This month’s installment centers mainly on one clever ape in particular — neuroscientist Alexander G. Karczmar. As listeners learn in the story, Karczmar is one of the world authorities on cholinergic pathways — the network in our brains that communicates via one particular chemical, called acetylcholine. It was actually the first to be positively identified as a neurotransmitter. That system is implicated in all kinds of human characteristics, from aggressive behaviors to addiction to basic awareness of what we think of as “reality.” Nicky (as Dr. Karczmar is known) could talk about cholinergic pathways all day long (he wrote the book on it in 2007, at age 90). At our lunch at the Japanese restaurant (heard in the story), we spent a great deal of time discussing cholinergic alert non-mobile behavior and drug-resistance in mouse models of schizophrenia ”¦ only to have Nicky lament at the meal’s end, “But we didn’t even get to talk about the science!” This solicited groans from his wife, son and daughter-in-law.
Meanwhile, acetylcholine also brought together Karczmar and his chum Marsel Mesulam, who has done influential work mapping the network. Mesulam, as we hear, also runs the Alzheimer’s lab at Northwestern that’s conducting the Super Agers study (here is some info on it from his colleague, Dr. Emily Rogalski). They’ve recruited about 40 people so far, each of whom undergoes clinical evaluations to test their mental acuity. They also get their brains imaged and blood drawn. Then, finally, they agree to donate their brains after death. These brains are housed in the Alzheimer’s Center’s brain bank, seen above with Prof. Changiz Geula.