PhD Comics brain development infographic

brain development.jpg

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THIS cartoon by Dwayne Godwin, a professor of neurobiology at Wake Forest University School of Medicine, and Jorge Cham, the former researcher and cartoonist who created PhD Comics, has won first place in the informational graphics category of the 2009 International Science and Engineering Visualization Challenge. 

The New York Times has a slide show of the winning entries, and today’s issue of Science contains a special feature about the competition. To see the full size infographic, click on the image above, or visit Godwin’s public engagement page, where it, and others in the same series, can be downloaded as PDFs.

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Alzheimer’s recapitulates brain development

Alzheimer’s Disease is the most common form of dementia, affecting more than 400,000 people in the U.K. and some 5.5 million in the U.S. The disease has a characteristic pathology, which often appears first in the hippocampus, and then spreads to other regions of the brain. This is accompanied by impairments in cognition, with cell death and loss of connections leading first to deficits in memory and spatial navigation, and then to global dysfunction. 

The exact cause of Alzheimer’s is not known, but a number genes have been implicated. One of these encodes a protein called amyloid precursor protein (APP), which can be broken down into fragments. One of these fragments is insoluble, and when deposited accumulates to form the senile plaques that are characteristic of the disease. It is widely held that this fragment is toxic, and that plaque formation causes cell death.

A new study published last week in Nature may lead us to look at the pathogenesis of Azheimer’s in a new light. It provides evidence that the degeneration which is characteristic of the disease occurs when a cellular self-destruction mechanism which normally occurs during neural development is re-activated.

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