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This is an irregularly updated page of random tidbits related to brain research and brain disorders.

Wordle: Scientific review paper on memory

December 19, 2009
Frontotemporal dementia, a rare devastating early onset form of dementia, finally received some well-deserved attention by CNN today with stories of a family who has suffered through it for several years. Even though FTD is much less common than Alzheimer's disease, the suffering of the families and communities affected is no less. This news feature, particularly the videos which can be viewed on the web, does a wonderful job of portraying the many issues that patients and families deal with.

December 4, 2008
H.M., the world's most famous patient in the fields of neurology, neuroscience, and psychology, died two evenings ago at the age of 82. His profound amnesia taught the world many things about the brain's memory systems, including areas of the brain that are critical for learning and remembering new episodes of our lives, and aspects of memory that are not dependent on those brain regions (the anterior medial temporal lobes). This amnesia developed after a neurosurgical procedure to treat epilepsy when he was 27. Professor Suzanne Corkin, who has studied H.M. for the past 50 years, discussed today his life and contributions to neuroscience, and how he is continuing to contribute by the donation of his brain. As a neurologist, I know that there are many patients who can teach us things and although H.M. was certainly unique, it also takes a very special scientist to systematically and persistently investigate his symptoms for a half century, teaching generations of neuroscientists along the way. In addition to her creativity and rigor as a neuroscientist, Dr. Corkin demonstrated a remarkably sensitive and humanistic way of interacting and caring for H.M. over the years. Dr. Ali Atri and I had the pleasure of seeing him with her last year, and we'll never forget his remembering her as his "Doctoress" despite the fact that he could tell us little else about her because of his amnesia. Dr. Corkin's compassionate approach to H.M. provides a shining example for all of us who have the privilege of learning from the misfortunes of patients with neurologic and psychiatric disorders.

November 18, 2008
At this week's Society for Neuroscience meeting we learned about some aspects of the biological basis of age-related changes in memory function as reviewed by Dr. Carol Barnes, a renowned physiologist and animal behaviorist who mentioned at the end of her talk that one of the goals of this research is to move us closer to understanding how it is that some people can live into their 80s, 90s, or even past 100 with great cognitive vitality. We saw one of those remarkable individuals today--Dr. Brenda Milner gave an outstanding personal perspective on the study of human memory function over the past 1/2 century. She traced her own career development first with Prof. Oliver Zangwill and later with Prof. Donald Hebb and Dr. Wilder Penfield, and then described the numerous seminal studies she performed of human memory disorders. A major theme in her talk was that a critical contributor to our knowledge of this area is the study of humans with memory disorders, as exemplified by H.M. and other patients. Dr. Milner, who turned 90 this past year, is an outstanding example of a scientist and critical thinker who is still doing important work and communicating it in vibrant ways into her 10th decade of life.

Unfortunately, we still are making only small strides in our pursuit of approaches to promote such cognitive health. Today's report in JAMA on a six year trial of gingko biloba in the prevention of cognitive decline and Alzheimer's disease demonstrated a complete lack of benefit, despite a lot of 'test tube' and animal evidence that it may be of value on a variety of measures that were hoped to translate into a human health benefit. Hopefully there will be a better long-term outcome from some of the exciting research that is being presented at this meeting.

July 19, 2008
Alzheimer's disease and related disorders are not, by any means, diseases that affect only people over 65. I have been honored over the past several years, along with several team members at Mass General and Brigham & Women's Hospitals, to have had the experience of working with a patient and family with very early onset Alzheimer's disease. The disease struck the patient in her 30s, causing her to lose memory and other cognitive abilities. Her husband handled this terrible, inexorable loss of his wife with the most incredible grace and compassion. She recently passed away, and the journey from symptom onset and efforts toward diagnosis to end-of-life hospice care was a truly profound one that her husband discussed with us in an articulate and open manner as it unfolded. Though it was clear that we helped them in a variety of ways, largely with knowledge and interpretation of this unusual situation, I just wish we could have done more to slow the process and give them a longer period of quality of life together.

November 15, 2007
Memory is a strange thing; sometimes we love it for its ability to enable us to relive enjoyable experiences from our past, and sometimes we hate it for its capacity to torture us with reminders of what we should've done or could've done. I see many individuals as part of my research and clinical practice who have varying degrees of memory loss, and although it can be incredibly frustrating for them, there are many ways in which their lives remain rich. The feature article in last month's National Geographic illustrated stories like these in as eloquent a fashion as I've seen lately. EP is an individual who, like a number of others including HM, have contributed--through their misfortunes--immensely to our understanding of memory and the brain. His story is parallel to that of many patients with early Alzheimer's disease, although his form of memory loss is different in that it is not progressive. Here are some links to these stories and the accompanying images.
National Geographic Society feature article on memory

And see also their beautiful video illustration of the brain systems that support our abilities to learn and remember information.

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hippo paths Pathways of the hippocampus