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Bond theme music sends stroke victim into ecstacy

07/30/2013 11:59 EDT | Updated 09/29/2013 05:12 EDT
A stroke patient developed a rare neurological condition nine months into his recovery that leaves him disgusted by words printed in a certain shade of blue and lifted to ecstasy by the sound of music by brass instruments, a Toronto neuroscientist says.

The case, described in today's issue of the medical journal Neurology, involves an anonymous, 45-year-old patient in Toronto who was initially frightened by the conflicting senses he began to experience. It is only the second known case of a patient developing the neurological condition after a brain injury.

High-pitched brass instruments like the theme from James Bond movies elicited feelings of ecstasy and created light blue flashes in his peripheral vision. They also caused large parts of his brain to light up in tests, the report says.

While the neurological condition called synesthesia is rare, most acquire it at birth. People who have had it include author Vladimir Nabakov, composer Franz Liszt, painter Vasily Kandinsky, and singer-songwriter Billy Joel.

Dr. Tom Schweizer, a neuroscientist, examined the patient with a functional magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) machine and compared his responses to those of six men of similar age (45) and education (18 years) as each listened to the James BondTheme and a euphonium solo.

"The areas of the brain that lit up when he heard the James BondTheme are completely different from the areas we would expect to see light up when people listen to music," Schweizer said in a release.

"Huge areas on both sides of the brain were activated that were not activated when he listened to other music or other auditory stimuli and were not activated in the control group."

The patient and control subjects viewed 10-second blocks of words in different colours.

The patient's responses were:

- Black: no emotional response.

- Yellow: mild disgust.

- Blue: intense disgust.

Schweizer said areas of the brain that responded in the patient and not in the controls suggests the condition was caused as his brain tried to repair itself after his stroke and got cross-wired.

The patient's stroke occurred in the thalamus, the brain's central relay station. The only other reported case after a brain injury also affected the same area of the brain, the researchers said. That patient reported a tingling sensation elicited by sounds, but without an emotional component.

Other people with the condition who are are shown the word "cat" in green, for example, often feel a sense of "wrongness" if "cat" is shown in a different colour, the authors said.

"This feeling, although technically an emotion, is vastly different from the intense emotional experiences felt by our patient," Schweizer and his co-authors concluded.

Their paper is titled "From the Thalamus with Love: A Rare Window into the Locus of Emotional Synthesia."

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