What Cheese can be Used to Encourage a Bear? … Camembert!

France is world-famous for their cuisine, and no food from here may be more renowned than French cheese. Each region of France produces particular varieties, and strict protocols govern their production. The result is that many distinct French cheeses exist, each with a patently unique flavor profile. This week, we had the privilege of being able to sample a broad selection of French cheeses at the Fromagerie Jouannault.

The first round of cheese tasting, featuring Ashley Affineur, cheesemaker and connoisseur

Modern demand for French cheese has created a unique problem. The market is being forced to mass produce popular varieties, and at times these formerly strict protocols have been compromised. An example of this issue is the contemporary production of Camembert cheese, a variety we studied for its anti-inflammatory, neuroprotective effects (Ano et al.). Traditionally, Camembert is produced from raw milk in small batches, but now some mass production is occurring using pasteurized cheese. This compromises the flavor profile and reduces the integrity of the variety’s brand. Continue reading “What Cheese can be Used to Encourage a Bear? … Camembert!”

Mona Lisa Smile

Over this past weekend, my roommates and I toured almost all of the main Paris highlights, covering enough distance to walk across the diameter of Paris and back. The moment we were set free in the city, our first stop was to visit the illustrious museé de Louvre.  After getting sidetracked in every room along the way by some masterpiece or another, and following some other equally confused tourists, we finally made it to the Mona Lisa.  I had to push some innocent bystanders out of the way but was able to make to the front, directly in front of Mona herself, and she did not disappoint (Figure 1).

Over recent decades, research in the visual system and neural processing of visual arts has grown.  There are novel insights into how visual information is sent to the brain, as well as how different pathways and even disorders help us understand how art is viewed and created.  Ironically, this path has led us to much of the same conclusions and tactics that visual artists have been using for centuries.  Leonardo da Vinci’s perhaps most renowned masterpiece is often characterized by her overall sense of ambiguity.  Whether intentional or not, Mona Lisa appears almost androgynous, her gaze appears to follow you without making direct eye contact, and she sits there with the tiniest suggestion of a smile.  The most typical question you are supposed to ask yourself while looking at her is whether or not she is smiling.  Art historians will call her coy, playful, or confusing and accredit this to an intentionally blurry depiction of her mouth.  However, work by renowned neurobiologist Dr. Margaret Livingstone may provide a purely scientific explanation for this, and has helped me apply my vast NBB301 visual system knowledge.
Continue reading “Mona Lisa Smile”

Cheese Tasting

I don’t usually eat cheese because I have lactose intolerance, just as 99% of other East Asians (Alharbi & El-Sohemy, 2017). To prepare for the cheese tasting on Wednesday, I took four dairy relieve pills filled with lactase enzyme. 

There are thousands of kinds of cheese in Paris. They say if you try one type of cheese per day during your stay in Paris, you will have to stay for years before tasting every type of cheese (A. Fropos, personal communication, May 24, 2018). The cheese tasting place that we went to, le cheese geek, has over 150 types of cheese. We tasted six of them.

From bottom to top: Saint-manure de Touraine, Saint-nectaire, Camembert de Normandie, Cornté, Munster, and Roquefort

As our guide taught us, there are multiple steps one should follow when tasting a piece of cheese. My steps of eating cheese are: Step one, grab the cheese; Step two, put it in my mouth; Step three, grab more. But this method is for cheese that I bought from the supermarket. At the cheese tasting place, everything was more sophisticated. The first step should be to look at and appreciate the structure and the texture of the cheese. The second step is to smell it. Then one should always eat the cheese with some juice that goes with it. Take it slow while enjoying the flavor.

I had a blast at the tasting, eating a lot of cheese. I have a disproportionally large stomach relative to my size, so I always appreciate places where I am allowed to eat as much food as I can.

This visit, however, was more than simply to test how much cheese I can eat. It was also a chance to recognized this cheese-eating culture in France. To some French people, cheese is not just food. It is art. I do not expect to find a similar place in the US because I doubt if most Americans can name more than four kinds of cheese.

Moreover, some studies suggested that this trip might have potentially decreased my dementia risk. One paper indicates that the compound dehydroergosterol in camembert cheese can reduce microglia inflammation and thus have a neuronal protective effect in vitro. (Ano et al., 2015a). Another study found an in vivo effect of camembert cheese extract suppressing the accumulation of Aβ, which is known to be a critical Alzheimer’s pathology (Ano et al., 2015b). It is still uncertain if we can prevent dementia by eating cheese. But if we can, I will surely prefer to reduce my risk by eating French, not American, cheese. 



Alharbi, O., & El-Sohemy, A. (2017). Lactose Intolerance ( LCT -13910CT) Genotype Is Associated with Plasma 25-Hydroxyvitamin D Concentrations in Caucasians: A Mendelian Randomization Study. The Journal of Nutrition, 147(6), 1063-1069. doi:10.3945/jn.116.246108

Ano, Y., Kutsukake, T., Hoshi, A., Yoshida, A., & Nakayama, H. (2015). Identification of a Novel Dehydroergosterol Enhancing Microglial Anti-Inflammatory Activity in a Dairy Product Fermented with Penicillium candidum. Plos One, 10(3). doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0116598

Ano, Y., Ozawa, M., Kutsukake, T., Sugiyama, S., Uchida, K., Yoshida, A., & Nakayama, H. (2015). Preventive Effects of a Fermented Dairy Product against Alzheimer’s Disease and Identification of a Novel Oleamide with Enhanced Microglial Phagocytosis and Anti-Inflammatory Activity. Plos One,10(3). doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0118512

Kim, B., Hong, V. M., Yang, J., Hyun, H., Im, J. J., Hwang, J., Yoon, S., Kim, J. E. (2016). A Review of Fermented Foods with Beneficial Effects on Brain and Cognitive Function. Preventive Nutrition and Food Science, 21(4), 297-309. doi:10.3746/pnf.2016.21.4.297

Without a Commander?!

During our class visit to Musée Fragonard at the École Veterinaire d’Alfort, we saw many cabinets full of organs, medical conditions, and abnormalities. A few cases displayed some of the first models designed to astonish the public and teach them about the structure and function of animal and human anatomy. A piece that stood out to me was the model of the lamprey’s circulatory system. Though I was not interested in the lamprey’s circulatory system, the model reminded me of the role of central pattern generators in the locomotion. The ever-famous experiment done on a cat whose spinal cord was severed and was observed to walk and run on a treadmill was a cornerstone study in the discovery of central pattern generators.

In NBB 301, we spent a lot of time discussing central pattern generators, which are described as motor control centers located in the spinal cord that can activate motion in the peripheral body without input from the brain. In other words, if the brain were separated from the spinal cord, the motor action could still occur. When I say brain input, I am referring to a series of neural pathways that send a command down the spinal cord and into the periphery to activate muscle effector neurons causing an action to occur. There are few actions that can be outsourced without a higher command, but lampreys provide a great example a central pattern generator as a means of locomotion. Continue reading “Without a Commander?!”

To Kill or Not To Kill?

For our neuroethics class as part of the NBB summer study abroad program, one of our extra credit assignments was to locate where exactly in Paris a guillotine used to sit. As such, following our trip to Cimetiere du Pere Lachaise, a handful of us scoped the area and set out to find it.

Location of where guillotine used to sit.
Upon arrival, five rectangles were found on the ground, indicating that our quest to find the historic site of public execution had concluded.
Sign detailing the history behind the guillotine.

Continue reading “To Kill or Not To Kill?”

An Unexpected Multisensory Cheese-tasting Experience

“You’ll see, everything tastes better in Paris” said my mother on the way to the airport. Under my excitement for the upcoming study abroad experience, the neuroscientist in me wondered why. A week into Paris and a dozen baguettes, I began to realize that the sense of taste didn’t seem to occur without the influence from your other sensory systems. Instead of eating the baguette in my kitchen, I was eating it in front of the Eiffel Tower. This idea was confirmed on a cheese tasting excursion to a fromagerie. I have always loved cheese and I thought this would be an incredible experience; who wouldn’t want to taste some of the best cheese in the world right where they prepare it? This experience was, however, not what I expected and a confirmation to what I had been wondering.

At the fromagerie, we were taken to the basement where the cheeses were in the process of maturation. In other words, undergoing the procedure in which bacteria, rennet (curdled milk from a cow’s stomach) and yeasts/molds form and bring the cheese to its appearance and flavor. This was not unknown to me, but as I entered the basement a very distinct smell took over, and adding the mold image, I began to feel a nauseating sensation. Following this, the taste of the cheeses were not very enjoyable. Continue reading “An Unexpected Multisensory Cheese-tasting Experience”

Cyclops in Paris

In Greek mythology, cyclopes existed as cave-dwelling, one-eyed giants. The myth of the cyclops had its origins in the Greek’s discovery of giant skulls with single holes in the center, presumed to be single eye-sockets. Today, scientists speculate that those skulls belonged to elephants, sadly negating the giant cyclopes myth (History, 2015). Thankfully, a visit with my NBB class in Paris returned my hope. This week at the Musée Fragonard of the École nationale vétérinaire d’Alfort, I learned that cyclopes did exist, although perhaps in not such an exciting mythical form. The museum, which is dedicated to preserving art pieces and specimens of “monster” animals and animal body parts, had a cyclops skull, as well as models of cyclopes farm animals that once existed in Europe. According to our veterinary student tour guide, there was a time in Europe when a plant mutation cause cyclopia to be prevalent in farm animals. Hello one-eyed chicken! Today, about 1 in 100,000 human babies are identified as having cyclopia, none of whom are able to survive with the mutation (Salama et. al., 2015). I decided to look into the neuro-origins of cyclopia, to see how this mythical phenotype develops in the early nervous system.

Cyclops Skull

Continue reading “Cyclops in Paris”

Juice and Cheese Perception

To conclude our three days of studying how fermented cheese can have anti-inflammatory effects on microglial cells, our class went on a cheese tasting outing! The tasting took place in the cellar of a small little fromagerie on the bustling street of Rue de Bretagne. There our group of 22 squeezed down the steep stone steps that led to the basement where all of the cheeses were stored.

Juice and Cheese Selection
Me and Gen enjoying some cheese and juice!

I walked back farther with half of the group into the cheese cooler where we learned the cheeses were stored there until aged properly. The walls of the small room were stocked with different sized cheeses with all types of bacteria growing on them. The smells coming from the cheeses were particularly overpowering; it was like walking into a giant cheese cloud! We were then introduced to the 6 cheeses we were going to be tasting. Before trying the different cheeses we had an introduction to them which included what type of animal they came from, where in France they were produced, and which type of juice was best paired with them. Continue reading “Juice and Cheese Perception”

The Brain, Versailles, and Ballet

Today we explored Versailles, the home of Louis XIV. Along the palace perimeter is a gold gate decorated with suns. We learned that Louis XIV used the sun as his royal symbol and was known as “the sun king.” At age 15, Louis XIV combined two of his fascinations, the sun and the ballet, when danced the role of the Apollo, the sun god, in Le Ballet de la Nuit.

Image 1: King Louis XIV dressed as Appollo

Although ballet originated in Italy, it was only through the work of King Louis XIV that ballet became the renowned artform that it is today. Louis XIV founded one of the first schools of ballet, the Académie Royale de Danse, in 1661 and worked with choreographers, composers and costume designers to build the artform’s opulence (Andros). From his legacy, France became the epicenter of the ballet world, to the point where it is commonly mistaken as ballet’s birthplace. Continue reading “The Brain, Versailles, and Ballet”

Say Cheese!

La Fromagerie is the essence of French culture. Cheese has always been a very important part of every day life for the French, so on May 30th 2018 my Neuroscience class and I went to a cheese tasting and tried a variety of cheeses. We were told that there are over 1000 types of cheese and we learned how certain cheeses are only produced in certain areas of France, which protects its origins and culture. One of our connoisseurs named Ashley even up and left the United States and moved to France because of how enamored she was by the rich blend of science and culture behind cheese making.

My fellow students and I recently read and wrote a review on how dehyroergosterol, which is a compound found on the outside of dairy products fermented with Penicillium candidum, can enhance microglial anti-inflammatory activity and has neuroprotective properties (Ano et. Al., 2015). Researchers first identified DHE as the novel substance with anti-inflammatory effects on certain cheeses then proceeded to test DHE’s effect on levels of certain cytokines related to its anti-inflammatory effect. With further testing, dietary changes could potentially be an alternative and/or additional treatment method for those with neurodegenerative disorders. We also read about how there have already been other studies on how other fermented foods such as kimchi have at large health benefits regarding brain and cognitive function (Kim et al, 2016). I had never really thought about how certain diets could truly affect the brain. Reading these articles before heading to the cheese tasting gave me the opportunity to truly think about every aspect of my visit on a much deeper level than ever before. Continue reading “Say Cheese!”