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Neuroscience For Kids

Treasure Trove of Brain Trivia

A collection of trivia about the brain and nervous system from the archives of the Neuroscience for Kids Newsletter. For more trivia about the brain, see brain facts and figures.

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January, 2006

A. Approximately 7,000 visually impaired and blind people in the United States use dog guides to get around. (Reference: American Foundation for the Blind, http://www.afb.org/section.asp?SectionID=15)

B. In the United States, there are approximately 11,000 new cases of spinal cord injury each year. (Reference: Spinal Cord Injury Information Network; http://www.spinalcord.uab.edu)

C. Combat injuries during the US Civil War caused 50,000 veterans to become dependent on morphine. (Reference: Epstein et al., in Clinical Manual of Addiction Psychopharmacology, edited by H.R. Kranzler and D.A. Ciraulo, Washington, D.C.: American Psychiatric Publishing, Inc., 2005)

D. Moses Maimonides (born 1135, died 1204) was the first person to consider the irreversible absence of brain function to be equivalent to death. (Reference: Steven Laureys, Death, unconsciousness and the brain, Nature Rev. Neuroscience, 6:899-909, 2005.)

E. Allan MacLeod Cormack, who won the 1979 Nobel Prize in Medicine or Physiology for the invention of computer-assisted tomography, never received a PhD or MD.

February, 2006

A. The original recipe for Coca-Cola contained a small amount of cocaine (about 22.5 milligrams of cocaine per gallon). Cocaine was removed from Coca-Cola in 1903. (Reference: Karch, S.B., A Brief History of Cocaine. From Inca Monarchs to Cali Cartels: 500 Years of Cocaine Dealing, Boca Raton (FL): CRC Press, 2006.)

B. An estimated 9% of adolescents in the US aged 12 to 17 (approximately 2.2 million adolescents) experienced at least one major depressive episode during the past year. (Reference: Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration)

C. For every minute in which a large vessel ischemic stroke (blockage of a large blood vessel in the brain) is untreated, a person loses 1.9 million neurons, 13.8 billion synapses and 12 km (7 miles) of axons. For every hour in which this type of stroke is untreated, the brain loses as many neurons as it normally does in 3.6 years. (Saver, J.L., Time is brain - quantified, Stroke, 37:263-266, 2006.)

D. In 1774, English explorer Captain James Cook was poisoned, but did not die, after eating the liver of a fish. It is likely that the liver came from a pufferfish and that Cook was poisoned by the neurotoxin called tetrodotoxin. (Reference: Doherty, M.J., Captain Cook on poison fish, Neurology, 65:1788-1791, 2005.)

E. In the early 1920s, Hans Berger recorded the first human electroencephalogram (EEG).

March, 2006

This month's trivia all have to do with cocaine, the addictive central nervous system stimulant. (All statistics from Karch, S.B., A Brief History of Cocaine. From Inca Monarchs to Cali Cartels: 500 Years of Cocaine Dealing, Boca Raton (FL): CRC Press, 2006.)

A. Approximately 520 tons of cocaine entered the United States in 2002.

B. A ton contains 1,016,000 grams or 2,032,000 half-gram rocks of crack cocaine. A half-gram rock of crack cocaine sells for $10-20.

C. The net value of 520 tons of cocaine is about $16 billion.

D. John Styth Pemberton, the man who invented Coca-Cola, was addicted to morphine.

E. Sigmund Freud recommended that cocaine should be used to treat morphine and alcohol addiction.

April, 2006

A. You have probably experienced "deja vu" -- the feeling that something is familiar to you. Did you know that some people experience the feeling that something is unfamiliar? This is call "jamais vu." Other feelings that sometime occur:

B. Ancient Greek physician Artemidorus, who lived in the second century AD, was an early interpreter of dreams. (Source: http://www.nlm.nih.gov/hmd/greek/greek_artemidorus.html)

C. More than 1,700 US soldiers have suffered brain injuries in Iraq and Afghanistan since March 2003. (Source: Newsweek magazine, March 20, 2006, page 37.)

D. Richard Caton was the first to record electrical activity from the brain in 1875. In the 1920s, Hans Berger was the first to record a human electroencephalogram (EEG).

E. Zacharias Janssen invented the compound microscope in 1590.

May, 2006

A. The top three graduates schools for Neuroscience/Neurobiology as ranked in 2006 by US News and World Report are:

B. Between 50 million and 70 million Americans struggle with chronic sleep disorders. (Source: http://www.nap.edu/catalog/11617.html)

C. In the summer of 2005, Jur? Robic won in the Race Across America (RAAM) when he rode his bicycle 3,052 miles (4,912 kilometers) from San Diego (CA) to Atlantic City (NJ) in nine days, eight hours, and 48 minutes. During his ride, Robic slept for only 12.5 hours. (Source: National Geographic Adventure, December 2005/January 2006 issue.)

D. More than 200,000 people in the US visit a doctor each year complaining of smell-related problems. (Source: National Institutes of Health.)

E. In 2000, doctor visits in the US totaled 823 million; alternative therapies such as massage or acupuncture was recommended for 31 million of the visits. (Source: Centers for Disease Control, 2000.)

June, 2006

A. In the United States, at least 300,000 school-age children (4 to 17 years old) have autism. (Source: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, http://www.cdc.gov/od/oc/media/transcripts/ASDMMWRfactSheet.pdf)

B. A total of 34,815 people attended the 2005 Society for Neuroscience annual meeting in Washington, DC. (Reference: Society for Neuroscience)

C. Approximately 55,200 children in the US are legally blind. (Source: http://www.afb.org/section.asp?SectionID=15#children)

D. June 4-10, 2006, is National Headache Awareness Week.

E. Otto Loewi, who discovered acetylcholine and won the 1936 Nobel Prize in Physiology and Medicine, was born on June 3, 1873.

July, 2006

A. The blue-ringed octopus uses a neurotoxic venom called tetrodotoxin (first called maculotoxin). This venom is also used by the pufferfish.

B. In the United States, at least 300,000 school-age children (4 to 17 years old) have autism. (Source: CDC, http://www.cdc.gov/od/oc/media/transcripts/ASDMMWRfactSheet.pdf)

C. The Golden Eagle (Aquila chrysaetos) can see the movement of a rabbit from more than a mile away. (Source: Proctor, N.S. and Lynch, P.J., Manual of Ornithology. Avian Structure and Function, New Haven: Yale University Press, 1993.)

D. Dr. Richard Axel, who won the 2004 Nobel Prize for his work on the olfactory system, delivered false teeth to dentists at the age of eleven, laid carpets at twelve and served sandwiches in a delicatessen at thirteen.

E. The first surgical treatment of the seizure disorder epilepsy was in 1886. (Source: Kandel, ER, Schwartz, JH and Jessell, TM, Principles of. Neural Science, New York: McGraw Hill, 2000.)

August, 2006

A. With special receptors in an organ to detect heat, a pit viper can find a mouse 30 cm (11 inches) away. Heat detectors in pythons and boa constrictors are used to find mice 15 cm and 7 cm away, respectively. (Source: Kardong, K.V., Vertebrates, Dubuque (IA): Wm. C. Brown Publishers, 1995.)

B. Birds typically have 38 pairs of spinal nerves: 12 cervical, 8 thoracic, 12 sacral and 6 caudal nerve. Humans have 31 pairs of spinal nerves: 12 cervical, 8 thoracic, 5 lumbar, 5 sacral and 1 coccygeal. (Source: Proctor, N.S. and Lynch, P.J., Manual of Ornithology. Avian Structure and Function, New Haven: Yale University Press, 1993.)

C. The facial nerve in elephants is 5.2 times larger than that in humans. The elephant facial nerve and part of the trigeminal nerve unite to form the great proboscideal nerve that controls the elephant's trunk. (Source: Shoshani, J., Kupsky, W.J. and Marchant, G.H., Elephant brain. Part I: Gross morphology functions, comparative anatomy, and evolution, Brain Res. Bulletin, 70:124-157, 2006.)

D. The bacteria Clostridium botulinum produces neurotoxins that are the most poisonous substances known: 1 gram evenly distributed and inhaled could kill more than a million people. (Source: Arnon, S.S. et al., Botulinum Toxin as a Biological Weapon, Medical and Public Health Management, JAMA, Vol. 285 No. 8, February 28, 2001.)

E. Sunfish have very short spinal cords. A seven-foot sunfish has a spinal cord less than one inch (2.5 cm) long. Its spinal cord is shorter than its brain! (Source: http://www.mbayaq.org/)

September, 2006

A. On July 12, 2006, Washington Post and Slate Magazine columnist Michael Kinsley underwent surgery (deep brain stimulation) to treat his Parkinson's disease.

B. Near the threshold for hearing, the eardrum moves only 1,000,000th of an inch. (Source: Sataloff, R.T. and Sataloff, J. The nature of hearing loss, in Occupational Hearing Loss, 3rd edition, Boca Raton [FL]: CRC Press, 2006.)

C. The first surgical treatment of the seizure disorder epilepsy was in 1886. (Source: Kandel, E.R., Schwartz, J. H. and Jessell, T.M., Principles of Neural Science, New York: McGraw Hill, 2000.)

D. The first use of Phenobarbital, an anticonvulsant, was in 1912. (Source: Kandel, E.R., Schwartz, J. H. and Jessell, T.M., Principles of Neural Science, New York: McGraw Hill, 2000.)

E. Narcolepsy affects between 20-45 people per 100,000 in the US. (Source: Kandel, E.R., Schwartz, J. H. and Jessell, T.M., Principles of Neural Science, New York: McGraw Hill, 2000.)

October, 2006

A. There are approximately 8,000 magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scanners in the United States. (Source: Valeo, T., Searching for a sharper image, Neurology Now, May/June, 2006.)

B. The word "melancholy" meaning depressed or unhappy comes from the Greek word for black bile.

C. Neurosurgeon Dr. Scott R. Gibbs has constructed a 155,000 cubic foot, 9-story tall hot air balloon shaped like a brain. The balloon was inflated for the first time on March 4, 2001.

D. Forty million people in the United States have some hearing loss. (Source: Sataloff, R.T. and Sataloff, J. The nature of hearing loss, in Occupational Hearing Loss, 3rd edition, Boca Raton (FL): CRC Press, 2006.)

E. According to the Guinness Book of Records, the world record for balancing on one foot is 55 hours and 35 minutes.

November, 2006

A. The optic nerves carry 38% of all nerve fibers that enter or leave the brain. (Source: Alward, W.L.M., A new angle on ocular development, Science, 299:1527-1528, 2003.)

B. More than 1.6 million Americans use complementary and alternative medicine to treat insomnia or trouble sleeping. (Source: NIH News, http://www.nih.gov/news/pr/sep2006/nccam-18.htm)

C. Sir Charles Scott Sherrington, who won the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 1932 for his work on the functions of nerve cells, was born on November 27, 1857.

D. Galen (129-201 A.D.), a famous Roman anatomist, advised people with toothaches to rub their gums with the brains of a hare. (Source: Wynbrandt, J., The Excruciating History of Dentistry, New York: St. Martin's Press, 1998.)

E. Sleep is divided into two states: rapid eye movement (REM) sleep and non-rapid eye movement (NREM) sleep. People spend 75-80% of their sleep time in NREM sleep and 20-25% of their sleep time in REM sleep. (Source: Rama, A.N., Cho, S.C. and Kushida, C.A., Normal human sleep, in T. Lee-Chiong ed., Sleep: A Comprehensive Handbook, Hoboken (NJ): John Wiley & Sons, Inc., 2006)

December, 2006

A. 5.3 million people in the US are currently disabled by traumatic brain injury. (Carroll, L., War on the Brain, Neurology Now, 2:12-25, 2006.)

B. Scott Adams, the cartoonist who writes the "Dilbert" comic strip, suffers from spasmodic dysphonia.

C. There are approximately 4,500 neurosurgeons in the United States (one neurosurgeon per 66,000 people). In Africa, there is only one neurosurgeon per 1.4 million people; if Northern Africa and South Africa are excluded, there is only one neurosurgeon per 6 million people in Africa. (Source: Firlik, K., Another Day in the Frontal Lobe: A Brain Surgeon Exposes Life on the Inside, New York: Random House, 2006.)

D. The ancient Babylonians believed that demons and worms caused toothaches. (Source: Wynbrandt, J., The Excruciating History of Dentistry, New York: St. Martin's Press, 1998.)

E. Last month, a 10-year-old girl was the first person in Indiana to be diagnosed with rabies since 1959.


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