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Neuroskeptic
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  • August 17, 2011
  • 03:29 AM
  • 943 views

Pharmaceutical Company Threatens Blogger

by Neuroskeptic in Neuroskeptic

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 »

  • August 15, 2011
  • 03:22 AM
  • 972 views

A Ghostwriter Speaks

by Neuroskeptic in Neuroskeptic

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 »

  • August 11, 2011
  • 03:15 AM
  • 856 views

Do We Need Placebos?

by Neuroskeptic in Neuroskeptic

A news feature in Nature asks whether placebo controls are always a good idea: Why Fake It?

The piece looks at experimental neurosurgical treatments for Parkinson's, such as "Spheramine". This consists of cultured human cells, which are implanted directly into the brain of the sufferer. The idea is that the cells will grow and help produce dopamine, which is deficient in Parkinson's.

Peggy Willocks, a 44 year old teacher, took part in a trial of the surgery in 2000. She says it helped stave of........ Read more »

  • August 8, 2011
  • 07:57 AM
  • 942 views

So Apparantly I'm Bipolar

by Neuroskeptic in Neuroskeptic

According to a new paper, yours truly is bipolar.


I've written before of my experience of depression, and the fact that I take antidepressants, but I've never been diagnosed with bipolar.

I've taken a few drugs in my time. On certain dopamine-based drugs I got euphoric, filled with energy, talkative, confident, with no need for sleep, and a boundless desire to do stuff, which is textbook hypomania. So I think I know what it feels like, and I can confidently say that it has never happened to m........ Read more »

  • August 4, 2011
  • 04:27 AM
  • 843 views

Brain-Modifying Drugs

by Neuroskeptic in Neuroskeptic

What if there was a drug that didn't just affect the levels of chemicals in your brain, it turned off genes in your brain? That possibility - either exciting or sinister depending on how you look at it - could be remarkably close, according to a report just out from a Spanish group.The authors took an antidepressant, sertraline, and chemically welded it to a small interfering RNA (siRNA). A siRNA is kind of like a pair of genetic handcuffs. It selectively blocks the expression of a particular ge........ Read more »

Bortolozzi, A., Castañé, A., Semakova, J., Santana, N., Alvarado, G., Cortés, R., Ferrés-Coy, A., Fernández, G., Carmona, M., Toth, M.... (2011) Selective siRNA-mediated suppression of 5-HT1A autoreceptors evokes strong anti-depressant-like effects. Molecular Psychiatry. DOI: 10.1038/mp.2011.92  

  • August 3, 2011
  • 03:48 PM
  • 749 views

Antipsychotics - The New Valium?

by Neuroskeptic in Neuroskeptic

Antipsychotics, originally designed to control the hallucinations and delusions seen in schizophrenia, have been expanding their domain in recent years. Nowadays, they're widely used in bipolar disorder, depression, and as a new paper reveals, increasingly in anxiety disorders as well.The authors, Comer et al, looked at the NAMCS survey, which provides yearly data on the use of medications in visits to office-based doctors across the USA.Back in 1996, just 10% of visits in which an anxiety diso........ Read more »

  • August 2, 2011
  • 04:21 AM
  • 848 views

The 30something Brain

by Neuroskeptic in Neuroskeptic

Brain maturation continues for longer than previously thought - well up until age 30. That's according to two papers just out, which may be comforting for those lamenting the fact that they're nearing the big Three Oh.This challenges the widespread view that maturation is essentially complete by the end of adolescence, in the early to mid 20s.Petanjek et al show that the number of dendritic spines in the prefrontal cortex increases during childhood and then rapidly falls during puberty - which p........ Read more »

Lebel C, & Beaulieu C. (2011) Longitudinal development of human brain wiring continues from childhood into adulthood. The Journal of neuroscience : the official journal of the Society for Neuroscience, 31(30), 10937-47. PMID: 21795544  

Petanjek, Z., Judas, M., Simic, G., Rasin, M., Uylings, H., Rakic, P., & Kostovic, I. (2011) Extraordinary neoteny of synaptic spines in the human prefrontal cortex. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. DOI: 10.1073/pnas.1105108108  

  • July 29, 2011
  • 03:48 AM
  • 936 views

What Big Eyes You Have

by Neuroskeptic in Neuroskeptic

According to the BBC, a new study has found that northern peoples have bigger eyes - and bigger brains.Actually, the paper in question talked about eyes but didn't make much of the brain finding, which is confined to the Supplement. Nonetheless, they did find an effect on brain size too. Peoples living further from the equator have larger eye sockets and also larger total cranial capacity (brain volume), apparantly. The authors include Robin Dunbar of "Dunbar's Number" fame.Their idea is that hu........ Read more »

  • July 27, 2011
  • 03:27 AM
  • 830 views

Brain Connectivity, Or Head Movement?

by Neuroskeptic in Neuroskeptic

"It's pretty painless. Basically you just need to lie there and make sure you don't move your head".This is what I say to all the girls... who are taking part in my fMRI studies. Head movement is a big problem in fMRI. If your head moves, your brain moves and all fMRI analysis assumes that the brain is perfectly still. Although head movement correction is now a standard part of any analysis software, it's not perfect.It may be a particular problem in functional connectivity studies, which attemp........ Read more »

  • July 22, 2011
  • 11:54 AM
  • 850 views

New Antidepressant - Old Tricks

by Neuroskeptic in Neuroskeptic

The past decade has been a bad one for antidepressant manufacturers. Quite apart from all the bad press these drugs have been getting lately, there's been a remarkable lack of new antidepressants making it to the market. The only really novel drug to hit the shelves since 2000 has been agomelatine. There were a couple of others that were just minor variants on old molecules, but that's it.This makes "Lu AA21004" rather special. It's a new antidepressant currently in development and by all acco........ Read more »

Alvarez E, Perez V, Dragheim M, Loft H, & Artigas F. (2011) A double-blind, randomized, placebo-controlled, active reference study of Lu AA21004 in patients with major depressive disorder. The international journal of neuropsychopharmacology / official scientific journal of the Collegium Internationale Neuropsychopharmacologicum (CINP), 1-12. PMID: 21767441  

  • July 20, 2011
  • 04:02 AM
  • 1,165 views

Blindsight and Consciousness In The Brain

by Neuroskeptic in Neuroskeptic

A new paper claims to show the neural activity associated with consciously seeing something: Awareness-related activity in prefrontal and parietal cortices in blindsight reflects more than superior visual performance. You might think it would be easy to find the neural correlates of seeing stuff. Just pop someone in the scanner and show them a picture.However, it's not that simple, because that wouldn't tell you which brain activations were associated with concious awareness........ Read more »

  • July 15, 2011
  • 04:04 AM
  • 874 views

Violent Brains In The Supreme Court

by Neuroskeptic in Neuroskeptic

Back in June, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that a Californian law banning the sale of violent videogames to children was unconstitutional because it violated the right to free speech.However, the ruling wasn't unanimous. Justice Stephen Breyer filed a dissenting opinion. Unfortunately, it contains a whopping piece of bad neuroscience. The ruling is here. Thanks to the Law & Neuroscience Blog for noticing this.Breyer says (on page 13 of his bit)Cutting-edge neuroscience has shown that “vir........ Read more »

  • July 14, 2011
  • 05:13 AM
  • 898 views

New Brain Cells: Torrent, or Trickle?

by Neuroskeptic in Neuroskeptic

An important paper just out asks, Could adult hippocampal neurogenesis be relevant for human behavior?Neuroscientists, and the media, are very excited by hippocampal neurogenesis - the ongoing creation of new neurons in an area called the dentate gyrus of the hippocampus. This is because it was thought, for a long time, that no new neurons were created in the adult brain. It turned out that this was wrong.There's lots of exciting suggestive evidence that the process is involved in learning and m........ Read more »

  • July 13, 2011
  • 03:56 AM
  • 908 views

The Brain Is Not Made of DNA

by Neuroskeptic in Neuroskeptic

A new paper claims to have found A novel functional brain imaging endophenotype of autism.They used fMRI to show that the brains of teenagers with autism showed no activation differences to looking at smiling happy faces, or afraid faces, compared to unemotional ones. In teens without autism, there was strong activation in many emotional and face-related brain regions. The unaffected brothers and sisters of the autistic people showed intermediate effects.This is a fine study. The finding that si........ Read more »

  • July 9, 2011
  • 12:23 PM
  • 966 views

Depression: From Treatment to Diagnosis?

by Neuroskeptic in Neuroskeptic

In theory, medicine works like this. You get some signs or symptoms. You go to the doctor, and depending on those, you get a diagnosis. Your doctor decides on the best available treatment on that basis.The logic of this system depends upon the sequence. A diagnosis is meant to be an objective statement about the nature of your illness; treatments (if any) come afterwards. It would be odd if the treatments on offer influenced what diagnosis you got.An interesting paper just out suggests that exac........ Read more »

  • July 7, 2011
  • 02:52 AM
  • 932 views

The Partly Asleep Brain

by Neuroskeptic in Neuroskeptic

Some animals - such as dolphins and whales - are able to "sleep with half their brain". One side of the brain goes into sleep-mode activity while the other remains awake.But a remarkable new study has revealed that something similar may happen in humans as well - every night.The research used a combination of scalp EEG, and electrodes planted inside the brain, to record brain activity from 5 people undergoing surgery to help cure severe epilepsy. The subjects were then allowed to go to sleep for........ Read more »

Nobili L, Ferrara M, Moroni F, De Gennaro L, Russo GL, Campus C, Cardinale F, & De Carli F. (2011) Dissociated wake-like and sleep-like electro-cortical activity during sleep. NeuroImage. PMID: 21718789  

  • July 6, 2011
  • 03:29 AM
  • 907 views

Autism Isn't Very Genetic...Or Is It?

by Neuroskeptic in Neuroskeptic

The environment is more important than genetics in setting the risk for autism, according to a new study that's got the media in a tizzy.The paper, which is free, is here: Genetic Heritability and Shared Environmental Factors Among Twin Pairs With AutismIt's a twin study, and like all such research, it aims to estimate heritability, the proportion of the variability in autism risk caused by straightforward genetic effects. A heritability of 0% means no genetics and 100% means purely genetic. No........ Read more »

Joachim Hallmayer, et al. (2011) Genetic Heritability and Shared Environmental Factors Among Twin Pairs With Autism. Archives of General Psychiatry. info:/

  • July 4, 2011
  • 06:06 PM
  • 924 views

Gamma Waves: The Brain's Clock, Or Neural Noise?

by Neuroskeptic in Neuroskeptic

Gamma waves are very hot at the moment.Gamma band activity is a term for electrical oscillations recorded from the brain that have a frequency of over 25 Hz. In most brains, a peak frequency of about 40 Hz is seen. This makes gamma waves the fastest brain waves.If you believe some recent claims, gamma waves are the answer to all the mysteries of life and the universe. They're said to underlie the symptoms of schizophrenia and autism, and they've been invoked to answer deep questions such as the ........ Read more »

Burns SP, Xing D, & Shapley RM. (2011) Is gamma-band activity in the local field potential of v1 cortex a "clock" or filtered noise?. The Journal of neuroscience : the official journal of the Society for Neuroscience, 31(26), 9658-64. PMID: 21715631  

  • July 3, 2011
  • 04:03 AM
  • 899 views

The NeuROFLscience of Jokes

by Neuroskeptic in Neuroskeptic

A new paper in the Journal of Neuroscience investigates the neural basis of humour: Why Clowns Taste Funny.The authors note that some things are funny because of ambiguous words. For example:Q: Why don’t cannibals eat clowns?A: Because they taste funny!Previous studies, apparently, have shown that these kinds of jokes lead to activation in the lIFG (left inferior frontal gyrus), although it's also involved in processing ambiguity that's not funny, and indeed, language in general.In this study ........ Read more »

Bekinschtein TA, Davis MH, Rodd JM, & Owen AM. (2011) Why Clowns Taste Funny: The Relationship between Humor and Semantic Ambiguity. The Journal of neuroscience : the official journal of the Society for Neuroscience, 31(26), 9665-71. PMID: 21715632  

  • June 29, 2011
  • 05:08 AM
  • 768 views

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 »

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