At 7:30 tomorrow morning, I’m getting another MRI of my brain. Should be interesting. The last time I got one, I was having seizure-like episodes, and I was being evaluated for possible epilepsy.
Didn’t happen. That is, the tests produced nothing out of the ordinary, and in fact, other than a pineal cyst (which is very common), my brain is perfectly fine and normal and un-interesting (in a good way).
I’m trying to make a copy of my MRI files on CD. The first two tries didn’t work – the computer wasn’t recognizing the blank CD, or it wasn’t realizing it was even there. So, I’m trying it on my laptop, which is a long shot, because it’s been on the fritz.
Worst case, I give them either a thumb drive with all the files on it, or I give them the original CD I got, and I request another from the hospital.
As long as I get a copy of the new one, too. I am pretty stoked about getting more images of my brain to look at. It’s a real thrill for me to actually be able to look at my brain. Awesome.
Anyway, the timing is actually pretty good for all this, because after a day of feeling increasingly better after my miserable migraine on Sunday, the headache is back. I had a bit of a venting meltdown at work — nothing terrible, I was in a “safe space” as they say, and my rant was actually very entertaining for those privy to my unbridled frankness. But as a result, I got a pretty mean headache. So, the migraine is back.
It will be interesting to see if anything shows up in imaging. Considering the way I’ve been feeling, if nothing shows up and my brain looks good, so much the better. I figure that means at my best, it looks great.
Time to break out the old MRI again. About five years ago, I had a series of weird experiences that other people assured me were seizures. I honestly didn’t know what to think — my eyes would start jumping rhythmically back and forth, I couldn’t keep them focused on any one thing at a time, and I had these extreme and overwhelming floods of emotion that really leveled me. I even went blind for a few minutes, one afternoon while I was spending time with family.
After talking to a bunch of folks, including epilepsy doctors, I had an MRI and an EEG, and nothing came back definitive, other than a pineal cyst — which is common in the general population. About 40% of autopsies uncover a pineal cyst, but it doesn’t seem to make a ton of difference in quality of life, other than headaches and other issues in extreme cases. My pineal cyst was fairly small, so the doctor just told me to keep an eye on it and get re-scanned every couple of years to make sure it’s not getting worse.
I haven’t been back since, as I’m not having any symptoms or issues that seem worth the trouble. Also, the contrast agent they pump into you to make things light up made me sick, and there have been lots of reports of bad side-effects, so no thanks.
Anyway, reading about dopamine and how it’s produced in the body and the parts of the brain that are involved, I’ve dug up the old MRI files to look at, and it’s as fascinating as ever. The thing is, my brain doesn’t look like the textbook images — I must have lay on my back a lot as a baby, because the back of my head is flattened and the cerebellum is pushed forward and up. I have found other images on Google that look like me – and we certainly don’t look like what’s in the Netter’s anatomy book I have.
Fascinating. Not that this means there is anything wrong – it’s just different.
So, anyway, I’m looking at the physical structure of the brain, trying to see where all the action takes place. There’s a ton of stuff going on in there – it’s hard to distinguish between the different pieces, based on my limited knowledge, but I guess the most important thing is that everything is intact — and I have the capacity to explore and question and discover for myself.
That, in itself, gives me a rush, which is exactly what I need.
I need a rush that is for something meaningful and useful. For years, I devoted hours and hours of my time to activities that just took the pressure off and distracted me from what was really going on — writing for hours and hours in journals which never served any useful purpose, other than providing a rhythmic, solitary activity that would soothe my jangled nerves… studying history and obscure facts in order to better understand life around me (had limited success with that)… and drifting from one project to the next, each time convinced that I was going to hit the big time and make a fortune, then dropping each undertaking in due course because I got bored or it didn’t pan out the way I expected. I was really quite aimless — in large part because I only wanted to take the pressure off my head and my heart… not actually doanything with my life.
I suppose it was good for something. The interests and the discipline I developed over the years have stood me in good stead, with researching my TBI issues and figuring out how to address them. So, it wasn’t all for naught. But I spend a whole lot of time doing a whole lot of nothing — mainly because I just needed to take the edge off my anxiety and depression and low energy levels.
Now I’m able to focus that attention and activity in a productive direction. And getting the hang of tweaking my dopamine levels and increasing my general feelings of well-being, is just the ticket. It’s fascinating to me, and that can’t hurt.
So, the day is waiting. The brain is an enormous domain that’s full of all manner of fascinating areas and abilities. Looking at the anatomy can be overwhelming, but when I think about the dynamics of it — just how it works, and how I can better use it — a lot of it makes more sense.
You might be a “glass half empty” person or a “glass half full” person, but if you’re a “glass is half full even if it’s empty” person, your brain may be a tad off kilter.
That’s the conclusion of a neuroimaging study published in the peer-reviewed journal, Nature Neuroscience. Researchers at the Wellcome Trust Centre for Neuroimaging at UCL (University College London) wanted to find out what’s going on in the brains of people who remain optimistic even when every bit of evidence argues for a less rosy perspective.
New pictures from the University of Iowa show what it looks like when a person runs out of patience and loses self-control.
A study by University of Iowa neuroscientist and neuromarketing expert William Hedgcock confirms previous studies that show self-control is a finite commodity that is depleted by use. Once the pool has dried up, we’re less likely to keep our cool the next time we’re faced with a situation that requires self-control.
But Hedgcock’s study is the first to actually show it happening in the brain using fMRI images that scan people as they perform self-control tasks. The images show the anterior cingulate cortex (ACC)—the part of the brain that recognizes a situation in which self-control is needed and says, “Heads up, there are multiple responses to this situation and some might not be good”—fires with equal intensity throughout the task.
However, the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex (DLPFC)—the part of the brain that manages self-control and says, “I really want to do the dumb thing, but I should overcome that impulse and do the smart thing”—fires with less intensity after prior exertion of self-control.
fMRI image of brain activity when people exert self-control. Image adapted from University of Iowa press release image.
He said that loss of activity in the DLPFC might be the person’s self-control draining away. The stable activity in the ACC suggests people have no problem recognizing a temptation. Although they keep fighting, they have a harder and harder time not giving in.
Which would explain why someone who works very hard not to take seconds of lasagna at dinner winds up taking two pieces of cake at desert. The study could also modify previous thinking that considered self-control to be like a muscle. Hedgcock says his images seem to suggest that it’s like a pool that can be drained by use then replenished through time in a lower conflict environment, away from temptations that require its use.
The researchers gathered their images by placing subjects in an MRI scanner and then had them perform two self-control tasks—the first involved ignoring words that flashed on a computer screen, while the second involved choosing preferred options. The study found the subjects had a harder time exerting self-control on the second task, a phenomenon called “regulatory depletion.” Hedgcock says that the subjects’ DLPFCs were less active during the second self-control task, suggesting it was harder for the subjects to overcome their initial response.
Brain activity after people have been engaged in self-control tasks long enough that their self-control resources have been depleted. Image and description credit to University of Iowa.
Hedgcock says the study is an important step in trying to determine a clearer definition of self-control and to figure out why people do things they know aren’t good for them. One possible implication is crafting better programs to help people who are trying to break addictions to things like food, shopping, drugs, or alcohol. Some therapies now help people break addictions by focusing at the conflict recognition stage and encouraging the person to avoid situations where that conflict arises. For instance, an alcoholic should stay away from places where alcohol is served.
But Hedgcock says his study suggests new therapies might be designed by focusing on the implementation stage instead. For instance, he says dieters sometimes offer to pay a friend if they fail to implement control by eating too much food, or the wrong kind of food. That penalty adds a real consequence to their failure to implement control and increases their odds of choosing a healthier alternative.
The study might also help people who suffer from a loss of self-control due to birth defect or brain injury.
Hedgcock’s paper, “Reducing self-control depletion effects through enhanced sensitivity to implementation: Evidence from fMRI and behavioral studies,” was co-authored by Kathleen Vohs and Akshay Rao of the University of Minnesota. It will be published in January 2013 in the Journal of Consumer Psychology.
BRONX, N.Y., June 8, 2012 /PRNewswire via COMTEX/ — Patients vary widely in their response to concussion, but scientists haven’t understood why. Now, using a new technique for analyzing data from brain imaging studies, researchers at Albert Einstein College of Medicine of Yeshiva University and Montefiore Medical Center have found that concussion victims have unique spatial patterns of brain abnormalities that change over time.
The new technique could eventually help in assessing concussion patients, predicting which head injuries are likely to have long-lasting neurological consequences, and evaluating the effectiveness of treatments, according to lead author Michael L. Lipton, M.D., Ph.D., associate director of the Gruss Magnetic Resonance Research Center at Einstein and medical director of magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) services at Montefiore. The findings are published today in the online edition of Brain Imaging and Behavior.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that more than one million Americans sustain a concussion (also known as mild traumatic brain injury, or mTBI) each year. Concussions in adults result mainly from motor vehicle accidents or falls. At least 300,000 adults and children are affected by sports-related concussions each year. While most people recover from concussions with no lasting ill effects, as many as 30 percent suffer permanent impairment – undergoing a personality change or being unable to plan an event. A 2003 federal study called concussions “a serious public health problem” that costs the U.S. an estimated $80 billion a year.
Previous imaging studies found differences between the brains of people who have suffered concussions and normal individuals. But those studies couldn’t assess whether concussion victims differ from one another. “In fact, most researchers have assumed that all people with concussions have abnormalities in the same brain regions,” said Dr. Lipton, who is also associate professor of radiology, of psychiatry and behavioral sciences, and in the Dominick P. Purpura Department of Neuroscience at Einstein. “But that doesn’t make sense, since it is more likely that different areas would be affected in each person because of differences in anatomy, vulnerability to injury and mechanism of injury.”
I had a feeling something like this would be developed, sooner or later. We’ve come so far with our imaging and technology, it seems inconceivable that we wouldn’t have something like this available, before long.
We can inspect the interior of a human cell, but we can’t look closely at the brain’s connections? We can split atoms and create synthetic “fossil fuels” out of organic waste, but we can’t inspect the impact of tbi on the brain’s pathways? Seems unlikely. We just didn’t have the collective will to make it happen.
But now we do. And I look forward to the day when anyone who has experienced a concussion / traumatic brain injury can have access to this kind of test, so they can literally see what is up with them — and prove to others that it’s not all in their imagination.
“Until now, we have had no objective way of identifying how the injury damaged the patient’s brain tissue, predicting how the patient would fare, or planning rehabilitation to maximize the recovery.”
HDFT might be able to provide those answers, says co-senior author Walter Schneider, professor of psychology, who led the team that developed the technology.
Data from sophisticated MRI scanners is processed through computer algorithms to reveal the wiring of the brain in vivid detail and to pinpoint breaks in the cables, called fiber tracts. Each tract contains millions of neuronal connections.
“In our experiments, HDFT has been able to identify disruptions in neural pathways with a clarity that no other method can see,” Schneider says. “With it, we can virtually dissect 40 major fiber tracts in the brain to find damaged areas and quantify the proportion of fibers lost relative to the uninjured side of the brain or to the brains of healthy individuals. Now, we can clearly see breaks and identify which parts of the brain have lost connections.”
I mean, this stuff is so incredibly cool, it just boggles the mind. Here are images from the pre-loaded imaging that comes with it, which are “sliced and diced” on different planes. You can zoom in, cut in from all sides, do cross-sections, and other really cool stuff that I can’t even show here, because they really require a YouTube video to have the full effect. I may just make one of them… when I carve out the time from my crazy schedule.
Note: these are not pictures of me. My MRI images are for my eyes only… oh, and my doctors’ eyes.
Starting view from the Front
Starting view from the Side
Starting view from the Top
“Cut” view from the Top
“Cut” view from the Top and Side
“Cut” view from the Back and Side
“Cut” view from the Front, Top and Side
It really is amazing. Again,RMR Systems, Ltd. 3DView Volume Rendering software, is a free download that you can install on your PC, and then look at MRI’s in three dimensions. If you’ve had an MRI done and you want to see your brain in 3D, you must get a copy of this and view your slices with it.
Like some weirdo geeky Narcissus, I’ve been obsessed with viewing my own brain.