Control beliefs, social support, and physical exercise are probably good for you

In a paper recently publised in PLoS One entitled Promoting functional health in midlife and old age: long-term protective effects of control beliefs, social support, and physical exercise, Margie Lachman, Minnie and Harold Fierman Professor of Psychology, and Brandeis postdoc Stefan Agrigoroaei analyzed data from MIDUS, a national longitudinal study of “Midlife in the US”. Controlling for other risks, the authors found significant positive contributions from three additional factors in the functional health outcome in these older adults:

  1. Control beliefs (the perception that one can influence what happens in one’s life)
  2. Social support (feeling support, not strain, in relationships with family, friends, and spouse)
  3. Physical exercise

Since I’ll be healthier if I believe I can control my health this way, why not give it a try? The popular press is also picking up on these ideas.

TNFα Signaling Maintains the Ability of Cortical Synapses to Express Synaptic Scaling

The brain has billions of neurons that receive, analyze, and store information about internal and external conditions, and are highly interconnected. To prevent either hyperexcitability (epilepsy) or hyopexcitability (catatonia) of brain circuits, neurons possess an array of “homeostatic” plasticity mechanisms that serve to stabilize average neuronal firing.

Synaptic scaling is one such form of homeostatic plasticity that acts like a synaptic thermostat, and allows neurons to turn up or down the gain of synaptic transmission to stabilize average activity. The signaling pathways that allow neurons to perform this neat trick are incompletely understood, and it has been controversial whether neurons do this in a cell-autonomous manner, or whether synaptic scaling is induced in response to release of soluble factors such as the pro-inflammatory cytokine TNFα.

A study published this week in Journal of Neuroscience by Brandeis postdoctoral fellow Celine Steinmetz and Professor Gina Turrigiano helps to resolve this controversy by showing that TNFα is not instructive for synaptic scaling, but instead is critical for maintaining  synapses in a plastic state in which they are able to express synaptic scaling. This study suggests that glial cells serve a permissive role in maintaining synaptic plasticity through release of soluble factors such as TNFα, while neurons actively adjust their synaptic thermostat in response to cell-autonomous changes in their own activity.

Quantitative Biology Lecture Competition

Trisha Murray wrote:

The Quantitative Biology Program at Brandeis University, supported by a grant from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, is now soliciting applications for an award for preparing an outstanding set of three pedagogical lectures on a subject at the interface of the physical and biomedical sciences. These lectures will be given at the Quantitative Biology Bootcamp to be held Sunday, January 11 & Monday, January 12, 2009. The award consists of a cash prize of $2,000.

Any graduate student or postdoctoral research associate currently at Brandeis is eligible to apply. The application packet should consist of short curriculum vitae and a one page outline of the three lectures. QB faculty will work with the successful applicant in preparing the lectures. Applications should be submitted before Monday, December 1, to Trisha Murray, either by campus mail (MS009), or via E-mail.

*An information session for potential applicants will be held Monday, November 10, Kosow Conference Room (2nd floor) 1 -2 pm.

Policy on postdocs

While searching the Brandeis web for something totally different, I stumbled across Brandeis’s stated policy on postdoctoral fellows. Might be worth a quick read if you’re a postdoc or faculty member.

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