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

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  • June 29, 2011
  • 06:08 AM

Eagle-Eyed Autism? No.

by Neuroskeptic in Neuroskeptic

An interesting and refreshing paper from Simon Baron-Cohen's autism group from Cambridge. The results themselves are pretty boring - they found that people with autism have normal vision.But the story behind it is rather spicy.Back in 2009, a Cambridge group - different authors, but led by "SBC", published a report claiming that people with autism have exceptionally acute vision. Their average visual acuity was claimed to be 2.8On this scale, 1.0 is defined as normal, and a sharp-eyed young adul........ Read more »

  • June 28, 2011
  • 04:15 AM

Machine-Readable Psychiatry

by Neuroskeptic in Neuroskeptic

The idea of trawling the internet to discover what people think about medications is a fascinating one and I've covered some attempts to do this in the past, but it's not easy. And there's something worrying about where it could lead.A new paper aims to trawl medical records to work out how well depressed patients responded to treatment. The authors used Natural Language Processing or NLP (not that NLP) to interpret electronic medical records from over 5,000 patients treated at hospitals in New ........ Read more »

Perlis RH, Iosifescu DV, Castro VM, Murphy SN, Gainer VS, Minnier J, Cai T, Goryachev S, Zeng Q, Gallagher PJ.... (2011) Using electronic medical records to enable large-scale studies in psychiatry: treatment resistant depression as a model. Psychological medicine, 1-10. PMID: 21682950  

  • June 21, 2011
  • 05:24 AM

Autism In The I.T. Crowd

by Neuroskeptic in Neuroskeptic

Is autism more common in Silicon Valley?A new study from Simon Baron-Cohen and colleagues asked pretty much this question, although rather than California, they looked at Eindhoven in Holland. Eindhoven is the tech hub of the Netherlands:This region contains the Eindhoven University of Technology, as well as the High Tech Campus Eindhoven, where IT and technology companies such as Philips, ASML, IBM and ATOS Origin are based... 30% of jobs in Eindhoven are now in technology or ICT, in Haarlem an........ Read more »

  • June 17, 2011
  • 04:27 AM

Bipolar Kids: You Read It Here First

by Neuroskeptic in Neuroskeptic

Last year, I discussed the controvery over the proposed new childhood syndrome of "Temper Disregulation Disorder with Dysphoria" (TDDD). It may be included in the upcoming revision of the psychiatric bible, DSM-V.Back then, I said:TDDD has been proposed in order to reduce the number of children being diagnosed with pediatric bipolar disorder... many people agree that pediatric bipolar is being over-diagnosed.So we can all sympathize with the sentiment behind TDDD - but this is fighting fire wit........ Read more »

Van Meter AR, Moreira AL, & Youngstrom EA. (2011) Meta-analysis of epidemiologic studies of pediatric bipolar disorder. The Journal of clinical psychiatry. PMID: 21672501  

Axelson DA, Birmaher B, Findling RL, Fristad MA, Kowatch RA, Youngstrom EA, Arnold EL, Goldstein BI, Goldstein TR, Chang KD.... (2011) Concerns regarding the inclusion of temper dysregulation disorder with dysphoria in the DSM-V. The Journal of clinical psychiatry. PMID: 21672494  

  • June 16, 2011
  • 04:43 AM

Neuroplasticity Revisited

by Neuroskeptic in Neuroskeptic

A fascinating case report details a remarkable recovery from serious brain injury: Characterization of recovery and neuropsychological consequences of orbitofrontal lesion.The patient "M. S." was a previously healthy 29 year old Israeli graduate student who suffered injuries in a terrorist attack. As the MRI scans above show, she lost large parts of her orbitofrontal cortex and ventromedial prefrontal cortex, although the left side was only partially affected. She also lost her right eye.These a........ Read more »

  • June 14, 2011
  • 04:56 AM

Consciousness? FFS...

by Neuroskeptic in Neuroskeptic

An interesting paper on the neurobiology of conscious awareness: Unconscious High-Level Information Processing.The authors propose that consciousness may be associated, not with activation in any given area of the brain, but with recurrent information processing between areas, a kind of neural ping-pong.When presented with sensory information, say the sight of an object, signals travel up through the brain from "primary" sensory areas to "higher" areas associated with more complicated proces........ Read more »

  • June 11, 2011
  • 02:20 PM

Pharmaceuticals And Violence

by Neuroskeptic in Neuroskeptic

A French study reveals which medications are most often associated with violence and aggression: Prescribed drugs and violence.The authors trawled the French records of drug side effects from 1985 to 2008. By law, doctors in France must report any adverse event which is either serious, or unexpected, to the authorities.They found a total of 540 reports mentioning "violence", but only 56 of these were clear-cut incidents of physical aggression towards others. Suicide and self-harm were not includ........ Read more »

Rouve N, Bagheri H, Telmon N, Pathak A, Franchitto N, Schmitt L, Rougé D, Lapeyre-Mestre M, Montastruc JL, & the French Association of Regional PharmacoVigilance Centres. (2011) Prescribed drugs and violence: a case/noncase study in the French PharmacoVigilance Database. European journal of clinical pharmacology. PMID: 21655992  

  • June 10, 2011
  • 04:13 AM

Do Pigs Get Autism?

by Neuroskeptic in Neuroskeptic

What happens to a pig if it has a gene for autism?There has been lots of research on mice who carry the same genes associated with autism in humans. Rats and recently monkeys have been studied as well. But the possibility of autistic pigs has been strangely neglected by science.A new paper might just change that: Characterization of porcine autism susceptibility candidate 2 as a candidate gene for the number of corpora lutea in pigs. The authors found that, in female pigs, variation in a certain........ Read more »

  • June 7, 2011
  • 12:49 PM

Britain's Not Getting More Mentally Ill

by Neuroskeptic in Neuroskeptic

There's a widespread belief that mental illness is getting more common, or that it has got more common in recent years.A new study in the British Journal of Psychiatry says: no, it's not. They looked at the UK APMS mental health surveys, which were done in 1993, 2000 and 2007. Long-time readers will remember these.The authors of the new paper analyzed the data by birth cohort, i.e. when you were born, and by age at the time of the survey. If mental illness were rising, you'd predict that people ........ Read more »

  • June 3, 2011
  • 05:01 AM

Political Suicide

by Neuroskeptic in Neuroskeptic

When is killing yourself not suicide?In the British Journal of Psychiatry, two psychiatrists and an anthropologist discuss recent cases of self-immolation as a form of political protest in the Arab world:Since ancient times there has been a difference between suicide (an act of self-destruction) and self-immolation which, although self- destructive, has a sacrificial connotation. Self-immolation is associated with terrible physical pain (burning alive) and with the idea of courage... It is, howe........ Read more »

Cheikh IB, Rousseau C, & Mekki-Berrada A. (2011) Suicide as protest against social suffering in the Arab world. The British journal of psychiatry : the journal of mental science, 494-5. PMID: 21628715  

  • June 2, 2011
  • 05:21 AM

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  

  • May 31, 2011
  • 05:14 PM

Vaccines Cause Autism, Until You Look At The Data

by Neuroskeptic in Neuroskeptic

According to a much-discussed new paper, vaccines may cause autism after all: A Positive Association found between Autism Prevalence and Childhood Vaccination uptake across the U.S. Population.The author is Gayle DeLong, who "teaches international finance at Baruch College, City University of New York", according to her profile as a board member of anti-vaccine group SafeMinds. She correlated rates of coverage of the government recommended full set of vaccines in the 51 US states including Washi........ Read more »

  • May 29, 2011
  • 07:04 AM

Do Antidepressants Work? The Internet Says...

by Neuroskeptic in Neuroskeptic

..."yes and no". A while back I blogged about some researchers who analysed internet discussions of antidepressants to work out what users thought about them. Now a new paper's just come out, doing much the same thing but focussed on a single comment thread: Miracle Drug, Poison, or Placebo.Back in 2008, MSNBC ran this article, prompted by the recent publication of the famous Kirsch paper. The article itself was short but the ensuing discussion in the comments rapidly grew to epic proportions. B........ Read more »

  • May 27, 2011
  • 12:45 PM

Autistic Brains 'Genes Differ'

by Neuroskeptic in Neuroskeptic

The BBC say:The brains of people with autism are chemically different to those without autism, according to researchers. A study, published in the journal Nature, showed the unique characters of the frontal and temporal lobes had disappeared.It's not a bad summary, although it doesn't explain quite how interesting the new results are. Here's the paper, from a joint US/British team: Transcriptomic analysis of autistic brain reveals convergent molecular pathologyThe authors took 19 brains from peo........ Read more »

Voineagu I, Wang X, Johnston P, Lowe JK, Tian Y, Horvath S, Mill J, Cantor RM, Blencowe BJ, & Geschwind DH. (2011) Transcriptomic analysis of autistic brain reveals convergent molecular pathology. Nature. PMID: 21614001  

  • May 25, 2011
  • 04:03 PM

How To Set Someone On Fire

by Neuroskeptic in Neuroskeptic

I've just come across a deeply disturbing paper: Attempted ignition of petrol vapour by lit cigarettes and lit cannabis resin jointsThe authors set out to discover whether you could set petrol on fire by dropping a lit cigarette or hash joint onto it. It turns out, surprisingly, that you can't.Thirty nine (39) ignition attempts that involved exposing lit commercial cigarettes, hand-rolled cigarettes and cannabis resin joints to petrol vapour were undertaken; ignition was not achieved in any of t........ Read more »

  • May 23, 2011
  • 04:29 PM

How Your Brain Gets In The Game

by Neuroskeptic in Neuroskeptic

You're running down a corridor in a castle that's under attack by terrorists. Why would terrorists want to blow up a castle, you start to wonder, but your musings are cut short. As you round the corner, you bump into not one but three of the fortress-hating fiends. No problem - you're carrying an AK-47 which you picked up from the corpse of one of their buddies. You open fire, and two go down, but the third turns on you with his handgun.Luckily, this castle is full of huge wooden crates, and yo........ Read more »

Klasen M, Weber R, Kircher TT, Mathiak KA, & Mathiak K. (2011) Neural contributions to flow experience during video game playing. Social cognitive and affective neuroscience. PMID: 21596764  

  • May 19, 2011
  • 05:06 AM

Free Will Is In The Brain

by Neuroskeptic in Neuroskeptic

Warning: this post may change your brain.Well, all of my posts change your brain, because everything changes your brain. But this one might make a rather bigger impact than usual.According to a new paper in Psychological Science, reading a short article which argues that free will is an illusion causes measurable changes in brain function: Inducing Disbelief in Free Will Alters Brain Correlates of Preconscious Motor Preparation.The authors took 30 people and randomly assigned them to read one of........ Read more »

  • May 17, 2011
  • 03:55 PM

Antivirals and Suicide

by Neuroskeptic in Neuroskeptic

A case report from India describes a man who became suicidally depressed while being given drugs to treat a viral infection:A 43-year-old man diagnosed with chronic hepatitis C viral infection ... was started on therapy with interferon -α-2a and ribavirin ... Screening tests for hepatitis B virus, hepatitis A virus, and HIV were negative.In initial 3 months of start of therapy with IFN-α-2a and ribavirin, the patient experienced adverse effects in the form of high-grade fever, malaise, mya........ Read more »

  • May 15, 2011
  • 07:01 AM

Secondhand Smoke Goes To Your Head

by Neuroskeptic in Neuroskeptic

Secondhand smoking. It's bad for you. But does it get you high?According to UCLA researchers Arthur Brody et al, it might do, because exposure to secondhand cigarette smoke can cause you to absorb enough nicotine that it has measurable effects in the brain.That's quite interesting, but the best thing about this study is the methodology. This is the first neuroimaging study I've seen which involved a car. Not a picture of a car. An actual car.They used PET scanning to measure the binding of nicot........ Read more »

Brody AL, Mandelkern MA, London ED, Khan A, Kozman D, Costello MR, Vellios EE, Archie MM, Bascom R, & Mukhin AG. (2011) Effect of Secondhand Smoke on Occupancy of Nicotinic Acetylcholine Receptors in Brain. Archives of general psychiatry. PMID: 21536968  

  • May 11, 2011
  • 04:51 AM

Duck or Rabbit?

by Neuroskeptic in Neuroskeptic

Ambigous figures are drawings that seem to flip from being one thing to another.Psychologists Melissa Allen and Alison Chambers recently showed these images to teenagers with autism in an attempt to find out whether they were able to perceive the effect normally: Implicit and explicit understanding of ambiguous figures by adolescents with autism spectrum disorderA leading theory of autism is weak central coherence - the idea that autistic people tend to be focussed on details, rather than the "........ Read more »

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