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  • April 22, 2014
  • 10:40 PM

Autism, SSRIs, and Epidemiology 101

by in Neuroscientifically Challenged

I can understand the eagerness with which science writers jump on stories that deal with new findings about autism spectrum disorders (ASDs). After all, the mystery surrounding the rapid increase in ASD rates over the past 20 years (see right) has made any ASD-related study that may offer some clues inherently interesting. Because people are anxiously awaiting some explanation of this medical enigma, it seems like science writers almost have an obligation to discuss new findings concerning the c........ Read more »

  • April 17, 2014
  • 11:02 PM

Dear CNRS: That mouse study did not "confirm" the neurobiological origin of ADHD in humans

by in Neuroscientifically Challenged

Late last week the French National Centre for Scientific Research (CNRS - the acronym is based on the French translation) put out a press release describing a study conducted through a collaboration between several of its researchers and scientists from The University of Strasbourg. CNRS is a large (30,000+ employees), government-run research institution in France. It is the largest research organization in Europe, and is responsible for about 1/2 of the French scientific papers published annual........ Read more »

  • April 12, 2014
  • 11:54 PM

Early brain development and heat shock proteins

by in Neuroscientifically Challenged

The brain development of a fetus is really an amazing thing. The first sign of an incipient nervous system emerges during the third week of development; it is simply a thickened layer of tissue called the neural plate. After about 5 more days, the neural plate has formed an indentation called the neural groove, and the sides of the neural groove have curled up and begun to fuse together (see pic to the right). This will form the neural tube, which will eventually become the brain and spinal cord........ Read more »

  • April 9, 2014
  • 08:45 PM

Why do I procrastinate? I'll figure it out later

by in Neuroscientifically Challenged

If you are a chronic procrastinator, you're not alone. Habitual procrastination plagues around 15-20% of adults and 50% of college students. And, depending on the nature of the responsibilities one is neglecting, procrastination can have consequences. In a chronic procrastinator, repeated failure to efficiently complete important tasks can lead to lower feelings of self-worth. In certain contexts, it can also result in very tangible penalties. For example, a survey in 2002 found that 29% of Amer........ Read more »

  • April 7, 2014
  • 08:33 PM

Is ketamine really a plausible treatment for depression?

by in Neuroscientifically Challenged

Last week, a publication in the Journal of Psychopharmacology made international news by reporting that patients with treatment-resistant depression (TRD) showed improvement after being given the dissociative hallucinogenic drug ketamine. Ketamine, which is traditionally used as an anesthetic in humans and other animals, is probably better known for its use as a party drug (in this context it is often called "special K"). However, a growing body of evidence has begun to suggest that ketamine may........ Read more »

  • April 4, 2014
  • 09:47 PM

Is your biological clock ticking? Maybe you should ignore it

by in Neuroscientifically Challenged

As I've transitioned into middle age, I've gotten used to seeing my Facebook feed filled with baby pictures, descriptions of charming family outings, and adorable quotations from the mouths of toddlers. If I knew nothing about what it were like to have a child (mine is just finishing up the terrible twos), I would assume from scrolling through these perfectly tailored social media portraits of others' lives that having kids is a non-stop fun-filled procession of treasured moments. Of course, thi........ Read more »

  • March 23, 2014
  • 04:40 PM

Why do we sleep?

by in Neuroscientifically Challenged

Why do we sleep? Sleep is an activity that takes up about 1/3 of our lives, so you would probably guess that neuroscience has a clear answer to why we do it, right? Wrong. The fundamental reason behind why we sleep is still shrouded in mystery. We know that we have to sleep (without it we would die). But we still don't know what its physiological function is.There are a variety of hypotheses about why we sleep that have garnered some support. For example, sleep may have evolved in order to help ........ Read more »

  • February 23, 2014
  • 01:25 PM

Is cat poop making us crazy?

by in Neuroscientifically Challenged

When a woman who owns cats finds out she is pregnant, she will probably be warned to stop cleaning out the litter box. This is because cat feces can harbor a parasite called Toxoplasma gondii, which can cross the placenta and infect an unborn fetus. The infection can increase the risk of premature birth and low birth weight, and is associated with anemia, deafness, hydrocephalus, and mental retardation in the child after birth. Sometimes, if these problems aren't apparent at birth, they can deve........ Read more »

Flegr J. (2013) How and why Toxoplasma makes us crazy. Trends in parasitology, 29(4), 156-63. PMID: 23433494  

  • February 1, 2014
  • 09:14 PM

DDT and Alzheimer's disease risk

by in Neuroscientifically Challenged

Dichlordiphenyltrichloroethane, also known as DDT, emerged during World War II as something of a miracle chemical. The war had left cities across Europe devastated and struggling to cope with (among other things) poor sanitation, which created a fertile environment for the spread of disease. When Allied forces entered Naples soon after the Germans retreated, they discovered a typhus epidemic that was killing 25% of those infected; the number of infected was into the thousands. The Germans, befor........ Read more »

Richardson JR, Roy A, Shalat SL, von Stein RT, Hossain MM, Buckley B, Gearing M, Levey AI, & German DC. (2014) Elevated Serum Pesticide Levels and Risk for Alzheimer Disease. JAMA neurology. PMID: 24473795  

  • January 26, 2014
  • 10:18 PM

Savant syndrome

by in Neuroscientifically Challenged

Savant syndrome is one of the true mysteries of neuroscience. Many people were first exposed to this curious phenomenon when they watched the movie Rain Man. In it, Dustin Hoffman plays a character named Raymond Babbit, who is loosely based on Kim Peek. Peek was (Peek died in 2009) a savant who had a stunningly prodigious memory and the ability to read a book in an hour, retaining virtually all of the information he took in during that short time. Peek, like most other savants, also suffered fro........ Read more »

  • January 19, 2014
  • 09:11 PM

Popular science writing and accuracy

by in Neuroscientifically Challenged

This week, an article appeared in the L.A. Times online, and was recycled in the Chicago Tribune and a number of other media sources. It focused on a study that was just published in the Journal of Neuroscience. In the study, Iniguez et al. gave fluoxetine (aka Prozac) to male adolescent mice for 15 days. Three weeks after ending the fluoxetine treatment, the researchers tested the mice on two measures that are purported to assess depression in rodents and one that is a suggested measure of anxi........ Read more »

Iñiguez SD, Alcantara LF, Warren BL, Riggs LM, Parise EM, Vialou V, Wright KN, Dayrit G, Nieto SJ, Wilkinson MB, Lobo MK, Neve RL, Nestler EJ, Bolaños-Guzmán CA. (2014) Fluoxetine Exposure during Adolescence Alters Responses to Aversive Stimuli in Adulthood. Journal of Neuroscience. DOI: 10.1523/JNEUROSCI.5725-12.2014  

  • August 18, 2013
  • 11:42 PM

Facebook and unhappiness

by calm in Loweranxiety.com

The use of Facebook has skyrocketed in the past decade. It has occurred so quickly, in fact, that researchers are still trying to understand the allure of Facebook. Why are we interested in being bombarded with banal information from other peoples’ lives on a daily basis? What benefit do we get from having more Facebook friends than social psychologists believe we can realistically maintain relationships with? Since social connections are generally thought to promote health, can the same b........ Read more »

Ethan Kross mail,, Philippe Verduyn,, Emre Demiralp,, Jiyoung Park,, David Seungjae Lee,, Natalie Lin,, Holly Shablack,, John Jonides,, & Oscar Ybarra. (2013) Facebook Use Predicts Declines in Subjective Well-Being in Young Adults . plos one. DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0069841  

  • August 10, 2013
  • 04:54 PM

Stress and health

by calm in Loweranxiety.com

There is a well-known link between life stress and cardiovascular disease (CVD). Just how stress affects the heart and how severe stress must be for it to contribute to CVD, however, are frequently disputed. One of the reasons there are so many questions surrounding stress and CVD is that stress appears to affect different people in very different ways. For some people, a major life stressor may have a negative impact on health but other people may be able to take that same stressor in stride wi........ Read more »

  • July 25, 2013
  • 10:07 PM

Sleep and anxiety

by calm in Loweranxiety.com

The day after a particularly bad night’s sleep you probably don’t feel like yourself. You may be more irritable, find it difficult to think clearly, and feel physically tired. Still, many of us find ourselves up late into the night either working or wasting time, only to vow the next day that we’ll never begin watching a movie at 11pm again. But if you suffer from anxiety issues, you now have another reason to hold true to that vow: lack of sleep may also increase anxiety. Rese........ Read more »

  • July 18, 2013
  • 11:00 PM

Anxiety and reappraisal

by calm in Loweranxiety.com

As we’ve discussed in previous articles, the way you think about an issue–and not the magnitude of the issue itself–is usually what causes anxiety. Although this statement seems...

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Llewellyn, Nicole; Dolcos, SandaView Profile; Iordan, Alexandru D.View Profile; Rudolph, Karen D.View Profile; Dolcos, Florin. (2013) Reappraisal and Suppression Mediate the Contribution of Regulatory Focus to Anxiety in Healthy Adults. Emotion. DOI: 10.1037/a0032568  

  • July 8, 2013
  • 09:55 PM

Parents’ anxiety may make kids more anxious

by calm in Loweranxiety.com

It has long been recognized that some anxious traits have a genetic component. However, the onset of an anxiety disorder usually requires both genetic and environmental influences. Researchers at Johns Hopkins Children’s Center recently published a study that identified some of the environmental factors that affect anxiety. They came from the most influential people in children’s lives: their parents. The researchers that conducted the study compared the way parents with social anxie........ Read more »

  • May 6, 2013
  • 10:57 PM

What is the insula?

by in Neuroscientifically Challenged

If you decided to write a term paper on the insula 20 years ago, it probably would have been a bad idea. First off, your teacher might have thought you were just trying to impress her by choosing an obscure area of the brain that even she knew nothing about. Second, you would have had a hard time even finding enough sources to write the paper with. Since the mid-1990s, however, this deeply-buried region of the brain has begun to garner much more attention.The insula is tucked away inside a promi........ Read more »

  • September 19, 2010
  • 01:03 AM

Neuroligin and Autism

by in Neuroscientifically Challenged

The rapid increase in autism spectrum disorder (ASD) diagnoses over the last 15 years is alarming. A number of reasons for the rise have been suggested, some of which have sparked debate that occasionally becomes laden with vitriol. Many people, surprised and frightened by what they see as the unprecedented appearance of a novel disorder, are looking for answers and pointing fingers at parties they feel may be culpable. The etiology of ASD is unknown, and perhaps we will find that some........ Read more »

De Jaco, A., Lin, M., Dubi, N., Comoletti, D., Miller, M., Camp, S., Ellisman, M., Butko, M., Tsien, R., & Taylor, P. (2010) Neuroligin Trafficking Deficiencies Arising from Mutations in the  / -Hydrolase Fold Protein Family. Journal of Biological Chemistry, 285(37), 28674-28682. DOI: 10.1074/jbc.M110.139519  

  • August 27, 2008
  • 11:01 PM

Have a Face Only a Mother Could Love? Without Serotonin She Thinks You're Just as Ugly as Everyone Else Does

by in Neuroscientifically Challenged

As the popularity of antidepressant medication has burgeoned over the past few decades, serotonin has become one of the more publicly recognized neurotransmitters. Along with that popularity has come a trend of attributing a wide variety of behaviors (especially depression) to “serotonin imbalances”. While this is a gross simplification in most cases, it does seem to be clear that there is a correlation between serotonin transmission and behavior.A group of researchers at Case Western Reserv........ Read more »

Jessica Lerch-Haner, Dargan Frierson, LaTasha K Crawford, Sheryl G Beck, & Evan S Deneris. (2008) Serotonergic transcriptional programming determines maternal behavior and offspring survival. Nature Neuroscience, 11(9), 1001-1003. DOI: 10.1038/nn.2176  

  • August 18, 2008
  • 11:42 PM

Cocaine and Glutamate, Part Two

by in Neuroscientifically Challenged

Ten years ago, if you had asked a neuroscientist what neurotransmitter is most important to the development of an addiction, nine out of ten times they would have said “dopamine”. Ask the same question today, however, and you’ll probably be told that it is impossible to pin such a complex process on one neurotransmitter, as clearly (at least) both dopamine and glutamate are integral to the addiction process.In hindsight, it is not surprising that glutamate be involved in addiction. Glutama........ Read more »

D ENGBLOM, A BILBAO, C SANCHISSEGURA, L DAHAN, S PERREAULENZ, B BALLAND, J PARKITNA, R LUJAN, B HALBOUT, & M MAMELI. (2008) Glutamate Receptors on Dopamine Neurons Control the Persistence of Cocaine Seeking. Neuron, 59(3), 497-508. DOI: 10.1016/j.neuron.2008.07.010  

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