Volume 11, Issue 2 (February, 2007)


Welcome to the Neuroscience for Kids Newsletter.

Here is what you will find in this issue:

1. What's New at Neuroscience for Kids
2. Neuroscience for Kids Site of the Month
3. Neuroscience for Kids Drawing Contest - Judging has Begun
4. Life Without Pain
5. Scorpions (Not Snakes) on a Plane
6. Media Alert
7. Treasure Trove of Brain Trivia
8. Support Neuroscience for Kids
9. How to Stop Your Subscription


Neuroscience for Kids had several new additions in January including:

A. January Neuroscience for Kids Newsletter was archived
B. Portuguese Translations of Neuroscience for Kids
C. March and April Neurocalendars

In January, 10 new figures were added and 54 pages were modified.


The Neuroscience for Kids "Site of the Month" for February is "" at: is a web site with information about health problems that affect many older adults. The web site is useful not only to older people, but also to young people who might have parents or grandparents with a particular problem.

There are currently more than 30 different diseases and conditions described on the web site. Many of the conditions are related to the nervous system, for example, Alzheimer's disease, balance problems, cataract, depression, diabetic retinopathy, glaucoma, hearing loss, low vision, macular degeneration, problems with smell, problems with taste, sleep disorders, and stroke. The causes and prevention, symptoms and diagnosis, and treatment and research about each disorder are provided and video clips and illustrations help readers learn about the conditions. Answers to "Frequently Asked Questions" about each disorder are also listed. was developed by the National Institute on Aging and the National Library of Medicine at the National Institutes of Health.


The NEUROSCIENCE FOR KIDS DRAWING CONTEST is now closed and judging has begun. Winners will be notified by email and their prizes will be mailed within the next few weeks. Some of the winning entries will be posted on the Neuroscience for Kids web site and highlighted in next month's newsletter.


What would life be like if you couldn't feel any pain? Would a life without pain be good or bad? A few people do live their entire lives without any pain! Researchers have discovered a rare genetic mutation that leaves people completely insensitive to pain and have described in a new publication how several children are affected by this condition.

The first case was a 10-year-old boy who performed on the streets in Pakistan. He would place knives through his arms and walk on burning coals without feeling any pain. Unfortunately, he died on his 14th birthday when he jumped off of a house roof. The researchers were able to study six other children (ages 4 to 14 years old) from three related families with this condition.

None of the children in the study has ever felt any pain, anywhere on their bodies. They all had injuries such as bruises, cuts, and broken bones and damage to their tongues because they would bite themselves. These injuries were not found because the children complained. Rather, the injuries were diagnosed because the children were limping or not using an arm or leg. The children were considered to have normal intelligence and could perceive touch, warm, cold, tickle, and pressure; vision and hearing were also normal.

The inability to detect pain often leads to infections and permanent injuries because people do not know when they have hurt themselves. So, pain is not always a bad thing if it warns us of danger and teaches us to avoid situations that might harm us.

The researchers isolated the mutation to a gene called SCN9A. The mutation reduces the function of a sodium channel on nerve cells that send pain messages. Now that scientists know more about this gene and how it affects nerve cells, they might be able to develop new treatments for people with pain problems.

Reference: Cox, J.J. et al., An SCN9A channelopathy causes congenital inability to experience pain, Nature, 444:894-898, 2006.


Last month, news agencies reported two separate incidents of people getting stung by scorpions while they traveled on airplanes. In the first case, a man on an American Airlines flight from Miami to Toronto was stung when a scorpion crawled out of his backpack. He was returning from a camping trip in Costa Rica and it is likely that the scorpion hitched a ride in the man's carry-on luggage. The second incident occurred when a man on a United Airlines flight from Chicago to Vermont was stung by a scorpion on the back of his knee and again on his shin. United Airlines officials believe this scorpion may have "boarded" the plane in Houston before it got to Chicago.

Scorpion stings can be painful, but they are rarely fatal. One component of most scorpion venoms is a neurotoxin that blocks potassium channels on nerve cells. For more about neurotoxins used by different animals, see:


A. "Autism's Many Meanings" by Nancy Shute (US News and World Report, January 15, 2007) is an interview with Roy Richard Grinker who has written a new book about how culture affects the perception of autism.

B. "Spice Healer" by Gary Tix (Scientific American, February, 2007) discusses how an ingredient in curry might be used to treat Alzheimer's disease and other diseases.

C. "Beyond Wrinkles" by Sarah Baldauf (cover story, US News and World Report, January 22, 2007) discusses how Botox is being used to treat many neurological disorders including pain, cerebral palsy and Parkinson's disease.

D. Visit the "BRAIN: The World Inside Your Head" exhibit at the John P. McGovern Museum of Health & Medical Science in Houston, TX, until May 6, 2007. While you are at the museum, take a walk in the Sensory Garden.

E. "The Brain. A User's Guide" is the cover story of TIME magazine (January 29, 2007) with articles including "The New Map Of The Brain," "The Mystery of Consciousness," "Time Travel in the Brain," "What Do Babies Know?," "The Flavor Of Memories," and "Who Should Read Your Mind?"

F. "Eight Arms, With Attitude" by Jennifer A. Mather (Natural History, February, 2007) describes the behavior and intelligence of the octopus.

G. WIRED magazine (February, 2007) list 40 of the "biggest questions in science." Included in these questions are several related to neuroscience: Why do we sleep? Why do placebos work? How does the brain produce consciousness? How does the brain calculate movement?


A. The word "window" comes from Scandinavian terms vindr and auga meaning "wind's eye."

B. In the late 1800s, heroin was used as a cough medicine.

C. Heterochromia iridis (or heterochromia iridium) is when a person has eyes with two different colors; it is the result of differences in the pigment of iris in each eye.

D. The retina is the only part of the central nervous system that can be seen from outside of the have to look through the pupil of the eye to see it.

E. The leech has five pairs of eyes on its head. This animal also has other photosensitive cells on other parts of its body. (Source: Schwab, I.R., A backseat driver, Br J Ophthalmol 90:1447, 2006.)


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Eric H. Chudler, Ph.D.