Totally Cerebral: Exercise and Your Brain

A story of movement, memory, and mentors. Dr. Wendy Suzuki introduces us to Dr. Marian Diamond, whose lively classes ushered Wendy into a career in neuroscience. And Wendy shares how she came to study how exercise profoundly affects the brain, not just the body.

20150520_115214Dr. Marian Diamond and Wendy Suzuki on Wendy’s undergrad graduation day

Here’s more from Wendy:

A science mentor can make your career. Dr. Marian Diamond not only ushered me into the field of neuroscience with her lively and engaging classes but she has continued to influence me and help me throughout my work as a scientist and teacher.

What made Marian such a profound mentor? Her multi-dimensionality. First, she was the best teacher I have ever experienced in my entire thirty-year career, unendingly fascinated with her specialty, human anatomy, including both brain anatomy and gross human anatomy. Now, if you have never taken an anatomy course before, you should know it can be as dry as learning last year’s tax laws. Marian made anatomy come alive, relating every brain or body part to a question or observation about ourselves, such as “The word uterus means Hysterical- do you agree with this?” Or “Do you know what the largest organ in the body is? It’s your skin- take care of it!” She made anatomy relevant and personal.

Second, she made groundbreaking scientific contributions on the capacity of the brain to change in response to the environment. When she did this work in the late 1950s/early 1960s, nobody believed that the adult brain could change – at least in any ways that scientists could measure. Marian and her colleagues showed that changing a rat’s living space (what she called “enriching” the environment) could have profound effects of the brain’s anatomy and that she could measure them. In this episode, I’ll describe Marian’s pioneering studies and how they related to recent studies showing the profound ways that exercise transforms the brain.

Third, she offered me a role model of a thriving, engaged and enthusiastic female scientist, even if it took me years to appreciate how lucky I was. You see, she was such a powerful presence on the Berkeley campus that I thought that smart strong, successful female neuroscientists who were extraordinary teachers were everywhere! I never questioned whether I would be able to do the same thing, because she showed me that it could be done. Only much later into my post-doctoral studies did I notice that other female scientists didn’t seem to have the same confidence that I did; they saw the sea of men in science with only a few successful women and many found it discouraging.

Only later was I able to fully appreciate what a wonderful gift she gave me as my role model in science. Because Marian did the work she loved, she allowed me to sail right over worries over whether a woman could make it.

In this episode, we’ll hear from Marian herself, as she teaches a class and describes her groundbreaking findings. Her work on brain plasticity is at the heart of the work that I and many neuroscientists pursue today.

— Dr. Wendy Suzuki

This episode was hosted by Wendy Suzuki and produced by Julie Burstein, with editing and sound design by Derek John. Wendy Suzuki’s book Healthy Brain, Happy Life, is on sale now.

Totally Cerebral: What’s That Smell?


Scents and tastes are powerfully evocative — one whiff of perfume or cooking aromas can transport you back to a particular moment, a particular place, a particular person. Because the things we smell reach two brain structures called the hippocampus and amygdala in just one synapse, scents can almost immediately stimulate the key brain areas for memory, emotion, and location.

In this episode of Totally Cerebral, Dr. Wendy Suzuki speaks with neuroscientist Howard Eichenbaum, an expert on olfactory memory, and together with chemist Kent Kirshenbaum, sits down to a meal with Chef Anita Lo to hear how she plays with our senses and our memories in her delicious creations.

This episode was hosted by Wendy Suzuki and produced by Julie Burstein, with editing and sound design by Derek John. Wendy Suzuki’s book Healthy Brain, Happy Life, goes on sale May 19, 2015.

Image from Shutterstock.

Totally Cerebral: Think Pop Culture Gets Amnesia Right? Forgetaboutit!


Many depictions of amnesia in TV, movies, and cartoons are just plain wrong — some laughably so.


Futurama

Host Dr.Wendy Suzuki talks with Prof. Neal Cohen, a Neuroscientist from the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign. For 20 years, Neal has used bad examples of amnesia that abound in pop culture as well as the rare accurate depictions as a powerful tool in his wildly popular undergraduate course about amnesia in pop culture. Neal entertains and educates his students with examples from TV shows and films as diverse as Futurama, Memento, and 50 First Dates, and we’ll hear some of those clips.

Inside the Episode:


Neal Cohen

Wendy and Neal illuminate some of the core features that define true amnesia, and discuss a classic finding that Neal published early in his career with Prof. Larry Squire, another expert on memory. They made the key distinction between “knowing how” and “knowing that.”

Most amnesic patients can’t learn or remember that particular things happened in at a particular time or in a particular place. In fact, patients with severe amnesia are no longer able to learn or remember anything about what has happened to them. However, Neal Cohen and Larry Squire showed that the same amnesic patients could learn and remember how to do things, like work a lock, or solve a puzzle with blocks, or swing a racquet. Thus, they could learn and remember how to do things, but not that those things had happened.

At the end of every class, Neal asks his students to write their own short screenplay about a character with amnesia. If you feel inspired after listening to the episode, send us an amnesia screenplay synopsis in the comments section!

This episode was hosted by Wendy Suzuki and produced by Julie Burstein, with editing and sound design by Derek John. Wendy Suzuki’s book Healthy Brain, Happy Life, goes on sale May 19, 2015.

Totally Cerebral: The Man Without a Memory

(This is part 2 of a series on memory. Please listen to Episode 3 first!)


Henry Moliason (Patient HM) in the lab

Imagine that every time you met someone new, the moment they left the room you forgot you had ever spoken to them, and when they returned it was as if you had never seen them before. Imagine remembering your childhood, your parents, the history you learned in school, but never being able to form a new long term memory after the age of 27.

Welcome to the life of the famous amnesic patient “HM”, who had experimental surgery to relieve his terrible epilepsy, and woke up with a profound memory impairment. Neuroscientist Suzanne Corkin studied HM for almost half a century, and considered him a friend, even though he could never remember how he knew her. Suzanne gives us a glimpse of what daily life was like for him, and his tremendous contribution to our understanding of how our memories work.

Inside the Episode

For 50 years, Patient HM’s true identity was hidden from the public, but when he died in 2008 we learned his name was Henry Moliason. We hear him speak in this episode, and talk about his cheerful willingness to undergo test after test (though once they were finished, he couldn’t remember ever having done them) in order to help others.


Suzanne Corkin has written a moving and fascinating account of HM’s life and contribution to science called Permanent Present Tense: The Unforgettable Life of the Amnesic Patient HM.

This episode was hosted by Wendy Suzuki and produced by Julie Burstein, with editing and sound design by Derek John. Host Wendy Suzuki’s book Healthy Brain, Happy Life, goes on sale May 19, 2015.

Totally Cerebral: Untangling the Mystery of Memory

How has our understanding of the mysterious tissue between our ears changed in the past 50 years? In her Totally Cerebral episodes on Transistor, neuroscientist Wendy Suzuki introduces us to scientists who have uncovered some of the deepest secrets about how our brains make us who we are.


Brenda Milner in 2011 | Photo by Eva Blue

Wendy begins by talking with groundbreaking experimental psychologist Brenda Milner, who in the 1950s, completely changed our understanding of the parts of the brain important for forming new long-term memories. Through her observation and careful study of patients with profound amnesia, Brenda wrote a paper in 1957 that broke with the accepted theories about memory, and blew open the entire field of neuroscience.

Inside the Episode

The brain! The front view shows the location of the right and left hippocampus (in orange/yellow) within the brain’s temporal lobe. The side view shows the location of the left hippocampus (in orange/yellow) within the temporal lobe. (Click to enlarge.)

Brenda Milner was born in 1918, and she is still working and using the same wooden chair in her office at McGill University in Montreal, where she wrote her pioneering paper on HM and memory. In fact, if you listen carefully in the episode you may hear the faint squeak of her wooden desk chair, which she has used for more than 50 years. Brenda has received numerous prizes for her work, including the Kavli Prize in 2014.


HM as a young man

Patient HM is perhaps the most famous amnesic patient in history. He had experimental surgery in 1953 to address his severe epilepsy, and when he woke up it was immediately clear that something was horribly wrong.


Suzanne Corkin

For 47 years, Suzanne Corkin, a former student of Brenda Milner, studied HM in her own lab at MIT. She’s the author of Permanent Present Tense: The Unforgettable Life of the Amnesic Patient HM. We’ll hear more from Suzanne in the next episode of Transistor.

This episode was produced by Julie Burstein, with editing and sound design by Derek John. Host Wendy Suzuki’s book Healthy Brain, Happy Life, goes on sale May 19, 2015.

Brain image from Shutterstock.