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Kids’ Cingulate Kortex Korner

Inquisitive youngsters early wonder how we move and why we hurt. Some even try to understand where the brain is located and what it does. In spite of the boom in neuroscience research, there are few avenues that engage young people in explorations of the mind and brain. We recognize that brain research is a family affair and we call Lukas and Emily the Cingulettes to refer to their role as young members of the Cingulum NeuroSciences research and teaching effort. This short section is an introduction to the Cingulettes and provides a few games and thoughts about the brain for children.  Lukas and Emily will develop this section over the coming years and will operate a chat room for kids. The internet exchange will involve all issues of interest to our younger citizens but from the general perspective of the brain and cingulate cortex in particular. If you wonder how this could be, please read about the Cingulettes.

On a recent visit to Cingulum NeuroSciences Institute, Lukas and Emily looked at brains and stained sections through some brains. Pictures of their visit are shown below as we discuss the brain and what it does. Let us ask questions about our selves and see what Lukas and Emily are learning.

Who am I?

I am a person with a body and a brain.  When I say I am a person, I am really saying that I have a mind that looks at the world and it helps me to remember, move, and do things.

My mind is the control center of my brain and body. It has access to all the memories stored in my brain like the last time we went to Disney or watched Star Wars.

The mind makes decisions about what I want to do like deciding if I should eat raspberry fudge ice cream for supper or a fresh garden salad.

My mind helps me decide what I want to avoid like the large, black dog across the street.

I am my mind.

Where is my mind?

If a boy is involved in a train accident and looses his leg, it is a painful experience but his mind does not change.  He is still the same person with the same memories, likes, and dislikes. Even if he had a neck injury and looses the use of much of his body, he is still the same person. This is because the mind is in the brain.

The brain is in the skull or cranium. Can you find the head, mouth, and brain in this little person?

The brain is in the large sack on the left of this little person.  It is stained light purple and is next to the star.

In July of 2001, the New Horizons Summer Program in North Carolina for 5-12 year olds visited Cingulum NeuroSciences Institute. During the visit Lukas explained a number of ideas about where the brain is located and how parts of it work. Below is a picture of him answering questions about the picture you see above.

The brain grows as we grow.

In the picture below, we see 8 pictures of children at different ages. As we grow older our body gets bigger. Here the growth is shown for a baby that is 12 weeks old and one that is 38 weeks old. We can also see that the brain goes from a small and flat surface to a large and complicated surface.

Here are other examples of the brain surface as it grows in the head of a baby.

The brain is in the skull and is very bumpy and the part that is in the spinal cord is very stringy like in the picture.

Some of the nerve endings that stick out from the spinal cord go to our face so that we can smile and eat.  Each of the yellow strings in the picture below is a nerve under the skin in your head.

Feel your head.  This is the cranium and your brain is in it.  You must wear a helmet when riding your bicycle, roller blades, and skateboard so that, if you fall, you will not bang your head and cause brain damage. Severe brain damage can mean that you will not be able to get out of a wheel chair for the rest of your life.  Please protect your brain and neck.

Localizing functions.

In the above example of a boy in a train accident, we see that brain function remains after damage to the body because the brain itself is not directly hurt. This same method is used to study how the brain works.  When part of the brain is hurt in a car accident by bumping against a hard object like the dashboard, it can damage part of the brain and cause a loss of function such as memory or speech.

Where is my mind in the brain?

OK, you say, we know I am my mind and the mind is in the brain but where in the brain is the mind located? Study of thousands of damaged brains over the past century suggests that one of the most important areas for mental function is in the cingulate gyrus. Damage to this part of the brain interferes with the mind and these people have difficulty enjoying life, relating to their family and friends, and responding to pain and other events in an appropriate way.  Thus, the mind and our sense of self and awareness of self is mainly in the cingulate gyrus and nearby frontal cortex.

My mind is in the cingulate gyrus.
“I” am in the cingulate gyrus.

Where is the cingulate gyrus?

The cingulate gyrus is a very important part of the brain. Where is it? Here is a picture of Lukas showing Emily the cingulate gyrus. He is explaining to her that if you cut the brain in exactly two pieces, the c-shaped structure in the middle is the cingulate gyrus.

Here is a picture of the middle surface of one half of the brain, which is also called a hemisphere.  The dots outline the cingulate gyrus and it is labeled CG. This is the region that Lukas is showing to Emily. The x’s mark the corpus callosum that is labeled cc. The corpus callosum is made of connections between the two hemispheres.

When we are happy or sad different parts of our brain are active.  Below are two pictures of the middle part of the brain in a person that was either happy or sad. Your feelings are located in the middle of your brain.

Here is the outside part of the brain with all of its bumps. Each bump is called a gyrus.  Download this brain and connect the dots to show the outside part of the brain. Touch the side of your head just above an ear.  If you did not have skin, hair, and a skull, you would be touching this lateral part of the brain.

What is the cingulate gyrus?

The cingulate gyrus is comprised of nerve cells, or neurons, and these neurons and their connections with other parts of the brain are referred to as cingulate cortex.  In order to see the neurons, we must cut the brain into paper-thin slices and stain it blue or brown. In this picture Emily is pointing to the cingulate gyrus that was placed on a large glass slide.

The cingulate gyrus is comprised of neurons together called cingulate cortex.

How do we see cingulate neurons? Neurons in the human brain are so small that you cannot see them with your eyes.  We need a microscope to magnify them (make them bigger). Here Emily is showing Lukas neurons by using a microscope for two people.

Here is a picture of cingulate neurons stained brown and red in the circles. These neurons have a long wire, or axon, that extends from cingulate cortex down the spinal cord. These axons can be 4 feet long in adults. Pretty long, huh?

In addition to an axon, every cingulate neuron has many arms or dendrites. The dendrites look like spaghetti sticking from a ball. Below is our pet bunny Scotty Oscar. He is looking into a projector so that he can see the dendrites on two cingulate neurons.

You may download the cingulate neurons below and color the dendrites. The numbers on the left refer to the layers of neurons in which each neuron and its dendrites are located. These neurons were stained with a method called the Golgi method after the man who discovered that silver can be used to stain neurons. Notice the fur lining the dendrites. This fur is comprised of thousands of little spines that let these neurons receive inputs from the axons of other neurons.

Before we go, let us do a maze search from one side of the brain to the other in “Lost in Thought.”

Here is a word search that includes a number of words we learned at this web site.

What is the most important part of the brain that is not part of the word search?


copyright 2004-2009 Cingulum NeuroSciences Institute. All rights reserved.
Brent A. and Leslie J. Vogt. bvogt@twcny.rr.com