The fine art of brain development

It takes more than a hammer and chisel to shape the grandest sculpture of them all, the human brain. At least half the genome (10,000 genes or more) may be required. Equally surprising: development never stops. The living brain never achieves a “final” form.  read article

Picturing the mind at work

Since the discovery of the X-ray, scientists have tried to take pictures of the mind at work.

One hundred ten years later, they have never been closer.

Soon it may be possible to predict—and avert—the development of drug addiction, to individualize therapy for schizophrenia and other disorders, and to preserve and even augment brain function.  read article

More than one ball in the air

The number of children with autism spectrum disorders appears to have skyrocketed in the last 10 years, sparking an influx of research funding. The increased support is energizing efforts to “see” what’s going on in the brains of children with autism, to identify genes that are linked to the disorder, and to use that information to improve treatment.  read article

Inside Out: Looking at schizophrenia’s inner chaos

Characterized by delusions, hallucinations and disordered thinking, schizophrenia affects one in every 100 people worldwide. Using increasingly sophisticated technologies, scientists are probing the genetic, molecular and structural underpinnings of the disorder, now widely recognized as a problem of brain growth and development. In the process, they are rediscovering the link between creativity and madness.  read article

That electric feeling

Before he started taking Ritalin for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, J.T. King felt as if “lightning bolts” were shooting out of his fingers. Today he’s succeeding in school, and he and his family are helping Vanderbilt University scientists search for ADHD’s genetic underpinnings. Their goal: improved diagnosis and treatment of this baffling and prevalent disorder.  read article

Cracking the brain’s genetic code

Two of the nation's leading experts in neuropsychopharmacology—Drs. Joseph T. Coyle of Harvard Medical School and Edward M. Scolnick of the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard—discuss the development of new medications to treat disorders of brain function. A major step forward has been the identification of "risk genes" that—in combination—may disturb normal brain development.  read article

An explosion in the family

His father’s suicide nearly half a century ago continues to motivate Randy Blakely, Ph.D., director of the Vanderbilt Center for Molecular Neuroscience, to search for clues to the development of depression and other serious brain disorders. The hope is that increased awareness, and improvements in diagnosis and treatment, may prevent events that can literally blow families apart.  read article

How to Make an Atomic Drug

Robert Baldwin, Ph.D., is on the front lines of a major national effort to develop new radiotracers, not only to improve understanding of brain diseases but to speed drug development.

It’s an ambitious task.  read article

The brain at rest

The human brain is an energy glutton. Comprising only about 2 percent of body weight, it consumes nearly 20 percent of the body’s oxygen intake. Why does the brain need so much energy, even when it is at rest?

Marcus Raichle, M.D., a member of the Washington University team that developed PET in the 1970s, believes he may have an answer.  read article

An epidemic of autism?

In California, the number of individuals with autism spectrum disorders seems to be spiraling upward, from 10,000 to 20,000 cases between 1999 and 2002. California is not alone. Other states are seeing similar climbs, prompting parents and some researchers to argue that the country is experiencing an epidemic of autism.  read article

The face is key

Human beings are “face specialists”—we distinguish individuals based on their facial features, and we gather a wealth of emotional information from a muscle flex here or a twitch there. For individuals with autism, though, the human face may be little more than another object in an already confusing world.  read article

Nature and nurture

Nothing, perhaps, in biology better illustrates the interaction between “nature” and “nurture” than the development and functioning of the brain.

Early experiences, both in the womb and after birth, can have profound effects on the way in which genes and their protein products orchestrate the formation of circuits that control our mood, our ability to endure stress, our thought processes, our ability to learn new information, and our recall of important memories. It is the combination of these forces – genetic and environmental – that underlies the development of devastating brain disorders such as schizophrenia and autism, and functionally milder ones such as attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).  read article

Creativity and madness: are they linked?

Biologists with an evolutionary bent observe that schizophrenia must be adaptive in some way or it would have been eliminated by now. Some theorists suggest that there is a creative element associated with schizophrenia that ensures the disorder stays in our genome.  read article

Floyd Bloom: Building a bridge to the future

Scientist, physician, editor, entrepreneur—all of these terms describe Floyd Bloom, chairman emeritus of the Department of Neuropharmacology at The Scripps Research Institute in La Jolla, Calif. Bloom is equally well-known for his ability to bridge diverse disciplines in his search for better treatments for disorders of brain function. But his vision and his drive extend much farther, and encompass all of medicine.  read article

Tracing the circuitry of the brain

Another way to study ADHD is by taking “pictures” of the brain. Using a technique called functional magnetic resonance imaging, or fMRI, scientists can determine which parts of the brain are “activated” when performing a task that measures attention or learning.  read article

Questioning the tide of ADHD

An estimated 3 percent to 6 percent of school-aged children in the United States are diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. Little information is available about racial and ethnic differences in the incidence of ADHD, but some experts worry that the disorder may be over-diagnosed in certain groups.  read article

Hunting for the genes that “conspire” to cause disease

Now that the sequence of the 30,000 or so human genes has been mapped, one of the biggest challenges facing researchers is identifying genes that conspire to make some people susceptible to common yet complex diseases, from cancer and heart disease to disorders of brain function.  read article

For more information

Information Resources on Autism  read article