Daily Science Factlet – Locus Coeruleus

SPOILER ALERT: If you haven’t seen Prometheus and don’t want any of the plot giving away, don’t read this next bit…

So, in Prometheus, the new Ridley Scott movie, the scientists decide to reanimate the thousand year old DECAPITATED head of one of the humanoid aliens by stimulating the locus coeruleus in its brain.

While the idea of being able to stimulate a single brain area and bring the whole head back to life (with nerve control of the facial muscles and everything) is patently ridiculous, it does make sense that the filmmakers picked this particular area of the brain at the top of the brainstem – it plays a key role in arousal (wakefullness, not sexual).

Once again science has gone with imaginative naming (this time Latin, not Greek) – “locus coeruleus” means “blue place”, and this tiny area actually does look blue, because of the presence of the chemical neuromelanin in the nuclei of the cells, turning them blue-black.

The LC initiates waking through the release of noradrenaline (norepinephrine), and is also involved in maintaining attention. Because of this important role, it’s thought to be involved in sleep disorders and ADHD, plus degenerative conditions like Parkinsons and Alzheimers.

Zapping it with electricity still wouldn’t reanimate a dead head though…

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