Welcome to your Brain! My name is Scicurious, and I'll be your Guide for today...

Dec 23 2008 Published by under Neuroscience

I was very pleased when I received my first ever book from a reader! Granted, it was Mr. SiT, but still, I was pleased. It was a copy of "Welcome to your Brain: Why You Lose Your Car Keys but Never Forget How to Drive and Other Puzzles of Everyday Life" by by Sandra Aamodt and Sam Wang. It's a super basic and fun look at neuroscience, which pauses to answer the crazy questions of every day life, like whether or not we REALLY use just 10% of our brains (a myth, obviously).
So I settled in with it on a recent chilly night.

Reading really basic neuroscience stuff like this is kind of like reading a young adult fantasy novel when you're in your 20's. All the stuff you know you would have gone "OMG!" at back then, you kind of go "eh" at now. But for me,t hat's only because I do this stuff every day. For those who don't know a lot about neuroscience, it's full of fun facts and lots of myth-busting side notes.
There were a few cool facts, but also some *headdesk* moments. Unfortunately, the worst one for me was in the drug addiction section. Of course, they really only have a few pages, and everything has to be very simplified, but there were a couple of things...ok. I have to go there. MDMA (Ecstasy). There's a little side page on MDMA, and how MDMA works in a manner similar to Prozac, which of course acts on the serotonin system. They say that the reason that MDMA induces feel-good feelings is due to its actions on the serotoin system, but then they try to explain why it takes Prozac several weeks to work even though it ALSO works on the serotonin system, and things get a little...muddled. And it's only in the last sentence of the page that they say "of course, MDMA's effect COULD be due to the actions of dopamine..."
Argh. MDMA has hefty actions on both dopamine and serotonin. It's more serotonin heavy (it has more affinity for the serotonin transporter than for the dopamine transporter), but it's got a LOT of dopamine action as well. Prozac, on the other hand, has a lot of serotonin action, and no dopamine action. The immediate effects of MDMA are due to the effects of dopamine and serotonin, and the "feel-good" effect is almost exclusively dopamine, in a way similar to the effects of cocaine and amphetamine. Serotonin does not make you "feel good", which is the reason that Prozac doesn't make you feel good. I will probably go into the way Prozac really works sometime, but now is not the time (the short version is that we're not really sure, but the serotonin theory of depression is probably more of a symptom than the actual problem itself. The actual problem may have more to do with the growth and shrinkage of neuronal dendrites and connections, and serotonin may help with these things, but is probably not the raison d'etre of depression). Phew. Ok. I'm over it.
But other than that, whcih came at the end of the book, which is why it stuck with me so much, I really enjoyed the rest of the book. And I definitely recommend it for a good easy introduction to your brain. I especially liked their description of deep brain stimulation, and they have a good section on stroke. And their little drawing of a neuron drunk out of its mind is AWESOME. And I want one.
It is definitely NOT a textbook, it's far more of a fun introduction. If you've got a young'un (or an old'un) interested in neuroscience, I definitely recommend it! Might make for a good crop of baby researchers!

6 responses so far

  • Mo says:

    I wrote a short review of this book in August, and got a response from one of the authors.

  • Chris says:

    I added this to my Amazon list for later purchase; thanks!

  • JLK says:

    Prozac is boring, I think.
    My favorite antidepressant is Wellbutrin (buproprion HCl), because pretty much all the research says the same thing: "We have no idea what this does or what it does stuff to, but it works." I love how one of the "side effects" (ignoring its repackaging as Zyban) is making people not really into smoking anymore. I have personal experience with that, so I can attest to its effectiveness in that department.
    It fascinates me that they developed, tested, and brought Wellbutrin to market without ever really knowing how it works. I picture a scientist somewhere in a lab mixing up a random chemical, giving it to some rats, and saying "Wow! The rats are really happy now! And they kicked that nasty nicotine habit, too! And none of them died! Damn....we need to start selling this stuff!"
    I love Pharma. They crack me up sometimes. 🙂

  • If Wellbutrin reduces craving for nicotine, wouldn't that implicate some possible action at nicotinic acetylcholine receptors?

  • Neuroskeptic says:

    Well, it's a dopamine and noradrenaline reuptake inhibitor. Not a very strong one though. So it's a bit like a low dose of amphetamine or Ritalin. Which makes sense because it increases energy & motivation...
    That may not be the only way that it works of course.

  • JLK says:

    I don't know, CPP, because it doesn't work the way that Chantix does. The best way to describe it, I think, is that it causes you to not even think about smoking. I tend to smoke out of boredom and habit rather than nicotine craving, and when I tried wellbutrin to quit smoking, it was like the thought of lighting a cigarette just didn't even occur to me. I don't know, it's weird. But it also causes dizzy spells and for the first week that you take it, you can't sleep, but you don't feel tired at all.
    I just think it's pretty damn cool. Though I started smoking again pretty much as soon as I stopped taking it. 🙁