1 How does the human brain process fear? Neuroscientist Joseph E. LeDoux of New York University will reveal what we know about the biological underpinnings of fear and memory during a lecture hosted by the Oregon Health & Science University. The lecture is part of a series leading up to Brain Awareness Week (March 15–21), which inspires events worldwide. This year O.H.S.U. is hosting seven weeks of activities, including talks by leading brain researchers and science writers such as Jonah Lehrer (a contributing editor for Scientific American Mind), a workshop for teachers, a brain fair and a scientific meeting.
To find Brain Week events near you:
5 A new film version of Alice in Wonderland, directed by Tim Burton, stars Johnny Depp and Helena Bonham Carter. Most people know that the familiar tale is based on books by Lewis Carroll, but few realize that Carroll himself suffered from an unusual neurological condition that alters how the brain perceives the size of objects. The author experienced bouts of micropsia and macropsia, in which small objects appear to be huge and vice versa. Carroll used this disorder as a source of creative inspiration—in fact, micropsia is commonly known as Alice in Wonderland syndrome in homage to Carroll’s evocative prose.
23 Beginning in 1979, neuropsychologist Nancy Wexler of Columbia University and her colleagues traveled to a small village in Venezuela where the inhabitants exhibited a startlingly high rate of neurodegeneration. Her team spent several years collecting tissue samples from large families there. Fourteen years later, on this day in 1993, her research team identified the single gene that causes Huntington’s disease, an incurable degenerative disorder that affects muscle coordination and cognitive function. This breakthrough discovery was one of the first successful attempts to identify a gene associated with a disease.
30 Ever wonder what goes through a Wall Street trader’s head as he or she is buying and selling stocks? Now you can find out—and discover how your own decision-making process compares. The NOVA documentary Behavioral Economics delves into the psychology and neuroscience behind our economic decision making, decoding brain scans of Wall Street workers during a trade and supermarket shoppers deciding which items to purchase. Watch on your local PBS station or online after the airdate.
6–10 Are we wired for romance? Researchers at the 12th International Neuroscience Winter Conference will explore, among other hot topics in neuroscience, the neurobiology of courtship, new gene therapy approaches in Parkinson’s disease, the role of sleep in neuropsychiatric disorders and breakthroughs in brain repair. And in case the science isn’t exciting enough, the neuroscientists attending the conference will be staying just a short drive away from some of Austria’s major ski resorts.
11 Parkinson’s disease, a degenerative nerve disorder now known to result from the loss of dopamine-producing brain cells, was first described almost 200 years ago by English doctor James Parkinson, born on this day in 1755. In his famous piece, An Essay on the Shaking Palsy, Parkinson described a number of patients with key symptoms of the neurological condition, such as involuntary tremors and diminished muscle control, and several decades later the disease was named after him.
14–17 The deadliest and most common type of brain cancer, known as malignant glioma, has no cure—it kills half of the afflicted within a year of diagnosis. [For more on our growing understanding of glioma, see “New Weapons against Brain Cancer,” by Greg Foltz, on page 50.] New technologies offer promise, however—a novel imaging technique that causes tumor cells to glow in a fluorescent hue, for example, is now allowing surgeons to find and remove the cancer cells more effectively. This fluorescence-guided surgery and other cutting-edge neuroimaging techniques will be discussed at this year’s IEEE International Symposium on Biomedical Imaging, with the aim of improving treatments in years to come.
Rotterdam, the Netherlands