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Neuroscience For Kids


You've got the questions; here are the answers....well, at least some of them. Here at "Neuroscience for Kids," a team of neuroscientists has been assembled to answer your questions about the nervous system.

The team consists of basic and clinical neuroscientists from around the world who will try their best to answer your questions. Send your questions to Dr. Chudler at The answers will be posted as soon as possible. (The more recent questions are posted at the top of this page.)

NOTE: we will not diagnose your illness or give you medical or legal advice. Feel free to ask questions about particular disorders and diseases, but please see a physician if you have any personal health concerns.

NEW: Share your questions about the brain with researchers at Harvard University's Extension School.

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Organs for science event? Writing/Wernicke's Aphasia
Space on upper lip? Neurotransmitters for PNS? K+/Na+?
Ganglia? Brain posters? Neuron model?
Animations? Neuroscientist training? Stars vs synapses?
Pre-/Post-synaptic? Soccer head injuries? Classroom speakers?
Corneal reflex development? Brain Bee? Children and RLS?
Abstract? Lobes of the brain? Stroke acronym?
Jugular foramen? Cow eyes? Ear bump name?
PCP false positives? First sense? Pets and Lyme Disease
Neurotransmitters per neuron? Cerebrospinal fluid? Multiple sclerosis and fractures
Lumbar puncture/spinal cord Bones in infants? What does PCP mean?
Highest body temperature? Lobe size? Brain worm?

D.F. Is someone with Wernicke's aphasia able to write?

Answer: The ability to write is usually affected in someone with Wernicke's aphasia. The effect on writing will depend on the exact size and location of brain damage and can vary between people.

B.W.: I want to do a science event at my daughter's school with a booth and I thought this would be so cool to use the opportunity to show an organ like a cow lung. What options do I have for showing an organ.

Answer: I think the science event would be a great opportunity for the students to see real organs. Human organs are a bit difficult to come by, but you can purchase some animal organs for a fairly low price. Here are two ways:

  1. Ask your local butcher or at the meat counter of your local grocery storee -- they may have cow, pig, or chicken hearts, lungs, kidneys, and maybe even brains.
  2. Purchase these online from a supply company such Carolina Biological Company. As you will see, these preserved organs are not too expensive.

K.L.: What is the name of the space (the little dent) just above the upper lip, below the tip of the nose?

Answer: That area is called the "philtrum."

D.L.: What neurotransmitters are used by the parasympathetic nervous system?

Answer: As described on the Neuroscience for Kids web site about the autonomic nervous system:

"The preganglionic fiber from the medulla or spinal cord projects to ganglia very close to the target organ and makes a synapse. This synapse uses the neurotransmitter called acetylcholine. From this ganglion, the post-ganglionic neuron projects to the target organ and uses acetylcholine again at its terminal."

T.D.: Why is sodium abbreviated with Na and why is potassium abbreviated with K?

Answer: Sodium and potassium ions are critical for the generation of action potentials. It is unusual that these elements are abbreviated with letters that do not begin the words. The chemical symbol for potassium (K) comes from the Latin word "kalium" which may have come from the Arabic word "qali" meaning alkali. The chemical symbol for sodium (Na) comes from the Latin word "natrium" which may have come from the arabic word "natri."

A.Z.: Are there any ganglia in the somatic nervous system?

Answer: Yes, there are ganglia (the dorsal root ganglia and trigeminal ganglia) that are part of the somatic nervous system. These ganglia contain the cell bodies of sensory neurons entering the spinal cord (dorsal root ganglia) and brain stem (trigeminal ganglia).

B.L.: Where can I buy a large poster of the brain for my office?

Answer: You may find a poster you like at:

K.T.: I'm in the process of creating a kit to use when I visit schools with a presentation about the nervous system, but I am having difficulty finding a "pool float toy" to represent the action potential in the giant model neuron. Do you have any suggestions of what I could use for this and where I could purchase it?

Answer: For my giant neuron model, I use a pool float that I bought at a pool supply store for less than $10. The float is from a string of floats and ropes used to mark lanes in a pool. If you cannot find one of those, you may be able to make something similar using an empty paper towel roll -- you know, the cylindrical cardboard tube at the center of a paper towel roll. You could reinforce the cardboard tube with duct tape to make it strong. Make sure that it slides down the rope easily. The pool float I use works nicely because it is strong (all plastic) and slides smoothly along the rope.

W.S.: Do you know of any good animations that show how neurons work?

Answer: Try these:

L.P.: I was wondering if you can tell me more about neuroscientists and what their responsibilities are, duties they have, best colleges to attend, and education/training required.

Answer: Here are two articles on the Neuroscience for Kids site that discuss these issues:

E.F.: Is it true that there are more synapses in the brain than stars in the universe?

It is unlikely that there are more synapses in the brain than stars in the universe. Here's why:

The European Space Agency estimates that there are 100 thousand million (100 billion or 10^11) stars in just our galaxy, the Milky Way. And there are 10^11 to 10^12 galaxies in the universe. Therefore, there are approximately 10^22 to 10^24 stars in the entire universe.

In brain, there are about 86 billion neurons. In the cerebral cortex, there are about 60 trillion (6^13) synapses. One estimate is that there are 100 trillion (10^14) synapses in the entire brain, but I have seen estimates of the number of synapses in the entire brain as high as 10^15 (source: Body: the complete human: how it grows, how it works, and how to keep it health and strong by Patricia Daniels, Richard Restak, Trisha Gura, Lisa Stein, National Geographic Press: Washington, D.C., 2007)

So, the number of stars in the universe is much larger than the number of synapses in the brain.

Joey: How does the synaptic terminal of the presynaptic neuron stay in the correct position relative to the postsynaptic neuron?

Answer: The synaptic cleft (gap) is filled with a fibrous extracellular protein. The protein matrix helps the pre- and post-synaptic membrane stay together. Also, remember that the space between pre- and post-synaptic neurons is very small, only 20 to 50 nanometers.

J.S.: I am a high school soccer coach. Do you know what players (by position) suffer from the most head injuries?

Answer: In a study of 20 FIFA tournaments between 1998 and 2004, researchers found that head and neck injuries in MEN were suffered in the following proportions: defender (40%), forward (23%), midfielder (22%), goalkeeper (15%). In WOMEN, the proportions of head and neck injuries were: defender (34%), forward (29%), midfielder (29%), goalkeeper (9%). In another study of high school athletes, for boys soccer teams, forwards and halfbacks had 66.1% of the concussions and goalkeepers had 11.9% of the concussions; in high school girls soccer games, forwards and halfbacks had 70.3% of the concussions and goalkeepers had 18.8% of the concussions. Remember that the number of players in each position varies, except there is only one goalkeeper.


M.B.: I am a 6th grade teacher and would like to have a neuroscientist or a patient with a neurological disease visit my class and speak to my students. Where can I find a speaker?

Answer: You can find neuroscientists who are interested in working with teachers and students at the Society for Neuroscience (SfN) Neuroscientist Teacher Partner Program. You might also find neuroscientists through the various local chapters of the SfN.

You could find patients willing to visit your class through local patient support groups. These groups often have speaker bureaus that will send speakers to schools. Don't know how to find a local support group? Don't worry. Go to the Dana Alliance web site that shows NATIONAL chapters for various disorders. Go to one of the national chapter web sites to find a local chapter or just do a web search. Or have your students do a bit of research on their own to find a local patient support group for a particular neurological disorder.

N.S.: Can children have restless legs syndrome?

Answer: Yes, it is possible for children to have restless legs syndrome. See:

D.C.: I want to enter a "Brain Bee" but I don't know where one is...can you help?

Answer: You can find information about the Brain Bee at the official International Brain Bee web site. For information about a Brain Bee near you, visit the Local Brain Bee Coordinators web site at:

A.W.: When do infants develop corneal reflexes?

Answer: According to Snir et al. (Tactile corneal reflex development in full-term babies, Ophthalmology, 109:526-529, 2002), 10% of the babies tested had a tactile corneal reflex in at least one eye at 2 days of age, 25% at 1 week, 50% at 3.5 weeks, 75% at 6 weeks, and 100% at 12 weeks.

A.P.: What is the acronym for the four questions a bystander should ask a person suspected of having a stroke?

Answer: According to the National Stroke Association the acronym for these questions is FAST:

R.B.: Are there four or six lobes of the brain?

Answer: Most people know the four lobes of the cerebral cortex that are defined by the bones that overlie them: temporal, parietal, occiptial and frontal lobes. These four lobes are visible on the surface of the brain. Two additional lobes are buried deeper into the brain: limbic lobe and insular lobe. By the way, the cerebellum is also divided into several "lobes": anterior lobe, posterior lobe, flocculonodular lobe.

G.B.: What is an abstract?

Answer: An abstract is a brief (usually one paragraph) summary of a research project. Scientific papers usually place abstracts before the introduction. Scientific meetings often require abstracts that describe the research that will be presented.

A.Q.: What cranial nerves go through the jugular foramen of the skull?

Answer: Cranial nerves IX (glossopharyngeal), X (vagus) and XI (spinal accessory) go through the jugular foramen.

K.L.: I am organizing a cow eyeball dissection lab. However, I have come to a major roadblock in the project, namely obtaining the eyes. I wonder whether you might have any advice for places to contact.

Answer: You can purchase cow eyes from Carolina Biological Supply Company: Cow Specimen, Carolina's Perfect Solution (Catalog # = 22-8903), $2.35 each (or $1.75 each if you buy 10 or more). You can also get them from Fisher Scientific (package of 10 for $10.30).

K.L.: What is the name of the little bump on the outside of the ear that if you press on it, it will close the ear?

Answer: This little bump is called the "tragus."

W.R.: Are there any medications that would cause a false positive drug test response for PCP?

Answer: Yes. High doses of dextromethorphan, a drug used in many cough medicines, can cause a false positive response for PCP (phencyclidine).

(References: 1. Schwartz, R.H., Adolescent abuse of dextromethorphan, Clin Pediatr., 44:565-568, 2005; 2. Schier, J. and D?az, J.E., Avoid unfavorable consequences: dextromethorphan can bring about a false- positive phencyclidine urine drug screen, Journal of Emergency Medicine, 18:379-381, 2000.)

S.K.: What is the first sense to develop in the fetus during pregnancy?

Answer: Touch is the first sense to develop. The developing fetus responds to touch of the lips and cheeks by 8 weeks and to other parts of its body at 14 week. The sense of taste may develop by 12 weeks and that of sound at 22-24 weeks. (Reference: Hepper, P., "Unraveling our beginnings", The Psychologist, 18:474-477, 2005.)

K.P.: Can pets get Lyme disease and what symptoms would they have?

Answer: Yes, pets (and wild animals) CAN get Lyme disease. Dogs, cats, horses, mice, cattle, deer, squirrels, opossum and raccoons can be infected. Many wild animals infected by the bacteria that cause Lyme disease do not show any symptoms. Dogs, however, may develop a fever and have pain in the joints. This can cause them to limp when they walk.


T.L.: Is it possible for a single neuron to release more than one neurotransmitter?

Answer: Yes. According to Kandel et al. (Principles of Neural Science, New York: McGraw Hill, 2000):

"Neuroactive peptides, small-molecule transmitters, and other neuroactive molecules can coexist in the same neuron."

Carol A.: How much cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) does an average adult have?

Answer: Humans have 125 to 150 ml of CSF. The CSF is replaced several times each day as 400 to 500 ml of CSF is produced every day.

J.S.: Are people who suffer from multiple sclerosis more likely to have falls and break bones?

Answer: Many people with MS have trouble walking and maintaining their balance. Therefore, they may fall more often and break bones. Osteoporosis also puts people with MS at risk for broken bones.

R.B.: If the spinal cord ends at L1, how can lumbar punctures be done at L4? How far do the meninges continue after the end of the spinal cord?

Answer: The purpose of the lumbar puncture is to collect cerebrospinal fluid, not to enter tissue of the spinal cord. Therefore, it is much safer to insert the needle below the end of the spinal cord. By inserting the needle at L4, the needle might touch only spinal nerves that can be pushed away. At this level, the spinal cord will not be at risk of injury. Also, see:

According to Gray's Anatomy: the dura "...ends in a pointed cul-de-sac at the level of the lower border of the second sacral vertebra."

N.S.: Adults have a total of 206 bones, but how many bones are infants born with?

Answer: According to The Handy Science Answer Book compiled by the Science and Technology Department of the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh, babies are born with 300 to 350 bones. Many of these fuse together to give us a final count of 206 bones when we are adults.

D.K.: Why is phencyclidine called PCP?

Answer: The drug Phencyclidine is called PCP because of the initials of its chemical name: Phenyl Cyclohexyl Piperidine.

M.M.: You mentioned that the highest recorded body temperature was 115oF?

Did this person survive?

Answer: According to the Guinness Book of World Records (New York: Bantam Books, 2000, p. 263), the person with the highest body temperature who lived to tell about it is Willie Jones. On July 10, 1980, Mr. Jones was admitted to the hospital with heatstroke. His temperature was 115.7oF (46.5oC). After 24 days in the hospital, he was discharged.

K.L.: How large are the different lobes of the brain relative to each other?

Answer: The percentages of total cerebral cortex volume for the different lobes are:

frontal lobe = 41% | temporal lobe = 22% | parietal lobe = 19% | occipital lobe = 18%

(Reference: Caviness Jr., et al., Cerebral Cortex, 8:372-384, 1998.)

Y.G. I saw a program on the Animal Planet called Eaten Alive. It told about all kinds of worms that live inside the human body. One kind of worm lives in some people's brain. They showed a patient who had this worm for three years before it was removed. Can you tell me more about this?

Answer: It is likely that the problem you describe was "neurocysticercosis." Neurocysticercosis is caused when the pork tapeworm, Taenia solium, makes it way to the brain. Most people who get this parasite do so by eating raw or undercooked pork that is infected by eggs of the tapeworm. Common symptoms of neurocysticercosis are seizures, epilepsy, headache, nausea, pain, sensory disturbances and vomiting. For more information about neurocysticercosis, see:

CDC - Cysticercosis

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