According to a new analysis of 400 published scientific papers, the old adage that “music is medicine” may literally be true. Canadian psychologists from McGill University have shown that the neurochemical benefits of music can boost the body’s immune system, reduce anxiety, and help regulate mood. The time has come, say the researchers, for doctors and therapists to start taking music much more seriously.
Scientists have been mystified by the pineal gland for centuries. As the brain and central nervous and endocrine systems were progressively unravelled by the anatomists, physiologists and biochemists, the pineal gland resolutely refused to yield up its secrets. Until recently the scientific community regarded it as having no function in man, being but a vestigial remnant from an earlier stage in evolution. However, in the last few years interest in the gland has reached a climax when no fewer than ten national and international conferences devoted entirely to unravelling the secrets of the mysterious pineal have been held around the world.
Physically, the pineal is perhaps the smallest organ of the body. Such a minute structure has rarely, if ever, caused so much curiosity and commotion. It is a tiny grey white structure approximately inch long, weighing about 100 milligrams, and shaped like a pine-cone. It is located directly at the top of the spinal cord within the brain at the level where the head and neck are joined. It lies attached to the roof of the third ventricle (fluid filled canal) of the brain directly in line with the point between the eyebrows. It is the only structure in the brain, apart from the pituitary gland, which is not bilaterally symmetrical, lying right in the midline. This means that, except for these two glands, the two halves of the brain when it has been cut from front to back, are mirror images of each other, with each structure being duplicated, one for each half.
It is interesting to trace the scientific history of the pineal gland to the present day.
A few weeks ago, the Bourne series returned to the theaters, and we’re all revisiting our memories of the original trilogy. Jason Bourne starts out as a man with very convenient amnesia — the kind that wipes out all your memories but leaves your ability to break out of an embassy intact. Could you really have a case of amnesia that erases your identity but leaves the skills in place?
Here’s the weird real-life science of amnesia.
Discussing amnesia is a little like discussing cancer, in that it’s hard to sum up because there are so many different causes and kinds. Basically, there are three types of amnesia — one that wipes out past memories, one that makes it impossible to make new memories, and one that does a little bit of both. All of these can last for an hour (or for life), happen with different degrees of severity, and can be the result of different things.
Once upon a time, these preserved human and animal brains were once lovingly studied by Soviet-era neuroscientists. But when the lab was abandoned — perhaps in a hurry — these lonely brains were left behind.
There are few details on this abandoned neuroscience lab, so we’ll have to take the photographer’s word that it’s the real deal. Supposedly, this former Soviet laboratory sits in Moscow, where it was operated by the army. Some time after the lab was hastily abandoned, it was sealed off. But civilians who venture inside will see skinned animal heads, slides depicting brain cross-sections, and lots and lots of actual brains amidst the more mundane dirty dishes and glassware. Head over to the Russian blog brusnichka for more macabre photos from the lab.
Foreign Accent Syndrome (FAS) is one of those rare psychological disorders whose name literally describes the disease. People with FAS suddenly start speaking with foreign accents. Why? And how do doctors treat such a syndrome, besides giggling hysterically behind their hands? Let’s delve into the twisted lingo of one of the strangest psychological disorders!
As humans, it’s only natural for us to search for explanations in the face of senseless violence. So it’s no surprise that people have floated many weird and offensive theories to explain the tragic shootings late last week at a movie theatre in Colorado, that left 12 people dead and dozens more injured.
But you don’t need to look too far for a “reason” to explain this type of violence. Clearly, anyone who lashes out in such a heinously disproportionate way must have a deeper, underlying psychological problem — one that’s already been defined in the scientific literature. And James Holmes is absolutely no exception.
While it’s still early in the investigation, and with so few clues for us to consider, it’s difficult to know exactly what’s wrong with Holmes from a neurological perspective. His recent court appearance, with his dazed look and shock of dyed red hair, did little to dispel any notions that this man isn’t completely right in his head. And the accounts that he was denied membership at a gun club and that he may have been playing the part of some twisted Batman fantasy don’t do anything to dispel that notion.
So based on so little, aside for his penchant for dishing out an unspeakable amount of suffering, what can we say about Holmes, and any neurological problem that may have driven him to kill?
There are three potential explanations, and possibly a combination of these: James Holmes is either a psychopath, a schizophrenic, or he’s currently experiencing brain damage (either from an injury or a brain tumor). Let’s consider each of these.
Patients with mild cognitive impairment (MCI) may be able to avoid developing dementia by drinking several cups of coffee a day, the results of a new study suggest.
The study showed that patients with MCI who have a plasma caffeine level of 1200 ng/mL avoided progression to dementia over the following 2 to 4 years.
These patients exhibited a plasma cytokine profile that was exactly the same as that of Alzheimer’s disease (AD) transgenic mice that were given caffeinated coffee and didn’t progress to dementia. It’s therefore very likely that it’s caffeine from coffee, and not from other sources, that affords the cognitive protection, said study senior author Gary W. Arendash, PhD, research scientist, Bay Pines Veterans Affairs Hospital, St. Petersburg, Florida. The research also suggests that certain cytokine patterns could signal for impending conversion to dementia among those with MCI, said Dr. Arendash.
The study is published in the June issue of the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease.
Around 1800, Italian scientist Jean Aldini zapped the brains of dead felons with electricity to make their bodies move. He later reported using the same technique to cure “melancholy.” This sounds like the history of electroconvulsive (shock) therapy, but those were actually the first experiments in transcranial direct-current stimulation (tDCS), tweaking the brain with very mild shocks, 1,000 times less intense than delivered by shock therapy. A resurgence in tDCS is now underway. (Experiment “Consent Video” above from the Berenson-Allen Center for Noninvasive Brain Stimulation.) Indeed, neuroscientists at the University of New Mexico are using a tDCS device powered by a 9-volt battery to see if 2 milliamps shocks to certain regions of the scalp can improve cognition and learning. Early results are promising. (In fact, tDCS may even prime neurons to respond to transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS), a technique we’ve posted about on BB many times in which bursts from a magnetic coil near the head alter brain activity. TMS has been tested as a potential treatment for certain severe neurological and psychological disorders. Scientific journal Nature surveys the tDCS field in its latest issue.
These secrets are 100 of the top board alerts. They summarize the concepts, principles, and most salient details of neurology.
1. The first step in treating patients with neurologic disease is to localize the lesion.
2. Myopathies cause proximal symmetric weakness without sensory loss.
3. Neuromuscular junction diseases cause fatigability.
4. Peripheral neuropathies cause distal asymmetric weakness with atrophy, fasciculations, sensory loss, and pain.
5. Radiculopathies cause radiating pain.
6. Spinal cord disease causes a triad of distal symmetric weakness, sphincter problems, and a sensory level.
7. A unilateral lesion within the brain stem often causes “crossed syndromes,” in which ipsilateral dysfunction of one or more cranial nerves is accompanied by hemiparesis and/or hemisensory loss on the contralateral body.
8. Cerebellar disease causes ataxia and an action tremor.
9. In the brain, cortical lesions may cause aphasia, seizures, and partial hemiparesis (face and arm only), while subcortical lesions may cause visual field cuts, dense numbness of primary sensory modalities, and more complete hemiparesis (face, arm, and leg).
10. The brain is isolated from the rest of the body by the blood-brain barrier.
LSD and ketamine, two powerful hallucinogens, are also potential cures for depression, OCD, and anxiety. Two studies published in Science and Nature, confirm that hallucinogenic drugs stimulate healthy brain activity, even promoting the growth of neurons.
Ketamine and Depression
The study in Science, focused entirely on the drug ketamine. Used frequently as an animal sedative, ketamine can also be used to sedate humans and is also taken recreationally because of its hallucinogenic and euphoric effects. Molecular psychiatrist Nanxin Li and colleagues dosed rats with modest amounts of ketamine, and observed that the drug boosted signaling between neurons in the brain, and even led to healthy growth of synapses. (Chronic depression can be linked to inhibited synaptic growth.) Ultimately, they concluded that ketamine might be useful in treating depression because it increases brain activity instantly - so there is no need to wait weeks or months for the drug to take effect.