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

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  • May 10, 2011
  • 10:35 AM

There's no DNA in "Disease"

by Neuroskeptic in Neuroskeptic

Back when I was a mere first year biology student, the first thing we were taught was this:DNA makes RNA makes Protein.This is the Central Dogma of Molecular Biology, and it describes the intricate and beautiful process by which genes influence living things. The whole thing really is remarkable.Unfortunately, some people in psychiatry seem to have forgotten this. Reading some of the literature, you would think that:DNA makes DSM DiagnosesOr if you're feeling especially adventurous and concious ........ Read more »

  • May 5, 2011
  • 05:09 AM

Revenge Of The Depression Gene

by Neuroskeptic in Neuroskeptic

Last year, the world of psychiatric genetics was rocked by the news that a highly-studied gene, believed to be associated with depression, wasn't in fact linked to depression at all.The genetic variant was 5-HTTLPR. It's a length variant in the gene coding for the serotonin transporter protein (5HTT) which the target of antidepressants like Prozac. There are two flavors of this variant, short and long.Many studies have shown that the short ("s") variant is associated with a high risk of getting ........ Read more »

  • May 3, 2011
  • 05:27 PM

Psychiatry and Phrenology

by Neuroskeptic in Neuroskeptic

The notorious John P. "Most Published Research Findings Are False" Ioannidis has turned his baleful statistical gaze upon the literature on brain volume abnormalities in psychiatric disorders.Reports of regional volume differences in the brains of people with mental illness compared to healthy people have appeared in increasing numbers in recent years. Such studies have given plenty of positive results. People with depression have smaller hippocampi. The amygdala is bigger in people with autism......... Read more »

  • April 30, 2011
  • 10:05 AM

The Neuro-Recession

by Neuroskeptic in Neuroskeptic

Everyone's favourite British psychopharmacologist David "Ecstasy Vs Horseriding" Nutt joins four other leading neuroscientists to discuss the impact of the financial crisis on neuroscience, in an article over at NR:N: Neuroscience in recession?It's interesting to get an international perspective. Susan Amara, President of the Society for Neuroscience, says that American scientists were encouraged by the surprise $10bn boost to NIH funds that made it into the 2009 economic stimulus package. But t........ Read more »

Amara SG, Grillner S, Insel T, Nutt D, & Tsumoto T. (2011) Neuroscience in recession?. Nature reviews. Neuroscience, 12(5), 297-302. PMID: 21505517  

  • April 28, 2011
  • 05:13 PM

The Schizophrenic Computer

by Neuroskeptic in Neuroskeptic

All over the world, inanimate objects are getting schizophrenia. Last week, it was a dish (full of neurons).Before that, it was a computer program. That's according to a paper, which appeared in Biological Psychiatry last month, although it involved no biology, called Using Computational Patients to Evaluate Illness Mechanisms in Schizophrenia.The authors set up a neural network model, called DISCERN, and trained it to "read" stories. The nuts and bolts are, we're reassured, not something that r........ Read more »

Hoffman RE, Grasemann U, Gueorguieva R, Quinlan D, Lane D, & Miikkulainen R. (2011) Using computational patients to evaluate illness mechanisms in schizophrenia. Biological psychiatry, 69(10), 997-1005. PMID: 21397213  

  • April 25, 2011
  • 08:03 AM

Slipping Through Time In Autism

by Neuroskeptic in Neuroskeptic

Have you ever felt like you're reliving the past?Have you ever felt like you're reliving the past? A curious paper from Japan: ‘Time slip’ phenomenon in adolescents and adults with autism spectrum disorders. Have you ever felt like you're...OK, sorry. I'll stop that.The paper describes the cases of two young men with autism, who suffered from an unusual affliction - very vivid memories of a single past event. These recollections were so unpleasant that they led to outbursts of violence. In t........ Read more »

  • April 19, 2011
  • 05:09 AM

Language Is General?

by Neuroskeptic in Neuroskeptic

So according to the authors of a paper in Nature:It suggests rather that language is part of not a specialised module distinct from the rest of cognition, but more part of broad human cognitive skills.The paper is Evolved structure of language shows lineage-specific trends in word-order universals. They found that the various grammatical rules governing the proper order of different words in a sentence changed over time, and crucially that there were no fixed associations between them: no corr........ Read more »

  • April 18, 2011
  • 03:18 PM

Schizophrenia In A Dish...?

by Neuroskeptic in Neuroskeptic

...or a storm in a teacup?According to a new paper just out in Nature from the prestigious Salk Institute, schizophrenia may be associated with differences in neural wiring which can be observed in a bunch of cells grown in the lab.The paper is here, and here's an open-access Nature news bit discussing it: Schizophrenia 'in a dish'. It's certainly an incredible piece of biology. They took fibroblasts, a cell found in the skin, from 4 patients with schizophrenia and 6 healthy........ Read more »

Brennand KJ, Simone A, Jou J, Gelboin-Burkhart C, Tran N, Sangar S, Li Y, Mu Y, Chen G, Yu D.... (2011) Modelling schizophrenia using human induced pluripotent stem cells. Nature. PMID: 21490598  

  • April 13, 2011
  • 02:49 PM

Who Gets Autism?

by Neuroskeptic in Neuroskeptic

According to a major new report from Australia, social and family factors associated with autism are associated with a lower risk of intellectual disability - and vice versa. But why?The paper is from Leonard et al and it's published in PLoS ONE, so it's open access if you want to take a peek. The authors used a database system in the state of Western Australia which allowed them to find out what happened to all of the babies born between 1984 and 1999 who were still alive as of 2005. There were........ Read more »

Leonard H, Glasson E, Nassar N, Whitehouse A, Bebbington A, Bourke J, Jacoby P, Dixon G, Malacova E, Bower C.... (2011) Autism and intellectual disability are differentially related to sociodemographic background at birth. PloS one, 6(3). PMID: 21479223  

  • April 12, 2011
  • 05:16 AM

First Fish, Now Cheese, Get Scanned

by Neuroskeptic in Neuroskeptic

Here at Neuroskeptic we have closely followed the development of fMRI scanning on fish.But a new study has taken it to the next level by scanning... some cheese.OK, this is not quite true. The study used NMR spectroscopy to analyze the chemistry of some cheeses, in order to measure the effects of different kinds of probiotic bacteria on the composition of the cheese. NMR is the same technology as MRI, and indeed you can use an MRI scanner to gather NMR spectra.In fact, NMR is Nuclear Magnetic Re........ Read more »

  • April 1, 2011
  • 03:51 AM

Women Are Better Connected... Neurally

by Neuroskeptic in Neuroskeptic

Note: Please ignore the early draft of this post that I accidentally posted earlier because I'm stupid.The search for differences between the brains of men and women has a long and rather confusing history. Any structural differences are small, and their significance is controversial. The one rock-solid finding is that men's brains are slightly bigger on average. Then again, men are slightly bigger on average in general.A new paper just out from Tomasi and Volkow (of cell-phones-affect-brain fam........ Read more »

  • March 30, 2011
  • 12:41 PM

Neuroskeptic Irreverent and Sometimes Profane, Study Finds

by Neuroskeptic in Neuroskeptic

I was most surprised and honored to find out this morning that the Annals of Neurology has declared Neuroskeptic to beIrreverent, sometimes profane, and can skirt the boundaries of good taste. Nonetheless, Neuroskeptic covers a rich mixture of important, engaging, or amusing topics focusing on the basic and clinical neurosciences, and does so in a data-driven, user-friendly, and comment-enabled format. Neuroskeptic is only one of a number of increasingly used web sites and blogs dedicated to pro........ Read more »

Hauser, S., & Johnston, S. (2011) Scientific literacy and the media. Annals of Neurology, 69(3). DOI: 10.1002/ana.22410  

  • March 26, 2011
  • 07:50 AM

Fake Clinical Trial - Real Problems

by Neuroskeptic in Neuroskeptic

Here at Neuroskeptic we've seen our fair share of dubious clinical trials over the years, but the Indian Journal of Psychiatry has just published one which really takes the biscuit, because it was completely made up.Luckily, the trial is actually a rather neat spoof paper, written for educational purposes to highlight bad practices in the design and writing up of clinical trials. It's accompanied by a serious piece which analyzes these problems. They're both open access so you can take a look.Th........ Read more »

  • March 24, 2011
  • 05:20 PM

A Stroke Of Good Fortune Cures OCD?

by Neuroskeptic in Neuroskeptic

A 45 year old female teacher had a history of severe obsessive-compulsive disorder, along with other problems including ADHD. Her daughter, and many other people in her family, had suffered the same problems and in a few cases had Tourette's Syndrome.But all that changed - when she suffered a stroke. This is according to a brief case report from Drs. Diamond and Ondo of Texas:[she] had a long history of constant intrusive and obsessive thoughts that interrupted her daily activities and sleep. Sh........ Read more »

  • March 20, 2011
  • 03:52 PM

Depressed or Bereaved? (Part 2)

by Neuroskeptic in Neuroskeptic

In Part 1, I discussed a paper by Jerome Wakefield examining the issue of where to draw the line between normal grief and clinical depression.The line moved in the American Psychiatric Association's DSM diagnostic system when the previous DSM-III edition was replaced by the current DSM-IV. Specifically, the "bereavement exclusion" was made narrower.The bereavement exclusion says that you shouldn't diagnose depression in someone whose "depressive" symptoms are a result of grief - unless they're p........ Read more »

  • March 18, 2011
  • 11:26 AM

A Look Inside A Brain

by Neuroskeptic in Neuroskeptic

A remarkable paper just out in Nature has revealed images of the brain's structure and function in unprecedented detail: Network anatomy and in vivo physiology of visual cortical neurons.Harvard Medical School researchers Bock et al took a mouse - just one - and used two forms of microscopy to investigate a small patch of it's primary visual cortex, the area which receives input from the eyes.First, they used two-photon calcium imaging to look at the functional properties of individual cells. Th........ Read more »

Bock DD, Lee WC, Kerlin AM, Andermann ML, Hood G, Wetzel AW, Yurgenson S, Soucy ER, Kim HS, & Reid RC. (2011) Network anatomy and in vivo physiology of visual cortical neurons. Nature, 471(7337), 177-82. PMID: 21390124  

  • March 15, 2011
  • 05:09 AM

Neural Correlates of 80s Hip Hop

by Neuroskeptic in Neuroskeptic

A ground-breaking new study reveals the neurological basis of seminal East Coast hip-hop pioneers Run-D.M.C.The study is Diffusion tensor imaging of the hippocampus and verbal memory performance: The RUN DMC Study, and it actually has nothing to do with hip-hop, but it does have one of the best study acronyms I have ever seen.RUN DMC stands for the "Radboud University Nijmegen Diffusion tensor and Magnetic resonance imaging Cohort study".Or maybe it does relate to rapping. Because the paper is a........ Read more »

van Norden AG, de Laat KF, Fick I, van Uden IW, van Oudheusden LJ, Gons RA, Norris DG, Zwiers MP, Kessels RP, & de Leeuw FE. (2011) Diffusion tensor imaging of the hippocampus and verbal memory performance: The RUN DMC Study. Human brain mapping. PMID: 21391278  

  • March 10, 2011
  • 03:20 PM

Depressed Or Bereaved? (Part 1)

by Neuroskeptic in Neuroskeptic

My cat died on Tuesday. She may have been a manipulative psychopath, but she was a likeable one. She was 18.On that note, here's a paper about bereavement.It's been recognized since forever that clinical depression is similar, in many ways, to the experience of grief. Freud wrote about it in 1917, and it was an ancient idea even then. So psychiatrists have long thought that symptoms, which would indicate depression in someone who wasn't bereaved, can be quite normal and healthy as a response to ........ Read more »

  • March 6, 2011
  • 07:27 AM

Paxil: The Whole Truth?

by Neuroskeptic in Neuroskeptic

Paroxetine, aka Paxil aka Seroxat, is an SSRI antidepressant.Like other SSRIs, its reputation has see-sawed over time. Hailed as miracle drugs in the 1990s and promoted for everything from depression to "separation anxiety" in dogs, they fell from grace over the past decade.First, concerns emerged over withdrawal symptoms and suicidality especially in young people. Then more recently their antidepressant efficacy came into serious question. Paroxetine has arguably the worst image of all SSRIs, a........ Read more »

  • March 3, 2011
  • 10:47 AM

Earthquakes And Antipsychotics

by Neuroskeptic in Neuroskeptic

According to a clever little paper just out from Italy, prescriptions for antipsychotic drugs skyrocketed in the months following a major earthquake. But there are some surprising details.On 6th April 2009, an earthquake hit L'Aquila, a medium-sized city in central Italy. Out of about 100,000 people living in the L'Aquila area, over 600 died and over 60,000 were displaced: a major disaster for the local people.Rossi et al from the University of L'Aquila looked at medication prescription in the 6........ Read more »

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