Kennedy Krieger research scientist explores Leonardo da Vinci's knowledge of the brain

Article published in recent edition of The Lancet

BALTIMORE, April 11, 2019 – May 2, 2019, marks the 500th anniversary of Leonardo da Vinci’s death. A cultural icon, artist, engineer and experimentalist of the Renaissance period, Leonardo continues to inspire people around the globe. Jonathan Pevsner, PhD, professor and research scientist at the Kennedy Krieger Institute, wrote an article featured in the April edition of The Lancet titled, “Leonardo da Vinci’s studies of the brain.” In the piece, Pevsner highlights the exquisite drawings and curiosity, dedication and scientific rigor that led Leonardo to make penetrating insights into how the brain functions.

Through his research, Pevsner shares that Leonardo was the first to identify the olfactory nerve as a cranial nerve. He details how Leonardo performed intricate studies on the peripheral nervous system, challenging the findings of earlier authorities and introducing methods centuries earlier than other anatomists and physiologists. Pevsner also delves into Leonardo’s pioneering experiment on the ventricles by replicating his technique of injecting wax to make a cast of the ventricles in the brain to determine their overall shape and size. This further demonstrates Leonardo’s original thinking and advanced intelligence.

“Leonardo’s work reflects the emergence of the modern scientific era and forms a key part of his integrative approach to art and science,” said Pevsner. “He asked questions about how the brain works in health and in disease. He sought to understand changes in the brain that occur in epilepsy, or why the mental state of a pregnant mother can directly affect the physical well-being of her child. At the Kennedy Krieger Institute, many of us struggle to answer the same questions. While science and technology have advanced at a breathtaking pace, we still need Leonardo’s qualities of passion, curiosity, the ability to visualize knowledge, and clear thinking to guide us forward.”

While Pevsner is viewed as an expert in Leonardo da Vinci, his main profession and passion is research into the molecular basis of childhood and adult brain disorders in his lab at Kennedy Krieger Institute. His lab reported the mutation that causes Sturge-Weber syndrome, and ongoing studies include bipolar disorder, autism spectrum disorder and schizophrenia. He is the author of the textbook, Bioinformatics and Functional Genomics.

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About Kennedy Krieger Institute:

Internationally recognized for improving the lives of children and adolescents with disorders and injuries of the brain, spinal cord and musculoskeletal system, Kennedy Krieger Institute in the greater Baltimore/Washington, D.C. region serves 24,000 individuals a year through inpatient and outpatient clinics, home and community services, and school-based programs. Kennedy Krieger provides a wide range of services for children with neurological issues, from mild to severe, and is home to a team of investigators who are contributing to the understanding of how disorders develop, while at the same time pioneering new interventions and methods of early diagnosis. Visit KennedyKrieger.org for more information about Kennedy Krieger.

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