Volume 4, Issue 6 (June, 2000)


Welcome to the Neuroscience for Kids Newsletter.

Here is what you will find in this issue:

1. What's New on the Neuroscience for Kids Web Pages
2. The Neuroscience for Kids Page of the Month
3. The Nun Study
4. SIDS Products - Do They Work
5. Book Review
6. Software Review
7. Media Alert
8. Treasure Trove of Brain Trivia
9. How to Stop Your Subscription


Neuroscience for Kids had several new additions in May. Here are some of them:

A. May Neuroscience for Kids Newsletter was archived
B. June NeuroCalendar
C. Eugene O'Neill: What Went Wrong
D. Smelly Research
E. No Joke: Laughter May Make You Weak
F. Methamphetamine May Cause Long-Lasting Brain Damage
G. Temperature and Taste Tangle on the Tongue
H. The Eye and Its Connections (Complete Lesson Plan)
I. Does Drinking Coffee Prevent Parkinson's Disease?

In May, 25 new figures were added and 59 pages were modified.



The Neuroscience for Kids "Page of the Month" for June is "Neurosciences on the Internet" at:

"Neurosciences on the Internet" has been on-line since December 1994, making it perhaps one of the oldest web sites devoted exclusively to brain research. Edited and maintained by neurologist Dr. Neil A. Busis, "Neuroscience on the Internet" is a searchable list of hundreds of neuroscience-related web resources. In addition to searching for resources using specific keywords, users can also link to resources that Dr. Busis has grouped according to topics such as diseases, clinical departments, databases, exams, images, newsgroups and mailing lists. "Neuroscience on the Internet" is not just an encyclopedia of links. Rather, the site includes many original contributions on subjects including neurological diseases, brain imaging and the use of the Internet in neurology.

I asked Dr. Neil A. Busis for a "behind the scenes" look at "Neurosciences on the Internet." Here is his reply:

"Neurosciences on the Internet" is a sort of Neuro-Yahoo, a manually assembled searchable and browsable database of basic and clinical neuroscience resources on the Web. When I started this project in 1994 there were almost no signposts on the Web to direct people to the types of resources they desired. The major search engines did not yet exist. I wanted to help people find valuable Web neuroscience resources. Is the site obsolete now that HotBot, AltaVista and the other major search engines have catalogued a huge number of Web sites? I think not. The general interest search engines often respond to inquiries with an enormous number of hits, most of them irrelevant. Important results can be buried many pages deep. In contrast, searches using specialty-specific topical databases are virtually guaranteed to yield a manageable list of relevant results. In my database, the entries are all filtered before inclusion, so the user doesn't have to wade through an impossibly long list of search results. All entries are also listed on one or more topic-specific pages. Browsing these pages is a great way to get an overview of the wonderful neurosciences resources available on the Web today."


The nuns who belong to the School Sisters of Notre Dame congregation are busy. The sisters teach students of all ages, maintain shelters for women and children, run a travel agency, and create fabric arts. They even have a non-governmental representative at the United Nations. However, the sisters' work does not stop even when they pass away. In fact, 678 American members of the School Sisters of Notre Dame have agreed to donate their brains for scientific study when they die. These sisters (and their brains) are part of what is known as "The Nun Study."

The Nun Study is a project directed by Dr. David Snowdon at the Sanders-Brown Center on Aging at the University of Kentucky in Lexington. The study was started in 1986 and has since received funding from the National Institute on Aging and several private foundations. A total of 678 sisters between the ages of 75 and 103 years have agreed to have annual physical and mental tests and to donate their brains for examination when they die.

Neuroscientists hope that studying the brains of these sisters will reveal clues about the causes of Alzheimer's disease and other neurological disorders. Researchers think that the medical, education and family records of the sisters will help determine if there are specific factors that increase the risk of neurological disease. For example, one long-term study examined writing samples the nuns submitted when they joined the convent. The complexity of these writing samples was related to which of the nuns later developed Alzheimer's disease. Those with the simplest writing styles (list-like as compared with complex prose), were more likely to develop Alzheimer's disease.

To find out more about the Nun Study, see:


Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) is many new parent's greatest fear. An infant is put to bed for the night and for some unknown reason, the baby stops breathing and dies. No one knows for sure what causes SIDS. One theory is that babies who sleep on their stomachs rebreathe dangerous amounts of carbon dioxide. During the night, carbon dioxide levels rise to deadly levels. This could happen because infants do not turn over or move much when they sleep, so they are inhaling and exhaling into the same small area. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) in a national campaign called "Back to Sleep" recommends that infants be placed on their backs, not their stomachs, to reduce the risk of SIDS.

Even with warnings from the AAP, many parents still put their babies to sleep on their stomachs. To protect their babies, some parents rely on products that claim to reduce the amount of carbon dioxide that babies rebreathe, even when the babies are placed on their stomachs. Several pediatricians tested some of these devices recently to see if they really work.

The pediatricians measured the changes in carbon dioxide content in a reservoir connected to a mannequin. The mannequin was connected to a pump that simulated breathing. The carbon dioxide content was measured while the mannequin was placed face-down on various products advertised to reduce carbon dioxide rebreathing. The results were compared to carbon dioxide changes when the mannequin was placed with its face to the side.

Of the six products tested, five did NOT reduce carbon dioxide rebreathing adequately. The one device that did work is designed with a fan in the side wall of the mattress. This fan is included to circulate the air around an infant's face.

This study suggests that some products designed to reduce carbon dioxide rebreathing in infants placed on their stomachs do not work as advertised. It is unfortunate that some companies are selling products that may not work. It is especially troubling that these products are sold to parents who buy these devices to protect their children. Further research is necessary to see if the device designed with the sidewall fan can actually reduce deaths due to SIDS.


Carolan, P.L., Wheeler, W.B., Ross, J.D. and Kemp, J.S. Potential to prevent carbon dioxide rebreathing of commercial products marketed to reduce sudden infant death syndrome risk. Pediatrics, 105:774-779, 2000.


Margaret O. Hyde and John F. Setaro, "When the Brain Dies First," Danbury: Franklin Watts, 2000, pp. 144. (ISBN: 0-531-11543-7)

Margaret Hyde has written more than 80 books on subjects such as asthma, AIDS, outer space, drug abuse, genetics and mental illness. She has teamed with Dr. John F. Setaro to write her newest book called "When the Brain Dies First." In this book, Hyde and Setaro discuss the difficult topic of what happens when the brain dies before the body.

After a brief introduction to normal brain function, "When the Brain Dies First" covers various brain disorders and diseases including shaken baby syndrome, head trauma, brain infections, Alzheimer's disease, Parkinson's disease, Huntington's disease, Batten disease, multiple sclerosis and stroke. The effects of drug abuse and neurotoxins on the brain are also explained.

The many descriptions of patients in the emergency room and operating room help to illustrate disease processes and methods of treatment. Hyde and Setaro are to be congratulated for including recent events that have impacted neuroscience, such as the outbreak of West Nile encephalitis in 1999 and new research into the development of a vaccine for Alzheimer's disease.

Although there is much research that holds the promise of cures for various brain disorders, Hyde and Setaro correctly caution readers about being overly optimistic. They detail the difficult and complex path that leads from the research laboratory to the drug store.

"When the Brain Dies First" does not shy away from difficult and controversial topics. Rather, the book presents a balanced view of euthanasia, brain death, gene therapy and caring for those with dementia. The last chapter of the book deals with keeping the brain healthy and the search for cures to neurological disorders. I was happy to see that Hyde and Setaro mentioned Brain Awareness Week as a time to highlight the progress and discoveries made in neuroscience. "When the Brain Dies First" will serve as a useful book for students in middle and high school who are researching specific neurological disorders and for anyone else interested in what happens when the brain dies before the body.

I asked Margaret Hyde for some background on her new book. Here is her reply:

"John Setaro and I were expressing our concern about several friends and relatives who were suffering from Alzheimer's and Pick's disease and he suggested we write a book on the subject. I was surprised to find so many different kinds of dementia and the large number of families who are affected. We hope the book will encourage young people to get involved in prevention, support for patients and families, and perhaps choose careers in which they do some much needed research toward finding cures."


"The Lost Mind of Dr. Brain" by Sierra, Produced by Sherry Wrana, designed by Ward Makielski, lead engineer Mark Marion, brain consultant Dee Dickinson. Level: ages 12+, middle school and up. [This review was written by Mera Stewart, Neuroscience for Kids consultant]

In this, the third in the popular "Dr. Brain" series by Sierra, one of Dr. Brain's experiments has gone awry. The intellect of Dr. Brain has been transferred to his lab rat, Rathbone. Your mission is to return Dr. Brain's mind by solving the puzzles contained within the various regions of his brain. The now scholarly Rathbone guides you through these in various guises - as Billy Bob Rathbone in the "Neurotransmitter Roundup," as a poetic Rathbone Shakespeare in "Word Surge" and as Rathbot in "Motor Programming," to name a few. While you are formulating your solutions, the good Doctor's niece Elaina oversees your progress, offering up interesting brain facts and alerting you to areas of your own brain that are being stimulated by the task at hand.

Suggestions for Using this Program
While you are attempting the various puzzles associated with their appropriate brain region (music listening and sorting in the temporal region; 3-D image construction and rotation in the occipital region; motor programming in the cerebellum; motor sequencing in the frontal region; etc.), you learn not only which tasks are associated with which brain region, but where your own strengths lie. This game offers many exciting puzzles to explore mathematical, spatial, verbal and motor abilities.

"The Lost Mind of Dr. Brain" is an extremely well thought out game. It is clever, humorous, graphically-exciting and informative; it allows you to use your brain to build and learn about Dr. Brain's brain. This permits you to reflect on your brain's development, structure and function. It just boggles the you-know-what!

I highly recommend this software to supplement the exploration of concepts related to functional brain organization. With nine different brain regions and three levels (novice to genius) for each, this game packs hours of challenging brain- and knowledge-building entertainment. Overall grade: Information presentation, A+; information content, A.


A. "Breathless" in Discover Magazine, May 2000: description of the disorder called sleep apnea.

B. "Second Chance for Baby Ethan" in People Magazine, May 8, 2000: fetal surgery for spina bifida.

C. "Smart Pills" in Discover Magazine, June 2000: what if you could remember everything?

D. "New Hope in the War Against Parkinson's Disease" in Newsweek Magazine (cover story), May 22, 2000.

E. "Soothing the Inflamed Brain" in Scientific American, June 2000: the use of anti-inflammatory drugs to treat Alzheimer's disease.

F. "Second Chance for Baby Ethan" in People Magazine, May 8, 2000: fetal surgery for spina bifida. There is a page describing this surgery on the Neuroscience for Kids web site at:


A. More than 28 million Americans (about 10% of the population) have hearing impairments. (Statistic from the Better Hearing Institute.)

B. Harvard University has the best graduate program in neuroscience, as rated by US News and World Report.

C. Acetylsalicylic acid (aspirin) was first synthesized by Felix Hoffmann in 1897.

D. Aphasia is the name of speech and language problems caused by brain injury.

E. The knee jerk reflex takes about 30 milliseconds (30 milliseconds is 30 one-thousandths of a second). This is time between the stimulus (the tap on the ligament in the knee) and the response (the contraction of the quadriceps muscle in the leg). (Statistic from P. Brodal, "The Central Nervous System," 1998.)


To remove yourself from this mailing list and stop your subscription to the Neuroscience for Kids Newsletter, send e-mail to Dr. Eric H. Chudler at:


Your comments and suggestions about this newsletter and the "Neuroscience for Kids" web site are always welcome. If there are any special topics that you would like to see on the web site, just let me know.


Eric H. Chudler, Ph.D.

"Neuroscience for Kids" is supported by a Science Education Partnership Award (SEPA) from the National Center of Research Resources.