The latest advancements in wire data transmission, biosensor technology and algorithms that process signals have provided significant breakthroughs in human neuroscience. This has led to major revisions of what we previously knew about the structure, function and development of the brain, the central nervous system (CNS), and its effect on human cognitive and behavioural functions.
In a bid to advance scientific research, neuroscientists focus their lens on several layers of the CNS, ranging from molecular levels to massive network synchronisation, inter-neural communication and brain-body interactions. Some neuroscientists even study the way several multiple brains and body systems communicate with each other!
Neuroscience is therefore a combination of medical, evolutionary and computational fields, cultivating a greater understanding of the ‘birth’ and formation of over 100 billion nerve cells in the human brain. It seeks to know how they evolve and interconnect to form one of the most sophisticated structures in the world- the nervous system.
Right now, your brain and nervous system are interacting together to make sense of the paragraphs you have read so far. At its most rudimentary function, reading- like many activities of the central nervous system, requires a series of electrical impulses coursing through the body in a network of interconnected nerves known as neurons.
The Nervous System and the Brain
One of the important things to know is that neuroscientists do not limit their efforts for understanding to the brain, but include all aspects of the nervous system. Essentially, to establish the body’s whole electrical wiring, its complicated convolution of nerves and cells send data to and from the brain, spinal cords, limbs and organs.
The brain and spinal cord are believed to be the core of the nervous system, because they integrate all inbound information from sensors and effectors, and control the main activities in the body. As opposed to the central nervous system (CNS), the peripheral nervous system (PNS) consists of the autonomous and somatic systems which are responsible for the voluntary coordination of the skeletal muscles and the involuntary coordination of the bodily functions such as the respiration, digestion, heart rate, urination, pupillary response and sexual arousal.
Some Important Brain Facts
Although our nervous system is responsible for all our body actions, neuroscientists are usually intrigued by the brain’s impact on ability to learn, store memory and display emotion. Without the brain, there would be no thoughts, ideas, dreams or hope.
The following are basic facts about the human brain:
- The weight of the average adult brain is 1.4kg and it is made up of 4 major sections; the brain stem, the cerebellum, the limbic node and the cerebrum. The cerebrum is also referred to as the neo-cortex because it develops rather late on the evolutionary scale.
- The cerebrum is further divided into 4 primary cortices; occipital (for vison), parietal (for feeling and spatial features), temporal (object identity, speech & navigation), and frontal.
- The brain is made up of nerve cells and supporting cells; neurons and glia respectively. Although it is widely said that only the neurons are the building blocks of data exchange across the nerves, recently, neuroscientists discovered that the glia cells also play a part in certain physiological activities like synaptic connectivity and breathing.
Branches of Neuroscience
The most popular branches of neuroscience are;
- Cognitive neuroscience
- Behavioural neuroscience
Cognitive neuroscience deals with the scientific study of biological substrates, mental processes and primary cognition. It also seeks to understand questions such as how neural circuits in the brain reflect psychological/cognitive actions.
Cognitive neuroscientists retrieve data for this study through electroencephalography (EEG), functional neuro imaging (fMRI, PET), behavioural genetics, cognitive genomics and lesion studies.
Alternatively, behavioural neuroscience or biopsychology is concerned with how the nervous system affects perception, attention, motivation and performance, knowledge acquisition and memory. Behavioural neuroscience seeks to understand how the brain interacts with behaviour in simulated or real environments.
Neuroscience covers other fields like clinical computational and social neuroscience.
The Neuroscience Core Concepts
According to the Society for Neuroscience, there are 8 essential principles or Neuroscience Core Concepts. They are;
- The brain is the most complex part of the human body
- Neurons use both chemical and electrical signals to communicate
- The foundation of the nervous system are genetically determined circuits
- The nervous system can be altered by certain life experiences
- Intelligence is developed as the brain thinks, plans and finds solutions
- The brain makes it possible to communicate information through language
- The human brain is responsible for our natural curiosity to how the world functions
- Key discoveries foster healthy living and how diseases are treated
Neuroscience answers all the questions associated with getting an insight into learning and memory, and helps us discover new ways to improve human intelligence. For instance, by identifying and registering faster ways to remember things or solve problems. All over the world, neuroscientists are working towards a better understanding of the brain structure, function and how to use them to counter certain neurological diseases such as Parkinson’s or Alzheimer’s.
Frequently Asked Questions about Neuroscience
What is the difference between psychology and neuroscience
Psychology is the study of behaviour, from brain mechanisms of behaviour to interactions in social environments, while neuroscience is the study of brain mechanisms and it covers molecular and cellular level, the make-up and functions of neurons as well as cognitive and behavioural levels.
Who is a neurointerventionalist?
An interventional neurologist is a doctor who is an expert in neurovascular diseases and imaging. They specialise in treating neurological conditions via less invasive methods.
What is a neurological exam?
This is an examination performed by a doctor who wishes to get specialised information about a patient who is displaying symptoms that may involve the brain or CNS.
What kind of disease does a neurologist treat?
He or she treats disorders of the brain, nervous system, spinal cord, muscles and nerves. Common neurological disorders include; Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, Stroke, Epilepsy, Brain tumours, sleep disorder, Multiple Sclerosis and so on.
How are neurological disorders treated?
There are many treatments for neurological disorders. However, symptomatic relief or complete treatment varies with each condition. To determine the condition, neurologists must conduct specific tests for the suspected disorder.
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