Tuesday, October 26, 2010

More of HM

Henry Molaison's digitized brain.
Here is another story about HM, this one, in the November Esquire, even longer and more thorough than the one I pointed to in my last post. It is by Luke Dittrich, who happens also to be the grandson of William Beecher Scoville, the surgeon who removed Molaison's hippocampus. This piece sheds some interesting light on Scoville and on the fascinating work of UC San Diego neuroanatomist Jacopo Annese, director of the Brain Observatory. Anesse was in charge of freezing HM's brain just after the experimental subject died two years ago. Then he thinly sliced it and took high-resolution images of each section to record it at a single-neuron level. The images will be digitized and reconstructed to make a publicly-available, explorable, 3-D rendition of what is already the most studied brain in history.

One thing has been bugging me a little, though. Why did the ambitious Scotville decide to remove both lobes of HM's hippocampus in the first place? Wouldn't it have been prudent to first remove one side and see if the seizures stopped? Was Scotville really just trying to quell HM's seizures, or was he also putting himself on the neuroscience map by revealing the function of those then-still-mysterious parts of the limbic system? If the latter, it deepens HM's already unfathomable martyrdom.

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