Neuroscience is the study of how the nervous system develops, its structure, and what it does. Neuroscientists focus on the brain and its impact on behavior and cognitive functions. In simple terms, neuroscience refers to anything to do with the nervous system.
Since the 1950s, the scientific study of the nervous system made huge advances; mainly because of the progress achieved in other and related fields, such as computational neuroscience, electrophysiology, and molecular biology. Neuroscientists study about the nervous system’s structure, functions, development, abnormalities, and about the ways it can be altered.
The major branches of modern neuroscience
The following branches of neuroscience, based on research areas and subjects of study can be broadly listed as follows (neuroscientists usually engage themselves in several simultaneously):
- Affective neuroscience – in most cases, research is carried out on laboratory animals, and studies how neurons behave in relation to emotions.
- Behavioral neuroscience – the study of the biological bases of behavior. Examines how the brain affects behavior.
- Cellular neuroscience – the study of neurons, including their form and physiological properties at cellular level.
- Clinical neuroscience – focuses on the disorders of the nervous system, while psychiatry, for example, focuses on the disorders of the mind.
- Cognitive neuroscience – the study of higher cognitive functions that exist in humans, and their underlying neural bases. Cognitive neuroscience draws from linguistics, neuroscience, psychology and cognitive science. Cognitive neuroscientists can take two broad directions; behavioral/experimental or computational/modeling, the aim being to understand the nature of cognition from a neural point of view.
- Computational neuroscience – attempts to understand how the brain compute, using computers to simulate and model brain functions, and applying techniques from mathematics, physics and other computational fields to study brain function.
- Cultural neuroscience – investigates how beliefs, practices and cultural values are influenced by and shape the brain, mind and genes over different periods.
- Developmental neuroscience – studies at how the nervous system develops on a cellular basis and what underlying mechanisms exist in neural development.
- Molecular neuroscience – studies the role of individual molecules in the nervous system.
- Neuroengineering – uses engineering techniques to better understand, replace, repair, or improve neural systems.
- Neuroimaging – a branch of medical imaging that concentrates on the brain. Neuroimaging is used to diagnose disease and assess the health of the brain. It can also be useful in the study of the brain, how it works, and how different activities affect the brain.
- Neuroinformatics – integrates data across all areas of neuroscience, to help understand the brain and treat diseases. Neuroinformatics involves acquiring data; sharing, publishing and storing information; analysis, modeling, and simulating data.
- Neurolinguistics – studies what neural mechanisms in the brain control the acquisition, comprehension and utterance of language.
- Neurophysiology– studies about the relationship of the brain and its functions, and how the parts of the body interrelate as a whole. Studies how the nervous system functions, typically using physiological techniques, such as stimulation with electrodes, light-sensitive channels, or ion- or voltage-sensitive dyes.
- Paleoneurology – studies about the brain using fossils.
- Social neuroscience – this is an interdisciplinary field dedicated to understanding how biological systems implement social processes and behavior. Social neuroscience gathers biological concepts and methods to inform and refine theories of social behavior. It uses social and behavioral concepts and data to refine neural organization and function theories.
- Systems neuroscience – follows the pathways of data flow within the CNS (central nervous system) and tries to define the different types of processes involved. It uses that information to explain behavioral functions.
Neuroscientists specialize in the study of the brain and the nervous system. They have the daunting task of deciphering the brain’s commands of all these diverse functions. Over the years, the field of neuroscience has made enormous progress. Scientists continue to strive for a deeper understanding of how the brain’s 100 billion nerve cells are born, grow, and connect. They study how these cells organize themselves into effective, functional circuits that usually remain in working order for life.
Scientists still have not uncovered the full extent of what the brain can do. This single organ controls every aspect of the body, ranging from heart rate and appetite to emotion, learning, and memory. The brain controls the immune system’s response to disease and determines, in part, how well people respond to medical treatment. It shapes our thoughts, hopes, dreams, and imaginations. It is the brain’s ability to perform all these functions that makes us human.