Category Archives: Interesting

Concussions in Football: A Plea for Safety

Chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) is the neurological degeneration of structures in the brain in areas ranging from the cerebral hemispheres, medial temporal lobe, and brainstem (to name a few).  The degeneration is caused by repetitive brain trauma, often associated with high impact sports like football, boxing, and dwarf wrestling (random, I know).  Outcomes of CTE can be connected to memory loss, personality changes, Parkinsonism, and both physical and verbal stuttering.

Recently, CTE has become an extremely hot topic of debate as it is starting to expose the dangerous side effects of concussions received by professional athletes; more specifically, the National Football League.

In a Nature review, Dr. Ann McKee, a neurologist and co-director of the Center for the Study of Traumatic Encephalopathy at Boston University in Massachusetts; McKee focused on 48 cases of CTE in amateur/professional boxers, football and soccer players (and a few random cases like head banging and circus clowning).  Besides their findings of mood changes, memory loss, and lack of logic; McKee found a reduction in brain weight, enlargement of the lateral and medial ventricles, thinning of the corpus callosum, and scarring.  Moreover, around 25 locations of the brain were shown to be affected in this review alone.  The mechanisms of injury seem to be directly related to the force of impact given, with blows on the side of the head more severe than those from the front or back.  McKee theorizes that the blood brain barrier is broken and therefore more susceptible to neurotoxins.  Furthermore, the paper examined the lifespan of the illness, ranging around 20 years with only one third of athletes showing symptomatic signs of CTE upon retirement.

McKee did an excellent review, covering psychological testing and section staining, to biomarker assays.  The multiple approaches provided for a more holistic view of CTE.  Still, I would have liked to have seen a few more long term studies indicating a specific time of concussion to neurodegeneration.  Animal models would have been a nice addition to be able to see this effect.

This information will definitely put more pressure on the NFL to enforce safety precautions.  However, I’m still not convinced that this information will have any meaningful results.  Early steps have already started to be taken by redesigning helmets to try and reduce the impact and therefore severity of concussion, but I don’t think that that’s enough.  Rules have to be enforced regulating illegal hits to the head and play time after having a concussion.  Most people think of a ‘concussion’ and don’t actually realize the severity of what might have happened.  If we want to see pro-sports continue, the safety of the players has to be reconsidered and something has to be done.

Don’t Scratch That!

Do you remember when you were a little kid and you would be able to enjoy those beautiful summer nights of playing outside with your friends just long enough to steal the few remaining rays of light?  Remember how fun those nights were?  Yeah, I’m sure they were great… great until the mosqitoes came out.  All it took was one bite, one bite and your night was ruined.  You just wanted to scratch, but your mom told you not to.  I mean, what did she know?  She couldn’t have had any idea of the excrutiating annoyingness of that one bite.  Just.  One.  Scratch.

Now I’ve heard of a lot of different methods to keep your mind off of scratching.  I’ve heard of making a small X with your finger nail right on the spot, covering the spot with an array of dressings (from peanut butter to toothpaste), and trying to resqueeze out the stuff that the mosquito put in you.  I don’t know if any of those would actually work (or be any good for your peanut butter and jelly sandwiches), but I do know one way to fix this.

Your skin has a ton of receptors leading from pain, to heat, to stretch.  A lot of these receptors have common pathways leading to your brain.  So instead of focussing on how to get the bite from itching, you have to get your brain to stop thinking about the bite.  Alright, so how?  By rubbing the area around the mosquito bite, you’re activating a range of other receptors that are sending signals to the brain.  Ultimately, you’re confusing your own brain with this barrage of signals.  The brain is picking up the information from the (now slightly chapped) area instead of the irritating itch receptor.  Itching can actually damage the skin and open your body to easy access for bacteria and other nasty things you don’t want in you.

So next time you get that urge to scratch, just prove your superiority over your brain and trick it.  Rub the area instead of scratching.  Either that or take showers in mosquito repellent.

Synaptic Symphony

I really don’t have much to say, except that I would be doing a dishonor to neuroscience by not posting this to my blog:

I wish this blog were more interesting…

I know, I know.  That’s exactly what I’ve been saying the whole time.  I’m right there with ya!

So what do you want to see?  Make sure to comment and tell me what you want to learn more about.  Here are some of the next few blog posts coming up:

1. This is your brain on Disney

2.  The neurological origin of laughter

3. Telecommunication: Will we ever understand Twitter?

4. What’s that Lassie, Benny just read Mindless Science? Animal Communication and Neuroscience

5. The creation of the super-awesome-mind-controlled-mega robot.

Stay tuned for new blog posts!


Who’s in control here?

Have ever wondered if you’re in control of your own actions?  This weeks post dives into the Supplementary Motor Area to try and answer this question.


Right, right?

I just posted a new page giving some brief information about the field of neuroscience.  Make sure to check it out!  In the video, I talk a little about how signals from your brain cross over to control opposite sides of your body.

But what happens when the right side of your brain has to control your left hand to decide that the left hand on the screen is facing downwards in a typical right hand position?  Yeah, I’m confused, too.  Check out this cool game that will give your brain a little practice on the power of perception.

Brain Game

(And thanks to the good people over at Body In Mind for the find!)