Brain Imaging from the Outside–>In

My husband sent me a link for the Charlie Rose Science Series, sponsored by Pfizer. Charlie Rose is a public television talk show host, and this series consists of twelve conversations between Charlie and numerous scientists as they explore a range of topics, beginning and ending with the brain. I watched the first part, From Freud to the mysteries of the human brain and the last part, From Potential of the Mind to Diseases of the Brain. (While all the talks are nicely organized on the Pfizer site, they played more reliably from the Rose site.) We had a snow day on February 22 (meaning school was canceled), and these video conversations, complete with a cup or two of tea, made for a delightful afternoon’s journey.

The format of both talks was similar, with Eric Kandel helping to steer the round table conversations. Kandel was awarded the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 2000 and is a Professor of Physiology & Cellular Biophysics atfmricharlierose.jpg Columbia University. I was especially interested in the discussion about seeing the brain in action. Thanks to improved imaging techniques, we are able to view a brain in “real time”. MRI highlights the structure and details of the brain, while a PET scan or fMRI allows the mapping of brain function. Brain functions tend to be localized to regions or combinations of regions in the brain. What brain imaging does is measure the “change in blood flow to the active part of the brain”. (As noted by Nancy Kanwisher, MIT Professor.)

According to Steven Johnson, author of Mind Wide Open, “you have to have roughly 500,000 neurons active in an area for the scan to register them”. He writes about his own fMRI in chapter six, which is what gave me the urge to want to see my own brain in action. You can see a really quick movie of a portion of a brain scan here.

Eric Kandel, whose interest is learning and memory, believes that psychotherapy is a learning experience. Therefore, he would like to see the mapping of a brain prior, during and after psychotherapy, with the goal being to see what anatomical changes may be occurring as the brain goes through the process.

For more on these imaging techniques see:
MRI (magnetic resonance imaging)
fMRI (functional magnetic resonance imaging)
PET (positron emission tomography)

and this wonderfully informative and well-designed site fMRI 4 Newbies – A Crash Course in Brain Imaging by Jody Culham, Robarts Centre for Functional & Metabolic Mapping in London, Ontario

Image and movie: Charlie Rose site

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