Online viewing of historic brain procedure offered

This month, researchers began probing the preserved brain of the most famous amnesia patient in medical history. Anatomical images and 2,401 paper-thin tissue sections were acquired in a procedure that took 53 hours over the course of three days.

The brain belonged to Henry Molaison, known in the scientific community as H.M., who permanently lost his ability to form short-term memories following brain surgery in 1953 to treat severe epilepsy. Over the next five decades, scientists studied H.M. in an effort to better understand the human brain and memory. He died in 2008, in a Connecticut nursing home at the age of 82.

The project, conducted by neuroscientists at The Brain Observatory at UCSD (, is the first uninterrupted cryo-sectioning of an entire brain. All sections are preserved in serial order and present a complete microscopic map of a human brain. Each section mounted on a glass slide, stained and digitized at cellular resolution will ultimately be available on the Internet to researchers and the public.

The project is also noteworthy in that the entire sectioning procedure was streamed live on the Internet allowing the public to witness firsthand this extraordinary scientific endeavor. More than 400,000 people logged on to watch.

Delayed aging protects against Alzheimer’s disease

Age is the major risk factor for the development of Alzheimer’s disease. But is the disease onset a consequence of the aging process itself or do the beta amyloid plaque that cause the disease simply take a long time to form?

Researchers at the Salk Institute for Biological Studies may have an answer following a study in which they sought to delay the onset of Alzheimer’s disease in mice by regulating the aging process and testing cognitive ability. This was done by lowering the activity of the IGF-1 (insulinlike growth factor) signaling pathway, which had previously been shown to play a crucial role in the lifespan of many species, including worms, flies and mice.

Mice with reduced IGF-1 signaling were found to live up to 35 percent longer than normal mice. In addition, the chronologically old but biologically young mice displayed less impairment when performing a series of behavioral tests compared to normal-aging mice that served as a control in the experiment.

The paper appears in the journal Cell (

Key structure of Ebola virus revealed

Scientists at The Scripps Research Institute (TSRI) have determined the structure of a critical protein (VP35) from the Ebola virus. The effort took three years and is considered an important step forward in understanding how the deadly virus works.

Although rare, Ebola is one of the deadliest viruses on the planet, killing 50 to 90 percent of those who become infected. Because VP35 has the ability to hide the molecular signature of the virus from the human immune system the virus can replicate unchecked.

The signature of Ebola virus infection is the presence of the virus’s double-stranded RNA. The protein structure, determined by X-ray crystallography, showed that VP35 binds another copy of itself, and the pair cooperatively masks the RNA ends effectively preventing an immune response.

The finding appears in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) (

Lynne Friedmann is a science writer based in Solana Beach.