brynndragon: (scientist)
I mentioned acetylcholine (ACh) is the star of one of my favorite neuroscience stories. So here it is:

Once upon a time, scientists were arguing whether neurological messages were transmitted chemically or electrically. Otto Loewi was in the chemical camp, and endeavored to come up with an experiment that would support his theory. One Easter night, he woke up in the middle of the night having dreamt of an elegant experiment. Immediately he wrote it down and went back to sleep. However, when he woke up he could not decipher his nighttime writing.

Thankfully, the next night he had the exact same dream. Not about to let it slip through his grasp again, he got up and went through the freezing German winter to his laboratory and conducted his experiment. You see, it was known that a frog's heart, still beating in a shallow dish despite being separated from its owner, will slow down when an electrical impulse is applied to it. If the neurological information controlling the speed of a frog's heart is transmitted chemically, then the dish should contain the chemicals released by the heart that caused it to slow down. So if you remove the shocked heart from the dish and replace it with a fresh heart, it will also slow down as if an electrical impulse had been applied to it. That was exactly what happened when Loewi did his experiment.

This is not news; all of that you can find on his Wikipedia entry. But that's not the best part.

You see, it was key that he ran his experiment at night when the labs were not heated against a still-cold German spring. As you presumably have guessed, the chemical that causes the frog's heart to slow down is acetylcholine. However, when ACh is released by neurons, an enzyme is also released to ensure the message dissipates once it has been transmitted - acetylcholinesterase. This renders the acetylcholine inert, no longer capable of changing neuronal firing patterns (i.e. transmitting information). But like many enzymes it works much more slowly when chilled. Had he done his experiment in a nice warm lab, the ACh would have been degraded by the time he placed the fresh frog's heart in the dish, and he would not have observed the results of neurochemical transmission. While it certain engendered much agony within him when he forgot his initial dream, it turned out for the best!

That is not the best part either.

Acetylcholine does not only exist in a frog's heart. It also is used by our brains. Specifically, it becomes far, far more common in our brains when we are in REM sleep (as far as the brain is concerned, its increase is one of two main differences between being awake and being in REM). We're not entirely sure what function it serves there (at least, not last I checked, although hypotheses involving memory formation are/were popular), but it is clearly very important for the dreaming phase of sleep. So the very neurochemical whose existence he demonstrated with this experiment (and later won a Novel prize for discovering) was the one that gave him the experiment in the first place.

You see why I majored in neuroscience? ;)
brynndragon: (Default)
One of these days I need to write a story about how Harold Camping and his crew were going to bring about the end-times: his years of effort have paid off and he's discovered another Lamed-Vavnik to assassinate. He had tried this before, back in 1994. This time, he was sure to succeed and bring about the Rapture he had dedicated his life to seeing - if he fails this time he will not live long enough to find another. But Rabbi Longman has discovered the plot. The only catch: no one knows who the Lamed Vavniks are. And the good Rebbe is running out of time.

I totally have no idea how to write this kind of story - it's not the kind I normally read. But there needs to be more stories about the Lamed Vavniks ;).

Microprose

Aug. 27th, 2010 02:45 am
brynndragon: (Default)
I would make a horrible God. I'd think up a universe and what it'd be like and what sorts of creatures would be in it and how they'd come about, that sort of thing. I might even jot it down in a random notebook or notepad file. But I'd never bother to, you know, tell anyone else about it or do much with it after that initial creation phase. It'd just kinda sit there while I went off and thought about other things. . .

Oh.

Microprose

Aug. 27th, 2010 02:45 am
brynndragon: (Default)
I would make a horrible God. I'd think up a universe and what it'd be like and what sorts of creatures would be in it and how they'd come about, that sort of thing. I might even jot it down in a random notebook or notepad file. But I'd never bother to, you know, tell anyone else about it or do much with it after that initial creation phase. It'd just kinda sit there while I went off and thought about other things. . .

Oh.
brynndragon: (In Vitro)
My Tuesday morning class, _Experience, Experiments, and the Soul_ taught by Ted Kaptchuk, is just as awesome as I'd hoped. Let me share a little bit of what I learned during today's lecture on the history of medicine and healing, on the birth of modern Western medicine.

Sometime during the early 1600s, in one of the first cafes in Pisa (coffee being rather new to Europe), the head of the medicine department at the local university was having a cuppa with a professor from a different department. During their conversation the head of medicine bemoaned the inability of his students to distinguish between people who are hot types and people who are cold types (Hippocratic medicine being the only medicine in Europe at the time). The professor responded, "Ah! I have just the device to help you and your students!" He lent the esteemed department head a strange contraption, a wide glass tube filled with water containing small containers filled with strange fluids, and told the head of medicine that if someone blew on the device it would declare how hot or cold they were. Elated, the head of medicine brought it to class the very next day. He chose a student who was known for wearing wool in the summer, a wan gentleman who was soft-spoken with a tendency to daydream - someone very Yin, very Cold. Then he chose a second student who was known for walking barefoot in the snow, a red-faced bear of a man who partied all night and loudly confronted professors with questions difficult and absurd every day - someone very Yang, very Hot. He had each of them come up and blow on the glass tube. Then the strangest thing happened: this contraption given to him by professor Galileo showed that both students had the exact same internal temperature. The cry of the department head was the first gasp of air of newborn modern Western medicine.

This is my favorite story from today's lecture (although there were better insights gained from other parts of the lecture). It totally goes up there with my favorite neuroscience story, which I will tell another time. I am entirely too happy to be in this class ;).
brynndragon: (In Vitro)
My Tuesday morning class, _Experience, Experiments, and the Soul_ taught by Ted Kaptchuk, is just as awesome as I'd hoped. Let me share a little bit of what I learned during today's lecture on the history of medicine and healing, on the birth of modern Western medicine.

Sometime during the early 1600s, in one of the first cafes in Pisa (coffee being rather new to Europe), the head of the medicine department at the local university was having a cuppa with a professor from a different department. During their conversation the head of medicine bemoaned the inability of his students to distinguish between people who are hot types and people who are cold types (Hippocratic medicine being the only medicine in Europe at the time). The professor responded, "Ah! I have just the device to help you and your students!" He lent the esteemed department head a strange contraption, a wide glass tube filled with water containing small containers filled with strange fluids, and told the head of medicine that if someone blew on the device it would declare how hot or cold they were. Elated, the head of medicine brought it to class the very next day. He chose a student who was known for wearing wool in the summer, a wan gentleman who was soft-spoken with a tendency to daydream - someone very Yin, very Cold. Then he chose a second student who was known for walking barefoot in the snow, a red-faced bear of a man who partied all night and loudly confronted professors with questions difficult and absurd every day - someone very Yang, very Hot. He had each of them come up and blow on the glass tube. Then the strangest thing happened: this contraption given to him by professor Galileo showed that both students had the exact same internal temperature. The cry of the department head was the first gasp of air of newborn modern Western medicine.

This is my favorite story from today's lecture (although there were better insights gained from other parts of the lecture). It totally goes up there with my favorite neuroscience story, which I will tell another time. I am entirely too happy to be in this class ;).
brynndragon: (Default)
Maybe I'll post an Arisia-related post (including the drama of sitting in a car that won't start trying desperately not to freeze my ass off while waiting for a jump) tonight. But in the meantime, there's something that is really damn cool that I wanted to share. Discovered via [livejournal.com profile] australian_joe, I present: The Grammarian's Five Daughters.
brynndragon: (Default)
Maybe I'll post an Arisia-related post (including the drama of sitting in a car that won't start trying desperately not to freeze my ass off while waiting for a jump) tonight. But in the meantime, there's something that is really damn cool that I wanted to share. Discovered via [livejournal.com profile] australian_joe, I present: The Grammarian's Five Daughters.

A Fable

Aug. 19th, 2005 01:14 pm
brynndragon: (Default)
Just something I wrote while outside eating lunch.

Once upon a time )

A Fable

Aug. 19th, 2005 01:14 pm
brynndragon: (Default)
Just something I wrote while outside eating lunch.

Once upon a time )

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