What follows is a transcript for the podcast Cellular Communication - Dr. Jon Lieff - Neuroscience.
Topics within the interview include:
- The mechanisms cells use when “talking” to each other.
- Different cell types, what they do, and the conversations they have with the brain.
- How mitochondrial activity involves changing shapes for different energy purposes.
- The fascinating research behind “dendritic learning”and how it relates to neuroplasticity.
Dr. Greg Kelly: Hi, this is Dr. Gregory Kelly. Today I'm going to be the host of Collective Insights, and we have the pleasure today of having with us Dr. Jon Lieff. He's a neuropsychiatrist with a BA in mathematics from Yale University and a medical degree from Harvard Medical School. Jon has pioneered the creation of integrated treatment units that focus on complex patients with combined medical, psychiatric, and neurological problems. This complex science is well represented in his book, The Secret Language of Cells. Dr. Lieff, welcome to the show.
Dr. Jon Lieff: Well, thank you very much for having me. I'm delighted.
Dr. Greg Kelly: One of the things that I always liked starting to talk about with authors like yourself would be a bit of the background. So you've been working as a medical doctor at really what I think of as a crossroads of physical and mental health. Can you share some of that background with our audience?
The Story Behind The Hidden Language of Cells
Dr. Jon Lieff: Yes, well, thank you. I specialized in neuropsychiatry that is complex patients who have medical, neurological, and psychiatric issues. So there's a wide variety of situations that I've treated and have been involved with, and you're always wondering what is the mind? What is the body? Which part of it are you dealing with? What is causing what? What's causing the symptoms? The idea that neuro and psychiatry are separate disciplines is kind of absurd. They both are the same really coming from an anatomical historically and an emotional or mental. But in today's world, there's no distinction. I often saw how mental things could affect the body clearly, and I also saw how bodily things could affect the mind. And then I was an expert in psychopharmacology as well. So I was always wondering.
What I was dealing with were integrated units of neuro, medical, and psychiatry, and I built large hospital programs at one point involving 200 nursing homes, the largest system in the Massachusetts for geriatric care, three hospital units, and we would get the most difficult cases. I had brain injury units also. So again, you're wondering, what is damage to the brain due to the mind? So this question has been my whole life. I've been thinking about it. So when I reached a point, after raising six kids, of some peace to work on my true love, which is scientific things, I started about 12 years ago a blog, sort of what is the mind? Where is it in nature? How do you define it? And the truth is you can't define it. There's no definition of consciousness, there's no definition of mind that is acceptable. There's no definition of life that's acceptable. But if you read Zimmer's book, it's pretty evident, you can't define it and you can't define consciousness. And then it became apparent from my neuro studies that there's no place, there's no place in the brain that is consciousness.
They always used to think there were modules or there were units, but then began to become apparent that each cell is highly connected to... They used to think they were associative, there's a visual, there's this hearing, each of the senses and then there's associative areas. The truth of the matter is, almost every area is vastly associated with everything else. One of the problems of course with our current imaging is that they're dealing with something in the seconds, measuring blood flow in seconds, when in reality there are signals going in milliseconds and then suddenly it's a new signal in a milliseconds and it's all over the brain all the time. A lot of the conclusions that we're coming out with are really hyped up about... But the truth is we don't know. There's no center of consciousness. That much is clear. Anyone who's in the field would know that.
So I began to wonder, so what is this and how do you do it? I began looking at other brains. So I studied other animal brains, and I had the honor of working with Marc Bekoff on an article. I had written about bees and birds. I'm particularly fascinated with the intelligence of birds. But then bees are tiny, tiny little brain, has abstract concepts, symbolic logic, solves advanced mathematical problems, treats the hive with medicine. And then ants, everyone talks about the hive, but the individual ant uses at least 50 different ways to navigate, and you can teach them how to navigate with the magnetic field. You can teach an ant. The individual ants listen to elders. They have compassion to the... They're highly intelligent creatures. And termites are unbelievable. The structures they build are like the twin towers. It's like an air conditioning system that is as tall as the twin towers from their perspective. And it becomes an oasis for the entire ecology. They're amazing animals. Somehow they know how to build this.
So I began to realize that even tiny brains are highly intelligent. And as I studied more, I began to... So what I did is I made a vow that I would only talk about things that are proven in the top journals, nature, science, et cetera, et cetera. So I would only... It's funny, the Harvard didn't like my thesis most of the time, that cells are intelligent. But when they read my book and they saw the platelet chapter, that's what blew their mind, but we can come back to that. So it was not a popular thing to be looking at cellular intelligence 12 years ago. I began to become more popular now as more about the microbes have come out, how smart they are and how it talks to our immune cells and cancer cells.
Anyway, so I made a vow I would only deal with top journals. So every week I would do a blog, and a blog is basically a review of major scientific journals' review on a topic. So I would look for things that look like intelligence, and more and more, I honed in on cells and I began to write about immune cells and skin cells and gut cells and all that's in the book, but how smart they are, I mean, how they make many decisions and how they're sending signals all the time. And then microbes, I began to study microbes in great detail and how smart they are and how they have many signals and they do many intelligent things. But then even viruses, I have a chapter on viruses about how smart they are, and that's a whole topic. So about four or five years ago, I knew that viruses were pretty smart because I was writing articles on HIV, on Ebola, on varicella, and how amazing what they do, that they take over an entire cell and they manage things. With just nine, 10 genes, they can do this. It's just really remarkable.
But then, they discovered the signal from a virus to its clan, and that to me was pathbreaking. And then now we have about 15 different signals from different species of viruses that are talking to each other, and they understand each other's signals and they understand the bacterial signals. Anyway, so it began to become clear to me that everything is based upon signaling. I mean, everyone knows, every high school student knows about neurons and that they signal to the next neurons. Everyone knows that. But they really don't know that neurons also signal sideways out of breaks to immune cells that they send little sacks, that they use nanotubes, that they use electricity in five or six different ways. So cells are communicating in many, many different ways all at once.
It's clear that we know about the chemical secretion and receptors because we are protein centric, everything since the double helix. I mean, it's wonderful stuff, I love DNA and I love studying it, but everything's been so focused on DNA that we forgot what Linus Pauling said, is that it's not covalent bonds, but non-covalent bonds, which are really doing everything in the cell. And water is the example of that, of the amazing way that water uses its... What a non-covalent bond means it's... Anyway, we can talk about that, I don't know if I should go into that.
The Mechanisms Cells Use When “Talking” to Each Other
Dr. Greg Kelly: Well, I just wanted to clear up for our audience, maybe make sure that I'm clear. So the emphasis has been on these proteins like neurotransmitters, the dopamines, the serotonins, and things like that. And what you were finding in the research was that, yeah, those are important, but there's these other ways that are also super important that neurons are communicating not only with each other, but the immune system, the gut, you name it, and that you became passionate about communicating this to-
Dr. Jon Lieff: Right. And I'll come back to the... I guess I jumped to my second book that I'm working on about how molecules and covalent bonds. We should talk about that. That's very important because we're learning a lot about that. When I say we, again, everything I read or write comes from top journals in various fields, and I just synthesize it. I'm not the inventor of any of this stuff. But it became apparent to me that nowhere did I see a description of how it works, that it works through intelligent communication. And that when Andy Wiles said this is a new paradigm, what he meant by that is that it's not just a cell talks to a cell, but that cell is talking to cells all over the body, all at the same time. The white cell, when it's clawing, it's traveling to the infection, is signaling in many ways to the local cells, to the distance cell, to the immune cells, and it's climbing there, and then it's told to go in.
There's a vast array of signaling going on. And we know mostly about chemical signaling. So most of the book is about chemical signaling because that's where our science is at. But clearly, now we know there are nanotubes. They were too small to see before, but there are nanotubes between every cell. Cancer cells love them. And exosomes, those are little sacs, they send sacs filled with information molecules back and forth. And that's a whole... Anyway, it dawned on me that everything is signaling. So I looked around and I didn't see a book on that. I didn't see a synthesis that this is how life works.
And not only that, but when you define life, I think now you can't just say life is a contained cell that does metabolism, but also, it's a cell that knows how to signal to other cells. But how does it know how to signal? That's the problem. We don't know how it knows, how a cell at one point knows that it's supposed to signal to the other cells in the organ. But that's a big story, and we can talk more about the details. So I became fascinated by putting together this new thesis of what life is, which is the intelligent signaling of cells, not just cells. And I include viruses in them also, but that's another subject.
Dr. Greg Kelly: Well, one of the things in reading your book, I mean I'm just in awe of how many hours you must have put into both learning, researching, and ultimately how you communicate, because it covers everything from the brain to the gut, to mitochondria, organelles within cells, viruses. I thought that chapter was brilliant. So, kudos to you for incredible heavy lift.
Dr. Jon Lieff: Thank you very much. It was a labor of love. I mean, to me, I just started reading and I realized that we know enough now for a new synthesis. We don't have to wait to see that cells are intelligent. I can show it. I mean, I never said that in the book. I didn't say cells are intelligent because that was a no-no. And you're not allowed to talk about intelligence or intelligence cells. I'd be banned from science. And some have. Even though my book is completely based on every factual stuff, some narrow-minded people just are appalled that intelligence might exist in cells, but we still don't know what it is. What is intelligence? And then that's another story. We can go further about that. But clearly now, I think what I did is I wanted to make it visual, just a kaleidoscopic visual tour of the life of a cell, like what's happening at that level? This one talks to this one, and that one talks to this one. And I wanted to show it rather than say, cells are intelligence.
But I think it's clear that since then, multiple other people have started saying cells are intelligent and cognitive, and it's become more respectable in the last two years to do that. Everything science changes every year or two. Only the latest stuff is relevant really. That's what I realize. It's such a deluge of information. And I have a method of keeping up. So I keep up. I call it doing my homework. I drive my family crazy. They say, "Oh, he is doing his homework."
Basically, before I go to sleep every night, I have certain places I look for the latest articles because that's when they advertise the articles. And then once that day is gone, you'll never find that article because it's buried in jargon. And the article names have nothing to do with anything anyone could possibly understand. At the hospital, they say, "Do you speak foreign languages?" I say, "Yes, I do. I speak molecular genetics, molecular biology." Anyway, but I capture these articles, and then I would then write about them. But then once I started writing the book, it was too much to keep up the blog. So the blog is out there, it's all there, but I had to work on the book.
Dr. Greg Kelly: And for our audience, where would they go to access this past blog content?
Dr. Jon Lieff: Oh, it's called Searching for the Mind, or just jonlieffmd.com. But no one knows that Jon is spelled J-O-N. No one knew that until The Daily Show came. That was the only time anyone could realize that Jon could be spelled without an H. So it's J-O-N L-I-E-F-F, which again no one spells right. It was a name invented by my grandfather at Ellis Island in 1904. So anyway, Jon Lieff MD is my Twitter. Also, my Twitter feed, every day I have articles and some of my articles coming out. So that's a place for updated new information.
Different Cell Types, What They Do, and the Conversations They Have With the Brain
Dr. Greg Kelly: Great, great. And then one of the things, I think it was in a fairly early chapter, maybe it was chapter two when you were talking about immune cells, but there was a distinction you made that science used to believe that both dead and dying cells sent out similar signaling, and that that's now known to be wrong. Could you maybe go into that a little bit?
Dr. Jon Lieff: Yes. So here we're talking about the white blood cells, leukocytes. There's a whole chapter on T-cells. T-cells are the master cells, and that's a very interesting subject we should talk about. But leukocytes are pretty fascinating by themselves. Leukocytes are... I mean, the first responders are platelets, and those actually do a lot more. They send signals. They have signals. And that's this whole story about how can a cell without a nucleus do that? That's because their mother puts all their RNA and ribosomes in the platelet. So they can signal just like any other cell. They call for leukocytes. Leukocytes come and start directing things until the T-cell arrives, who is the master and directs everything. But the leukocyte is, in any inflammation, any cut, any wound, any trauma, it travels. The local cell, the capillary is highly intelligent and sends direct signals, and leukocyte travels often against the flow by grabbing on like it's going into a sailboat.
And then when it arrives, the capillary, they signal, they give it permission, they open up the basement membrane, and they can squeeze through into the tissue. And there, they start mopping things up. They call for macrophages, which are gobble up stuff. But then when it's all done, the macrophages are finishing up the gobbling. When it's all done, the leukocytes leave. Now, we used to think they just died, but they actually don't. They signal, they go somewhere else. But the signaling that's going on between the leukocyte and the gobbling cell is, while a cell is dying, the macrophage is supposed to get rid of it. But actually, what we learned is that it only really gets rid of it when it's dead. And if it's just in a dying state, the inflammation stays there. And that's one of the reasons that we have chronic inflammation. So there's a lot of research now into how can we deal with that? How can we get... We make special cells now. We make T-cells that are designed to attack a certain cancer, and we'll probably be making leukocytes that can deal with that problem.
Dr. Greg Kelly: The dead versus dying cells, would dying cells be what is sometimes called senescent cells? Or maybe a category of those?
Dr. Jon Lieff: More cells are damaged in the fight over infection.
Dr. Greg Kelly: Okay.
Dr. Jon Lieff: This is a local... Or senescent cells. I mean, it could be, but I'm talking about the active inflammation situation where the inflammation... Inflammation is very important. It's very good. There are many, many different kinds of inflammation based upon what the situation is. There's one for each virus, there's one for each bacteria. There's one for cuts. There's one for this, that and the other thing. But inflammation is extremely damaging as we now know, particularly if it hangs around. A lot of the problems today are chronic inflammation caused by many things: diet, obesity. Various things contribute to inflammation, and tamping down inflammation is also the whole autoimmune thing. There's a lot of autoimmune, although we're now beginning to realize that a lot of these autoimmunes, like MS, are actually also involved with viruses. So viruses are in there very importantly as part of maintaining and triggering various kinds of inflammation. And we know that certain kinds of depression are basically inflammation. Some category, not all of them, but some category are. Many pain syndromes are involved with inflammation. Anyway, I can blab in different areas.
Dr. Greg Kelly: Well, since you mentioned pain, there's an entire chapter on pain. It's an area that I've been looking into a lot. I was really fascinated with some of what they've been finding about acupuncture and how that changes the conversation between cells. Can you share a little bit about that?
Dr. Jon Lieff: Yeah. So there's a thing... We used to think there was the brain and there was the body, okay? But there really is... The immune cells, I call it the wired brain and the wireless brain. So the immune cells travel, but are as connected to the neurons as any other neuron or any astrocyte or microglial. The T-cells in particular travel around the body and are in constant communication with various brain cells. So that means that there's no distinction between the brain and the body. And if you think the mind is in the brain, then you have to realize the mind is as much in the body as in the brain. So just to give a couple little examples, when we get a fever and we're feeling sick, the T-cell, and we didn't think the T-cell could do this because we didn't think they were in the brain, but now we know there's half a million of them floating around in the CSF.
Some even sneak in and some get out through lymph channels that we never knew existed until this year, until maybe months ago. So the T-cell realizes that we're fighting an infection somewhere else, and they need the energy of the body. We need to slow down. So they send a signal to the neuron, create the sick feeling, and the neuron then gives us that feeling that we have to rest, that we're dizzy, we're foggy, we have no energy, and then we lie down. And that's when the energy, the body can go towards healing, fighting the infection. Now, when it's done, only the T-cell can tell the neuron to stop the sick feeling. It sends signals, pulse signals, and then once it restarts the normal feeling, the T-cell is sending pulse signals to maintain cognition. So the T-cell is very involved with the neuron in cognition.
Now, just as the T-cell influences the neuron, the neuron influences the T-cell and every other cell. So the neuron, we didn't realize this, but the neuron can create... We used to think the neuron is involved in only maybe one of the symptoms of inflammation, pain, swelling, et cetera. The neuron can create all kinds of inflammation. It can create cytokines, which is why... So for example, when people meditate... I'll come back to acupuncture. But just as an aside, when people meditate, they have better immunity. And you figure, how can meditation cause immunity? Well, once we realize that the parasympathetic system can send cytokines as well as calming the heart and the breathing, it also can signal that it can affect immunity. So the neurons have as much as many cytokine influences as the immune cells. And likewise, immune cells use the neurotransmitters as much as the neurons do.
Now, what we are finding about pain signals is that the circuit, we all know about circuits, but we think of it only as neurons, the circuit involves other brain cells. It involves astrocytes, microglia, we'll come back to that. But it also involves T-cells, which are really, they're the microglia of the body. The microglia in the T-cell... Although microglia are actually macrophages. They're actually gobbling cells, but they're very intelligent gobbling cells. But the T-cell, so a signal is constantly going between... They found one circuit, in a woman, it involves the microglia as well as astrocytes as well neurons for a pain circuit. Whereas in men, it involved the T-cell, not the microglia. So a circuit could involve, I'll give an example, it could involve 10 different kinds of cells with maybe a hundred different signals going on. So these are very complicated immune rain circuits going on.
Now, we used to wonder what is acupuncture? I mean, there is the whole movement. In my later book, we talk about electricity, all the brain stimulation and how we're beginning to understand, and some people believe the fascia is a line, but we really don't know about electricity yet in the body, although it's clearly doing a lot, and it's clearly involved in a lot of different kinds of communication. Clearly we know about brainwaves, we know about neurons, we know about all cells sending electrolyte versions of electric signals. But we also have electric stuff going on at the tiny layer, which we'll talk about. That's the later book.
So what happens is, what is acupuncture? Well, you'd have to think of it as some flow of energy, but we don't have flow of energy in the west. We have physics, chemistry, and you're always looking for that. So under physics and chemistry, you would think it's a blood vessel or you would think it's a nerve, but it's not. So they take a needle and put it in an acupuncture point in the wrist that affects the spleen, and somehow the message gets over to the spleen. But what's going on? Well, they put electricity on it. What they noticed under... To find one cell is very advanced technology, and it's wonderful what's happening with the technology. That's a whole another story. There's a lot going on. It's very exciting. Actually, I consult for bioscience companies since my book, and it's just very exciting to see what's happening with the imaging.
But anyway, they found one cell sitting there, that's the T-cell. The T-cell gets the signal, it moves a little bit, and sends secretions or electrical, who knows? It signals to the neuron, triggers the neuron, and then the neuron goes around and goes to the spleen. So the acupuncture doesn't have to be on a "energy flow center," it just needs to hit a T-cell or some other intelligent cell. So that's just one example. I mean, there's also the whole idea of fascia being a conductor, electricity and magnetism, and all that.
I'm trying to keep up on the Wild West of brain stimulation: the ultrasound, the photonics, the sound or vibrations. This is the Wild West. ECT, it took 30 years. I mean, we knew it worked because it came from Julius Caesar. When you have a seizure, your mental illness gets better. ECT works, but it was difficult to do. If you look at cuckoo's nest, until they could get rid of the actual seizure, it took 30 years to hone it down. So we know where is the best place to do it, and we're still working on it. But now we have 20 different kind of brain stimulations, and we have no idea, the frequency, the amplitude, where's the best circuit? So we're in the Wild West of brain stimulation right now. But it comes down to the theory of how the cells work. There, we have electrical communications, we have nanotubes, we have exosomes, but it's just coming into focus. We still mostly know about just the chemical. So I don't know.
Dr. Greg Kelly: One of the other things, and I know from my perspective, it's the first time I've read about it, but almost the intelligence of myelin sheath, right? Only it was really, what I learned-
Dr. Jon Lieff: Oh, I'm sorry. Couldn't hear the word.
Dr. Greg Kelly: Myelin. Myelin sheath.
Dr. Jon Lieff: Oh, myelin.
Dr. Greg Kelly: Yeah. So since you're the first one I've ever seen actually spend the time to learn and write about that, can we talk a little bit about the intelligence of that?
Dr. Jon Lieff: Well, I used to believe that the micro tubal spindle that separates the two eggs was the most complicated gadget in nature. I used to think that, but now I know that it's myelin is the most complicated thing, and it's happening everywhere, and it's happening rapidly. So it's hard to know even where to start. But one thing is, everyone thinks it's an insulator, which it is, and therefore it speeds up things. But I don't know if people have thought about this. Something's happening here in the brain and you're trying to get messages from here, here, here, and here. They all have to coordinate at the same millisecond. Well, how do they do that? Well, they have to have different speeds, and they have to have different speeds with different myelin settings.
So what we didn't know is that myelin is changing and that there are many, many patterns. In the cortex, there are the most patterns of myelin, and it's sort of, there's myelin and then there's little naked areas. And then the neurons use those naked areas to communicate sideways to the T-cells and to other traveling cells with cytokines, with other neurotransmitters. So the myelin, one of the problems with studying myelin is the name of the cell, the oligodendrocyte. That just turns everyone off. When you say oligodendrocyte, "What the hell does that mean? And why should I be careful about a cell that sounds so stupid?" But in actual fact, it's probably the most intelligent cell. Oligo means a couple, dendrocyte means a couple of appendages. So it was just some stupid name that some scientists gave. We call it myelin cells, everyone's excited by it.
So anyway, right now, that's one of the blockages and why there's so little going on. Almost 90% of research is in neurons. We're very neuron centric, which is unfortunate. Not that neurons aren't great, it's just that perhaps astrocytes and microglia and oligodendrocytes are greater. They're more interesting in some ways, although the neurons are the workhorse. Anyway, I don't know if you got it, it's complicated, but the chapter on capillary cell. Capillary cells, Aristotle made a proclamation that capillaries determined the organ. And everyone thought, "Well, Aristotle is crazy. I mean, he doesn't know what he's talking about. I mean, where could he get that from? How could he know that anyway?" I mean, he is right, turns out he is right. And they only found this out like three years ago. So basically, capillary cells determine and send signals to the stem cells about what to do in every organ. There are all kinds of different capillary beds.
And these capillary cells are so smart. They tell the stem cell, "You're going to make this cell, you're going to make it here, and you're going to make it exactly at this time." So it's the capillary cells and the other glia cells are telling these stem cells in the brain to move to a certain part of the brain and become an oligodendrocyte and start making myelin at that spot because we need it to get this kind of circuit going for learning. We need to have new... And it has to be a certain shape and a certain size. But each one, I describe it in the book, it's exciting to read about it. So you create a lift, you approach, you're signaling back and forth, finally you touch, then you say, "Okay, then you make one layer, then you have to strengthen it." Then you make another layer, and then you make streets through it so you can send information and nutrients to it.
And then you build this fantastic thing while you're building it in different directions, but of a certain size and a certain pattern to make everything function in the brain, make all the movements to occur. So I've changed. We used to call it the [inaudible 00:33:29], they're called the spindle. I think myelin is the most complicated thing that we know. So it's worth looking into. But what was very interesting also is we found the neuron sending little sacks of information back and forth to the myelin. It's communicating with the myelin. And I'm sure there are... I mean, nanotubes, we don't know what nanotubes in the brain. We know nanotubes. Cancers love nanotubes, and that's a great story. We should talk about cancers. But, nanotubes are very tiny. But you could send a mitochondria in it. You could send a virus in it.
HIV is so smart that it tells the cell to connect with another cell, creates a nanotube, and then travels into the other cell. Also, COVID does that too. So you don't get any signal outside of the cell that it's infected another cell. That's how smart these viruses are. They're the ones who trigger these nanotubes. Anyway, cancers love to signal with nanotubes. That's their favorite. And exosomes. Anyway, they're like supermen and they have a colony of supermen that are... Or women superwoman, I should say. Anyway, we all think of microbes as having a colony, and they're smart and they talk to each other. Cancer cells are so much smarter, bigger, stronger. They have colonies too, and they send resistance genes just like microbes do. And they send information and they warn against viruses and they warn... Anyway, they're very smart. I'm going off on tangents. It's hard not to.
How Mitochondrial Activity Involves Changing Shapes for Different Energy Purposes
Dr. Greg Kelly: No, it's fine. It's one of the things I loved about your book. I mean, it's impossible to read your book and not come away thinking at every scale, from the level of virus, bacteria to ourselves, no matter what the type, but even inside cells, just the intelligence is astounding.
Dr. Jon Lieff: Yeah. So that's where I'm heading deeper and deeper into the cell. I was trying to figure out, where does the communication start? Where is the intelligence? I mean, that was my original focus. And what I found is that, of course, mitochondria is our cells. They're micro. They're very smart cell that met up with another cell and made a deal that said, "Look, I'll get rid of a lot of baggage, a lot of my DNA I don't need. You can take care of all the main membranes and all kinds of crap I don't need, and I'll just focus on what I love to do, which is making ATP and making energy and dealing with metabolism and the Krebs cycle and all that kind of stuff, and I'm going to do that." So they made a deal, and this symbiosis occurs everywhere.
Actually, I was asked to write an article in a journal, Progress in Biophysics and Molecular Biology, it's hard to even remember the title, on how symbiosis works and how it relates to quantum mechanics. We can talk about that. I did send in the article. Mitochondria are in constant communication with the cell or the neuron. In an average cell, maybe there's 3,000 mitochondria, but in a neuron, there can be millions all along this axon. I mean, I talk about the axon like a person walking along the wall of China. That's the scale. In other words, you have a cell body, and that we are to Mount Everest that this cell body is to us, they're a tiny cell body. And then you have an axon that goes three feet from the spinal cord all the way to the toe. Well, how do you send signals all the way down this thing? How do you send material? How do you send ribosomes? How do you keep it going? Well, these mitochondria go along the tubes, they transport. They transport them down. They come off. They come on. There are millions of them working in the cells.
So what we've learned is that they get their communication with, again, a terrible word, endoplasmic reticulum. What a horrible word for one of the most wonderful sacs in the body. I mean, the ER is like the center of everything. It is right near the nucleus. It talks to the mitochondria, it talks to the lysosomes, it talks to everything. So the ER is a bunch of, it's a manufacturing membranes, all these beautiful membranes, and the mitochondria docks on a contact thing with the ER, and they send signals back and forth, and they get their talking orders. And I kept wondering, "Well, ER is right near the nucleus. How do you do that two feet down an axon?" Well, it turns out there's ERs all the way down. There's ER all through the cell, which no one knew until very recently. So the ER does a lot of the talking with the mitochondria.
They all talk, but there's all kinds of organelles. We think of just a couple of organelles. We now know there's at least 50 different kinds of organelles. And not only is that true, but it gets much more weird than that. There are membrane-less, there are organelles with no membranes. These are called droplets, molecular cluster droplets. That's the focus of my next book actually, because that's goes to mTOR. Well, we haven't come to mTOR, so I'll save that from when you ask about mTOR. But anyway, so you have all of the organelles talking to each other, figuring out stuff about proteins, figuring out stuff about lipids. And again, lipids, we're just beginning to learn about. Everything we know has been about proteins, and proteins are everything. We're very protein centric. The truth of the matter is, the brain is more than half lipids, and the endocannabinoids are lipids.
All the signaling is through through short chain fatty acid. Those are lipids. There's all kinds of stuff that we're just scratching. And the thing about proteins is that they're pretty complicated. I mean, it's just so that our big AI has barely become to fold it, figure out how to fold it. Lipids are far more complicated because here you have an endless chain, an endless branching. It's like ubiquitin. It's a thing called ubiquitin, which is a tag. It's a type of tag that viruses, bacteria, and human cells use to fight each other. I'll tag you, you tag me, and then this happens, and that happens. And that's the way that they fight. Well, one of those tags is a branched molecule that could be any size. You keep adding branches, and that's what viruses do when they're fighting human cells. The normal signal is maybe five branches. They add three more branches, and then the bacteria adds a branch or takes away a branch. And that's how the cells fight through these tags. These are the signals of the fight that goes on between virus, one of them, again, the molecules I'm talking about.
But meanwhile, a lipid has endless branching, and so do sugars for that mean matter. Glycoproteins are sugar-coated proteins. We all know about that now through the spike protein. Viruses are coated with sugars, and that's how they communicated with the cell. So we're just scratching the surface of lipids, which are a vast subject, but I kind of got a feel. So you have all these organelles talking to each other, and that's what I talked about in the fourth section of the book. Now, anyway, I don't know if I should go further. You have other questions about the more well known organelle?
Dr. Greg Kelly: Yeah, I know mitochondria is an area our audience has typically loved. And a couple things that I didn't know until I read your book, and then the chapter on that was one, how quickly some of them turn over and then that some would almost figure out where energy is needed and anchor themselves there, while other ones were constantly moving to places that needed more energy.
Dr. Jon Lieff: And they go along the micro tubal highways, the micro tubal highways and then the acton local train. So you have the big ones and then the small ones, they're traveling around, they're going here, they're going there. They say stop. They get off the train. They do energy. Okay, let's go. And then they get back on, they move here, they move there, they're moving around, they're breaking, they're fusing, they're fishing and fusion, different shapes. Sometimes they become huge, sometimes they're just a bunch of little ones. And all of this communication goes on with the ER. So there's constantly signaling. Where do we need energy? What's happening? Now, what cancers do, these hugely intelligent cells, they manipulate their mitochondria so that they defeat. Mitochondria not only do energy, but they do cell destruction. Cell destruction, one of the main ways is the mitochondria creates a program suicide. So that's a whole field.
There are other ways that cells commit suicide. But the main one is the mitochondria, as well as influencing their telomeres and their DNA. So they won't die that way and that they can keep multiplying. They manipulate their mitochondria to use new kinds of energy that become unstoppable, and then they multiply these mitochondria, and then they send them through their comrades, through the nanotubes and the vesicles. So the cancer cells are constantly communicating. They're highly intelligent. They're a colony of intelligent cells forming an organ. They fool the blood vessels into becoming a different kind of blood vessel. So the whole thing about cancer cells is they learn the language of their local tissue and they manipulate the local cells. So they make their fibroblasts. The connective cells help them build structures. So they build an organ, they make the blood vessel cells their own, so they won't allow immune cells to get out of them and come after them, although now they've manipulated macrophages to the point where there's huge numbers of macrophages traveling in the middle of cancers.
And the same with microbes. They are friends and foes, but the friendly microbes are inside and travel with them. The enemy microbes, it is a love-hate relationship with microbes and cancers and with macrophages. Macrophages, they fool the cells. Now, they know the language. Let's say one kind of cancer knows a language of their breast tissue, but they also know about bone and brain. So they send off their satellites, their exosomes filled with all the molecules they need to go to another planet where they know the language. So they land in the place, they dig in, they just stay there for a while. They start communicating with the local cells. They can wait a long time or when they feel they can manipulate the situation, then they start building their colony and they build their metastatic colony.
The Fascinating Research Behind “Dendritic Learning”and How It Relates to Neuroplasticity
Dr. Greg Kelly: Oh. Well, one of the last things I wanted to make sure we touched on was the chapter on dendritic highways and how that linked in with neuroplasticity, because again, it's unbelievable.
Dr. Jon Lieff: It's hard to believe. I mean, when you consider each neuron can have a hundred thousand places to connect to another neuron. So these dendrites, they come and go. The microtubules, they all have different shapes. They have different electrical properties. They look like mushrooms or stubs, or there's the stalk, there's a top. They're all different. Where they're placed makes a difference. So if one neuron hits here and another neurons hits right nearby, they may have a better chance of influencing the final signal or not. So somehow there's a communication with these thousands and thousands of signals to the cell body who is sending signals backwards, by the way, and communicating. And then something is decided, and then they just say, "Okay, we're going here. We're going with this signal, and we're going..." And that signal goes along the axon halfway around the brain in one millisecond, and then the next millisecond, that very neuron is in a different circuit sending a signal. In other words, the same neuron flips between circuits because it has connections to all kinds of places at the same time.
We don't understand, this is so vast. I mean, you have to read the chapter. Actually, I think I describe it a little bit, but it's even gotten more crazy since then. I mean, it's not gotten any simpler, that's for sure. We don't understand how these decisions are made. So where my mind went, at that time when I wrote the book, I was aware that mTOR was a very unique little molecule. It's a protein. It's called a kinase. It lops high energy phosphates on it. I mean, it has to do with high energy phosphate. What it does is it gathers clusters. And I began to be very interested in clusters, clusters of macromolecules. So it was clear to me that mTOR sitting right near the lysozyme, which is one of the most significant, very under recognized, that's as important as the nucleus, as the mitochondria, and as the ER, it has 50 different enzymes. It gathers all the nutrients, breaks them down, and supplies whatever's needed in the whole cell.
MTOR sits right outside as the brain of the lysozyme. It's a molecule that forms a cluster that functions as if it's a cell. In other words, it can figure out how much amino acids, how much lysine, how much arginine, how much fatty liver, how much fatty tissue. It figures out a thousand things, and it's one little molecule. I said, "How can this happen?" So I began to investigate more and more about this. It turns out molecular clusters are everywhere. This is just one example. Not only that, but molecular clusters at some point through complicated mechanisms become a phase separated, it's called. They form a droplet. It's like oil and water. They form a unique structure of various kinds. There's hundreds of different kinds. We now know that this occurs everywhere in the cell, all through DNA. These droplets are what's called organelles without membranes, and they function just like organelles. They're sending signals. They're communicating.
Most of the function of the cell occurs through these organelles. So now I'm trying to figure out and write about how they're communicating. What my paper is about is how it's shown that in the middle of this cluster, they create where the reactions occur. They can't possibly occur by diffusion. It's a joke. So it's not random. These random people are crazy. This is highly organized to the point where reactions occur within milliseconds, one, two, three, four, one after another. It's highly orchestrated, and it happens much faster than a chemical reaction, even with the best catalysts in the world. So it turns out they involve quantum effects. They involve tunneling and superposition. So what I write about is how that can happen. Not only that, but what's been proven is fascinating, is that that structure inside this... So the macromolecules condense, we know a little bit about this through colloid science, current colloid science, but here we're talking about vastly more complicated proteins, many hundreds of them, even thousands of them forming complicated clusters.
And in between, there are these little rivulets where water exists in one, two, three, four layers with its unique hydration effects. We could talk about water and the uniqueness of water. I write a little bit about that. But since I finished the article, I've learned a lot more already. We've already discovered more about how unique the electrochemistry of water is. So you have these macro molecules with these little rivulets that are filled with ions. If you block the mouth of that rivulet, you turn off this rivulet to turn on that. They're actually semiconductors. Okay? So these macromolecules as semiconductors run through electrochemical properties and high energy phosphates, blah, blah, blah.
And deep in there, there are these clefts. And what they found is that in order for quantum tunneling to occur, tunneling occurs in a reaction. And we know that occurs in the mitochondria. We know it occurs in photosynthesis. Tunneling means that the electron or the proton or the molecule is actually a wave and can go around the barrier. So it's a wave that's split out. So it goes around and it happens in a way that's much, much faster than could possibly even with the catalysts. And that's been proven now. But what was mysterious is we all thought that you had to have what's called not be coherent. In other words, the noise of the vibrations. All these molecules are vibrating. They're vibrating based upon their... Again, here we come to the covalent and non-covalent. That's for another time, I guess.
So anyway, they're vibrating based upon their bonds, based upon their water, based upon how they attract, they don't attract, et cetera. These vibrations they thought would destroy any kind of quantum events turns out. And this is proven, it's wild proven stuff. People at MIT, wonderful research, which I read about in my article. These large clusters create an environment where not only do they allow the quantum, but the vibrations of the unique structure strengthen it. They actually increase the quantum effects. So this shows that the quantum effects are all through these clusters. These clusters are all through the cell, and the communication is going on at that level. So this is another story. This is where my next book is going.
Dr. Greg Kelly: Well, you've mentioned a few times about your next book. Do you have an estimated time when that's going to hit the shelves, or it's too early?
Dr. Jon Lieff: Unfortunately, I wish I did. I'm just trying to keep up with the field. I'm trying to keep up with the movement in physics and chemistry, biology. It's really involves all of those. And it's a good thing I studied math in college, so I'm not frightened of the math part.
Dr. Greg Kelly: So your current book, the one that I've read and we're going to have on our book of the month coming up, that really is focused on the communication at a cellular level, but then within cells, the organelles that you've talked about, mitochondria, lysosome, ER. So what's the main emphasis then on the next book?
Dr. Jon Lieff: Well, what's interesting is that molecules communicate. It's not just cells and organelles, but molecular clusters and even large molecules are communicating. So communication then is much more universal. Again, you're not allowed to say it. I did say it. I said my assumption, which is unproven. Again, I always do proven stuff, but if I ever speculate, my assumption is that intelligence and consciousness are an inherent part of nature. They're part of physics. They're physics and chemistry. In other words, they're not mysterious in that way, that they're other worldly. They're the essential building block of our molecules. And our molecules are using that to communicate. So I see communication at the level of humans, societies, the internet, the whole earth, organs, cells, viruses, and then clusters and molecules. At every level, you have intelligent communication going on.
Dr. Greg Kelly: Well, and since your book, I mean there's probably a hundred things, but is there one or two things that really stand out as like, "Wow, I wish I knew about this when I wrote my book. I would've rethought how I communicated some of the things"?
Dr. Jon Lieff: Well, I had no idea where I was heading when I just knew there was something about mTOR. No words. I was so buried in writing. I mean, it took a lot of details to write this book in a lot of fields. I had to really work hard. I mean, the bibliography, I just gleaned it. I'm talking about thousands of articles. I didn't want to be crazy with the bibliography. I just wanted the visuals. I wanted people to see at that level. When you live in the cell, you can just see the intelligence. It's just everywhere around you. And I got lost in writing that and tried to make it clear. I tried to. It's funny, the editors kept putting in leukocyte, and I would take it out and say, white blood cell. I mean, I just wanted to get rid of jargon. I wanted no jargon whatsoever. And I think I succeeded in 99.9% of not having jargon using ordinary English words to explain things.
I mean, the old saying, if you can't say it and explain it, you really don't understand anything. And the whole idea of jargon, jargon is what's ruining... I mean, jargon's necessary, but it doesn't allow people to realize what we already know, that we already know that this communication is going on, that cells are intelligent, and that's really one of the basis of life itself. But now, so I came to mTOR and I said, "Well, I have to come back to this." As soon as the book was published, I started studying molecular complexes. That was very complicated. And then that led me to droplets and to phase separation and then to quantum. So it's led me in a very valuable direction. And of course, I couldn't have known it then. And a lot of the research wasn't even done then. I mean, the droplets were not as significant three years ago, four years ago as they are now. Now there's a vast literature on droplets now. People in the know realize how significant it is.
Dr. Greg Kelly: And again, I'm not asking you what science has proven, but just like your thoughts, do you think some of these newer understandings, that quantum tunneling and things like that, may actually give better explanations for some of the things that might have been inherent within traditional healing systems and psychedelics?
Dr. Jon Lieff: Yes, I'm hoping that... I've been very interested in Ayurveda acupuncture. I worked with Ted Kaptchuk many years ago at [inaudible 00:58:55], or some of my programs were very alternative. So I'm aware Western, Eastern science comes from accepting that there are internal states and then observing the manifestations of changing of those internal states. Western medicine recently said only what we can measure. And basically what Western science says is, "I see it this way. And if you do agree you see it this way and four of us say it, then yes, that's it." So it's an observation of thing.
The two are coming together. It hasn't happened yet. I chose to stay in the Western for my books. And I'm still doing that for my next book because I want there be no question because I believe the Western science is proving what is necessary to understand the electrical stimulation, the electrical movements of the body, the magnetics, the ultrasound, the photonics, sound waves. This is the future. I mean, there's no question about that. But when I talk about those clusters, they're all vibrating and they create phonons. Phonon is the quantum of sound, and they create phonons that's being worked on. The water is creating unique vibrations. So it's the understanding of these vibrations, which are sending photons, they're sending electromagnetic signals.
So there's going to be an understanding of energy medicine. And then the two will merge. Because when we understand the energy, how the energy is working between all through the body, all through the cells, all through the molecules, and we see the energy structures, it won't be voodoo. It'll be physics and chemistry. So I study a lot of how we measure things. It's like Disneyland. I mean, it's wonderful what's happening today in the measurements, the three-photon microscopes, it's mind-boggling.
We use photon to get so deep in the brain and then you do an ultrasound there, or you do ultrasound and then a photon, or you do magnetic and then an ultrasound and a photon, how all these energy systems are going to be working together. And we're going to be able to manipulate anywhere in the brain and the body and understand how it works. I believe when we understand the macro electrical stimulation and the micro electrical stuff, electromagnetic vibrational stuff or quantum stuff, we will have the underpinning of traditional medicine. And then the research can really emerge as the same. That's what I believe.
Dr. Greg Kelly: Well, thank you so much for all the effort you've put into both learning this incredibly new science and communicating it, and for being our guest today on Collective Insights. Before we sign off, just to remind our audience where they could go to follow you.
Dr. Jon Lieff: Yeah, it's been a great pleasure to talking with you. I mean, it really is. You understand more than most people, so it's wonderful to talk with you.
Dr. Greg Kelly: Thank you.
Dr. Jon Lieff: So I have a website, Searching for the Mind, or jonlieffmd.com. There is a contact sheet on that. People can send me emails if they want. I'm on Twitter. It's Jon Lieff MD. It's @JonLieff. Again, J-O-N, no H. This is like the daily show. And Lieff is L-I-E-F-F, which is weird. And I'm on Facebook too, but I don't pay as much attention anymore. Mainly Twitter, my website, and people can contact me through the website.
Dr. Greg Kelly: Well, thank you again for being with us today, Dr. Lieff.
Dr. Jon Lieff: Great pleasure.