In this Neurology overview lecture, Carlos A. Pardo, MD talks about the brain, spinal cord and cells: The actors and the movie. A neuro-primer for non-neurologists.
The human brain consists of about 200 billion neurones - cells which generate, receive and transmit nervous impulses - together with many more billions of "glial" cells (from the Greek word for glue).
The central nervous system consists of the brain and the spinal cord; the peripheral nervous system and the autonomic nervous system - the nerves elsewhere in the human body which are controlled by the central system- are the other components. The nervous system is central to human life - understanding its operation and those factors which make it work or, frequently, fail is the "core business" of the Neurological Foundation.
Neurology is the study of diseases and disorders of the nervous system. It overlaps with psychiatry and indeed in some countries there is a considerable interaction between the two. For example, Alois Alzheimer - after whom Alzheimer's disease was named - took up his first job after graduating in medicine at the state asylum in Frankfurt; later he became the Professor of Psychology at Friedrich-Wilhelm University, Breslau. Physiology (the science of functions of living organisms) and anatomy (the study of form and structure) are also major parts of the science of the human nervous system, along with neurosurgery. Together these branches of medical science have achieved major advances in man's understanding of himself (and increasingly it has been by women) so that much of the function of the nervous system is now understood, at least in outline, and most of its disorders have been identified. This science is barely 150 years old. Most neurological disorders have been identified in the last 100 years - Alzheimer gave his famous lecture in 1906; although
Parkinson described "shaking palsy" in 1817
, the dopamine deficit which causes this disease was identified only recently; Cushing's seminal work in neurosurgery all took place in the 20th century, most of it after 1912. Modern scientific techniques are enabling huge gains in knowledge; CT scanning and MRI have given us access to parts of the nervous system and particularly the brain which was impossible only a few years ago.
The recent growth in neuroscience activity reflects the increase in the incidence of neurological disorders and the intense academic interest focussed on the
study of neurology
; some authorities forecast an epidemic of neurodegenerative disorders such as Alzheimer's and other dementias; stroke is rapidly becoming the major single cause of death in the Western world. In 1971 - the year the Neurological Foundation was founded - 1,500 scientists attended the annual meeting of the Society for Neuroscience.
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