Chapter 11. Emotions, Aggression, and Stress
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If your parrot is feeling glum, it might be tweetable. Wild keas spontaneously burst into playful behaviour when exposed to the parrot equivalent of canned laughter – the first birds known to respond to laughter-like sounds. The parrots soared after one another in aerobatic loops, exchanged foot-kicking high fives in mid-air and tossed objects to each other, in what seems to be emotionally contagious behaviour. And when the recording stops, so does the party, and the birds go back to whatever they had been doing. We already knew that these half-metre-tall parrots engage in playful behaviour, especially when young. What’s new is that a special warbling call they make has been shown to trigger behaviour that seems to be an equivalent of spontaneous, contagious laughter in humans. Moreover, it’s not just the young ones that respond, adults of both sexes join in the fun too. Raoul Schwing of the University of Veterinary Medicine in Vienna, Austria, and his team played 5-minute recordings to gatherings of between two and a dozen wild keas on a mountainside of New Zealand’s Arthur’s Pass National Park, on the southern island. The group played recordings of the warble sound, or other sounds, including two other frequent kea sounds – a screech and a whistle – plus the alarm call of a local robin species and a bland tone. © Copyright Reed Business Information Lt
/ By Katie Rose Quandt One afternoon in 2013, after swimming and playing outside, 9-year-old Taylor Johnson, from outside Atlanta, began sneezing incessantly. The fit lasted days before stopping abruptly, only to return months later. For a year, her violent sneezing fits came and went, to the bewilderment of a series of doctors. For families, the diagnosis can seem like an answer to their prayers. But there’s a catch: Most doctors won’t treat the diseases — and many don’t believe they even exist. “She was making this noise with her mouth at times 140 to 150 times a minute,” said her mother, Lori Johnson. “She was frantic, she couldn’t eat, she couldn’t sleep.” And “when she wasn’t sneezing, she was very depressed… She lost all interest in anything. Her whole personality just dissolved into nothing.” Then an otolaryngologist (an ear, nose, and throat doctor) realized Taylor wasn’t sneezing at all — the behavior was a repetitive, sneeze-like tic. That prompted a round of visits to neurologists, psychologists, and other specialists, until an allergist finally suggested a set of diagnoses unfamiliar to the Johnsons: PANS and PANDAS. These disorders, a specialist told them, can arise in certain predisposed children when the immune system responds to an infection like strep throat by attacking the brain. The resulting inflammation can lead to violent body tics and OCD-like symptoms. Copyright 2017 Undark
By JULIE REHMEYER and DAVID TULLER What are some of the treatment regimens that sufferers of chronic fatigue syndrome should follow? Many major medical organizations cite two: psychotherapy and a steady increase in exercise. There’s just one problem. The main study that has been cited as proof that patients can recover with those treatments overstated some of its results. In reality, the claim that patients can recover from these treatments is not justified by the data. That’s the finding of a peer-reviewed preliminary re-analysis of previously unpublished data from the clinical trial, the largest ever for chronic fatigue syndrome. Nicknamed the PACE trial, the core findings of the British study appeared in The Lancet in 2011 and Psychological Medicine in 2013. Patients battled for years to obtain the underlying data, and last spring, a legal tribunal in Britain, the General Regulatory Chamber, directed the release of some of the study’s information. The impact of the trial on treatment options for the estimated one million chronic fatigue patients in the United States has been profound. The Mayo Clinic, Kaiser Permanente, WebMD, the American Academy of Family Physicians and others recommend psychotherapy and a steady increase in exercise. But this approach can be harmful. According to a 2015 report from the Institute of Medicine, now the National Academy of Medicine, even minimal activity can cause patients prolonged exhaustion, muscle pain, cognitive problems and more. In severe cases, a short conversation or a trip to the bathroom can deplete patients for hours, days or more. In surveys, patients routinely report deterioration after a program of graded exercise. The psychotherapeutic intervention also encourages patients to increase their activity levels. Many patients (including one of us) have remained ill for years or decades with chronic fatigue syndrome, also known as myalgic encephalomyelitis, or ME/CFS. It can be triggered by a viral infection, resulting in continuing or recurring immunological and neurological dysfunction. The Institute of Medicine dismissed any notion that it is a psychiatric illness. © 2017 The New York Times Company
By Nicole Mortillaro, CBC News Have you ever been witness to an event with a friend only to conclude you both had different accounts about what had occurred? This is known as perception bias. Our views and beliefs can cloud the way we perceive things — and perception bias can take on many forms. New research published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology found that people tend to perceive young black men as larger, stronger and more threatening than white men of the same size. This, the authors say, could place them at risk in situations with police. The research was prompted by recent police shootings against black men in the United States — particularly those involving descriptions of men that didn't correspond with reality. Take, for example, the case of Dontre Hamilton. In 2014, the unarmed Hamilton was shot 14 times and killed by police in Milkwaukee. The officer involved testified that he believed he would have been easily overpowered by Hamilton, who he described as having a muscular build. But the autopsy report found that Hamilton was just five foot seven and weighed 169 pounds. Looking at the Hamilton case, as well as many other examples, the researchers sought to determine whether or not there were psychologically driven preconceived notions about black men over white men. ©2017 CBC/Radio-Canada.
By Warren Cornwall The number of years someone spends behind bars can hinge on whether they were clearly aware that they were committing a crime. But how is a judge or jury to know for sure? A new study suggests brain scans can distinguish between hardcore criminal intent and simple reckless behavior, but the approach is far from being ready for the courtroom. The study is unusual because it looks directly at the brains of people while they are engaged in illicit activity, says Liane Young, a Boston College psychologist who was not involved in the work. Earlier research, including work by her, has instead generally looked at the brains of people only observing immoral activity. Researchers led by Read Montague, a neuroscientist at Virginia Tech Carilion Research Insitute in Roanoke and at University College London, used functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), which can measure brain activity based on blood flow. They analyzed the brains of 40 people—a mix of men and women mostly in their 20s and 30s—as they went through scenarios that simulated trying to smuggle something through a security checkpoint. In some cases, the people knew for certain they had contraband in a suitcase. In other cases, they chose from between two and five suitcases, with only one containing contraband (and thus they weren’t sure they were carrying contraband). The risk of getting caught also varied based on how many of the 10 security checkpoints had a guard stationed there. The results showed distinctive patterns of brain activity for when the person knew for certain the suitcase had contraband and when they only knew there was a chance of it, the team reports today in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. But there was an unexpected twist. Those differing brain patterns only showed up when people were first shown how many security checkpoints were guarded, and then offered the suitcases. In that case, a computer analysis of the fMRI images correctly classified people as knowing or reckless between 71% and 80% of the time. © 2017 American Association for the Advancement of Science
By Diana Kwon Deep in the Amazon rainforests of Bolivia live the Tsimane’, a tribe that has remained relatively untouched by Western civilization. Tsimane’ people possess a unique characteristic: they do not cringe at musical tones that sound discordant to Western ears. The vast majority of Westerners prefer consonant chords to dissonant ones, based on the intervals between the musical notes that compose the chords. One particularly notable example of this is the Devil’s Interval, or flatted fifth, which received its name in the Middle Ages because the sound it produced was deemed so unpleasant that people associated it with sinister forces. The flatted fifth later became a staple of numerous jazz, blues, and rock-and-roll songs. Over the years, scientists have gathered compelling evidence to suggest that an aversion to dissonance is innate. In 1996, in a letter to Nature, Harvard psychologists, Marcel Zentner and Jerome Kagan, reported on a study suggesting that four-month-old infants preferred consonant intervals to dissonant ones. Researchers subsequently replicated these results: one lab discovered the same effect in two-month-olds and another in two-day-old infants of both deaf and hearing parents. Some scientists even found these preferences in certain animals, such as young chimpanzees and baby chickens. “Of course the ambiguity is [that] even young infants have quite a bit of exposure to typical Western music,” says Josh McDermott, a researcher who studies auditory cognition at MIT. “So the counter-argument is that they get early exposure, and that shapes their preference.” © 1986-2017 The Scientist
By Andy Coghlan Tiny particles secreted in response to head injury in the brains of mice could help explain how inflammation spreads and ultimately boosts the risk of developing dementia. Head injuries are increasingly being linked to cognitive problems and degenerative brain disease in later life. Mysterious particles a micrometre in diameter have previously been found in the spinal fluid of people with traumatic brain injury, but their function has remained unknown. Now Alan Faden at the University of Maryland School of Medicine in Baltimore and his colleagues have discovered that activated immune cells called microglia secrete such microparticles in response to brain injury, and they seem to spread inflammation well beyond the injury site itself. They can even cause brain inflammation when injected into uninjured animals. The particles have receptors that latch onto cells, and are packed with chemicals such as interleukins, which trigger inflammation, and fragments of RNA capable of switching whole suites of genes on or off. When Faden injured the brains of sedated mice, the microparticles spread well beyond the site of damage. Further experiments on cultured microglial cells revealed that the microparticles activate resting microglia, making them capable of triggering further inflammation themselves. © Copyright Reed Business Information Ltd.
By Agata Blaszczak-Boxe Recognizing when a friend or colleague feels sad, angry or surprised is key to getting along with others. But a new study suggests that a knack for eavesdropping on feelings may sometimes come with an extra dose of stress. This and other research challenge the prevailing view that emotional intelligence is uniformly beneficial to its bearer. In a study published in the September 2016 issue of Emotion, psychologists Myriam Bechtoldt and Vanessa Schneider of the Frankfurt School of Finance and Management in Germany asked 166 male university students a series of questions to measure their emotional smarts. For example, they showed the students photographs of people's faces and asked them to what extent feelings such as happiness or disgust were being expressed. The students then had to give job talks in front of judges displaying stern facial expressions. The scientists measured concentrations of the stress hormone cortisol in the students' saliva before and after the talk. In students who were rated more emotionally intelligent, the stress measures increased more during the experiment and took longer to go back to baseline. The findings suggest that some people may be too emotionally astute for their own good, says Hillary Anger Elfenbein, a professor of organizational behavior at Washington University in St. Louis, who was not involved in the study. “Sometimes you can be so good at something that it causes trouble,” she notes. Indeed, the study adds to previous research hinting at a dark side of emotional intelligence. A study published in 2002 in Personality and Individual Differences suggested that emotionally perceptive people might be particularly susceptible to feelings of depression and hopelessness. © 2017 Scientific American
By NICHOLAS BAKALAR There is some evidence that stress prompts people to turn to sweet, high-calorie “comfort foods.” Now scientists have confirmed a link between long-term stress and obesity. The study, published in Obesity, tested 2,527 men and women over 50 years old, quantifying stress by measuring levels of cortisol, the stress hormone, in 2-centimeter hair clippings, or about two months’ growth. After controlling for age, sex, ethnicity, smoking, diabetes and other factors that might be linked to obesity, they found that the higher the level of cortisol, the greater the body weight, B.M.I. and waist circumference. Higher cortisol levels were also associated with persistence of obesity over time. Other studies have relied on measures of cortisol in blood, urine or saliva, which can vary by time of day and be affected by temporary stressors and other factors. But this study was able to measure general stress levels over two months to get a picture of the long-term effect. The researchers acknowledge that they were unable to determine whether chronically high cortisol levels are a cause or a consequence of obesity (feeling “fat,” for example, could raise your stress levels). The lead author, Sarah E. Jackson, an epidemiologist at University College London, said that while it may not be possible to eliminate stress, “you may be able to find ways to control it. Even just being aware that stress might make you eat more may help.” © 2017 The New York Times Company
By Daniel Engber It took scientists six months to train Alexandra the red-footed tortoise, but by midsummer 2009 she’d finally learned to fake a yawn. A formal experiment came right after. Once per day for several weeks, the research team placed Alexandra on one side of a small tank and another tortoise—either Moses, Aldous, Wilhemina, Quinn, Esme, or Molly—just across from her. They then signaled her to tilt back her head and drop her jaw, just as she’d been taught, while they watched the other tortoise. Would Moses drop his jaw? Would Aldous or Wilhemina? Was there any sign at all that Alexandra’s tortoise yawn could be contagious? There was not. The research team tried again, this time having Alexandra fake her yawn not just once but twice or three times over; still, the observer tortoises did not respond. Next the scientists made Moses and the others watch a video of Alexandra in the middle of a natural yawn, not the fake one that she’d been practicing for months. Again, the yawn was not contagious. “It is possible that a real yawn is necessary to stimulate the observer tortoise,” the authors concluded in their 2011 paper, published in Current Zoology. But “our findings are more consistent with the suggestion that tortoises do not yawn in a contagious manner.” This finding, or lack thereof, may on its surface seem banal. But given what we know about the replication crisis in science, the tortoise paper might be a sign of things to come. Is it possible that the entire body of research on contagious yawning—a small but lively field that dates back 30 years—is resting on a shaky premise?
Link ID: 23308 - Posted: 03.03.2017
By Veronique Greenwood A number of studies have used functional MRI to see what our brain looks like as we recall pleasant memories, watch scary movies or listen to sad music. Scientists have even had some success telling which of these stimuli a subject is experiencing by looking at his or her scans. But does this mean it is possible to tell what emotions we are experiencing in the absence of prompts, as we let our mind wander naturally? That is a difficult question to answer, in part because psychologists disagree about how emotions should be defined. Nevertheless, some scientists are trying to tackle it. In a study reported in the June 2016 issue of Cerebral Cortex, Heini Saarimäki of Aalto University in Finland and her colleagues observed volunteers in a brain scanner who were being prompted to recall memories they associated with words drawn from six emotional categories or to reflect on a movie clip selected to provoke certain emotions. The participants also completed a questionnaire about how closely linked different emotions were—rating, for instance, whether “anxiety” is closer to “fear” than to “happiness.” The researchers found that pattern-recognition software could detect which category of emotion a person had been prompted with. In addition, the more closely he or she linked words in the questionnaire, the more his or her brain scans for those emotions resembled one another. Another study, published in September 2016 in PLOS Biology by Kevin LaBar of Duke University and his colleagues, attempted to match brain scans of people lying idle in a scanner to seven predefined patterns associated with specific emotions provoked in an earlier study. The researchers found they could predict the subjects' self-reported emotions from the scans about 75 percent of the time. © 2017 Scientific American,
By Andy Coghlan People who have autoimmune disorders may be 20 per cent more likely to develop dementia. That’s according to an analysis of 1.8 million hospital cases in England. Based on data collected between 1999 and 2012, the study’s findings add to mounting evidence that chronic inflammation – a common feature of many autoimmune disorders – may be a trigger of dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. Previous studies have found that if infections or chronic inflammatory diseases – including diabetes – have pushed a person’s immune system into overdrive, this can lead to immune cells attacking healthy brain tissue. Varying effect According to the analysis, people with multiple sclerosis are among those with autoimmune disorders who are most likely to develop dementia. This finding isn’t very surprising, as the disorder is caused by the immune system attacking the central nervous system. The study, led by Michael Goldacre at the University of Oxford, found that people with the condition have double the risk of developing dementia. But other autoimmune disorders were also associated with rises in dementia risk. The skin condition psoriasis was linked to a 29 per cent increase, while the risk of developing dementia was 46 per cent higher in people who have lupus erythematosus, a disorder that involves rashes and fatigue. © Copyright Reed Business Information Ltd.
By Drake Baer If you’re going to get any sort of science done, an experiment needs a control group: the unaffected, possibly placebo-ed population that didn’t take part in whatever intervention it is you’re trying to study. Back in the earlier days of cognitive neuroscience, the control condition was intuitive enough: Just let the person in the brain scanner lie in repose, awake yet quiet, contemplating the tube they’re inside of. But in 1997, 2001, and beyond, studies kept coming out saying that it wasn’t much of a control at all. When the brain is “at rest,” it’s doing anything but resting. When you don’t give its human anything to do, brain areas related to processing emotions, recalling memory, and thinking about what’s to come become quietly active. These self-referential streams of thought are so pervasive that in a formative paper Marcus Raichle, a Washington University neurologist who helped found the field, declared it to be the “the default mode of brain function,” and the constellation of brain areas that carry it out are the default mode network, or DMN. Because when given nothing else to do, the brain defaults to thinking about the person it’s embedded in. Since then, the DMN has been implicated in everything from depression to creativity. People who daydream more tend to have a more active DMN; relatedly, dreaming itself appears to be an amplified version of mind-wandering. In Buddhist traditions, this chattering described by neuroscientists as the default mode is a dragon to be tamed, if not slain. Chögyam Trungpa, who was instrumental in bringing Tibetan Buddhism to the U.S., said the meditation practice is “necessary generally because our thinking pattern, our conceptualized way of conducting our life in the world, is either too manipulative, imposing itself upon the world, or else runs completely wild and uncontrolled,” he wrote in Cutting Through Spiritual Materialism. “Therefore, our meditation practice must begin with ego’s outermost layer, the discursive thoughts which continually run through our minds, our mental gossip.” © 2017, New York Media LLC.
Bruce Bower Chimps with little social status influence their comrades’ behavior to a surprising extent, a new study suggests. In groups of captive chimps, a method for snagging food from a box spread among many individuals who saw a low-ranking female peer demonstrate the technique, say primatologist Stuart Watson of the University of St. Andrews in Fife, Scotland, and colleagues. But in other groups where an alpha male introduced the same box-opening technique, relatively few chimps copied the behavior, the researchers report online February 7 in the American Journal of Primatology. “I suspect that even wild chimpanzees are motivated to copy obviously rewarding behaviors of low-ranking individuals, but the limited spread of rewarding behaviors demonstrated by alpha males was quite surprising,” Watson says. Previous research has found that chimps in captivity more often copy rewarding behaviors of dominant versus lower-ranking group mates. The researchers don’t understand why in this case the high-ranking individuals weren’t copied as much. The spread of new behaviors in groups of monkeys and apes depends on a variety of factors — including an innovator’s social status, age and sex — that can interact in unpredictable ways. “That’s why social learning in groups is so interesting to study,” says Elizabeth Lonsdorf, a primatologist at Franklin & Marshall College in Lancaster, Pa., who did not participate in the research. |© Society for Science & the Public 2000 - 2017.
By Michelle Roberts A multiple sclerosis treatment being tested in patients can stop the disease for at least five years, say doctors. The risky therapy involves wiping out the person's immune system with strong cancer drugs and then rebooting it with a stem cell transplant. Doctors say only some patients will be suitable to try it, particularly because it is so high risk. Out of 281 people who had the treatment, nearly half benefited, but eight died shortly afterwards. The work in JAMA Neurology is one of the largest and longest investigations of this aggressive MS treatment. Mark Rye, 41 and from Surrey, had his transplant just before Christmas 2016. Two months on he is doing well. "It was a hard decision, knowing what could go wrong. My wife and I discussed it for many, many hours. We've got small children and I didn't want my MS to get worse and end up in a wheelchair. "I did this to halt the condition and so that I can be there for my children, who are still so young. I want to be able to play rugby and football with them as they grow up." What is not clear is for how long the therapy might ultimately work. Freeze frame MS is not fatal, but it is incurable. The disease causes the immune system to attack the protective coating of nerves in the brain and spinal cord, which can create problems with a person's vision, walking and balance. © 2017 BBC
By Matthew Hutson, Veronique Greenwood For some things, such as deciding whether to take a new job or nab your opponent's rook in chess, you're better off thinking long and hard. For others, such as judging your interviewer's or opponent's emotional reactions, first instincts are best—or so traditional wisdom suggests. But new research finds that careful reflection actually makes us better at assessing others' feelings. The findings could improve how we deal with bosses, spouses, friends and, especially, strangers. We would have trouble getting through the day or even a conversation if we couldn't tell how other people were feeling. And yet this ability, called empathic accuracy, eludes introspection. “We don't think too hard about the exact processes we engage in when we do it,” says Christine Ma-Kellams, a psychologist at the University of La Verne in California, “and we don't necessarily know how accurate we are.” Recently Ma-Kellams and Jennifer Lerner of Harvard University conducted four studies, all published in 2016. In one experiment, participants imagined coaching an employee for a particular job. When told to help the employee get better at reading others' emotions, most people recommended thinking “in an intuitive and instinctive way” as opposed to “in an analytic and systematic way.” When told to make employees worse at the task, the participants recommended the opposite. And yet later experiments suggested this coaching was off base. For instance, in another experiment, professionals in an executive-education program took a “cognitive reflection test” to measure how much they relied on intuitive versus systematic thinking. The most reflective thinkers were most accurate at interpreting their partners' moods during mock interviews. Systematic thinkers also outperformed intuiters at guessing the emotions expressed in photographs of eyes. © 2017 Scientific American
By Nathaniel P. Morris Cardiovascular disease and mental illness are among the top contributors to death and disability in the United States. At first glance, these health conditions seem to lie at opposite ends of the medical spectrum: Treating the heart is often associated with lab draws, imaging and invasive procedures, whereas treating the mind conjures up notions of talk therapy and subjective checklists. Yet researchers are discovering some surprising ties between cardiac health and mental health. These connections have profound implications for patient care, and doctors are paying attention. Depression has become recognized as a major issue for people with heart disease. Studies have found that between 17 and 44 percent of patients with coronary artery disease also have major depression. According to the American Heart Association, people hospitalized for a heart attack are roughly three times as likely as the general population to experience depression. As many as 40 percent of patients undergoing coronary artery bypass surgery suffer from depression. Decades of research suggest these illnesses may actually cause one another. For example, patients with heart disease are often sick and under stressful circumstances, which can foster depressive symptoms. But depression itself is also a risk factor for developing heart disease. Researchers aren’t sure why, but something about being depressed — possibly a mix of factors including inflammatory changes and behavior changes — appears to increase risk of heart disease. © 1996-2017 The Washington Post
Emotions are a cognitive process that relies on “higher-order states” embedded in cortical (conscious) brain circuits; emotions are not innately programmed into subcortical (nonconscious) brain circuits, according to a potentially earth-shattering new paper by Joseph LeDoux and Richard Brown. The February 2017 paper, “A Higher-Order Theory of Emotional Consciousness,” was published online today ahead of print in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. This paper was written by neuroscience legend Joseph LeDoux of New York University and Richard Brown, professor of philosophy at the City University of New York's LaGuardia College. Joseph LeDoux has been working on the link between emotion, memory, and the brain since the 1990s. He's credited with putting the amygdala in the spotlight and making this previously esoteric subcortical brain region a household term. LeDoux founded the Emotional Brain Institute (EBI). He’s also a professor in the Departments of Psychiatry and Child and Adolescent Psychiatry at NYU Langone Medical Center. Why Is This New Report From LeDoux and Brown Significant? In the world of cognitive neuroscience, there's an ongoing debate about the interplay between emotional states of consciousness (or feelings) within cortical and subcortical brain regions. (Most experts believe that cortical brain regions house “thinking” neural circuits within the cerebral cortex. Subcortical brain regions are considered to be housed in “non-thinking” neural circuits beneath the 'thinking cap' of the cerebral cortex.) © 1991-2017 Sussex Publishers, LLC
Link ID: 23249 - Posted: 02.18.2017
Jon Hamilton Scientists may have solved the mystery of nodding syndrome, a rare form of epilepsy that has disabled thousands of children in East Africa. The syndrome seems to be caused by the immune system's response to a parasitic worm, an international team reports in the journal Science Translational Medicine. And they think it's the same worm responsible for river blindness, an eye infection that's also found in East Africa. The finding means that current efforts to eliminate river blindness should also reduce nodding syndrome, says Avi Nath, an author of the study and chief of the section of infections of the nervous system at the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke. "We can prevent new infections even if we can't treat the ones who already have nodding syndrome," Nath says. Drugs can kill the parasite in its early stages. Nodding syndrome usually strikes children between 5 and 16 who live in rural areas of northern Uganda and South Sudan. Their bodies and brains stop growing. And they experience frequent seizures. "These are kids, young kids, you would expect that they should be running around playing," says Nath, who visited Uganda several years ago. "Instead, if you go to these villages they are just sitting there in groups," so villagers can keep an eye on them. © 2017 npr
By Matt Blois A ruthless killer may soon help brain cancer patients. The rabies virus, which kills tens of thousands of people a year, has a rare ability to enter nerve cells and use them as a conduit to infect brain tissue. Now, scientists are trying to mimic this strategy to ferry tumor-killing nanoparticles into brain tumors. So far the approach has been shown to work only in mice. If successful in people, these nanoparticles could one day help doctors send treatment directly to tumors without harming healthy cells. The rabies virus, transmitted largely through the bites of infected animals, has evolved over thousands of years to hijack nerve cells, which it uses to climb from infected muscle tissue into the brain. That allows it to bypass a major hurdle: the blood-brain barrier, a selective membrane that keeps out most pathogens that travel through the bloodstream. But the barrier also prevents treatments—like cancer drugs—from reaching infected cells, limiting options for patients. To get around this problem, scientists are looking to the virus for inspiration. Already, researchers have packaged cancer-fighting drugs into nanoparticles coated with part of a rabies surface protein that lets the virus slip into the central nervous system. Now, a team of researchers from Sungkyunkwan University in Suwon, South Korea, has taken things one step further. Nanoparticle expert Yu Seok Youn and his team have engineered gold particles so that they have the same rodlike shape and size as the virus. The nanoparticle’s shape gives it more surface area than spherical particles, improving the surface protein’s ability to bind with receptors on nerve cells that serve as a gateway to the nervous system. The particles don’t carry any drugs, but the tiny gold rods readily absorb laser light, which heats them up and kills surrounding tissue. © 2017 American Association for the Advancement of Science.