Picturing the mind at work  pg. 4

Because individual patients respond differently to different medications, molecular imaging may one day help identify the best drug for a particular patient.

“We may find that schizophrenia is not one disease, but several different types,” Kessler says. “We may be able to determine what factors predispose one to being treated by one class of drugs as opposed to another.

“We may be able to individualize therapy, provide better dosing so that the side effects are spared and the therapeutic benefits are enhanced.”

Finding the right dose of the right drug is critical, says Ronald Baldwin, Ph.D., research associate professor of Radiology at Vanderbilt.

“A lot of people are actually overdosed,” says Baldwin, who develops novel radiotracers to probe the actions of drugs in the brain (See “How to Make an Atomic Drug”). “They are getting more drug than they need to get an effect. With radiotracer imaging, you can look at the receptor that’s binding the drug to see how much drug is occupying it.”

Mysteries of music and math

Lyric soprano Gloria Lenhoff has sung in opera houses and performance halls all over the country. Her repertoire spans more than 2,000 pieces in 30 languages, yet she can’t read music.

Lenhoff has Williams syndrome, a rare neurodevelopmental condition characterized by mild-to-moderate mental retardation, blood vessel disease and—among other surprising traits—an affinity for music.

The genetics of the disorder are well known, but a chromosomal aberration that slices out a specific a region of chromosome 7 cannot explain Lenhoff’s unique gifts.

Brain imaging may help.

Researchers at Stanford University, for example, have used fMRI to study the brains of people with Williams syndrome while they listened to snippets of Bach, Beethoven and Mozart. In 2003, they reported finding “strikingly different” patterns in the way the brains of people with Williams syndrome processed music, compared to normal controls.

When the control group listened to music, the hearing center in the brain’s temporal lobe lit up. Among people with Williams syndrome, however, brain activation was more widespread, and included the amygdala, an almond-shaped structure near the base of the brain that plays a key role in emotions.

The finding may provide clues to the comforting power of music, says Elisabeth M. Dykens, Ph.D., associate director of the Vanderbilt Kennedy Center for Research on Human Development.

Dykens, a professor of Psychology and Human Development, has studied the personality characteristics of Williams syndrome and other developmental disorders for several years.

People with Williams syndrome are prone to heightened anxiety and fear of loud noises. At the same time, they can be exceedingly social, highly verbal and friendly.

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