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  • December 20, 2014
  • 04:00 AM

Joint hypermobility and links to psychiatry

by Paul Whiteley in Questioning Answers

"The relationship between JH/HDCT [joint hypermobility / heritable disorders of connective tissue] and mental disorders merits further attention in order to improve current knowledge and clarify a possible common etiology."There is nothing in the desert and no man needs nothing.That was the conclusion reached in the paper by Carolina Baeza-Velasco and colleagues [1] looking at the possibility of some interesting connections, outside of just physical presentation, when it comes to the range of conditions headed under the label 'disorders of connective tissue'. The list of diagnoses potentially 'associated' with JH/HDCT by Baeza-Velasco et al is pretty long: "anxiety disorders, depression, schizophrenia, neurodevelopmental disorders (autism, attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder [2], and developmental coordination disorder), eating disorders, personality disorders and substance use/misuse."From the point-of-view of this blog, mention of the word 'autism' is perhaps the most important suggested link, harking back to some previous discussion of joint hypermobility and gait with the autism spectrum in mind (see here). I'm still pretty interested in seeing this issue followed up in the autism research arena bearing in mind the possible influence of comorbidity as per findings related to the presence of anxiety and joint hypermobility [3] and the question of which comes first: autism or hypermobility?Music: Glow by Ella Henderson.----------[1] Baeza-Velasco C. et al. Joint hypermobility and the heritable disorders of connective tissue: clinical and empirical evidence of links with psychiatry. Gen Hosp Psychiatry. 2014 Oct 16. pii: S0163-8343(14)00264-3.[2] Baeza-Velasco C. et al. Connective tissue problems and attention deficit and hyperactivity. ADHD Attention Deficit and Hyperactivity Disorders. 2014. 1866-6647[3] Sanches SB. et al. Anxiety and joint hypermobility association: a systematic review. Rev Bras Psiquiatr. 2012 Jun;34 Suppl 1:S53-60.----------Baeza-Velasco C, Pailhez G, Bulbena A, & Baghdadli A (2014). Joint hypermobility and the heritable disorders of connective tissue: clinical and empirical evidence of links with psychiatry. General hospital psychiatry PMID: 25459977... Read more »

  • December 19, 2014
  • 10:40 PM

Know your brain: Pituitary gland

by neurosci in Neuroscientifically Challenged

The pituitary gland (in red). Image courtesy of Life Science Databases (LSDB).

Where is the pituitary gland?The pituitary gland is a small (about the size of a pea) endocrine gland that extends from the bottom of the hypothalamus. It is divided into two lobes in humans, the anterior pituitary and posterior pituitary. The anterior pituitary does not have direct neural connections to the hypothalamus, but is able to communicate with it through a system of blood vessels called the hypophyseal portal system. The posterior pituitary, however, is directly connected to the hypothalamus by a tube-like structure called the infundibular stalk.What is the pituitary gland and what does it do?The pituitary gland is often referred to as the "master gland" of the body because it is responsible for the release of hormones that regulate the activity of other endocrine glands and bodily systems; in this way it affects physiological processes throughout the body. Despite its directorial appellation, however, the function of the pituitary gland itself is controlled by the hypothalamus.The anterior pituitary is responsible for the synthesis and secretion of a collection of hormones that have manifold effects in a number of different physiological systems. Some of these hormones, along with a very simplified description of their actions, are: adrenocorticotropic hormone, which prompts the release of glucocorticoid hormones like cortisol; beta-endorphin, which is involved in natural pain relief; thyroid-stimulating hormone, which prompts the release of metabolic hormones from the thyroid; follicle-stimulating hormone and luteinizing hormone, which are involved in the proper functioning of the reproductive system; growth hormone, which promotes growth; and prolactin, which is involved in milk production in females. Of course the roles of each of these hormones is actually much more diverse and complex than this list indicates, but these are some of their best-known functions.The hypothalamus does not have neural connections with the anterior pituitary but it communicates with the gland via a system of blood vessels called the hypophyseal portal system. The hypothalamus secretes hormones called releasing hormones into the hypophyseal portal system; these hormones travel through the bloodstream to the anterior pituitary, where they act as signals to prompt the release of hormones like those listed above.The posterior pituitary is responsible for the release of two hormones: oxytocin and vasopressin. Unlike the anterior pituitary, however, the posterior pituitary does not synthesize its own hormones. Oxytocin and vasopressin are both synthesized in the hypothalamus, and then sent via neuroendocrine projections to the posterior pituitary. From there they are released them into the bloodstream. Oxytocin has roles in facilitating childbirth and lactation, but is also thought to play a role in promoting social bonding and compassion. Vasopressin, also known as antidiuretic hormone, is primarily involved in controlling urine output and regulating blood pressure.The pituitary gland is less than a centimeter in diameter, but it secretes hormones that have widespread effects on behavior and bodily function. Thus, despite its diminutive size it has justifiably earned the moniker of "master gland."Amar, A., & Weiss, M. (2003). Pituitary anatomy and physiology Neurosurgery Clinics of North America, 14 (1), 11-23 DOI: 10.1016/S1042-3680(02)00017-7null... Read more »

Amar, A., & Weiss, M. (2003) Pituitary anatomy and physiology. Neurosurgery Clinics of North America, 14(1), 11-23. DOI: 10.1016/S1042-3680(02)00017-7  

  • December 19, 2014
  • 02:06 PM

Why “fat shaming” makes the problem worse

by Gabriel in Lunatic Laboratories

Thanks to the internet age we have lost touch with the fact that there is a human out there reading these words. Because of this, the golden rule –treat others the way you want to be treated — went out the window. Making fun of “fat” people now seems to be a internet hobby and that insensitivity can (and does) bleed over into “normal” non-internet life. Now a new study shows that women whose loved ones are critical of their weight tend to put on even more pounds, which is probably no surprise to people who have experienced this behavior.... Read more »

  • December 19, 2014
  • 10:40 AM

Dogs Not Great at Math (Wolves Are Better)

by Elizabeth Preston in Inkfish

Even a brilliant dog may not be able to count as high as the number of feet she has. In a cheese cube counting challenge, dogs struggled to prove they have any number sense at all. Embarrassingly for the dogs, some wolves took the exact same test and passed it. This may be a hint about what dogs lost when they moved to a cushy life of domestication.

At the Wolf Science Center in Austria, Friederike Range and her colleagues raise both wolves and dogs by hand, then train them to take part i... Read more »

Range F, Jenikejew J, Schröder I, & Virányi Z. (2014) Difference in quantity discrimination in dogs and wolves. Frontiers in psychology, 1299. PMID: 25477834  

  • December 19, 2014
  • 08:56 AM

Head Motion Biases Brain Structural Scans

by Neuroskeptic in Neuroskeptic_Discover

A regular theme here at Neuroskeptic is the worrying issue of head movement during brain scans. We've seen that motion can alter measures of functional and structural connectivity, and that common approaches to dealing with this problem may be inadequate.

Now a new study reveals that even measures of the gross structure of the brain can be biased by excessive motion: Head motion during MRI acquisition reduces gray matter volume and thickness estimates.

Harvard neurologists Martin Reuter ... Read more »

  • December 19, 2014
  • 07:02 AM

Simple Jury Persuasion: You are loved and cared for

by Rita Handrich in The Jury Room

We are again honored by our inclusion in the ABA Blawg 100 list for 2014. If you value this blog, today is the last day to vote for us here in the Litigation Category. Is this perhaps the anti-reptile theory? We don’t know, but it is potentially a powerful stealth weapon for cases where your opponent is attempting […]

Related posts:
Simple Jury Persuasion: In the face of ambiguity, we just make stuff up!
Simple Jury Persuasion: “That was the witness who spoke so sadly”
Simple Jury Persuasion: “You know you want to trust me!”

... Read more »

  • December 19, 2014
  • 04:44 AM

Uric acid and bipolar disorder

by Paul Whiteley in Questioning Answers

Bipolar disorder appearing again on this blog this week? It's just the way that the papers fall...With a title like: 'Increased uric acid levels in bipolar disorder subjects during different phases of illness' I was hardly likely to pass up the opportunity to discuss the paper by Umberto Albert and colleagues [1] and their suggestion that there may be a lot more to see when it comes to "a purinergic dysfunction associated with BD [bipolar disorder]".I lost the defuser gun when I misplaced the invisible car.Based on the analysis of serum uric acid (UA) levels in 150 participants formally diagnosed with BD compared with "150 age- and gender-matched subjects with MDD [major depressive disorder], OCD [obsessive compulsive disorder], or Schizophrenia", researchers reported that: "Mean serum UA levels (5.06±1.45 vs. 4.17±1.05mg/dL) and rates of hyperuricaemia (30.7% vs. 6.7%) were significantly higher in the bipolar than in the control group." The authors pointed out the limitations of their study: "Our study suffers from the lack of a healthy comparison group; moreover, longitudinal data are missing" so no need for me to say anything further in that respect.Uric acid, more commonly associated with a condition like gout, has been getting quite a bit of research attention when it comes to behaviour and psychiatry down the years. I've talked previously on this blog about the intriguing work suggestive of a possible connection between levels of uric acid and impulsivity (see here) highlighting a possible biology - trait connection. As per the Albert findings - "No differences were detected between bipolars in different phases of illness, with all three groups (manic, depressive and euthymic bipolars) showing significantly higher UA levels as compared to controls" - other research has hinted that the relationship between uric acid and BD is quite a bit more than just one related to trait [2]. I'm open to accepting that this might however change as more research is done on this topic.Mechanism of effect for uric acid in BD? A very good question. Unfortunately I don't have a good answer at the moment, aside from reiterating the Albert suggestion "of a purinergic dysfunction associated with BD". Going all the way back to the 1921 book by Emil Kraeplin where the connection between uric acid and "manic symptoms" was discussed, there is quite a long history attached to this area. Even further back, the paper by Sutherland (1892) [3] talked about uric acid diathesis in children exemplified by: "keen precocious minds, and small restless bodies; they are excitable, nervous, bright and amusing at one time, and greatly depressed at another". Lithium salts were the treatment of choice for the 'gouty diseases' [4] and perhaps might offer some further explanation for the mechanism of effect in BD.Other than that I can say no more, aside from pointing out that if one considers uric acid to be an agent of inflammation [5] and associated with other inflammatory responses [6], one might entertain some possible association between elevated levels of the stuff and other potentially important work in the area of BD...And to close: White Coats by Foxes.----------[1] Albert U. et al. Increased uric acid levels in bipolar disorder subjects during different phases of illness. J Affect Disord. 2014 Nov 15;173C:170-175.[2] Kesebir S. et al. Increased uric acid levels in bipolar disorder: is it trait or state? J Biol Regul Homeost Agents. 2013 Oct-Dec;27(4):981-8.[3] Sutherland GA. On some Symptoms Associated with the Uric Acid Diathesis in Children. Br Med J. 1892 Apr 23;1(1634):856-8.[4] Amdisen A. & Hildebrandt J. Use of lithium in the medically ill. Psychother Psychosom. 1988;49(2):103-19.[5] Shi Y. Caught red-handed: uric acid is an agent of inflammation. The Journal of Clinical Investigation 2010;120(6):1809-1811. doi:10.1172/JCI43132.[6] Lyngdoh T. et al. Elevated serum uric acid is associated with high circulating inflammatory cytokines in the population-based Colaus study. PLoS One. 2011;6(5):e19901.----------Albert U, De Cori D, Aguglia A, Barbaro F, Bogetto F, & Maina G (2014). Increased uric acid levels in bipolar disorder subjects during different phases of illness. Journal of affective disorders, 173C, 170-175 PMID: 25462413... Read more »

Albert U, De Cori D, Aguglia A, Barbaro F, Bogetto F, & Maina G. (2014) Increased uric acid levels in bipolar disorder subjects during different phases of illness. Journal of affective disorders, 170-175. PMID: 25462413  

  • December 18, 2014
  • 11:22 PM

Top 4 of 2014: Your Favourite Canine Science Posts

by Cobb & Hecht in Do You Believe In Dog?

As December rolls into its second half, and the days warm up - or cool down - depending on where you are situated on the globe, we wanted to say thank you for joining us in 2014 - we are continually blown away with the popular and supportive community we have around us at Do You Believe in Dog? here on the blog, on Facebook and also on Twitter. Taking our lead from Companion Animal Psychology, we decided to jump into some statistics (because hey, we are scientists!) to see what you made our most popular posts of 2014.You voted with your clicks all year long and so, without further ado, here are the Top 4 Do You Believe in Dog posts of 2014:# 4 What the pug is going on?After seeing popular opinion of pugs framed as 'cute', Mia put together this review of the health issues facing brachycephalic breeds such as pugs, why it's a welfare concern and what can be done to raise awareness and improve the quality of life in future generations of these dogs.  Read: What the pug is going on?This piece was cross-posted to The Dodo# 3 Dogs Are Like Porn: All Over the Internet and Waiting For YouOutlining all the ways you can actively participate in canine research, even without leaving the comfort of your couch, Julie compile this fantastic list of scientific studies seeking participants. You can be a citizen scientist!    Read: Dogs Are Like Porn: All Over the Internet and Waiting For You # 2 Dog Loses Ear at Dog Park and There Was Nothing We Could Do About It "Dogs are confusing. People are confusing. Put them together in a public space, and it’s like all the circuses came to town on the same day." Julie outlines the issues of dogs and people combining in public spaces and offers many easily accessed resources and opportunities to educate ourselves so we can be proactive in preventing bad experiences for all. Read: Dog Loses Ear at Dog Park and There Was Nothing We Could Do About It # 1 Why do dogs lick people?It started with a question on twitter, and turned out to be our most popular post of 2014.@DoUBelieveInDog why do dogs lick you lots when they like you?— Chanukah Potatolatke (@cpezaro) March 28, 2014With the photo by Chris Sembrot that can not be unseen, this post from Mia looked at what we have learned about why dog lick us - there's no one quick answer and some people were quite surprised at the depth of background, in evolutionary, social and environmental terms, behind what we consider an everyday behaviour. A big part of why we love canine science! Read: Why do dogs lick people?This piece was cross-posted to The DodoWe're looking forward to sharing more great canine science with you in 2015. Have a safe and fun holiday season. ... Read more »

Wong-Parodi Gabrielle, & Strauss Benjamin H. (2014) Team science for science communication. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America. PMID: 25225381  

  • December 18, 2014
  • 05:08 AM

Autistic traits in adults with epilepsy

by Paul Whiteley in Questioning Answers

"Increased autistic characteristics found in adults with epilepsy without an ASD [autism spectrum disorder] diagnosis suggest that epilepsy syndromes may incorporate behavioral aspects of autism in the absence of some of its core cognitive features."Contrariwise, if you think we're alive you ought to speak to us.That was the intriguing finding reported by Sally Ann Wakeford and colleagues [1] who examined test performance on the Autism Spectrum Quotient (AQ) and "systemizing and empathizing abilities" in a small-ish sample of adults with epilepsy compared with those without epilepsy. They found that: "Significantly more autistic behavioral traits, as measured by the AQ, were related to having epilepsy" but those systemising (UK spelling) and empathising abilities did not differ between the groups. The AQ, as I've indicated in previous posts, is a self-report measure and not necessarily autism-specific in terms of the features being described, so one has to be slightly cautious from this angle. But please don't let that detract from the interesting suggestion being reported...Autism and epilepsy is an association which goes back quite a few years. Not only is epilepsy one of the more frequently reported comorbidities suggested to follow at least some diagnoses of autism (see here), epilepsy and autism co-occurring in certain situations, also provides some of the strongest evidence yet that the plural autisms might be a better definition than the catch-all categorisation that we currently use (see here). Dare I even direct you also to the preliminary research talking about joint intervention for autism and epilepsy too?Insofar as the connection between autism and epilepsy, the Wakeford results might also imply that the genetics and biology of autism (some autism) and epilepsy (some epilepsy) might also show some kind of interplay with one and another. From me, this could imply that the research by Ong and colleagues [2] talking about a heightened risk of epilepsy in those with autoimmune disorders (see here for my take), might also extend into autism as per quite the increasing body of peer-reviewed literature talking about autoimmunity and [some] autism.I'm also minded to suggest that despite the lack of a relationship between epilepsy and the core cognitive features of autism, I wouldn't yet rule out more subtle presentation as uniting the two diagnostic concepts [3].Music then... Pharrell Williams - Gust of Wind.----------[1] Wakeford S. et al. Autistic characteristics in adults with epilepsy. Epilepsy Behav. 2014 Oct 30;41C:203-207.[2] Ong MS. et al. Population-level evidence for an autoimmune etiology of epilepsy. JAMA Neurol. 2014 May;71(5):569-74.[3] Kavanaugh BC. et al. Parent-rated emotional–behavioral and executive functioning in childhood epilepsy. Epilepsy & Behavior. 2015; 42: 22-28.----------Wakeford S, Hinvest N, Ring H, & Brosnan M (2014). Autistic characteristics in adults with epilepsy. Epilepsy & behavior : E&B, 41C, 203-207 PMID: 25461216... Read more »

Wakeford S, Hinvest N, Ring H, & Brosnan M. (2014) Autistic characteristics in adults with epilepsy. Epilepsy , 203-207. PMID: 25461216  

  • December 17, 2014
  • 11:00 AM

What is the difference between the GAE and the VL hypotheisis?

by Henkjan Honing in Music Matters

Today a commentary was published in BBS in which the gradual audiomotor evolution (GAE) hypothesis is proposed as an alternative interpretation to the auditory timing mechanisms discussed in the BBS target article by Ackermann et al. (2014). ... Read more »

Merchant, H., & Honing, H. (2013) Are non-human primates capable of rhythmic entrainment? Evidence for the gradual audiomotor evolution hypothesis. Frontiers in Neuroscience, 7(274). info:/

  • December 17, 2014
  • 08:30 AM

Picking a New Dog is a Complex Choice

by CAPB in Companion Animal Psychology Blog

It’s not a case of ‘any puppy will do’ - the whole package counts.Photo: DragoNika / ShutterstockSurprisingly little is known about how people choose a new dog considering how popular they are. While it’s a personal choice, it has wider implications – humane societies would really like to know how to increase adoptions from shelters and decrease purchases from puppy mills. Could relocation programs, where dogs are brought in from out of town, be part of the solution?A new paper by Laurie Garrison and Emily Weiss (ASPCA) surveyed 1009 people who had either acquired a dog in the last year or were planning to get a dog. People were shown fake profiles of dogs and asked to say how likely they would be to choose it. The results showed people take many factors into account, and while specific details are important – such as wanting a puppy and not wanting a senior – they can be mitigated by other aspects of the dog.The authors say, “People considered the entire set of features and made trade-offs based on the combination. A positive feature such as puppy was often overridden by the relative influence of one or more of the six other features in the profile. Sometimes a negative feature such as senior dog was overcome by the relative positive influence of the other features.” “Overall, these results show that people have complex preferences, and which features are important vary widely across people. If an animal shelter has a great variety of dogs available, it is more likely that the set of features of a particular dog will match an adopter’s preferences.”The dog’s profiles were mostly not what people were looking for. The least popular dog had only 4% of people say they would choose it. Preferred attributes were a black or dark-coloured puppy of a medium-sized, unusual breed, from a shelter, originating from the local community and at high risk of euthanasia. Some people were prepared to drive a long way for the right dog, with 40% willing to drive 60 miles or further. Some of those who had obtained a puppy from a breeder had travelled more than 90 miles. In common with previous research, the survey found a difference between the number of people who would consider adopting from a shelter and the substantially lower number who actually did so. Amongst people who would not consider a shelter, the main reasons were they wanted a purebred dog and they thought the shelter would not have the kind of dog they wanted. The authors say increasing the variety of animals available at a shelter and publicizing this would encourage more people to consider it. It also might mean that some people would be prepared to wait for the right kind of dog to appear at the shelter, since they would know the choice of animals was always changing. However, since people  had a preference for a local dog, it may be necessary to explain why dogs are brought in out-of-state or out-of-country.Of course, when people say ‘not the right kind of dog’ it’s possible they are referring to stereotyped beliefs about shelter animals. For example, in an Australian survey Kate Mornement et al found that about a third of respondents thought shelter dogs have a behaviour problem. In this case campaigns that emphasize the positives might help – for example the dogs are vaccinated, have had a behavioural assessment, behaviour and training advice is available, and highlighting the benefits of adult dogs.This study did not look at friendliness, which some research has found to be the most important factor when considering a dog (Mornement et al 2012; Siettou et al 2014). Another drawback is that the sample is not representative of the US population as a whole, tending more towards the northeast and to have a higher income and education level than average. The findings will be very useful to humane societies looking to increase canine adoptions. The authors say relocation programs make a wider variety of dogs available at the shelter, which may also benefit animals already there, since more people will come down to look at the dogs. The results show our choices in dogs are as individual as we are. What do you look for when choosing a dog?ReferencesGarrison, L., & Weiss, E. (2014). What Do People Want? Factors People Consider When Acquiring Dogs, the Complexity of the Choices They Make, and Implications for Nonhuman Animal Relocation Programs Journal of Applied Animal Welfare Science, 18 (1), 57-73 DOI: 10.1080/10888705.2014.943836Mornement, K., Coleman, G., Toukhsati, S., & Bennett, P. (2012). What Do Current and Potential Australian Dog Owners Believe about Shelter Practices and Shelter Dogs? Anthrozoos: A Multidisciplinary Journal of The Interactions of People & Animals, 25 (4), 457-473 DOI: 10.2752/175303712X13479798785850 ... Read more »

  • December 17, 2014
  • 07:02 AM

Same sex marriage is okay but please, no PDA!

by Doug Keene in The Jury Room

We are again honored by our inclusion in the ABA Blawg 100 list for 2014. If you value this blog, please take a moment to vote for us here in the Litigation Category. Voting closes on December 19, 2014. Doug and Rita We’ve blogged a number of times about changing attitudes toward same sex marriage.  […]

Related posts:
So how okay are we really with gay marriage?
Changing American Attitudes: Gay/Lesbian Issues
So we cannot talk about race but we overwhelmingly approve interracial marriage?

... Read more »

  • December 17, 2014
  • 04:29 AM

Folate receptor autoantibodies and (some) schizophrenia

by Paul Whiteley in Questioning Answers

I am the league's director, Silas Ramsbottom.Upon reading the paper published by Ramaekers and colleagues [1] talking about the use of folinic acid in cases of schizophrenia as a function of the presence of "Auto-antibodies against folate receptor alpha (FRα)", I raised a little smile. Not only because the authors suggested that there may be quite a lot more to see in this area on top of some already interesting discussions about the folate cycle and schizophrenia, but also because of the 'overlap' with some autism findings which have been previously discussed on this blog (see here). Indeed, if readers would like quite a nice summary of this area of investigation - folate receptor autoantibodies - I'm minded to direct them to the paper by Richard Frye and colleagues [2] (open-access) which initially presented the idea of cerebral folate receptor autoantibodies occurring in autism to the world and was the source material for that previous blog post.Quoting from the Ramaekers study text: "Fifteen of 18 patients (83.3%) had positive serum FR auto-antibodies compared to only 1 in 30 controls". This was a study of those described as having "schizophrenia unresponsive to conventional treatment" and alongside the presence of those autoantibodies, researchers also assessed what some of the metabolic knock-on effects might have been in terms of analysis of spinal fluid levels of "MTHF [5,10-Methylenetetrahydrofolate] and the metabolites of pterins, dopamine and serotonin". It appears that FR autoantibodies may indeed affect levels of said compounds alongside "intermediates linked to metabolic processes affecting homocysteine levels... [and] synthesis of tetrahydrobiopterin". Homocysteine and tetrahydrobiopterin (BH4) in schizophrenia y'say?"Administration of folinic acid (0.3-1mg/kg/day) to 7 participating patients during at least six months resulted in clinical improvement." Without wishing to provide any medical or clinical advice on the utility of folinic acid for schizophrenia or anything else, these are interesting findings. This is not the first time that folinic acid has been discussed in the research literature with schizophrenia in mind as per the case report by Wang and colleagues [3]. In that single case, authors described the presence of the MTHFR mutation - "665C>T homozygous mutations in the MTHFR gene" - as the reason for secondary cerebral folate deficiency. Other authors have discussed more pertinent cases [4]. Obviously one would like to see more formal clinical trials on the use of folinic acid as potentially being appropriate for at least some of the [plural] schizophrenias. The important thing to take from the Ramaekers and other studies is that a panel of tests might be able to spot who might be best responders to this kind of intervention...Music to close, and Peter Griffin sings the opening tune to Indiana Jones and The Last Crusade? Why not.----------[1] Ramaekers VT. et al. Folinic acid treatment for schizophrenia associated with folate receptor autoantibodies. Mol Genet Metab. 2014 Oct 12. pii: S1096-7192(14)00311-4.[2] Frye RE. et al. Cerebral folate receptor autoantibodies in autism spectrum disorder. Molecular Psychiatry 2013;18(3):369-381. doi:10.1038/mp.2011.175.[3] Wang Q. et al. Methylenetetrahydrofolate reductase deficiency-induced schizophrenia in a school-age boy. Zhongguo Dang Dai Er Ke Za Zhi. 2014 Jan;16(1):62-6.[4] Ho A. et al. Cerebral folate deficiency presenting as adolescent catatonic schizophrenia: a case report. J Child Neurol. 2010 Jul;25(7):898-900.----------Ramaekers VT, Thöny B, Sequeira JM, Ansseau M, Philippe P, Boemer F, Bours V, & Quadros EV (2014). Folinic acid treatment for schizophrenia associated with folate receptor autoantibodies. Molecular genetics and metabolism PMID: 25456743... Read more »

Ramaekers VT, Thöny B, Sequeira JM, Ansseau M, Philippe P, Boemer F, Bours V, & Quadros EV. (2014) Folinic acid treatment for schizophrenia associated with folate receptor autoantibodies. Molecular genetics and metabolism. PMID: 25456743  

  • December 16, 2014
  • 08:00 AM

Giving, Getting, and Grey Matter

by Mark E. Lasbury in The 'Scope

It’s time to search out Christmas gifts! Let brain research guide you in your giving. We now know why women are often better at picking out gifts, and we know that you expect people to like your homemade gifts more than you should. We have learned that we give gifts to make ourselves feel good, and that too many gifts can screw your kids up for life. But most importantly, it actually is the thought that counts! Merry Christmas.... Read more »

Moll, J., Krueger, F., Zahn, R., Pardini, M., de Oliveira-Souza, R., & Grafman, J. (2006) Human fronto-mesolimbic networks guide decisions about charitable donation. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 103(42), 15623-15628. DOI: 10.1073/pnas.0604475103  

  • December 16, 2014
  • 07:14 AM

The scientific community’s Galileo affair (you’re the Pope)

by Richard Kunert in Brain's Idea

Science is in crisis. Everyone in the scientific community knows about it but few want to talk about it. The crisis is one of honesty. A junior scientist (like me) asks himself a similar question to Galileo in 1633: how much honesty is desirable in science? Science Wonderland According to nearly all empirical scientific publications […]... Read more »

  • December 16, 2014
  • 04:41 AM

Thioredoxin... a new 'diagnosis indicator' for autism?

by Paul Whiteley in Questioning Answers

My name's Buttercup. You've met Baron von Shush."Our study demonstrated that serum TRX [thioredoxin] levels were associated with ASD [autism spectrum disorder], and elevated levels could be considered as a novel, independent diagnosis indicator of ASD." So was the conclusion reported by Qing-biao Zhang and colleagues [1] looking at serum levels of TRX in 80 children diagnosed with an ASD compared against "100 sex and age matched typically developing children".I'll freely admit that I was not even aware of thioredoxin (TRX) before reading this study; although a quick trawl through some of the research literature on this protein that "act as antioxidants by facilitating the reduction of other proteins by cysteine thiol-disulfide exchange" (thank you Wikipedia) hints that I should have been. Quite a good [peer-reviewed] overview of TRX can be found in the paper by Arnér & Holmgren [2] and in particular, describing their role in the process of reducing oxidative stress similar to another compound of interest to this blog: glutathione.Zhang and colleagues reported significantly higher median serum levels of TRX in their participants with autism compared to asymptomatic controls. Further, that the severity of autism  - as measured using the CARS - might also be linked to TRX levels, and "the optimal cut-off value of serum TRX levels as an indicator for auxiliary diagnosis of autism was projected to be 10.6ng/ml". I might add that such results should not be translated as serum levels of TRX higher than 10.6 ng/ml = autism exclusively, as per other research looking at elevated levels of TRX in other conditions [3].This is not the first time however that TRX has been studied with autism in mind. The paper by Yusra A Al-Yafee and colleagues [4] (open-access) looking at "sulfur-dependent detoxification mechanisms" in relation to the autism spectrum noted that alongside aberrant values for glutathione (yes, quite consistently so) in their autistic cohort, elevated levels of TRX and related thioredoxin reductase (TrxR) were also detected compared with controls. They stated: "the recorded raised levels of Trx, TrxR and Prxs [peroxidoxins] of the present study could be related to... previous work... which they proved that Saudi autistic children are under H2O2 stress due to over expression of SOD and a slightly lower activity of catalase." Interestingly, this group also suggested that TRX and glutathione parameters might also have some legs when it comes to their usefulness "as diagnostic biomarkers of autism."Oxidative stress and autism is a research area in the ascendancy. With links being made to the gastrointestinal (GI) issues quite commonly reported alongside a diagnosis of autism (see here) and some really quite interesting work talking about oxidative stress potentially inducing mitochondrial issues in autism (see here), some important correlations are being made. My recent discussions including the paper by Main and colleagues [5] (open-access) suggesting that: "children with autism are more sensitive to necrosis caused by oxidative and nitrosative stress than their non-autistic siblings" adds to the intrigue, as does a little study about broccoli extracts recently...Of course, quite a lot more replicative work is required, also including more focus on the hows and whys of issues with redox regulation related to autism. But more and more, oxidative stress is taking a place among quite a few other issues detected in at least some cases of autism [6].Music to close: Queenie Eye by Paul McCartney.----------[1] Zhang QB. et al. Thioredoxin: A novel, independent diagnosis marker in children with autism. Int J Dev Neurosci. 2014 Nov 26. pii: S0736-5748(14)00191-9.[2] Arnér ES. & Holmgren A. Physiological functions of thioredoxin and thioredoxin reductase. Eur J Biochem. 2000 Oct;267(20):6102-9.[3] Yamada Y. et al. Elevated serum levels of thioredoxin in patients with acute exacerbation of asthma. Immunol Lett. 2003 Apr 3;86(2):199-205.[4] Al-Yafee YA. et al. Novel metabolic biomarkers related to sulfur-dependent detoxification pathways in autistic patients of Saudi Arabia. BMC Neurol. 2011 Nov 4;11:139.[5] Main PA. et al. Necrosis is increased in lymphoblastoid cell lines from children with autism compared with their non-autistic siblings under conditions of oxidative and nitrosative stress. Mutagenesis. 2013 Jul;28(4):475-84.[6] Rossignol DA, Frye RE. Evidence linking oxidative stress, mitochondrial dysfunction, and inflammation in the brain of individuals with autism. Frontiers in Physiology 2014;5:150. doi:10.3389/fphys.2014.00150.----------Zhang QB, Gao SJ, & Zhao HX (2014). Thioredoxin: A novel, independent diagnosis marker in children with autism. International journal of developmental neuroscience : the official journal of the International Society for Developmental Neuroscience PMID: 25433158... Read more »

Zhang QB, Gao SJ, & Zhao HX. (2014) Thioredoxin: A novel, independent diagnosis marker in children with autism. International journal of developmental neuroscience : the official journal of the International Society for Developmental Neuroscience. PMID: 25433158  

  • December 15, 2014
  • 07:49 AM

Want to learn something better? Draw it

by BPS Research Digest in BPS Research Digest

When you're trying to learn, do something with your new knowledge, such as summarising it or explaining it to someone else. This deepens your memories and helps integrate what you've learned with what you already knew. A new study has tested the benefits of another beneficial learning activity - drawing.Annett Schmeck and her team asked 48 German school-kids (average age 14) to read a 850-word passage about the biology of influenza, broken down into seven paragraphs. This was an unfamiliar topic to the teens, and they knew they were going to be tested on the content afterwards.Crucially, half the pupils were asked to produce a drawing for each of the paragraphs, to depict visually the content of the paragraphs. They were assisted by a basic background image of a cell (or similar), and a legend showing basic components their drawing should include, such as an antibody. The other pupils only had the text to study and they acted as a control group. All participating pupils worked at their own pace.There were two tests on the scientific text: a multi-choice comprehension test, and a drawing test that involved drawing key concepts from the text. The group who'd produced drawings while they were learning out-performed the control group on both the multiple-choice (scoring 61 per cent correct on average vs. 44 per cent) and the drawing test (scoring 52 per cent on average vs. 28 per cent).This first experiment has some obvious limitations that Schmeck and her team sought to address in a follow-up involving 168 more pupils (average age 14). Most importantly, the researchers showed that drawing each paragraph of the to-be-learned text led to superior test performance (63 per cent correct on multiple choice, on average), even when compared to a condition in which pupils were instead provided with drawings produced by the author of the scientific text  (53 per cent correct). The better the pupils' drawings, the more successful they were in the tests afterwards.The researchers said that drawing has this benefit for learning because it "encourages learners to engage in generative cognitive processing during learning such as organising the relevant information into a coherent structure, and integrating it with relevant prior knowledge from long-term memory."The results come with a number of caveats - the study material in this research was scientific and involved a causal chain of events. It's not clear if drawing will also help people learn other kinds of content. Moreover, the tests took place right after the learning phase, so it's not known if the benefits of drawing will be long-lasting. Also, it's worth noting that this research looked at assisted drawing - that is, the pupils were given a background image to draw upon and told what graphic elements to include. The researchers concluded: "drawing during learning appears to be a potentially powerful strategy for improving students' learning from scientific text when certain boundaries and prerequisites are taken into account."_________________________________ Schmeck, A., Mayer, R., Opfermann, M., Pfeiffer, V., & Leutner, D. (2014). Drawing pictures during learning from scientific text: testing the generative drawing effect and the prognostic drawing effect Contemporary Educational Psychology, 39 (4), 275-286 DOI: 10.1016/j.cedpsych.2014.07.003 --further reading--How to studyThe Digest guide to ... studyingPost written by Christian Jarrett (@psych_writer) for the BPS Research Digest.

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  • December 15, 2014
  • 07:15 AM

Why do friendly people usually lead happier lives?

by BPS Research Digest in BPS Research Digest

High scorers on the personality trait of agreeableness are eager to please, concerned for others, and compliant to other perspectives. On average, they live happier lives too. A new study suggests a possible reason: when they have the chance, friendly people tend to avoid engaging with negative things.The researchers, Konrad Bresin and Michael Robinson, began by asking participants to view a series of positive and negative images, spending as much time as they wanted on each one. Most people lingered longer on the nasty images, but participants high in agreeableness showed no such tendency. This effect persisted through two experiments involving around 200 student participants, and also generalised to another setup, where 73 participants had to indicate whether they would prefer to engage in a fun or unpleasant pastime. Examples included: an upbeat happy song or a slow sad one; a documentary profiling a famous entertainer or one on government corruption; or a lecture on how to bake a cake versus one on dissecting a body. Low-agreeableness participants were equally likely to go for a negative experience as a positive one, whereas the high agreeableness ones showed a strong preference for the positive: anthems, nation's sweethearts and shortbreads.Although it's unlikely this finding would generalise to very negative situations, Bresin and Robinson argue that the bulk of real-life experiences tend to fall within more narrow boundaries - slightly nicer or less pleasant situations. And across many of these situations, people differing in agreeableness will fork out on more positive life routes. Previous research has looked at how people of different outlooks may respond to challenging events differently: when life gives you lemons, optimists make lemonade. This research suggests agreeable people are more likely to amble past lemon-groves into the orchard next door._________________________________ Bresin K, & Robinson MD (2014). You Are What You See and Choose: Agreeableness and Situation Selection. Journal of personality PMID: 25109246Post written by Alex Fradera (@alexfradera) for the BPS Research Digest.

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  • December 15, 2014
  • 07:02 AM

Are you a murdered white female? Here is some small comfort!

by Rita Handrich in The Jury Room

We are again honored by our inclusion in the ABA Blawg 100 list for 2014. If you value this blog, please take a moment to vote for us here in the Litigation Category. Voting closes on December 19, 2014. Doug and Rita If you are a murdered white female, your case will be investigated and […]

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Does your capital client “look deathworthy”?
Does the Prosecution want African-American jurors for the Trayvon Martin case?
Bev Kearney: Is it because I’m female, African-American, gay and disabled?

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Pierce, G., Radelet, M., Posick, C., & Lyman, T. (2014) Race and the Construction of Evidence in Homicide Cases. American Journal of Criminal Justice, 39(4), 771-786. DOI: 10.1007/s12103-014-9259-1  

  • December 15, 2014
  • 04:45 AM

Rates of medical illnesses in bipolar disorder

by Paul Whiteley in Questioning Answers

I've mentioned a few times on this blog that a diagnosis of autism or autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is by no means protective against any other diagnosis being received, be it based on a somatic illness or condition, or something more behaviourally defined.Reading through the paper by Liz Forty and colleagues [1] (open-access) it appears that a similar scenario might also pertain to other behaviourally-defined conditions as per the example of bipolar disorder (BD) and their conclusion: "Bipolar disorder is associated with high rates of medical illness."If I had a world of my own, everything would be nonsenseI was drawn to discuss this paper for a few reasons. First and foremost is the idea that a psychiatric diagnosis may actually place a person 'at risk' of a few important comorbidities above and beyond the presentation of their behavioural symptoms. We seem to be in an unfortunate situation these days that receipt of a psychiatric diagnosis seems to lead to a severe lack of appreciation that other symptoms or ailments of a more physical nature can also be present. Take for example the health inequalities which seem to be springing up as and when a diagnosis of schizophrenia is received (see here) and coincidentally in the same journal as the Forty paper, the study results from Mike Crawford and colleagues [2] concluding: "Assessment and treatment of common physical health problems in people with schizophrenia falls well below acceptable standards." Another reason I want to talk about the Forty paper is the fact that bipolar disorder (previously referred to as manic depression) has been described as occurring 'quite frequently' with regards to at least one part of the autism spectrum (see here). What this might suggest is that a co-occurrence of BD and something like Asperger syndrome might mean that said medical illness/conditions reported to be raised in BD would also be raised in BP + Asperger syndrome.The Forty paper is open-access but a few pointers might be useful...Based on quite an impressive participant number (N=1720) diagnosed with bipolar disorder, lifetime rates of self-reported medical illnesses were compared with data derived from participants diagnosed with unipolar depression (N=1737) and asymptomatic controls (N=1340) (both previously described in other work from some of the authors [3]).Participants were quizzed - yes, no or uncertain - over whether any of 20 health conditions had been diagnosed by a health professional including: "asthma, cancer, diabetes type 1, diabetes type 2, elevated lipids/high cholesterol, epilepsy, gastric ulcers, heart disease, hypertension, kidney disease, liver disease, memory loss/dementia, migraine headaches, multiple sclerosis, osteoarthritis, osteoporosis, Parkinson’s disease, rheumatoid arthritis, stroke, thyroid disease." All the 'uncertain' codings were "excluded from analyses for that medical illness".Results: "The most prevalent medical conditions in the bipolar sample were migraine headache (23.7%), asthma (19.2%), elevated lipids (19.2%), hypertension (15%), thyroid disease (12.9%) and osteoarthritis (10.8%)." Quite a few of these conditions were significantly more frequently reported in cases of BD over control groups (see Figure 1 here). I'll in particular highlight the findings for asthma and thyroid disease as being more commonly reported in the BD group.Authors also divided the BD group up into subgroups (BD1 and BD2) based on the severity of manic episodes, and reported that: "The rates of gastric ulcers, heart disease, Parkinson’s disease and rheumatoid arthritis were significantly higher in the bipolar II group." They also found that several variables seemed to be linked to an increased medical illness burden including: "a longer illness duration, a typically acute onset of mood episodes, a greater number of psychiatric in-patient admissions, deterioration in functioning, increased rates of anxiety disorder, suicide attempt, rapid cycling, and treatment with anxiolytics, mood stabilisers and electroconvulsive therapy (ECT)." Some of these variables also predicted the high medical illness burden group too.Reiterating the authors' sentiments about the need for such medical comorbidity to be taken into account by healthcare professionals "in order to improve outcomes for patients with bipolar disorder" these are important results. Assuming that there may be shared/overlapping genetic or biological mechanisms at work which influence risk of BD and also such medical comorbidity, one might think that future work would take this into account when looking at the possible underlying aetiology of BD. Such work might also accept the heterogeneity noted in BD as per similar sentiments when it comes to conditions like 'the autisms' (see here) and 'the schizophrenias' (see here).Asthma has been highlighted from the Forty results on the basis of the condition already showing something of an interesting 'link' with conditions like autism and attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder, ADHD (see here). Indeed, data from Taiwan (yes, further interrogation of the Taiwan National Health Insurance Research Database) concluded that a diagnosis of asthma might increase the risk of subsequent mood disorders (including BD) later in life [4]. Forty et al suggested that of the possible reasons why asthma might be more frequently present in BD "carbon dioxide hypersensitivity and corticosteroid therapy may partly explain this association." I'd be perhaps inclined to add that other [speculative] work looking at the link between autism and asthma for example, might also offer another potential explanation [5].Thyroid disease was also plucked out from the Forty data. The reason: some interesting data previously covered on this blog talking about autoimmune thyroiditis and various types of depression (see here). I'm not by the way saying that every case of thyroid disease in BD is due to such an autoimmune pathology, but as per other discussions, there might be quite a bit more to see when it comes to immune system function and behavioural and/or psychiatric diagnoses. At the very least, testing for said autoimmune issues might be considered for some.There is little more for me to say on this subject matter. This is by no means the first time that medical comorbidity has been linked to BD [6] and even more widely depression [7] and I very much doubt it will be the last. If there are lessons to be learned from this area of investigation, the primary one must be to look at mind and body when it comes to diagnosing and managing psychiatric issues such as bipolar disorder as per other examples.Oh, and I wonder if this would be a good time to introduce ... Read more »

Forty L, Ulanova A, Jones L, Jones I, Gordon-Smith K, Fraser C, Farmer A, McGuffin P, Lewis CM, Hosang GM.... (2014) Comorbid medical illness in bipolar disorder. The British journal of psychiatry : the journal of mental science. PMID: 25359927  

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