Will and Awakenings

If you've ever read "Awakenings," (or seen the movie based on the Oliver Sacks book) you'd remember that many of the Parkinson's patients were locked in a set of tremors that were so extreme their muscles were literally locked in place. This was the case for decades while they wasted away in the back of mental wards.

Sacks presciently noticed that unlike stroke victims, these forgotten patients could move if the "will" of another person empowered them. Once given the experimental drug L-Dopa, they were able to will their own movements. Sadly, the "awakening" didn't last long and brutal side effects emerged, many actually chose to return to their initial state of catatonia instead of the tardive dyskenia caused by the drug.

The basal ganglia seems to be the intersection of these phenomenon. In healthy individuals it appears to be the interface between willed impulses for movements and the motor responses elicited. It also seems to be the culprit for many movement disorders consisting of almost psychically painful, unwilled movements (parkinson's, huntington's, tourette's, dystonia, the list goes on and on and on).

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