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10 Things You Didn't Know About the

Brain
Stephanie Pappas, LiveScience Senior Writer | February 18, 2011 12:11pm ET
Brain matter
Throuhout history, the human brain has been remar!ab"y oo# at #ismissin itse"$% Everyone
$rom ancient Eyptians to &ristot"e has #o'np"aye# the ro"e o$ the mysterious stu$$ bet'een
our ears% Fame# anatomist (a"en ave the brain cre#it as comman#er o$ movement an#
speech, but even he brushe# asi#e the 'hite an# ray matter, $iurin the $"ui#)$i""e#
ventric"es insi#e the brain #i# most o$ the 'or!%
Human brains are big...
*p+ The averae a#u"t brain 'eihs ,ust un#er - poun#s .bet'een 1%- an# 1%/ !i"orams0%
Some neurosureons #escribe the te1ture o$ a "ivin *a
hre$23http:44'''%"ivescience%com4topic4brain3+brain*4a+ as that o$ toothpaste, but accor#in
to neurosureon 5atrina Fir"i!, a better ana"oy can be $oun# in the "oca" hea"th)$oo# store%
*4p+ *p+ 36The brain7 #oesn8t sprea# "i!e toothpaste% 9t #oesn8t a#here to your $iners the 'ay
toothpaste #oes,3 Fir"i! 'rites in her memoir, 3&nother :ay in the Fronta" Lobe: & ;rain
Sureon E1poses Li$e on the 9nsi#e3 .<an#om =ouse, 200>0% 3To$u ? the so$t variety, i$ you
!no' to$u ? may be a more accurate comparison%3 *4p+ *p+ 9$ you aren8t charme# by that
#escription, consi#er this: &bout 80 percent o$ the contents o$ your cranium is brain, 'hi"e
e@ua" amounts o$ b"oo# an# cerebrospina" $"ui#, the c"ear "i@ui# that bu$$ers neura" tissue,
ma!e up the rest% 9$ you 'ere to b"en# up a"" o$ that brain, b"oo# an# $"ui#, it 'ou"# come to
about 1%A "iters, or not @uite enouh to $i"" a 2)"iter so#a bott"e% *4p+
...But they're getting smaller
*p+ :on8t et too coc!y about your so#a)bott"e)siBe# brain% =umans C,000 years ao ha#
brains that 'ere even "arer% *4p+ *p+ 3We #o !no' $rom archaeo"oica" #ata that pretty
much every'here 'e can measure ? Europe, Dhina, South &$rica, &ustra"ia ? that *a
hre$23http:44'''%"ivescience%com4history40E111-)oriins)evo"vin%htm"3+brains have
shrun!*4a+ about E cubic inches .1C0 cubic centimeters0, $rom an averae o$ about 82
in*sup+-*4sup+ .1,-C0 cm*sup+-*4sup+0% That8s rouh"y 10 percent,3 Fniversity o$
Wisconsin at Ga#ison pa"eoanthropo"oist Hohn =a'!s to"# LiveScience in 200E% *4p+ *p+
<esearchers #on8t !no' 'hy brains miht be shrin!in, but some theoriBe that they8re
evo"vin to be more e$$icient% Ithers thin! our s!u""s are ettin sma""er because our #iets
inc"u#e more easi"y che'ab"e $oo#s an# so "are, stron ,a's are no "oner re@uire#% *4p+
*p+ Whatever the reason, *a hre$23http:44'''%"ivescience%com4anima"s40E112/)bi)brains)
not)better%htm"3+brain siBe*4a+ #oesn8t #irect"y corre"ate 'ith inte""ect, so there8s no evi#ence
that ancient man 'as brainier than humans o$ to#ay% *4p+
Our brains burn through energy
*p+ The mo#ern brain is an enery ho% The oran accounts $or about 2 percent o$ bo#y
'eiht, but it uses about 20 percent o$ the o1yen in our b"oo# an# 2C percent o$ the "ucose
.suars0 circu"atin in our b"oo#stream, accor#in to the &merican Do""ee o$
Jeuropsychopharmaco"oy% *4p+ *p+ These enery re@uirements have spurre# a #ebate
amon anthropo"oists about 'hat $ue"e# the *a
hre$23http:44'''%"ivescience%com4anima"s40E0A1-)human)brain)bi%htm"3+evo"ution o$ bi
brains*4a+ in the $irst p"ace% Gany researchers cre#it meat, citin evi#ence o$ huntin in our
ear"y ancestors% ;ut meat 'ou"# have been an unre"iab"e $oo# source, say other scientists% &
200A stu#y pub"ishe# in the Procee#ins o$ the Jationa" &ca#emy o$ Science $oun# that
mo#ern)#ay chimps !no' ho' to #i $or ca"orie)rich tubers on the savanna% Perhaps our
ancestors #i# the same, boostin their brainpo'er 'ith veies% *4p+ *p+ &s $or 'hat
motivate# the brain to ba""oon in siBe, there are three ma,or hypotheses: c"imate chane, the
#eman#s o$ eco"oy, an# socia" competition% *4p+
Wrinles mae us smart
*p+ What8s the secret to our species8 smartsK The ans'er may be 'rin!"es% The sur$ace o$ the
human brain is convo"ute# by #eep $issures, sma""er rooves ca""e# su"ci, an# ri#es ca""e#
yri% This sur$ace is ca""e# the cerebra" corte1 an# is home to about 100 bi""ion neurons, or
nerve ce""s% *4p+ *p+ The $o"#e#, mean#erin sur$ace a""o's the brain to pac! in more
sur$ace area ? an# thus, more processin po'er ? into the "imite# con$ines o$ the s!u""% Iur
*a hre$23http:44'''%"ivescience%com4anima"s40E0>2-)primate)brain)mo#e"%htm"3+primate
re"atives*4a+ sho' varyin #erees o$ convo"ution in their brains, as #o other inte""ient
creatures "i!e e"ephants% 9n $act, research #one by Emory Fniversity neuroscientist Lori
Garino has $oun# that #o"phins have even more pronounce# brain 'rin!"es than humans%
*4p+
!ost o" our brain #ells aren't neurons
*p+ The o"# sa' that 'e use ,ust 10 percent o$ our brainpo'er isn8t true, but 'e no' !no'
that neurons ma!e up ,ust 10 percent o$ our brain ce""s% *4p+ *p+ The other E0 percent, 'hich
account $or about ha"$ the brain8s 'eiht, are ca""e# "ia, 'hich means 3"ue3 in (ree!%
Jeuroscientists use# to thin! "ia 'ere simp"y the stic!y stu$$ that ho"#s neurons toether%
;ut recent research has sho'n "ia to be much more% & 200C paper in the ,ourna" Durrent
Ipinions in Jeurobio"oy "ai# out the ro"es o$ these unsun ce""s, 'hich rane $rom moppin
up e1cess neurotransmitters to provi#in immune protection to actua""y promotin an#
mo#u"atin synapse ro'th an# $unction% .Synapses are the *a
hre$23http:44'''%"ivescience%com4hea"th4human)brain)map)cha""enes)
100-10%htm"3+connections bet'een neurons*4a+%0 9t turns out the si"ent ma,ority isn8t so
si"ent a$ter a""%
The brain is an e$#lusi%e #lub
*p+ Li!e bouncers at a niht c"ub, an assemb"y o$ ce""s in the brain8s b"oo# system, ca""e# the
b"oo#)brain barrier, "ets on"y a $e' mo"ecu"es into the nervous system8s inner sanctum L the
brain% The capi""aries that $ee# the brain are "ine# 'ith tiht"y boun# ce""s, 'hich !eep out
"are mo"ecu"es% Specia" proteins in the barrier transport necessary nutrients an# substances
into the brain% In"y an e"ite $e' ma!e it throuh% *4p+ *p+ The b"oo#)brain barrier protects
the brain, but it can a"so !eep out "i$esavin me#ications% Physicians tryin to treat *a
hre$23http:44'''%"ivescience%com4techno"oy40E101/)ce"")phone)cancer)tumors%htm"3+brain
tumors*4a+ can use #rus to open the ,unctions bet'een ce""s, but that "eaves the brain
temporari"y vu"nerab"e to in$ection% Ine ne' 'ay to snea! me#s past the barrier miht be
nanotechno"oy% & 200E stu#y pub"ishe# in the ,ourna" Dancer <esearch sho'e# that
specia""y)enineere# nanopartic"es can cross the barrier an# attach to tumor tissue% 9n the
$uture, combinin nanopartic"es 'ith chemotherapy #rus cou"# be one 'ay to taret tumors%
*4p+
The brain starts as a tube
*p+ The $oun#ation $or the brain is set ear"y% Three 'ee!s a$ter conception, a sheet o$
embryonic ce""s ca""e# the neura" p"ate $o"#s an# $uses into the neura" tube% This tissue 'i""
become the centra" nervous system% *4p+ *p+ The neura" tube ro's an# #i$$erentiates
throuhout the $irst trimester% .When ce""s #i$$erentiate they specia"iBe into various tissues
nee#e# to create bo#y parts%0 9t isn8t unti" the secon# trimester that "ia an# neurons bein to
$orm% The brain #oesn8t 'rin!"e up unti" even "ater% &t 2/ 'ee!s, manetic resonance imain
sho's ,ust a $e' nascent rooves in the other'ise smooth sur$ace o$ the $eta" brain, accor#in
to a 2000 stu#y in the ,ourna" <a#io"oy% &s the thir# trimester beins in 'ee! 2>, the
rooves #eepen an# the brain beins to "oo! more "i!e that o$ a ne'born%*4p+
Teen brains aren't "ully "ormed
*p+ Parents o$ stubborn teenaers re,oice, or at "east re"a1: That *a
hre$23http:44'''%"ivescience%com4hea"th40>0E0AMteenaeM$ee"ins%htm"3+a#o"escent
attitu#e*4a+ stems, in part, $rom the vaaries o$ brain #eve"opment% *4p+ *p+ The ray
matter o$ the brain pea!s ,ust be$ore puberty an# is prune# bac! #o'n throuhout
a#o"escence, 'ith some o$ the most #ramatic #eve"opment happenin in the $ronta" "obes, the
seat o$ ,u#ment an# #ecision)ma!in% *4p+ *p+ & 200C stu#y pub"ishe# in the ,ourna" Dhi"#
:eve"opment $oun# that the parts o$ the brain responsib"e $or mu"titas!in #on8t $u""y mature
unti" 'e8re 1> or 1A years o"#% &n# research presente# at the ;& Festiva" o$ Science in 200>
revea"e# that teens a"so have a neura" e1cuse $or se"$)centere#ness% When consi#erin an
action that 'ou"# a$$ect others, teens 'ere "ess "i!e"y than a#u"ts to use the me#ia" pre$ronta"
corte1, an area associate# 'ith empathy an# ui"t% Teens "earn empathy by practicin
socia"iBin, the researchers sai#% So much $or roun#in them unti" they8re 20% *4p+
Brains ne%er sto& #hanging
*p+ Scienti$ic 'is#om once he"# that once you hit a#u"thoo#, your brain "ost a"" abi"ity to
$orm ne' neura" connections% This abi"ity, ca""e# p"asticity, 'as thouht to be con$ine# to
in$ancy an# chi"#hoo#% *4p+ *p+ Wron% & 200A stu#y on a stro!e patient $oun# that her *a
hre$23http:44'''%"ivescience%com4hea"th40A0E0>MbrainMchane%htm"3+brain ha# a#apte# to
the #amae to nerves*4a+ carryin visua" in$ormation by pu""in simi"ar in$ormation $rom
other nerves% This $o""o'e# severa" stu#ies sho'in that a#u"t mice cou"# $orm ne' neurons%
Later stu#ies $oun# more evi#ence o$ human neurons ma!in ne' connections into
a#u"thoo#N mean'hi"e, research on me#itation sho'e# that intense menta" trainin can
chane both the structure an# $unction o$ the brain%*4p+
Women aren't "rom 'enus a"ter all
*p+ Popu"ar cu"ture te""s us that 'omen an# *a
hre$23http:44'''%"ivescience%com4cu"ture410)$acts)ma"e)brains)100/0>%htm"3+men8s
brains*4a+ are ,ust #i$$erent% 9t8s true that ma"e an# $ema"e hormones a$$ect brain
#eve"opment #i$$erent"y, an# imain stu#ies have $oun# brain #i$$erences in the 'ays
'omen an# men $ee" pain, ma!e socia" #ecisions an# cope 'ith stress% The e1tent to 'hich
these #i$$erences are enetic versus shape# by e1perience ? the o"# nature)versus)nurture
#ebate ? is un!no'n% *4p+ *p+ ;ut $or the most part, ma"e an# $ema"e brains .an#
brainpo'er0 are simi"ar% & 200C &merican Psycho"oist ana"ysis o$ research on en#er
#i$$erences $oun# that in A8 percent o$ en#er #i$$erences reporte# in other stu#ies, the e$$ect
o$ en#er on the behavior 'as in the sma"" or c"ose)to)Bero rane% &n# recent stu#ies have
#ebun!e# myths about the en#ers8 #iverent abi"ities% & stu#y pub"ishe# in the Hanuary 2010
Psycho"oica" ;u""etin "oo!e# at a"most ha"$ a mi""ion boys an# ir"s $rom >E countries an#
$oun# no overa"" *a hre$23http:44'''%"ivescience%com4cu"ture40E0>01)en#er)
math%htm"3+ap in math abi"ity*4a+% Focusin on our #i$$erences may ma!e $or catchy boo!
tit"es, but in neuroscience, nothin is ever that simp"e%*4p+