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 »
Horvath GA, Selby K, Poskitt K, Hyland K, Waters PJ, Coulter-Mackie M, & Stockler-Ipsiroglu SG. (2011) Hemiplegic migraine, seizures, progressive spastic paraparesis, mood disorder, and coma in siblings with low systemic serotonin. Cephalalgia : an international journal of headache. PMID: 22013141
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
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 »
Harris S, Jones M, Zheng Y, & Berwick J. (2010) Does neural input or processing play a greater role in the magnitude of neuroimaging signals?. Frontiers in neuroenergetics. PMID: 20740075
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
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
Earlier this year, a large group of autism experts signed a consensus statement condemning "Le Packing", a certain procedure used in children with autism.They said:This alleged therapy consists of wrapping the patient (wearing only underclothes or naked in the case of young children) several times a week during weeks or months in towels soaked in cold water (10°C to 15°C). The individual is wrapped with blankets to help the body warm up in a process lasting 45 minutes, during which time the ch........ Read more »
Delion P. (2011) Towards a dialogue between psychoanalysis and neuroscience: Connections that are both possible and necessary. Journal of physiology, Paris. PMID: 21963531
With the help of an MRI scanner and some child pornography, a new study claims to be able to tell whether someone is a paedophile: Assessment of Pedophilia Using Hemodynamic Brain Response to Sexual Stimuli.It was an fMRI study of 24 self-identified paedophiles (recruited through a clinic offering anonymous treatment) and 32 male controls. Everyone was shown a series of images of naked men, women, boys and girls. The neural response to child vs. adult images was the main outcome measure.Respect ........ Read more »
Ponseti, J., Granert, O., Jansen, O., Wolff, S., Beier, K., Neutze, J., Deuschl, G., Mehdorn, H., Siebner, H., & Bosinski, H. (2011) Assessment of Pedophilia Using Hemodynamic Brain Response to Sexual Stimuli. Archives of General Psychiatry. DOI: 10.1001/archgenpsychiatry.2011.130
The pharmaceutical industry is in trouble at the moment, with many companies pulling out of development in certain areas and psychiatry is high on the list.The tale of one troubled would-be antidepressant has just been published in the form of a clinical trial that was terminated early when the parent company went under. But another company came along to save the day, so the drug might live on.Amitifadine is a triple reuptake inhibitor (TRI). What's that? Prozac and other SSRI antidepressants wo........ Read more »
Tran P, Skolnick P, Czobor P, Huang NY, Bradshaw M, McKinney A, & Fava M. (2011) Efficacy and tolerability of the novel triple reuptake inhibitor amitifadine in the treatment of patients with major depressive disorder: A randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial. Journal of psychiatric research. PMID: 21925682
The present economic crisis has led to more suicides in Europe - but fewer deaths in road traffic accidents. So says a brief report in The Lancet. The authors show that suicide rates in people under the age of 65, which have been falling for several years in Europe, rose in 2008 and again in 2009, in line with unemployment figures. The overall effect was fairly small - 2009 was no worse than 2006. It still corresponds to a 5% annual increase in most countries. In Greece, Ireland, and Latvia the ........ Read more »
Stuckler D, Basu S, Suhrcke M, Coutts A, & McKee M. (2011) Effects of the 2008 recession on health: a first look at European data. Lancet, 378(9786), 124-5. PMID: 21742166
Here at Neuroskeptic we see a lot of dizzyingly bad (and sometimes even good) neuroscience, but did you know that brain scanners can literally send your head into a spin? A new paper explains why, with implications for all MRI researchers.MRI scanners rely on extremely powerful magnetic fields. This is why you can't take metal objects into the scanner room, as they'd be pulled into it. Yet the fields can also exert other kinds of effects on the body.I'd always been told that static, unchanging m........ Read more »
Roberts, D., Marcelli, V., Gillen, J., Carey, J., Della Santina, C., & Zee, D. (2011) MRI Magnetic Field Stimulates Rotational Sensors of the Brain. Current Biology. DOI: 10.1016/j.cub.2011.08.029
A major international study threatens to overturn what we thought we knew about schizophrenia. People with schizophrenia are more likely to get better if they live in poor countries: that's been known for about 25 years. In the 1980s, a series of pioneering World Health Organization (WHO) studies looked at the prognosis for people diagnosed with schizophrenia around the world.All of the data showed that people in developed countries were less likely to recover than those from poorer areas.T........ Read more »
Haro JM, Novick D, Bertsch J, Karagianis J, Dossenbach M, & Jones PB. (2011) Cross-national clinical and functional remission rates: Worldwide Schizophrenia Outpatient Health Outcomes (W-SOHO) study. The British journal of psychiatry : the journal of mental science, 194-201. PMID: 21881098
Seen Contagion yet?It's pretty scary. A new epidemic disease comes out of nowhere and starts killing everyone. It infects the brain - victims suffer seizures, or fall into a coma, and die. It spreads like wildfire. Humanity's only hope lies in Lawrence Fishburne and Kate Winslet.Luckily, that's fiction. But only just.In the movie, the killer bug is called "MEV-1", but it might as well have been called the Nipah virus, because it was closely based on a real disease of the same name. So much so th........ Read more »
Lo, M., & Rota, P. (2008) The emergence of Nipah virus, a highly pathogenic paramyxovirus. Journal of Clinical Virology, 43(4), 396-400. DOI: 10.1016/j.jcv.2008.08.007
One pill makes you largerAnd one pill makes you smallAnd the ones that mother gives youDon't do anything at allGo ask AliceWhen she's ten feet tallSo sang Jefferson Airplane in their psychedelic classic White Rabbit. While this song seems sure to have been inspired by the use of certain unapproved medications, don't have to be dropping acid to feel ten feet tall.A new paper from Germany reports on a case of "Alice In Wonderland Syndrome" associated with topiramate, an anti-epileptic drug also us........ Read more »
Jürgens TP, Ihle K, Stork JH, & May A. (2011) "Alice in Wonderland syndrome" associated with topiramate for migraine prevention. Journal of neurology, neurosurgery, and psychiatry, 82(2), 228-9. PMID: 20571045
Antidepressant sales have been rising for many years in Western countries, as regular Neuroskeptic readers will remember.Most of the studies on antidepressant use come from the USA and the UK, although the pattern also seems to hold for other European countries. The rapid rise of antidepressants from niche drugs to mega-sellers is perhaps the single biggest change in the way medicine treats mental illness since the invention of psychiatric drugs.But while a rise in sales has been observed ........ Read more »
Lockhart, P. and Guthrie, B. (2011) Trends in primary care antidepressant prescribing 1995–2007. British Journal of General Practice. info:/
According to a new paper, a full half of neuroscience papers that try to do a (very simple) statistical comparison are getting it wrong: Erroneous analyses of interactions in neuroscience: a problem of significance.Here's the problem. Suppose you want to know whether a certain 'treatment' has an affect on a certain variable. The treatment could be a drug, an environmental change, a genetic variant, whatever. The target population could be animals, humans, brain cells, or anything else.So you giv........ Read more »
Nieuwenhuis S, Forstmann BU, & Wagenmakers EJ. (2011) Erroneous analyses of interactions in neuroscience: a problem of significance. Nature neuroscience, 14(9), 1105-7. PMID: 21878926
Do men and women differ in their cognitive capacities? It's been a popular topic of conversation since as far back as we have records of what people were talking about.While it's now (almost) generally accepted that men and women are at most only very slightly different in average IQ, there are still a couple of lines of evidence in favor of a gender difference.First, there's the idea that men are more variable in their intelligence, so there are more very smart men, and also more very stupid on........ Read more »
Hoffman M, Gneezy U, & List JA. (2011) Nurture affects gender differences in spatial abilities. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America. PMID: 21876159
After a period of heavy use, hard disks tend to get 'fragmented'. Data gets written all over random parts of the disk, and it gets inefficient to keep track of it all.
That's why you need to run a defragmentation program occasionally. Ideally, you do this overnight, while you're asleep, so it doesn't stop you from using the computer.
A new paper from some Stanford neuroscientists argues that the function of sleep is to reorganize neural connections - a bit like a disk defrag for the brain - a........ Read more »
Wang G, Grone B, Colas D, Appelbaum L, & Mourrain P. (2011) Synaptic plasticity in sleep: learning, homeostasis and disease. Trends in neurosciences. PMID: 21840068
Drugs that could modify or erase memories could soon be possible. We shouldn't rush to judge them unethical, says a Nature opinion piece by Adam Kolber, of the Neuroethics & Law Blog.
The idea of a pill that could make you forget something, or that could modify the emotional charge of a past experience, does seem rather disturbing.
Yet experiments on animals have gone a long to revealing the molecular mechanisms behind the formation and maintanence of memory traces. Much of the early work ........ Read more »
Boiron, a multinational pharmaceutical company, have threatened an Italian blogger with legal action, the BMJ reports.
Many people are concerned when big pharmaceutical companies do this kind of thing. So I don't think we should make any exception merely because Boiron's pharmaceuticals happen to be homeopathic ones.
Samuel Riva, who blogs (in Italian) at blogzero.it, put up some articles critical of homeopathy
which included pictures of Boiron’s blockbuster homoeopathic product Oscillococci........ Read more »
Turone F. (2011) Homoeopathy multinational Boiron threatens amateur Italian blogger. BMJ (Clinical research ed.). PMID: 21840920
PLoS ONE offers the confessions of a former medical ghostwriter: Being the Ghost in the Machine.
The article (which is open access and short, so well worth a read) explains how Linda Logdberg became a medical writer; what excited her about the job; what she actually did; and what made her eventually give it up.
Ghostwriting of course has a bad press at the moment and it's recently been banned by some leading research centres. Ghostwriting certainly is concerning, because of what it implies ab........ Read more »
Logdberg, L. (2011) Being the Ghost in the Machine: A Medical Ghostwriter's Personal View. PLoS Medicine, 8(8). DOI: 10.1371/journal.pmed.1001071
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