neurology

How Panic Attacks Work

Almost three percent of Americans suffer from a debilitating disorder that causes them to suffer intense fear seemingly without reason and science hasn't yet figured out what causes it. Join Josh and Chuck as they get to the bottom of panic attacks.

The Best Stuff We've Read This Week

Every week Josh and Chuck read tons of articles and many of them are pretty good. Here are the best of the bunch.

The Best Stuff We've Read This Week

Each week Josh and Chuck read tons of articles, plenty of the good. Here are the best of the bunch for your reading enjoyment.

The Best Stuff We've Read This Week

Each week, Josh and Chuck read a ton of great articles. Here are the best of the bunch.

The Best Stuff We've Read This Week

Every week, Josh and Chuck read tons of material. Here they share with you the best of the bunch. Enjoy it in good health.

The fight or flight response in the sympathetic nervous system has a fairly specific function. It arouses the individual to run, run away as fast as you can to a happy place where no one ever cries or to take a stab at beating the tar out of the aggressor. Also acceptable is taking a stab at stabbing the aggressor, which still technically falls into the fight category. There is no real third option; it's pretty much limited to fighting or fleeing.

So the brain is pretty awesome, especially as far as organs go. What's the spleen ever done? Nothing for nobody. The brain, on the other hand, is like some squishy workhorse. You like all that breathing you're doing? You can thank a cluster of 600 neurons in the preBotzinger Complex region of your brain for telling your lungs to do their business. It's the limbic system in your brain that releases dopamine when you do something that helps ensure your survival or the continuation of the species, like eating and having sex. We don't quite know how it does it yet, but the brain also generates the sense of self that is making me feel like I'm the only million dollar baby on the planet who could string together so ingeniously all of the previous words you've just read. So it would seem, then, that our own brains are even smarter than we are, which is weird, because they're our brains.

There are advantages to being one of only nine people in existence to suffer from an affliction. Chief among them is the ability to walk into any research hospital and command the attention of the world's foremost physicians with little or no effort. Just say something like, "Hi, doctor, how are you today? That's great. Listen, I've got this phantom third limb. What do you think of that?" The doctor will likely say that he or she thinks very much of that. Such is the case with a 64-year-old Swiss woman who recently complained of an imaginary third limb. Whoa, whoa, you may say. I've heard of this before. No you haven't. Sure, there are other, similar conditions. Phantom limb comes to mind; the phenomenon some amputees experience where they feel pain or other sensation where their former limbs used to be. There's also alien hand syndrome, made famous by Dr. Strangelove...

You remember that horrible slapping around you took a couple years back when you turned down the wrong alley late at night? Remember the dread that welled up in your stomach as you realized three men were particularly interested in keeping you there longer than you'd cared to? Do you remember the pain of the assault and the fear and terror that followed and stayed with you like a blanket always hung over your shoulders? Yeah, well, you wouldn't remember any of this if you'd taken an experimental drug researchers at the SUNY Downstate Medical Center in Brooklyn have come up with. You'd especially not remember your traumatic assault if you're a rat, since the clinical trials are still in the animal research stages. The New York Times reports that neurological researchers have managed to come up with a drug that blocks the substance that enables memory recollection, called PKMzeta.

Thanks to the fMRI (the wonder machine), neurology is beginning to get a handle on what regions of the brain control what processes. Show a PTSD sufferer photos of mutilated bodies and the amygdala lights up. Boo-ya! (Two neurologists high five in a dark lab somewhere.) But the wonder machine only provides a map of what brain regions receive blood during a specific function. MRIs say dig here. Still, the technology represents a huge leap in brain research. What really keeps neurologists, philosophers and all manner of other thinkers up all night is what's called the mind-brain problem. As NPR reporter Jon Hamilton recently put it, "How could a bunch of cells produce such complicated mental processes as consciousness or subjective experiences?" It's not like our brain cells rub together really, really fast and produce what we consider our minds like two sticks rubbed together produce fire.