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  • December 3, 2011
  • 08:34 AM

A Psychedelic Tale of Two Neurotransmitters

by Neuroskeptic in Neuroskeptic

An unexpected interaction between neurotransmitter systems may explain psychosis and hallucinations, according to a fascinating new paper.Serotonin (5HT) and glutamate are two neurotransmitters. Up until now, it was thought that they acted independently. A given neuron might have receptors for both serotonin and glutamate, but they didn't interact: serotonin would never affect the glutamate receptors, and vice versa.The new research overturns that view. Authors Miguel Fribourg and colleagues of........ Read more »

  • November 29, 2011
  • 05:14 AM

Cognitive Behavioural Therapy vs. Psychoanalysis

by Neuroskeptic in Neuroskeptic

Clinical trials of cognitive behavioural psychotherapy (CBT) for depression are often of poor quality - and are no better than trials of the rival psychodynamic school.So says a new American Journal of Psychiatry paper that could prove controversial.CBT is widely perceived as having a better evidence base than other therapies. The "creation myth" of CBT (at least as I was taught it) is that it was invented by a psychoanalyst who got annoyed at the unscientific nature of psychodynamic i.e. Freudi........ Read more »

Nathan C. Thoma et al. (2011) A Quality-Based Review of Randomized Controlled Trials of Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy for Depression: An Assessment and Metaregression. American Journal of Psychiatry. info:/

  • November 26, 2011
  • 09:52 AM

Beware Dead Fish Statistics

by Neuroskeptic in Neuroskeptic

An editorial in the Journal of Physiology offers some important notes on statistics.But even more importantly, it refers to a certain blog in the process:The Student’s t-test merely quantifies the ‘Lack of support’ for no effect. It is left to the user of the test to decide how convincing this lack might be. A further difficulty is evident in the repeated samples we show in Figure 2: one of those samples was quite improbable because the P-value was 0.03, which suggests a substantial lack o........ Read more »

  • November 25, 2011
  • 04:25 AM

A Dangerous Truth about Antidepressants

by Neuroskeptic in Neuroskeptic

An opinion piece by veteran psychiatrist and antidepressant drug researcher Sheldon Preskorn contains a remarkable historical note -“A dangerous idea!” That was the response after a presentation I gave to a small group of academic leaders with an interest in psychopharmacology [over 15 years ago].What evoked such a response? The acknowledgment that most currently available antidepressants specifically treat only one out of four patients with major depression based on the bulk of clinical tri........ Read more »

  • November 24, 2011
  • 03:01 AM

The Gene That's "For" Nothing

by Neuroskeptic in Neuroskeptic

Scientists like to warn you not to talk about "the gene for" a particular disease or trait.I've done so in previous posts e.g. this one or this one.But such scalding is not always very effective. We like simple explanations, so we like to find simple connections between genes and phenotypes.Which is why a new paper is important. The authors, a large Turkish-American collaboration, found that mutations in a gene, WDR62, are associated with severe brain malformations in 9 patients. But what's inte........ Read more »

Bilgüvar K, Oztürk AK, Louvi A, Kwan KY, Choi M, Tatli B, Yalnizoğlu D, Tüysüz B, Cağlayan AO, Gökben S.... (2010) Whole-exome sequencing identifies recessive WDR62 mutations in severe brain malformations. Nature, 467(7312), 207-10. PMID: 20729831  

  • November 22, 2011
  • 03:06 AM

Was Evita Lobotomized?

by Neuroskeptic in Neuroskeptic

Eva Peron, or Evita, is perhaps the most famous woman in Latin American history. As the wife of Argentinian leader Juan Peron she was immensely popular. But she died at the age of just 33 from cervical cancer, after a two year struggle with the disease.A new paper makes the startling claim that Eva Peron may have received a prefrontal lobotomy in the months before her death. The lobotomy is best known as a treatment for mental disorders such as schizophrenia, but according to Nijensohn et al, Pe........ Read more »

  • November 20, 2011
  • 08:44 AM

Potential Personal Genomics

by Neuroskeptic in Neuroskeptic

A while ago I wrote about how new findings in genetics could herald a new kind of "eugenics", based not around selective breeding to ensure that "bad" genes aren't passed on, but rather based on using fetal genetic testing to choose which variants enter the gene pool in the first place.I said-In the near future, we might be able to routinely sequence the genome of any unborn child shortly after conceptionBut I didn't realize that this may be really very near indeed. Two recent reports have shown........ Read more »

Peters D, Chu T, Yatsenko SA, Hendrix N, Hogge WA, Surti U, Bunce K, Dunkel M, Shaw P, & Rajkovic A. (2011) Noninvasive prenatal diagnosis of a fetal microdeletion syndrome. The New England journal of medicine, 365(19), 1847-8. PMID: 22070496  

Srebniak M, Boter M, Oudesluijs G, Joosten M, Govaerts L, Van Opstal D, & Galjaard RJ. (2011) Application of SNP array for rapid prenatal diagnosis: implementation, genetic counselling and diagnostic flow. European journal of human genetics : EJHG, 19(12), 1230-7. PMID: 21694736  

  • November 18, 2011
  • 03:49 AM

Does MRI Make You Happy?

by Neuroskeptic in Neuroskeptic

A startling new paper from Tehran claims Antidepressant effects of magnetic resonance imaging-based stimulation on major depressive disorder.Yes, this study says that having an MRI scan has a powerful antidepressant effect.They took 51 depressed patients, and gave them all either an MRI scan or a placebo sham scan. The sham was a "scan" in a decommissioned scanner. The magnet was off but they played recorded scannerish sounds to make it believable. Patients were blinded to group.They found that ........ Read more »

  • November 14, 2011
  • 04:07 PM

Modern War-fMRI : Graphics Cards for Science

by Neuroskeptic in Neuroskeptic

Videogames and neuroscience have a rocky relationship.On the one hand you have Susan Greenfield and her games-hurt-the-brain theory. But she's not representative of neuroscientists as a whole: games have also helped neuroscience, for example, in this study of the neural correlates of "flow" experiences. Now neuroscientists have another reason to be thankful for games, according to a new paper. It turns out that modern 3D graphics cards - which mostly exist in order to render videogame visuals - ........ Read more »

  • November 12, 2011
  • 07:27 AM

Autism: What A Big Prefrontal Cortex You Have

by Neuroskeptic in Neuroskeptic

A new paper has caused a lot of excitement: it reports large increases in the number of neurons in children with autism. It comes to you from veteran autism researcher Eric Courchesne. Courchesne et al counted the number of cells in the prefrontal cortex of 7 boys with autism and 6 non-autistic control boys, aged 2-16 years old. The analysis was performed by a neuropathologist who was blind to the theory behind the study and to which brains were from which group. That's good.They found that the ........ Read more »

Courchesne E, Mouton PR, Calhoun ME, Semendeferi K, Ahrens-Barbeau C, Hallet MJ, Barnes CC, & Pierce K. (2011) Neuron number and size in prefrontal cortex of children with autism. JAMA : the journal of the American Medical Association, 306(18), 2001-10. PMID: 22068992  

  • November 11, 2011
  • 02:27 AM

Another Antidepressant Bites The Dust

by Neuroskeptic in Neuroskeptic

Yet another up-and-coming antidepressant has flopped.A paper just out reveals that the snappily-named GSK372475 doesn't work and has lots of side effects. It's a report of two clinicals trials in which Glaxo's contender was pitched against placebo and against older antidepressants in the treatment of depression.GSK372475 failed to improve depression any better than placebo, even though the trials were large (393 and 504 patients respectively) and twice as long as most antidepressant trials (10 w........ Read more »

  • November 9, 2011
  • 03:07 AM

The Transexual Brain

by Neuroskeptic in Neuroskeptic

According to a new paper, the brains of male-to-female transexuals are no more "female" than those of men.The authors write that "The present data do not support the notion that brains of male-to-female transexuals are feminized" and conclude "The present study does not support the dogma that male-to-female transexuals have atypical sex dimorphism in the brain".That last sentence has gained quite a bit of coverage, including a quote on the Wikipedia page for "transgender". But is it so simple?S........ Read more »

Savic I, & Arver S. (2011) Sex dimorphism of the brain in male-to-female transsexuals. Cerebral cortex (New York, N.Y. : 1991), 21(11), 2525-33. PMID: 21467211  

  • November 4, 2011
  • 05:18 AM

Dream Action, Real Brain Activation

by Neuroskeptic in Neuroskeptic

A neat little study has brought Inception one step closer to reality. The authors used fMRI to show that dreaming about doing something causes similar brain activation to actually doing it.The authors took four guys who were all experienced lucid dreamers - able to become aware that they're dreaming, in the middle of a dream. They got them to go to sleep in an fMRI scanner. Their mission was to enter a lucid dream and move their hands in it - first their left, then their right, and so on. They a........ Read more »

Dresler M, Koch SP, Wehrle R, Spoormaker VI, Holsboer F, Steiger A, Sämann PG, Obrig H, & Czisch M. (2011) Dreamed Movement Elicits Activation in the Sensorimotor Cortex. Current biology : CB. PMID: 22036177  

  • October 31, 2011
  • 04:13 PM

The Google of Negative Results

by Neuroskeptic in Neuroskeptic

A new online resource has been launched which offers us the chance to find out what isn't happening in science.BioNOT is a free searchable database of negative findings in biology and medicine.Text mining approaches to the scientific literature have become increasingly popular as a way of helping researchers to make sense of a growing number of papers. But they've tended to focus on positive findings and skim over negative ones. In this sense they're following in the tradition of scientists them........ Read more »

  • October 27, 2011
  • 04:26 AM

The Teen Happiness Gene?

by Neuroskeptic in Neuroskeptic

Whether you were happy with life as a teenager could be down to a certain gene, says a new study.In a large study of American adolescents, the AddHealth project, teens who carried the long form of the 5HTTLPR locus were more likely to say they were satisfied or very satisified with their lives (at age 18 to 26). People with two long variants were the most cheerful, with short/long carriers in the middle and short/short being the least so.The effect was significant controlling for ethnicity (p=0......... Read more »

  • October 22, 2011
  • 06:40 AM

Life With Low Serotonin, Revisited

by Neuroskeptic in Neuroskeptic

Last year I covered the case of a young man born with a genetic disorder which caused him to suffer low levels of the monoamine neurotransmitters - serotonin, dopamine, and noradrenaline.These are the chemicals that are widely thought to be deficient in depression, and they're the target of antidepressant drugs (especially serotonin).If low monoamines cause depression, you'd expect someone with low monoamines to be depressed, at least on the simplest view. But the case from last year had no repo........ Read more »

  • October 20, 2011
  • 02:53 AM

The Facebook Brain

by Neuroskeptic in Neuroskeptic

Facebook friend tally is associated with differences in brain structurePeople with lots of Facebook friends have denser grey matter in three regions of the brain, a study suggestsWhen I heard about this, my heart sank. The Facebook area of the brain? It had all the hallmarks of a piece of media neuro-nonsense: a hook (Facebook!), a simplistic neo-phrenological story (bigger brains are better!)... so I was expecting to discover that the fuss was all about some tiny, statistically questionable stu........ Read more »

Kanai, R., Bahrami, B., Roylance, R., & Rees, G. (2011) Online social network size is reflected in human brain structure. Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences. DOI: 10.1098/rspb.2011.1959  

  • October 18, 2011
  • 03:41 PM

What Is Brain "Activation" on fMRI?

by Neuroskeptic in Neuroskeptic

Functional MRI is one of the most popular ways of measuring human brain activity. But what is "activity"?Fundamentally, neural activity is electical potentials and chemical signals. fMRI doesn't measure these directly. Rather, it measures changes in the oxygen content of blood in different parts of the brain.The more the brain cells are firing, the more oxygen they use up, although oxygenation actually increases as a kind of compensation for the activity and this increase is what gets measured. ........ Read more »

  • October 15, 2011
  • 05:23 AM

Placebos And The Brain's Own Pot

by Neuroskeptic in Neuroskeptic

According to a neat little new paper, the placebo effect relies on the brain's own marijuana-like chemicals, endocannabinoids.Or rather, some kinds of placebo effects involve endocannabinoids. It turns out that "the placebo effect" is not one thing.The authors, led by Fabrizio Benedetti, have previously shown that placebo "opioids" - i.e. when you expect to get a painkiller such as morphine, but actually it's just water - relieve pain via the brain's own opioid system (endorphins). Blocking endo........ Read more »

Benedetti F, Amanzio M, Rosato R, & Blanchard C. (2011) Nonopioid placebo analgesia is mediated by CB1 cannabinoid receptors. Nature medicine, 17(10), 1228-30. PMID: 21963514  

  • October 11, 2011
  • 02:54 AM

Mental Illness And Creativity Revisited

by Neuroskeptic in Neuroskeptic

A new study offers support for the theory that mental illness is associated with "creative" achievement.The idea that madness is close to creative genius is a popular one. From the nutty professor to the tortured genius, there's no end of sterotypes, and pop culture seemingly offers plenty of examples, from Van Gogh and his ear to Charlie Sheen and his bi-winning.But is it true?A new study says yes. Kyaga et al looked at everyone in Sweden who had been treated as an inpatient for either schizoph........ Read more »

Kyaga, S., Lichtenstein, P., Boman, M., Hultman, C., Langstrom, N., & Landen, M. (2011) Creativity and mental disorder: family study of 300 000 people with severe mental disorder. The British Journal of Psychiatry. DOI: 10.1192/bjp.bp.110.085316  

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