This week in PLOS Biology
In PLOS Biology this week, you can read about managing disease outbreaks, alpha band oscillations, human embalming techniques, unexpected effects of synaptic size and staying asleep.
Controlling Disease Outbreaks Adaptively
Disease outbreak management is a highly relevant topic given the current Ebola outbreak in West Africa. In a new research article, Katriona Shea, Matthew Ferrari and colleagues present an ‘adaptive management’ approach. This model allows initial uncertainties to be acknowledged, but builds in knowledge gained during an outbreak to update ongoing interventions. They apply the model to two past outbreaks – foot-and-mouth in the UK and a 2010 measles outbreak in Malawi. They argue that in both cases, using adaptive management could have reduced costs or cases of disease, respectively.
Filtering the Outside World
In order to filter only relevant sensory information from our environment, we rely on powerful mechanisms in the brain. Johanna Zumer, Ole Jensen and colleagues used electroencephalography and fMRI to test the role of alpha band oscillations in the occipital lobe in acting as a filter for irrelevant information. Their results suggest that alpha band oscillations are indeed involved as a gating mechanism in routing attended information downstream to other regions of the brain.
From “Silent Teachers” to Models
Embalmed cadavers are an invaluable tool for medical teaching; indeed, they’re how many medical students get their first experience of real human anatomy. Preservation is necessary to bridge the gap between death and use, but the traditional formaldehyde method is limited in its usefulness. In a new essay by Roos Eisma and Tracey Wilkinson, the authors describe the method developed by W. Thiel. Where this method is available, it results in more flexible, realistic cadaver models with many uses – from surgical training to testing new equipment and techniques.
Synapses – Size Matters!
The process of neurotransmission involves the conversion of electrical signals into the release of a chemical neurotransmitter from a neuron’s synaptic terminal. In a new research article, Tom Baden, Anton Nikolaev, Leon Lagnado and colleagues worked on the synaptic terminals of bipolar cells in the zebrafish retina. Using a variety of techniques, they discovered that the physical property of synapse volume affected neurotransmitter release. Large synapses were slow and small synapses were fast. You can read more about this research area in the accompanying Primer.
The Neurobiology of Staying Asleep
The fruit fly Drosophila melanogaster has become a key model organism for sleep research. Previously, a seminal fluid protein, Sex Peptide (SP), has been shown to act via the Sex Peptide Receptor (SPR) to reduce the daytime “siesta” sleep of females after mating. Yangkyun Oh, Sung-Eun Yoon, Young-Joon Kim and colleagues investigated the role of SPR in sleep regulation in Drosophila further, finding that another ligand of SPR, called MIP, is required for stable sleep in both sexes. MIP does this by acting via SPR to silence specific neurons that otherwise keep flies awake.