Absent brain matter – a follow-up

23 February, 2009

Some commentators took issue with an earlier post of mine in which I referred to people whose brains are all-but nonexistant, but who are still functional people. Here’s a clear example of the phenomenon I described, complete with CT/MRI pictures.  And links to the article about the case in New Scientist and the original story in The Lancet. Just for the record. (Subject pics on left, neurotypical example on right.)

French doctors are puzzling over the case of 44-year-old civil servant who has led a quite normal life – but with an extraordinarily tiny brain .

In a case history published in Saturday’s Lancet, doctors led by Lionel Feuillet of the Hopital de la Timone in Marseille say the father-of-two was admitted to hospital after suffering mild weakness in his left leg.

Scans by computed tomography (CT) and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) showed that the man’s cerebral cavities, called ventricles, had massively expanded.

“The brain itself, meaning the grey matter and white matter, was completely crushed against the sides of the skull,” Feuillet told AFP.

“The images were most unusual… the brain was virtually absent,” he said.

The patient’s medical history showed that at the age of six months, he suffered hydrocephalus, also called water on the brain, and needed an operation to drain this dangerous buildup of spinal fluid.

Neuropsychological testing revealed the man had an IQ of 75, with a verbal IQ of 84 and performance IQ of 70.

‘A New State of Mind’

15 August, 2008

Fascinating article about the work of neuroscientist Read Montague and his work on dopamine and social phenomena;

Montague realized that if he was going to solve the ciphers of the mind, he would need a cryptographic key, a “cheat sheet” that showed him a small part of the overall solution. Only then would he be able to connect the chemistry to the electricity, or understand how the signals of neurons represented the world, or how some spasm of cells caused human nature. “There are so many different ways to describe what the brain does,” Montague says. “You can talk about what a particular cell is doing, or look at brain regions with fMRI, or observe behavior. But how do these things connect? Because you know they are connected; you just don’t know how.”

That’s when Montague discovered the powers of dopamine, a neurotransmitter in the brain. His research on the singular chemical has drawn tantalizing connections between the peculiar habits of our neurons and the peculiar habits of real people, so that the various levels of psychological description — the macro and the micro, the behavioral and the cellular — no longer seem so distinct. What began as an investigation into a single neurotransmitter has morphed into an exploration of the social brain: Montague has pioneered research that allows him to link the obscure details of the cortex to all sorts of important phenomena, from stock market bubbles to cigarette addiction to the development of trust. “We are profoundly social animals,” he says. “You can’t really understand the brain until you understand how these social behaviors happen, or what happens when they go haywire.”

(Found on Technoccult.)