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May 22, 2017 — Every minute of every day, your body makes noise. You inhale and exhale. Your joints creak. Many of your own actions, generate sound, but thanks to your brain, you likely hear little of it. The brain’s ability to recognize and tune out sensory stimuli produced by the body’s own actions — to distinguish ‘self’ from ‘other’ — is a long recognized, yet poorly understood, biological phenomenon. In a study published today in Nature Neuroscience, Nathanial Sawtell, PhD, a principal investigator at Columbia’s Mortimer B. Zuckerman Mind Brain Behavior Institute, has shed new light on how it works.

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April 27, 2017 — Columbia scientists have identified a gene that allows neurons that release serotonin — a neurotransmitter that regulates mood and emotions — to evenly spread their branches throughout the brain. Without this gene, these neuronal branches become entangled, leading to haphazard distribution of serotonin, and signs of depression in mice. These observations shed light on how precise neuronal wiring is critical to overall brain health, while also revealing a promising new area of focus for studying psychiatric disorders associated with serotonin imbalance — such as depression, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia and autism. This research, which was led by Zuckerman Institute Principal Investigator Tom Maniatis, PhD, was published today in Science.

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April 4, 2017 — While there has been significant progress in the science of decision making, less is known about how the brain gathers the evidence it needs — and ignores what it doesn’t — to arrive at a decision. Jacqueline Gottlieb, PhD, a neuroscientist at Columbia’s Mortimer B. Zuckerman Mind Brain Behavior Institute and associate professor of neuroscience at Columbia University Medical Center, studies attention and information seeking. Dr. Gottlieb has co-authored a new paper, published this week in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, that for the first time identifies cells that control attention and encode the value of information; in other words, how relevant a piece of information is when making a decision. 

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February 23, 2017 — Playing tennis is not an inborn skill. There is no innate stimulus-response wiring in the brain for a killer backhand. And yet humans learn to master the sport, and so many other new types of movement, over both short and long time spans. Rui Costa, PhD, an incoming principal investigator at Columbia’s Mortimer B. Zuckerman Mind Brain Behavior Institute, wants to know how we build up such a stunning repertoire of behavior and continue to expand upon it throughout our lives.

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NEW YORK, February 9, 2017 — Researchers have found a genetic signature located exclusively in the nerve cells that supply, or innervate, the muscles of an organism’s outermost extremities: the hands and feet. This signature, observed in both mice and chicks, involves the coordinated activity of multiple genes, and is fundamentally distinct from cells innervating nearby anatomical regions, such as more proximal muscles in the limb. The study, led by Zuckerman Institute Codirector Thomas M. Jessell, PhD, suggests that the evolution of the extremities may be related to the emergence of fine motor control, such as grasping — one of biology’s most essential adaptations.

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