The Synapse, Volume 1, Issue 7

We at the Brain Blogger are privileged to host the 7th edition of the Synapse, “a neuroscience carnival devoted to all areas of neuroscience including neurobiology, psychology, psychiatry, and neural systems — healthy brains to perverse minds — neurotransmitters to theories of mind.” We are thrilled to see this immense public interest in neuroscience and related disciplines.

Vegetative States – a hot topic (once again)!

Ever wonder if one is actually conscious when under the knife? Or, if vegetative patients are more awake then we think? Blogger Pete Mandik from the Brain Hammer was interviewed for Sharon Begley’s post in Wall Street Journal entitled “There may be more to a vegetative state than science thought.” Mandik comments on Begley’s piece, pointing out cautions for those who stray off the scientific path in reaching conclusions.

Pure Pedantry‘s Jake Young analyzes a study published in Science Magazine and points out diagnostic and philosophical issues. Young wants the reader to take away two major points: the need better diagnostic criterion for the persistent vegetative state and not to over-correlate signs of activity of a vegetative patient with improved chance of recovery and prognosis.


From fruit flies to chicks, perhaps our neural induction pathways have been largely conversed throughout evolution. This is a strong indication of an effective and working system where generations of propagations have selectively retained this wonderful function! The Neurophilosopher examines a recent publication unraveling this “ancient” neural mechanism. A particular protein, Dpp, may affect molecular mechanisms in neuronal induction, growth, and development. The senior author of study comments on neurophilosopher’s post, essentially indicating further research to confirm their results.

Now that the brain is developed with Dpp and likely thousands of other biochemical mediators, how do neurons control proliferative capacity? Chris Patil of Ouroboros focuses his post to the biology of aging in respect to another protein, p16INK4a. Though its name may be weird, without it you may not be able to control cancerous cells. By limiting proliferative potential, p16INK4a is a tumor suppressor. It is just one player in the constant tug between proliferative capacity (with increased risk for cancer) and tumor protection (which prevent recovery from cell loss and injury).


Are schizophrenics more rational than unaffected individuals? Perhaps they are, at least for betting. Sandy G covers the recent studies that suggest that increased dopamine may enhance learning and probability of winning in The Mouse Trap. We may posses a feed-forward mechanism where winning events trigger dopamine release, increasing winning chances, causing dopamine surges and the process loops. Further, Sandy concludes that blocking areas of emotional decision making may also improve gambling wins.

Sandy, however, does not dwelve into why schizophrenics may have maximized gambling skills, although it is mentioned in her post title (and my introduction to this section). At present, the medical community is familiar with pathological alterations of the dopamine, serotonin, acetylcholine, and glutamate systems. Studies into the use of substances that induce psychosis (e.g., amphetamines) have revealed enhanced reuptake of dopamine. These findings initiated the dopamine hypothesis, which states hyperactive dopamine transmission in schizophrenia, perhaps in response to stress. The brain is essentially overly sensitive (hyperactive) to stimuli and fails to properly regulate its response through normal inhibitory mechanisms. Therefore, based on the suggested correlation between dopamine levels and winning events, schizophrenics may have the better odds over unaffected individuals. However, for the sake of meticulousness, a host of psychiatric symptoms, for instance, weakened fundamental emotions, distortions of normal functions, and reduced psychomotor speed, may limit winning potential for schizophrenics dependent on the game played.

Mental Health Stigmatization

I want to conclude on a pressing problem being practiced unchecked: widespread societal stigma against mental illness. Our very own Brain Blogger posts a thorough report that defines the problem, its massive effects, and methods to solve it with full academic references. We have also posted many personal stories of individuals with mental and neurological disorders as part of an anti-stigmatization campaign, most notably and recently “A Child’s Bipolar Story – ‘Helpless’” and “Prisoner of the Mind: Living with Depression.” If the stigmatization of mentally ill individuals is not countered and eliminated, our collective progress towards improving the overall mental health of our society by biochemical or neuro-psychological research will always be hindered.

That concludes this round of the Synapse. The next edition will be hosted by Mind Hacks on October 1st. Please remember to submit your entries one day before this date. Submission guidelines for this great neuroscience carnival are available online. Thank you.

Shaheen E Lakhan, MD, PhD, MEd, MS, FAAN

Shaheen E Lakhan, MD, PhD, MEd, MS, FAAN, is a board-certified neurologist and pain specialist, medical educator, and scientist. He is the executive director of the Global Neuroscience Initiative Foundation (GNIF). He is a published scholar in biomarkers, biotechnology, education technology, and neurology. He serves on the editorial board of several scholarly publications and has been honored by the U.S. President and Congress.
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