HM Brain Slicing: So much better than TV

Dec 03 2009 Published by under Neuroscience

In case any of you peeps have missed it (and you never know), the great memory patient, HM, died last year on Dec 2, 2008.
HM was an epilepsy patient who suffered horrible seizures from age 16 on. Finally, we was referred to a neurosurgeon, who localized the seizures to the medial temporal lobes, and he had them removed in 1953. The good news: new epilepsy. The bad news: no MEMORY. HM retained all of the memories from before the surgery, but until the day of his death, was unable to create new ones. He continually thought it was 1953. He was capable of doing things requiring short term memory and retained an IQ of 112, but could not remember anything new taught to him. Interestingly, he could retain motor memories, and could learn new motor procedures and remember them, though he didn't remember learning them. HM was altogether a fascinating patient, and taught neuroscientists a huge amount about the brain. Unfortunately, due to his severe amnesia, he lived the rest of his life in a care institute, dying peacefully in 2008.
Though obviously informed consent was a little difficult, every time they asked, HM agreed to donate his brain to science, and the person with his power of attorney also agreed. Thus HM's brain is currently being SLICED into 70um (those are microns, very small) thick sections, in the hopes that we will be able to gain even more knowledge about the man and his brain following death. You can follow the slicing, which is going to take 50 hours, here and here. They're about to reach the temporal lobes, and there it should get very exciting! It's a big moment for neuroscience.
Sci is totally geeking out about this, and she and her charming co-blogger Evil Monkey have been tweeting it up over the past few hours (Evil is @neurotopia, and you should follow him on twitter). Some of the people Sci has talked to have expressed reservations about having their brains (or bodies) sliced on live video feed. Sci personally thinks she wouldn't mind at all, if it was for scientific benefit. Also, I have been told I have a very pretty brain. But she would be interested to hear the thoughts of others. Would you donate your brain to science? Would you mind being sliced (after death) on live video? Why or why not?

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Oxytocin: The Love Molecule?

Nov 19 2009 Published by under Behavioral Neuro

And now Sci can finally get down to writing the hefty post in the oxytocin series, what she likes to call the effects on the soft stuff. The emotions, memory, trust, that kind of thing. She didn't know if she'd make it, for verily, this little grad student hath earned her ramen this day in looooooong experiments and time slaving away in the salt mines laboratory. But she is here! Her ramen is eaten! And it is TIME!
Oxytocin: Effects on the State of Love and Trust
aka "The LOVE molecule?"

(Right now, this is Sci's definition of love)
Sigh...Sci has heard so many people call oxytocin "the love molecule". Almost as many people as she has heard call dopamine the "reward molecule", or serotonin the "happy molecule". Based on the previous examples, Sci now officially reserves the right to call norepinephrine the "holy s**t we're going to DIE" molecule.
What do all these have in common? They are all SO MUCH MORE COMPLICATED THAN THAT. But for now, we're just going to stick to oxytocin. The "love molecule"?! You don't know the half of it!

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Making a Long-Term Memory? Don't Forget to Tag it!

Sep 02 2009 Published by under Behavioral Neuro, Neuroscience

I'm sure you all know that you have both a short-term and a long-term memory. Many people think of those as separate things, and to us, it may seem that way. But in fact, the formation of short and long term memories in the brain is very intertwined, and a short-term memory can become a long-term one. What we don't really know is HOW this happens. What makes the difference between remembering a phone number for a few minutes and remembering it for months? Turns out, it's a simple tag. Ballarini et al. "Behavioral tagging is a general mechanism of long-term memory formation." PNAS, 2009.

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