Learning the Latest on Brain Science

John McManamy Health Guide
  • I am writing this at 4 in the morning. I have been lying horizontal in the dark for the past 4 hours, failing miserably to close the deal with the gods of sleep.  Two hours between 10 and midnight - that was it. Then my racing mind took over. I'm in DC at the APA annual meeting, and I'm obviously way overstimulated.


    I have no choice but to turn on the light now and get a few things done, but I'm almost certain I will be crashing at my hotel in the afternoon.


    I started out the morning listening to Helen Mayberg of Emory University talk about deep brain stimulation for depression. This is an experimental surgical procedure involving an implant into "Brodman area 25," which has numerous connections to various limbic and cortical areas identified with depression. In depressed patients, these circuits are over-active. The implant works to disrupt the signaling in these circuits.

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    Early findings are extremely encouraging.


    I also listened to one of the pioneers of psychiatric brain research, Solomon Snyder of Johns Hopkins. His research led to the discovery of neuronal receptors, where neurotransmitters - and medication molecules - dock. His findings have been applied across all branches of psychiatric medicine, from addiction to schizophrenia.


    Today - if I can stay awake - I will be listening to Husseini Manji of the NIMH. His work looks beyond neurotransmitters and receptors to inside the neuron. Think of receptors as the lock and neurotransmitters as the key. Through the door and inside the neuron is where we are now looking, with enormous potential for improved meds.


    The afternoon was all about psychiatric genetics.


    One thing that attracts me to the sessions on brain science and genetics is the enormous passion these speakers display. I do not profess to understand everything they say. In fact, a good deal of it is way over my head. But these highly dedicated individuals are virtually changing how we think, and I want a ringside seat.


    NBA play-offs? Boring.


    I finished the day by hearing Oliver Saks during an awards ceremony. Dr Saks is the famed neurologist who wrote "Awakenings," which was made into a movie starring Robin Williams.


    Dr Saks gave a very intriguing and entertaining talk on "music bubbling up in the mind." He pointed out that music is the only faculty not altered by dreams. He made special reference to its healing powers, and urged his audience to pay much more attention to music when dealing with their patients. William Styron in "Darkness Visible," he pointed out, wrote how he was able to reconnect with memories of joy in his life when Brahams' Alto Rhapsody began resonating in his head. That was the beginning of his recovery. The sound, Styron wrote, pierced his heart like a dagger.

    More brain science this morning. And a classic psychiatric food fight is shaping up in the afternoon. Can I stay awake?


    Stay tuned ...



Published On: May 06, 2008