Art in the Eye of the Beholder

The expression, “Beauty is in the eye of the beholder,” has been used by many since it first appeared in print in the 19th century by writer Margaret Wolfe Hungerford. Cliché as it may sound, the idea behind this colloquialism—that perception is a subjective experience—is one that researchers are still working to unravel today. We’ve learned that aspects of perception (auditory, time, etc.) can be altered from depression, for example, and that there is a specific part of the brain dedicated solely to facial perception. Now, scientists are looking at differences in personality and how that affects the way a person visually examines a piece of artwork.

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Photo courtesy of James Cook University

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The Dana Alliance for Brain Initiatives Celebrates its 25th Anniversary

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President George Bush designated the 1990s as the “Decade of the Brain” to “enhance public awareness of the benefits to be derived from brain research.” Yet, in the early 90s, even with this presidential proclamation, there was not much information about the brain available to the general public. Outreach was still uncommon and neuroscience funding had even decreased.

In response, thirty of the United States’ preeminent neuroscientists met at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory (CSHL) to discuss the progress and promise of brain research. Led by James D. Watson, Ph.D., co-discoverer of the structure of DNA, and David Mahoney, Dana Foundation chairman at the time, attendees of the meeting vowed to change the landscape of public support for neuroscience. Shortly after, those scientists became founding members of the Dana Alliance for Brain Initiatives (DABI), an organization comprised of neuroscientists dedicated to advancing public awareness about the progress and promise of brain research. On this day in 1993, the creation of DABI was announced at a press conference in Washington, DC.

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From left: W. Maxwell Cowan, James Watson, Guy McKhann, and David Mahoney announce the creation of DABI at a press conference in Washington, D.C.

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National Parkinson’s Awareness Month Interview with Robert Edwards, M.D.

Parkinson’s disease (PD) is a chronic, degenerative neurological disorder that affects roughly one in 100 people over the age of 60. With no biomarker or objective test to make a definitive diagnosis, PD has kept researchers searching for clues on how to treat, and hopefully prevent, the disease.

April is National Parkinson’s Disease Awareness Month, and so we sat down with Dana Alliance for Brain Initiatives member Robert Edwards, M.D., who specializes in the treatment of PD at the Parkinson’s Disease and Movement Disorders Clinic. Edwards is a professor of neurology and physiology at the University of California, San Francisco. His lab has received international recognition for demonstrating that vesicular monoamine transport protects against MPTP toxicity, suggesting an important mechanism that may also protect against Parkinson’s.

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Robert Edwards, M.D.

Regular exercise is proven to have positive effects on gait speed, strength, balance, and overall quality of life for people with PD. Though studies are still limited, dance therapy is said to greatly improve quality of life for this group, even more so than typical exercise. Can you talk a little bit about this?

RE: I am not an expert in this area, but exercise has clear short-term effects on function and for those more severely affected, on quality of life—those earlier in the disease are doing pretty well in any case. Presumably, exercise helps by improving the function of the basal ganglia circuitry that controls movement, much as it would in normal individuals. Dance therapy focuses on balance and other aspects of motor function different from standard exercises, so might be expected to add something new. Continue reading

Public Event: Managing Neuropsychiatric Symptoms in Neurodegenerative Disease

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Neuropsychiatric symptoms such as agitation, aggression and psychosis are frequently found in patients with neurodegenerative disorders. These symptoms increase the already significant burden of neurodegenerative diseases and complicate diagnosis and disease management, yet effective diagnostics and treatments are lacking.

Towards the goal of reducing this burden, this symposium will review state-of-the-art methods in the diagnosis and behavioral and pharmaceutical management of neuropsychiatric symptoms across a spectrum of neurodegenerative diseases. Speakers will address the challenges of defining neuropsychiatric symptoms in the context of neurodegenerative diseases, present findings regarding emerging diagnostic biomarkers and novel therapies, and discuss current estimates of associated societal and economic costs. A closing panel discussion will identify strategies to reduce these costs for patients, caregivers, and society.

Call for Abstracts

Abstract submissions are invited for a poster session. For complete submission instructions, please visit this online portal. The deadline for abstract submission is Friday, April 27, 2018.

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The Neuroscientist Who Lost Her Mind

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Photo courtesy of the Rubin Museum

On a recent night at New York’s Rubin Museum of Art, neuroscientist Barbara Lipska, Ph.D., sat down with journalist Jake Halpern as part of the museum’s annual Brainwave series. The discussion gave audience members the unique opportunity to hear a lucid perspective of what it’s like to experience psychosis. The interview was also particularly intimate because, in addition to his successful career as a writer, Halpern also happens to be Lipska’s son-in-law. His questions stemmed from firsthand experiences he shared with her as she battled malignant brain tumors that caused the psychotic episodes and nearly took her life.

As director of the Human Brain Collection Core at the National Institute of Mental Health, Lipska studies schizophrenia by analyzing postmortem brain dissections and observing the behavior of rats that have a disconnection between the hippocampus and prefrontal cortex. “They’re actually not as different as we would like to think,” she said of the rats. “They’re smaller, that’s for sure, and they don’t have this convoluted frontal cortex. But they are very intelligent animals, and they know what they have to do to get a reward.”

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