question on biochemistry and neuroscience

Richard S. Norman rnorman at
Mon Jun 3 14:47:42 EST 2002

On 3 Jun 2002 10:35:13 -0700, jonesmat at (Matt
Jones) wrote:

>"LeLeo" <leosuperb at> wrote in message news:<adf6dq$1dt3$1 at>...
>> Hi,
>> i am a undergraduate student majoring in biochemistry. I am about to start
>> with my final year project and i want to concentrate on the issue of the
>> relationship between biochemistry and consciousness as i feel very
>> fundamental and intriguing. But i have received no lectures nor training,
>> and my supervisor is not an expert in that area. So can anyone suggest how
>> can i begin with my project ?
>> Thank you very much !
>Yes, you definitely need to be more specific. Consciousness is a
>pretty big area, and not a very well-defined one.
>The simplest starting point, it seems to me, is to examine an area in
>which biochemstry can be observed to -change- consciousness in a clear
>and unambiguous fashion.
>One example might be the biochemstry of "consciousness-alterring"
>drugs, like LSD. However, exactly what alterrations in consciousness
>are produced by these drugs is complex and still not very
>I think a simpler starting point is to examine the biochemstry of
>drugs that (temporarily) -remove- consciousness altogether. This is a
>lot easier than trying to tackle complicated subtle effects. With
>these drugs, consciousness is either present or not present, depending
>on the dose of the drug.
>Luckily, the drugs I'm talking about are extremely common, are the
>oldest class of modern therapeautic drugs, and their molecular sites
>of action are starting to be worked out in fair detail (still an awful
>lot unknown about them, though).
>These drugs are the "general anesthetics" such as chloroform,
>barbiturates, etc, that are used during surgery to prevent conscious
>appreciation of the painful and traumatic surgery. Their action is
>1) Block reflex movements
>2) Block pain
>3) Block memory
>4) Block consciousness
>It remains unclear whether all four effects have a single biochemical
>cause, or multiple separate causes.
>Anyway, try a medline search for "general anesthetics & consciousness"
>to start with. Then to narrow it down to more mechanistic and
>biochemical considerations, try a search for "Franks & Lieb" (two of
>the main authors working on the biophysics of anesthesia).
>Good luck,

I think these general anesthetics are still too broad a subject for
you to tackle.  If you were my student, I would expect a really solid
and in depth study of the recent priimary literature on some very
specific topic of biochemical interest (I assume your senior "project"
is a library-based study, not an experimental one!  That would be a
whole other ball of wax!)  Consciousness and even the mechanism of
action of the general anesthetics are extremely general ideas.  It
would also be especially difficult for you to do a really top-notch
job in a field in which you have had zero background.

Why don't you get hold of some neurochemistry books and
browse through them first?  I suggest
    Goodman and Gilman, Pharmacological Basis of Therapeutics
    Cooper, Bloom, and Roth, Biochemical Basis of Neuropharmacology.
These will give you some broad background.  Then pick a specific topic
that interests you.  And most important of all -- clear all this with
your supervisor before making any decisions!

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