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  • July 25, 2014
  • 05:48 AM
  • 1 view

Technique Produces Next-Gen Electrodes for Li-Ion Batteries

by dailyfusion in The Daily Fusion

Scientists at the University of Tokyo have developed an approach with industrial potential to produce nano-sized composite silicon-based powders as negative electrodes for the next generation lithium ion batteries.... Read more »

  • July 25, 2014
  • 03:29 AM

p-cresol and autism: in need of further research

by Paul Whiteley in Questioning Answers

"These results confirm the elevation of urinary p-cresol in a sizable set of small autistic children and spur interest into biomarker roles for p-cresol and p-cresylsulfate in autism".The peasant dance @ Wikipedia That was the primary conclusion from the paper by Gabriele and colleagues [1] looking at "three components of urinary p-cresol, namely p-cresylsulfate, p-cresylglucuronate and free p-cresol" in samples from 33 participants diagnosed with an autism spectrum disorder (ASD) compared with matched asymptomatic controls. The confirmation bit of that quote refers to the fact that members of this authorship group have previously reported on elevated urinary p-cresol in cases of autism [2] which was talked about in the very first proper research-based post on this blog (see here).Before proceeding, perhaps it might be worth my while going through a few descriptive details. p-cresol (para-cresol) otherwise known as 4-methylphenol is a compound of some note in terms of the various ways and means one arrives at this organic aromatic compound. The solvent toluene is eventually metabolised into p-cresol, as is the amino acid tyrosine in the presence of strains of the anaerobic bacterium Clostridium difficile [3] for example. That being said, there are quite a few other ways in which one might come into contact with this compound.According to the paper by Vanholder and colleagues [4] there is quite a bit of evidence to suggest that whilst p-cresol and its metabolites are compounds found in some quantity in just about everyone, under certain circumstances, elevations in amount may not be particularly desirable [5] particularly when it comes to renal functions. Indeed, quite a bit of the focus has been on the conjugated derivative p-cresylsulfate (formed through O-sulfonation) when it comes to toxicity [6]. I'll come back to this issue shortly.A few points on the Gabriele paper might be useful:Based on a small participant group comprising 33 participants of various ages on the autism spectrum and 33 sex- and age-matched asymptomatic controls, levels of free p-cresol and it's two metabolites were measured via HPLC with fluorescence detection.All metabolites were "significantly elevated" in ASD cases compared to controls."This increase was limited to ASD children ≤8 [less than or equal to 8] years". Also: "Urinary levels of p-cresol and p-cresylsulfate were associated with stereotypic, compulsive/repetitive behaviors (p < 0.05), although not with overall autism severity".I probably don't need to say it, but when it comes to talk about biomarkers and autism, I do tend to be a little restrained about the promise of any results. Think back to my recent post on organic acids as biomarkers for autism (see here) and just about all the caveats talked about then in terms of heterogeneity and comorbidity come into play here too. That also this and other results from this group are based on HPLC with either UV (ultraviolet) or fluorescence detection could also be considered problematic as a function of the many and varied components found in urine and how without mass spectrometry or NMR, assigning labels to compounds is slightly problematic. Think casomorphins as another example...Elevated levels of urinary p-cresol are also not a feature of every metabolomic study looking at autism. In their review of all-things p-cresol and autism, Persico & Napolioni [7] talked about how the results from Yap and colleagues [8] reported "blunted and not increased levels of p-cresylsulfate in autistic patients". The Yap study did utilise (1)H NMR spectroscopy and so did not suffer the same analytical shortcomings as the more recent trials. That all being said, I don't want to come down too hard on the latest results from Gabriele and colleagues. They got what they got and now put their results out for further inspection and hopefully, independent verification.I am also wondering whether the paper by Clayton and colleagues [9] might also be relevant in this case. Dr Clayton, who some might remember from other work talked about on this blog (see here), discussed how "in individuals with high bacterially mediated p-cresol generation, competitive O-sulfonation of p-cresol reduces the effective systemic capacity to sulfonate acetaminophen [paracetamol]". Sulphation capacity when it comes to autism is already something of a research interest (see here) which when added to a growing body of work looking at paracetamol use during pregnancy and possible links to offspring development (see here) might indicate some other interesting investigations to be done. I wonder if perhaps even the sulphation depleting metabolism of something like p-cresol might actually be the more important part of such investigations to autism research?Music to close, and are you a troublemaker?----------[1] Gabriele S. et al. Urinary p-cresol is elevated in young French children with autism spectrum disorder: a replication study. Biomarkers. 2014 Jul 10:1-8.[2] Altieri L. et al. Urinary p-cresol is elevated in small children with severe autism spectrum disorder. Biomarkers. 2011 May;16(3):252-60.[3] Dawson LF. et al. The analysis of para-cresol production and tolerance in Clostridium difficile 027 and 012 strains. BMC Microbiology 2011, 11:86 [4] Vanholder R. et al. p-cresol: a toxin revealing many neglected but relevant aspects of uraemic toxicity. Nephrol Dial Transplant. 1999 Dec;14(12):2813-5.[5] Liabeuf S. et al. Free p-cresylsulphate is a predictor of mortality in patients at different stages of chronic kidney disease. Nephrol Dial Transplant. 2010 Apr;25(4):1183-91.[6] Vanholder R. et al. The Uremic Toxicity of Indoxyl Sulfate and p-Cresyl Sulfate: A Systematic Review. J Am Soc Nephrol. 2014 May 8. [Epub ahead of print][7] Persico AM. & Napolioni V. Urinary p-cresol in autism spectrum disorder. Neurotoxicol Teratol. 2013 Mar-Apr;36:82-90.[8] Yap IK. et al. Urinary metabolic phenotyping differentiates children with autism from their unaffected siblings and age-matched controls. J Proteome Res. 2010 Jun 4;9(6):2996-3004.[9] Clayton TA. et al. Pharmacometabonomic identification of a significant host-microbiome metabolic interaction affecting human drug metabolism. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2009 Aug 25;106(34):14728-33.----------... Read more »

Gabriele S, Sacco R, Cerullo S, Neri C, Urbani A, Tripi G, Malvy J, Barthelemy C, Bonnet-Brihault F, & Persico AM. (2014) Urinary p-cresol is elevated in young French children with autism spectrum disorder: a replication study. Biomarkers : biochemical indicators of exposure, response, and susceptibility to chemicals, 1-8. PMID: 25010144  

  • July 24, 2014
  • 08:47 PM

Know your brain: Meninges

by neurosci in Neuroscientifically Challenged

Where are they?

Close-up view of the meninges surrounding the brain.

The term meninges comes from the Greek for "membrane" and refers to the three membranes that surround the brain and spinal cord. The membrane layers (discussed in detail below) from the outside in are the: dura mater, arachnoid mater, and pia mater. Their positioning around the brain can be seen in the image to the right.What are they and what do they do?The brain is soft and mushy, and without structural support it would not be able to maintain its normal shape. In fact, a brain taken out of the head and not properly suspended (e.g. in saline solution) can tear simply due to the effects of gravity. While the bone of the skull and spine provide most of the safeguarding and structural support for the central nervous system (CNS), alone it isn't quite enough to fully protect the CNS. The meninges help to anchor the CNS in place to keep, for example, the brain from moving around within the skull. They also contain cerebrospinal fluid (CSF), which acts as a cushion for the brain and provides a solution in which the brain is suspended, allowing it to preserve its shape.The outermost layer of the meninges is the dura mater, which literally means "hard mother." The dura is thick and tough; one side of it attaches to the skull and the other adheres to the next meningeal layer, the arachnoid mater. The dura provides the brain and spinal cord with an extra protective layer, helps to keep the CNS from being jostled around by fastening it to the skull or vertebral column, and supplies a complex system of veinous drainage through which blood can leave the brain.The arachnoid gets its name because it has the consistency and appearance of a spider web. It is much less substantial than the dura, and stretches like a cobweb between the dura and pia mater. By connecting the pia to the dura, the arachnoid helps to keep the brain in place in the skull. Between the arachnoid and the pia there is also an area known as the subarachnoid space, which is filled with CSF. The arachnoid serves as an additional barrier to isolate the CNS from the rest of the body, acting in a manner similar to the blood-brain barrier by keeping fluids, toxins, etc. out of the brain.The pia mater is another thin layer, but unlike the arachnoid it closely follows all of the contours (i.g. gyri and sulci) of the brain. Thus, instead of a cobweb, it forms a tight membrane around the brain and spinal cord. The pia acts as a barrier and also aids in the production of CSF.These three layers are similar in structure and function around both the spinal cord and brain, but there are a few differences. While there is not normally a space between the dura and skull, there is one between the dura of the spinal cord and the bone of the vertebral column. It is known as epidural space, and analgesics and anasthesia are sometimes injected here. Also, the dura of the spinal cord and its accompanying arachnoid layer extend several vertebrae below the end of the cord. This creates a CSF-filled area called the lumbar cistern where there is no spinal cord present. The lack of the presence of the cord makes the lumbar cistern a good place to sample CSF when necessary because one doesn't have to worry about damaging the spinal cord with a needle puncture. Thus, the lumbar cistern is the site where CSF is aspirated in a lumbar puncture, also known as a spinal tap.There are a number of things that can go wrong with the meninges. Due to the large numbers of blood vessels that travel through these membranes, many problems are vascular in nature. For example, blood (e.g. due to damage caused by trauma) can collect in spaces between the layers of the meninges, creating a hematoma that can put pressure on the brain as it expands. Also, the meninges are susceptible to infection, most commonly due to viruses or bacteria. Such an infection can cause meningitis, which is characterized by an inflammation of the meninges. Because of the importance of the meninges in protecting the brain and maintaining normal brain function, meningitis can pose a serious threat to the brain and potentially be life-threatening.Patel, N., & Kirmi, O. (2009). Anatomy and Imaging of the Normal Meninges Seminars in Ultrasound, CT and MRI, 30 (6), 559-564 DOI: 10.1053/j.sult.2009.08.006... Read more »

Patel, N., & Kirmi, O. (2009) Anatomy and Imaging of the Normal Meninges. Seminars in Ultrasound, CT and MRI, 30(6), 559-564. DOI: 10.1053/j.sult.2009.08.006  

  • July 24, 2014
  • 07:24 PM

Salmon and Spinal Cod Regeneration, er… Cord

by Gabriel in Lunatic Laboratories

Fish might not be the first thing you think about when we talk spinal cord injury but that is exactly what scientists are doing. Don’t ask where they got the […]... Read more »

  • July 24, 2014
  • 05:30 PM

Grief in Children and Adolescents

by Eva Alisic in Trauma Recovery

The plane crash in Ukraine brings up many questions related to loss and grief. How will those left behind cope with the devastating event? How can we support them? With regard to how young people cope with bereavement, Dr. Mariken Spuij’s recent articles provide new insights.... Read more »

  • July 24, 2014
  • 04:58 PM

Why the new paper by Christakis and Fowler on friendship makes me queasy

by neuroecology in Neuroecology

I am a neuroscientist, and as a neuroscientist I have a strange belief that most of who we are comes from our brains. My entire career is based around understanding behavior from this neural level which I feel to be fairly justifiable. So when I see paper looking at the genetics of behavior, I expect to see at […]... Read more »

Christakis NA, & Fowler JH. (2014) Friendship and natural selection. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, 111(Supplement 3), 10796-10801. PMID: 25024208  

Ripke, S., Neale, B., Corvin, A., Walters, J., Farh, K., Holmans, P., Lee, P., Bulik-Sullivan, B., Collier, D., Huang, H.... (2014) Biological insights from 108 schizophrenia-associated genetic loci. Nature, 511(7510), 421-427. DOI: 10.1038/nature13595  

  • July 24, 2014
  • 01:34 PM

Background TV and Children don’t Mix

by Gabriel in Lunatic Laboratories

Coming from a, to put it gently, very broken home, my babysitter was the television. Yep, so now that you are feeling nice and awkward let’s talk television. New research, […]... Read more »

Linebarger DL, Barr R, Lapierre MA, & Piotrowski JT. (2014) Associations Between Parenting, Media Use, Cumulative Risk, and Children's Executive Functioning. Journal of developmental and behavioral pediatrics : JDBP, 35(6), 367-77. PMID: 25007059  

Lapierre, M., Piotrowski, J., & Linebarger, D. (2012) Background Television in the Homes of US Children. PEDIATRICS, 130(5), 839-846. DOI: 10.1542/peds.2011-2581  

  • July 24, 2014
  • 11:45 AM

July 24, 2014

by Erin Campbell in HighMag Blog

How many times can you say the word “gonad” in a sentence without giggling? If the answer is one, then I congratulate you on turning thirteen. If the answer is many, then you must be a biologist. Biologists appreciate the value of a good gonad, and so should you. The gonad of the worm C. elegans serves as an important model in which to study tissue organization and development, as you’ll see in the paper that accompanies today’s image. At the end of cell division, cytokinesis typically results in two separate daughter cells. Some cytokinesis, though, is incomplete and leads to two daughter cells sharing cytoplasm. This shared cytoplasm, or syncytium, can be found in the germ cells of many species from worms to humans. The germline of the worm C. elegans is a polarized tube in which germ cells are arranged around the shared cytoplasmic core and move along a conveyer belt of oocyte production. Amini and colleagues recently reported on the formation of the syncytial C. elegans germline throughout development, and the role of the short Anillin family scaffold protein ANI-2. ANI-2 is localized to the intercellular bridges that connect the germ cells to the shared cytoplasm, and loss of ANI-2 results in destabilization of intercellular bridges and sterility. The defects seen in worms lacking ANI-2 are likely due to a loss of the stability and elasticity of the intercellular bridges that is required to compensate for the stress of cytoplasmic streaming during oogenesis. Images above show the germlines of wild-type and ani-2(-) worms at different larval stages (membranes in green; nuclei in red). Worms lacking ANI-2 have abnormal multinucleated germ cells (arrowheads). Amini, R., Goupil, E., Labella, S., Zetka, M., Maddox, A., Labbe, J., & Chartier, N. (2014). C. elegans Anillin proteins regulate intercellular bridge stability and germline syncytial organization originally published in the Journal of Cell Biology, 206 (1), 129-143 DOI: 10.1083/jcb.201310117... Read more »

Amini, R., Goupil, E., Labella, S., Zetka, M., Maddox, A., Labbe, J., & Chartier, N. (2014) C. elegans Anillin proteins regulate intercellular bridge stability and germline syncytial organization. originally published in the Journal of Cell Biology, 206(1), 129-143. DOI: 10.1083/jcb.201310117  

  • July 24, 2014
  • 04:14 AM

Prenatal valproate exposure and brains

by Paul Whiteley in Questioning Answers

The paper by Amanda Wood and colleagues [1] (open-access) makes a potentially very important contribution to the growing literature looking at how prenatal exposure to sodium valproate (VPA) may affect some children. Authors reported on: "regional structural cortical brain changes in humans exposed to VPA in utero" and specifically, increased cortical thickness in the left inferior frontal gyrus.Lightning and lava @ Oliver Spalt @ Wikipedia In case you need any background on the story behind pregnancy exposure to VPA, I would direct you to a few previous posts where the topic has been covered on this blog (see here and see here) with an autism slant. You might also read my small contribution to a more formal article on this topic here.Outside of any reported elevated risk of offspring autism or autistic traits associated with prenatal VPA exposure, I'm also minded to bring in some interesting work on intestinal inflammation being reported in a VPA mouse model (see here) to further highlight that important gut-brain axis which I seem to be a little obsessed with.The Wood paper is open-access and has some accompanying media coverage but a few pointers might be useful...Following other work by the authors on this topic [2] the idea behind this latest research was to apply the science of neuroimaging to a participant group comprising 16 children exposed to VPA in-utero compared with age- and sex-matched children not exposed to such pharmaceutics prenatally.MRI scans were taken and analysed and "whole brain group differences" assessed. Results: well, as discussed, there were some findings in terms of cortical thickness but also specifically with language skills in mind. To quote again: "Asymmetry of cortical thickness in the inferior frontal lobes was seen in controls but not cases". I understand that this finding might have some relevance to language processing [3] although set my non-expert stall out on such matters. As per that previous link [2] and other evidence [4], language functions in VPA exposed children tend to poorer compared to controls and to those exposed to other anti-convulsant medication during the nine months that made us. This last point on different medications potentially carrying different risk profiles [5] is something equally interesting.Allowing for the relatively small participant groups studied and the lack of any other research parameter such as looking at accompanying brain chemistry which may be important [6], the Wood paper offers some intriguing insights into how pregnancy VPA use might affect infant brain development. The very important detail of analysis being based on real human children and not rat offspring also invites some further examination of previous results based on rodents [7]. Rats are rats, children are children.I'm going to leave you with a quote from the authors about their study: "VPA remains an important medication for people with epilepsy. What this study really tells us is that further research is required so that all women with epilepsy can make informed decisions about their medication use during pregnancy". I couldn't agree more, and as per the Treating for Two initiative, I'm not the only one.Music then... HRH Gaga and Just Dance.----------[1] Wood AG. et al. Altered cortical thickness following prenatal sodium valproate exposure. Annals of Clinical and Translational Neurology. 2014. July 3. doi: 10.1002/acn3.74[2] Nadebaum C. et al. Language skills of school-aged children prenatally exposed to antiepileptic drugs. Neurology. 2011 Feb 22;76(8):719-26.[3] Powell HWR. et al. Hemispheric asymmetries in language-related pathways: A combined functional MRI and tractography study. NeuroImage. 2006; 32: 388-399.[4] Shallcross R. et al. In utero exposure to levetiracetam vs valproate: development and language at 3 years of age. Neurology. 2014 Jan 21;82(3):213-21.[5] Vajda FJE. et al. The teratogenicity of the newer antiepileptic drugs – an update. Acta Neurol Scand. 2014. July 18[6] Almeida LE. et al. Increased BDNF expression in fetal brain in the valproic acid model of autism. Mol Cell Neurosci. 2014 Mar;59:57-62.[7] Mychasiuk R. et al. Effects of rat prenatal exposure to valproic acid on behaviour and neuro-anatomy. Dev Neurosci. 2012;34(2-3):268-76.----------Wood, A., Chen, J., Barton, S., Nadebaum, C., Anderson, V., Catroppa, C., Reutens, D., O'Brien, T., & Vajda, F. (2014). Altered cortical thickness following prenatal sodium valproate exposure Annals of Clinical and Translational Neurology DOI: 10.1002/acn3.74... Read more »

Wood, A., Chen, J., Barton, S., Nadebaum, C., Anderson, V., Catroppa, C., Reutens, D., O'Brien, T., & Vajda, F. (2014) Altered cortical thickness following prenatal sodium valproate exposure. Annals of Clinical and Translational Neurology. DOI: 10.1002/acn3.74  

  • July 24, 2014
  • 02:55 AM

Quick, Somebody Get The Name Of That Shark!

by Mark E. Lasbury in The 'Scope

There has been a rash of great white shark sightings and attacks in the news recently. But, have attacks and sightings remained constant, or are they really on the increase? Several news studies provide evidence that the Marine Mammal Protection Act of 1972, the ban on commercial whaling in 1982, and the ban on great white hunting in 1997 have increased the number of sharks on the coasts of the North America and Australia. In addition, great white sharks live much longer than previously assumed, according to the result of a new vertebral column radiocarbon study. More sharks and long lives suggest that more attacks and sightings will be made.... Read more »

  • July 23, 2014
  • 05:51 PM

Lanthanum-Based Perovskite Materials to Improve Fuel Cells

by dailyfusion in The Daily Fusion

Scientists at the University of the Basque Country (UPV/EHU) have studied the effects of using lanthanum-based perovskite ceramic contact materials in solid oxide fuel cells (SOFCs).... Read more »

  • July 23, 2014
  • 05:05 PM

Japanese Encephalitis Virus (JEV), ER stress, and Apoptosis

by thelonevirologist in Virology Tidbits

Japanese Encephalitis Virus (JEV) is a causative agent of acute encephalitis in humans, and being an arthropod borne virus transmitted predominately by mosquitoes ( that primarily target domestic animals and humans, with an estimated mortality of up to 70000 deaths reported per annum. Upon infection the viral proteins localise to the ER where they induce the ER stress which eventually induces Caspase dependent apoptosis.
... Read more »

Unni SK, Růžek D, Chhatbar C, Mishra R, Johri MK, & Singh SK. (2011) Japanese encephalitis virus: from genome to infectome. Microbes and infection / Institut Pasteur, 13(4), 312-21. PMID: 21238600  

Cui J, Counor D, Shen D, Sun G, He H, Deubel V, & Zhang S. (2008) Detection of Japanese encephalitis virus antibodies in bats in Southern China. The American journal of tropical medicine and hygiene, 78(6), 1007-11. PMID: 18541785  

Mori Y, Okabayashi T, Yamashita T, Zhao Z, Wakita T, Yasui K, Hasebe F, Tadano M, Konishi E, Moriishi K.... (2005) Nuclear localization of Japanese encephalitis virus core protein enhances viral replication. Journal of virology, 79(6), 3448-58. PMID: 15731239  

Uchil PD, Kumar AV, & Satchidanandam V. (2006) Nuclear localization of flavivirus RNA synthesis in infected cells. Journal of virology, 80(11), 5451-64. PMID: 16699025  

Ghosh Roy S, Sadigh B, Datan E, Lockshin RA, & Zakeri Z. (2014) Regulation of cell survival and death during Flavivirus infections. World journal of biological chemistry, 5(2), 93-105. PMID: 24921001  

Lu, M., Lawrence, D., Marsters, S., Acosta-Alvear, D., Kimmig, P., Mendez, A., Paton, A., Paton, J., Walter, P., & Ashkenazi, A. (2014) Opposing unfolded-protein-response signals converge on death receptor 5 to control apoptosis. Science, 345(6192), 98-101. DOI: 10.1126/science.1254312  

Han J, Back SH, Hur J, Lin YH, Gildersleeve R, Shan J, Yuan CL, Krokowski D, Wang S, Hatzoglou M.... (2013) ER-stress-induced transcriptional regulation increases protein synthesis leading to cell death. Nature cell biology, 15(5), 481-90. PMID: 23624402  

  • July 23, 2014
  • 03:43 PM

Physicians face difficult choices when treating patients with bipolar and obsessive compulsive disorders

by Valerie Ashton in The Molecular Scribe

New research suggests patients with both bipolar disorder and obsessive compulsive disorder should receive treatments for bipolar disorder alone. Bipolar and obsessive compulsive disorder therapies taken together can cause worsening of disease symptoms, making it difficult for physicians to treat both conditions. This is a concern as over 1 in 5 patients with bipolar disorder develop obsessive compulsive disorder during their lifetime.... Read more »

  • July 23, 2014
  • 01:21 PM

Voyager has hit interstellar space…. maybe?

by Gabriel in Lunatic Laboratories

Poor Voyager, he just can’t catch a break. We’ve said it’s hit interstellar space more times than we want to admit and in 2012, the Voyager mission team announced that […]... Read more »

G. Gloeckler, & L. A. Fisk. (2014) A test for whether or not Voyager 1 has crossed the heliopause. Geophysical Research Letters. info:/10.1002/2014GL060781

  • July 23, 2014
  • 01:13 PM

Preregistration for All Medical Animal Research

by Neuroskeptic in Neuroskeptic_Discover

Writing in the European Journal of Clinical Investigation, three Dutch researchers say that All preclinical trials should be registered in advance in an online registry Citing the fact that all clinical trials are (in theory) already registered, authors Jansen of Lorkeers et al say that the system should be extended to cover preclinical medical research, […]The post Preregistration for All Medical Animal Research appeared first on Neuroskeptic.... Read more »

Jansen of Lorkeers, S., Doevendans, P., & Chamuleau, S. (2014) All preclinical trials should be registered in advance in an online registry. European Journal of Clinical Investigation. DOI: 10.1111/eci.12299  

  • July 23, 2014
  • 12:46 PM

As a butterfly flaps its wings in Tokyo, a neuron in your head veers slightly heavenward…

by neuroecology in Neuroecology

When you look at the edge of a table, there is a neuron in your head that goes from silence to pop pop pop. As you extend your arm, a nerve commanding the muscle does the same thing. Your retina has neurons whose firing rate goes up or down depending on whether it detects a light spot […]... Read more »

Churchland, M., Cunningham, J., Kaufman, M., Foster, J., Nuyujukian, P., Ryu, S., & Shenoy, K. (2012) Neural population dynamics during reaching. Nature. DOI: 10.1038/nature11129  

Shenoy KV, Sahani M, & Churchland MM. (2013) Cortical control of arm movements: a dynamical systems perspective. Annual review of neuroscience, 337-59. PMID: 23725001  

  • July 23, 2014
  • 11:54 AM

The Adolescent Dog: One Last Chance?

by CAPB in Companion Animal Psychology Blog

A synthesis of the latest research on social influences on development suggests adolescence is an important time for mammals – including dogs.Photo: dezi / ShutterstockMost people are familiar with the idea of a sensitive period for puppies that ends around 12 or 14 weeks. Is it possible that adolescence is also an important period for brain development and future behaviour?Social experience plays an important role in shaping animal behaviour throughout development according to Sachser et al (2013). They consider the way the environment influences the mother and, in turn, the behaviour of her offspring (e.g. through stress hormones). This ensures the offspring is prepared for that environment as adults. While the paper looks at the prenatal period right through to adolescence, it is the section on adolescent animals that is of most interest. They write that “the adolescent phase may provide a last chance for correction if the future environment deviates from that predicted in earlier phases.”Most developmental research has focussed on pregnancy and the period shortly after birth. During this time, maternal hormones and behaviour have a large impact on the development of offspring. However, some parts of the brain are still plastic (i.e. able to change and develop) into adulthood. This includes the hippocampus and amygdala.   The scientists say, “There is increasing evidence that adolescence, that is, the gradual transition from childhood to adulthood, also represents an additional sensitive period (beyond the prenatal and early postnatal periods) in which behavioural profiles are routinely and profoundly shaped by social events.”The potential for change during adolescence is necessary, they argue, because sometimes there will be a mismatch between the conditions in which the offspring is born and experiences very early life, and the environment in which it matures. In particular, they suggest future studies should examine the effects of this kind of mismatch, in order to find out more about this stage of development.One example of the influence of the social environment in adolescence can be found in guinea pigs. If they spend their adolescence in colonies that include both males and females, they develop good social skills. As adults, they are able to get on with other guinea pigs in the colony without being aggressive; they are also able to become part of a new colony with unfamiliar guinea pigs. However, if they spend adolescence as part of a male-female pair, they become aggressive to unfamiliar males. Thus, the adolescent experiences have shaped adult behaviour. The research considered by Sachser et al is mainly about mice, guinea pigs and wild cavies, but these ideas are thought to apply to the mammalian brain in general. They tie in with work on plasticity in the human brain. For example, Dr. Bruce Perry (2006) says that “important neurodevelopmental processes continue to take place throughout childhood and adolescence as the brain’s systems become more complex. Major cortical restructuring and myelination continue into early adult life.” Writing about the implications for dogs, Riemer et al (2014) say,  “… a major reorganisation of the central nervous system occurs during puberty, and there is growing evidence that adolescence can be considered as an additional sensitive period (beyond the prenatal and early postnatal periods), with profound effects on future behaviour (reviewed in Sachser et al 2013). There is evidence that steroid-dependent adolescent brain and behavioural development can be modified by social experience. Thus, experiences after the first sensitive period of socialisation, and in particular during adolescence, will also play an important role in determining the adult animal's behaviour.” This is good news for poorly socialized adolescent dogs, as it means there is still an important window of opportunity in which to improve their behaviour. This is an age at which many dogs are surrendered to rescue organizations because they are no longer cute puppies and their increased size means their behaviour has become problematic. A better understanding of development during this stage would therefore benefit many dogs.So does this research mean we don’t need to worry about puppy socialization anymore? Absolutely not! This is the most important time for ensuring your puppy will grow up to be a calm, friendly adult dog. (For suggestions, see this excellent article by Anne Springer on ‘five things you can do to bite proof your puppy’). However, if you have an adolescent dog that hasn’t been socialized, it means it would be a good idea to build positive socialization experiences into their training plan.Not enough is known about canine development, and more research is needed to confirm the biological and behavioural changes that take place during adolescence. We look forward to learning more about this important stage of development. The papers by Sachser et al (2013) and Riemer et al (2014) are open access and can be read at the links below.What was your dog like as an adolescent?ReferencesPerry, Bruce D. and Szalavitz, Maia (2006) The boy who was raised as a dog and other stories from a child psychiatrist’s notebook. NY: Basic Books.Riemer, S., Müller, C., Virányi, Z., Huber, L., & Range, F. (2014). The Predictive Value of Early Behavioural Assessments in Pet Dogs – A Longitudinal Study from Neonates to Adults PLoS ONE, 9 (7) DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0101237 ... Read more »

  • July 23, 2014
  • 10:22 AM

What the textbooks don't tell you - one of psychology's most famous experiments was seriously flawed

by Christian Jarrett in BPS Research Digest

Zimbardo speaking in '09Conducted in 1971, the Stanford Prison Experiment (SPE) has acquired a mythical status and provided the inspiration for at least two feature-length films. You'll recall that several university students allocated to the role of jailor turned brutal and the study had to be aborted prematurely. Philip Zimbardo, the experiment's lead investigator, says the lesson from the research is that in certain situations, good people readily turn bad. "If you put good apples into a bad situation, you’ll get bad apples," he has written.The SPE was criticised back in the 70s, but that criticism has noticeably escalated and widened in recent years. New details to emerge show that Zimbardo played a key role in encouraging his "guards" to behave in tyrannical fashion. Critics have pointed out that only one third of guards behaved sadistically (this argues against the overwhelming power of the situation). Question marks have also been raised about the self-selection of particular personality types into the study. Moreover, in 2002, the social psychologists Steve Reicher and Alex Haslam conducted the BBC Prison Study to test the conventional interpretation of the SPE. The researchers deliberately avoided directing their participants as Zimbardo had his, and this time it was the prisoners who initially formed a strong group identity and overthrew the guards.Given that the SPE has been used to explain modern-day atrocities, such as at Abu Ghraib, and given that nearly two million students are enrolled in introductory psychology courses in the US, Richard Greggs, professor emeritus at the University of Florida, says "it is especially important that coverage of it in our texts be accurate."So, have the important criticisms and reinterpretations of the SPE been documented by key introductory psychology textbooks? Greggs analysed the content of 13 leading US introductory psychology textbooks, all of which have been revised in recent years, including:  Discovering Psychology (Cacioppo and Freberg, 2012); Psychological Science (Gazzaniga et al, 2012); and Psychology (Schacter et al, 2011).Of the 13 analysed texts, 11 dealt with the Stanford Prison Experiment, providing between one to seven paragraphs of coverage. Nine included photographic support for the coverage. Five provided no criticism of the SPE at all. The other six provided only cursory criticism, mostly focused on the questionable ethics of the study. Only two texts mentioned the BBC Prison Study. Only one text provided a formal scholarly reference to a critique of the SPE.Why do the principal psychology introductory textbooks, at least in the US, largely ignore the wide range of important criticisms of the SPE? Greggs didn't approach the authors of the texts so he can't know for sure. He thinks it unlikely that ignorance is the answer. Perhaps the authors are persuaded by Zimbardo's answers to his critics, says Greggs, but even so, surely the criticisms should be mentioned and referenced. Another possibility is that textbook authors are under pressure to shorten their texts, but surely they are also under pressure to keep them up-to-date.It would be interesting to compare coverage of the SPE in European introductory texts. Certainly there are contemporary books by British psychologists that do provide more in-depth critical coverage of the SPE.Greggs' advice for textbook authors is to position coverage of the SPE in the research methods chapter (instead of under social psychology), and to use the experiment's flaws as a way to introduce students to key issues such as ecological validity, ethics, demand characteristics and subsequent conflicting results. "In sum," he writes, "the SPE and its criticisms comprise a solid thread to weave numerous research concepts together into a good 'story' that would not only enhance student learning but also lead students to engage in critical thinking about the research process and all of the possible pitfalls along the way."_________________________________ Griggs, R. (2014). Coverage of the Stanford Prison Experiment in Introductory Psychology Textbooks Teaching of Psychology, 41 (3), 195-203 DOI: 10.1177/0098628314537968 --further reading--Foundations of sand? The lure of academic myths and their place in classic psychologyImage credit: Jdec/WikipediaPost written by Christian Jarrett (@psych_writer) for the BPS Research Digest.
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  • July 23, 2014
  • 09:38 AM

Video Tip of the Week: Nowomics, set up alert feeds for new data

by Mary in OpenHelix

Yeah, I know you know. There’s a lot of genomics and proteomics data coming out every day–some of it in the traditional publication route, but some of it isn’t–and it’s only getting harder and harder to wrangle the useful information to access the signal from the noise.  I can remember when merely looking through the […]... Read more »

Acland A., T. Barrett, J. Beck, D. A. Benson, C. Bollin, E. Bolton, S. H. Bryant, K. Canese, D. M. Church, & K. Clark. (2014) Database resources of the National Center for Biotechnology Information. Nucleic Acids Research, 42(D1). DOI:  

  • July 23, 2014
  • 08:00 AM

Let's Get Loud

by Mark Lasbury in As Many Exceptions As Rules

Loud noises are common in nature. New research is giving clues as to how and why animals make such noise. A new study investigates the reasons that howler monkeys howl. Protection and marking territory are main reasons, including for protection of infants or feeding areas.

A slightly older study notes that blue whale song has become lower in pitch since the whaling ban. The authors suggest that the reason for this may be that males don’t have to sing as loud (higher frequencies are louder) because there are more females. The other hypothesis is that more human noise requires them to use lower frequencies to hear each other.
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