Tag Archives: brain

Explore the Atlas of HM’s Brain at the Brain Observatory

The Brain Observatory at the University of California San Diego, directed by Jacopo Annese, has made available as part of its Digital Brain Library an atlas of H.M.’s brain. H.M., now known to be Henry Molaison, is one of the best known case studies in memory research. Molaison experienced profound amnesia following a bilateral medial temporal lobectomy and was subsequently studied for more than 50 years. Following his death in 2008, Molaison’s brain was donated to science and sectioned into more than 2400 slices (right), a procedure that was aired live on the web (see a previous AHP post on this process here). As described on the site,

In December 2009, Annese and his team at The Brain Observatory dissected H.M.’s brain into 2,401 thin tissue slices that have been preserved cryogenically in serial order. The collection was meant to support the histological examination of the brain and to better understand the neurological basis of human memory function. While the brain was being sliced, we collected an unabridged series of digital images of the surface of the block each corresponding to individual tissue sections. These images were archived and used to create a 3-D model of the whole brain. A regular series of sections through the brain was stained and digitized at a resolution of 0.37 microns per pixel to reveal cellular-level features. These virtual sections, a matching series of anatomically delineated images, and data from postmortem MRI of the specimen were combined into an atlas of patient H.M.’s brain.

The atlas was conceived as a web-accessible resource to support collaboration and retrospective studies.

Project HM can be explored in full here.

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Toronto Talk, Oct. 9th: Permanent Present Tense: The Unforgettable Life of the Amnesic Patient, HM

For anyone in the Toronto area, an upcoming talk at the Royal Ontario Museum (ROM) may be of interest. On October 9th, at 6pm, Dr. Suzanne Corkin will be speaking on her recent book, Permanent Present Tense: The Unforgettable Life of the Amnesic Patient, HM. Corkin spent decades studying the patient popularly known as H.M., who was revealed to be Henry Molaison after his death in 2008. (See  AHP’s previous post on the fate of H.M.’s brain here.) Research with H.M., who was unable to form longterm memories following extensive brain surgery for epilepsy, was central to psychological work on how longterm memories are formed.

The event – sponsored by the Faculty of Health, York University, the Rotman Research Institute at Baycrest, and the Department of Psychology, University of Toronto – is free to attend but pre-registration is required. The Permanent Present Tense lecture is described as follows,

Dr. Suzanne Corkin is an esteemed memory expert and Professor Emerita of Neuroscience in the Department of Brain and Cognitive Sciences at MIT (Cambridge, MA). Dr. Corkin is best known for her work with one of the most famous cases in medical history, the amnesic patient Henry Gustave Molaison. In her lecture, Dr. Corkin will speak about their nearly 50-year research partnership, which taught us much of what we know today about memory. Her lecture will be followed by a signing of her recent book, Permanent Present Tense, which documents the incredible story of H.M. and his groundbreaking contributions to the science of memory.

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Angelo Mosso & “Weighing Brain Activity with the Balance”

Neuroskeptic, over on Discover Blogs, has just posted a review of an article now in press at Brain on nineteenth century Italian physiologist Angelo Mosso’s attempts to measure blood flow to the brain. As Neuroskeptic describes, Mosso’s

…early work included studies of the blood pressure in the brains of individuals with skull defects. His most ambitious project, however, was his balance – or as he sometimes called it, according to his daughter, his ‘metal cradle’ or ‘machine to weigh the soul’….

It was in essence just a large balance. A volunteer lay on a table, their head on one side of the scale’s pivot and their feet on the other. It was carefully adjusted so that the two sides were perfectly balanced.

The theory was that if mental activity caused increased brain blood flow, it ought to increase the weight of the head relative to the rest of the body, so that side of the balance would fall.

Mosso claimed that this, indeed, occurred – starting to read a newspaper caused the brain to get weightier, while a difficult book of philosophy was even more effective, presumably because it required more mental effort to understand.

You can read Neuroskeptic’s review online here. Full article details follow below.

“Weighing brain activity with the balance: Angelo Mosso’s original manuscripts come to light,” by S. Sandrone, M. Bacigaluppi, M. R. Galloni, S. F. Cappa, A. Moro, M. Catani, M. Filippi, M. M. Monti, D. Perani, & G. Martino. The abstract reads,

Neuroimaging techniques, such as positron emission tomography and functional magnetic resonance imaging are essential tools for the analysis of organized neural systems in working and resting states, both in physiological and pathological conditions. They provide evidence of coupled metabolic and cerebral local blood flow changes that strictly depend upon cellular activity. In 1890, Charles Smart Roy and Charles Scott Sherrington suggested a link between brain circulation and metabolism. In the same year William James, in his introduction of the concept of brain blood flow variations during mental activities, briefly reported the studies of the Italian physiologist Angelo Mosso, a multifaceted researcher interested in the human circulatory system. James focused on Mosso’s recordings of brain pulsations in patients with skull breaches, and in the process only briefly referred to another invention of Mosso’s, the ‘human circulation balance’, which could non-invasively measure the redistribution of blood during emotional and intellectual activity. However, the details and precise workings of this instrument and the experiments Mosso performed with it have remained largely unknown. Having found Mosso’s original manuscripts in the archives, we remind the scientific community of his experiments with the ‘human circulation balance’ and of his establishment of the conceptual basis of non-invasive functional neuroimaging techniques. Mosso unearthed and investigated several critical variables that are still relevant in modern neuroimaging such as the ‘signal-to-noise ratio’, the appropriate choice of the experimental paradigm and the need for the simultaneous recording of differing physiological parameters.

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APA Monitor: Building a ‘Better’ Brain

The May 2013 issue of the American Psychological Association’s Monitor on Psychology is now online. This month’s Time Capsule section features an article on the work of psychologist David Krech. In this piece Barbara Lusk describes Krech’s interest, in the wake of Watson and Crick’s work on the structure of DNA, in the possibility that RNA encoded learned information and that knowledge of such could be used to improve brain functioning. As she describes,

A watershed event occurred in 1965 when Krech arranged a multi-session symposium on “Brain, Biochemistry and Behavior” at the American Association for the Advancement of Science meeting. Approximately 2,000 attendees heard prominent geneticists, anatomists, biochemists, physiologists, pharmacologists, neurologists and psychologists who discussed the tantalizing evidence on the role of RNA. Biochemist Bernard Agranoff of the University of Michigan reported that administering various RNA or protein-synthesis inhibitors before or just after training had significant adverse effects on the retention of newly acquired learning in goldfish. In other experiments, James McGaugh and Lewis Petrinovich (both former students of Krech) demonstrated that increasing RNA synthesis by administering strychnine improved learning. Psychiatrist Ewen Cameron of McGill University reported that yeast RNA administered to elderly people suffering from dementia had a positive effect on their memory. Researchers at Abbott Labs reported that Cylert (magnesium pemoline) enhanced learning in rats and, more important, that human trials were planned.

In both his introductory remarks and closing commentary at the symposium, Krech worried out loud. The potential benefits of this research, he agreed, were enormous. But the social and ethical questions raised by this work were of the same magnitude as those resulting from the achievements of the atomic physicists: If the biochemical tools are developed, will governments be tempted to manipulate the behavior of their citizens? Should scientists or governments tamper with individuals’ natural endowments? Should such potions, once developed, be used only to treat cognitive deficiencies or should they be used to enhance normal functioning? Who gets what and when? Who bears the cost of these treatments? Who decides? Who keeps watch over those who do?

The full article can be read online here.

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New Issue: History of the Human Sciences

The April 2013 issue of the journal History of the Human Sciences is now online. Included in these issue are seven all new articles on topics that include the history of psychiatric ideas about self-harm, madness and the brain, and early British and American sociology. Full titles, authors, and abstracts follow below.

“Religion, polygenism and the early science of human origins,” by Terence D. Keel. The abstract reads,

American polygenism was a provocative scientific movement whose controversial claim that humankind did not share a common ancestor caused a firestorm among naturalists and the lay public beginning in the 1830s. This article gives specific attention to the largely overlooked religious ideas marshaled by American polygenists in their effort to construct race as a unit of analysis. I focus specifically on the thought of the American polygenist and renowned surgeon Dr Josiah Clark Nott (1804–73) of Mobile, Alabama. Scholars have claimed that in his effort to establish a properly modern scientific view of race Nott was one of the first American naturalists to publicly denounce the notion of common human descent (monogenesis) as proclaimed in the Bible. I argue that despite his rejection of monogenesis, Nott’s racial theory remained squarely within the tradition of Christian ideas about the natural world. American polygenism provides an example of how scientific and religious ideas worked together in the minds of American antebellum thinkers in the development of novel theories about race and human origins.

“Badness, madness and the brain – the late 19th-century controversy on immoral persons and their malfunctioning brains,” by Felix Schirmann. The abstract reads, Continue reading

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New Issue! History of the Human Sciences

A new issue of History of the Human Sciences has just been released online. Included in this issue are articles on the history of Female Sexual Dyfunction as a diagnostic category, Freud’s social theory, the role of the brain in dementia, and more. Full titles, authors, and abstracts follow below.

“Contested psychiatric ontology and feminist critique: ‘Female Sexual Dysfunction’ and the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual,” by Katherine Angel (above left). The abstract reads,

In this article I discuss the emergence of Female Sexual Dysfunction (FSD) within American psychiatry and beyond in the postwar period, setting out what I believe to be important and suggestive questions neglected in existing scholarship. Tracing the nomenclature within successive editions of the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM), I consider the reification of the term ‘FSD’, and the activism and scholarship that the rise of the category has occasioned. I suggest that analysis of FSD benefits from scrutiny of a wider range of sources (especially since the popular and scientific cross-pollinate). I explore the multiplicity of FSD that emerges when one examines this wider range, but I also underscore a reinscribing of anxieties about psychogenic aetiologies. I then argue that what makes the FSD case additionally interesting, over and above other conditions with a contested status, is the historically complex relationship between psychiatry and feminism that is at work in contemporary debates. I suggest that existing literature on FSD has not yet posed some of the most important and salient questions at stake in writing about women’s sexual problems in this period, and can only do this when the relationship between ‘second-wave’ feminism, ‘post-feminism’, psychiatry and psychoanalysis becomes part of the terrain to be analysed, rather than the medium through which analysis is conducted. Continue reading

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New Journal: History of the Present

The recently released second issue of a new journal, History of the Present: A Journal of Critical History, contains a number of articles relevant to the history of psychology. In particular, three articles deal with the history of psychoanalysis. Of these, one uses material culture to interrogate the case work of Jung and Freud, and two others address aspects of the recent history of neuropsychoanalysis. A further article traces the history of addiction, from its initial status as a moral disorder in the late-nineteenth century to its contemporary casting as a disease of the brain. Titles, authors, and brief excerpts follow below.

“‘I suffer in an unknown manner that is hieroglyphical’: Jung and Babette en route to Freud and Schreber,” by Angela Woods. (See photo, left.) The article begins,

To begin: two fragments. The first is an embroidered jacket. It belonged to a woman called Agnes Richter who lived in an Austrian asylum in the late 1890s. In the words of artist Renée Turner, the jacket is “embroidered so intensively that reading is impossible in certain areas. . . . Words appear and disappear into seams and under layers of thread. There is no beginning or end, just spirals of intersecting fragmentary narratives. She is declarative: ‘I,’ ‘mine,’ ‘my jacket,’ ‘my white stockings. . . .’, ‘I am in the Hubert-us-burg / ground floor,’ ‘children,’ ‘sister’ and ‘cook.’ In the inside she has written ’1894 I am / I today woman.’” Re-embroidering the laundry number printed on her jacket, “something institutional and distant” is transformed “into something intimate, obsessive and possessive.” She transcribes herself. This is “hypertext”; this is “untamed writing.”

“Another Neurological Scene,” by Elizabeth A. Wilson. The article begins, Continue reading

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BBC Radio4: A History of the Brain

Starting today, BBC Radio4 is airing a 10-part series on the history of the brain. A History of the Brain, has been written and produced by historian of psychology Geoff Bunn (left), of Manchester Metropolitan University. As described on the program’s website,

Dr Geoff Bunn’s 10 part History of the Brain is a journey through 5000 years of our understanding of the most complex thing in the known universe. From Neolithic times to the present day, Geoff journeys through the many ideas of what the brain is for and how it fulfils its functions. While referencing the core physiology and neuroscience, this is a cultural, not a scientific history. What soon becomes obvious is that our understanding of this most inscrutable organ has in all periods been coloured by the social and political expedients of the day no less than by the contemporary scope of scientific or biological exploration.

The first episode in the series, on the topic of trepanation, aired today and can currently be listened to online. Further episodes, each 15 minutes long, air weekdays at 1:45pm on BBC Radio4 and will be available online thereafter. Descriptions of the first 6 episodes in the series – all those airing this week, as well as the episode to air next Monday – are currently available on the program’s website:

In Episode 1: A Hole in the Head, the focus is on trepanation, the practice of drilling holes in the skull believing that such operations might correct physiological or spiritual problems. Trepanation reveals much about the understanding of the brain from Neolithic to recent times. The Ancient Egyptians, however, rarely trepanned, even though their Secret Book of the Physician, one of the oldest medical texts in the world, shows that they recognised how damage to the brain can paralyze limbs on opposite sides of the body. Believing the heart to be the core organ, they discarded the brain altogether at death, since it had no part to play in the afterlife.

In Episode 2: The Blood of The Gladiators, the focus is Ancient Greek scholarship, with Hippocrates’ astonishingly prescient belief in the brain as the chief organ of control and his debunking of the myth of the ‘sacred disease’ with his assertion that epilepsy was the result of natural causes. Yet the belief that a cure lay in the magical properties of blood persisted for centuries. Continue reading

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CFP for funded neuroskeptic workshop in Berlin

MPI-BerlinThe Max-Planck-Institute for the History of Science is hosting a “neuro-reality check” workshop to be held in Berlin in December. Their purpose is to scrutinize “the ‘neuro-turn’ in the humanities and natural sciences.” But they also aim to look beyond the usual pro and con.

Our ambition is to take problematisations of the neurosciences to another level. While numerous new scholarly projects in the social sciences and humanities have recently emerged to analyze the growth of ‘neuromania’, our workshop aims to bring together scholars from a diversity of disciplinary backgrounds in order to step back a little, and to probe deeper into the alleged effects and actual causes of the ongoing neurohype. This will include exploring the extent to which discourses engendering neuroscience in fact do match neuroscience’s real world (social) effects; but it will also include interrogating the anatomy of the neuro-discourses themselves, and to locate the immense attractions and functions of the ‘neuro’ in the broader scheme of – intellectual and political – things: the promise and attractions of ‘interdisciplinarity’ within contemporary humanities; the surge of underlabouring specialities such as neuroethics; or the rise and growing acceptance, within recent years, of a new (neuro) ‘biologism’ in a great many academic disciplines and popular culture at large, as well as the opposition this engenders.

For successful applicants, MPI will cover the cost of travel and accommodation in Berlin. Continue reading

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