Neuroscience 2008 is winding down, but that hasn't stemmed the tide of new research presentations. Here are some developments that caught my eye from the last couple days of the meeting:
• Possible bad news for insomniacs: A study has found that rats that were continually prevented from sleeping had learning problems even weeks after returning to normal sleep patterns. For 12 days, Dennis McGinty of the University of California, Los Angeles, and his colleagues continually roused rats from sleep after only a few minutes of shut-eye. Two weeks later, when these animals were placed in a maze, they had more difficulty locating the exit than did regular mice, the researchers found. McGinty's team had previously shown that such "sleep fragmentation" disrupts the formation of new neurons in the rat hippocampus. The persistent learning troubles may stem from the fact that new neurons take four weeks to develop and mature, the scientists suggest. Unfortunately, "the most prevalent form of sleep disorders [in people] are sleep fragmenting disorders" such as obstructive sleep apnea, insomnia and aging, McGinty said.
• A new 3-D brain atlas may soon send neuroscientists’ thoughts spinning. Elsevier presented an early version of its BrainNavigator software, which allows users to rotate, manipulate and virtually slice up an annotated brain model, at the Neuroscience 2008 meeting. The software is based on the same basic platform used by the Allen Institute for Brain Science in its brain and spinal cord atlases, said software co-programmer Matt Corkum, and will allow scientists to search for research based on brain location, precisely calibrate their research methods and better visualize their data. Though the program is only a structural database and will not offer the gene expression information of the Allen Institute atlases, Elsevier plans to include data on mouse, rat, monkey and human brains. "No one today does [atlases with] multiple models," Corkum said. Beta testing for BrainNavigator is expected to begin in February, with free, student and commercial versions planned for release by late spring.