Neuroskeptic

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Comments on neurobiology, neuroimaging, and psychiatry from a skeptical neuroscientist.

Neuroskeptic
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  • April 7, 2010
  • 08:48 AM
  • 1,023 views

Why Do We Dream?

by Neuroskeptic in Neuroskeptic

A few months ago, I asked Why Do We Sleep?That post was about sleep researcher Jerry Siegel, who argues that sleep evolved as a state of "adaptive inactivity". According to this idea, animals sleep because otherwise we'd always be active, and constant activity is a waste of energy. Sleeping for a proportion of the time conserves calories, and also keeps us safe from nocturnal predators etc.Siegel's theory in what we might call minimalist. That's in contrast to other hypotheses which claim that s........ Read more »

  • October 26, 2009
  • 04:24 PM
  • 1,022 views

Barack Obama Boosts Testosterone

by Neuroskeptic in Neuroskeptic

But only if you voted for him, and only if you're a man. That's according to a PLoS One paper called Dominance, Politics, and Physiology.It's already known that in males, winning competitions - achieving "dominance" - causes a rapid rise in testosterone release, whilst losing does the opposite. That's true in humans, as well as in other mammals. The authors wondered whether the same thing happens when men "win" vicariously - i.e. when someone we identify with triumphs.What better way of testing........ Read more »

  • December 9, 2009
  • 08:08 AM
  • 1,021 views

Testosterone, Aggression... Confusion

by Neuroskeptic in Neuroskeptic

Breaking news from the BBC -Testosterone link to aggression 'all in the mind' Work in Nature magazine suggests the mind can win over hormones... Testosterone induces anti-social behaviour in humans, but only because of our own prejudices about its effect rather than its biological activity, suggest the authors. The researchers, led by Ernst Fehr of the University of Zurich, Switzerland, said the results suggested a case of "mind over matter" with the brain overriding body chemistry. "Whe........ Read more »

  • March 20, 2010
  • 03:00 PM
  • 1,020 views

Absinthe Fact and Fiction

by Neuroskeptic in Neuroskeptic

Absinthe is a spirit. It's very strong, and very green. But is it something more?I used to think so, until I came across this paper taking a skeptical look at the history and science of the drink, Padosch et al's Absinthism a fictitious 19th century syndrome with present impactAbsinthe is prepared by crushing and dissolving the herb wormwood in unflavoured neutral alcohol and then distilling the result; other herbs and spices are added later for taste and colour.It became extremely popular in th........ Read more »

Padosch SA, Lachenmeier DW, & Kröner LU. (2006) Absinthism: a fictitious 19th century syndrome with present impact. Substance abuse treatment, prevention, and policy, 1(1), 14. PMID: 16722551  

  • March 31, 2010
  • 09:18 AM
  • 1,018 views

Predicting Psychosis

by Neuroskeptic in Neuroskeptic

"Prevention is better than cure", so they say. And in most branches of medicine, preventing diseases, or detecting early signs and treating them pre-emptively before the symptoms appear, is an important art.Not in psychiatry. At least not yet. But the prospect of predicting the onset of psychotic illnesses like schizophrenia, and of "early intervention" to try to prevent them, is a hot topic at the moment.Schizophrenia and similar illnesses usually begin with a period of months or years, general........ Read more »

Ruhrmann, S., Schultze-Lutter, F., Salokangas, R., Heinimaa, M., Linszen, D., Dingemans, P., Birchwood, M., Patterson, P., Juckel, G., Heinz, A.... (2010) Prediction of Psychosis in Adolescents and Young Adults at High Risk: Results From the Prospective European Prediction of Psychosis Study. Archives of General Psychiatry, 67(3), 241-251. DOI: 10.1001/archgenpsychiatry.2009.206  

  • August 17, 2009
  • 10:09 AM
  • 1,015 views

Schizophrenia: The Mystery of the Missing Genes

by Neuroskeptic in Neuroskeptic

It's a cliché, but it's true - "schizophrenia genes" are the Holy Grail of modern psychiatry.Were they to be discovered, such genes would provide clues towards a better understanding of the biology of the disease, and that could lead directly to the development of better medications. It might also allow "genetic counselling" for parents concerned about their children's risk of schizophrenia.Perhaps most importantly for psychiatrists, the definitive identification of genes for a mental illness w........ Read more »

  • March 2, 2010
  • 02:52 PM
  • 1,014 views

Is Your Brain A Communist?

by Neuroskeptic in Neuroskeptic

Capitalists beware. No less a journal than Nature has just published a paper proving conclusively that the human brain is a Communist, and that it's plotting the overthrow of the bourgeois order and its replacement by the revolutionary Dictatorship of the Proletariat even as we speak.Kind of. The article, Neural evidence for inequality-averse social preferences, doesn't mention the C word, but it does claim to have found evidence that people's brains display more egalitarianism than people thems........ Read more »

Tricomi E, Rangel A, Camerer CF, & O'Doherty JP. (2010) Neural evidence for inequality-averse social preferences. Nature, 463(7284), 1089-91. PMID: 20182511  

  • May 15, 2010
  • 05:40 PM
  • 1,014 views

Do It Like You Dopamine It

by Neuroskeptic in Neuroskeptic

Neuroskeptic readers will know that I'm a big fan of theories. Rather than just poking around (or scanning) the brain under different conditions and seeing what happens, it's always better to have a testable hypothesis.I just found a 2007 paper by Israeli computational neuroscientists Niv et al that puts forward a very interesting theory about dopamine. Dopamine is a neurotransmitter, and dopamine cells are known to fire in phasic bursts - short volleys of spikes over millisecond timescales - in........ Read more »

  • June 2, 2011
  • 04:21 AM
  • 1,012 views

The Holographic Brain

by Neuroskeptic in Neuroskeptic

According to the holonomic brain theory,Cognitive function is guided by a matrix of neurological wave interference patterns situated temporally between holographic Gestalt perception and discrete, affective, quantum vectors derived from reward anticipation potentials.Well, I don't know about that, but a group of neuroscientists have just reported on using holograms as a tool for studying brain function: Three-dimensional holographic photostimulation of the dendritic arbor.A while ago, scientists........ Read more »

Yang S, Papagiakoumou E, Guillon M, de Sars V, Tang CM, & Emiliani V. (2011) Three-dimensional holographic photostimulation of the dendritic arbor. Journal of neural engineering, 8(4), 46002. PMID: 21623008  

  • August 9, 2010
  • 01:33 PM
  • 1,009 views

Zapping Memory Better in Alzheimer's

by Neuroskeptic in Neuroskeptic

Last month I wrote about how electrical stimulation of the hippocampus causes temporary amnesia - Zapping Memories Away.Now Toronto neurologists Laxton et al have tried to use deep brain stimulation (DBS) to improve memory in people with Alzheimer's disease. Progressive loss of memory is the best-known symptom of this disorder, and while some drugs are available, they provide partial relief at best.This study stems from a chance discovery by the same Toronto group. In 2008, they reported that st........ Read more »

Laxton AW, Tang-Wai DF, McAndrews MP, Zumsteg D, Wennberg R, Keren R, Wherrett J, Naglie G, Hamani C, Smith GS.... (2010) A phase I trial of deep brain stimulation of memory circuits in Alzheimer's disease. Annals of neurology. PMID: 20687206  

  • January 22, 2011
  • 12:46 PM
  • 1,008 views

When "Healthy Brains" Aren't

by Neuroskeptic in Neuroskeptic

There's a lot of talk, much of it rather speculative, about "neuroethics" nowadays.But there's one all too real ethical dilemma, a direct consequence of modern neuroscience, that gets very little attention. This is the problem of incidental findings on MRI scans.An "incidental finding" is when you scan someone's brain for research purposes, and, unexpectedly, notice that something looks wrong with it. This is surprisingly common: estimates range from 2–8% of the general population. It will hap........ Read more »

Cramer SC, Wu J, Hanson JA, Nouri S, Karnani D, Chuang TM, & Le V. (2011) A system for addressing incidental findings in neuroimaging research. NeuroImage. PMID: 21224007  

  • December 23, 2010
  • 10:59 AM
  • 999 views

Depression Treatment Increased From 1998 to 2007

by Neuroskeptic in Neuroskeptic

A paper just out reports on the changing patterns of treatment for depression in the USA, over the period from 1998 to 2007.The headline news is that increased: the overall rate of people treated for some form of "depression" went from 2.37% to 2.88% per year. That's an increase of 21%, which is not trivial, but it's much less than the increase in the previous decade: it was just 0.73% in 1987.But the increase was concentrated in some groups of people.Americans over 50 accounted for the bulk of ........ Read more »

Marcus SC, & Olfson M. (2010) National trends in the treatment for depression from 1998 to 2007. Archives of general psychiatry, 67(12), 1265-73. PMID: 21135326  

  • July 27, 2011
  • 03:27 AM
  • 994 views

Brain Connectivity, Or Head Movement?

by Neuroskeptic in Neuroskeptic

"It's pretty painless. Basically you just need to lie there and make sure you don't move your head".This is what I say to all the girls... who are taking part in my fMRI studies. Head movement is a big problem in fMRI. If your head moves, your brain moves and all fMRI analysis assumes that the brain is perfectly still. Although head movement correction is now a standard part of any analysis software, it's not perfect.It may be a particular problem in functional connectivity studies, which attemp........ Read more »

  • October 23, 2009
  • 04:45 PM
  • 991 views

Deep Brain Stimulation for Depressed Rats

by Neuroskeptic in Neuroskeptic

Deep-brain stimulation (DBS) is probably the most exciting emerging treatment in psychiatry. DBS is the use of high-frequency electrical current to alter the function of specific areas of the brain. Originally developed for Parkinson's disease, over the past five years DBS has been used experimentally in severe clinical depression, OCD, Tourette's syndrome, alcoholism, and more.Reports of the effects have frequently been remarkable, but there have been few scientifically rigorous studies, and th........ Read more »

Hamani, C., Diwan, M., Macedo, C., Brandão, M., Shumake, J., Gonzalez-Lima, F., Raymond, R., Lozano, A., Fletcher, P., & Nobrega, J. (2009) Antidepressant-Like Effects of Medial Prefrontal Cortex Deep Brain Stimulation in Rats. Biological Psychiatry. DOI: 10.1016/j.biopsych.2009.08.025  

  • February 19, 2010
  • 12:03 PM
  • 991 views

Drunk on Alcohol?

by Neuroskeptic in Neuroskeptic

When you drink alcohol and get drunk, are you getting drunk on alcohol?Well, obviously, you might think, and so did I. But it turns out that some people claim that the alcohol (ethanol) in drinks isn't the only thing responsible for their effects - they say that acetaldehyde may be important, perhaps even more so.South Korean researchers Kim et al report that it's acetaldehyde, rather than ethanol, which explains alcohol's immediate effects on cognitive and motor skills. During the metabolism of........ Read more »

  • March 8, 2010
  • 03:45 PM
  • 991 views

Life Without Serotonin

by Neuroskeptic in Neuroskeptic

Via Dormivigilia, I came across a fascinating paper about a man who suffered from a severe lack of monoamine neurotransmitters (dopamine, serotonin etc.) as a result of a genetic mutation: Sleep and Rhythm Consequences of a Genetically Induced Loss of SerotoninNeuroskeptic readers will be familiar with monoamines. They're psychiatrists' favourite neurotransmitters, and are hence very popular amongst psych drug manufacturers. In particular, it's widely believed that serotonin is the brain's "happ........ Read more »

Smaranda Leu-Semenescu et al. (2010) Sleep and Rhythm Consequences of a Genetically Induced Loss of Serotonin. Sleep, 33(03), 307-314. info:/

  • August 20, 2010
  • 10:02 AM
  • 991 views

Schizophrenia, Genes and Environment

by Neuroskeptic in Neuroskeptic

Schizophrenia is generally thought of as the "most genetic" of all psychiatric disorders and in the past 10 years there have been heroic efforts to find the genes responsible for it, with not much success so far.A new study reminds us that there's more to it than genes alone: Social Risk or Genetic Liability for Psychosis? The authors decided to look at adopted children, because this is one of the best ways of disentangling genes and environment.If you find that the children of people with schiz........ Read more »

  • January 22, 2010
  • 06:32 PM
  • 989 views

Brain Scanning Software Showdown

by Neuroskeptic in Neuroskeptic

You've just finished doing some research using fMRI to measure brain activity. You designed the study, recruited the volunteers, and did all the scans. Phew. Is that it? Can you publish the findings yet?Unfortunately, no. You still need to do the analysis, and this is often the most trickiest stage. The raw data produced during an fMRI experiment are meaningless - in most cases, each scan will give you a few hundred almost-identical grey pictures of the person's brain. Making sense of them requi........ Read more »

Fusar-Poli, P., Bhattacharyya, S., Allen, P., Crippa, J., Borgwardt, S., Martin-Santos, R., Seal, M., O’Carroll, C., Atakan, Z., & Zuardi, A. (2010) Effect of image analysis software on neurofunctional activation during processing of emotional human faces. Journal of Clinical Neuroscience. DOI: 10.1016/j.jocn.2009.06.027  

  • May 28, 2010
  • 11:13 AM
  • 989 views

This Is Your Brain's Anti-Drug

by Neuroskeptic in Neuroskeptic

What's your anti-drug? Well, it might well be hemopressin. At least, that's probably your anti-marijuana.Hemopressin is a small protein that was discovered in the brains of rodents in 2003: its name comes from the fact that it's a breakdown product of hemoglobin and that it can lower blood pressure.No-one seems to have looked to see whether hemopressin is found in humans, yet, but it seems very likely. Almost everything that's in your brain is in a mouse's brain, and vice versa.Pharmacologically........ Read more »

  • November 5, 2009
  • 07:29 PM
  • 988 views

The Politics of Psychopharmacology

by Neuroskeptic in Neuroskeptic

It's always nice when a local boy makes good in the big wide world. Many British neuroscientists and psychiatrists have been feeling rather proud this week following the enormous amount of attention given to Professor David Nutt, formerly the British government's chief adviser on illegal drugs.Formerly being the key word. Nutt was sacked (...write your own "nutsack" pun if you must) last Friday, prompting a remarkable amount of condemnation. Critics included the rest of his former organisation, ........ Read more »

Nature. (2009) A drug-induced low. Nature, 462(7269), 11-12. DOI: 10.1038/462011b  

Daniel Cressey. (2009) Sacked science adviser speaks out. Nature. info:/

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