LAB Notes

Ocean waves and brain waves

Traditional neuroscience has focused on correlations between oscillations of the brain’s neurons — rhythmic fluctuations in activity patterns — and behavior. Now UF assistant professors of neuroscience — and husband-and-wife duo — Andrew Maurer, Ph.D., and Sara Burke, Ph.D., have teamed up with Alex Sheremet, D.Sc., an associate professor at the UF Water Institute who studies surface gravity waves, to investigate this relationship in a new way. The team is in pursuit of answering this question: How do neurons act in concert to determine behavior? In a study published in the Journal of Neuroscience, they borrow an approach from the field of nonlinear physics; specifically, ocean wave dynamics. They demonstrate that the hippocampal theta rhythm, a neural oscillation associated with memory and behavior, becomes increasingly complex as an animal’s running speed increases. Akin to ocean waves, this oscillation moves through the brain, losing energy as it moves. Cognition, Maurer said, may be governed by the laws of physics. “Waves propagate in the ocean and waves propagate in the brain,” Maurer said. “Can we describe the processes with the same physical equations?” It’s just a start, he said, in their investigation of the dynamic nature of the nervous system. — Michelle Koidin Jaffee

Exercise genes?

Call it personalized medicine for depression — but the prescription in this case is exercise, which UF Health researchers have found helps people with certain genetic traits tame the condition, according to a study published recently in The Journal of Frailty & Aging. The researchers found that men who were carriers of two specific genes had the most significant response to exercise. The results suggest physical activity as part of a treatment plan — exercise as moderate as walking — could help the carriers of these genes. “I want to better understand who could benefit most from physical activity. I’d like to take the same approach to exercise that we take to medication, which is to have a personalized medicine approach,” said Vonetta Dotson, Ph.D., the study’s first author and an assistant professor in the UF College of Public Health and Health Professions. — Morgan Sherburne

The (old) origins of cartilage

Cartilage has a much longer genetic history and exists in more kinds of creatures than scientists had previously thought. It turns out that cartilage, long thought to be exclusive to animals that have backbones, isn’t so unique after all. New research shows that the genetic program for cartilage development also exists in invertebrates and arose at least 700 million years ago in the common ancestor of all bilaterally symmetrical animals, said developmental biologist Martin Cohn, Ph.D., a professor of molecular genetics and microbiology in the UF College of Medicine who is also affiliated with the UF Genetics Institute. In addition to revising the history of skeletal evolution, Cohn said he is excited about the study’s potential implications for biomedical research. — Doug Bennett