Three universities test their brainpower at neuroscience contest

SAN ANTONIO (April 10, 2009) — “Neuroscience trivia” may sound like a contradiction in terms. But it’s exactly what students from three competing universities will need to know to succeed in the annual Brain Bowl on Tuesday, April 14, at The University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio.

Defending Brain Bowl champion Texas A&M University will go head to head against Trinity University and The University of Texas at Arlington. The competition will be held at 7 p.m. in room 209L in the School of Medicine at the Health Science Center’s Joe R. and Teresa Lozano Long Campus, 7703 Floyd Curl Drive.

The undergraduate students will rack their brains for the answers to such questions as:

• Name the most prevalent inhibitory amino acid transmitter in the brain? (Answer: GABA)
• What ion is primarily responsible for depolarization of the axon during an action potential? (Answer: sodium)
• Sensory projections from the lateral geniculate nucleus terminate in what area of the cortex? (Answer: occipital cortex OR striate cortex OR visual cortex)

This will be the 12th year for the Brain Bowl, sponsored by the neuroscience community at the Health Science Center. It is the brainchild of David A. Morilak, Ph.D., professor of pharmacology, who modeled it on the 1960s quiz show “University Challenge.”

“This has been my baby since it was born,” said Dr. Morilak, who added that the sample questions above are easier than most the competitors will face.

Each year, the defending champion competes against two other universities for prizes, bragging rights and the Brain Bowl trophy. Baylor University has appeared in at least half of the Brain Bowls since the event began. “Baylor had a real streak going – I think it was six years in a row,” Dr. Morilak said.

Other past competitors include Southwestern University, St. Mary’s University, Texas Lutheran University, The University of Texas at Austin and The University of Texas at San Antonio (UTSA).

The Brain Bowl begins with three increasingly difficult rounds of questions in five categories: neuroanatomy, neurochemistry, neurophysiology, brain and behavior, and drugs and the brain. Each correct answer earns points for the team. After the third round, students are able to wager the points they have accrued on a single challenge question.

A reception afterward gives competitors a chance to meet faculty and graduate students in neuroscience from the Health Science Center. Several past Brain Bowl competitors have gone on to study at the Health Science Center.

Rene Santacruz, who competed in back-to-back Brain Bowls as an undergraduate student at Trinity, is a first-year student in the neuroscience track of the Health Science Center’s Integrated Multidisciplinary Graduate Program. He said the Brain Bowl helped reinforce what he was learning in class while teaching him things he had never known before.

“I also feel that the Brain Bowl gave me some insight on people here in the neuroscience track, since quite a few faculty and graduate students attended,” said Santacruz, who now researches neurodegeneration.

David Medina, who competed against Santacruz as a UTSA student, also is a first-year student of neuroscience at the Health Science Center. He plans to attend this year’s Brain Bowl.

“I think that was one of the events that really turned me on to the program here,” Medina said. “It was a lot of fun. It introduced me to this neuroscience community that I wasn’t aware of. It was a really fun way to bring professors, students and graduate students together.”




The University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio is the leading research institution in South Texas and one of the major health sciences universities in the world. With an operating budget of $668 million, the Health Science Center is the chief catalyst for the $16.3 billion biosciences and health care sector in San Antonio’s economy. The Health Science Center has had an estimated $36 billion impact on the region since inception and has expanded to six campuses in San Antonio, Laredo, Harlingen and Edinburg. More than 25,600 graduates (physicians, dentists, nurses, scientists and other health professionals) serve in their fields, including many in Texas. Health Science Center faculty are international leaders in cancer, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, aging, stroke prevention, kidney disease, orthopaedics, research imaging, transplant surgery, psychiatry and clinical neurosciences, pain management, genetics, nursing, dentistry and many other fields. For more information, visit

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