Mrs.S -Story

We are delighted to report on a patient with hydrocephalus after a stroke who has shown remarkable improvement over a period of 12 months with the help of our comprehensive care program- physiotherapy, psychology, speech therapy, and Ayurveda. The patient had suffered a stroke that resulted in hydrocephalus, which is a condition where there is an accumulation of cerebrospinal fluid in the brain.

The patient was initially unable to move her limbs and had great difficulty speaking; she was essentially wheel chair bound and had very limited mobility requiring considerable assistance for all activities. Being a former athlete and regular swimmer, she also experienced depression and anxiety due her disability. When she came to Buddhi Clinic, several months of physiotherapy delivered to her as a mono-therapy had not resulted in much improvement and she remained very disabled.

However, with the help of our team of healthcare professionals including the physiotherapist, psychologist, speech therapist, and Ayurvedic-Natturopathy practitioners, the patient began to show signs of improvement.

Physiotherapy helped the patient regain strength in the limbs and improve her mobility. Psychology sessions helped her cope with the emotional struggles of being physically impaired and unable to speak, and provided her with the tools to manage depression and anxiety. Speech therapy helped her to gradually regain her ability to communicate effectively.

Ayurveda played a significant role in the patient’s recovery as well. Our Ayurvedic practitioners prescribed external therapies that helped improve muscle tone, blood flow, overall mobility, alertness and motivation. Our holistic practitioners also recommended dietary and lifestyle changes that supported the patient’s overall health.

Through treatment the patient was under the care and supervision of our allopathic doctors who provided guidance on medication and therapy. Indeed, at the end of the first cycle of intensive therapy, the clinical note said:

Making good progress in therapy. She is now able to walk with limited support although she tends to be forward propulsive. Speech is present, expressive and appropriate with word finding difficulties being evident. She has problems with spontaneous speech. Family recognise that she is progressing well and report increased alertness, attempts to initiate action but also some confabulation. Utilisation behaviour observed.”


Plan: Therapy to continue for another full cycle.

With continued comprehensive care, with all four specialists remaining involved and the dedicated support of her spouse and caregivers, Mrs. S improved significantly. She was able to walk without assistance and perform daily activities first with little support and later independently. Her speech also improved, allowing her to communicate more effectively with others. At the end of one year of regular care, the clinical note was …

“Has made very good progress, is self ambulant, communicative, with improving ADL. Swallows well, speaks clearly, diet is diverse. Walking in the swimming pool (with suitable guidance and support) as well as cooking (used to be accomplished in this) and table top weaving (was a clothes designer before) discussed as OT.”


Plan: Therapy to continue with aforementioned focus

 Our combination of physiotherapy, psychology, speech therapy, and Ayurveda proved to be highly effective for this stroke patient with hydrocephalus who has also remained stable in medical management not requiring further surgical intervention. It is evident that a sustained, comprehensive and multidisciplinary program can help even those with serious neurological conditions and considerable disability, make significant progress towards regaining their independence and improving their quality of life.

Mr. Keerthi V
Senior specialist- Physical therapy


Back to the Hills

In October of 2010, I was introduced to an elderly lady admitted under Dr. Ennapadam S Krishnamoorthy and Dr. Rema Raghu in the Intensive Care Unit of one of our admitting hospitals.  She was 88 years old, and had just suffered a stroke, which affected her mobility greatly.   

I was assigned to lead our therapy team to assist in her recovery. On her part, I found her determined to get better too. Thence started my fascinating and enduring journey with Mrs. A.  

Our Buddhi Clinic team started working with her and in the intensive phase, the comprehensive therapy delivered to her included physiotherapy (electrotherapy, manual therapy and exercise therapy, each session lasting one hour), holistic external therapies using a combination of Ayurveda, Naturopathy & Acupressure, and psychological supportive care including relaxation training. All this was delivered along with allopathic (modern medical) treatment, first in the ICU, then in the hospital room and finally after discharge at her home.

With these comprehensive therapies, Mrs. A began to recover from the effects of her stroke. So much so that after the initial 5-6 week period of intensive therapy, the step down care became physiotherapy alone.  As her physiotherapist, I was introduced to her large extended family, whose support and care she enjoyed. During her therapy sessions she liked to speak about her family members and their support, all of which played a major role in her recovery.  She thus not only shared her family with me, her hospitality, love and care was very moving. 

Mrs. A. was someone who usually spent the summer months at a hill station where she had a beautiful property.  Unfortunately, that year, because of her illness, she was unable to undertake her summer trip.  However, her determination to get better and cooperation with therapy and rehabilitation was such, that she could, quite quickly, stand and walk again.  So much so, that the very next summer, she was able to go back to her favourite hill station, and walk in the hills again. A big salute to her!

Mr. D.Jerald M Yuvaraj                                                                                                                                      
MPT(NEURO); MIAP; MS; MAPP; MSC; DCM ; MHSC (NEURO)                                                                                         
HOD & Senior specialist-Physical therapy.


The Future of Integrative Medicine in India


On 11th May 2023, in a significant development, a Memorandum of Agreement (MoA) was signed between the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR), under the Union Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, and the Union Ministry of Ayush, (Ayush standing for Ayurveda, yoga, unani, siddha and homeopathy), to promote and collaborate on integrative health care and research. The MoA will enable both parties to jointly establish Ayush-ICMR Centres for Advanced Research in Integrative Health at the All India Institutes of Medical Sciences (AIIMS), in India. Inpatient and outpatient services will be established in the new Integrated Medicine departments of all 23 ‘functioning’ AIIMS which earlier served only as Ayush service departments. The studies will  extend to areas of public health as well. This initiative is planned to place integrative medicine  on a firmer footing  and for it to justifiably gain wider acceptance.

ICMR proposes to strengthen evidence-based research capacity of the team. Research methodology needs a face lift even at undergraduate levels in India. Establishing a working committee of experts and workshops and training programs across the centres will enhance the co-learning process and organizational stability. ICMR plans to update The National Ethical Guidelines for Biomedical and Health Research Involving Human Participants’ 2017 with a developed comprehensive section on Integrative Medicine ethics, based on research inputs from the newly established ICMR-Ayush centres.

Can an Integrated System of Medicine Work?

The Hindu Podcast  Can an Integrated System of Medicine Work?on 19th May,2023,(follow podcast link and write up given here), featured Dr.Cyriac Abby Philips, Senior Consultant and Clinical Scientist in Hepatology, Rajagiri Hospital, Kochi, opposing the move and Dr. Ennapadam S. Krishnamoorthy, Founder and Neuropsychiatric Consultant, Buddhi Clinic, Chennai, as the proponent. Buddhi Clinic offers Neuropsychiatric care and management by a multidisciplinary team following the modern medicine approach, and integrates it with some non-pharmacological therapies. The host, Ms. Zubeda Hamid, initiated the dialogue seeking  the two consultants’ views on the above Union Government initiative. They had diametrically opposite view in some areas of Integrative Medicine, but came together in one voice on  randomised controlled trials as gold standard and the standardisation of formulations critical to uniformity of dosage. Dr.Philip’s misgivings were based on the side effects of some Ayush medications, and the very rare hepatotoxicity with liver injury as an adverse event. The NIH, USA, has expressed concern over cases of heavy metal poisoning with Ayurvedic formulations.

The dramatic global growth of the Traditional Complementary and Alternative Medicine (T-CAM) movement during the last 3 decades is also a people’s movement to seek alternative therapies to relieve unrelenting pain or to have possible respite from the travails of chronic illness. It also comes with the realization that though modern medicine offers evidence-based healthcare, the latest technologies, and has no substitute in emergency care, it does not have all the answers and 20% of patients can be non-responders. CAM is a global phenomenon, WHO reporting that 80% of the global population have opted for it at some stage in their life. In this context, foreign governments and regulatory bodies also appear to have accepted the call for broader approaches to healthcare. The latest global collaborative move in this direction, is the signing of the MoU and  onsite launch of WHO Global Centre for Traditional Medicine, Jamnagar, India, which  took place between the Ministry of Ayush and WHO on 21st April 2022, to establish  WHO – GCTM, with India as the host country. It is planned to start functioning by mid-2024. This new ‘pluraristic approach’ to healthcare goes with the caveat that all new, potentially useful healthcare interventions, must establish their safety, quality and efficacy.

The overall aim of drug standardization is to ensure the quality, efficacy and uniformity of the products, in terms of their chemical and biological properties. Ayurvedic formulations are designed and manufactured based on unique principles of Ayurveda pharmacology, many of which exert a multi-drug-multi-target mode of action effect, due to the presence of several bioactive molecules in its natural form. This is different from the single-drug-single-target action of modern molecular drugs. This complicates evidence-based research in herbal formulations, and even standardization can be difficult. The active medicinal molecule may be isolated through chromatographic methods, but the identification and role of the other bioactive molecules may remain unknown.

There are several peer-reviewed international journals on Integrative Medicine. Two leading Indian online international journals, both open access, peer-reviewed, quarterly publications are:  Journal of Ayurveda and Integrative Medicine, established in 2010, (published jointly by The Institute of Trans-disciplinary Health Sciences and Technology and The World Ayurveda Foundation and published on Elsevier) and   Indian Journal of Integrative Medicinewhich started publication about 4 years back.

Integrative Health Research must aim at a transdisciplinary approach. ‘Transdisciplinary’ involves the integration and transformation of fields of knowledge from multiple perspectives in order to define, address, and resolve complex  problems, the integration transcending individual disciplines.  National Health Policy (2017) in ‘Mainstreaming the Potential of AYUSH’ puts focus on sensitizing practitioners of each system to respect the strengths of the other.

There is a wealth of wisdom and ancient traditions which can be incorporated  sensibly and safely, for the well­being of the human race. A systematic, goal-directed  approach, (within time frames), under the Union Government umbrella, with comfortable levels of funding, common training programs, pooling the multicentre data of clinical findings under intention to treat in  standard method against Ayush approaches, longitudinal studies, phytochemical analysis, all under a strong leadership and committed stakeholders, must yield results. The challenge is to ‘modernize’ Ayush and make it relevant and contextual and to  create a  robust  interface between Ayush and modern science. The strength of ancient systems lie in promotive and preventive health, treatment of NCDs,  regenerative medicine and mind-body science in mental health. Not to be forgotten is the in situ conservation of wild gene pools of medicinal herbs and the benefits of integrative research reaching the poor of our country.


Dr. Krishnamoorthy Srinivas 90th Birthday Memorial Lecture


The Dr. Krishnamoorthy Srinivas 90th Birthday Memorial Lecture Webinar was delivered on 15th  February, 2023 by Prof. Christopher Mathias, under the auspices of Buddhi Clinic, Chennai. Mrs. Krishnamoorthy Srinivas, Prof. ES Krishnamoorthy,  Founder-Director of Buddhi Clinic and his team were present at the clinic venue. It was fitting that Ms.Aparna Rajagopal, a lawyer by training, (with over a decade of dedication to her animal sanctuary and sustainable animal farm, Beejom in Noida), opened the proceedings with old, fond memories and a daughter’s perspective of a ‘good friend’ and a doctor father. For family and close friends, it was an event to honour the life of a loved one, and to professional colleagues, Srinivas’  legacy of  commitment and excellence in medical care.

Eminent senior members of the Indian Neuroscience fraternity participated in the Webinar to honour the memory of Prof. Krishnamorthy Srinivas – Prof. P. Satish Chandra, former Vice Chancellor of National Institute of Mental Health and Neurosciences (NIMHANS), Bengaluru, Prof. Man Mohan Mehndirattha, Former Director and Professor, Department of Neurology, Gobind Ballabh Pant Institute of Medical Education, New Delhi  and Prof. AV Srinivasan, Emeritus Professor, Tamil Nadu Dr MGR Medical University. AV Srinivasan, who was one of Dr. Srinivas’ earliest DM (Neurology) students and later associated closely as a professional colleague, spoke at some length about his guru. He traced  the professor’s   long years of training in the UK and later in Canada, the pioneering effort in establishing Neurology as a superspecialty in India, building a small  department of Neurology in the well served Community Medicine centre-Voluntary Health Services (VHS) Medical Centre, Chennai, (later a multispecialty hospital), bringing world Neurology to India through the endowment lectures and interaction with the Indian Neurology groups, medical students and the lay audience, and his distinguished national and international awards and honours. The note of appreciation  summed up the professor’s legacy- Dr. Srinivas, teacher, researcher, administrator, but always a clinician; a family man, with admiration for his devoted wife Padma and the achievements of his two children- Prof. ES Krishnamoorthy  and Ms. Aparna Rajagopal and their respective spouses. Prof. Krishnamoorthy Srinivas followed Prof. Christopher Mathias achievements in the UK in the field of ANS with interest and could not deny a sense of pride in his Indian origin. The  prestigious lectures he has delivered worldwide include (under the ‘Srinivas umbrella’) the 3rd Prof. K Srinivas lecture, Chennai (2005); K. Gopalakrishna lecture, Chennai (2006); and TS Sinivasan Conclave Lecture, NIMHANS, Bangalore (2015), 35th TS Srinivasan Gold Medal Award and Endowment Oration, Chennai (2015).

Prof. Christopher Mathias MBBS, LRCP&S, DPhil, DSc, FRCP, FMedSci

Institute of Neurology, University College London ,
National Hospital for Neurology and Neurosurgery, Queen Square, London, UK

Neurovascular and Autonomic Medicine, The Lindo Wing,
Imperial College NHS Healthcare Medicine at St. Mary’s Hospital, London, UK

Graduating with a record of academic excellence from St. John’s Medical College, Bangalore, India, in 1972 and receiving the State Award for Academic Distinction, Mathias set foot in the UK with a Rhodes scholarship to Oxford University. What followed was his trail-blazing career trajectory in the field of Neurovascular and Autonomic Medicine. In 1987 he was awarded the Fellowship of the Royal College of Physicians, London, in 1995 the Doctorate of Science (DSc) in the Faculty of Science at London University and In 2001 he was elected to the Academy of Medical Sciences (FMedSci). In 1991 he founded Clinical Autonomic Research, the first medical journal dedicated to clinical autonomic neuroscience. He is Senior Co-Editor, with Sir Roger Bannister, of Autonomic Failure: a Textbook of Clinical Disorders of the Autonomic Nervous System, which is in its 5th edition in 2014.

Prof. Mathias was Clinical Service and Research Director of two leading NHS and academic departments in London, the Pickering (Neurovascular Medicine) Unit at St. Mary’s Hospital, and the Autonomic Unit at the National Hospital for Neurology and Neurosurgery, Queen Square. The centers were amalgamated in 2014, and are now based at Queen Square. He is Emeritus Professor of the Institute of Neurology since 2014. In 2014 he founded the Autonomic & Neurovascular Medicine Centre at the Hospital of St. John & St. Elizabeth, incorporating the latest techniques and with experienced autonomic personnel.
Prof. Mathias has served on many national and international committees. He was a founding member of the Clinical Autonomic Research Society of Great Britain (Secretary, 1982-1986, Chairman, 1987-1990). He was Foundation President of the European Federation of Autonomic Societies (1998 to 2004). He has served on international task forces (EFNS, American Spinal Injuries Association) and on consensus groups (such as the American Autonomic Society 1996 and American Academy of Neurology, Boston 2007). He was a Trustee of Stoke Mandeville in the Spinal Research (2017-2019).He has been Chair of the Autonomic Group of the Ehlers-Danlos International Consortium, the Ehlers-Danlos Society from 2018.
In the Dr Krishnamoorthy 90th Birthday Memorial Lecture, Prof. Christopher Mathias recollected the warm welcome he had received from Prof. Srinivas when he visited India and discussions on the luminaries Srinivas trained with while in the UK.

Prof. Christopher Mathias traced the history of the development in the field of ANS in the UK, much of which he had witnessed in a key central position as clinician-researcher with the most eminent pioneers in this then somewhat neglected field (Prof. Sir John Spalding, Prof. Stanley Peart and Prof Roger Bannister, to name a few) and in the best UK centres with focus on ANS studies. He took the audience through his professional journey, with fascinating historical references interwoven with the scientific details of his 5 decade long contribution in the ANS field.

Falling Humans, Failing Neurons: Meeting the Challenge of Autonomic Dysfunction

“Faints, falls, fits, flutter, funny turns” was the intriguing list presented by Prof. Christopher Mathias at the outset of his lecture, indicating clinical presentations of autonomic dysfunction with its challenge of falling humans, often pointing to failing neurons. Central to the lecture was the neurovascular and neurohormonal aspects of ANS, stretching from basic knowledge to ‘new millennium disorders’ in this burgeoning field.

Mathias referred to the sympathetic and parasympathetic components of the Autonomic Nervous System (ANS) and the wide range of involuntary control exerted by these components on visceral body functions, often working in opposite directions in their role of homeostatic regulation. Signs and symptoms of autonomic involvement may be related to impairment of cardiovascular, gastrointestinal, urogenital, thermo-regulatory, sudomotor, and pupillomotor autonomic functions.

 Postural  hypotension or orthostatic hypotension (OH) ranging from ‘dizziness’ to syncope , may have multiple causes which  may  be related to  the  heart, brain or    ANS. It may be fixed, as in autonomic failure, or intermittent, as in autonomic-mediated syncope or postural tachycardia syndrome (PoTS). Autonomic –mediated syncope may occur in even superfit persons, such as in vaso-vagal syncope which is the ‘more common form’ of fainting episodes.

OH cuts across several neurovascular ANS conditions. In the normal upright position adopted by the human, the cardiovascular system comes under the influence of gravitational forces, with a fall in pressure above heart level. This exposes the brain to impaired perfusion if adequate adaptive mechanisms are not in place. The heart is unable to achieve adequate perfusion pressure independently and that is where the ANS come to the aid, by monitoring the BP and heart rate. Afferents from the heart, lungs, large vessels and baroreceptors feed information to the brain. The parasympathetic regulation of heart rate (HR) is through the vagus to the heart. There is a parallel sympathetic outflow. Sympathetic output also stimulates release of noradrenaline, which hormone constricts the blood vessels. OH occurs when mechanisms for the regulation of orthostatic (standing) BP control fails. Standing, in normal subjects, results in a fall in blood pressure and this fall is sensed by baroreceptors.  The initial fall in BP is corrected by an increase in heart rate and total systemic resistance with noradrenaline release causing vasoconstriction. Regulation by baroreceptors is also dependent on normal blood volume, and defenses against excessive venous pooling.

Mathias arrived at Worcester College in 1972 with a Rhodes scholarship from Oxford, and as graduate awardee, was offered work on animals in basic sciences. But he had hoped to be engaged in human studies, and preferably in Cardiology. When he showed his disappointment, John Walker, the college tutor suggested that he approach Prof. John Spalding in the Department of Neurology at  Churchill Hospital, who was engaged in research on humans on cardiovascular control linked with ANS.

Prof John Spalding took Dr. Mathias on as supervisor in 1973 at Churchill Hospital   Prof. Spalding was an active member of the Oxford team in the early 1950s that developed the East Radcliffe ventilator following a visit to Copenhagen at the epicentre of one of the world’s most devastating polio epidemics. He was convinced that in the acute phase of severe polio, other than the respiratory distress, the autonomic dysfunction was serious and called for urgent attention. Prof. Spalding wished to expand the scope of understanding the ANS role with similar studies on tetanus on the ventilator. Dr. John Corbett, after being awarded his doctorate, was on the verge of leaving for Ibadan and Lagos, Nigeria for this study. As there were not many cases available in the UK, Mathias hoped to get the required cohort for the study by joining the team. Marked autonomic instability with violent autonomic disturbances, severe hypertension and tachycardia, alternating with hypotension and bradycardia was the clinical picture in severe tetanus. Though “it was an amazing experience, it was difficult to record results in an organized manner” said Mathias.  Back in the UK, he got Prof. Spalding’s nod to continue similar ANS studies in tetraplegics and quadriplegics. Prof. Hans Frankel had taken  over from Prof. Ludwig Guttmann as Director, National Spinal Injuries Centre, Stoke Mandeville Hospital, Aylesbury. Dr. Mathias worked alongside with Prof. Frankel on several significant studies with the crucial clinical approach, taking into account the site and completeness of the spinal lesion.

In his lecture Mathias touched on Sir Ludwig Guttmann’s committed pioneering work at Stoke Mandeville from 1944, with several war casualties with spinal injuries being admitted. He had converted Stoke Mandeville into a centre for comprehensive care in spinal injury patients, and to this day it is run as a national centre of unmatched excellence. Today’s world Paralympics Games (which follows the Olympics in the same arena since 1960), had its humble beginnings as ‘Stoke Mandeville Games’ for Guttmann’s patients and he was the initiator of this and saw it reach such heights of recognition.

In one of the studies at Stoke Mandeville, in head up tilt on control subjects, the upright position produced a normal response. However, in high spinal cord lesion patients, (with no sympathetic outflow) the BP fell markedly, as there was no noradrenaline release.  There was a rise in the HR as the vagus was intact, but did not succeed in bringing up the BP. Were there other substances involved in BP control was the question that researchers faced – perhaps  prostaglandins, acetylcholine or renin-angiotensin. Prof. Stanley Peart was the expert on the renin-angiotensin-aldosterone system, from its clinical role to laboratory isolation and purification of angiotensin. Mathias approached him and through Christiansen (in a specialized Denmark laboratory), levels of a range of relevant substances was measured. Renin levels went up and rolled back, and aldosterone a little later, as it is dependent on angiotensin II. This suggested that the sympathetic nervous system was not the sole factor in BP control. Renin release and other mechanisms were involved, perhaps with the kidney as the source. Suprapubic tap resulted in BP rise and renin release. The conclusion drawn was that in tetraplegic patients, renin release during head-up tilt may occur independently of sympathetic nervous activity and is probably largely dependent on activation of renal vascular receptors. The renin-angiotensin-aldosterone system plays an important role in regulating blood volume and systemic vascular resistance, which together influence cardiac output and arterial pressure. For the first time this saw linking of the pathophydsiological lesion with the substances involved.

In a subsequent study, noradrenaline was infused through an intrarterial line in the arm or lower limb, an invasive procedure, to make it possible to monitor BP and HR continuously. Circulating noradrenaline during infusion did not significantly differ between the tetraplegics and the controls. However, over a wide range of doses by infusion, the blood pressure rose much more in the tetraplegics than in the controls. The findings indicate that tetraplegic subjects have an enhanced pressor response, as seen in the supersensitivity to the infused noradrenaline.

 Mathias did a stint in General Medicine between 1976 to 1979 at London and Portsmouth, paving the way to his MRCP, which was awarded in 1978. Following this period, Prof. Sir Stanley Peart suggested that Mathias continue in the ANS field. In 1978 he was awarded the Wellcome Trust Senior Clinical Research Fellowship. He had the honorary post as clinical assistant to work with Sir Stanley Peart at St. Mary’s Hospital and Medical School, University of London near Paddington, (the hospital where Sir Alexander Fleming discovered penicillin).

The Medical Unit at St. Mary’s was the hub of activity then, and a major study that Mathias was involved in, was ‘Neurogenic and renovascular hypertension-central and peripheral mechanisms in renal artery stenosis’ The underlying mechanism in renovascular hypertension involves decreased perfusion to the kidney and activation of the renin-angiotensin-aldosterone (RAAS) pathways to  elevate blood pressure by direct peripheral effects ( from increased afferent renal nerve activity) and probably through stimulation of sympathetic activity, which may  result from the central effects of angiotensin-II. The chronic ischemia produced by the obstruction of renal blood flow leads to changes in the kidney and  secretion of renin, the renin angiotensin –aldosterone system playing  a role.  Angiotensin  is responsible for vasoconstriction and release of aldosterone which causes sodium and water retention, thus resulting in secondary hypertension or renovascular hypertension as demonstrated experimentally  in patients with renal artery stenosis. The neurogenic components maintaining hypertension in renal artery stenosis are largely dependent on renal ischaemia, as revascularization by surgery, ameliorates or cures the hypertension in the majority of the patients studied. Denervation of the peripheral blood vessels by ablation demonstrated marked reductions in blood pressure in patients with resistant hypertension and elevated renal sympathetic nerve activity.

In 1984 Mathias was awarded a Wellcome Trust Senior Lectureship in Medicine, held jointly between St. Mary’s and the Institute of Neurology, working with Professor Sir Stanley Peart and Sir Roger Bannister till 1992. The  collaborative  study was on disorders with progressive autonomic failure –Parkinson’s disease, Multiple System Atrophy and Lewy Body disease, with cohorts for each one of these conditions.  Pure autonomic failure (PAF) which often presents with orthostatic hypotension, reduced heart rate variability, anhydrosis, erectile dysfunction, and constipation, without motor or cognitive impairment, was also studied.

In 1987 Prof. Mathias was awarded the Fellowship of the Royal College of Physicians, London (FRCP). Interdisciplinary studies in nocturnal polyuria, post prandial hypotension, exercise-induced hypotension and Dopamine beta hydroxylase deficiency were the studies that followed.

 In May 1991 the University of London conferred on Prof. Mathias the title of Professor of Neurovascular Medicine, held between St. Mary’s Hospital Medical School and the Institute of Neurology, British Postgraduate Medical Federation, London. He was Clinical Service and Research Director of two leading NHS and academic departments in London, the Pickering (Neurovascular Medicine) Unit at St. Mary’s Hospital, and the Autonomic Unit at the National Hospital for Neurology and Neurosurgery, Queen Square. These were tertiary referral centres serving the entire United Kingdom, also with international referrals. He pioneered the creation of clinical autonomic scientists, developments in laboratory autonomic testing, and with autonomic nurses, developed and streamlined autonomic diagnosis, investigation and treatment of many autonomic conditions.

That same year, Prof. Mathias founded the first medical journal dedicated to clinical autonomic neuroscience and served as editor till 1995, and continued as co-editor till 2013.  Another important publication in Dec. 2001 was, of Autonomic Failure: a Textbook of Clinical Disorders of the Autonomic Nervous System, as Senior Editor, with Sir Roger Bannister.

In1995 Prof. Mathias was awarded the Doctorate of Science (DSc) in the Faculty of Science at London University. In2001 he was elected to the Academy of Medical Sciences (FMedSci). It was in recognition of Prof. Mathias’ contribution to ‘information of enormous value to both physiology and medicine in his work on supposedly rare disorders’.

In Feb. 2001, the analysis of 641 patients between 1992-1998, with recurrent syncope and presyncope, after cardiac, neurological, and metabolic causes were  excluded, was published. Autonomic aetiology was diagnosed in 310 cases on the basis of clinical features and screening autonomic tests. Orthostatic hypotension and confirmed chronic autonomic failure was the diagnosis in 31 (4·8%) patients; neurally-mediated syncope was diagnosed in 279 (43·5%).  Most of this group had vasovagal syncope (227 [35%]); other causes including carotid sinus hypersensitivity (37 [5·8%]), and a group of 15 (2·3%) were associated with rarer causes such as micturition syncope. 331 cases were of a miscellaneous, non autonomic group, rare cardiovascular causes like systemic hypotension, arrhythmias, or drugs, contributing to syncope in 53 cases; vestibular dysfunction in 32 and epilepsy in 11 cases of non-autonomic neurological causes. In 56 a psychiatric cause was thought to be contributory and in 179, the syncope was of unknown cause.

Progressively, there was an exponential rise in clinical referrals to the Neurovascular and Autonomic unit from 500 cases earlier to about  5000 cases and the various factors responsible for this increase was analysed. The above study brought to focus the significant role of autonomic testing in syncope and presyncope for evidence-based diagnosis, and management. Autonomic testing equipment and specialised laboratory tests had progressively improved and expanded their scope. Aside from this, the journal Clinical Autonomic Research, started in 1991, had gained in recognition and had established itself as the official international journal of the American Autonomic Society, the Clinical Autonomic Research Society of Great Britain, and the European Federation of Autonomic Societies and this led to referrals from outside the country as well. ‘New millennium autonomic disorders’, like PoTS required specialty diagnosis and management and new innovative approaches were employed. Prof. Stanley Peart’s leadership and expertise,- “His uncanny prescience about new millennium autonomic disorders” as Prof. Mathias put it, contributed immensely to the progress in the field.

PoTS, a rare clinical syndrome characterized by an increase in heart rate of at least 30 beats per minute on standing, and orthostatic intolerance, In PoTS, standing brings on symptoms such as palpitations, lightheadedness, brain fogging, and fatigue. It is a  major cause of orthostatic intolerance  especially in the young. 13-40 years, with greater prevalence in the female sex. Symptoms are often exacerbated after food ingestion, exertion and heat. The onset of PoTS often is linked to a triggering stressful event, followed by a long period of bed rest. Patients with PoTS are trained to live with the condition and avoid precipitating factors. The most common associated condition is the joint hypermobile form of Ehlers-Danlos syndrome.

 Prof. Mathias was involved in functional autonomic brain imaging studies with Prof. Hugo Critchley at the Wellcome Neuroimaging Lab at Queen Square from 2002.  Dr Critchley’s  research focused primarily on mind-body-brain interactions and he had published widely on emotion, autonomic psychophysiology, and interoception. Many autistic and  ADHD individuals struggle with awareness and response to interoceptive signalling of the  state of the inside body and the  ability to identify, understand and respond to them, which is so crucial  to survival.

The coupling of cognitive and emotional behaviour with sympathetic arousal was studied. with Prof. Criitley. One such .fMRI study to examine regional brain activity associated with autonomic cardiovascular control was during performance of effortful cognitive and motor tasks (which involves stress). 3 patients with focal damage of the anterior cingulate cortex (ACC), while they performed these tasks, had abnormal autonomic cardiovascular responses and blunted autonomic arousal to the mental stress, unlike in the 147 normal subjects tested in identical fashion, where the ACC supports generation of associated autonomic states of cardiovascular arousal.

Prof. Christopher Mathias is Emeritus Professor of the Institute of Neurology  since  2014. He founded the Autonomic & Neurovascular Medicine Centre at the Hospital of St. John & St. Elizabeth incorporating the latest techniques and with experienced autonomic personnel.  


Your Creative Brain

– Buddhi Clinic’s Brain and Behaviour Dialogue with the legendary Prof. Michael R Trimble of University College, London, curated and presented by Neurokrish

The Buddhi Clinic virtual programme   on 26/12/2020 was  a ‘ Brain and Behaviuor  Dialogue‘. Prof Ennapadam S Krishnamoorthy, who was Raymond Way Fellow  in Behavioural Neurology and Neuropsychiatry, UCL, from 1997, under the mentorship of Prof. Michael R. Trimble, introduced his guru of many years. He gave a brief outline of Trimble’s illustrious career and observed that there could be no better person to elucidate the Brain and Behaviour interface . 

As Chair in Behavioural Neurology and Neuropsychiatry of the Raymond Way Research unit, Institute of Neurology, Queen Square, London, and Professor in the same disciplines, Trimble established a unique system of academic mentorship over three decades. This led to neuropsychiatry worldwide remaining associated with the Raymond Way group long after the trainees and fellows left Queen Square. As a sensitive clinician, committed researcher and erudite scholar, Trimble had chosen the less trodden path, to establish neuropsychiatry as a recognised global academic and clinical discipline.

Krishnamoorthy set the ball rolling with “What made you choose Neuropsychiatry?”  Trimble observed that the term ‘Neuropsychiatry’ was always a problem, with neurologists in Europe using it vaguely to indicate psychosomatic disorders; Freud unable to give it true meaning in his attempt, through a psychoanalytic viewpoint; the Behaviourists reluctant to give up their  simplistic ‘stimulus-response paradigm’! 

Trimble observed that it was the dawn of a new era when EEG evidence of the pathophysiology in a neurological disorder, with associated psychological problems, emerged in the late 1950s. Frederic Gibbs’ pioneering EEG studies in Boston, recorded the anatomical localisation of a form of seizure  to the  temporal lobe, which was replicable over a number of patients. This established the relationship between anterior temporal lobe abnormality and the psychopathology of epilepsy. Modern Neuropsychiatry took a definitive step forward in the 1960s and 1970s, with the discovery of the structure, function and circuitry of the limbic system of the brain. Trimble recalled that as the only Behavioural Neurology consultant in UK for a long spell, he participated in the ‘neuropsychiatric awakening’ of the 1970s, and enjoyed lecturing on limbic neuroanatomy. Neuroimaging resulted in several other revelations in the brain-behavior link. The Raymond Way group, were involved in early PET studies in the 1990s that showed the volume of the hippocampus to be smaller in schizophrenia patient. 

Trimble’s dictum is that every neurologist must aim at proficiency in  neuroanatomy. This should include brain dissection and not learning through anatomical waxwork models! One wonders if every step in Trimble’s higher education and training trajectory, toward specialisation in Behavioural Neurology, was planned by him well ahead, in order to achieve the thoroughness and authority in his field, which his professional career reflects. Trimble’s first degree was in Neuroanatomy with Sir Solly Zuckerman, followed by MPhil in Psychopharmacology before he trained at Radcliffe Infirmary for MRCP, at National Hospital, Queen Square in Neurology and at Maudsley in Psychiatry. As Johns Hopkins Fellow, he was exposed to American psychiatry for the first time. Though there was demand for his expertise in new drug development, in temporal lobe epilepsy, in particular, he opted for association with the legendary Prof Lennart Heimer, in his research lab. Trimble enjoyed being in his old familiar ground of animal studies, primatology  and  neuroanatomy, but this time round with years of clinical and scientific expertise behind it. In the four-author publication on  ‘Anatomy of Neuropsychiatry’ (dealing with the latest discoveries in limbic system-basal ganglia circuitry, structure, function and pathology), with Heimer as lead author, Trimble, provided the valuable  link between  basic science sections and clinical neuropsychiatry.

Why did Prof. Trimble go into the field of Neuraesthetics?

As emeritus professor, since 2004, Prof. Trimble had the ‘leisure’ to consolidate his kaleidoscopic professional experiences and find the link to integrate them with his natural inclination towards  creativity and the Arts. This resulted in three  book publications, which go to form the subject of this online Brain and Behaviour dialogue. The rich fare presented, moved seamlessly from ‘Psychoses of Epilepsy’, championing the right brain along with other neuroscientist thinkers, to the power of the human voice in music at a Wagner opera; why Gana the gorilla at the Muenster zoo, who grieved the loss of her son  did not cry ? or why humans, on occasion, find the need to move beyond the  mundane, towards ‘a transcendental state of consciousness’?

   The Soul in the Brain: The Cerebral Basis of Language, Art, and Belief 

                                  Johns Hopkins University Press  (2007) 

This was the first book discussed. In this provocative study, Prof. Trimble alludes to the interrelationship between brain function, language, art—especially music and poetry—and religion. Inspired by the writings and reflections of his patients, Trimble was drawn into the study of their individual artistic ability, in which he observed a clear pattern. He came to the conclusion that writing effective poetry is probably incompatible with certain disorders-schizophrenia being one, and seems to be highly restricted by epilepsy. Even in the literature, there are very few acknowledged poets with schizophrenia- as the content, metre and prosody cannot be sustained by them. “To be a musician of the canon with schizophrenia seems impossible, as a compositional score, of say Wagner or Brahms, have notes that go on and on and must follow a trend to cohere with the same narrative over a long period”. However, there were patients with manic depressive psychosis (bipolar disorder) who were capable of poetry and music. Another study by the Raymond Way group showed that some patients with temporal lobe epilepsy were ‘hyperreligious’, well above the expected  range of involvement in religion. Hypergraphia was another unique temporal lobe phenomenon, but the content of the voluminous pages of writing was poor and lacked cogency.

The  ‘Soul in the Brain’ brings together poetry, music (and going back to Greek culture, which offers a third element within Greek theatre) and dancing. This  ‘total work of art’, integrating music, poetry and dancing, has  ‘movement’. Trimble referred to the German term–‘Gesamkunstwerk’ for this integration of different art forms to create a single cohesive whole. This term finds acceptance in English in the field of aesthetics. “Movement in the arts affects our brain and ourselves in a different way, and that is where neuroaesthetics comes in” Trimble explained. His own keen interest in opera, drew him deeper into the realm of Neuroaesthetics and the role of the brain and mind. 

The story of creativity started with language.  Broca localized language to a small area in the left anterior frontal region, based on the study of his stroke patients. Hughlings Jackson, a contemporary of Broca, was skeptical about his findings and maintained that a higher order brain function like language could not be confined to a small circumscribed area.  Hughlings Jackson, with his visionary understanding of the working of the human brain and mind, well ahead of his times, could be called the founder of modern Neuropsychiatry, Trimble opined. 

Scientists were preoccupied with language syntax, and if this was in place and a lesion did not involve the left hemisphere, language was assumed to be normal. It took  deeper study of patients with lesion of right anterior frontal region by experts, to spot the subtler missing elements in language,  elements which boost its richness, namely, the emotional tone and prosody, (the latter so important to poetry). There was poverty of creative expression, of metaphors and other   semantic aspects of language. Language is accompanied by gesticulation. There was slow acceptance, that it required the coordination of both hemispheres to make language. 

Going back in time to ancient Greek culture, Trimble traced it to Athens and  to the Festival of Dionysus, celebrated to this day, with much  music , dance, revelry and abandon, in the spirit of freedom, reminiscent of the romantic era. Of the arts, linking music with religion became prominent during the Renaissance period and resulted even in moving small operas into churches. Opera marked the highpoint of Western musical culture in the 19th and 20th century. Trimble observed that the propensity to art occupies a spectrum, and varies between individuals and also periods in history, e.g., between the Baroque  and  Romantic periods of Western culture. Ancient Greek cultural music and art forms had a profound impact in shaping European culture through the ages.Interestingly, Iain McGilchrist conceives that it is “the brain that has shaped the world”, in his  book, ‘The Master and His Emissary’!McGilchrist, neuropsychiatrist, philosopher and thinker, it was, who put creativity and art forms in the field of neuroaesthetics. 

Trimble recalled how another undisputed champion of the right brain, John Cutting and he, had long discussions on this subject, while at the Maudsley as colleagues. Cutting was a neuropsychiatrist, with special interest in schizophrenia. His vehement disagreement with the right brain being assigned ‘minor hemisphere’ status, featured in his profuse writings. Trimble had also associated with Norman Geschwind, who had published his elaborate work on the laterality of brain function.

 Why Human Like to Cry :Tragedy, Evolution and the Brain 

 Oxford University Press (2012)

The second book discussed:

What makes humans *cry?

In 2007, Gana the gorilla in the Muenster zoo, held up her son who died suddenly, and indicated her distress and grief, but did not cry, even as the humans watching her shed tears of compassion. Crying is an attribute exclusive to humans, adding to the other evolutionary attributes of  homo sapiens.

 Tears can signal pain or distress from one person to the other. When the mother sees the baby’s tears, it signals hunger or perhaps some discomfort. She cuddles and comforts the baby and each time this repeats, the bonding becomes stronger. When one looks at the large human face, and then within a short span of time, tears roll down the cheek of that face, the latter state of intense feeling creates a surge of emotion and compassion  in the beholder. 

Tears can also emerge as a result of aesthetic experience. Beauty, the art forms, and relating to memories of the past can evoke strong emotions. Proust describes 

*Crying’  involves shedding of tears. It may be in the form of sobbing, weeping, etc

the archaeologist who bursts into tears on beholding an ancient Assyrian sculpture. It was a spontaneous mark of reverence for an artifact of the past. Trimble expressed concern that the Western world seems to be moving away from the past – be it from parents and family, a historical monument, or even the four walls of the house where one spent one’s childhood. This is a great pity, as these memories and emotions form the core of aesthetic values and in its absence, one may not be moved by a strain of music or a beautiful face – and  probably be the loser!

Crying may follow a deep religious experience or listening to music or while at an opera. “Music appears to be the art form most likely to make us cry”, says Trimble. A study by his team, interviewing participants of the study, revealed that 80% cried to music, and 60% to poetry. Reading a novel, with continuity of the narrative almost equaled music in its impact on the reader. Another study of lottery participants left the team puzzled over why the winner cried. It came about that the ‘tears of joy’ made their appearance when the winner shared the news and bonded with the family and dear ones. Trimble confessed that tears well up in his eyes when he is at a Wagner opera, where the power of the human voice in music can raise the emotional response to its heights. It was acceptable to cry at the opera or in church, especially for men !   

Greek tragedy explored many themes around human nature and it heavily influenced the theatre of the Renaissance.In the Renaissance period, in church, every member of the congregation was expected to cry, especially the men.  If they failed to concur, they could be severely reprimanded, as crying was  considered  part of  the religious experience, sacred and symbolic of grieving for the loss. He referred to the practice of lamentation,the passionate expression of grief or sorrow, from the Book of Lamentations of the Old Testament. He made a biblical reference to ‘Lacrima Christi’, which literally means ‘Tears of Christ’. William James, the modern psychologist and great thinker elaborated on a variety of religious experiences. He observed that the human mind is in search of a transcendental idea. A deep religious experience can provide this. William James on  consciousness : “Consciousness, does not appear to itself chopped up in bits”. There is a continuous flow of thought in our minds, one leading to the other, which he referred to as ‘stream of consciousness’.

Trimble observed that our emotional response to tragedy and crying for emotional reasons have evolved over several millions of years. Then, why are people ashamed of crying ?  

 One of the more recent major discoveries of highest significance to neuropsychiatry is the mirror neuron. It goes beyond the scope of functional neuroimaging in some areas, as the presence of mirror neurons in the human brain allows identification with the other. This could be through the other person’s facial expression. But tears are an even surer signal from one person to another of emotional feelings; it arouses  ‘with’= ‘com’- passion and feeling  ‘in’= ‘em’ -pathy.  Though the appearance of tears may be physical, put in the metaphysical context, it is a link from one person to the other, by what is termed empathy. ‘Theory of Mind’ is a complex human ability of social cognition, which is required to empathise and must have evolved towards fulfilling emotional reaction; chimpanzees do not have this highly evolved ability of  social cognition,  though they may imitate an action, like picking  up a banana, due to the presence of some mirror  neurons, but not beyond this.  

Though the human brain circuitry for emotional tears is widespread, it links the cerebral cortex, especially anteriorly, with those areas associated with the representation of emotion-the limbic system and to the autonomic nervous system for the release of emotional tears. This highly evolved circuitry is not present  in primates, again pointing to the hand of evolution.

 The Intentional Brain: Motion, Emotion  and the Development of Modern Neuropsychiatry  Johns Hopkins University Press  (2016 )                    

This was the third book discussed:

 ‘The Intentional brain’ puts together information it has accumulated over several hundred years-over 2000 years. Trimble’s purpose of the book may be conveyed briefly, by quoting from the preface to the book. “The book is not simply about Neuropsychiatry as a medical discipline, but it is in many ways much more a reflection on the way the brain and its functions have been viewed over the centuries, as well as the huge change in orientation, germinating within romanticism, which has given us an understanding of our dynamic, active, creative brain”. This was in stark contrast to the Baroque period, which was restrictive and had some strict formulations for literature, music, and other art forms. 

Modern research has focused on the brain as a predictive organ. Trimble’s view of the dynamism of the brain and how we receive the world, borders on the transcendental!  “The way we greet the world and the way the world greets us and the world is embodied within us and our need to control it”, he says and goes on to “ We go out in the world expecting something, greet the world with hope of fulfillment, moment by moment. If not fulfilled, there has to be some reconciliation.” If this does not happen, an alternative path is taken, as each situation demands, laying down a novel brain circuitry. The belief that the brain is a passive organ with a stimulus evoking a response, assumes that with repetition of this pattern, neural tracks are laid down, which subsequently guide the automatic response which has been preset.

Trimble spoke about the Baroque period, which was restrictive. The Age of Enlightenment brought further strictures in the belief that science offered the solution to everything. Almost as a reaction to the progressively tightening fetters, both political and social, imposed by earlier periods, there  arose an intellectual movement, and with it an explosion of art, music, literature, and the glorification of nature and the past in poetry by the romantics  of the 19th century. We enjoy much of this freedom, culture and art forms even today, but  some nations show signs of repression, curbing freedom of speech and of the press and increasing inequity which could be possibly labelled the post-post modern age! McGilchrist puts the blame of all the unsavoury components of modernity squarely on people paying less heed to the right brain.

Iain McGilchrist, in his voluminous book, “The Master and His Emissary’,  describes the evolution of Western culture, as influenced by specialised hemispheric functioning. He designates the right brain, with its greater contributionto creativity and the arts, (and perhaps to humanity) as the Master, and the left brain as the emissary in the “divided brain”. He is wary of the Western world today becoming increasingly dominated by the left brain which he believes may be to our detriment. 

Prof Trimble concluded with “The Intentional Brain is how the brain works and we have got it wrong for 2000 years!”  His appeal to appreciate the art forms in order to live life fully continues into his  next book, from which he shared a sentence – “ A world without music is not human”.

Dr. Subbulakshmy Natarajan MBBS, DCN (Lond.), PhD, FRCP (Edin.)

Research Consultant, Neuroscience India Group (NSIG)

Adjunct Faculty Public Health Foundation of India


Prof. Michael Trimble is no stranger to the Chennai audience as he has visited at our invitation on several occasions.  He came first  at the invitation of Prof. Krishnamoorthy Srinivas  as the TS Srinivasan orator for 1998. It is of interest to note that in the topic of his oration ‘Towards a Neuropsychiatric Theory of Literary Creativity’, the central neuroaesthetic theme of the books discussed here was already taking shape, to be consolidated in his retirement days. At several points of the dialogue  Prof. Trimble, in a chatty way,  would stop to address Prof. Ennapadam S Krishnamoorthy to revive the memories of the significant clinical and research work done together in the Raymond Way unit.

The programme saw good audience participation. During question time there was reference to Indian art forms and some thought-provoking questions, which Prof. Trimble answered at length.



40th T S Srinivasan Oration

 Every decade of TS Srinivasan orations, marks yet another significant milestone in the global neuroscience arena.

Prof. Ralph L. Sacco

Ralph L. Sacco, MD, MS, is the Chairman of Neurology, Olemberg Family Chair in Neurological Disorders, Miller Professor of Neurology, Public Health Sciences, Human Genetics, and Neurosurgery, Executive Director of the Evelyn McKnight Brain Institute, Senior Associate Dean for Clinical and Translational Science, Director of the Clinical and Translational Science Institute at the Miller School of Medicine, University of Miami, and Chief of the Neurology Service at Jackson Memorial Hospital.  He was previously Professor of Neurology, Chief of Stroke and Critical Care Division, and Associate Chairman at Columbia University before taking his current position.

Prof. Sacco has been a member of the World Stroke Organization since 2008 and past chair of the WSO Research Committee, and is on the Board of Directors. He has published extensively with over 600 peer-reviewed articles and 250 invited articles in the areas of stroke prevention, disparities, treatment, epidemiology, risk factors, vascular cognitive impairment, and human genetics. He has been the recipient of numerous awards including the AAN Wartenberg Lecture.  He is the founding Principal Investigator of the NINDS-funded Northern Manhattan Study among several other NIH – funded research projects. He is the immediate past-President of the American Academy of Neurology and was the first neurologist to serve as the President of the American Heart Association, 2010-2011. Fifty years ago, the American Heart Association’s journal Stroke was conceived, and now it is the premier journal in the field. Ralph L. Sacco, will take the reins as Stroke’s editor-in-chief beginning with the July 2020 issue.

 Preventing Stroke and Maintaining Brain Health in 2020

Prof. Ralph L. Sacco, the 40th TS Srinivasan orator observed that the impact of the Srinivasan lectures was felt not only in India but the world over. Looking at the impressive list of 39 orators before him, he elaborated on how nine among them had touched his life in varied capacities. To mention the role of two, Prof JP Mohr (the 2004 orator) was his mentor in Stroke, and he took over as the third Chair in Neurology at University of Miami from WG Bradley (the 1996 orator). He acknowledged the vision of the TS Srinivasan family, the significant contribution of the programme distinguished mentors and the amazing hospitality and  meticulous organisation that went into the success of the mammoth event that marked the neuroscientific calendar year after year.  

Prof. Sacco outlined the global burden of stroke and dementia, and the alarming projected figures for 1. Stroke, a major cause of mortality and the second highest cause of disability and for 2. cognitive  decline and dementia with the progressive increase in the greying population. The urgency to deal with ‘Brain Health’ globally and to adopt preventive strategies was the focus of Prof. Sacco’s oration. He dwelt on the interplay between vascular disease, stroke and dementia and on the convergence of the pathogenic mechanisms in vascular and neurodegenerative processes. He had devoted much effort and thought to this concept and as the first neurologist to be elected President of the American Heart Association (AHA) 2010-2011, his Presidential address was ‘Achieving Ideal Cardiovascular and Brain Health – Opportunity Amid Crisis’ bringing the two vital organs under a common lens to establish the link between factors leading to carotid artery stenosis due to atheromatous plaques, atrial fibrillation releasing embedded clots, and heart failure with brain health and cerebrovascular events. 

The multidimensional stroke disability burden (Global Burden of Disability 2016) risk factors for stroke are hypertension, high blood sugar and cholesterol levels, and kidney disease- 72% ; smoking, poor diet control and poor physical activity – 66.3 % and  air pollution 28.1 %, risk factors total – near 90%. Stroke and cognitive decline/dementia being life–course illnesses, preventive steps must be taken before midlife and not later, when adverse consequences result. A Presidential Advisory from ASA/American Stroke Association, 2017, is ‘AHA’s Life simple 7 ‘ (which the professor believes are not so simple and the average score falls short by 2-3  of the ideal ). The 7 metrics to define optimal brain health in adults are ideal health behaviors (nonsmoking, physical activity at goal levels, healthy diet consistent with current guideline levels, and body mass index <25 kg/m2) and 3 ideal health factors (untreated blood pressure <120/<80 mm Hg, untreated total cholesterol <200 mg/dL, and fasting blood glucose <100 mg/dL).  The professor shared the large cohort study stretching over 27 years -the Northern Manhattan Study (NOMAS), where his team established that timely intervention in behaviours and control of other health factors could prevent stroke and slow cognitive decline when compared with those in the study who did not adhere to lifestyle modifications in diet, physical activity, etc. NOMAS studies moved on to include baseline values of cognitive performance with follow up records after 5 years, conducted subtle cognitive neuropsychiatric test based on executive function, semantic memory, episodic memory and processing speed, where the cognitive decline was less in those who took preventive measures early to alter the course. The study of novel determinants, namely inflammatory and infectious markers,  MRI  markers of subclinical brain ageing –small vessel disease, white matter hyperintensities, microbleeds, silent infarcts and brain atrophy, and predisposing candidate genes were other advanced aspects of the study, yielding promising research data, toward  speeding up early risk prediction and prevention.

The professor discussed the ethnic variations, and socio-economic factors influencing the course of stroke and cognitive decline. There was an urgent need for setting population health goals and policies towards preventive measures for non-communicable diseases, lifestyle changes, healthcare of the elderly, and government advocacy measures to improve these areas of health policy, more so for LMIC countries with mounting public health concerns. He stressed the need for effective communication to the public on preventive measures and on recognition of early symptom of stroke to hasten hospitalization within the stipulated golden  period. The scope of research in the branches of this field are phenomenal and must be exploited effectively with adequate funding. Moving closer to equitable global healthcare should be the goal and  national and international collaboration is the key, he observed 



INA Colloquium 2019, Chennai

A Report by Dr. Subbulakshmi Natarajan, MBBS, DCN (Lond), FRCP (Edin), Clinical Neuroscientist & Science Writer.

December brings the promise of pleasant, cool days to Chennai, south India, along with the annual Indian classical music and dance festivals and church choral music, to mark a month-long atmosphere of peace, joy and festivity.  It was in this part of the year, in the serenity of the colonial era milieu of Madras Club, that an international cast of experts discussed the brain, mind and their rich interface, sharing the global trends in the field and their individual and team experiences at the exclusive closed door meeting (by invitation) of the International Neuropsychiatric Association. The theme of the INA Colloquium 2019 was “New Horizons in Neuropsychiatry’ 

Prof. Ennapadam S Krishnamoorthy, the INA President, extended a warm welcome. It was an honour to have the inaugural President of INA , Prof. Colin Shapiro (1998-2002) and INA’s third President , Prof. Perminder Sachdev (2004-2006)  as colloquium faculty. Other eminent, senior members of INA also comprised the colloquium faculty.

Prof. Krishnamoorthy called upon faculty members to light the ‘Lamp of Knowledge’ , to the background chant to Saraswathi, the Goddess of Learning. “The overall  theme ‘Brain and Behaviour’ belongs to all present,” he said and announced that those attending the colloquium could register free for a year to become members of INA, and receive ‘the INA pin’ In the hands of the experts and over several decades, the complexities of  mind, brain and behaviour captured separately by the specialities of  Neurology and Psychiatry, have been brought together in a holistic manner under the INA banner, much to the benefit of Neuroscience, the clinician and the patient. It was keenly felt that this knowledge deserved to be shared by a wider medical fraternity towards global excellence in brain and mind healthcare and research. 

The colloquium was sponsored by the ever-flowing generosity of the TS Srinivasan family. The handsome endowment towards this was in honour of the philanthropist industrialist, TS Srinivasan.

Inaugural Address

Prof ES Krishnamoorthy opened the scientific session with  ‘Innovation: An Integrated Care Model in Neuropsychiatry’  as  practiced in the Buddhi Clinic, Chennai,  founded by him in 2010. The Integrated Brain and Mind care at Buddhi Clinic , towards ‘Restoration, Rehabilitation and Rejuvenation ‘ has over the years  developed protocols and procedures which make them sustainable, replicable and measurable. More gratifying is the qualitative measure of patient response. Here, CAM enjoys a common platform with Modern Neuropsychiatry and Neurorehabilitation.

Presidential Session

Perminder Sachdev, Professor of Neuropsychiatry at UNSW, Co-Director of the Centre for Healthy Brain Ageing (CHeBA), UNSW, Australia, took us through the exciting present day ‘Biomarker Approach to the Diagnosis of Dementia’, and the dilemmas in this unrelenting quest for the Holy Grail. The heterogeneous presentation of person-specific contribution of neuropathologies to cognitive loss  (more so in  old age), makes the search for an AD biomarker elusive.  It is only with pooling of multiple data that we can hope to arrive at a biomarker complex to detect at the pre-AD phase. NIA AA has proposed an effective Research Framework for AD biomarker grouping AT(N)  (Jack C et al, 2018). He touched on the consensus study (VICCCS) on the vascular causes of dementia, for which he was an international collaborator along with two other speakers, Prof. Ingmar Skoog and Prof. Raj Kalaria.

Raj Kalaria , Professor of Neuropathology, Newcastle University, UK shared with us his twenty- year experience and  heading the Neurovascular Group at the Institute of Neuroscience, Newcastle,  in ‘the Cognitive Function after Stroke’ ( CogFAST) study. Being a strong proponent of the concept of cognitive decline due to vascular causes, he observed that the understanding of lifestyle diseases and the preventable nature of the risk factors led to a renewed interest in refinement and classification of vascular dementias (VaD). It resulted in ‘Vascular Impairment of Cognition Classification Consensus Study (VICCCS)’, with international collaborators, on sensitive and specific clinical and research criteria to diagnose the earliest phase of Vascular Cognitive Impairment (VCI). He went on to say that cerebral vessel disease may be an under-recognised risk factor for AD dementia-the vascular pathology in AD is arteriosclerosis and capillary degeneration. Changes in vessel wall causes chronic hypoperfusive state (oligaemia) and the white matter changes and may result in either stroke or degeneration (to AD) or in a mixed type which includes both. 

Epilepsy and Behaviour  – Learning through case studies

This session saw four interesting presentations by leading Indian experts.

The Many Ramifications of Post-ictal Psychosis

 Bindu Menon, Professor and Head of Dept. of Neurology, Apollo Specialty Hospital, Nellore, south India, was a case based presentation.  A 38 year lady, single, living with her parents, diagnosed as complex partial seizures with secondary generalization, based on clinical, EEG and imaging parameters. She was on optimum dose of levetiracetem, with a history of poor drug adherence and with recurrent episodes. She presented  in a confused, agitated state, with auditory and visual hallucinations and with persecutory delusions and aggressive behaviour. Her mother reported a cluster of seizures two days prior to this admission and reported that she had had two similar bizarre episodes earlier. Dr. Menon took us through the differential diagnosis of such a presentation and elegantly argued her opting for Post-ictal Psychosis (PIP), based on Logsdail and Toone criteria.  

Epilepsy and Neurodisability

Prof. Nirmal Surya, Consultant Neurophysician, Bombay Hospital Institute of Medical Sciences, shared his experience in neurorehabilitation of  young patients with neurodevelopmental disabilities (NDD)  with associated epilepsy at the Epilepsy Foundation Centre and his rural community-based outreach programmes. His multidisciplinary team offers management of the physical, cognitive, language, psychosocial and behavioural problems of these patients.  He presented video clips of 4 cases, with various levels and types of disability. The lack of awareness, the continuing stigma attached to epilepsy and all forms of disability, poor availability and accessibility of rehabilitation centres, and the out-of-pocket expenditure are major concerns in India

Paediatric Psychogenic Non-epileptic Seizures

Dr.  Praveen Kumar Jakati,  Consultant Child and  Adolescent Psychiatrist, Institute of Neuroscience, Kolkata, India-spoke on Paediatric Psychogenic Non-epileptic Seizures PNES, and showed video- EEGs of typical episodes in a few patients. Comprehensive psychiatric assessment points to a conversion disorder or occasionally a dissociative disorder. Gold standard for diagnosis is a prolonged video EEG. Early recognition of PNES and early intervention offers the best results

Epilepsy and Behaviour: the gentle overlap

Prof Manjari Tripati, Head of Dept. of Neurology, AIIMS, Delhi  outlined  the ‘Good, Bad and the Ugly’ in surgical intervention for  intractable epilepsy in her study of over 200 cases in the dedicated epilepsy neurosurgical dept. of AIIMS, Delhi.  The ‘good’ was the 10-fold improvement in the seizure episodes and significant improvement clinically and on the Child Behaviour Checklist, and Paediatric Quality of Life Measure The ‘ugly’ were two patients, both teenage boys, who underwent posterior temporo-parietal resections; one became seizure- free following surgery, the other continued to have about 4 seizures a month.  In both cases, post operative ASD was diagnosed, with severe behavioural  problems. There was  little improvement  after therapies over several years.

Why is ASD in such cases underreported in world literature? The posterior brain location of both these lesions could perhaps account for the post-op ASD, as the parieto-occipital region represents ‘autistic functionality’ and ‘theory of mind’.   

Stand ups:

‘If you have anything interesting to say, you must be able to convey it within eight minutes- these are what these stand ups are about, following which they will be open  for discussion’. The 4  Buddhi team members were game for the challenge !

Mr. Vivek Misra, Neuroscientist & Neuromodulation consultant of the Buddhi team spoke on Integrating Neuromodulation in a Multidisciplinary Care Paradigm. He contributes to the neuromodulation with brain  stimulation with repetitive Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation (rTMS) and Transcranial Direct Current Stimulation (tDCS). He outlined  the beneficial effects of rTMS on the Parkinson’s disease patients at Buddhi Clinic and discussed future plans for brain stimulation in the lab.  rTMS not only improves the motor performance but also the cognitive and behavioural outcomes- 20 sessions bilateral motor area stimulated  following the standard protocol  showed benefit  not only on the UPDRS scale but also showed progressive improvement on MoCA and NPI assessment at baseline, mid treatment and end of brain stimulation, WHOQOL BREF showed positive scores on the social domain. The audience suggested more cases in the series under controlled conditions are required to launch the study on a research basis.

Dr. VG Srivatsa, Neuropsychiatrist presented on  intractable behavioural difficulties, anxiety, aggression, below average intelligence  in a 14 year old treated with a multidisciplinary  integrated approach including neurodevelopmental therapy, behavioural therapy , family focused therapy and  rTMS.  It was a diagnostic dilemma. The Buddhi clinic team came to a diagnosis of ASD with intellectual disability and severe anxiety state.  Rapidly escalating anxiety and panic in the wake of below average intelligence, with the added effect of early life trauma was  suggested by two experts reviewing the case who ruled out autism.

Indhu Rajagopal, Clinical Psychologist, Buddhi clinic 

Case presentation was of  a 17 year old girl Treatment-resistant  depression following a single seizure – found with LOC, vomited once, aggressive on admission, EEG normal initially, subsequent prolonged  EEG showed bilateral temporo-parietal and occipital epileptiform activity . CT brain normal, stressors at school and home with maladaptive responses. History of recurrent attacks of migraine.Patient was treated  as a case of seizure disorder with Levetiracetam and Clobazam. Subsequently, Levetiracetam was tapered and Lamotrigine introduced, with some improvement all round. Paroxetime CR was continued.

The final diagnosis was  AED –induced mood and anxiety disorder with accompanying insomnia.

Dr. Krishnaswamy Viswanathan, Senior Neurosurgeon – is Director of the Buddhi Clinic at Porur. He operates at Sri Ramachandra Medical College and Research Centre- He is an MRCS Edinburgh, and received special training in DBS at the Sai Baba Hospital at Whitefield, Bengaluru. 

He explained the procedure for DBS electrode implantation in the brain,   in some detail and the brain stimulation. The videograph, of his patient, an elderly male with dystonia, pre and post operative, and following three months of therapy, was impressive. 

Clinical Neuropsychiatry- The Child

Prof. Valsa Eapen, Chair, Infant, Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, University of New South Wales, Australia elaborated on ‘The Burden of Neurodevelopmental Disability- Call for Action’ Globally NDD affects 52.9 million children, accounting for 29.3 million years lived in disability; and 23% of 2-9year olds.  She outlined ‘A New- to- World Integrated Approach’ to Child Development covering the first 2000 days. Each stage of integrated service delivery needs to build on to the next a form of ‘cumulative buffering’ to counter cumulative risks. New South Wales Child Development Study is ‘A Longitudinal, Multiagency, Trans-generational Record Linkage Study’ in which 77, 062 children and their parents are under review- Carr et al 2019. The message of hope is that advances in Neuroscience, molecular biology, genomics and the Behavioural and Social Sciences could be leveraged to catalyse innovative policies and practices across sectors.

KP Vinayan  Prof. and Head, Dept. of  Paediatric Neurology, Amritha Advanced Centre for Epilepsy,  Amrita Institute of Medical Sciences, Kochi, Kerala demystified ‘Developmental Encephalopathies: A New Terminology or a Conceptual Progress?’ He broke down the elements in the most recent International League Against Epilepsy (ILAE) Commission Report definition of Epileptic Encephalopathies. There is an underlying brain pathology, either congenital or acquired. The epileptic activity itself contributes to severe cognitive and behavioural deficits which is well beyond what might be expected from the underlying brain pathology and these impairments can worsen over time. Treatment of the seizures or EEG abnormalities, a herculean task in this group, would be expected to improve the cognitive and behavioural deficits and also reduce the seizures. He discussed Lennox- Gastaut syndrome and Davert syndrome as examples.

Keynote Address:

Mustafa M. Hussain, Prof. of Neurology, Psychiatry and Internal Medicine , Director Neuromodulation and Therapeutics, UT Southwestern Medical Centre, Dallas, USA, recounted his over twenty years experience in neuromodulation procedures in ‘Dawn of a New Era in Depression’ The remarkable value of ECT in depression cannot be underestimated, he said. However, the more modern Magnetic Seizure Therapy enters the brain unimpeded, the seizure is focal, mild and only on the targeted regions, there is better control over the induced seizure, it does not affect cortical regions responsible for cognitive side effects, and the recovery after a session is quick.  The induced seizure modulates the neuronal activity within the brain to effect change. He confessed that Neuromodulation is  expensive therapy, and if Fluoxetine could do the job, he would go for it. 

Clinical Neuropsychiatry : The Adult 

Colin Shapiro, Professor, Dept of Psychiatry and Ophthalmology, University of Toronto, Canada Director, International Sleep Clinic spoke on ‘Sleep and the Expansion of Neuropsychiatry’ with conviction that “Every psychiatrist must be doing a sleep study on every patient they see!” There may be an underlying history of sexual abuse or PTSD. Sleep deprivation can have  its impact on many psychiatric conditions, depression in particular, and anxiety, and lead to excessive dependence on sleeping dose medication, and to drug and alcohol abuse. Sleep apnoea is more common than estimated. Non-communicable diseases may be exacerbated due to sleep deprivation.    Polysomnography   provides the critical information on sleep disorders. The factors to be studied in a sleep EEG record are

  • 1. Sleep continuity disturbances
  • 2. Slow wave sleep deficit
  • 3. REM sleep disorder
  • 4. Short sleep duration. 

Prof Niruj Agrawal, Consultant Neuropsychiatrist and Hon. Senior Lecturer, St George’s Hospital, London, dealt with the topic Dementia following Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) – a reality. After TBI or repetitive injury as in contact sports, a gap of several decades, may be followed by aggressive behaviour, cognitive decline and  memory deficit. The inflammation following TBI, the white matter changes, brain atrophy and subsequent ‘immunotoxicity’, can trigger a progressive neurological degeneration, a condition called chronic traumatic encephalopathy. There is a progressive increase primarily of phosphorylated tau, and also of amyloid beta and alpha synuclein associated with a clinical presentation of  Alzheimer’s  disease, fronto-temporal dementia or Parkinson’s disease.

Neurotheology- A Thought Leadership Session

Dr Sudhir Shah, Neurologist, Ahmedabad,   has a regular consulting clinic, but his unique research interest borders on Neurotheology, dipping into the neural correlates of religious and spiritual belief. He elaborated on ‘Happiness, Meditation and the Brain’ – the merits of positive emotions and the role of gratitude, compassion, forgiveness, appreciation of others and acceptance of what cannot be changed, the ancient day wisdom for physical, mental and psychological well-being.  “We are our own enemies when negative emotions take over” he emphasized. The four paths of yoga of karma, gnana, bhakthi and the classical raja yoga help in control of the mind.  He presented functional neuroimaging scans of studies (in some of which he was part of the study group) where meditation activates the neural structures  involved in attention and control of the autonomic nervous system and emotions positive or negative show  response in the limbic areas. 

Biological Psychiatry:

Prathima Murthy Prof. and Head, Dept.of Psychiatry- Chief of De-addiction Services, NIMHANS, Benguluru, when faced with the question Neurostimulation for Addictive Disorders, Fad or Fact? started her talk by confessing “I am a clinician and a ‘mechanistic agnostic’, but if it helps my patient, I am willing to go along with it”. She went on to describe the various stimulation modalities used on her patients, and the human research studies conducted in her lab on  some newer modalities.  Addictive drugs cause activation of reward pathways. Biological, sociological and psychological factors influence the vulnerable. Transcranial direct current stimulation (tDCS) is safe , employs low intensity current, is non-invasive, and achieves neuronal sensitivity through weak intensity current stimulation. Modulation of prefrontal cortical excitability with tDCS may reduce alcohol craving and cue-reactivity. Periodic follow up is required as the effect of the neuromodulation wanes over time.

Dr. Adith Mohan, CheBA, Sydney, Australia elaborated on the ‘Psychosis of Suspected Autoimmune Origin- proposed model for co-ordinated clinical care at the Neuropsychiatric Institute, Sydney’. He opened his talk quoting  Susannah Cahalan  who describes her experience of the condition and recovery  in her book  ‘Brain on Fire’ (2018) where she agonises  on  “How many people currently are in psychiatric wards and nursing homes denied the relatively simple cure of steroids, plasma exchange, (or) more intense immunotherapy?”. What is important is to pick these patients early clinically, and treat, the red flags being- 1st week of viral prodrome ;1-2 weeks of psychotic symptoms, delusions, hallucinations, mania, agitation, speech changes, disorganized thinking, catatonia , insomnia,  and often seizures; weeks to months of neurological complications, movement abnormalities, dysautonomia, hypoventilation and seizures, coma. This is the inflammatory phase and tapers, followed by months to years of prolonged deficits- executive dysfunction, impulsivity, disinhibition, and sleep abnormalities. The pathomechanism: Antibodies of IgG class targeting  NMDAR subunits on dendritic clusters. 40 % triggers are paraneoplastic (ovarian teratoma)-  As NMS is a major risk, one  must be  wary of use of antipsychotics.

Prof.Krishnamoorthy quoted the example of the 13 year female patient in his  Buddhi clinic  in 2013, with  bizarre,  acquired, acute behavioural psychosis and cognitive deficit. Under the guidance of Prof. Angela Vincent, the patient tested positive for NMDA receptor antibodies and recovered well with a course of Methylprednisolone, with a relapse after a few years. It is  important to create awareness among Psychiatrists  when to suspect autoimmune psychosis, a reversible condition.

Dr Mohan suggested the latest  article underlining the red flags –  ‘Autoimmune Psychosis – an international consensus on an approach to the diagnosis and management of psychosis of suspected autoimmune origin’ – Thomas Pollak,  Lancet Psychiatry,  Nov 2019 . 

John P John, Prof of Psychiatry, NIMHANS , has a special research interest in  ‘Multimodal brain imaging in Schizophrenia and Dementia’. The Multi- modal Brain Imaging Analytic Lab (MBIAL) of NIMHANS has state of the art equipment, funded by Department of Biotechnology, Government of India. The research is conducted with the collaboration of the DST-sponsored clinical group at NIMHANS. One test for the schizophrenia participant in the research was the semantic word fluency test (word generation) against repeating  what is produced on the screen. In this task, activation is as important as is deactivation. In normal subject, anterior prefrontal activation is accompanied by posterior brain deactivation.  In the patient of schizophrenia, there is less deactivation of posterior brain. There is hyperconnectivity in Default mode network (DMN) in schizophrenia and  a positive relation between DMN connectivity and the psychotic symptoms. (Whitfield Gabrieli et al, PNAS, 2009). The reason why the  DMN is  of particular relevance in the study of dementia is because these areas are where AB amyloid is deposited even in early MCI. The DMN shows less connectivity.


Ingmar Skoog, Prof of Psychiatry, University of Gothenburg, Director, Centre for Health and Ageing and  Leader for the Neuroepidemiology Unit, Gothenburg,  Sweden stressed  that  the first biomarker appearance and preclinical AD can have a gap of 20 years,  the order  being CSF abeta , PET amyloid, CSF tau, PET tau, MRI atrophy, memory symptoms, MCI, Dementia – ( ‘Temporal ordering of the pathological processes of AD’. Jack et al, Lancet, 2013.)  Prof. Skoog has a large series  of CSF studies,  as the study participants give consent for lumbar puncture and even for a follow up study. Other concomitant  pathological markers in CSF he has  studied in 85 year olds: total tau a biomarker for neuronal damage; neurogranin a marker for synaptic degeneration, a post synaptic protein, CSF levels of which increase significantly in MCI and AD; phospho tau 18, a marker for tangle pathology, phosphorylation of tau appearing to be  specific to AD, showing a 2-3-fold increase in CSF; YKL -40, a marker for reactive astrocytosis, increase of which coccurs in the CSF in AD and FTD.

Mathew Varghese, Prof. of Psychiatry, Geriatric Dept., NIMHANS spoke on the ‘Psychosocial Interventions in Dementia’ with particular reference to the Indian scenario and as practiced in his department. He emphasised that in India it is mainly informal caregiving at home. Education of the caregivers with the ABC symptoms of dementia, namely problems with activities of daily living (ADL) and the behavioural  and cognitive symptoms, which require attention is provided in the clinic through family counseling. The need for progressive coping is underlined. The care recommended is a whole -day structured activity schedule, simple, tasks, keeping the general health, nutrition and exercise of the patient in mind, in a safe environment, preserving the dignity of the patient and avoiding confrontation. Prof. Varghese has been involved in modules for dementia healthcare from 2003. Agencies and Societies  providing service are ARDSI (the Indian chapter of ADI),  HelpAge India and Senior Citizens Forum. The Mental Healthcare Act- has outlined some positive steps towards a national level preparedness.  National Health Mission, the flagship programme of GoI, is in the process of preparing district clinic manuals for rehabilitation centres.

Amithaba  Ghosh, Consultant Neurologist from Kolkata, spoke about Frontotemporal dementia in the Indian setting presenting unique biological, cognitive, behavioural and psychosocial data from this setting. 

The impressive cast of Indian chairpersons for the colloquium included Professors :

  • Lakshminarasimhan R, Chennai
  • Mehndiratta MM, Delhi
  • Bharat Srikala, Bangalore
  • Bhattacharya Kalyan, Kolkata,  
  • Padmavathi R, Chennai, 
  • Lakshminarayanan R, Chennai, 
  • Sudhakar TP, Tirupathi, 
  • Thara R, Chennai,
  • Vijayakumar Lakshmi, Chennai.  

Chennai being a hub of Indian Neuroscience, it does not stop with the advantage of inviting local experts, but for opting for among the best in the field.

In all the INA Colloquium was a meeting of minds, Western & Eastern, modern scientific and ancient integrative, discussing many aspects of the brain and mind interface.   Truly a feast for the brain, mind & soul, with the wonderful fusion cuisine of Madras Club satisfying also the palate. 


The Curious Case of Vincent van Gogh

Vincent van Gogh is one among many famous personalities in history who have rightly or wrongly been credited with having suffered from epilepsy. It seems fairly clear that Vincent van Gogh did suffer from symptoms of brain and mind; seizures, hallucinations, mood swings and explosive impulsive behavior that have been variously attributed to bipolar disorder, Meniere’s disease and interestingly, personality features linked with epilepsy.

Van Gogh was not just a productive painter (over 2000 works in a relatively short lifetime); he was a very prolific letter writer. Indeed, in one very productive period in Arles (1888-1889) he is believed to have produced 200 paintings and 200 watercolors, a painting every 36 hours; he also managed to write to his brother Theo, an art dealer in Paris, and to fellow impressionists, 200 letters filling 1700 pages, the shortest six pages long.

van Gogh was probably hypergraphic, both in letter and painting, the latter having been described as a manifestation of hypergraphia by Michael Trimble, the eminent London-based Behavioral Neurologist. van Gogh had a history of seizures, probably even experiencing one while painting the portrait “Over the Ravine” revealed in the rough brush strokes and resulting in a torn canvas.

He also probably demonstrated other traits of the Geschwind Syndrome: intense mood swings, with irritability and anger; and a spectrum of sexual behavior (hyposexuality, hypersexuality, bisexuality and homosexuality). The last (among others) was with Paul Gauguin, in an intense argument with whom he experienced hallucinations (a voice that asked him to kill).

Provoked to be aggressive, he then experienced a biblical injunction “And if thine offend thee, pluck it out” and turned the razor, famously, on to his own ear (self portrait with a bandaged ear).

Indeed, his relationship with Gauguin was typically intense. van Gogh was observed by Gauguin to experience difficulty in terminating arguments and discussions (emotional stickiness). Another intense argument is thought to have resulted in van Gogh’s suicide: he threatened his physician with a pistol, was rebuffed, left the office, and shot himself in the chest.

He died two days later. It is noteworthy that van Gogh was the son of a preacher and started his life as one (probable hyper-religiosity). Indeed, it has been proposed by the neurologist and art scholar Prof. Khoshbin that van Gogh had all the five core traits of Geschwind Syndrome ( ). His extraordinary creativity and inspired genius makes his case all the more curious, indeed!


Why Humans Like to Cry? Tragedy, Evolution & The Brain

Professor Michael Trimble the renowned British Neuropsychiatrist begins this,  his second popular science work, by stating affirmatively that emotional crying is unique to the human species. He goes on to dismiss as myths reports about apes, elephants and dolphins being capable of crying for emotional reasons. Not only is emotional crying unique to us, says the good professor, we have through our tradition of “tragedies” converted it over centuries, into an fine art form.

Music, gave rise to the birth of tragedy, which according to Nietzsche contains a fusion of Apollonian beauty with Dionysian creative energy and art.

Many other philosophers have taken up this two god theme- Mann, Hesse & Ibsen to name a few. “Apollo is the cold hard separatism of Western personality and categorical thought. Dionysius, is energy, ecstasy, hysteria, promiscuity, emotionalism, heedless indiscriminateness of idea or practice….Complete harmony is impossible, our brains are split and the brain is split from body. The quarrel between Apollo and Dionysius is the quarrel between the cortex and the older reptilian limbic brain”.

And thus does Trimble set the stage for his dissertation. From why and how we humans cry, through the neuroanatomy of the limbic system and it’s association areas, its neurobiological links with the lacrimal gland which causes us to tear (both in joy and sorrow); through the power of aesthetics- art, poetry, literature, painting, archeology, but most of all and most significantly so, according to the author, music!

What follows is a smorgasbord of philosophical, neurobiological, cultural and literary information; pearls of wisdom in every page. The “cutaneous shiver” of William James, and Shelley’s verse on the power of music, all find a place in the author’s evocative descriptions.

“I pant for the music which is divine
My heart in its thirst is a dying flower;
Pour forth the sound like enchanted wine,
Loosen the notes in a silver shower;
Like a herb less plain for the gentle rain,
I gasp, I faint, till they wake again.”

Using the theory of mind as the centrepiece of his dissertation, the author delves into the role of altruism and empathy in the development of the human social brain, which a number of studies of emotional-facial recognition using MRI scans have pointed to. “The evolution of cognitive empathy with corresponding increase in the size of the human pre-frontal cortex, provides experimental and neuroanatomical evidence explaining, from a neurobiological perspective, the human ability to feel the sadness of others, and cry emotional tears”. From an anthropological perspective, he also links empathy and tears to an awareness of the self: which according to Clive Finlayson “produced an animal capable of locating itself in space and time, an animal that became aware of the consequences of its own behaviour and mortality”.

The importance of language and linguistic processing is well brought out in the book. “Linguistic representations can influence how emotional states are represented and thus experienced”. Trimble points to the right hemisphere of the brain, quoting Norman Cook “At every level of linguistic processing that has been investigated experimentally, the right hemisphere has been found to make characteristic contributions, from the processing of affective effects of intonation, through the appreciation of word connotations, the decoding of metaphors and figures of speech, to the understanding of the overall coherency of verbal humour, paragraphs and short stories”. Trimble also points to the amygdala as a central organ that modulates human emotion, alluding to the elegant work of Zeki and colleagues who have used functional imaging to extensively study emotion.

Of music, Trimble points to, apart from linguistic impact, the triadic quality of the tonal Western harmonic system, whereby the tonic pitch on which harmonies are built, by means of progression from chord to chord, using such musical techniques of composition such as repetition, modulation and transformation, move away from these centres only to return with harmonic resolution. Through this “acousamatic” quality, calm and tension are developed, discord requiring a return to concord, provoking restlessness, suspensions and anticipation all requiring resolution. At these moments of “chills” or “shivers down the spine”, scientists have described changes in brain imaging (MRI and PET) involving the amygdala, insula, cingulate, per-frontal cortex and limbic association areas. Further, music has been demonstrated to elicit autobiographical memories, thus underlining its power to influence human emotion.

The author concludes that “Tears are an accompaniment of tragedy as an art form, and they reflect the tears of everyday human tragedy, which is linked to loss and mourning. These feelings have arisen in the course of our long evolutionary history, notably with the rise of self-consciousness, the development of small communities, the growing potential of love and hence an even greater sense of loss”.  As Semir Zeki, Professor of Neuroesthetics, University College of London has elegantly put: “This book is not a page turner. It is much better than that, one that is full of insights and of material for reflection on almost every page”.


Understanding Developmental Disability

Sad but true! One in five children, in a developing nation like India, emerge into this world with their innate human capital compromised. A range of neurodevelopmental disorders (NDD) are the outcome of such compromise: learning disability, childhood epilepsy, cerebral palsy, mental retardation, attention deficit and hyperactivity disorder, autistic spectrum disorder; conditions that strike early and leave lasting impact on the child. On the occasion of the International Day of People with Disabilities (3rd December) we delve further.

What is neurodevelopmental disability?A range of conditions that follow abnormal brain development and impact on motor function (strength, dexterity, coordination); or cognitive function (intelligence, learning, aptitude); or emotions & behavior (temperament, mood swings, emotionality, aggression, hyperactive-impulsive behaviours, socialization issues etc.). In all these instances, there are demonstrable changes in the brain and its development, either structural or in it’s functioning.

Why NDD? While some humans have NDD imprinted in their biological code (through genetic, hormonal, and other neurobiological factors), for many others, the causes lie in critical stages of development, with a range of factors causing compromise. Factors that affect maternal health around conception and through pregnancy; trauma through injury, drugs (both prescription and non-prescription), alcohol, smoking; exposure of the pregnant mother to infections or toxins; and maternal malnutrition, commonly compromise this desired state of “optimality”. Factors affecting the child include birth trauma and infection through poorly planned and executed deliveries, neonatal compromise (asphyxia, jaundice, early trauma through accidents or abuse, infections, malnutrition); untreated epilepsy; other progressive neuropsychiatric disorders etc. Contributory factors include late recognition of the problem, failure to be evaluated in formal medical settings, and the failure to seek and secure early interventions.

Who is at risk?The global lesson from the “Human Genome Project” was that about 10% of all neurological conditions are explained by abnormalities in a single gene. The majority of disorders were thus deemed to be multifactorial- more than one genetic abnormality being responsible, with strong contributions from environmental events that have impact. This probably holds good for NDD as well. In general, having a parent or first degree relative affected by a neuropsychiatric or developmental condition, may double the risk of NDD.

When should we suspect NDD?At the one end of the spectrum are children with overtly manifested disability with severe problems that are apparent early and demand medical interventions. They only form the tip of the iceberg. The larger group who go undetected, are children with minimal brain dysfunction. Typically, they are slow-learners in school, who find academic progress challenging; may be clumsy and lack dexterity, with poor handwriting; or indeed demonstrate a range of emotional and behavioral patterns.

Why should we take action early? These children are often the poor performers and/or perceived troublemakers in school. Rather than receiving special attention, they are at worst punished and at best ignored, in many mainstream schools. Without adequate help and support, these children will slowly and surely slide down the educational scale, out of mainstream schooling, into special schooling systems that cannot really tap their potential. Further, children who do not receive support are likely to feel stigmatized and lose their self-confidence.

Where should I take my child, when in doubt?Your pediatrician should be the first port of call. The class teacher may also have valuable inputs. When either pediatrician or class teacher (or both) suspect a problem, more specialized inputs become necessary. Problems in learning and intelligence are best assessed by a clinical psychologist; problems in motor or other brain function (like epilepsy) by a neurologist, sometimes with the assistance of an occupational therapist; problems in behavior by psychiatrists, often with the assistance of a counselor. When language development is affected, ENT doctors supported by speech and language therapists may need to be consulted. In many instances, comprehensive assessment requires a team approach. Depending on the problem the specialists consulted may require a range of laboratory tests- brain scans, brain wave (EEG) and other electrophysiological tests; blood and urine tests including hormonal assays and so on.

How should I progress once diagnosed?

  • Your pediatrician should be your primary support
  • Your child’s school needs to be briefed transparently and kept in the loop. Don’t worry about being asked to leave. If the school cannot accept the problem and work with you, it may not be the best place for your child.
  • Identify a team of professionals; be consistent in your interactions and regular in follow up. Make sustainable plans and set realistic goals. Prepare for the marathon, not a sprint.
  • Don’t focus only on the disability; your child may also have special interests and abilities. Put focus on them too.
  • Don’t be preoccupied by academic results; focus on overall development.
  • Caregiving is challenging and tiring; share the care as a family, develop your own support networks with other parents and keep your spirit up.