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THE SECRET LIFE OF THE BRAIN
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Program 1
"The Baby's Brain: Wider than the Sky" examines how the brain builds itself from conception through the first year of life. The mystery begins in the womb -- only four weeks into gestation the first brain cells, the neurons, are already forming at an astonishing rate: 500,000 every minute. Billions of brain cells will forge links with billions of other brain cells and eventually there will be trillions and trillions of connections between cells, pulsing with electricity. Eventually, every cell will find its place; every link between cells will be carefully organized. How does it get this way? Neurobiologists Susan McConnell and Carla Shatz are working to find out by studying the intricate relationship between genes and the environment on development.

What happens if this carefully orchestrated process is interrupted? How vulnerable is the brain to an altered environment? Ten-day-old Elizabeth, born almost three months premature, is part of a study by developmental psychologist Heidelise Als. Als wants to know if the difficulties preemies have paying attention and learning later in life can be overcome by providing a special environment which mimics the womb. Will MRI images reveal that Elizabeth's brain has developed differently than other premature babies treated in the standard way?

Program 2
"The Child's Brain: Syllable from Sound" traces normal development from the toddler through puberty. During childhood, the brain is a magnificent engine for learning, and nowhere is learning more dramatic than in the way a child learns language. Most children learn to speak as easily as a bird learns to sing, but Michael B. did not. At five, by the time most children have mastered grammar, Michael has trouble speaking in complete sentences. How is his brain different from other children his age? What can Michael teach us about the brain's capacity for language? How does the brain make this great leap that is nothing short of a miracle?

In nearly all adults, the language center of the brain resides in the left hemisphere, but in children the brain is less specialized. Neuroscientists Helen Neville and Debbie Mills have demonstrated that until babies reach about a year old, they respond to language with their entire brains, but then, gradually, language shifts to the left hemisphere, driven by the acquisition of language itself.

If the left hemisphere becomes the language center for most adults, what happens if, during childhood, it is compromised by disease? At three, Michael R.began having brain seizures; by the time he was seven, he was having hundreds a day. Doctors diagnosed a rare brain disease for which the cure was radical: the left hemisphere of his brain would have to be surgically removed. Today, Michael bowls better than most children and races stock cars. Although he speaks with some difficulty, he understands well, even though the left side of his brain is missing. Dana Boatman, at Johns Hopkins University, has been testing Michael ever since his operation. She wants to know how the right side of his brain has compensated.

For most of us, while speaking is as natural and inevitable as walking, reading is more like a high wire balancing act, a performance by the brain that demands the most sophisticated coordination of many of its parts. But reading is a gift that not everyone receives. Millions, like seven year old Russell, are dyslexic, painfully unable to translate the squiggles on the page into sound and meaning, in spite of capable minds. At Georgetown University, Guinivere Eden is scanning the brains of dyslexic children to understand how their brains are different.

Program 3
"The Teenage Brain: A World of Their Own" explores how the normal brain matures during the teenage years. New research has shown that during puberty, just as the brain begins teeming with hormones, the prefrontal cortex, the center of reasoning and impulse control, is still a work in progress. For the first time, scientists can offer an explanation for what parents already know ˝ adolescence is a time of roiling emotions and poor judgment. As the brain matures, teenagers also face special risks ˝ from addictive drugs and alcohol that can hijack the brain to the chaos of schizophrenia that strikes most often during adolescence. Eighteen-year-old Courtney was a star student in high school when he was diagnosed with schizophrenia which crippled his ability to think, reason and feel. Dr. Nancy Andreasen at the University of Iowa is studying Courtney and other schizophrenics, searching to find which areas of the brain are affected and how to treat the debilitating symptoms. Courtney responds to new medications that do not cure the disease but allow him to function on a daily basis. Other teenagers, however, have a more resistant form of the disease. Fourteen-year-old Sabrina experienced her first psychotic break at age twelve and has been unable to find a medication that will control her psychotic symptoms.

Eighteen-year-old Jessie is struggling with a brain disorder of another kind, a self-inflicted disorder that can easily destroy a young life ˝ drug addiction. She and other teenagers at the Caron Foundation, a treatment program in Eastern Pennsylvania, fight to beat their addictions while learning how drugs and alcohol have disrupted their brain chemistry to hijack behavior and desire. Dr. Anna Rose Childress at the University of Pennsylvania has identified where craving occurs in the brain and is now testing new medications that may control it.

Program 4
"The Adult Brain: To Think By Feeling" explores the critical interplay between reason and emotion and what happens when the balance between these two brain regions goes awry. Marvin is an example of how emotion is intertwined with reason, and how damage to one influences the other. Marvin suffered a stroke that damaged a portion of his brain that cut him off from his ability to become aware of what he is feeling. Today, he is a changed man: he has lost the ability to connect with other people, even his wife and children, and has difficulty making even simple, everyday decisions.

Marvin feels too little. Johny feels too much. He suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), constantly reliving a car accident that happened a year ago. Day and night, memories of the accident send him into a panic, his heart racing. Fear is a normal, necessary emotion that protects us from danger, but in PTSD, fear and panic race out of control. Roger Pitman at Harvard is studying a drug that, if administered in time, might be able to prevent PTSD in victims of trauma. For writer and psychologist Lauren Slater, an extreme sensitivity to anxiety and the stress it produces may help explain her life-long battle with depression. Lauren is part of a family line ýriddled with mental illness.ţ Added to that genetic predisposition was the abuse she suffered as a child. Charles Nemeroff at Emory University has shown that childhood abuse may actually alter the brain's ability to experience stress normally and may be a cause of depression later in life. There is no cure for depression, but scientists have developed effective medications that, especially in combination with talk therapy, can help people with depression live productive lives. Treated for depression twelve years ago, Lauren is now married and has a two-year-old daughter. She has drawn from her experiences as a patient and psychologist to write three highly acclaimed books. At a public health clinic in Boston, she counsels patients, using her own experience to help others suffering from depression.

Program 5
"The Aging Brain: Through Many Lives." At the age of 95, Stanley Kunitz was named poet laureate of the United States. Still writing new poems, still reading to live audiences, he stands as an inspiring example of the brain's ability to stay vital in the final years of our lives. The fifth hour of THE SECRET LIFE OF THE BRAIN draws on the latest discoveries of neuroscience to present a new view of how the brain ages.

The longstanding belief that we lose vast numbers of brain cells as we grow older turns out to be wrong. The normal aging process leaves most mental functions intact, and may even provide the brain with unique advantages that form the basis for wisdom. The aging brain is also far more resilient than was previously believed. At the University of Alabama at Birmingham, neuroscientist Edward Taub has developed an innovative form of therapy that helps stroke patients like Kent overcome years of paralysis by reviving the damaged circuits in their brains.

Overturning decades of dogma, scientists recently discovered that even into our seventies, our brains continue producing new neurons. Might it one day be possible to use these new neurons to replace those killed by disorders of the aging brain, like Parkinson's Disease? At Harvard Medical School, neurologist Jeffrey Macklis is trying to find out by trying to decipher the chemical signals that cause new neurons to be born. In St. Louis, 69-year-old Chuck has just been told he has Alzheimer's Disease, which slowly destroys the brain's ability to remember and to think. But Chuck is not without hope because neuroscientists have made enormous progress in identifying the likely causes of the disease: microscopic molecules that can be lethal to the brain's neurons. In California, scientist Dale Schenk has just developed an experimental vaccine that may help the brain to defend itself. After decades of frustration, scientists believe they are finally closing in on the first effective treatments for this devastating disorder that afflicts millions of Americans.