C. Rose Brain Series #6: The Aging Brain

Charlie Rose Brain SeriesEpisode 6 of the Charlie Rose Brain Series aired March 25. Charlie and his co-host, Nobel Laureate Eric Kandel, addressed “The Aging Brain” with their distinguished panel: (from the available transcript)

Brenda Milner is one of the pioneers in this field. Her experiments in the 1950s formed the basis for the modern theory of memory. She is the Dorothy J. Killam Professor of Cognitive Neuroscience at the Montreal Neurological Institute, and a professor in the department of Neurology and Neuro-surgery at McGill University.

Larry Squire has shown us that not all memories are the same. In the 1980s he began categorizing memories according to their content, their purpose, and their locations in the brain. He is a professor at the University of California San Diego School of Medicine and a scientist at the Veterans’ Affairs Medical College in San Diego.

John Hardy’s research into the genetics of Alzheimer’s disease has given hope to millions. In 1992 he discovered a genetic mutation responsible for the plaque that accumulates in Alzheimer’s disease. He is a professor of neuroscience at University College London.

Scott Small uses brain imaging techniques to study how the brain changes in old age. He is searching for behaviors, foods, and drugs that might prolong our mental acuity. He is an associate professor at Columbia University.

In this episode, Brenda Milner recounts her experiences with the famous memory-loss patient “H.M.” She relates an experiment she conducted with H.M. which demonstrated that even though H.M. had no declarative memory (he didn’t remember her from visit to visit), he did show motor system learning on a task Milner designed.

They discuss the role that the beta-amyloid gene contributes to Alzheimer’s Disease. John Hardy describes his research with a specific family in which he was able to isolate the genome sequence which is now believed to contribute genetically to Alzheimer’s. Three factors that can help prevent Alzheimer’s are physical activity and exercise, social involvement, and cognitive stimulation.

They also explain why it’s so difficult to develop drugs that target specific parts of the genome.

My edited clips (15:47) of the highlights follow, beginning with Eric Kandel talking about neurosurgeon Wilder Penfield’s work in the 1950s. The full episode can be seen on the Charlie Rose Brain Series website.