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  • February 24, 2011
  • 07:43 AM

Sacred Values as Heuristics

by Psychothalamus in Psychothalamus

Can being faced with a decision involving morals be a good thing? Research has shown in the past that morally-laden decisions are perceived as difficult and unpleasant. Therefore, conventional wisdom suggests that people would react characteristically when faced with decision-making with moral considerations, such as avoiding being placed in a position to make moral decisions, or spending more time contemplating over difficult moral decisions.However, perhaps there's more to it than meets the eye, and Hanselmann and Tanner from the University of Zurich think so. In a very concise study, Hanselmann and Tanner (2008) sought to show that the involvement of moral issues moral issues and values can, instead, actually facilitate our decision-making. By invoking what are known as sacred values (absolute and inviolable values), we may end up spending less time thinking about the dilemma simply because an option that has sacred value make us think that it cannot be compromised.Every dilemma or decision involves some extent of trade-off. The authors conceptualized three types of trade-offs for the study:Taboo trade-offa situation that pits a sacred value against a secular value (i.e. a value that does not hold moral worth)Tragic trade-offa situation that pits two sacred values against each otherRoutine trade-offa situation that pits two secular values against each otherOne might thus think of a routine trade-off in the case of a typical job dilemma. Faced with employment in company A vs company B, one might consider trading off mundane items such as salary, distance or working environment. On the other hand, an extreme (though commonplace) example of a tragic trade-off would be to decide whether to save a one's parent or one's offspring in the event of a fire.In the first experiment, 84 students from the University of Zurich were presented with three scenarios representing a taboo, tragic or routine trade-off. Each scenario provided a choice between two options. An example of a taboo trade-off was as follows:Imagine that you are the president of the local authority of a village that has been severely affected by a flood. The local authority is discussing whether to invest a considerable amount of the annual budget in improved flood protection measures. In this case, however, the village would have to forego a planned facelift for the village square. As president, you have to decide between the improvements in flood protection (option 1) and the facelift for the village square (option 2).The following results were gathered:As can be seen, the difficulty of decision-making was lowest as sacred values were pitted against secular values, showing that, although decision-making involving some degree of moral choice is still emotionally unpleasant, it can lead to easier decision-making. A second experiment, which was a more complex but fundamentally similar experiment, was conducted and the results were replicated.Tetlock (2003) had assumed that the mere contemplation of trade-offs that involve sacred values elicits distress and disturbance. There could very well be an adaptive or functional purpose to our negative perception of moral choices which makes us acutely aware that compromising on sacred values can have adverse consequences. In a sense, we are psychologically 'punished' for even contemplating the trade-off of sacred values, so let alone act against our instinct to preserve sacred values. These findings thus suggest that reliance on sacred values may therefore work as a heuristic that we use to increase the efficiency of our decision-making.Martin Hanselmann, & Carmen Tanner (2008). Taboos and conflicts in decision making: Sacred values, decision difficulty, and emotions Judgment and Decision Making, 3 (1), 51-63Tetlock, P. (2003). Thinking the unthinkable: sacred values and taboo cognitions Trends in Cognitive Sciences, 7 (7), 320-324 DOI: 10.1016/S1364-6613(03)00135-9... Read more »

Martin Hanselmann, & Carmen Tanner. (2008) Taboos and conflicts in decision making: Sacred values, decision difficulty, and emotions. Judgment and Decision Making, 3(1). info:/

  • February 24, 2011
  • 07:43 AM

Does smoking hurt as well as harm? (or, as if you needed another reason)

by Lorimer Moseley in BodyInMind

TweetI have a couple of mates who are veritable smoke-stacks. They love smoking but sort of hate being a smoker. I must confess that, at least within my community, smoking is now officially uncool and my mates are sick of people telling them good reasons to give up.  Well, as if they needed another reason, [...]... Read more »

Pisinger C, Aadahl M, Toft U, Birke H, Zytphen-Adeler J, & Jørgensen T. (2011) The association between active and passive smoking and frequent pain in a general population. European journal of pain (London, England), 15(1), 77-83. PMID: 20627783  

  • February 24, 2011
  • 07:15 AM

The ‘interactome’ of a host/pathogen triad

by Connor Bamford in The Rule of 6ix

In order to survive and replicate within their hosts, viruses must manipulate those pathways and systems in which their host relies upon for its own survival. However, this model gets more complicated with those viruses successfully infecting multiple host species. For example, Dengue virus (DENV) – an emerging pathogen which causes over 50 million cases a year of a mild to deadly disease – infects both humans and mosquito species of the Aedes genus. Thus to accomplish survival, DENV must interact with proteins from these two distantly related hosts. Given this complexity, understanding this dual-host/pathogen system is considerably difficult yet as Doolittle and Gomez (2011) show, computational approaches based on structural predictions of viral and host proteins may allow for the accurate prediction of the complex in vivo ‘interactome’.

Transmission of DENV - the principle mode is direct mosquito to human

The group set out to understand the interactions between both DENV encoded proteins and those of its hosts – humans and Aedes mosquitos. Using previously determined structural information for human and fly (relatively closely related insect to Aedes) and how these proteins interact with each other, they were able to map these back on to host infection. They searched databases for structural similarities between dengue proteins and those from its host (human or fly) – these ‘dengue similar host proteins’ were used to search for host-host protein interactions as a surrogate for host-dengue interactions. 
 “The computational methodology employed to generate this map assumes that proteins with comparable structures will share interaction partners. Therefore, we predict that DENV2 proteins may merge into the host protein interactome at the points normally occupied by structurally similar host proteins, creating an interface for the manipulation of downstream host processes.”
Using this approach, they built up a network of possible host/pathogen interactions, assuming that DENV proteins can participate in the same interactions as host proteins. Of course, this method over estimates interactions so to counter this, they prioritised particular interactions for further study based on previously published, validated in vivo work and those interactions still left hopefully were functionally accurate and important. This approach had previously been used to study human-HIV-1 protein interactions.

DENV capsid structure
Following significantly limiting their map down to those that had been previously validated the biological functions of host target proteins and dengue-similar proteins were analysed to determine whether the predicted functions matched those that would be important for viral infection in both humans and mosquitoes. As shown above, DENV-like proteins participate in interactions involved in diverse processes – importantly including cell death, signalling cascades, immune response and metabolism. They focus the investigation into DENV manipulation of host apoptosis and innate immune signalling and also those proteins which are shared between both insect and human hosts.
They suggest that due to the disparity in the known molecular biology of dengue/host interactions this computational methodology has its limitations in this system yet these data should be used as a springboard for future investigations and hypotheses. This study highlights the importance of global computational analysis in determining basic host/pathogen biology especially in a system which has been poorly studied like DENV.
Doolittle, J., & Gomez, S. (2011). Mapping Protein Interactions between Dengue Virus and Its Human and Insect Hosts PLoS Neglected Tropical Diseases, 5 (2) DOI: 10.1371/journal.pntd.0000954

Dyer MD, Murali TM, & Sobral BW (2007). Computational prediction of host-pathogen protein-protein interactions. Bioinformatics (Oxford, England), 23 (13) PMID: 17646292... Read more »

  • February 24, 2011
  • 07:00 AM

February 24, 2011

by Erin Campbell in HighMag Blog

Don’t assume that two identical-looking cells are the same…they may both be rounded and cute, but there is a lot of exciting stuff brewing inside. A recent paper describes the use of a clever microscopy technique to look at how subtle differences in a transcription factor’s kinetics can predict early patterning in the mouse embryo.There has always been debate and discussion about when the differences that lead to lineage patterning first appear in the cells of very early embryos. Although cells in the very early mouse embryo appear morphologically identical, a recent paper describes the different kinetics of one transcription factor in different cells in the mouse embryo. To measure these differences, Plachta and colleagues tagged the transcription factor Oct4 with a special fluorescent marker that is activated by a certain wavelength of light. Once this marker was activated in certain cells in the 4- and 8-cell embryo, the movement of Oct4 into and out of the nucleus (where it does its job by binding to DNA) was monitored. One group of cells had slower rates of export and import and was more likely to give rise to the inner cell mass, while the second group had higher rates and was more likely to give rise to the extra-embryonic lineage. Image shows an 8-cell embryo with the Oct4 marker activated (green) in the nucleus of one specific cell.Plachta, N., Bollenbach, T., Pease, S., Fraser, S., & Pantazis, P. (2011). Oct4 kinetics predict cell lineage patterning in the early mammalian embryo Nature Cell Biology, 13 (2), 117-123 DOI: 10.1038/ncb2154Adapted by permission from Macmillan Publishers Ltd, copyright 2011... Read more »

Plachta, N., Bollenbach, T., Pease, S., Fraser, S., & Pantazis, P. (2011) Oct4 kinetics predict cell lineage patterning in the early mammalian embryo. Nature Cell Biology, 13(2), 117-123. DOI: 10.1038/ncb2154  

  • February 24, 2011
  • 05:54 AM

How well can we communicate emotions purely through touch?

by BPS Research Digest in BPS Research Digest

Romantic couples outperformed pairs of strangers
Whether it's a raised eyebrow or curl of the lip, we usually think of emotions as conveyed through facial expressions and body language. Science too has focused on these forms of emotional communication, finding that there's a high degree of consistency across cultures. It's only in the last few years that psychologists have looked at whether and how the emotions can be communicated purely through touch.

A 2006 study by Matthew Hertenstein demonstrated that strangers could accurately communicate the 'universal' emotions of anger, fear, disgust, love, gratitude, and sympathy, purely through touches to the forearm, but not the 'prosocial' emotions of surprise, happiness and sadness, nor the 'self-focused' emotions of embarrassment, envy and pride. Now Erin Thompson and James Hampton have added to this nascent literature by comparing the accuracy of touch-based emotional communication between strangers and between those who are romantically involved.

Thirty romantic couples (the vast majority were heterosexual) based in London took part. One partner in each romantic pair attempted to communicate 12 different emotions, one at a time, to their partner. They sat at opposite sides of a table divided by a curtained screen. The emotional 'decoder' slid their forearm through the curtain for the 'encoder' to touch, after which the 'decoder' attempted to identify which of the 12 emotions had been communicated. The participants were filmed throughout.

After this, the romantic couples were split up and participants paired up with a stranger to repeat the exercise (encoders and decoders kept whichever role they'd had first time around). Strangers were usually formed into same-sex pairs, to avoid the social awkwardness of touching an opposite-sex partner. This created an unfortunate confound, acknowledged by the researchers, which is that most romantic couples were opposite-sex whereas most stranger pairs were same-sex. However, focusing only on results from same-sex pairs versus opposite-sex pairs suggested gender was not an important factor.

The key finding is that although strangers performed well for most emotions, romantic couples tended to be superior, especially for the self-focused emotions of embarrassment, envy and pride. Thompson and Hampton calculated that chance performance (i.e. merely guessing) would produce an accuracy rate of 25 per cent. Although there were 12 emotions to select from, the rationale here is that some are far more similar to each other than others, so even a guesser would perform better than 1/12 accuracy. Romantic partners communicated universal emotions, prosocial and self-focused emotions with an accuracy of 53 per cent, 60 per cent and 39 per cent, respectively - in each case, far better than chance performance. In contrast, strangers achieved accuracy rates of 39 per cent, 56 per cent and 17 per cent, for universal, prosocial, and self-focused emotions respectively, with the last considered as no better than chance performance.

How did the romantic couples achieve their greater accuracy? They touched for longer, but this wasn't correlated with accuracy. Using footage of the experiment, the researchers coded the types of touch used (a wide range of discrete touch types were identified, from trembling and scratching to slapping and squeezing), and for each emotion it was clear that strangers were using similar kinds of touch as were romantic couples. This means that there were either subtle differences in the touching used by romantic couples, which the experimenters had failed to detect, or the 'decoders' were interpreting the same touch cues differently when they were delivered by an intimate partner.

This topic is ripe for further investigation - for example, does the touch advantage shown by romantic couples extend to non-emotional communication? Would other long-term, but non-sexual, relationship partners such as siblings, show a similar advantage? And would romantic partners still display an advantage if they didn't know who was doing the touching? 'Our findings extend the literature on the communication of emotion,' the researchers said. 'The nature of particular relationships appears to have the ability to diminish the ambiguity of emotional expression via touch.'

Thompson, E., and Hampton, J. (2011). The effect of relationship status on communicating emotions through touch. Cognition and Emotion, 25 (2), 295-306 DOI: 10.1080/02699931.2010.492957

... Read more »

  • February 24, 2011
  • 04:49 AM

Neanderthals and ornaments, birds of a feather?

by Julien Riel-Salvatore in A Very Remote Period Indeed

© Mauro Cutrona.
M. Peresani and colleagues (2011) report on the discovery of cut-marked bird bones from the latest Mousterian levels at Grotta di Fumane, located in the Veneto region of NE Italy. They interpret the fact that these cutmarks are almost exclusively found on wing bones of only a subset of the 22 species of birds found at Fumane as evidence that Neanderthals there specifically ... Read more »

Zilhao, J., Angelucci, D., Badal-Garcia, E., d'Errico, F., Daniel, F., Dayet, L., Douka, K., Higham, T., Martinez-Sanchez, M., Montes-Bernardez, R.... (2010) Symbolic use of marine shells and mineral pigments by Iberian Neandertals. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 107(3), 1023-1028. DOI: 10.1073/pnas.0914088107  

  • February 24, 2011
  • 03:51 AM

Cell Phones Are Somehow Related To The Brain

by Neuroskeptic in Neuroskeptic

The BBC saysMobile phones 'affect the brain'The paper's from Nora Volkow and colleagues from NIDA in the USA. Volkow's best known for her work on addiction.47 people got 18FDG Positron Emission Tomography. This method measures brain glucose use as a proxy for how hard cells are working. They say that this makes it better than other kinds of PET which merely measure regional blood flow. I bet they really wanted to do this study with fMRI, because PET scans cost loads, but of course you can't take a cellphone into an MRI scanner.There were two conditions: a control in which they had a phone stuck to each ear but they were both off, and an active condition in which the right-ear phone was switched on and receiving a call - but muted so they couldn't hear anything. Each subject was scanned twice, once under each condition, so that's 94 scans.What happened? In the Results section they say that (my emphasis):SPM comparisons on the absolute metabolic measures showed significant increases (35.7 vs 33.3 µmol/100 g per minute for the on vs off conditions, respectively; mean difference, 2.4 [95% CI, 0.67-4.2]; P=.004) in a region that included the right orbitofrontal cortex and the lower part of the right superior temporal gyrus. No areas showed decreases.In other words a highly signficiant finding of increased glucose uptake in the areas of the brain closest to the cell phone. Whoa, that's big. However, it seems that this result was not corrected for multiple comparisons, because in the table of results they give the corrected p value for the activated cluster as p=0.05 - bang on exactly low enough to be considered significant, but no lower.Their method for correcting for multiple comparisons was also quite unusual and I'm not quite sure what to make of it. It's on the right-hand column of Page 810. Maybe commentators will be able to offer some insight.There's a few other things to note here. They show a nice big colorful This Is Your Brain On Phone image but it's a "representative" image of one brain, rather than an averaged image from all subjects. This is really not good practice. It's acceptable - but only because there's no alternative - for data which can't be averaged, like microscope pics.With between-group comparisons of neuroimaging data, the averages are computed as part of the statistical analysis, and should be shown. With single-subject data we're left having to trust the authors to have really picked a "representative" image as opposed to "the best image".Second, this has nothing to do with cancer. Brain activation happens all the time and very rarely does it have cancerous consequences. In fact this is so unrelated to cancer that I shouldn't even be mentioning cancer in this post. However, I feel the need to because the BBC (and most other outlets) did. Thus we saw curious paragraphs like this (direct quote):Since the boom in mobile phone use, there has been considerable interest in the effect on the body. The largest study on 420,000 mobile phone users in Denmark, has not shown a link between phone use and cancer. This small study on 47 people... Why mention cancer, if the only thing you say about it is that there's no link? Presumably because of the following chain of associations: cell phones use radiation...radiation causes cancer...cell phones and cancer!I have no idea if cell phones cause cancer. Just from basic biology though, if they were going to cause any cancer, they would almost certainly cause many times more cases of skin cancer than of brain cancer given that a) they're closest to the skin, not the brain and b) brain cancer is incredibly rare because the brain contains no rapidly dividing cells, whereas skin cancer is common because skin is made of exactly that.So even if if this increased brain glucose metabolism somehow was related to cancer of the brain, this would be the least of our worries, because if cell phones somehow caused brain cancer, they'd almost certainly cause many times more cases of skin cancer and the brain cancer would be a footnote.But the point is, this study has nothing to do with cancer so forget I said that. If you have trouble forgetting, just hold your mobile phone over your temporal lobes until your hippocampus is overloaded and you suffer memory loss.Link: Also blogged here and here.Volkow, N., Tomasi, D., Wang, G., Vaska, P., Fowler, J., Telang, F., Alexoff, D., Logan, J., & Wong, C. (2011). Effects of Cell Phone Radiofrequency Signal Exposure on Brain Glucose Metabolism JAMA: The Journal of the American Medical Association, 305 (8), 808-813 DOI: 10.1001/jama.2011.186... Read more »

Volkow, N., Tomasi, D., Wang, G., Vaska, P., Fowler, J., Telang, F., Alexoff, D., Logan, J., & Wong, C. (2011) Effects of Cell Phone Radiofrequency Signal Exposure on Brain Glucose Metabolism. JAMA: The Journal of the American Medical Association, 305(8), 808-813. DOI: 10.1001/jama.2011.186  

  • February 24, 2011
  • 12:52 AM

The scientist-journalist divide: what can we learn from each other?

by Chris Rowan in Highly Allochthonous

Last week, the journal Nature published two research papers on the effects of human-caused global warming on extreme precipitation events. I’m working on a post on the papers, and they’ve already received quite a bit of attention in the media. … Continue reading →... Read more »

  • February 23, 2011
  • 10:38 PM

Psycasm - Feelin' Lucky? Is it more than just a feeling?

by Rift in Psycasm

Are you lucky? Perhaps you’re unlucky. What is luck, anyway?It’s tempting to consider it as some kind of magical force present in the ether, in which some individual seem more able to channel its influence than others.Alternatively, it may be a force unto itself, bestowing favour or ill-fortune upon those who cross its path.Both of those definitions, however, fail under scrutiny. This does not; (read more)

Source: Psycasm - Discipline: Psychology... Read more »

Teigen, K., et al. (1999) Good Luck and Bad Luck: How to tell the difference. European Journal of Social Psychology. info:/

Risen, J., & Gilovich, T. (2008) Why people are reluctant to tempt fate. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 95(2), 293-307. DOI: 10.1037/0022-3514.95.2.293  

  • February 23, 2011
  • 09:03 PM

Cell Phones and Brain

by Arunn in nOnoScience (a.k.a. Unruled Notebook)

I was about to give this post a news-paper-like title Cell phone usage affects brain — then I figured I should be knowing that usage of anything by us, should affect our brain. So I have settled for this rather bland title. A research paper authored by nine (first author Nora D. Volkow, MD, National [...]... Read more »

Volkow, N., Tomasi, D., Wang, G., Vaska, P., Fowler, J., Telang, F., Alexoff, D., Logan, J., & Wong, C. (2011) Effects of Cell Phone Radiofrequency Signal Exposure on Brain Glucose Metabolism. JAMA: The Journal of the American Medical Association, 305(8), 808-813. DOI: 10.1001/jama.2011.186  

  • February 23, 2011
  • 06:59 PM

The Effect of Pseudonymity on Blogger Credibility

by Colin Schultz in CMBR

In July, 2010, one corner of the blogosphere erupted with the seething, burning rage that online communities seem to have a unique ability to muster. The spark that lit bloggers’ fuse was a decision by SEED Media Group decision-makers to allow a team of writers from PepsiCo Inc. to operate a blog about nutrition and [...]... Read more »

Thomas Chesney and Daniel K.S. Su. (2010) The impact of anonymity on weblog credibility. International Journal of Human-Computer Studies, 68(10), 710-718. info:/10.1016/j.ijhcs.2010.06.001

  • February 23, 2011
  • 06:38 PM

A strange armored lobopodian from the Cambrian

by Chris Grinter in The Skeptical Moth

The early Cambrian seas (542-488 million years ago) had a plethora of strange and bizarre creatures almost unimaginable to even the best sci-fi dreamer.  As possibly one of the precursors to the Arthropoda (also Onychophora and Tardigrada), the lobopodian lineages represent a strange group of “worms with legs” that once roamed the ancient sea . . . → Read More: A strange armored lobopodian from the Cambrian... Read more »

Liu, J., Steiner, M., Dunlop, J., Keupp, H., Shu, D., Ou, Q., Han, J., Zhang, Z., & Zhang, X. (2011) An armoured Cambrian lobopodian from China with arthropod-like appendages. Nature, 470(7335), 526-530. DOI: 10.1038/nature09704  

  • February 23, 2011
  • 06:01 PM

A Clay Problem solved?

by nath in Imprints of Philippine Science

There is a buzz in the Philippine science circle that Amador Muriel has solved the 3D Navier-Stokes Equation.  This equation (or an understanding of this equation) is one of the Millenium Prize Problems of the Clay Mathematics Institute (CMI).  These problems collated by CMI are “some of the most difficult problems with which mathematicians were [...]... Read more »

Muriel, A. (1997) An integral formulation of hydrodynamics. Physica D: Nonlinear Phenomena, 101(3-4), 299-316. DOI: 10.1016/S0167-2789(96)00181-9  

  • February 23, 2011
  • 06:00 PM

The best offense is a good defensin

by Kevin Bonham in Food Matters

If you were going to design the perfect immune system, what would you do? This question is often posed to beginning immunology students, and the best answer may be so obvious that it doesn't occur to most. The best immune system is one that prevent pathogens from ever gaining access to your squishy bits in the first place.

And so we have barriers - lots of them. Unfortunately, the best barriers are not always practical. Plants have rigid cell walls that are almost impervious to pathogens, but plants don't need to walk around. We trade that in for skin and that does pretty well, but it has limitations. We need to be able to consume tons of nutrients to fuel our metabolism, and those nutrients need to be absorbed into our bloodstream. Being permeable to nutrients and water also allows pathogens a back-door (no pun here - move on) for bacteria and viruses to get past the gate-keepers.

The epithelial cells that line our guts provide a pretty good physical barrier themselves, but they're no match for pathogens. Instead, they rely on a number of chemical barriers - proteins and other molecules that can kill or repel bacteria without harming your own cells. One of the most abundant of these so-called anti microbial peptides is human β-defensin1 (hBD-1), but there's just one problem: it kinda sucks at killing bacteria.


This has puzzled scientists for a long time. There are a number of different defensins, and most of them are potent microbicides, but you can dump loads of β-defensin1 on bacteria and they'll mostly shrug it off. Why would the most abundant defensin in the gut be so terrible at, you know, defending?
Read the rest of this post... | Read the comments on this post...... Read more »

Schroeder BO, Wu Z, Nuding S, Groscurth S, Marcinowski M, Beisner J, Buchner J, Schaller M, Stange EF, & Wehkamp J. (2011) Reduction of disulphide bonds unmasks potent antimicrobial activity of human β-defensin 1. Nature, 469(7330), 419-23. PMID: 21248850  

  • February 23, 2011
  • 05:44 PM

Sweeping through a fly’s genome

by Razib Khan in Gene Expression

Credit: Karl Magnacca
A few days ago I titled a post “The evolution of man is no cartoon”. The reason I titled it such is that as the methods become more refined and our data sets more robust it seems that previously held models of how humans evolved, and evolution’s impact on our genomes, are being refined. Evolutionary genetics at its most elegantly spare can be reduced down to several general parameters. Drift, selection, migration, etc. Exogenous phenomena such as the flux in census size, or environmental variation, has a straightforward relationship to these parameters. But, to some extent the broadest truths are nearly trivial. Down to the brass tacks what are these general assertions telling us? We don’t know yet. We’re in a time of transitions, though not troubles.
Going back to cartoons, starting around 1970 there were a series of debates which hinged around the role of deterministic adaptive forces and random neutral ones in the domain of evolutionary process. You have probably heard terms like “adaptationist,” “ultra-Darwinian,” and “evolution by jerks” thrown around. All great fun, and certainly ripe “hooks” to ...... Read more »

Sattath S, Elyashiv E, Kolodny O, Rinott Y, & Sella G. (2011) Pervasive Adaptive Protein Evolution Apparent in Diversity Patterns around Amino Acid Substitutions in Drosophila simulans. PLoS Genetics. info:/10.1371/journal.pgen.100130

  • February 23, 2011
  • 05:35 PM

Rough Estimate Of Papers Per Dollar

by Heather Piwowar in Research Remix

[Please forgive the temporary duplicate post... I'm experimenting with CiTO and ResearchBlogging metadata in  the citation links] A project I’m working on needed a back-of-the-envelope estimate for the average number of papers produced per grant-funding-dollar.  This average obviously varies by discipline and grant type and country, and depends on whether the grant funds are direct [...]... Read more »

  • February 23, 2011
  • 05:28 PM

R.I.P. Charles Robert Schuster, Ph.D.

by DrugMonkey in DrugMonkey

An towering figure of the substance abuse research fields has passed away. According to a note posted to an ASPET mailing list, Charles Robert Schuster, Ph.D. suffered a fatal stroke on Feb 21 in Houston Texas. NIDA Director Nora Volkow has also posted a notice to the NIDA-grantees mailing list.

The CPDD biography of Dr. Schuster is a brief overview of his career.
After six years in the Department of Pharmacology at the University of Michigan, he joined the Departments of Psychiatry, Pharmacology, and Behavioral Sciences and founded the University of Chicago´s Drug Abuse Research Center. In 1986, Dr. Schuster was appointed the Director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse, a position he held until 1992. In January of 1995, Dr. Schuster was appointed as a Professor in the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Neurosciences at Wayne State School of Medicine and the Director of the Substance Abuse Research Division.

One of the most fundamental and lasting advances of Dr. Schuster was the development of the self-administration model of drug reinforcement. Bob Schuster was one of the first to demonstrate that animals would work to receive intravenous infusions of drug and he was a major player in several of the initial observations on the reinforcing properties of recreational drugs through the 1960s and 1970s.

James R. Weeks published in 1962 that female rats would press a lever to receive intravenous infusions of morphine. Schuster and his colleagues were the first to adapt this method to nonhuman primates, getting started at approximately the same time as Weeks (there are references to Abstract presentations from Weeks as early as 1960 or 1961).
Clark, Schuster and Brady (1961) implanted two rhesus monkeys with internal jugular vein catheters and demonstrated that the monkeys would press a telegraph key for saline infusions. Furthermore, the provision of drinking water to the animals decreased the amount the monkeys would press the key, suggesting that this behavior was sensitive to "drive" (this term for motivation was popular then). The authors quite naturally speculated that this model would be useful for "experimental analysis of the reinforcing properties of many pharmacologic agents". Was it ever...

Thompson and Schuster (1964) reported that rhesus monkeys would work for intravenous infusions of morphine. This report references a "Technical Report" of their own dated July of 1962, for priority purposes one assumes :-). In the first experiment, three male rhesus monkeys were made dependent on morphine by means of four daily injections (7 mg morphine sulfate per kg bodyweight ) for 30 days. Thereafter, the monkeys were trained on a Fixed Interval-Fixed Ratio chained schedule in which they first had to complete an FI2min (first response after 2 min) to produce a stimulus light during which a FR25 (25th response completed ratio) was in place to obtain a morphine infusion. In this experiment the per-reinforcer dose available every 6 hrs (7 mg/kg) was the same as that used to induce dependence. The experimenters then showed that 24 hr discontinuation (after establishing stable responding) resulted in an increased response rate during the FI and decreased latency to complete the FR when drug was again available. Likewise, pretreatment with the opiate antagonist nalorphine also increased FI responding and speeded completion of the FR. Finally, a pre-session injection of morphine decreased the behavioral output for self-administered morphine as a function of the pre-session morphine dose. In short, they had provided the necessary demonstration that monkeys would "work for drug", showing that it functioned as a reinforcer in the classical operant behavioral paradigm.

This work had a lasting and substantial influence on the course of laboratory research on the reinforcing properties of drugs, as well as the brain mechanisms (structural, chemical, physiological) that were involved in reward and reinforcement. Drug mediated or otherwise. A PubMed search for "(rhesus OR macaque OR saimiri) AND (self-injection OR self-administration)" pulls up 769 references which can all be attributed to the methodological and experimental work of Dr. Schuster in the early 1960s. Many of these papers are authored by Dr. Schuster and his immediate colleagues and trainees. Unfortunately the Neurotree entry for Charles Schuster is woefully underpopulated. I was hoping to give you a sense of the degree to which he is the scientific father, grandfather and likely great-grandfather of so many people who have made seminal observations in substance abuse. Perhaps the field will be encouraged to complete this tree as a tribute to his professional life.

Dr. Volkow's email referenced one of Dr. Schuster's findings that anticipated, by at least a decade, a novel approach to therapy for drug abuse. I mentioned vaccination for cocaine abuse here and here. In the latter post I mentioned an attempt in the late 1970s to generate immunizations against opiate dependence. Yes, this was the work of Dr. Schuster. Bonese and colleagues (1974) trained a rhesus monkey to self-administer heroin or cocaine (on alternate days). Following immunization with a conjugate vaccine that produced antibodies capable of binding morphine, the monkey self-administered the same amount of cocaine as before, but wouldn't work for heroin. Increasing the per-infusion dose in steps, it was found that a 16-fold increase in per-infusion dose was required to restore self-administration. The animal thereafter reached an intake level of drug in the 2 hour session that was about 10-fold higher than the pre-immunization baseline. These studies anticipated a series of cocaine-vaccination studies in rats in the early 1990s that has then generated a more or less continual body of research into vaccines for cocaine, nicotine and methamphetamine abuse/dependence. Clinical trials are ongoing for cocaine and nicotine vaccines.

These are but two of the methodological and scientific veins that owe their origins in large part to the efforts of Dr. Schuster. There are his many, many trainees and academic descendants who are perhaps an equally important part of his legacy. I have not even touched upon his tenure as the Director of NIDA with the concomitant influence he had upon drug-abuse science in that role.

Suffice it to say that Dr. Schuster contributed greatly during his professional lifetime to our understanding of substance use, abuse and dependence. For that we are grateful and we celebrate the contributions of this scientist.

Clark, R., Schuster, C., & Brady, J. (1961). Instrumental Conditioning of Jugular Self-Infusion in the Rhesus Monkey Science, 133 (3467), 1829-1830 DOI: 10.1126/science.133.3467.1829


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  • February 23, 2011
  • 05:22 PM

Rough estimate of Papers per Dollar

by Heather Piwowar in Research Remix

A project I’m working on needed a back-of-the-envelope estimate for the average number of papers produced per grant-funding-dollar.  This average obviously varies by discipline and grant type and country, and depends on whether the grant funds are direct funding or total etc…. but I just wanted an order of magnitude estimate and so was willing to [...]... Read more »

  • February 23, 2011
  • 05:20 PM

Clinical research and the popular press – the bottom batch of 2005

by Medical Media Watch in Medical Media Watch

I had the distinction of running the 10 British Medical Journal (BMJ) papers that came ranked lowest according to the Academic Interest Index (AII) for 2005 and 2006 through the NexisUK. So taking the 2005 tranche first, here is what I got. The papers I dealt with were largely of academic interest rather than general [...]... Read more »

  • February 23, 2011
  • 04:17 PM

Brain Circuit Tied to Gambling Risk in Parkinson Disease Identified

by William Yates, M.D. in Brain Posts

Some of the drugs used to treat Parkinson disease (PD) increase the risk for pathological gambling.  This can have a significant economic adverse effect on some individuals.  I have previous posted on the use of amantadine in reducing pathological gambling in PD.  Although some medications may reduce the risk of pathological gambling, there is a need to further understand the mechanism of drug-related gambling behavior.Cilia and colleagues from the University of Toronto as well as Italy recently published a study examining the neural network in a series of patients with PD and pathological gambling.   The research team used a brain imaging technique called SPECT.  SPECT is an earlier technology that measures brain anatomical blood flow.  In contrast to functional MRI, SPECT requires an intravenous injection of contrast agent.  In this study, the authors conducted a correlational analysis between regional cerebral blood flow and a measure of gambling severity from a psychometric instrument called the South Oaks Gambling Screen.   A series of subjects with PD  with pathological gambling were compared to a matched PD group without pathological gambling and a matched group without PD.   Using a complicated statistical analysis strategy called path analysis, they estimated effective brain connectivity (circuitry) associated with pathological gambling behavior.High pathological gambling scores were associated with the reduced blood flow in the following brain regions (inpartial list):Right ventrolateral prefrontal cortex (VLPFC)Right anterior cingulate cortex (ACC)Right posterior cingulate cortex (PCC)Right medial frontopolar cortex (mPFC)Bilateral anterior insulaLeft striatumThe authors summarize why these specific regions and connections could affect the risk for development of pathological gambling behaviors.Right VLPC: this brain region is involved with behavioral response inhibition, impulsivity and “risk-taking choices during decision making under conflict”.   Studies of damage to this region produces a “blunted reaction to aversive outcome and risk-taking behavior.  ACC and striatum:  In healthy individuals, the authors note the ACC in a region involved in monitoring and processing negative outcomes.  The ACC regulates behavioral adjustments in scenarios where outcome predictability is low.  The ACC becomes activated in detecting errors after inhibition fails.   The striatum has previously been shown to be dysfunctional in problem gamblers without PD.  Dopamine (a neurotransmitter target of many PD drugs) is rich in the striatum and dopamine signaling mediates the “computation of reward prediction error and outcome expectation from future choices”.The authors suggest that in PD gamblers, a disconnection develops between the ACC and striatum.  This may explain why they have difficulty with perserveration of behavior (continued gambling) despite continued monetary losses.The authors note a weakness of their study is a reliance on correlational resting data.  A more powerful design would be to activate the brain regions involved in gambling with a task and study the anatomical and connectivity changes in those with PD associated with gambling and controls.  I suspect we will see such a study in the near future. Image of Anterior Cingulate Cortex (ACC) Brain Region from 3D Brain Screen Shot Courtesy of Yates Photography.Cilia R, Cho SS, van Eimeren T, Marotta G, Siri C, Ko JH, Pellecchia G, Pezzoli G, Antonini A, & Strafella AP (2011). Pathological gambling in patients with Parkinson's disease is associated with fronto-striatal disconnection: A path modeling analysis. Movement disorders : official journal of the Movement Disorder Society PMID: 21284039... Read more »

Cilia R, Cho SS, van Eimeren T, Marotta G, Siri C, Ko JH, Pellecchia G, Pezzoli G, Antonini A, & Strafella AP. (2011) Pathological gambling in patients with Parkinson's disease is associated with fronto-striatal disconnection: A path modeling analysis. Movement disorders : official journal of the Movement Disorder Society. PMID: 21284039  

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