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Neuroskeptic
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  • September 24, 2011
  • 07:37 AM
  • 577 views

The Real "Contagion" Virus

by Neuroskeptic in Neuroskeptic

Seen Contagion yet?It's pretty scary. A new epidemic disease comes out of nowhere and starts killing everyone. It infects the brain - victims suffer seizures, or fall into a coma, and die. It spreads like wildfire. Humanity's only hope lies in Lawrence Fishburne and Kate Winslet.Luckily, that's fiction. But only just.In the movie, the killer bug is called "MEV-1", but it might as well have been called the Nipah virus, because it was closely based on a real disease of the same name. So much so th........ Read more »

  • September 22, 2011
  • 03:30 AM
  • 631 views

Alice In Wonderland Syndrome

by Neuroskeptic in Neuroskeptic

One pill makes you largerAnd one pill makes you smallAnd the ones that mother gives youDon't do anything at allGo ask AliceWhen she's ten feet tallSo sang Jefferson Airplane in their psychedelic classic White Rabbit. While this song seems sure to have been inspired by the use of certain unapproved medications, don't have to be dropping acid to feel ten feet tall.A new paper from Germany reports on a case of "Alice In Wonderland Syndrome" associated with topiramate, an anti-epileptic drug also us........ Read more »

Jürgens TP, Ihle K, Stork JH, & May A. (2011) "Alice in Wonderland syndrome" associated with topiramate for migraine prevention. Journal of neurology, neurosurgery, and psychiatry, 82(2), 228-9. PMID: 20571045  

  • September 21, 2011
  • 02:25 AM
  • 592 views

Antidepressants In The UK

by Neuroskeptic in Neuroskeptic

Antidepressant sales have been rising for many years in Western countries, as regular Neuroskeptic readers  will remember.Most of the studies on antidepressant use come from the USA and the UK, although the pattern also seems to hold for other European countries. The rapid rise of antidepressants from niche drugs to mega-sellers is perhaps the single biggest change in the way medicine treats mental illness since the invention of psychiatric drugs.But while a rise in sales has been observed ........ Read more »

Lockhart, P. and Guthrie, B. (2011) Trends in primary care antidepressant prescribing 1995–2007. British Journal of General Practice. info:/

  • September 11, 2011
  • 01:49 PM
  • 538 views

Neuroscience Fails Stats 101?

by Neuroskeptic in Neuroskeptic

According to a new paper, a full half of neuroscience papers that try to do a (very simple) statistical comparison are getting it wrong: Erroneous analyses of interactions in neuroscience: a problem of significance.Here's the problem. Suppose you want to know whether a certain 'treatment' has an affect on a certain variable. The treatment could be a drug, an environmental change, a genetic variant, whatever. The target population could be animals, humans, brain cells, or anything else.So you giv........ Read more »

  • September 1, 2011
  • 03:06 AM
  • 866 views

Men, Women and Spatial Intelligence

by Neuroskeptic in Neuroskeptic

Do men and women differ in their cognitive capacities? It's been a popular topic of conversation since as far back as we have records of what people were talking about.While it's now (almost) generally accepted that men and women are at most only very slightly different in average IQ, there are still a couple of lines of evidence in favor of a gender difference.First, there's the idea that men are more variable in their intelligence, so there are more very smart men, and also more very stupid on........ Read more »

Hoffman M, Gneezy U, & List JA. (2011) Nurture affects gender differences in spatial abilities. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America. PMID: 21876159  

  • August 21, 2011
  • 08:32 AM
  • 752 views

Is Sleep Brain Defragmentation?

by Neuroskeptic in Neuroskeptic

After a period of heavy use, hard disks tend to get 'fragmented'. Data gets written all over random parts of the disk, and it gets inefficient to keep track of it all.


That's why you need to run a defragmentation program occasionally. Ideally, you do this overnight, while you're asleep, so it doesn't stop you from using the computer.

A new paper from some Stanford neuroscientists argues that the function of sleep is to reorganize neural connections - a bit like a disk defrag for the brain - a........ Read more »

Wang G, Grone B, Colas D, Appelbaum L, & Mourrain P. (2011) Synaptic plasticity in sleep: learning, homeostasis and disease. Trends in neurosciences. PMID: 21840068  

  • August 19, 2011
  • 03:40 AM
  • 737 views

The Ethics of Forgetfulness Drugs

by Neuroskeptic in Neuroskeptic

Drugs that could modify or erase memories could soon be possible. We shouldn't rush to judge them unethical, says a Nature opinion piece by Adam Kolber, of the Neuroethics & Law Blog.

The idea of a pill that could make you forget something, or that could modify the emotional charge of a past experience, does seem rather disturbing.

Yet experiments on animals have gone a long to revealing the molecular mechanisms behind the formation and maintanence of memory traces. Much of the early work ........ Read more »

  • August 17, 2011
  • 03:29 AM
  • 952 views

Pharmaceutical Company Threatens Blogger

by Neuroskeptic in Neuroskeptic

Boiron, a multinational pharmaceutical company, have threatened an Italian blogger with legal action, the BMJ reports.

Many people are concerned when big pharmaceutical companies do this kind of thing. So I don't think we should make any exception merely because Boiron's pharmaceuticals happen to be homeopathic ones.

Samuel Riva, who blogs (in Italian) at blogzero.it, put up some articles critical of homeopathy
which included pictures of Boiron’s blockbuster homoeopathic product Oscillococci........ Read more »

  • August 15, 2011
  • 03:22 AM
  • 981 views

A Ghostwriter Speaks

by Neuroskeptic in Neuroskeptic

PLoS ONE offers the confessions of a former medical ghostwriter: Being the Ghost in the Machine.


The article (which is open access and short, so well worth a read) explains how Linda Logdberg became a medical writer; what excited her about the job; what she actually did; and what made her eventually give it up.

Ghostwriting of course has a bad press at the moment and it's recently been banned by some leading research centres. Ghostwriting certainly is concerning, because of what it implies ab........ Read more »

  • August 11, 2011
  • 03:15 AM
  • 871 views

Do We Need Placebos?

by Neuroskeptic in Neuroskeptic

A news feature in Nature asks whether placebo controls are always a good idea: Why Fake It?

The piece looks at experimental neurosurgical treatments for Parkinson's, such as "Spheramine". This consists of cultured human cells, which are implanted directly into the brain of the sufferer. The idea is that the cells will grow and help produce dopamine, which is deficient in Parkinson's.

Peggy Willocks, a 44 year old teacher, took part in a trial of the surgery in 2000. She says it helped stave of........ Read more »

  • August 8, 2011
  • 07:57 AM
  • 951 views

So Apparantly I'm Bipolar

by Neuroskeptic in Neuroskeptic

According to a new paper, yours truly is bipolar.


I've written before of my experience of depression, and the fact that I take antidepressants, but I've never been diagnosed with bipolar.

I've taken a few drugs in my time. On certain dopamine-based drugs I got euphoric, filled with energy, talkative, confident, with no need for sleep, and a boundless desire to do stuff, which is textbook hypomania. So I think I know what it feels like, and I can confidently say that it has never happened to m........ Read more »

  • August 4, 2011
  • 04:27 AM
  • 850 views

Brain-Modifying Drugs

by Neuroskeptic in Neuroskeptic

What if there was a drug that didn't just affect the levels of chemicals in your brain, it turned off genes in your brain? That possibility - either exciting or sinister depending on how you look at it - could be remarkably close, according to a report just out from a Spanish group.The authors took an antidepressant, sertraline, and chemically welded it to a small interfering RNA (siRNA). A siRNA is kind of like a pair of genetic handcuffs. It selectively blocks the expression of a particular ge........ Read more »

Bortolozzi, A., Castañé, A., Semakova, J., Santana, N., Alvarado, G., Cortés, R., Ferrés-Coy, A., Fernández, G., Carmona, M., Toth, M.... (2011) Selective siRNA-mediated suppression of 5-HT1A autoreceptors evokes strong anti-depressant-like effects. Molecular Psychiatry. DOI: 10.1038/mp.2011.92  

  • August 3, 2011
  • 03:48 PM
  • 762 views

Antipsychotics - The New Valium?

by Neuroskeptic in Neuroskeptic

Antipsychotics, originally designed to control the hallucinations and delusions seen in schizophrenia, have been expanding their domain in recent years. Nowadays, they're widely used in bipolar disorder, depression, and as a new paper reveals, increasingly in anxiety disorders as well.The authors, Comer et al, looked at the NAMCS survey, which provides yearly data on the use of medications in visits to office-based doctors across the USA.Back in 1996, just 10% of visits in which an anxiety diso........ Read more »

  • August 2, 2011
  • 04:21 AM
  • 858 views

The 30something Brain

by Neuroskeptic in Neuroskeptic

Brain maturation continues for longer than previously thought - well up until age 30. That's according to two papers just out, which may be comforting for those lamenting the fact that they're nearing the big Three Oh.This challenges the widespread view that maturation is essentially complete by the end of adolescence, in the early to mid 20s.Petanjek et al show that the number of dendritic spines in the prefrontal cortex increases during childhood and then rapidly falls during puberty - which p........ Read more »

Lebel C, & Beaulieu C. (2011) Longitudinal development of human brain wiring continues from childhood into adulthood. The Journal of neuroscience : the official journal of the Society for Neuroscience, 31(30), 10937-47. PMID: 21795544  

Petanjek, Z., Judas, M., Simic, G., Rasin, M., Uylings, H., Rakic, P., & Kostovic, I. (2011) Extraordinary neoteny of synaptic spines in the human prefrontal cortex. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. DOI: 10.1073/pnas.1105108108  

  • July 29, 2011
  • 03:48 AM
  • 948 views

What Big Eyes You Have

by Neuroskeptic in Neuroskeptic

According to the BBC, a new study has found that northern peoples have bigger eyes - and bigger brains.Actually, the paper in question talked about eyes but didn't make much of the brain finding, which is confined to the Supplement. Nonetheless, they did find an effect on brain size too. Peoples living further from the equator have larger eye sockets and also larger total cranial capacity (brain volume), apparantly. The authors include Robin Dunbar of "Dunbar's Number" fame.Their idea is that hu........ Read more »

  • July 27, 2011
  • 03:27 AM
  • 840 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 »

  • July 22, 2011
  • 11:54 AM
  • 856 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  

  • July 20, 2011
  • 04:02 AM
  • 1,191 views

Blindsight and Consciousness In The Brain

by Neuroskeptic in Neuroskeptic

A new paper claims to show the neural activity associated with consciously seeing something: Awareness-related activity in prefrontal and parietal cortices in blindsight reflects more than superior visual performance. You might think it would be easy to find the neural correlates of seeing stuff. Just pop someone in the scanner and show them a picture.However, it's not that simple, because that wouldn't tell you which brain activations were associated with concious awareness........ Read more »

  • July 15, 2011
  • 04:04 AM
  • 882 views

Violent Brains In The Supreme Court

by Neuroskeptic in Neuroskeptic

Back in June, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that a Californian law banning the sale of violent videogames to children was unconstitutional because it violated the right to free speech.However, the ruling wasn't unanimous. Justice Stephen Breyer filed a dissenting opinion. Unfortunately, it contains a whopping piece of bad neuroscience. The ruling is here. Thanks to the Law & Neuroscience Blog for noticing this.Breyer says (on page 13 of his bit)Cutting-edge neuroscience has shown that “vir........ Read more »

  • July 14, 2011
  • 05:13 AM
  • 911 views

New Brain Cells: Torrent, or Trickle?

by Neuroskeptic in Neuroskeptic

An important paper just out asks, Could adult hippocampal neurogenesis be relevant for human behavior?Neuroscientists, and the media, are very excited by hippocampal neurogenesis - the ongoing creation of new neurons in an area called the dentate gyrus of the hippocampus. This is because it was thought, for a long time, that no new neurons were created in the adult brain. It turned out that this was wrong.There's lots of exciting suggestive evidence that the process is involved in learning and m........ Read more »

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