Thursday, January 25, 2007

The Insula is Making Headlines!

From a report in The New York Times about the neuroscience of smoking:

Scientists Tie Part of Brain to Urge to Smoke
The New York Times
Published: January 25, 2007


The insula, for years a wallflower of brain anatomy, has emerged as region of interest based in part on recent work by Dr. Antonio Damasio, a neurologist and director of the Brain and Creativity Institute. The insula has widely distributed connections, both in the thinking cortex above, and down below in subcortical areas, like the brain stem, that maintain heart rate, blood pressure and body temperature, the body’s primal survival systems.


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Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Amnestic Syndromes: The Play's The Thing ...

From today's New York Times:

January 23, 2007
Amnesiacs May Be Cut Off From Past and Future Alike
The New York Times

In the movies amnesia is bizarre, and thrilling. The star is usually a former assassin or government agent whose future depends on retrieving the bloody, jigsaw fragments that restore identity and explain the past.

Yet in the real world, people with amnesia live in a mental universe at least as strange as fiction: new research suggests that they are marooned in the present, as helpless at imagining future experiences as they are at retrieving old ones.

The new study, reported last week in The Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, is the first rigorous test of how brain-injured people with amnesia mentally inhabit imaginary scenes. The results suggest that to the brain, remembered experience and imagined experience are reflections from the same mirror, rich inner worlds animated by almost identical neural networks.

The findings provide a glimpse into what it might mean to truly live in the moment. And they feed a continuing debate about memory. Some researchers say that the brain region central to forming new memories — the hippocampus, a sliver of tissue deep in the brain where the day’s memories are registered — is not necessary for retrieving those experiences, once they have been consolidated elsewhere in the brain.

Others, including the authors of the new study, contend that the hippocampus in fact provides the stage on which inner mental dramas are set. Without its help only the props remain — loose facts, people’s names, snippets from favorite songs: the players without the play.

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Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Dr. Arthur L. Benton, Neuropsychologist

From The Daily Iowan:

UI mourns death of renowned professor emeritus
Matt Nelson - The Daily Iowan
Issue date: 1/15/07 Section: Metro

Remembered both for his dedication to the mind and to music and noted for his charm and wit, Arthur Benton, one of the founding fathers of neuropsychology and the founder of the UI's neuropsychology laboratory, died of emphysema at the age of 97 in Glenview, Ill., on Dec. 27.

"Today, we have one of the most advanced neuropsychology departments, both clinical and research, in the country," said neurology Professor Robert Rodnitzky, who had worked with the UI professor emeritus of psychology and neurology both as a student and a colleague. "That's his legacy."

Born in New York City, Benton received a bachelor's and master's from Oberlin College, then received his doctorate in psychology from Columbia University in 1935, training as a psychologist at the Payne Whitney Psychiatric Clinic in the New York Hospital.

In early 1941, Benton volunteered for military service in the U.S. Navy, earning a commission of lieutenant in the medical department. He retired in 1945 at the rank of captain, then accepted a position as an associate professor of psychology at the University of Louisville.

Benton joined the UI in 1948 as a professor and director of graduate training in clinical psychology. Ten years later, he became a professor of psychology and neurology at the UI, and he was instrumental in the creation of the neuropsychology lab. The lab was officially dedicated and renamed the Benton Neuropsychology Laboratory when Benton retired in 1978.

One of Benton's major accomplishments in neuropsychology was his creation of the Benton Visual Retention Test, which measures visual perception and memory by asking subjects to reproduce geometric designs after viewing them briefly. The test is used to diagnose brain damage or measure visuospatial memory.

Benton was also honored as a visiting professor in universities around the world from Israel to Japan, and he continued to publish and participate in research until 2002.

In 1992, Benton received a lifetime achievement award from the American Psychological Foundation for his work in "pioneering clinical studies of brain-behavior relations."

"Despite all his accomplishments and his international renown, he didn't wear it on his sleeve," Rodnitzky said. "He was humble beyond what wasnecessary."

His wife, Rita Benton, was a professor of musicology at the UI, where she was named first head of the Music Library in 1957. Arthur Benton met her in Paris, where they were vacationing separately, in 1939. They were married a month after returning to the United States that same year. After her death in 1980, the UI Music Library was renamed in her honor.

In his later years, Arthur Benton experienced some health problems. Though he had few hobbies in his youth - a symptom of career dedication - he moved to Illinois after a hip injury in 2001 and took up weaving and pottery, which he continued to practice even with failing eyesight.

"He cared about everyone," said daughter Abigail Sivan, a psychologist. "Didn't matter if it was the person who picked up the garbage at the office or a student or a colleague or his boss."

E-mail DI reporter Matt Nelson at:


Arthur Benton: A Life in Perspective

- Met wife Rita Benton in Paris while both were on vacation, and they were married fewer than two months later.

- Founded the Neuropsychology Laboratory at the UI.

- Received an award for life achievements from the American Psychology Foundation.

- Has two sons, Daniel, who works in the UI neonatology department, Ray, who graduated with a degree in law, and a daughter, Abigail Sivan, who holds degrees in psychology.

- Has two grandsons, Ofer and Ori Sivan, who both graduated from the UI with degrees in engineering.

- The Music Library is named after his late wife, who helped found the library and served as head up until her death in 1980.

- Took up pottery and weaving as his eyesight worsened in later years and continued to participate in research until 2002.

Monday, January 15, 2007

Neuropsychology Abstract of the Day: SORL1 and Alzheimer Disease

Ekaterina Rogaeva, Yan Meng, Joseph H Lee, Yongjun Gu, Toshitaka Kawarai, et al. (2007). The neuronal sortilin-related receptor SORL1 is genetically associated with Alzheimer disease. Nature Genetics, Published online: 14 January 2007; | doi:10.1038/ng1943.

The recycling of the amyloid precursor protein (APP) from the cell surface via the endocytic pathways plays a key role in the generation of amyloid peptide (A) in Alzheimer disease. We report here that inherited variants in the SORL1 neuronal sorting receptor are associated with late-onset Alzheimer disease. These variants, which occur in at least two different clusters of intronic sequences within the SORL1 gene (also known as LR11 or SORLA) may regulate tissue-specific expression of SORL1. We also show that SORL1 directs trafficking of APP into recycling pathways and that when SORL1 is underexpressed, APP is sorted into A-generating compartments. These data suggest that inherited or acquired changes in SORL1 expression or function are mechanistically involved in causing Alzheimer disease.

Thursday, January 11, 2007

Neuropsychology Abstract of the Day: Olfactory Functioning and Mild Cognitive Impairment (MCI)

Djordjevic J, Jones-Gotman M, De Sousa K, & Chertkow H. (2007). Olfaction in patients with mild cognitive impairment and Alzheimer's disease. Neurobiology and Aging [epub ahead of print.]

Montreal Neurological Institute, 3801 University Street, Department of Neurology and Neurosurgery, McGill University, Montreal, H3A 2B4, Quebec, Canada.

Understanding of olfactory dysfunction in Alzheimer's disease (AD) remains limited. In particular, it is not known how early in the course of the disease olfactory deficits occur, and whether they are restricted to identification or involve other aspects of olfaction. We studied olfactory (odor detection thresholds, quality discrimination, and identification) and cognitive (attention, reasoning, memory, naming and fluency) functioning in patients with AD, with mild cognitive impairment (MCI), and in normal elderly control (NEC) participants. MCI patients were impaired in olfactory sensitivity and identification, while a discrimination deficit was accounted for by abnormal thresholds. AD patients were impaired in all three domains, and were worse than the MCI group. Odor discrimination (OD) and identification performance correlated more prominently than detection thresholds with performance on neuropsychological tests. We concluded that deficits in olfactory detection thresholds and identification occur early in AD, before clinical symptoms are fully developed, and decline further over the course of the disease. High detection thresholds, together with impaired identification, may be useful as an early indicator of AD.


The following New England Journal of Medicine case study in the current issue of the journal is available for full-text access [Link]:

Ropper, A.H., and Gorson, K.C. (2007). Concussion. New England Journal of Medicine, 356, 166-172.

A 64-year-old woman slipped on an icy walk, falling forward and striking her forehead. She had a brief convulsion immediately after the fall, was unresponsive for less than 1 minute, and awakened with a severe generalized headache and nausea but no vomiting. In addition to being perplexed about the circumstances of the fall, she could not recall the previous few hours. She was awake and oriented and had no abnormalities on neurologic examination. Tenderness and a scalp contusion were apparent at the site of the impact, and there were abrasions on her right cheek. What is the expected course, and how should her case be managed?

Thursday, January 04, 2007

Primary Somatosensory Cortex: New Research

From this month's APA Monitor:

Phantom pain and the brain
An actual touch, or an imaginary one? It’s all the same to (some parts of) your brain
By Sadie F. Dingfelder
Monitor Staff
The APA Monitor
January 2007
Print version: page 22

Scientists have long conceptualized the part of the brain known as the primary somatosensory cortex (S1) as where it first registers touch sensations. Prick your finger and S1 springs into action, sending raw information about the injury’s location to higher brain areas for further interpretation, according to most neuroscience textbooks.

Those textbooks may need new editions. S1 doesn’t simply catalogue physical sensations: It also registers sensory illusions that are generated elsewhere in the brain, according to a recent study in PLOS Biology (Vol. 4, No. 3, pages 459–466). In fact, as far as S1 is concerned, there’s no difference between a real or imaginary touch, says lead author Felix Blankenburg, PhD, a neuroscience researcher at University College London (UCL). Other researchers, including David Ress, PhD, a neuroscience professor at Brown University, are finding similar results in S1’s cousin, the primary visual cortex.

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