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Celebrate Brain Awareness Week, March 14-20

Join the global initiative to promote public awareness of the benefits of and recent developments in brain research. Every year the Dana Foundation, a private philanthropic organization that supports brain research through grants, publications, and educational programs partners with networks of brain research and healthcare professionals, to bring you a variety of events. From March 14-20, brain awareness events will be taking place all over the globe. Find events in your area by searching the BAW Calendar of Events. In honor of Brain Awareness Week, Truly Nolen Pest Control gives homeowners some food for thought:
Brain Awareness Week

Rat Brains: Exploring Similarities Found in the Brains of Rats and Humans

Neuroscientists are constantly studying the human brain to fully understand its complex nature; they recently revealed more similarities between human brains and rat brains than we used to think existed. In a 2013 Penn State Center for Neural Engineering and affiliates of the Huck Institutes of the Life Sciences paper, published in Frontiers in Neural Circuits, researchers Jared Smith and Kevin Alloway discovered game-changing parallels between the motor cortices in rats and humans.

Significance for biotechnology advancement

The significance of this discovery helps engineers in the biotechnology industry in developments, such as brain-computer interfaces that advance prosthetic limb movement control. Due to a growing demand for state-of-the-art prosthetics, for injured troops returning from Middle Eastern conflicts, researchers are always on the lookout for ways to improve the functionality and enhance end-user experience.

Similar structure and functions of the motor cortex

In order to design biotechnological devices, engineers and neurologists are required to understand the workings of the brain’s motor cortex. The motor cortex sends messages to the body to execute behavioral movement. Due to the discovery that a rat’s brain functions more like a primate’s brain than previously believed, rats make model subjects for neurological studies.

Subdivisions in human and rat motor cortexes are similar

Subdivided into multiple regions, a primate’s motor cortex corresponds to inputs responsible for specific motor functions. According to the study conducted by Smith-Alloway, although the motor cortex in rats’ brains is smaller, it responds in much the same way as primates’ brains respond. This illustrates that rat motor cortexes are subdivided into distinct regions that perform specific motor functions as well. Like the human brain, sensory inputs to the rat’s motor cortex end in a smaller region that is distinct from the regions that generate motor functions.

Whiskers are to rats are eyes are to humans

As Huck Institutes’ neuroscience program graduate student and one of the study’s authors, Jared Smith said, “You have to take into account the animal’s natural behaviors to best understand how its brain is structured for sensory and motor processing.” Smith went on to say that for humans, “That means a strong reliance on visual information from the eyes, but for rats it’s more about the somatosensory inputs from their whiskers.”

As it turns out, even though a rat’s whiskers take up a mere 1/3 of one percent of the rat’s total body area, more than 1/3 of a rat’s sensory motor cortex is dedicated to managing “whisker-related” information. Almost 40 percent of the entire motor cortex in humans is dedicated to handling visual information, even though the eyes are the smallest organs in the body.

Sensory centers totally separate from motor function controls

In understanding how the rat’s motor cortex is constructed and functions, the Penn State researchers focused their experiments on the medial agranular region, the part of the motor cortex that responds to whisker stimulation, eliciting whisker movement when activated.

“We discovered different sensory input regions that were distinct from the region that issued the motor commands to move the whiskers,” said Alloway. Going on to say that with the help of Patrick Drew, Penn State Engineering Science and Mechanics and Neurosurgery Department Assistant Professor, the team, “showed that the sensory input region was significantly less effective in evoking whisker movements.”

Smith and Alloway’s discovery, revealing the similarities between the human motor cortex and the rat motor cortex opens many avenues into the study of neuroscience, a better understanding of the human brain and its practical biotechnological applications in the real world.

Rats think a lot like their human counterparts

The Smith-Alloway findings point to the fact that rats think a lot like their human counterparts, begging the question, “When rats invade your home, are they clever enough to avoid detection and elimination, until their plot to take over your home, contaminate your food and cause structural damage, while spreading diseases and pathogens succeeds in a full-blown rodent infestation?”

In observance of Brain Awareness Week, Truly Nolen asks homeowners to call us for a free rodent inspection. When you’re up against a mind that thinks like humans, contact Truly Nolen.

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