by Georgia Bancheri '15
Ladies and gents, have you ever wondered what drinking does to the brain, besides make you look like one class act of a gent (picture provided for those who’d like to emulate such)? I mean, I’m sure that’s what you’re all talking about come Saturday night when you’ve got a sex on the beach in your hand and you’re mmms mmmsing on the dance floor. (Gents, I know that’s your preferred drink. Don’t be ashamed.) Well, copious drinking can cause a neurological disease called Korsakoff’s Syndrome. I’m talking ‘bout more than your average beer-bellied frat boy drinking. (Frat boys, if you’re reading, don’t fret too much…) Anyhoo, the main symptom of Korsakoff’s is confabulation--in lay-man’s terms, flat-out lying--but, get this, the person whole-heartedly believes their lies.
During my time working at a neuropsychology clinic, I met an African American patient born before World War II who reported that his Italian father met his Spanish mother during the war. (Hmm, and you were born by Immaculate Conception?) And while that’s all fine and dandy, not too over the top, he continued to gush over his father, who was not only the head hitman for the mafia but also struck oil and became the richest man in America. All of this was preceded with a wide-eyed, “You’re not going to believe this.” That’s right sir, I’m not totally convinced.
So what’s up with this odd-bird? As it turns out, his mammillary bodies, two booby-like (hence, “mammillary”) protrusions on the bottom of his brain, were damaged due to a lack of thiamine. Thiamine normally converts into vitamin B1, its active form, but when you’re on the booze cruise all night, every night, well things get a little rough for that poor thiamine. All he wants is a little action… of the phosphorylation kind. It is unclear what these booby-like structures’ function is, but they seem to be involved in recollective memory. Thus, when damaged, the brain attempts to piece fragmented memories together, and, when it can’t truthfully, you’re left with crazy confabulations. Why such impairment in the brain’s boobies evokes a fake memory of a hitman and oil millionaire father, one may never know.
P.S. Want to learn more? The Alzheimer’s Society provides a primer on Korsakoff’s.