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

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  • August 12, 2010
  • 06:09 PM

Drugs for Starcraft Addiction

by Neuroskeptic in Neuroskeptic

Are you addicted to Starcraft? Do you want to get off and on a psychoactive drug?Well, South Korean psychiatrists Han et al report that Bupropion sustained release treatment decreases craving for video games and cue-induced brain activity in patients with Internet video game addiction.They took 11 people with "Internet Game Addiction" - the game being Starcraft, this being South Korea - and gave them the drug bupropion (Wellbutrin), an antidepressant that's also used in drug addiction........ Read more »

  • August 12, 2010
  • 06:52 AM

Very Severely Stupid About Depression

by Neuroskeptic in Neuroskeptic

An unassuming little paper in the latest Journal of Affective Disorders may change everything in the debate over antidepressants: Not as golden as standards should be: Interpretation of the Hamilton Rating Scale for Depression.Bear with me and I'll explain. It's less boring than it looks, trust me.The Hamilton Scale (HAMD) is the most common system for rating the severity of depression. If you're only a bit down you get a low score, if you're extremely ill you get a high one. The maximum score's........ Read more »

Kearns, N., Cruickshank, C., McGuigan, K., Riley, S., Shaw, S., & Snaith, R. (1982) A comparison of depression rating scales. The British Journal of Psychiatry, 141(1), 45-49. DOI: 10.1192/bjp.141.1.45  

  • August 10, 2010
  • 02:02 PM

Hauser Of Cards

by Neuroskeptic in Neuroskeptic

A major scandal looks to be in progress involving Harvard Professor Marc Hauser, a psychologist and popular author whose research on the minds of chimpanzees and other primates is well-known and highly respected. The Boston Globe has the scoop and it's well worth a read (though you should avoid reading the comments if you react badly to stupid.)Hauser's built his career on detailed studies of the cognitive abilities of non-human primates. He's generally argued that our closest relatives are smar........ Read more »

Hauser MD, Weiss D, & Marcus G. (2002) Rule learning by cotton-top tamarins. Cognition, 86(1). PMID: 12208654  

Hauser MD, Glynn D, & Wood J. (2007) Rhesus monkeys correctly read the goal-relevant gestures of a human agent. Proceedings. Biological sciences / The Royal Society, 274(1620), 1913-8. PMID: 17540661  

Wood JN, Glynn DD, Phillips BC, & Hauser MD. (2007) The perception of rational, goal-directed action in nonhuman primates. Science (New York, N.Y.), 317(5843), 1402-5. PMID: 17823353  

Hauser MD, Kralik J, Botto-Mahan C, Garrett M, & Oser J. (1995) Self-recognition in primates: phylogeny and the salience of species-typical features. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, 92(23), 10811-14. PMID: 7479889  

  • August 9, 2010
  • 01:33 PM

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 5, 2010
  • 10:13 AM

Publication Bias: Not Dead Yet

by Neuroskeptic in Neuroskeptic

Suppose you do two clinical trials of a drug, and only one of them shows it to work. It would be entirely misleading to only tell people about that one, and sweep the negative result under the carpet - but it happens.That's publication bias. A simple but powerful remedy is to require everyone to publically announce their trials before the data comes in. The USA has led the way in this, with the public database, and for several years it's been a legal requirement that all clini........ Read more »

Bourgeois FT, Murthy S, & Mandl KD. (2010) Outcome Reporting Among Drug Trials Registered in Annals of internal medicine, 153(3), 158-66. PMID: 20679560  

  • August 4, 2010
  • 03:44 PM

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  

  • July 29, 2010
  • 12:08 PM

The Left Hand of Obama

by Neuroskeptic in Neuroskeptic

Voters in the 2008 Presidential election didn't have a meaningful choice. Whichever box they ticked, they were voting for a lefty.Yes, Obama and McCain are both sinistral, a rather unlikely occurrence since just 7-10% of adults are left handed. Netherlands-based neuroscientists Casasanto and Jasmin decided to make use of this coincidence to test the hypothesis that people tend to make "good" gestures with their dominant hand and "bad" ones with their off-hand, in a new PLoS paper: Good and Bad i........ Read more »

Daniel Casasanto and Kyle Jasmin1. (2010) Good and Bad in the Hands of Politicians: Spontaneous Gestures during Positive and Negative Speech. PLoS ONE. info:/

  • July 22, 2010
  • 11:05 AM

Zapping Memories Away

by Neuroskeptic in Neuroskeptic

Imagine you're about to have to do something horrible or embarrasing, like say, admitting that you read Neuroskeptic. Wouldn't it be nice to be able to switch off your memory for a while, so you at least didn't have to remember it?Well, now you can, as long as you have electrodes implanted in your brain. Lacruz et al, based at London's Institute of Psychiatry, report that Single pulse electrical stimulation of the hippocampus is sufficient to impair human episodic memory.They took 12 people who ........ Read more »

  • July 21, 2010
  • 04:44 AM

Clever New Scheme

by Neuroskeptic in Neuroskeptic

CNS Response are a California-based company who offer a high-tech new approach to the personalized treatment of depression: "referenced EEG" (rEEG). This is not to be confused with qEEG, which I have written about previously. What is rEEG? It involves taking an EEG recording of resting brain activity and sending it - along with a cheque, naturally - to CNS Response, who compare it to their database of over 1,800 psychiatric patients who likewise had EEGs taken before they started on various dru........ Read more »

DeBattista, C., Kinrys, G., Hoffman, D., Goldstein, C., Zajecka, J., Kocsis, J., Teicher, M., Potkin, S., Preda, A., & Multani, G. (2010) The use of referenced-EEG (rEEG) in assisting medication selection for the treatment of depression. Journal of Psychiatric Research. DOI: 10.1016/j.jpsychires.2010.05.009  

  • July 14, 2010
  • 10:49 AM

Autism And Wealth

by Neuroskeptic in Neuroskeptic

We live in societies where some people are richer than others - though the extent of wealth inequality varies greatly around the world.In general, it's sad but true that poor people suffer more diseases. Within a given country almost all physical and mental illnesses are more common amongst the poor, although this isn't always true between countries.So if a certain disease is more common in rich people within a country, that's big news because it suggests that something unusual is going on. Aut........ Read more »

  • July 6, 2010
  • 11:42 AM

Brain Stimulation Can Stop the Rock

by Neuroskeptic in Neuroskeptic

Isn't it annoying when you get a song stuck in your head? Like, say, this one:Stop the rock, stop the rockStop the rock, stop the rockStop the rock, can't stop the rockYou can't stop the rock, stop the rockStop the rock, can't stop the rockYou can't stop the rock, can't stop the rock. etc.- Apollo 440, "Stop the Rock"You will probably be stuck with that tune for a few minutes, but with any luck it'll go away eventually. However, for the 63-year old Italian man reported on in a new paper by Cosen........ Read more »

Cosentino, G., Giglia, G., Palermo, A., Panetta, M., Lo Baido, R., Brighina, F., & Fierro, B. (2010) A case of post-traumatic complex auditory hallucinosis treated with rTMS. Neurocase, 16(3), 267-272. DOI: 10.1080/13554790903456191  

  • July 5, 2010
  • 08:29 AM

XMRV and Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, Continued (Again)

by Neuroskeptic in Neuroskeptic

Yet more twists have emerged in the already serpentine tale of XMRV, the virus that may or may not be responsible for causing some cases of chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS), aka myalgic encephalomyelitis, (ME).First off, on Saturday 2nd July, a news item in Science magazine reported that two papers on XMRV were about to be published, but that the publication of both was "on hold" because they contradicted each other. One paper, from the US federal Centers for Disease Control (CDC), supposedly foun........ Read more »

  • July 2, 2010
  • 05:10 PM

It's Like Cocaine, But No Fun

by Neuroskeptic in Neuroskeptic

In a very interesting paper, Dutch pharmaceutical company NeuroSearch, in conjunction with Canadian research corporation Kendle Early Stage, report on Subjective and Objective Effects of the Novel Triple Reuptake Inhibitor Tesofensine in Recreational Stimulant Users.Tesofensine is a drug NeuroSearch are developing for obesity, and they report that it's shown excellent weight-loss-inducing properties in early clinical trials, although of course they would say that. What makes "tes-fens" so inte........ Read more »

  • June 28, 2010
  • 07:50 AM

When One Neurotransmitter Is Not Enough

by Neuroskeptic in Neuroskeptic

Important news from San Francisco neuroscientists Stuber et al: Dopaminergic Terminals in the Nucleus Accumbens But Not the Dorsal Striatum Corelease Glutamate.The finding's right there in the title: dopamine is a neurotransmitter, and so is glutamate. Stuber et al found (in mice) that many of the cells that release dopamine also simultaneously release glutamate - specifically, almost all of the cells that project to the nucleus accumbens, involved in pleasure and motivation, also release glutam........ Read more »

  • June 25, 2010
  • 04:12 AM

The A Team Sets fMRI to Rights

by Neuroskeptic in Neuroskeptic

Remember the voodoo correlations and double-dipping controversies that rocked the world of fMRI last year? Well, the guys responsible have teamed up and written a new paper together. They are...The paper is Everything you never wanted to know about circular analysis, but were afraid to ask. Our all-star team of voodoo-hunters - Ed "Hannibal" Vul (now styled Professor Vul), Nikolaus "Howling Mad" Kriegeskorte, Russell "B. A. Baracus" Poldrack - provide a good overview of the various issues and ........ Read more »

  • June 21, 2010
  • 08:48 AM

Yes We Kant

by Neuroskeptic in Neuroskeptic

How does the brain learn about space? Two papers in Science show that neural representations of place and direction appear in baby rats astonishingly early - within just a couple of days of beginning to explore outside the nest.Two teams of researchers, Langston et al, and Wills et al, found that at just 16 days after birth, rats possess adult-like direction cells and place cells in the hippocampus and entorhinal cortex, areas known to be critical for spatial cognition. A couple of days later, g........ Read more »

Langston, R., Ainge, J., Couey, J., Canto, C., Bjerknes, T., Witter, M., Moser, E., & Moser, M. (2010) Development of the Spatial Representation System in the Rat. Science, 328(5985), 1576-1580. DOI: 10.1126/science.1188210  

Wills, T., Cacucci, F., Burgess, N., & O'Keefe, J. (2010) Development of the Hippocampal Cognitive Map in Preweanling Rats. Science, 328(5985), 1573-1576. DOI: 10.1126/science.1188224  

  • June 15, 2010
  • 09:23 AM

Oh Crap. More Autism Genes.

by Neuroskeptic in Neuroskeptic

There's been much excitement about the latest big genetic study into autism, published in Nature : the grandly titled Autism Genome Project, brought to you by a crack team of no fewer than 177 researchers.For a good summary of the research take a look here, and for a longer account here. In a nutshell, the authors examined DNA from almost 1000 people with an autism spectrum disorder. They were looking for deletions and duplications of segments of DNA: so-called copy number variations (CNVs). A C........ Read more »

Pinto, D., Pagnamenta, A., Klei, L., Anney, R., Merico, D., Regan, R., Conroy, J., Magalhaes, T., Correia, C., Abrahams, B.... (2010) Functional impact of global rare copy number variation in autism spectrum disorders. Nature. DOI: 10.1038/nature09146  

  • June 14, 2010
  • 06:39 AM

The Face of a Mouse in Pain

by Neuroskeptic in Neuroskeptic

Have you ever wanted to know whether a mouse is in pain?Of course you have. And now you can, thanks to Langford et al's paper Coding of facial expressions of pain in the laboratory mouse.It turns out that mice, just like people, display a distinctive "Ouch!" facial expression when they're suffering acute pain. It consists of narrowing of the eyes, bulging nose and cheeks, ears pulled back, and whiskers either pulled back or forwards.With the help of a high-definition video camera and a little tr........ Read more »

Langford, D., Bailey, A., Chanda, M., Clarke, S., Drummond, T., Echols, S., Glick, S., Ingrao, J., Klassen-Ross, T., LaCroix-Fralish, M.... (2010) Coding of facial expressions of pain in the laboratory mouse. Nature Methods, 7(6), 447-449. DOI: 10.1038/nmeth.1455  

  • June 10, 2010
  • 11:40 AM

Everybody Expects the Placebo Inquisition

by Neuroskeptic in Neuroskeptic

An unexpected gem from last year's Journal of the American Psychoanalytic Association: Mind over medicine.Surprisingly, it has nothing to do with psychoanalysis. Rutherford and colleagues performed a meta-analysis of lots of clinical trials of antidepressants. Neuroskeptic readers will be all too familiar with these. But they did an interesting thing with the data: they compared the benefits of antidepressants in trials with a placebo condition, vs. trials with no placebo arm, such as trials com........ Read more »

Rutherford, B., Roose, S., & Sneed, J. (2009) Mind Over Medicine: the Influence of Expectations on Antidepressant Response. Journal of the American Psychoanalytic Association, 57(2), 456-460. DOI: 10.1177/00030651090570020909  

  • June 5, 2010
  • 04:13 PM

Monoamine Shock

by Neuroskeptic in Neuroskeptic

Electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) is a crude but effective treatment for depression. It consists of applying a brief alternating current to the brain in order to induce a generalized seizure, which usually lasts for less than half a minute. It looks nothing like the picture to the left.ECT is typically given three times per week, and a dozen sessions are enough to produce a dramatic improvement in depression in most cases. However, how it works is entirely mysterious. There are plenty of theories......... Read more »

Cassidy, F., Weiner, R., Cooper, T., & Carroll, B. (2010) Combined catecholamine and indoleamine depletion following response to ECT. The British Journal of Psychiatry, 196(6), 493-494. DOI: 10.1192/bjp.bp.109.070573  

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