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'Language Gene' Has a Partner

Few genes have made the headlines as much as FOXP2. The first gene associated with language disorders , it was later implicated in the evolution of human speech. Girls make more of the FOXP2 protein, which may help explain their precociousness in learning to talk. Now, neuroscientists have figured out how one of its molecular partners helps Foxp2 exert its effects.

The findings may eventually lead to new therapies for inherited speech disorders, says Richard Huganir, the neurobiologist at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine in Baltimore, Maryland, who led the work. Foxp2 controls the activity of a gene called Srpx2, he notes, which helps some of the brain's nerve cells beef up their connections to other nerve cells. By establishing what SRPX2 does, researchers can look for defective copies of it in people suffering from problems talking or learning to talk.

Until 2001, scientists were not sure how genes influenced language. Then Simon Fisher, a neurogeneticist now at the Max Planck Institute for Psycholinguistics in Nijmegen, the Netherlands, and his colleagues fingered FOXP2 as the culprit in a family with several members who had trouble with pronunciation, putting words together, and understanding speech. These people cannot move their tongue and lips precisely enough to talk clearly, so even family members often can?t figure out what they are saying. It “opened a molecular window on the neural basis of speech and language,” Fisher says.

Photo credit: Yoichi Araki, Ph.D.

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Heidi Ledford Teaching parents of children with autism how to interact more effectively with their offspring brings the children benefits that linger for years, according to the largest and longest-running study of autism interventions. The training targeted parents with 2–4-year-old children with autism. Six years after the adults completed the year-long course, their children showed better social communication and reduced repetitive behaviours, and fewer were considered to have “severe” autism as compared to a control group, according to results published on 25 October in The Lancet1. “This is not a cure,” says child psychiatrist Jonathan Green of the University of Manchester, and an investigator on the study. “But it does have a sustained and substantial reduction in severity and that’s important in families.” John Constantino, a child psychiatrist at Washington University in St. Louis, Missouri, says that the results are “monumentally important”, because there has been little evidence showing that interventions for autism at an early stage are effective — even though researchers already broadly endorse the idea. "It is a rare long-term randomized controlled trial in a field in which there exists almost no data of this kind," he says. But he adds that the magnitude of the improvement was a disappointment, and that there were signs that the effects of treatment were diminishing over time. And although the therapy benefited communication skills and decreased repetitive behaviours, it did not lessen childrens' anxiety — another key symptom of autism. “Perhaps most of all, this underscores how desperately important it is that we develop higher-impact interventions,” he says. © 2016 Macmillan Publishers Limited,

Keyword: Autism; Learning & Memory
Link ID: 22791 - Posted: 10.26.2016

By Tori Rodriguez Uric acid is almost always mentioned in the context of gout, an inflammatory type of arthritis that results from excessive uric acid in the blood. It may be surprising, then, that it has also been linked with a vastly different type of disease: bipolar disorder. Elevated uric acid has been observed in patients with acute mania, and reducing uric acid improves symptoms. New evidence supports its potential as a treatment target. Uric acid is a by-product of the breakdown of compounds called purines, found in many foods and manufactured by the body. High levels of uric acid can indicate that these compounds, such as the neurotransmitter adenosine, are being broken down too readily in the body. “Adenosine might play a key role in neurotransmission and neuromodulation, having sedative, anticonvulsant and antiaggressive effects,” says physician Francesco Bartoli, a researcher at the University of Milano-Bicocca in Italy. Bartoli's new study, published in May in the Journal of Psychosomatic Research, examined uric acid levels in 176 patients with bipolar disorder or another severe mental illness and 89 healthy controls. The results show that bipolar disorder was the only diagnosis significantly linked with levels of uric acid. Excess uric acid was found to be linked to male gender, metabolic syndrome, waist size and triglyceride levels. Beyond the too rapid breakdown of adenosine, other potential explanations for increased uric acid include the metabolic abnormalities often present in people with bipolar disorder and frequent consumption of purine-rich foods and drinks, such as liver, legumes, anchovies and alcohol. Fructose consumption can also be a problem because the sugar inhibits uric acid excretion. Dietary interventions may reduce levels, but medication is typically required if dietary changes are insufficient. © 2016 Scientific American

Keyword: Schizophrenia
Link ID: 22790 - Posted: 10.26.2016

Andrew Solomon A new virtual-reality attraction planned for Knott’s Berry Farm in Buena Park, Calif., was announced last month in advance of the peak haunted-house season. The name, “Fear VR 5150,” was significant. The number 5150 is the California psychiatric involuntary commitment code, used for a mentally ill person who is deemed a danger to himself or others. Upon arrival in an ersatz “psychiatric hospital exam room,” VR 5150 visitors would be strapped into a wheelchair and fitted with headphones. “The VR headset puts you in the middle of the action inside the hospital,” an article in The Orange County Register explained. “One patient seems agitated and attempts to get up from a bed. Security officers try to subdue him. A nurse gives you a shot (which you will feel), knocking you out. When you wake up in the next scene, all hell has broken loose. Look left, right and down, bloody bodies lie on the floor. You hear people whimpering in pain.” Knott’s Berry Farm is operated by Ohio-based Cedar Fair Entertainment Company, and Fear VR 5150 was to be featured at two other Cedar Fair parks as well. Almost simultaneously, two similar attractions were started at Six Flags. A news release for one explained: “Our new haunted house brings you face-to-face with the world’s worst psychiatric patients. Traverse the haunted hallways of Dark Oaks Asylum and try not to bump into any of the grunting inmates around every turn. Maniacal inmates yell out from their bloodstained rooms and deranged guards wander the corridors in search of those who have escaped.” The Orange County branch of the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) sprang into action, and Doris Schwartz, a Westchester, N.Y.-based mental-health professional, immediately emailed a roster of 130 grass-roots activists, including me, many of whom flooded Cedar Fair and Six Flags with phone calls, petitions and emails. After some heated back-and-forth, Fear VR 5150 was shelved, and Six Flags changed the mental patients in its maze into zombies. © 2016 The New York Times Company

Keyword: Depression; Schizophrenia
Link ID: 22789 - Posted: 10.26.2016

Richard Harris Researchers have launched an innovative medical experiment that's designed to provide quick answers while meeting the needs of patients, rather than drug companies. Traditional studies can cost hundreds of millions of dollars, and can take many years. But patients with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or Lou Gehrig's disease don't have the time to wait. This progressive muscle-wasting disease is usually fatal within a few years. Scientists in an active online patient community identified a potential treatment and have started to gather data from the participants virtually rather than requiring many in-person doctor's visits. How is that possible? In this case, doctors and patients alike got interested in an extraordinary ALS patient whose symptoms actually got better, which rarely occurs. He'd been taking a dietary supplement called lunasin, "and lo and behold six months later, [his] speech [was] back to normal, swallowing back to normal, doesn't use his feeding tube, [and he was] significantly stronger as measured by his therapists," said Richard Bedlack, a neurologist who runs the ALS clinic at Duke University. Of course, it could just be a coincidence that the man who got better happened to be taking these supplements. To find out, Bedlack teamed up to run a study with Paul Wicks, a neuropsychologist and vice president for innovation at a web-based patient organization called PatientsLikeMe. © 2016 npr

Keyword: ALS-Lou Gehrig's Disease
Link ID: 22788 - Posted: 10.26.2016

By Steven C. Pan A good night’s sleep can be transformative. Among its benefits are improved energy and mood, better immune system functioning and blood sugar regulation, and greater alertness and ability to concentrate. Given all of these benefits, the fact that a third of the human lifespan is spent sleeping makes evolutionary sense. However, sleep appears to have another important function: helping us learn. Across a plethora of memory tasks—involving word lists, maze locations, auditory tones, and more—going to sleep after training yields better performance than remaining awake. This has prompted many sleep researchers to reach a provocative conclusion: beyond merely supporting learning, sleep is vital, and perhaps even directly responsible, for learning itself. Recent discoveries from neuroscience provide insights into that possibility. Sleep appears to be important for long-term potentiation, a strengthening of signals between neurons that is widely regarded as a mechanism of learning and memory. Certain memories acquired during the day appear to be reactivated and “replayed” in the brain during sleep, which may help make them longer lasting. In some instances the amount of improvement that occurs on memory tasks positively correlates with the length of time spent in certain stages of sleep. These and other findings are generating great excitement among sleep researchers, as well as prompting heated debates about the degree to which sleep may or may not be involved in learning. To date, most sleep and learning research has focused on recall, which is the capacity to remember information. However, new research by Stéphanie Mazza and colleagues at the University of Lyon, recently published in the journal Psychological Science,suggests another potential benefit of sleep: improved relearning. © 2016 Scientific American

Keyword: Sleep; Learning & Memory
Link ID: 22787 - Posted: 10.26.2016

Merrit Kennedy Parents can reduce the risk of sudden infant death syndrome by keeping their child's crib in the same room, close to their bed, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics. That's one of the key recommendations in new guidance released today aimed at preventing SIDS, which claims the lives of approximately 3,500 infants every year in the United States. That number "initially decreased in the 1990s after a national safe sleep campaign, but has plateaued in recent years," the AAP adds. The pediatricians say that children should sleep in the same room but on a separate surface from their parents for at least the first six months of their lives, and ideally the first year. They say that this can halve the risk of SIDS. It also "removes the possibility of suffocation, strangulation, and entrapment that may occur when the infant is sleeping in an adult bed," according to the recommendations. The AAP discourages sharing a bed with an infant. You can read the AAP's full guidance here. These are a few more of the pediatricians' recommendations: Infants under a year old should always sleep lying on their backs. Side sleeping "is not safe and is not advised," the AAP says. Infants should always sleep on a firm surface covered by only a flat sheet. That's because soft mattresses "could create a pocket ... and increase the chance of rebreathing or suffocation if the infant is placed in or rolls over to the prone position." Smoking — both during pregnancy and around the infant after birth — can increase the risk of SIDS. Alcohol and illicit drugs during pregnancy can also contribute to SIDS, and "parental alcohol and/or illicit drug use in combination with bed-sharing places the infant at particularly high risk of SIDS," the pediatricians say. © 2016 npr

Keyword: Sleep; Development of the Brain
Link ID: 22786 - Posted: 10.25.2016

David Brooks We’ve had a tutorial on worry this year. The election campaign isn’t really about policy proposals, issue solutions or even hope. It’s led by two candidates who arouse gargantuan anxieties, fear and hatred in their opponents. As a result, some mental health therapists are reporting that three-quarters of their patients are mentioning significant election-related anxiety. An American Psychological Association study found that more than half of all Americans are very or somewhat stressed by this race. Of course, there are good and bad forms of anxiety — the kind that warns you about legitimate dangers and the kind that spirals into dark and self-destructive thoughts. In his book “Worrying,” Francis O’Gorman notes how quickly the good kind of anxiety can slide into the dark kind. “Worry is circular,” he writes. It may start with a concrete anxiety: Did I lock the back door? Is this headache a stroke? “And it has a nasty habit of taking off on its own, of getting out of hand, of spawning thoughts that are related to the original worry and which make it worse.” That’s what’s happening this year. Anxiety is coursing through American society. It has become its own destructive character on the national stage. Worry alters the atmosphere of the mind. It shrinks your awareness of the present and your ability to enjoy what’s around you right now. It cycles possible bad futures around in your head and forces you to live in dreadful future scenarios, 90 percent of which will never come true. Pretty soon you are seeing the world through a dirty windshield. Worry dims every sunrise and amplifies mistrust. A mounting tide of anxiety makes people angrier about society and more darkly pessimistic about the possibility of changing it. Spiraling worry is the perverted underside of rationality. This being modern polarized America, worry seems to come in two flavors. © 2016 The New York Times Company

Keyword: Stress; Emotions
Link ID: 22785 - Posted: 10.25.2016

Laura Sanders When small lies snowball into blizzards of deception, the brain becomes numb to dishonesty. As people tell more and bigger lies, certain brain areas respond less to the whoppers, scientists report online October 24 in Nature Neuroscience. The results might help explain how small transgressions can ultimately set pants aflame. The findings “have big implications for how lying can develop,” says developmental psychologist Victoria Talwar of McGill University in Montreal, who studies how dishonest behavior develops in children. “It starts to give us some idea about how lying escalates from small lies to bigger ones.” During the experiment, researchers from University College London and Duke University showed 80 participants a crisp, big picture of a glass jar of pennies. They were told that they needed to send an estimate of how much money was in the jar to an unseen partner who saw a smaller picture of the same jar. Each participant was serving as a “well-informed financial adviser tasked with advising a client who is less informed about what investments to make,” study coauthor Neil Garrett of University College London said October 20 during a news briefing. Researchers gave people varying incentives to lie. In some cases, for instance, intentionally overestimating the jar’s contents was rewarded with a bigger cut of the money. As the experiment wore on, the fibs started flying. People lied the most when the lie would benefit both themselves and their unseen partner. But these “financial advisers” still told self-serving lies even when it would hurt their partner. |© Society for Science & the Public 2000 - 2016

Keyword: Emotions
Link ID: 22784 - Posted: 10.25.2016

By Alison F. Takemura In the mid-1980s, György Buzsáki was trying to get inside rats’ heads. Working at the University of California, San Diego, he would anesthetize each animal with ether and hypothermia, cut through its scalp, and drill holes in its skull. Carefully, he’d screw 16 gold-plated stainless steel electrodes into the rat’s brain. When he was done with the surgery, these tiny pieces of metal—just 0.5 mm in diameter—allowed him to measure voltage changes from individual neurons deep in the brain’s folds, all while the rodent was awake and moving around. He could listen to the cells fire action potentials as the animal explored its environment, learning and remembering what it encountered (J Neurosci, 8:4007-26, 1988). In those days, recording from two cells simultaneously was the norm. The 16-site recording in Buzsáki’s 1988 study “was the largest ever in a rat,” he says. Nowadays, scientists can measure voltage changes from 1,000 neurons at the same time with silicon multielectrode arrays. But the basic techniques of using a probe to measure electrical activity within the brain (electrophysiology) or from outside it (electroencephalography, or EEG) are still workhorses of neural imaging labs. “The new tools don’t replace the old ones,” says Jessica Cardin, a neuroscientist at the Yale School of Medicine. “They add new layers of information.” Another decades-old neuroscientific technique that remains popular today is patch clamping. Developed in the late 1970s and early 1980s, it can detect changes in the electric potential of individual cells, or even single ion channels. With a tiny glass pipette suctioned against the cell’s membrane, researchers can make a small tear, sealed by the pipette tip, and detect voltage changes inside the cell. With some improvements, the patch clamp, like electrophysiology and EEG, has remained a regular part of the neuroscientist’s tool kit. Recently, researchers had a robot carry out the process (Nat Methods, 9:585-87, 2012). © 1986-2016 The Scientist

Keyword: Brain imaging
Link ID: 22783 - Posted: 10.25.2016

Robin McKie New visions of the brain and body’s detailed operations will be unveiled by a suite of medical scanners being opened this week. The newly refurbished Wolfson Brain Imaging Centre in the University of Cambridge has been equipped with some of the world’s most powerful magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) and positron emission tomography (PET) scanners and will give its researchers unprecedented power to make images of cancers, study the precise makeup of the cortex and analyse how chemicals in the brain – known as neurotransmitters – underpin the development of schizophrenia and depression. “It is a remarkable set of machines,” says Professor Ed Bullmore, head of neuroscience at Cambridge University. “We will be able to address clinical issues such as the detailed progression of Parkinson’s disease. At the same time, we will be able to address basic issues about the mind. How does the brain develop? How does the adult brain perform its functions?” At the heart of the refurbished centre – funded by the Medical Research Council, Wellcome Trust and Cancer Research UK – are three groundbreaking devices. Only a handful of these exist at institutions outside Cambridge and no institution – other than Cambridge – has all three. “The devices we have assembled are primarily for studying humans and will have a strong research focus,” Bullmore says. A key example is provided by the 7T MRI scanner. Current devices have magnetic fields that have strengths of around 3T (tesla) and can see structures 2-3 mm in size. By contrast, the new Cambridge scanner with its 7T field will have a resolution of around 0.5mm. © 2016 Guardian News and Media Limited

Keyword: Brain imaging
Link ID: 22782 - Posted: 10.24.2016

By KATE MURPHY Eavesdrop on any conversation or pay close attention to your own and you’ll hear laughter. From explosive bursts to muffled snorts, some form of laughter punctuates almost all verbal communication. Electronic communication, too, LOL. You’ll probably also notice that, more often than not, the laughter is in response to something that wasn’t very funny — or wasn’t funny at all. Observational studies suggest this is the case 80 percent to 90 percent of the time. Take Hillary Clinton’s strategic laughter during heated exchanges with Donald J. Trump during the presidential debates. Or Jimmy Fallon’s exaggerated laughter when interviewing guests on “The Tonight Show.” Or employees at Fox News reporting that they tried to “laugh off” unwanted sexual advances by Roger Ailes and others within the organization. How laughter went from a primal signal of safety (the opposite of a menacing growl) to an odd assortment of vocalizations that smooth as much as confuse social interactions is poorly understood. But researchers who study laughter say reflecting on when and why you titter, snicker or guffaw is a worthy exercise, given that laughter can harm as much as help you. “It’s a hall of mirrors of inferences and intentions every time you encounter laughter,” said Sophie Scott, a neuroscientist at University College London who studies how the brain produces and processes laughter. “You think it’s so simple. It’s just jokes and ha-ha but laughter is really sophisticated and complicated.” Laughter at its purest and most spontaneous is affiliative and bonding. To our forebears it meant, “We’re not going to kill each other! What a relief!” But as we’ve developed as humans so has our repertoire of laughter, unleashed to achieve ends quite apart from its original function of telling friend from foe. Some of it is social lubrication — the warm chuckles we give one another to be amiable and polite. Darker manifestations include dismissive laughter, which makes light of something someone said sincerely, and derisive laughter, which shames. © 2016 The New York Times Company

Keyword: Emotions; Attention
Link ID: 22781 - Posted: 10.24.2016

Ian Sample Science editor Experiments with a fake body part have revealed how the brain becomes confused during a party trick known as the rubber hand illusion. Researchers in Italy performed the trick on a group of volunteers to explore how the mind combines information from the senses to create a feeling of body ownership. Under the illusion, people feel that a rubber hand placed on the table before them is their own, a bizarre but convincing shift in perception that is accompanied by a sense of disowning their real hand. The scientists launched the study after noticing that some stroke patients in their care experienced similar sensations, at times becoming certain that a paralysed limb was not their own, and even claiming ownership over other people’s appendages. “It is a very strong belief,” said Francesca Garbarini at the University of Turin. “We know that the feeling of body ownership can be dramatically altered after brain damage.” For the study, healthy volunteers sat with their forearms resting on a table and their right hand hidden inside a box. A lifelike rubber hand was then placed in front of them and lined up with their right shoulder. A cloth covered the stump of the hand, but the fingers remained visible. To induce the illusion, one of the researchers stroked the middle finger of the participant’s real hand while simultaneously stroking the same finger on the rubber hand. © 2016 Guardian News and Media Limited

Keyword: Pain & Touch
Link ID: 22780 - Posted: 10.24.2016

by Bethany Brookshire Most of us spend our careers trying to meet — and hopefully exceed — expectations. Scientists do too. But the requirements for success in a job in academic science don’t always line up with the best scientific methods. The net result? Bad science doesn’t just happen — it gets selected for. What does it mean to be successful in science? A scientist gets a job and funding by publishing a lot of high-impact papers with novel findings. Those papers and findings beget awards and funding to do more science — and publish more papers. “The problem that we face is that the incentive system is focused almost entirely on getting research published, rather than on getting research right,” says Brian Nosek, a psychologist at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville. This idea of success has become so ingrained that scientists are even introduced when they give talks by the number of papers they have published or the amount of grant funding they have, says Marc Edwards, a civil engineer at Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University in Blacksburg. But rewarding researchers for the number of papers they publish results in a “natural selection” of sloppy science, new research shows. The idea of scientific “success” equated as number of publications promotes not just lazy science but also unethical science, another paper argues. Both articles proclaim that it’s time for a culture shift. But with many scientific labs to fund and little money to do it, what does a new, better scientific enterprise look like? © Society for Science & the Public 2000 - 2016

Keyword: Miscellaneous
Link ID: 22779 - Posted: 10.24.2016

By Kensy Cooperrider, Rafael Núñez “What is the difference between yesterday and tomorrow?” The Yupno man we were interviewing, Danda, paused to consider his answer. A group of us sat on a hillside in the Yupno Valley, a remote nook high in the mountains of Papua New Guinea. Only days earlier we had arrived on a single-engine plane. After a steep hike from the grass airstrip, we found ourselves in the village of Gua, one of about 20 Yupno villages dotting the rugged terrain. We came all the way here because we are interested in time—in how Yupno people understand concepts such as past, present and future. Are these ideas universal, or are they products of our language, our culture and our environment? As we interviewed Danda and others in the village, we listened to what they said about time, but we paid even closer attention to what they did with their hands as they spoke. Gestures can be revealing. Ask English speakers about the difference between yesterday and tomorrow, and they might thrust a hand over the shoulder when referring to the past and then forward when referring to the future. Such unreflective movements reveal a fundamental way of thinking in which the past is at our backs, something that we “leave behind,” and the future is in front of us, something to “look forward” to. Would a Yupno speaker do the same? Danda was making just the kinds of gestures we were hoping for. As he explained the Yupno word for “yesterday,” his hand swept backward; as he mentioned “tomorrow,” it leaped forward. We all sat looking up a steep slope toward a jagged ridge, but as the light faded, we changed the camera angle, spinning around so that we and Danda faced in the opposite direction, downhill. With our backs now to the ridge, we looked over the Yupno River meandering toward the Bismarck Sea. “Let's go over that one more time,” we suggested. © 2016 Scientific American,

Keyword: Attention
Link ID: 22778 - Posted: 10.22.2016

Bret Stetka Every day in the United States, millions of expectant mothers take a prenatal vitamin on the advice of their doctor. The counsel typically comes with physical health in mind: folic acid to help avoid fetal spinal cord problems; iodine to spur healthy brain development; calcium to be bound like molecular Legos into diminutive baby bones. But what about a child's future mental health? Questions about whether ADHD might arise a few years down the road or whether schizophrenia could crop up in young adulthood tend to be overshadowed by more immediate parental anxieties. As a friend with a newborn daughter recently fretted over lunch, "I'm just trying not to drop her!" Yet much as pediatricians administer childhood vaccines to guard against future infections, some psychiatrists now are thinking about how to shift their treatment-centric discipline toward one that also deals in early prevention. In 2013, University of Colorado psychiatrist Robert Freedman and colleagues recruited 100 healthy, pregnant women from greater Denver to study whether giving the B vitamin choline during pregnancy would enhance brain growth in the developing fetus. The moms-to-be were randomly given either a placebo or a form of choline called phosphatidylcholine. Choline itself is broken down by bacteria in the gut; by giving it in this related form the supplement can more effectively be absorbed into the bloodstream. © 2016 npr

Keyword: Schizophrenia; Development of the Brain
Link ID: 22777 - Posted: 10.22.2016

By Laura Wright, Researchers have the clearest-ever picture of the receptor that gives humans the 'high' from marijuana, which could lead to a better understanding of how the drug affects humans. Scientists have long known that molecules from THC, the psychoactive component of marijuana, bind to and activate the receptor known as CB1. But now they know that it has a three-dimensional crystal structure. The authors of the paper, which was published Thursday in the journal Cell, say this information is crucial to improve our understanding of this receptor as marijuana use becomes widespread and, in many places, legalized. Now that they know the shape of the receptor, they can get a better idea of how different molecules bind to it, which is what causes reactions in humans. "What is important is to understand how different molecules bind to the receptor, how they control the receptor function, and how this can affect different people," said Raymond Stevens, co-author of the study. Dr. Mark Ware, the executive director of the Canadian Consortium for the Investigation of Cannabinoids and the director of clinical research at the Alan Edwards pain management unit at the McGill University Health Centre, called the discovery a "breakthrough." "Suddenly we've been given the design of the building," he explained. "We can work out ways to get in the building, we know where the windows and doors and stairs are, and we know kind of how the building is structured now." They both said that knowing the receptor's design can lead to better drug design. K2 synthetic pot It's also a key step to understanding the differences between natural cannabinoids, found in the marijuana plant, and synthetic cannabinoids, made in labs. ©2016 CBC/Radio-Canada.

Keyword: Drug Abuse
Link ID: 22776 - Posted: 10.22.2016

By Nathaniel P. Morris When meeting new people, I'm often asked what I do for work. Depending on how I phrase my answer, I receive very different reactions."I'm a doctor specializing in mental health" elicits fascination. People's faces brighten and they say, "Very cool!" But If I instead say, "I'm a psychiatrist," the conversation falls quiet. They get uncomfortable and change the subject. Mental health has made great strides in recent years. Every week, people across the country participate in walks to support mental health causes. The White House now designates May as National Mental Health Awareness Month. In the presidential race, Hillary Clinton released a comprehensive plan to invest in mental health care. Yet psychiatry—the medical specialty focused on mental health—remains looked down upon in nearly every corner of our society. The public often doesn’t regard psychiatrists as medical doctors. Many view psychiatric treatments as pseudoscience at best and harmful at worst. Even among health professionals, it’s one of the least respected medical specialties. The field is in serious decline. Academic papers abound with titles like “Is psychiatry dying?” and “Are psychiatrists an endangered species?” Despite growing mental health needs nationwide, fewer medical students are applying into the field, and the number of psychiatrists in the US is falling. Patients too often refuse treatment because of stigma related to the field. © 2016 Scientific American

Keyword: Depression; Schizophrenia
Link ID: 22775 - Posted: 10.22.2016

By Agata Blaszczak-Boxe Some rodents have a sweet tooth. And sometimes, you need to get crafty to reach your sugar fix. Rats have been filmed for the first time using hooked tools to get chocolate cereal – a manifestation of their critter intelligence. Akane Nagano and Kenjiro Aoyama, of Doshisha University in Kyotanabe, Japan, placed eight brown rats in a transparent box and trained them to pull small hooked tools to obtain the cereal that was otherwise beyond their reach. In one experiment they gave them two similar hooked tools, one of which worked well for the food retrieval task, and the other did not. The rats quickly learned to choose the correct tool for the job, selecting it 95 per cent of the time. The experiments showed that the rats understood the spatial arrangement between the food and the tool. The team’s study is the first to demonstrate that rats are able to use tools, says Nagano. The rats did get a little confused in the final experiment. When the team gave them a rake that looked the part but with a bottom was too soft and flimsy to move the cereal, they still tried to use it as much as the working tool that was also available. But, says Nagano, it is possible their eyesight was simply not good enough for them to tell that the flimsy tool wasn’t up to the task. The rodents’ crafty feat places them in the ever-growing club of known tool-using animals such as chimps, bearded capuchin monkeys, New Caledonian crows, alligators and even some fish. © Copyright Reed Business Information Ltd.

Keyword: Learning & Memory; Intelligence
Link ID: 22774 - Posted: 10.22.2016

Laura Sanders Pain is contagious, at least for mice. After encountering bedding where mice in pain had slept, other mice became more sensitive to pain themselves. The experiment, described online October 19 in Science Advances, shows that pain can move from one animal to another — no injury or illness required. The results “add to a growing body of research showing that animals communicate distress and are affected by the distress of others,” says neuroscientist Inbal Ben-Ami Bartal of the University of California, Berkeley. Neuroscientist Andrey Ryabinin and colleagues didn’t set out to study pain transfer. But the researchers noticed something curious during their experiments on mice who were undergoing alcohol withdrawal. Mice in the throes of withdrawal have a higher sensitivity to pokes on the foot. And surprisingly, so did these mice’s perfectly healthy cagemates. “We realized that there was some transfer of information about pain” from injured mouse to bystander, says Ryabinin, of Oregon Health & Sciences University in Portland. When mice suffered from alcohol withdrawal, morphine withdrawal or an inflaming injection, they become more sensitive to a poke in the paw with a thin fiber — a touchy reaction that signals a decreased pain tolerance. Mice that had been housed in the same cage with the mice in pain also grew more sensitive to the poke, Ryabinin and colleagues found. These bystander mice showed other signs of heightened pain sensitivity, such as quickly pulling their tails out of hot water and licking a paw after an irritating shot. |© Society for Science & the Public 2000 - 20

Keyword: Chemical Senses (Smell & Taste); Pain & Touch
Link ID: 22773 - Posted: 10.20.2016

By Catherine Caruso Imagine you are faced with the classic thought experiment dilemma: You can take a pile of money now or wait and get an even bigger stash of cash later on. Which option do you choose? Your level of self-control, researchers have found, may have to do with a region of the brain that lets us take the perspective of others—including that of our future self. A study, published today in Science Advances, found that when scientists used noninvasive brain stimulation to disrupt a brain region called the temporoparietal junction (TPJ), people appeared less able to see things from the point of view of their future selves or of another person, and consequently were less likely to share money with others and more inclined to opt for immediate cash instead of waiting for a larger bounty at a later date. The TPJ, which is located where the temporal and parietal lobes meet, plays an important role in social functioning, particularly in our ability to understand situations from the perspectives of other people. However, according to Alexander Soutschek, an economist at the University of Zurich and lead author on the study, previous research on self-control and delayed gratification has focused instead on the prefrontal brain regions involved in impulse control. “When you have a closer look at the literature, you sometimes find in the neuroimaging data that the TPJ is also active during delay of gratification,” Soutschek says, “but it's never interpreted.” © 2016 Scientific American

Keyword: Attention
Link ID: 22772 - Posted: 10.20.2016