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Brain & Nervous System Health Center

Celebrity Photos Help Researchers Study Brain

Images of Halle Berry and Jennifer Aniston Spark Activity in Brain Cells
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WebMD Health News

June 22, 2005 -- Halle Berry and Jennifer Aniston often appear on magazine covers, but now they're in new territory -- the pages of the journal Nature and perhaps even your own brain.

The stars -- along with Julia Roberts and Kobe Bryant -- didn't team up for a new movie or public service ad. Instead, their images, or even only their names, got top billing in the latest project by Rodrigo Quian Quiroga, PhD.

Quiroga isn't a hot new director in Hollywood. He's a bioengineering lecturer at England's University of Leicester. Quiroga worked on the study while at the California Institute of Technology (Caltech) and UCLA.

Quiroga and colleagues watched single brain cells rev up when people saw pictures of certain celebrities or famous landmarks, like the Sydney Opera House or Italy's leaning tower of Pisa. The findings may cast brain cells in a new light.

The researchers looked at how our brains process visual information and long-term memory. They also looked at what role different brain regions and cells play in decoding images.

Star Power Meets the Brain

Quiroga's study included eight epilepsy patients. All had electrodes implanted in their brains to locate the origin of their seizures.

The study had nothing to do with epilepsy. Instead, the electrodes came in handy for another purpose. The patients agreed to let the electrodes be used to monitor individual brain cells or brain regions while the images were shown.

Everyone was a bit different. They had electrodes in different parts of an area of the brain related to memory and one of the first brain areas to falter when Alzheimer's disease strikes.

In one person, electrode readings spiked in a single brain cell when images related to Halle Berry came up. For another person, an electrode in a different location fired up when pictures of Jennifer Aniston were shown. Someone else had a brain cell that responded to images of the Sydney Opera House.

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