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Series Explores Revolutionary Discoveries in Neuroscience

In the past decade, science has deciphered more of the secrets of the human brain than in the previous 90 years combined. Until very recently we understood more clearly the workings of distant galaxies in the universe than we did the relatively small organ that allows us to ask questions, smell flowers, and compose music. THE SECRET LIFE OF THE BRAIN, a new five-part series debuting Tuesday, January 22 at 9 p.m. on PBS (check local listings), will explore the startling new map of the brain that has emerged from the past decade of neuroscience -- a view of our most complicated organ that contradicts much of what was previously believed and holds out hope for dramatic advances in the areas of addiction, depression, learning disorders, Alzheimer's Disease, and even schizophrenia.

THE SECRET LIFE OF THE BRAIN is a co-production of David Grubin Productions and Thirteen/WNET New York. Narrated by actress Blair Brown, the series tells extraordinary stories through a mix of personal histories, expert commentary, and cutting-edge animation. Viewers will not only learn incredible new truths about the brain, they will voyage inside it. "The story of the brain is the ultimate human story," says producer/director David Grubin, one of America's most acclaimed documentary filmmakers (Napoleon, Healing and the Mind with Bill Moyers) who has been working on the series for more than four years. "It has all the real-life drama of a biography, the scope of a great novel, and the thrill of a swashbuckler. Even with all the recent advances in neuroscience, the complex workings of the brain still remain a profound mystery."

THE SECRET LIFE OF THE BRAIN takes a chronological approach over its five-hour span, beginning before birth (the first brain cells begin to form only four weeks after conception) and ending with old age. Each of the individual programs explores a specific stage of human development -- infancy, childhood, adolescence, adulthood and old age -- from fundamental neural development and innovative medical treatments to behavioral therapies, new brain-based educational techniques, and the characteristics of the older brain that may form the basis of wisdom.

Also outlined is a significant departure from previous theories on how the brain develops: instead of maturing at a relatively early stage of life and remaining static thereafter, the series reveals that the brain actually develops throughout life, increasing and renewing its capacities from birth to death. An infant's brain may be more open to being shaped by experience than at any other time, but the brain in advanced years has much more plasticity than had previously been believed.

"Not since the award-winning series The Brain and The Mind, both produced by Thirteen in the 1980s, has there been such an ambitious exploration of nature's most intricate organ," says Beth Hoppe, executive producer for Thirteen. "With the technological advances and amazing scientific discoveries of the past ten years, this series is an essential journey through a largely new body of knowledge."

Hour By Hour

Program One, The Baby's Brain: Wider than the Sky: Less than a month after conception, brain cells are developing at the astonishing rate of half a million per minute. The brain will ultimately comprise billions of cells linked by trillions of connections, the most complex thing in the universe. How does it organize itself? What are the roles of genetics and environment in brain development? This hour traces the formation of the infant brain through the age of one, the period during which it is most open to molding through external influence and experience.

Program Two, The Child's Brain: Syllable from Sound: The explosion of language in young children provides one of the most dramatic illustrations of the young brain at work. How do we learn to talk? How do we learn to read? Unlike adults, in whose brains most linguistic activity is restricted to the left hemisphere, very young children respond to language with the entire brain. But what happens when the brain is physically compromised? And what are the physical roots of language disorders such as dyslexia?

Program Three, The Teenage Brain: A World of Their Own, offers potential comfort to parents who believe teenagers are different from the rest of humanity by demonstrating that it's literally true. During puberty the brain is a work in progress, teeming with hormones, while the areas that direct reasoning and impulse control are still in development. Adolescence is also a period during which people are especially susceptible to schizophrenia and addiction, two areas currently under intensive study and benefiting from increased understanding of brain function.

Program Four, The Adult Brain: To Think By Feeling: The brain is the seat of both intellect and emotion, and this hour chronicles the critical balance between these processes and explores what happens when the balance is lost. Scientists draw insight from the stories of a stroke victim and a sufferer of post-traumatic stress disorder, and break new ground in the struggle to understand and treat depression.

Program Five, The Aging Brain: Through Many Lives: For years, science has suggested that we lose vast numbers of brain cells as we grow older; now it turns out that this is not true in fact, healthy brains continue to produce new neurons well into the seventies. Drawing on the most recent neuroscience discoveries, this hour presents a new view of how the brain ages, focusing in part on the remarkable strides being made in understanding stroke, Alzheimer's Disease, and Parkinson's Disease. The overall prognosis is an optimistic one.

Behind the Cameras

David Grubin is one of public television's most accomplished documentary filmmakers. He has produced over 100 films on subjects ranging from history to art, from poetry to science, and has won numerous Peabody, duPont-Columbia and Emmy Awards. In addition to Napoleon and Healing and the Mind with Bill Moyers, he was responsible for many of the presidential biographies aired in the history series American Experience, including FDR, LBJ, TR: The Story of Theodore Roosevelt, Truman, and, most recently, Abraham and Mary Lincoln: A House Divided.

William R. Grant is director of Science, Natural History and Features programs at Thirteen/WNET New York. He is in charge of one of public television's largest documentary production departments responsible for an average of 60 hours of nationally broadcast programs a year, including Nature, 1900 House, Innovation, Savage Skies, Stephen Hawking's Universe, and the forthcoming In Search of Ancient Ireland, Frontier House and Africa. Beth Hoppe is an executive producer at Thirteen/WNET New York where she has been responsible for such programs as Taxi Dreams, Frontier House, Secrets of the Dead, and 1900 House.

THE SECRET LIFE OF THE BRAIN has an illustrious group of advisors that includes many of the leading scientific explorers of the brain, many of whom also appear on camera. They include Carl W. Cotman, Ph.D., Director, Institute for Brain Aging and Dementia at the University of California, Irvine; Patricia Goldman-Rakic, Ph.D., Eugene Higgins Professor of Neurobiology, Yale University School of Medicine, Section of Neurobiology; Steven E. Hyman, M.D., Director, National Institute of Mental Health; Story Landis, Ph.D., Scientific Director, National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke; Bruce S. McEwen, Ph.D., Alfred E. Mirsky Professor, Head of the Harold and Margaret Milliken Hatch Laboratory of Neuroendocrinology, The Rockefeller University; J. Anthony Movshon, Ph.D., Investigator, Howard Hughes Medical Institute, Presidential Professor, Center for Neural Science, New York University; Steven Petersen, Ph.D., James S. McDonnell Professor of Cognitive Neuroscience, Department of Neurology, Washington University; and Michael Templeton, independent consultant on projects involving the communication of science and technology through multimedia and educational means.

Companion Book

A companion book to the series, also entitled The Secret Life of the Brain, is being written by Richard Restak, M.D. Restak is a Washington, DC-based practicing neurologist and neuropsychiatrist and the author of dozens of articles and more than 15 books on the brain, including the national bestseller The Brain, the companion book to the PBS series that aired in the 1980s. With a foreward by David Grubin, the book will follow the chronological format of the series and explore recent discoveries in neuroscience and their impact on human development. The Secret Life of the Brain will be published by The Dana Press and Joseph Henry Press, and is scheduled for release this October.


Thirteen/WNET New York will implement an extensive national education and community outreach campaign in support of THE SECRET LIFE OF THE BRAIN. Print and online resources will make it possible for teens and adults to learn more about the lifelong development of the brain, and to implement lifestyle choices that can help to ensure a healthy brain. These materials will be the building blocks of educational activities in communities across the country and will also be used as support to science curricula in formal and informal educational settings. The outreach will further encourage young people to pursue science careers.

Web Site

THE SECRET LIFE OF THE BRAIN Online will have two components: an Online Outreach Center, which will feature specially designed activity plans, and a companion site to the series. The Online Outreach Center will include streaming video from the series, project updates, downloadable logo art, and turn-key tools for producing outreach materials such as press releases, flyers, and newsletter articles. The series companion online site, which launches in December 2001, will feature several multimedia, interactive areas dealing with general topics of brain science, such as a tour of brain anatomy and a visual explanation of brain scanning. Both sites will reside at


Major funding for THE SECRET LIFE OF THE BRAIN is provided by the National Science Foundation. Corporate funding is provided by Pfizer Inc and The Medtronic Foundation on behalf of Medtronic, Inc. Funding is also provided by the Park Foundation, PBS, the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, The Dana Foundation, and The Dana Alliance for Brain Initiatives.

International distribution of the series will be handled by Docstar, the distribution arm of France's Canal+ Broadcasting.

Thirteen/WNET New York is one of the key program providers for public television, bringing such acclaimed series as Nature, Great Performances, American Masters, Charlie Rose, Religion & Ethics NewsWeekly, Stage on Screen, and EGG the arts show -- as well as the work of Bill Moyers -- to audiences nationwide. As the flagship public broadcaster in the New York, New Jersey and Connecticut metro area, Thirteen reaches millions of viewers each week, airing the best of American public television along with its own local productions such as The Ethnic Heritage Specials, The New York Walking Tours, and Reel New York -- and reaching vast new audiences through its MetroArts/Thirteen cable arts programming. With educational and community outreach projects that enhance the value of its productions, Thirteen takes television "out of the box." And as broadcast and digital media converge, Thirteen is blazing trails in the creation of Web sites, CD-ROMs, educational software, and other cutting-edge media products. More information about Thirteen can be found at:

Press Contacts:

Tim Fisher/Alexandra Ballantine
Fisher Company
914 674-6164

Kellie Specter
212 560-3009

October 8, 2001