaluate their symptoms and document them, and to inform the athlete how to rest while they have concussion, as well as to limit their use of light and brain stimulating devices and activities. Dr. DiFiori mentioned that it is important to gradually integrate stimulation while treating a concussion, and to always keep in mind the best interest of the athlete for both the short-term and most especially the long-term, when developing a treatment plan.



Choe, M. C., Babikian, T., Difiori, J., Hovda, D. A., & Giza, C. C. (2012). A pediatric perspective

on concussion pathophysiology. Current Opinion in Pediatrics, 24(6), 689-695.


DiFiori, J. P. (2016, February 22). The Vulnerable Window in Concussion: A Challenge in

Determining Return to Play. Lecture presented at Concussion Awareness Day in McCook Auditorium, Hartford, CT.


Harmon, K. G., Drezner, J., Gammons, M., Guskiewicz, K., Halstead, M., Herring, S., . . . Roberts,

  1. (2013). American Medical Society for Sports Medicine Position Statement. Clinical Journal of Sport Medicine, 23(1), 1-18.


Semple, B. D., Lee, S., Sadjadi, R., Fritz, N., Carlson, J., Griep, C., . . . Noble-Haeusslein, L. J.

(2015). Repetitive Concussions in Adolescent Athletes – Translating Clinical and Experimental Research into Perspectives on Rehabilitation Strategies. Frontiers in Neurology Front. Neurol., 6, 1-16.


Vulnerable Window in Concussions

Thomas Hum-Hyder

Last week, Dr. John DiFiori, the head physician of the University of California at Los Angeles’s Bruins football team came to Trinity to speak of his work with athletes with concussions and best to approach the idea of return to play. What was most striking about Dr. DiFiori’s talk was the apparent discontinuity between the rules regarding when players are to be taken out of a game and what actually happens. Research out of his lab and colleagues at UCLA seem to suggest that return to play is most acceptable after a nine-day period, as it seems as though the risk of sustaining another concussion would be reduced. However, in a video that Dr. DiFiori showed, it showed a quarterback sustaining repeated blows to the head throughout the second half of play after having a hard impact in the first quarter, which left him clearly dazed. While official policies seem to indicate that coaches are required to take players out of games after there is a blow to the head that looks as though it could result in a concussion, it is clear that these general guidelines tend to not occur, due to pressures from higher ups. When the incidence of chronic traumatic encephalopathy in on the rise, most prevalently in individuals who sustained many blows to the head during playing careers, it is incredibly worrying that coaches and sports organizations tend to prefer a potential win over a lifetime of degenerative brain damage.

The Vulnerable Window in Concussion: A Challenge in Determining Safe Return to Play

Morgan Williams

John DiFiori, Professor at UCLA and Head Team Physician of their Department of Intercollegiate Athletics gave a challenging glimpse into the world of sports-related concussions. One profound fact Professor DiFiori opened with was that there is legislation in all fifty states surrounding concussion management- especially as it pertains to high school students (DiFiori, 2016). Although I am not a huge sports fan in general, my immediate understanding was that concussions are both serious and common. What exactly is a concussion? Essentially a subset of Traumatic Brain Injury Brain Injury (Semple et al., 2015). The pathophysiology of this condition includes the release of neurotransmitters, and irregular ion fluxes with and efflux of potassium(K) and an influx of calcium (Ca) (DiFiori, 2016). There is also a decline in the brain’s ability to utilize glucose which leads to a lessened cerebral flow (DiFiori, 2016). Symptoms include headache, fatigue, nausea, fatigue, balance problems, anxiety, difficulty concentrating, and more (Semple et al., 2015). Despite how common and serious this injury is, there is still a surprising amount on this subject still being learned, and there are still many challenges. One of those Professor DiFiori shared with us is the actual reporting of concussions (or potential concussions) is less than perfect. Sometimes athletes do not recognize the symptoms, and other times they do, they hide them because they want to continue playing. A lot of responsibility is notably on the coaches as well. In one of the video clips of a past UCLA football game, the audience was shown a prime example of a player who noticeably hit his head on the ground during the game, not being taken on the sidelines and checked out, but continuing to play. Looking at the player’s eyes it was obvious that he was fighting to remain focused after the blows, at one point visibly shaking his head and blinking his eyes as to ward of the haze of confusion after he was knocked to the ground. The risky part in loving the the sports these athletes play is that in wanting to remain in play, and win, acknowledging a concussion may fall lower on the priority list. The bottom line is that after a concussion the brain is believed to be in a much more vulnerable state. The question for these players is when is this state improved and when can the player return to the game?


Despite how common and serious this type of injury is, especially in sports there is still much to be learned about when playing can definitively be resumed for the player. In describing the return to play (RTP) protocol, Professor DiFiori discussed the present 6 best practice steps and then described some different initiatives being used. This includes graded exercises. The problem with these approaches is that the tests are not definitive. DiFiori has even seen players who ‘dumb themselves down’ when taking the initial assessment as to offset their feedback in the case that they have a concussion and are given the assessment again (DiFiori, 2016). There is much believed to be at risk in a player returning to play before they have properly healed. Current research supports that if a second concussion happens within 1-3 days the cognitive function was significantly worse and the individual was more likely to have long term learning impairments. If the second concussion happened after 10 days (for an adult athlete), it is as if they are experiencing a concussion for the first time (Choe et al., 2012). Yet there is no science that backs a definitive 10-day rule for athletes with concussions. Yet the RTP protocol as it is, is still a challenge. First and fore most it is based on the two “yet to be proven concepts” (Choe et al., 2012) mentioned above (although it is it is increasingly supported by clinical and laboratory research as mentioned throughout this paper). That is, that a concussed individual is more likely to get another concussion, and repeat injuries within a short window may cause cumulative brain damage (Semple et al., 2015). While rest is the first step in this protocol, and seems the obvious choice, there is evidence that using rest to promote CNS recovery in a previously active athlete may actually cause withdrawal and growth of trophic factors. A study on rats yielding the ultimate finding (when transferred to brain –injured humans) that rest may create a situation where BNDF expression is low causing and environment where greater neural damage is possible (Semple et al., 2015). All in all, Professor DiFiori’s talk gave a very in-depth update on the current state of concussion management in athletes. One that, along with the readings, illuminated the great strides and findings that have allowed for increased and accurate recognition and treatment of the injury, and one that illuminated the great strides still in play. It is apparent that we are only just beginning to fully appreciate how concussions might influence the structural integrity and functioning of the brain. All in all, there is still much to be learned about the intricate and magnificent brain, in hopes of definitively pinpointing a concussion and its full recovery as to build a more definitive RTP protocol for the athletes that love these sports despite their risks.




Choe, Meeryo C., et al. “A pediatric perspective on concussion pathophysiology.” Current Opinion in Pediatrics 24.6 (2012): 689-695.


DiFiori, J. (2016, February 16). The Vulnerable Window in Concussion: A Challenge in Determining Safe Return To Play. Lecture
presented in McCook Auditorium, Hartford, CT.


Semple, Bridgette D., et al. “Repetitive concussions in adolescent athletes–translating clinical and experimental research into perspectives on rehabilitation strategies.” Frontiers in neurology 6 (2015).


Why Neuroscience?

Why Neuroscience?

Amina Kureshi



Before I had started at college, I knew which major I was going to be, a neuroscience major. I knew that I wanted to study the sciences, but after I had ruled out physics, it came down to choosing between biology and chemistry, and I just couldn’t pick one over the other. Perhaps you could say I had an intense fear of missing out on the major I did not chose. I also felt that biochemistry was too narrow of a focus for me. I loved all of the sciences and did not want to give up on any of them, including physics. This is what led me to the neuroscience major. The interdisciplinary aspect of neurosciences at Trinity allowed me to be a free bird when it came to choosing classes. The classes I have taken for my major span many departments at Trinity: neuroscience, biology, chemistry, and psychology. Combined with my biology minor, nothing was stopping me from taking all the classes I wanted to take. What could be a better way to top off my senior year than to attend events which celebrate the diverse nature of neuroscience?

The neuroscience lectures I have attended this semester shows off neuroscience in many different lights. Because neuroscience draws from many different disciplines and deals with the organ that dictates thought and action (the brain), it can be applied to many different fields. One example of neuroscience in the public eye is the movie Inside Out, which blends the psychological aspects of neuroscience with mainstream media. As neuroscientists were consulted for the making of the movie, it was interesting to see some of the common threads between neuroscience and certain aspects of the movie. For example, one neuroscience article I recently summarized for my senior seminar is about the nature of memory and memory retrieval in the case of retrograde amnesia. The paper found that in retrograde amnesia, which is when you lose memories before a certain point in time, the memory is still intact, it is just our access to it which is blocked (Tonegawa et al.). Therefore, instead of a dark pit of grey memories which get funneled away, never to be retrieved again, perhaps some memories which we cannot recall are a VIP section of the library of memories in Inside Out, one in which the memories are under lock and key.

The next event was presented by our very own new President of Trinity College, Joanne Berger-Sweeney, a neuroscientist. I had known that our new president was a neuroscientist, but I was unsure about her ‘scientific chops’ in the neurosciences. In preparation for the lecture, I read up on some of her publications and found to be very in depth and just as good as any other neuroscience publication. However this was not enough to convince this skeptic, as there are multiple authors to these publications. In attending her lecture, I got schooled on my neuroscience and biochemistry. Berger-Sweeney’s talk demonstrated that she had a solid foundation of understanding for her research on Autism, as well the scientific thinking and know-how well demonstrated in seasoned neuroscientists. Her talk in particular involved the human element of studying neuroscience, by talking about the girls with Rhett Syndrome and her motivation for using neuroscience to try and help these girls, really helped us understand the importance of studying neuroscience. Yes we all got into neuroscience because it is a fascinating field of study, but we sometimes forget that neuroscience is one of the final frontiers on the sciences, other than space. There’s still a lot that we don’t fully know in neurosciences, which has implications in the lives of many who live with a mental illness or  neurological disorder. Progress in the way of treatment can be very slow in some of these diseases, and this is why studying neuroscience is important.  One example of the importance of studying neuroscience can be seen in another neuroscience lecture I attended recently.

On December 10th, 2015 Dr. Philip Pearl, a neurologist and musician, gave a lecture at Trinity on the neurological disorders of famous composers. This lecture was fascinating as Pearl discussed Beethoven’s progression from high frequency hearing loss to deafness and how that impacted his ability to play music. What is particularly interesting is that upon autopsy, it was discovered that his eighth cranial nerve, the auditory nerve, was shriveled up and deteriorated. His post-mortem diagnosis of Paget’s Disease not only accounts for his hearing loss, but also for his unsightly appearance. Paget’s Disease, which is caused by a thickening of the bone would have cause thickening of the skull as well, causing deformities of this skin on his head, in particular, the face. This would explain how Beethoven was a relatively cute kid, but described as leper-like in adulthood. Dr. Pearl went on to describe Manic Depressive Disorder in Robert Schumann, and Pick’s frontotemporal dementia in Maurice Ravel, as well as many other interesting cases. One clinical case in particular was presented with histological preparations of brain tumors. Though m histophysiology class did not cover histology of tumors, I was able to apply to skills I had gleaned from this class to George Girshwin’s second grade fibrillary astrocytoma, which was originally though to be a particularly lethal tumor: high grade glioblastoma multiforme. This lecture was particularly interesting to me because it reveled in the diagnostics of neurology while applying it in the framework of music.

Another lecture which showed neuroscience in a new light was one given by Chris Moore. In studying neuroscience, it is easy to get caught up in learning about the nervous system that we can easily forget that it works in tandem with other systems of the body. Moore’s lecture exposed how intimately the brain is correlated with the circulatory system. Though I had learned about circulation in the brain through classes such as Functional Neuroanatomy, I had never fully realized the full extent that circulation had on the brain. Through his lecture, I learned that local increases in blood flow, hyperemia, in the brain is not correlated with increased metabolic demands of neurons. Local hyperemia is highly correlated to neuronal firing, while being poorly correlated to the metabolic demands of those cells. Furthermore, mechanoreceptor cells were discovered wrapped around certain blood vessels in such a way that local hyperemia, which which would cause local expansion of blood vessels, would cause these neurons to fire. Presumably, these cells can convey information about local activity to other cells in the brain. Thus the circulatory system can serve as a highway of communication throughout the brain. However, you need not attend a neuroscience lecture to learn about the revolutionary aspects of neuroscience.

A forum entitled “The Next Big Thing” brought together technology visionary, Joi Ito and journalist Fareed Zakaria to discuss how technology will shape our future. One point of interest in the talk was the distribution of knowledge among technology and the human brain. It was proposed that because there are certain things that the human brain can do very well that a computer cannot do well, such as diagnostics, these skills should  be left for humans, while things that require more memorization, which a computer can do well, should be left for technology. This is an interesting proposal because while differing certain topics to technology would free up our brains to hone in on the skills only our brains are good at doing would make us better diagnostician and so on, it would still be a loss on our minds. For example, the reason why we might memorize the action of certain drugs is what allows us to understand new drugs which might work in a different way. In other words, the memorization of certain knowledge is key as a platform for understanding more complex topics. Though technology will invariably serve as an important and constant assistant in our lives, allowing us to defer certain skills like spelling to technology, it cannot replace the importance of understanding these skills in the human mind. As we all know all too well, even spell check can be wrong. This is the essence and excitement of studying neuroscience. Nothing can replace the human brain with all of it’s capacity to learn and be malleable and adaptive, on top of the daily functions it carefully choreographs for us on a daily basis. Indeed the study of neuroscience proves a worthy challenge for the curious mind.





Tonegawa, Simsu, Autumn Arons, Michele Pignatelli, Dheeraj S. Roy, and Tomas J. Ryan. “Engram Cells Retain Memory under Retrograde Amnesia.” The Picower Institute RSS. Science, 29 May 2015. Web.


Research Study Presentation on Color Constancy

Julianna Maisano

10 December 2015
Ana Radonjić: Research Study Presentation on Color Constancy
On Thursday, December 10, 2015 Dr. Ana Radonjić, a Research Associate at the University of Pennsylvania discussed her research on the mechanisms underlying color and lightness constancy using naturalistic stimuli and tasks. It is known that color enables us to judge certain properties of an object. When we look at an object, color from that object is reflected and is projected towards the eye. The surface color of the object reflects some colors, and absorbs all of the rest, hence why we we are only able to perceive the colors that are reflected. Dr. Radonjić spoke of her work on how color guides selection in real-life tasks, as we often choose objects based on their color across a change in illumination (Radonjić, 2015).
There are two different types of photoreceptors located within the retina of the eye, rods which enable us to distinguish between light and dark, and cones which allow us to see color. When the perceived stimulus enters the visual field, the photoreceptors within the eye transduce the sensed stimulus into an electrical signal. The electric signal is directed from the optic nerve to the brain, where a more detailed version of the presented stimulus is perceived. The surface reflectants determine the objects color, however, reflected light is ambiguous in nature.
According to Dr. Radonjić, color is a proxy for achieving a goal. When we are faced with a task of choosing between a fresh piece of salmon and a spoiled piece of salmon, despite being able to smell the difference, we are able to visualize it as well. Color plays in a vital role in our everyday life tasks whether we know it or not. To validate this claim Dr. Radonjić asked subjects to recreate the arrangement of blocks shown in the room on the left, as closely as possible, by replacing the four black blocks shown in the middle room with the blocks chosen from the room on the far right (Figure 1). Subjects were asked to perform this task under a change in illumination. Dr. Radonjić found that similar to real-world tasks, subjects more often than not use the color of the blocks to recreate the arrangement, even though it is never explicitly referred to the subjects prior to performing the task. Dr. Radonjić’s findings suggest that as humans we use color constancy when performing naturalistic tasks (Radonjić et al., 2015).
Overall, I thought that Dr. Radonjić did a fantastic job presenting her research and proved herself to be well versed in the mechanisms of the visual system and how color is perceived. From her talk I learned how reliant upon color and consistent illumination we are as humans. Our visual system is dependent upon perception, however, our cognitive style differences and varying ratios of photoreceptors enable us all to see color differently.
Figure 1: Arrangement of Dr. Radonjić’s block copying task used to analyze color constancy in during naturalistic tasks .


Figure 1. (2015). Retrieved from

Radonjić, A. (2015, December 10). Color Selection and Color Constancy. Lecture presented at
Research Presentation for the Faculty Position in Social Cultural in Life Sciences Center Room 134, Hartford, CT.

Radonjic, A., Cottaris, N., & Brainard, D. (2015). Color constancy in a
naturalistic, goal-directed task. Journal of Vision, 15, 3-3.

Perception of Space

Tommy Hum-Hyder
Prof. Raskin
Neuroscience Across the Curriculum
November 23, 2015

Perception of Space

On November 23, 2015, Carly Leonard, PhD, a post-doctoral researcher at the University of California at Davis’s Center of Mind and Brain, spoke of the perception of space. She spoke of the historical and subjective perception of the external world, the biological mechanisms of perception, and some abstract principles that evolve from discussions of perception. She began with a brief discussion of the idea of extromission, which was a popular philosophical idea that was endorsed by Plato, Aristotle, and Euclid, among others, which believed that the eyes emitted a “visual fire” and that this light interacted with another body of light to produce the perception of space. Modern physiology tells us that this intuition is incorrect. Rods and cones within the fovea work to transduce photons of light to the optic nerve, which leads to the opening and closing of ion channels to allow for the brain activity to occur within the occipital lobe, extrastriate cortex, etc. However, with this knowledge of basic physiology, over 40% of individuals believe that at least some light is emitted from the eyes in order to visually perceive stimuli. Dr. Leonard used this idea to describe the various times when our perception fails us, and we do not see things that we may suspect that we see. In the “Door” study, researchers found that 50% of people did not notice when the person they were giving directions to was swapped out for another individual as a door passed them by. Leonard then spoke of how her research would run, with her using event related potentials from visuospatial attention with EEG.Her research would essentially prime individuals for a visual stimulus to appear on either the right side or the left side, with the patient having the understanding that the primer would be accurate. However, as trials continue, Leonard would vary the likelihood of the stimulus appearing on the primed side. At which point, the time it takes for the individual to push a key would be recorded to determine how quickly an individual can perceive a stimulus.


Andrew Hatch
Prof. Raskin
Neuroscience Across the Curriculum
29 November 2015
Lecturer in Perception
What I took away was I am even more oblivious that I previous thought myself to be. More seriously, I was eager to attend these lectures because I find the subject matter really fascinating and I plan to take perception next term. She started off her lecture about visual perception by discussing extromission, which is an idea about how vision works, asserting that light emitted from the eye and light emitted from the sun combine and enable us to see objects. Supported by the ancient Greek philosophers, it was accepted for centuries as scientific fact and a recent study concluded that 40% of people still believe that light comes out of the eye.
Next, she discussed change blindness and transduction, principles I was already familiar with from past classes. On a side note, I did really well with the first change blindness scenario but struggled with the second one even after being told what was changing (there is that classic Andrew obliviousness.)

The Brain, Society, and Disease Transmission

The Brain, Society, and Disease Transmission
Dr. Patricia Lopes
Khaoula Ben Haj Frej

A Dr. Patricia Lopes’ “The Brain, Society, and Disease Transmission” lecture focused on neuroimmonumodulation and more importantly, the social acceptability of being ill. According to the speaker, disease exerts neural and hormonal changes, changes behavior, and that disease-induced changes in behavior are context-dependent. In fact, the “presence of mates, caring for offspring, competing for territories or maintaining social status” can impact how organisms behave in times of illness (Lopes, 2014). This research, though conducted on animals, can provide insight with human significance.
The speaker’s model animal for one study was the finch. Male finches tend to mate to exhaustion when introduced to a new female. In the study, a sick male, injected with LBS, under normal conditions would lie on the floor, acting completely abnormally, with a drastic drop in behavior. However, when introduced to a new female, the sick male completely transformed, moving around the cage and expressing courtship behavior, such as hopping and singing. A novel male had absolutely no effect, so it was the potential of mating which had the effect. These results back-up the claim that “sickness behaviors could be considered a motivational state” (Lopes, 2014). After all, the study animals act differently based on their surroundings and particular factors, whether in captivity or in their natural environment. Other studies involved postpartum parental care, early-age separation from parents, and male territorialism; in all cases, animals, regardless of model, showed different behaviors when ill (or when a partner was ill) in these situations and outside them (Lopes, 2014). Illness impacts behavior, but social “expectations,” if one may call them that for animals, can reverse or alter that impact.
Next, in her lecture, Dr. Lopes discussed how she also looked at the physiology, searching for changes in markers of inflammation in the brain. At this point, the researcher also chose to get more data form the birds, measuring their activity remotely and continuously, by providing them with a small “backpack” that acts somewhat like a smartphone, capable of measuring changes in acceleration. Low levels of acceleration are considered resting, slightly higher was hopping, and high levels were denoted flying. What was found was that birds that spent more time resting when sick had a higher level of immune-defenses but had diminished chances of mating. Those that did not voluntarily partake in sickness behavior pretended to be healthy and had higher chances of mating but also more of a risk of morbidity. As aforementioned, many animals seem to choose this latter option, often males in the presence of females, or others with young in need of care. This study showed the cost/profit balance considered among ill animals (Lopes, 2014).
When selecting a mate, animals produce signals for communication, which send certain signals denoting compatibility and other characteristics. The speaker explained that she decide to look for changes in these signals, this time in mice. Male mice produce ultrasonic vocalizations in the presence of females (or their urine, since it contains darcin, an attractive protein for mating). In this experiment, one male had an induced sickness (through a LPS injection) and another was healthy and they were placed on either side of a female, separated by a wall. Observations were made, then the windows between the animals were opened and they were observed. It was found that the sick male was not able to provide the attractive vocalizations and had lowered darcin levels. Furthermore, the female, after exploring their options, discriminated between the males, and spent more time at the window of the healthy male than the sick one. In this study, the female was able of realizing the cost and profit of mating with either male (Lopes, 2014), and thus chose the most profitable mate.
Why do these studies matter? According to the speaker, more than 50% of diseases come from wildlife and humans have a high amount of interaction with animals, as wildlife and food. Therefore, understanding animal diseases can affect one’s understanding of human illness. For example, disease has been shown to impact mouse social behavior, where a LPS-injected animal becomes removed from the animals within its social group, despite having interacted with them before becoming ill. It was found that this self-imposed isolation allowed for a better fate for the rest of the animals, resulting in less spread of the disease and thus fewer mortalities, than calculated for if interaction levels been higher.

Dr. Patricia Lopes

Andrew Hatch
Prof. Raskin
Neuroscience Across the Curriculum
19 November 2015
Dr. Patricia Lopes Research Presentation
Instantly I found myself stuck by the fact micro organism interact— I probably know that they did, but Dr. Lopes electron microscope images made it all the more real. The topic of social interaction while suffering from illness was fascinating and something I believe Trinity students would enjoy researching. Her research into the role disease has in our social environment, initially conducted in mice, had variables easily convertible to human subjects.
I found Dr. Lopes’ introduction of sick behaviors and subsequent conversation to have significant parallels in the “human world”; most noticeable was slowing of movement and resting behavior. Curiously, she spoke about how these behaviors are integral to the survival of the individual and remain conserved across species. These behaviors, while not essential (in most cases) in the human species, are highly encouraged and also appear to be “hard-wired.”
Perhaps of the greatest interest for me was Dr. Lopes’ research of mating behavior of “sick” zebra fish. In her experiment, Dr. Lopes was able to extract the lipopolysaccharide membrane of a pathogen and inject it into lab animals, producing an inflammatory response without actually making the animal sick: the test subjects showed the classic sick behaviors, despite being perfectly healthy. Across all subjects, male or female, a general drop in activity was noticed.
While alone, males remained near sessile but when a female was introduced they started to get very active and moved around the cage and a majority of the males engaged in courtship behavior, including a call and dance. An increase in activity was true for most animals tested but not all and may correlate to a level of sickness—possible further research?