Neuroskeptic

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

Neuroskeptic
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  • December 28, 2010
  • 06:00 AM
  • 926 views

When Is A Placebo Not A Placebo?

by Neuroskeptic in Neuroskeptic

Irving Kirsch, best known for that 2008 meta-analysis allegedly showing that "Prozac doesn't work", has hit the headlines again.This time it's a paper claiming that something does work. Actually Kirsch is only a minor author on the paper by Kaptchuck et al: Placebos without Deception.In essence, they asked whether a placebo treatment - a dummy pill with no active ingredients - works even if you know that it's a placebo. Conventional wisdom would say no, because the placebo effect is driven by th........ Read more »

Kaptchuk, T., Friedlander, E., Kelley, J., Sanchez, M., Kokkotou, E., Singer, J., Kowalczykowski, M., Miller, F., Kirsch, I., & Lembo, A. (2010) Placebos without Deception: A Randomized Controlled Trial in Irritable Bowel Syndrome. PLoS ONE, 5(12). DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0015591  

  • July 22, 2011
  • 11:54 AM
  • 926 views

New Antidepressant - Old Tricks

by Neuroskeptic in Neuroskeptic

The past decade has been a bad one for antidepressant manufacturers. Quite apart from all the bad press these drugs have been getting lately, there's been a remarkable lack of new antidepressants making it to the market. The only really novel drug to hit the shelves since 2000 has been agomelatine. There were a couple of others that were just minor variants on old molecules, but that's it.This makes "Lu AA21004" rather special. It's a new antidepressant currently in development and by all acco........ Read more »

Alvarez E, Perez V, Dragheim M, Loft H, & Artigas F. (2011) A double-blind, randomized, placebo-controlled, active reference study of Lu AA21004 in patients with major depressive disorder. The international journal of neuropsychopharmacology / official scientific journal of the Collegium Internationale Neuropsychopharmacologicum (CINP), 1-12. PMID: 21767441  

  • May 15, 2010
  • 05:40 PM
  • 924 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 »

  • January 22, 2011
  • 12:46 PM
  • 924 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  

  • April 7, 2010
  • 08:48 AM
  • 921 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 »

  • March 20, 2010
  • 03:00 PM
  • 918 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
  • 917 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  

  • December 9, 2009
  • 08:08 AM
  • 914 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 »

  • February 19, 2010
  • 12:03 PM
  • 911 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 »

  • August 17, 2009
  • 10:09 AM
  • 910 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 »

  • August 9, 2010
  • 01:33 PM
  • 910 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  

  • August 20, 2010
  • 10:02 AM
  • 910 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
  • 903 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  

  • October 23, 2009
  • 04:45 PM
  • 899 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  

  • July 27, 2011
  • 03:27 AM
  • 898 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 »

  • November 5, 2009
  • 07:29 PM
  • 897 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:/

  • June 2, 2011
  • 04:21 AM
  • 896 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 4, 2010
  • 03:44 PM
  • 894 views

Real Time fMRI

by Neuroskeptic in Neuroskeptic

Wouldn't it be cool if you could measure brain activation with fMRI... right as it happens?You could lie there in the scanner and watch your brain light up. Then you could watch your brain light up some more in response to seeing your brain light up, and watch it light up even more upon seeing your brain light up in response to seeing itself light up... like putting your brain between two mirrors and getting an infinite tunnel of activations.Ok, that would probably get boring, eventually. But th........ Read more »

Hinds, O., Ghosh, S., Thompson, T., Yoo, J., Whitfield-Gabrieli, S., Triantafyllou, C., & Gabrieli, J. (2010) Computing moment to moment BOLD activation for real-time neurofeedback. NeuroImage. DOI: 10.1016/j.neuroimage.2010.07.060  

  • October 19, 2009
  • 12:20 PM
  • 893 views

Antidepressant Sales Rise as Depression Falls

by Neuroskeptic in Neuroskeptic

Antidepressant sales are rising in most Western countries, and they have been for at least a decade. Recently, we learned that the proportion of Americans taking antidepressants in any given year nearly doubled from 1996 to 2005.The situation has been thought to be similar in the UK. But a hot-off-the-press paper in the British Medical Journal reveals some surprising facts about the issue: Explaining the rise in antidepressant prescribing.The authors examined medical records from 1.7 million Bri........ Read more »

  • September 8, 2009
  • 07:18 PM
  • 892 views

Trauma Alters Brain Function... So What?

by Neuroskeptic in Neuroskeptic

According to a new paper in the prestigous journal PNAS, High-field MRI reveals an acute impact on brain function in survivors of the magnitude 8.0 earthquake in China.The earthquake, you'll remember, happened on 12th May last year in central China. Over 60,000 people died. The authors of this paper took 44 earthquake survivors, and 32 control volunteers who had not experienced the disaster.The volunteers underwent a "resting state" fMRI scan; survivors were scanned between 13 and 25 days after ........ Read more »

Lui, S., Huang, X., Chen, L., Tang, H., Zhang, T., Li, X., Li, D., Kuang, W., Chan, R., Mechelli, A.... (2009) High-field MRI reveals an acute impact on brain function in survivors of the magnitude 8.0 earthquake in China. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. DOI: 10.1073/pnas.0812751106  

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