Copy Number Variants: A Window into Psychiatric Illness

The human genome consists of nearly 25,000 protein-coding genes – and a mutation in just one of these can have dramatic effects on our brains.  Remarkably, one tiny change in our genes (which can be as small as 0.000000025 cm!) can lead to visible changes in our behavior.  Schizophrenia, autism, bipolar disorder, and ADHD have all been linked to variations in our DNA.  But how do changes in our genetic code result in these complex psychiatric disorders?Continue reading

An Interview with Steve Silberman, Author of NeuroTribes

Ten minutes before I was scheduled to begin my interview with celebrated writer Steve Silberman, I still had not figured out which questions I wanted to ask him.  Staring down at a list of over 50 topics, I was overwhelmed by just how much there is to discuss when it comes to the history of the discovery of autism and misconceptions surrounding the diagnosis.  Silberman was one of the first members of the mainstream media to bring attention to the rise in autism diagnoses, and I wanted to know why autism had captured his interest.  Continue reading

The Fugue of Life: Why Complexity Matters in Physiology and Neuroscience

People like simplicity. Each decade, corporate logos grow progressively minimalistic, pop songs use ever simpler melodies, and visual art embraces simpler compositions, as Monet gives way to Picasso and Picasso gives way Rothko.  This zeitgeist, summarized as “simplicity is the ultimate sophistication,” shapes our perceptions of physiology in interesting ways.  The thumping of a beating heart is often celebrated as nature’s beautifully simple rhythm.  Listening through a doctor’s stethoscope, one expects any deviation from perfect rhythmicity to be an omen of disease.Continue reading

Hiker at Sunset

Heightened Senses: Cross-Modal Neuroplasticity

Envision this scenario.  It’s the end of a grueling hike and you’re racing back to civilization along a trail in the mountains as darkness falls.  You’ve become separated from your fellow hikers when all of a sudden the last beams of sunlight fade and the moonless night descends.  You reach into your backpack for your flashlight only to realize that the batteries are dead.  Accustomed to relying on your visual system, you panic upon being plunged into temporary blindness.  But wait!  All of a sudden the previously inaudible footsteps of your companions become heightened as you discriminate where they are and race off in the direction of their voices.Continue reading

Genetic Tricks To Reverse Schizophrenic Symptoms

The human brain continues to develop and form new connections from birth until as late as the mid-20s. During this time, billions of connections are made and broken as the brain develops the architecture required for learning, memory, language, emotion and many other brain functions. Disruptions in how the brain forms connections during infancy and early childhood can severely impair growth and negatively affect brain functions. Continue reading

Of Grandfathers, Fathers, and Children: The Coming-of-Age of Autism

Genetics, although ostensibly complicated, is all around us. In our immediate social circle, we often come across genetics at display. Some examples are obvious: The kids wear glasses because both parents wear them. But others are not as straightforward: How is the daughter so tall when both parents are short? These inexplicable traits are often the result of de novo mutations, which are mutations that occur in a child whose parents do not possess that trait.Continue reading

Mitochondria: More Than Just a Powerhouse

Mitochondria are frequently implicated in several human disease states. From neurological disorders like Alzheimer’s disease and Autism Spectrum Disorder, to metabolic conditions like diabetes and obesity, energy abnormalities are seen in diverse illnesses. In fact, mitochondrial dysfunctions have also been shown to be involved in Parkinson’s disease, Down syndrome, heart failure, and even cancer. What is the relevance of these tiny powerhouses in such diverse, seemingly unrelated conditions?Continue reading