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Skeletons of the Mind

By Timothy Cocks Science and the world 12 Feb 2014

A really brilliant post from Lorimer Moseley over at Body In Mind has generated a great discussion with some fascinating thoughts and comments. If you haven’t already, you really should check it out.

Almost hidden away in all of the discussion, is a link to an intriguing article provided by commenter Marco Gabutti that I thought was worth calling out. It’s a short read from the New Yorker.

Do our bones influence our minds?

In the mid-nineteen-nineties, a young French geneticist and physician named Gerard Karsenty became curious about a mysterious protein, called osteocalcin, that is found at high concentrations in the skeleton. He worked with mice that had been engineered to lack the substance, expecting to find problems with their bones. But their skeletons appeared essentially normal, he says, a result that left him “deeply depressed.”

The mice did have issues, though. Their abdomens were fatty, they had trouble breeding, and they were “stupid,” meaning “they never rebelled or tried to bite or escape,” said Karsenty, now fifty-nine years old and the chair of the department of genetics and development at Columbia University Medical Center. He has studied osteocalcin for almost two decades. While its role within the skeleton remains unknown, he has shown that the substance has wide-ranging effects on mice’s fat stores, livers, muscles, pancreases, testes, and even, as new evidence suggests, their brains. It turns out that osteocalcin is a messenger, sent by bone to regulate crucial processes all over the body.

The finding represents new ground in how researchers view the skeleton: not only do bones provide structural support and serve as a repository for calcium and phosphate, they issue commands to far-flung cells. In mice at least, they talk directly to the brain. “This is a biggie,” said Eric Kandel, the neuroscientist and Nobel Laureate. “Who thinks of the bone as being an endocrine organ? You think of the adrenal gland, you think of the pituitary, you don’t think of bone.”

Fearfully and wonderfully complex” comes to mind.

My thanks to Marco for sharing the link.

Tim Cocks



    1. timcocks0noi

      Hi David
      What a beautiful example! Coincidence? I don’t think so. There is such a rich source of information when we listen to people in trouble – really listen to what they say, how they say it and even how they don’t say it. I still cringe when I look back (sometimes, ashamedly, not too far back) and think about everything I missed by not listening to people as I was in a mad rush to get to ‘treatment’. I played quite a bit with NLP for some years and while a lot of it now days is wa wa, there were some great lessons at its early core in regards to really listening carefully to people and equally using language with care and precision.


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