5000 Synapses in the Width of a Hair

How much change in the brain makes a difference in the mind?

That’s the issue raised by a very interesting comment regarding my previous blog, “The Brain in a Bucket.”

So I’ve taken the liberty of posting the comment here (hoping that’s OK in blog etiquette; still learning as I go), and then responding. Here it is:

I was pondering your statement that long term meditators show a thickening in certain areas of the brain. As I understand it, the volume of the skull is fixed in adults. This would seem to require that if one part thickens, another part must be reduced. I am curious as to whether anyone has considered what the implications of a loss of volume in these other areas might be. I enjoyed your article, and look forward to more on the topic of neurology and meditation.

While the size of the skull is indeed fixed in adulthood, we can both lose gray matter volume due to the normal effects of aging and gain it through mental training of one kind or another.

Study Suggests Bipolar Disorder May Cause Progressive Brain Damage

A study by researchers at the San Francisco VA Medical Center indicates that people with bipolar disorder may suffer progressive brain damage. ?For the first time, our study supports the idea that there may be on-going damage to certain regions of the brain as the illness progresses,? said the study?s lead author Raymond Deicken, MD. Deicken is the medical director of the Psychiatric Partial Hospital Program at the San Francisco VA Medical Center and UCSF associate professor of psychiatry.

Smart Virus Eliminates Brain Cancer In Animal Experiments

A research team led by The University of Texas M. D. Anderson Cancer Center has tested a novel “viral smart bomb” therapy that can completely eradicate brain tumors in mice, while leaving normal brain tissue alone. The therapy, known as Delta-24-RGD, is thought to be the first treatment for malignant glioma, the deadliest form of brain cancer. It is a new-generation “replication-competent oncolytic” adenovirus therapy ?? defined as a therapeutic virus that can spread, wavelike, throughout a tumor, infecting and killing cancer cells. There is no adequate treatment for these deadly brain cancers and, before this study, few experimental therapies tested in animals have shown much improvement.

Meal Skipping Helps Rodents Resist Diabetes, Brain Damage

A new mouse study suggests fasting every other day can help fend off diabetes and protect brain neurons as well as or better than either vigorous exercise or caloric restriction. The findings also suggest that reduced meal frequency can produce these beneficial effects even if the animals gorged when they did eat, according the investigators at the National Institute on Aging (NIA). ?The implication of the new findings on the beneficial effects of regular fasting in laboratory animals is that their health may actually improve if the frequency of their meals is reduced,? says Mark Mattson, Ph.D., chief of the NIA?s Laboratory of Neurosciences.