Friday, April 8, 2016

The Alphabet of Neurosciences

It's April, which is basically the month for the A to Z blogging challenge where you were supposed to blog about each letter of the alphabet every day! Now I'm not exactly a punctual blogger so I was not able to even properly formulate a plan about this event, let alone even attempt is, but here's my little contribution to the blogging community. Mixing it up with the latest module I've been studying, I've decided to share with you the ABC's of neurosciences in the hopes that you might learn something new today! And just to help you feel accomplished, I've even added a short quiz at the end. Are you ready? Here we go!

Disclaimer: This is by no means well- written explanations. I have purposely left out a lot of major detail to make things easier for the average reader. If any of this interests you and you want to learn more, let me know in the comments below and I can direct you to helpful reading sources or videos or perhaps write something extra for you.

A is for Aphasia. If you look at the word carefully and try to figure out what it means, you can break it down into two parts, 'a' meaning without and 'phasia' meaning phases. So Aphasia meaning "out of phase". This term is used for incoordinated movements, when you want to perform a task but you can't because your muscles aren't working together in phase. Aphasia is a general term.

B is for Broca's Area. This is a very special area in the brain. It functions to gather your thoughts in response to a question and plan out how you're going to say it. The Broca's Area sends the "speech" plan over to the cortex of your brain that controls the muscles and that's how you're able to flawlessly speak, using all the teeny tiny muscles in your voice box as well as the muscles in your tongue. If there's something wrong with your Broca's Area, you won't be able to form a proper reply, your speech muscles will be out of phase and whatever you say won't make a lot of sense with several pauses and difficulty saying words. This is called speech aphasia.

C is for Cerebrospinal Fluid, also abbreviated to CSF. This is the fluid that surrounds your brain and makes it float inside your skull. Your brain is made up of so many folds that if it couldn't float in CSF, it would collapse on itself and become very deformed. CSF also helps cushion your brain when you hit your head, protecting your brain from hitting hard bone and injuring itself! Too much CSF can be a bad thing though, you could end up compressing your brain as it fills with CSF. This condition is called hydrocephalus, where hydro means water and cephalus comes from cephaly, or head.

D is for Dopamine! Dopamine is a very important neurotransmitter. Neurotransmitters are small substances that are passed from one neuron (nerve cell) to another neuron and essentially carries across messages. Dopamine functions in emotions by giving us the drive and motivation to do things. Dopamine also triggers the reward centers in our brains and can thus lead to drug seeking behavior. Have you heard of Parkinson's Disease? It's a disease where the neurons that talk using dopamine are destroyed, as a result, it's hard for people with Parkinson's to move since the motivation is gone.

E is for Epinephrine! Also known as adrenaline, epinephrine is another important neurotransmitter that functions mostly in the sympathetic nervous system. The sympathetic nervous system is the part of our nervous system that instantly prepares us for fight or flight. That means that epinephrine will increase blood flow to our muscles so we can run, dilate our pupils (make the little black windows in our eyes bigger) so we can see better and releases more energy so we can use it to keep moving! Epinephrine is also released by the adrenal medulla.

F is for Frontal Lobe. This is the part of the brain that is at the very front- right behind our forehead! This is a very important part of our brain since this is where our thinking takes place- problem solving, planning as well working memory. The frontal lobe decides what to focus on. When you're reading this, you are focusing on the words in this line, not the words above or the words below. Similarly, if you're in class and your teacher is talking about something but your friend is making faces at you, it's your frontal lobe that decides to focus on your friend's antics and totally tune out whatever the teacher is saying! Of course, your frontal lobe is you, so blaming it for focusing on the wrong things is really blaming yourself xD

G is for Gangrene. Gangrene is, in simple terms, the rotting of a part of your body, most commonly the ends of your arms and/or legs. It usually happens when the blood supply to these areas is not enough. The cells and tissues there starve and then die. If left untreated, gangrene can result in amputation of the limb since the rotting flesh can spread over to the healthy parts, not to mention how perfect such dying tissue would be for bacteria.

H is for Hemorrhage, pronounced hemor-rage. No, it doesn't have anything to with rage. Hemorrhage refers to blood leaking out of the circulatory system. While a finger cut could be referred to as a hemorrhage, it's a term usually saved for more serious types of bleeding. It's especially dangerous for hemorrhage to happen in the brain because brain cells are not equipped to work without oxygen. Blood pooling in the brain can also squish parts of it and this can in turn affect our control on our body.

I is for Ipsilateral. This is an anatomical term that basically means "same side". The anatomical term for opposite side is "contralateral". For example, the right side of our brain controls the left side of our body. Anatomically, we can say that the right side of the brain controls the contralateral side of the body.

J and K stand for Just Kidding.

L is for Limbic System. This is a system inside our brain that controls our emotions. This is what tells you to be mad at the right moment and also gives emotional context to experiences. Remembering a memory that makes you smile involves the limbic system. It also plays a role in memory and learning through a structure called the hippocampus.

M is for Myocardial infarction. Often abbreviated to MI, myocardial infarction is when the blood supply to your heart is disrupted and the heart muscles just start dying. Dying cells release a lot of substances that can cause pain, so myocardial infarction is a painful condition. After all, how else can your heart get your attention except by causing you pain?

N is for Neuron. A neuron is basically a nerve cell. Neurons have their special shapes that kind of look like those cute girly pens that have feather pompoms on their ends. There's a rounded side that receives information from extensions called dendrites, then the message is carried all the way down the long end, called an axon. Axons can be really long, going from your spinal cord to the muscles at the end of your foot.

O is for Optic Chiasma. Optic refers to the eye and chiasma refers to crossing over. The optic chiasma is the X shaped part of the optic nerves. Before the optic nerves can go to the eye, they cross over each other. It looks kind of like this

P is for Pulmonary Embolism. This is a little like gangrene and myocardial infarction- a small piece of debris makes it's way into the lungs and gets stuck there, disrupting blood supply. Since blood can't move forward (there's a traffic jam!) it gets difficult for blood to become oxygenated. As a result, there is low oxyen levels in the blood, rapid breathing rate and rapid heart rate. Oh and pulmonary refers to the lungs while embolism refers to a piece of debris, usually a blood clot, that was formed somewhere else, got picked up by the blood and stuck somewhere else.

Q is for Queen I guess. Can't think of anything relevant.

R is for Reticular Formation. This is a part of your brain stem that functions to activate your brain, or wake it up. If anything happened to your reticular formation, you wouldn't be able to wake your brain up! The reticular formation is also located in a strategic position- right between the brain and spinal cord, so it is always updated with what kind of information is being sent up to the brain and what's being sent back down. When you're asleep, for example, there are a lot of things that your body can feel but doesn't get registered, but if someone was to give you a painful slap, the pain information goes straight to the reticular formation which immediately wakes the brain up!

S is for Stroke. A stroke is basically any derangement of brain activity that results from disturbance in blood supply. This can be either having a traffic jam in the blood supply and some tissues not getting any oxygen or blood leaking out of the vessels and pooling in the brain, called a hemorrhage (did you remember that? Good job!). Strokes can have a wide variety of effects since there are specific areas of the brain for specific tasks. A stroke in the Broca's Area would cause difficulty in speech, or speech aphasia. A stroke in the reticular formation would result in a coma, where the brain would never be able to wake up.

T is for Thrombus. A thrombus is related to an embolism. While an embolism was a travelling piece of debris, a thrombus is where it all began. It's basically a local clotting of blood that may or may not accidentally end up blocking the blood vessel. It could be that while trying to block a vessel, a piece breaks off and that piece is called an embolism.

U is for Upper Motor Neuron. This is a neuron that is an upper class neuron designed to control muscles (hence, motor). How is it upper class? Well, it comes out from the brain directly! Any neuron that carries motor control and starts from the brain is an upper motor neuron. This neuron goes all the way down to the spinal cord before ending and passes it's message on to the Lower Motor Neuron. The lower motor neuron's job is to carry the message to the muscle itself. Simple enough?

V is for Ventricle. These are little spaces in the brain filled with CSF, or cerebrospinal fluid. We have a grand total of four ventricles in our brain, two lateral ventricles, a 3rd ventricle and a 4th ventricle.

W is for Wernicke's Area. This area is where we understand language, whether it's spoken or read. When you read these words, it is the Wernicke's Area that is turning these miniscule curves and lines into something you can understand. When you listen to someone talking, it is your Wernicke's that turns the sounds and tones into something you can understand. If your Wernicke's Area didn't work, it would probably be very much like suddenly being in China where you can hear and see the Chinese language everywhere but you have no idea what anyone is saying. As a result, if anyone asked you anything, you would reply fluently along the lines of "I have no idea what you're saying, nothing makes sense" and this tells us that your Broca's Area is doing just fine, you can make a language response, even though it has no context to the question you were asked.

X is for X-ray. Need I say anymore?

There's no relevant word I can think up of for Y or Z!

Alright! You got through the ABCs of Neuroscience! Here's a small test to see how much you learned!

Q1. When you are exercising, which one of these is busy making your heart pump faster?
a. Dopamine
b. Epinephrine
c. Acetylcholine
d. Serotonin

Q2. Which one of the following is responsible for consciousness, or waking the brain up?
a. Frontal Lobe
b. Optic Chiasma
c. Reticular Formation
d. Pain

Q3. The anatomical description for "same side" is
a. Medial
b. Lateral
c. Ipsilateral
d. Contralateral

Q4. Which part of your brain is responsible for problem solving and planning?
a. Frontal Lobe
b. Parietal Lobe
c. Occipital Lobe
d. Temporal Lobe

Q5. If you had a stroke in your Wernicke's Area, you would
a. Be unable to read
b. Be unable to hear
c. Be unable to taste
d. Be unable to smell

Write your answers in the comments below and I'll let you know how well you've done on this test! Did you think you learned something new and interesting today? Would you like seeing posts like these again some time? I certainly had a lot of fun writing this! Have a nice day!


  1. Salam Kanra!
    I loved this post! Science is awesome and this was really interesting to me and informative. You explained all the concepts so well too, they were easy to follow and clear =P
    My quiz answers were b, c, c, a, a :)
    Do you think being a neurologist could be one of your options for specialties in the future?
    I am really intrigued by how the brain works, it is literally so amazing when you think about how perfect it is and how it is so complicated and can go wrong so easily but for so many of us it functions perfectly day and night!
    Have a great day!
    You're Just Right

    1. Thank you for the feedback! To know that I have achieved my goal of having other people understand a little bit of medicine is very satisfying. As a matter of fact, I have been considering neurology as a an option! The brain really is an amazing thing- very delicate and very important.
      Your quiz answers are absolutely correct! Congratulations on scoring a 100% ;)

  2. Okay okay there's one question I have: do you think that Dr. Wernicke from Outlast got that name as some kind of easter egg? Do you think he discovered something in the Wernicke area that made the people in the asylum crazy and the people who made the game thought it was nice to give him the name Wernicke because of it?

    My biology hating brain says: B C C A A
    Frontal lobe was the only thing I already knew because I was studying it this morning for my psychology final :P

    x Envy
    Lost in Translation

    1. Good job, just what I expected from a talented young lady like yourself!
      100% !!

  3. Oh wow! This is really a good blog. Being a person who got into a medical class and ran out two minutes later this is very educational. Have you taken a psychology or sociology class before? Because i'm going to be taking it next year, and i don't want it to be just like medical class where i'm going to run out of the class.

    1. Thanks Madeline! I've answered your questions in a comment on your blog :)

  4. This post was so smart! You're an intelligent little cookie, aren't you? lol My favorites were honestly J, K, and Q. Thanks for sharing this, love! Keep up your education! XOXO

    Breanna Catharina

  5. This is really clever I've never heard of this before! It's so interesting X


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