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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

Hannah Devlin Science correspondent Monkeys have been observed producing sharp stone flakes that closely resemble the earliest known tools made by our ancient relatives, proving that this ability is not uniquely human. Previously, modifying stones to create razor-edged fragments was thought to be an activity confined to hominins, the family including early humans and their more primitive cousins. The latest observations re-write this view, showing that monkeys unintentionally produce almost identical artefacts simply by smashing stones together. The findings put archaeologists on alert that they can no longer assume that stone flakes they discover are linked to the deliberate crafting of tools by early humans as their brains became more sophisticated. Tomos Proffitt, an archaeologist at the University of Oxford and the study’s lead author, said: “At a very fundamental level - if you’re looking at a very simple flake - if you had a capuchin flake and a human flake they would be the same. It raises really important questions about what level of cognitive complexity is required to produce a sophisticated cutting tool.” Unlike early humans, the flakes produced by the capuchins were the unintentional byproduct of hammering stones - an activity that the monkeys pursued decisively, but the purpose of which was not clear. Originally scientists thought the behaviour was a flamboyant display of aggression in response to an intruder, but after more extensive observations the monkeys appeared to be seeking out the quartz dust produced by smashing the rocks, possibly because it has a nutritional benefit. © 2016 Guardian News and Media Limited

Keyword: Evolution
Link ID: 22771 - Posted: 10.20.2016

Tina Hesman Saey VANCOUVER — Zika virus’s tricks for interfering with human brain cell development may also be the virus’s undoing. Zika infection interferes with DNA replication and repair machinery and also prevents production of some proteins needed for proper brain growth, geneticist Feiran Zhang of Emory University in Atlanta reported October 19 at the annual meeting of the American Society of Human Genetics. Levels of a protein called p53, which helps control cell growth and death, shot up by 80 percent in human brain cells infected with the Asian Zika virus strain responsible for the Zika epidemic in the Americas, Zhang said. The lab dish results are also reported in the Oct. 14 Nucleic Acids Research. Increased levels of the protein stop developing brain cells from growing and may cause the cells to commit suicide. A drug that inactivates p53 stopped brain cells from dying, Zhang said. Such p53 inhibitors could help protect developing brains in babies infected with Zika. But researchers would need to be careful giving such drugs because too little p53 can lead to cancer. Zika also makes small RNA molecules that interfere with production of proteins needed for DNA replication, cell growth and brain development, Zhang said. In particular, a small viral RNA called vsRNA-21 reduced the amount of microcephalin 1 protein made in human brain cells in lab dishes. The researchers confirmed the results in mouse experiments. That protein is needed for brain growth; not enough leads to the small heads seen in babies with microcephaly. Inhibitors of the viral RNAs might also be used in therapies, Zhang suggested. |© Society for Science & the Public 2000 - 2016

Keyword: Development of the Brain
Link ID: 22770 - Posted: 10.20.2016

Hannah Devlin Science correspondent Migraine sufferers have a different mix of gut bacteria that could make them more sensitive to certain foods, scientists have found. The study offers a potential explanation for why some people are more susceptible to debilitating headaches and why some foods appear to act as triggers for migraines. The research showed that migraine sufferers had higher levels of bacteria that are known to be involved in processing nitrates, which are typically found in processed meats, leafy vegetables and some wines. The latest findings raise the possibility that migraines could be triggered when nitrates in food are broken down more efficiently, causing vessels in the brain and scalp to dilate. Antonio Gonzalez, a programmer analyst at the University of California San Diego and the study’s first author, said: “There is this idea out there that certain foods trigger migraines - chocolate, wine and especially foods containing nitrates. We thought that perhaps there are connections between what people are eating, their microbiomes and their experiences with migraines.” When nitrates in food are broken down by bacteria in the mouth and gut they are eventually converted into nitric oxide in the blood stream, a chemical that dilates blood vessels and can aid cardiovascular health by boosting circulation. © 2016 Guardian News and Media Limited

Keyword: Pain & Touch; Obesity
Link ID: 22769 - Posted: 10.19.2016

By Meredith Knight In June, international diabetes organizations endorsed provocative new guidelines suggesting physicians should consider gastric bypass surgery for a greatly expanded number of diabetics—those with a body mass index of 30 and above as opposed to just those with a BMI of 40 or more. Research has shown that the surgery helps people lose more weight, maintain the loss longer and achieve better blood glucose levels than those who slim down by changing diet and exercise habits. Now a study in mice suggests the effectiveness of bariatric surgery may stem in part from changes it causes in the brain. According to the study, published in the International Journal of Obesity, gastric bypass surgery causes the hyperactivation of a neural pathway that leads from stomach-sensing neurons in the brain stem to the lateral parabrachial nucleus, an area in the midbrain that receives sensory information from the body, and then to the amygdala, the brain's emotion- and fear-processing center. The obese mice underwent so-called Roux-en-Y bypass surgery, in which surgeons detach most of the stomach, leaving only a tiny pouch connected to the small intestine. Shortly after the surgery, the mice begin to show increased activation in this neural pathway, along with reduced meal size and a preference for less fatty food. They also begin to secrete higher levels of satiety hormones. Similar behavioral and hormonal patterns are found in humans after bypass surgery, suggesting that the brain changes may also be similar—but the authors say looking at this particular circuit in humans with brain imaging is difficult because the resolution is not up to the task. © 2016 Scientific American,

Keyword: Obesity
Link ID: 22768 - Posted: 10.19.2016

Susan Milius For widemouthed, musical midshipman fish, melatonin is not a sleep hormone — it’s a serenade starter. In breeding season, male plainfin midshipman fish (Porichthys notatus) spend their nights singing — if that’s the word for hours of sustained foghorn hums. Males dig trysting nests under rocks along much of North America’s Pacific coast, then await females drawn in by the crooning. New lab tests show that melatonin, familiar to humans as a possible sleep aid, is a serenade “go” signal, says behavioral neurobiologist Ni Feng of Yale University. From fish to folks, nighttime release of melatonin helps coordinate bodily timekeeping and orchestrate after-dark biology. The fish courtship chorus, however, is the first example of the hormone prompting a launch into song, according to Andrew Bass of Cornell University. And what remarkable vocalizing it is. The plainfin midshipman male creates a steady “mmm” by quick-twitching specialized muscles around its air-filled swim bladder up to 100 times per second in chilly water. A fish can extend a single hum for about two hours, Feng and Bass report October 10 in Current Biology. That same kind of super-fast muscle shakes rattle-snake tails and trills vocal structures in songbirds and bats. |© Society for Science & the Public 2000 - 2016

Keyword: Sexual Behavior; Hormones & Behavior
Link ID: 22767 - Posted: 10.19.2016

By MARC SANTORA The morning after Christine Grounds gave birth to her son Nicholas, she awoke to find a neurologist examining her baby. It was summer 2006, and Nicholas was her first child. There had been no indication that anything was wrong during her pregnancy, but it was soon clear that there was a problem. “Did you know he has microcephaly?” she remembers the doctor asking matter-of-factly. Confused, she replied, “What is microcephaly?” This was before the Zika virus had spread from Brazil across South and Central America and the Caribbean and reached Florida. It was before doctors had determined that the virus could cause microcephaly, a birth defect in which children have malformed heads and severely stunted brain development. And it was before people had seen the devastating pictures of scores of newborns with the condition in Brazil and elsewhere that shocked the world this year. Ms. Grounds, a 45-year-old psychotherapist, and her husband, Jon Mir, who live in Manhattan, had no idea what microcephaly would mean for them or for their child. “We had a diagnosis but no prognosis,” recalled Mr. Mir, 44, who works in finance. The doctors could offer few answers. “We don’t know if he will walk,” the couple recalled being told. “We don’t know if he will talk. He might be in a vegetative state.” But the truth was, even the doctors did not know. As mosquito season draws to a close in much of the country, taking with it the major risk of new Zika infections, there are still more than 2,600 pregnant women who have tested positive for the virus in the United States and its territories, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. They, and thousands more around the world, face the prospect of giving birth to a child with microcephaly. © 2016 The New York Times Company

Keyword: Development of the Brain
Link ID: 22766 - Posted: 10.19.2016

By Jessica Hamzelou Is depression caused by an inflamed brain? A review of studies looking at inflammation and depression has found that a class of anti-inflammatory drugs can ease the condition’s symptoms. Golam Khandaker at the University of Cambridge and his colleagues analysed 20 clinical studies assessing the effects of anti-cytokine drugs in people with chronic inflammatory conditions. These drugs block the effects of cytokines – proteins that control the actions of the immune system. Anti-cytokines can dampen down inflammation, and are used to treat rheumatoid arthritis. Together, these trials involved over 5,000 volunteers, and provide significant evidence that anti-cytokine drugs can also improve the symptoms of depression, Khandaker’s team found. These drugs work about as well as commonly used antidepressants, they say. The most commonly used anti-depressant drugs, known as SSRIs, act to increase levels of serotonin in the brain, to improve a person’s mood. But depression might not always be linked to a lack of serotonin, and SSRIs don’t work for everyone. Recent research has found that around a third of people with depression appear to have higher levels of cytokines in their brains, while people with “overactive” immune systems seem more likely to develop depression. Khandaker’s team think that inflammation in the brain might be responsible for the fatigue experienced by people with depression. © Copyright Reed Business Information Ltd.

Keyword: Depression; Neuroimmunology
Link ID: 22765 - Posted: 10.19.2016

By Meredith Wadman The second century C.E. Greek physician and philosopher Galen advised patients suffering from disorders of the spirit to bathe in and drink hot spring water. Modern day brain scientists have posited that Galen’s prescription delivered more than a placebo effect. Lithium has for decades been recognized as an effective mood stabilizer in bipolar disease, and lithium salts may have been present in the springs Galen knew. Yet exactly how lithium soothes the mind has been less than clear. Now, a team led by Ben Cheyette, a neuroscientist at the University of California in San Francisco (UCSF), has linked its success to influence over dendritic spines, tiny projections where excitatory neurons form connections, or synapses, with other nerve cells. Lithium treatment restored healthy numbers of dendritic spines in mice engineered to carry a genetic mutation that is more common in people with autism, schizophrenia, and bipolar disorder than in unaffected people, they report today in Molecular Psychiatry. The lithium also reversed symptoms in these mutant mice—lack of interest in social interactions, decreased motivation, and increased anxiety—that mimic those in the human diseases. “They showed there’s a correlation between the ability of lithium to reverse not only the behavioral abnormalities in the mice, but also the [dendritic] spine abnormalities,” says Scott Soderling, a neuroscientist at Duke University in Durham, North Carolina, who studies how dysfunctions in signaling at brain synapses and lead to psychiatric disorders. Soderling adds that the work also sheds light on the roots of these diseases. “It gives further credence to this idea that these spine abnormalities are functionally linked to the behavioral disorders.” © 2016 American Association for the Advancement of Science.

Keyword: Schizophrenia
Link ID: 22764 - Posted: 10.18.2016

Laura Sanders When the body’s internal sense of time doesn’t match up with outside cues, people can suffer, and not just from a lack of sleep. Such ailments are similar in a way to motion sickness — the queasiness caused when body sensations of movement don’t match the external world. So scientists propose calling time-related troubles, which can afflict time-zone hoppers and people who work at night, “circadian-time sickness.” This malady can be described, these scientists say, with a certain type of math. The idea, to be published in Trends in Neurosciences, is “intriguing and thought-provoking,” says neuroscientist Samer Hattar of Johns Hopkins University. “They really came up with an interesting idea of how to explain the mismatch.” Neuroscientist Raymond van Ee of Radboud University in the Netherlands and colleagues knew that many studies had turned up ill effects from an out-of-whack circadian clock. Depression, metabolic syndromes and memory troubles have been found alongside altered daily rhythms. But despite these results, scientists don’t have a good understanding of how body clocks work, van Ee says. Van Ee and colleagues offer a new perspective by using a type of math called Bayesian inference to describe the circadian trouble. Bayesian inference can be used to describe how the brain makes and refines predictions about the world. This guesswork relies on the combination of previous knowledge and incoming sensory information (SN: 5/28/16, p. 18). In the case of circadian-time sickness, these two cues don’t match up, the researchers propose. |© Society for Science & the Public 2000 - 2016

Keyword: Sleep
Link ID: 22763 - Posted: 10.18.2016

By PERRI KLASS, M.D. It’s a classic which-came-first question: Is the child not getting enough sleep because of problem behaviors, especially at bedtime, or is the child behaving problematically because of not getting enough sleep? The answers are most likely yes and yes, and the back-and-forth currents can drag a child down developmentally. In an editorial in JAMA Pediatrics in 2015, Michelle M. Garrison, a research assistant professor at the University of Washington in the division of child and adolescent psychiatry, described this intersection of sleep and behavior problems in early childhood as a “feedback whirlpool.” Dr. Garrison was commenting on a longitudinal study of more than 32,000 Norwegian mothers and their children who were followed from birth to age 5; the children with sleep problems at 18 months, including short sleep duration (sleeping 10 hours or less) or frequent nocturnal awakenings (three times a night or more) had more emotional and behavioral problems at the age of 5. This held true even when the researchers adjusted for emotional and behavioral problems already present in the 18-month-olds; compared to children at the same behavioral baseline, the kids with sleep problems ran into more difficulties as they developed. “Sleep really does drive behavior problems and behavior problems are driving sleep problems, it really is bidirectional,” Dr. Garrison said. “A child can start having problems with emotional regulation, melting down more, and that makes it more difficult for the family to do all the things they have to do so the child can get good sleep. Sleep gets worse; behavior gets worse. It can really be an awful cycle for the kid and the family both.” Dr. Oskar Jenni, a professor of developmental pediatrics at Zurich University Children’s Hospital, said that there is a great deal of variation in the individual sleep needs of children at any given age. Parents need to understand their children’s sleep needs and rhythms, since behavior problems can also arise when children are compelled to spend more time in bed than they actually need. “My main message is adjusting bedtime to the needs of the children in both directions,” he said. © 2016 The New York Times Company

Keyword: Sleep
Link ID: 22762 - Posted: 10.18.2016

By Michael Price When you’re smiling, it may feel like the whole world is smiling with you, but a new study suggests that some facial expressions may not be so universal. In fact, several expressions commonly understood in the West—including one for fear—have very different meanings to one indigenous, isolated society in Papua New Guinea. The new findings call into question some widely held tenets of emotional theory, and they may undercut emerging technologies, like robots and artificial intelligence programs tasked with reading people’s emotions. For more than a century, scientists have wondered whether all humans experience the same basic range of emotions—and if they do, whether they express them in the same way. In the 1870s, it was the central question Charles Darwin explored in The Expression of the Emotions in Man and Animals. By the 1960s, emeritus psychologist Paul Ekman, then at the University of California (UC) in San Francisco, had come up with an accepted methodology to explore this question. He showed pictures of Westerners with different facial expressions to people living in isolated cultures, including in Papua New Guinea, and then asked them what emotion was being conveyed. Ekman’s early experiments appeared conclusive. From anger to happiness to sadness to surprise, facial expressions seemed to be universally understood around the world, a biologically innate response to emotion. That conclusion went virtually unchallenged for 50 years, and it still features prominently in many psychology and anthropology textbooks, says James Russell, a psychologist at Boston College and corresponding author of the recent study. But over the last few decades, scientists have begun questioning the methodologies and assumptions of the earlier studies. © 2016 American Association for the Advancement of Science.

Keyword: Emotions
Link ID: 22761 - Posted: 10.18.2016

By DONNA DE LA CRUZ Some of the most troubling images of the opioid crisis involve parents buying or using drugs with their children in tow. Now new research offers a glimpse into the addicted brain, finding that the drugs appear to blunt a person’s natural parenting instincts. Researchers at the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania scanned the brains of 47 men and women before and after they underwent treatment for opioid dependence. While in the scanner, the study subjects looked at various images of babies, and the researchers measured the brain’s response. The brain scans were compared with the responses of 25 healthy people. What the study subjects didn’t know was that the photos had been manipulated to adjust the “baby schema,” the term used to describe the set of facial and other features like round faces and big eyes that make our brains register babies as irresistible, kicking in our instinct to care for them. Sometimes the babies’ features were exaggerated to make them even more adorable; in others, the chubby cheeks and big eyes were reduced, making the faces less appealing. Studies show that a higher baby schema activates the part of the brain called the ventral striatum, a key component of the brain reward pathway. Compared with the brains of healthy people, the brains of people with opioid dependence didn’t produce strong responses to the cute baby pictures. But once the opioid-dependent people received a drug called naltrexone, which blocks the effects of opioids, their brains produced a more normal response. “When the participants were given an opioid blocker, their baby schema became more similar to that of healthy people,” said Dr. Daniel D. Langleben, one of the researchers. “The data also raised in question whether opioid medications may affect social cognition in general.” © 2016 The New York Times Company

Keyword: Drug Abuse; Attention
Link ID: 22760 - Posted: 10.15.2016

Linda Geddes For the first time, a paralysed man has gained a limited sense of touch, thanks to an electric implant that stimulates his brain and allows him to feel pressure-like sensations in the fingers of a robotic arm. The advance raises the possibility of restoring limited sensation to various areas of the body, as well as giving people with spinal-cord injuries better control over prosthetic limbs. But restoring human-like feeling, such as sensations of heat or pain, will prove more challenging, the researchers say. Nathan Copeland had not been able to feel or move his legs and lower arms since a car accident snapped his neck and injured his spinal cord when he was 18. Now, some 12 years later, he can feel when a robotic arm has its fingers touched, because sensors on the fingers are linked to an implant in his brain. Brain implant restores paralysed man's sense of touch Rob Gaunt, a biomedical engineer at the University of Pittsburgh, performs a sensory test on a blindfolded Nathan Copeland. Nathan, who is paralysed, demonstrates his ability to feel by correctly identifying different fingers through a mind-controlled robotic arm. Video credit: UPMC/Pitt Health Sciences. “He says the sensations feel like they’re coming from his own hand,” says Robert Gaunt, a biomedical engineer at the University of Pittsburgh who led the study. © 2016 Macmillan Publishers Limited

Keyword: Robotics; Pain & Touch
Link ID: 22759 - Posted: 10.15.2016