Tag Archives: mice

The Adventures of Thalia and Friends: Candy Run

Springtime is a good time for my friends and me. It starts warming up, for one thing, and then the humans all start spending time outside, which means we have free reign over their rooms. The best part of spring though, at least in my opinion, is the candy.

I’ve never been sure what it is about this time of year that causes the humans to start hoarding candy, and they don’t all do it. Last year a bird named Melpomene got trapped in the building, and she said the humans collected candy as part of a ritual for appeasing the little humans, but that never made sense to me since our building doesn’t have any small humans in it.

Regardless of why they do it, every year without fail, the humans gather up bags and bags of sugary, delicious candy, and then leave it all in their rooms to go sit outside on a blanket for no apparent reason.

Usually, it’s just Calliope and me who go on candy runs together, but today we’d been invited over by one of the rats who lived on the fourth floor, and oh, how that changed things.

“Thalia! Calliope! There you are!”

Erato greeted us with excitement in her voice, already practically bouncing with excitement. I tried not to visibly swoon. Erato is the cutest rat I’ve ever met, and she’s pretty much perfect in every possible way. Hanging out with her is amazing, but it’s also terrifying because I worry about messing things up by saying something dumb.

Today though, today we had candy to eat. And doesn’t that just make every situation better? Especially when Erato led us back to the room she liked to stay in and revealed the giant bag of colorful little beans that was sitting on the floor.

“Gosh, your humans are great,” Calliope said, staring up at the bag in awe.

“It’s being held shut by a bag clip,” Erato said smugly, grabbing onto the edge of the bag and bringing it down to our level. The simple plastic clip came off with ease, as it didn’t even require opposable thumbs to remove. Silly humans.

The bag opened, and a wave of sugary goodness spilled out across the floor. It was amazing. It was colorful. It smelled so good. It was absolutely—

“Ahhhh! Ew! Oh my god, there are rats in my dorm!”

The three of us looked up in panic to see that the door had opened and Erato’s humans had returned.

“Uh oh.”

“Eeeek! Kill it! Kill them! This is so gross!”

“We should run now.”

The Adventures of Thalia and Friends: The Break-In

I didn’t know who or what decided the weather, but around here, when it got cold, it was cold, and I felt pity for anyone who didn’t have the option of retreating into the relative warmth of a dorm building.

Mostly, I felt bad for Polyhymnia, as her ongoing attempts to break into the building only got more desperate on days like today.  She’d spent the last hour or so attempting to climb the fire escape, and the windowsill I was sitting on gave me the perfect view. It wasn’t going well.

“She still at it?” Calliope asked. She had given up on watching  Polyhymnia fall and was now digging through the accumulated food in the small room. Why the humans piled up perfectly good food with random stuff and locked it all up in a small room was beyond my understanding, but I appreciated the ease of access.

“Yep. She’s trying to use a little tree to lean over onto the metal platform. It’s not really working,” I said.

“Poor Polly,” Calliope said. “I wish there was a way we could help her out.”

“How? She can’t fit through the holes we use to get in and out,” I said. I like Calliope, but sometimes I think she’s a little too nice for her own good. Maybe it’s a mouse thing?

“I know, Tals, but what if we could get the humans to open a door for her? Or maybe prop one open!” Calliope said. I sighed.

“Cali, I love you, but that’s the dumbest idea I’ve ever heard,” I said. “You know how the humans get when they spot us, we’d never pull something like that off. And even if we did, they’d spot Polly in an instant. What if she got hurt?”

Calliope sighed. “I know, but I hate seeing her struggle like this.”

Just as she spoke there was a crash outside, followed by a human screaming. I looked back out the window to see that the little tree Polyhymnia had been using had been uprooted, and had crashed into the building. There was now a human screaming and pointing at Polyhymnia while another human chased her away with a broom.

“I think she’s giving up now,” I said, watching her walk off.

“We should bring her something to cheer her up,” Calliope said. “I think I smell some pizza in here. The humans never try to stop us when we drag that around.”

“Sure, let’s do it,” I said, hopping down from the window to help Calliope look.

The Adventures of Thalia and Friends: The Starbucks Run

The upside of living on a college campus is that students tend to leave food everywhere. Sometimes they’ll even just give you food, if you do something funny for them.

The downside though is that they never give you the food you want. Ask for the hot dog, and you get part of the bun. Just one piece of pepperoni? They’ll give you a glob of cheese. Trying to get some of that divine smelling chicken? Hope you like pickles, cause that’s probably what you’ll get instead!

Personally, I don’t like trying to get food from humans. It’s a lot of effort for very little reward, and I always run the risk of being met with screams when I let them see me. Also, it only works outside (students hate finding a rat in the dorm rooms,  found that one out the hard way).

Calliope, however, loves getting humans to give up food, and as I am her best friend, she drags me out with her occasionally, and since today was the first time in months it had been warm enough for students to actually go outside, we left the relative comfort of the dorm room to make the journey to the campus Starbucks.

Calliope bounded up to the patio to beg for scraps, immediately getting a reaction from the humans. I decided to hang back, since Calliope was way better at this sort of thing.

“Awww, what a cute little mouse!”

“Ew! Rebecca, it probably has rabies!”

“Oh, don’t be mean, Kaitlyn. I’ll bet she’s just hungry.” The human was already pulling at whatever food item she had on the table. “Are you hungry, cutie?”

“Yes! Very! Give me your food, human!”

“Just listen to those happy squeaks!” The human cooed again and then tossed down some kind of bread. “There you go! Enjoy!”

Calliope grabbed the bread and returned to the bush I was hiding under. “Check it out, Thalia! It’s got something really yummy smelling on it!”

The bread did smell good, but it was still only bread. “Great work, Calliope!”

“Are you gonna try and get something, Tals?”

“I’m not sure they’d give me anything,” I said.

“So steal it.”

Calliope squeaked and practically jumped ten inches into the air at the unexpected voice, but I’d seen our new companion approaching from around the side of the building.

“Hey Polyhymnia,” I said, giving the raccoon my best smile.

“Polly! You scared me!” Calliope said, recovering from her fright. “And what do you mean steal?”

Polyhymnia grinned, letting her mischievous nature shine through. “Watch and learn, Cali.”

Polyhymnia crept towards the patio, keeping out of sight whenever she could.  She was only a few feet away from the humans Calliope had begged from when she pounced, hissing and baring her teeth.

The humans screamed, dropped their food and drinks, and then ran away. “This is why you don’t feed wild animals, Rebecca!”

Polyhymnia dragged her bounty off the patio, and Calliope and I rushed to help her.

“Woah! You got so much food!” Calliope said, investigating a sweet smelling bread.

“Not just food!” Polyhymnia said, nosing at the cups. “This human drink is amazing! And these ones are cold, so no burns!”

“What is it though?” I sniffed at the white drink; it smelled sweet.

“I dunno. But you should try it!” Polyhymnia said, trying to pry the lid off of the cup she’d grabbed. The liquid in her cup was brown. I slipped my head into the opening at the top of my cup, and gave the mysterious drink a taste.

“Holy—”


“Ian! Check out that crazy rat!” Kyle pointed towards the edge of the patio, where a rat was going nuts after having gotten into someone’s coffee.

“Dude! We gotta get that on film; we can put it on Tik Tok!” Kyle said, already pulling out his phone. “You go, coffee rat!”

 

New nicotine vaccine could help smokers quit

According to data collected by the American Cancer Society, 70 percent of smokers want to quit altogether, 7 percent actually succeed at quitting smoking their first time, and 3.5 percent quit smoking cold turkey. These statistics are already extremely unsettling. Even though 40 percent of smokers tried to quit in 2015, half of smokers will relapse into smoking while intoxicated with alcohol.

Graphic from http://rcnky.com/
50 percent of smokers will not succeed in quitting on their first try. Graphic from http://rcnky.com/

These statistics even come into play with individuals who are underage. According to data collected by the Centers for Disease Control, 80 percent of smokers began smoking before the age of 18, while 90 percent began smoking before the age of 21. 3,900 teens begin smoking each day, totaling 600,000 teens each year. What’s disturbing is that 11 percent of middle school students reported having smoked. That means 11 percent of pre-teens between the ages of 11 and 14.

A successful vaccine to assist individuals in quitting smoking for good has been difficult to discover. According to a report in ACS’s Journal of Medicinal Chemistry, a new vaccine for quitting smoking has been designed.

Over half of smokers who want to quit will not succeed in quitting their first time. There are several ways to quit smoking available. Smokers can quit cold turkey, use behavioral therapy, nicotine replacement therapy (nicotine gum, patches, inhalers, spray, and lozenges), and medicine like Zyban and Chantix. These tools are readily available, but aren’t always effective, and may even have undesirable side effects.

This new vaccine design would target the nicotine molecule directly. Two individuals participated in a clinical study of the vaccine which ultimately failed. However, the clinical study provided worthwhile pieces of information, that scientists could improve upon.

The trials indicated that the individuals who produced the most elevated amounts of anti-nicotine antibodies were more likely to refrain from smoking for more than six months. Kim D. Janda, Ph.D., and fellow researchers from The Scripps Research Institute wanted to expand on this discovery.

The team designed a new vaccine that could raise the amount of antibodies that could attach to nicotine molecules.

While testing in mice, they discovered that the vaccine deferred the effects of nicotine after injection within the initial 10 minute period. Additionally, they discovered that the mice treated with the vaccine had lower concentrations of nicotine in their brains, which is where nicotine has its effects. The team expressed that their future endeavors will concentrate on further perfecting the formula of the vaccine to prepare it for potential clinical studies.

Sexual violence alters the female brain

A new study in Scientific Reports found that prepubescent female rodents who mated with sexually experienced male rodents expressed reduced maternal behaviors necessary to care for offspring, could not absorb information as well, and had increased levels of anxiety caused by hormones.

Image from www.spcaotago.org.nz
Sexual violence alters the female brain, increases anxiety and impacts learning capabilities.  Image from www.spcaotago.org.nz

According to lead author Tracey Shors, this study is vital to understanding how sexual violence affects all living organisms, adding that it’s necessary “to know the consequences of this behavior in order for us to determine what we can do to help women learn to recover from sexual aggression and violence.”

Shors works in the Department of Psychology and Center for Collaborative Neuroscience in the School of Arts and Sciences as a professor.

According to the World Health Organization, 30 percent of women worldwide experience some kind of physical or sexual assault in their lifetime and young, prepubescent girls are much more likely to be victims of assault, attempted rape, or rape. Recent surveys show that as many as one in five female college students experience sexual violence while on campus.

Females who experience sexual violence are more likely to be diagnosed with depression, PTSD and other mood disorders. In spite of the indisputable relationship between mental health disorders in females and sexual trauma, very little is known about how violence affects the female brain. According to Shors, that’s due to the fact that there has not yet been an established laboratory animal model for researching the affects of sexual violence and behavior on brain function in females.

The Sexual Conspecific Aggressive Response (SCAR) model, developed by Shors and her team, sought to determine how stress associated with sexual violence affected female rodents.

Despite the fact that it’s normal for female rats to care for their offspring the females in this study that interacted with the adult male all through pubescence did not show as much maternal behavior as females that were not exposed to the adult male. Less generated brain cells were present in the females that did not learn to care for their offspring when contrasted with females that exhibited maternal behavior.

Although researchers don’t know if this type of sexual violence would have the same effects in humans, research has shown that sexual violence is one of the most likely causes of PTSD in females, which is linked with diminished brain functions related to learning and memory. The offspring of females who experienced sexual violence are at more serious danger for suffering traumatic experiences themselves as they age.

According to Shors, little is known about the brain mechanisms that affect the increase in depression and mood disorders among women who experience trauma from sexual violence, adding that along with these new methods, “we can find out how the female brain responds to aggression and how to help women learn to recover from sexual violence.”

Why habits are hard to break

A new study by Duke University scientists presents that habits leave an enduring imprint on particular circuits in the brain, preparing us to nourish our desires.

Published online January 21 in the journal Neuron, the examination develops researchers’ comprehension of how habits like eating sugar and different vices appear in the brain and proposes new procedures for breaking them.

“One day, we may be able to target these circuits in people to help promote habits that we want and kick out those that we don’t want,” said Nicole Calakos, M.D., Ph.D., the study’s senior examiner and an associate professor of neurology and neurobiology at Duke University Medical Center.

Calakos, a specialist in the brain’s versatility and adaptability, collaborated with Henry Yin, a specialist in animal  habit-related behavior in Duke’s department of psychology and neuroscience. Both researchers are additionally members of the Duke Institute for Brain Sciences.

The scientists trained generally sound mice to shape different degrees of a sugar habit by dispensing sweets if they pressed a lever. The mice that developed a dependency on the sugar continued pushing the lever even without being rewarded with a sweet.

IMG_6576
Photo by: Danielle Johnson. Photo of: Raven Mason

The researchers then compared the brains of the sugar-dependent mice with those that didn’t develop a habit. Specifically, they looked at the basal ganglia, “a complex network of brain areas that controls motor actions and compulsive behaviors, including drug addiction.”

The basal ganglia, scientists said, discharged two primary types of paths carrying opposing messages, a “go” message that spurs action and a “stop” signal.

For the non-dependent mice, the stop signal was turned on prior to the go signal. The opposite was the case for the addicted mice. The analysts said they anticipated that the stop signal would be less dynamic in a dependent brain.

The analysts noted that the adjustments in the circuits took place over the “entire region of the basal ganglia they were studying as opposed to specific subsets of brain cells.” The progressions were “long-lasting and obvious” to the point scientists could tell which brain was dependent by observing small pieces in a petri dish.

This, analysts add, may be why one addiction can prompt others.

As a major aspect of the study, the researchers needed to check whether they could end habits in the mice, by just giving them sweets when they quit pushing the lever. The mice that ended the habit had “weaker go cells.”

This could prompt offering people some assistance with breaking negative habits, however since the basal ganglia is so intricate, it may be difficult to target with medications, said the researchers.

Their discoveries are distributed in the journal Neuron.