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By Anna Azvolinsky Hummingbirds are efficient hoverers, suspending their bodies midair using rapid forward and backward strokes. Aside from their unique ability to hover, the tiny avians are also the only known birds that can fly in any direction, including sideways. Hummingbird brains appear to be adapted for this flying ability, researchers have now shown. According to a study published today (January 5) in Current Biology, a highly conserved area of the brain—the lentiformis mesencephali (LM), which receives panoramic visual motion information directly from the retina—processes the movement of objects from all directions. In contrast, the LMs of other bird species and all other four-limbed vertebrates studied to date predominantly sense back-to-front motion. While the authors had predicted the neurons of this hummingbird brain region would be tuned to slow motion, they in fact found the opposite: LM neurons were sensitive to quick visual motion, most likely because hummingbirds must process and respond to their environments quickly to avoid collisions, both during hovering and in other modes of flight. “This ancient part of the brain the authors studied has one job: to detect the motion of the image in front of the eyes,” explained Michael Ibbotson, a neuroscientist at the University of Melbourne who penned an accompanying editorial but was not involved in the research. The results of this study suggest that “hummingbirds evolved this area of the brain to have fine motor control to be able to hover and push in every direction possible,” Ibbotson said. © 1986-2017 The Scientist

Keyword: Vision
Link ID: 23064 - Posted: 01.07.2017

By Michael Price As we age, we get progressively better at recognizing and remembering someone’s face, eventually reaching peak proficiency at about 30 years old. A new study suggests that’s because brain tissue in a region dedicated to facial recognition continues to grow and develop throughout childhood and into adulthood, a process known as proliferation. The discovery may help scientists better understand the social evolution of our species, as speedy recollection of faces let our ancestors know at a glance whether to run, woo, or fight. The results are surprising because most scientists have assumed that brain development throughout one’s life depends almost exclusively on “synaptic pruning,” or the weeding out of unnecessary connections between neurons, says Brad Duchaine, a psychologist at Dartmouth College who was not involved with the study. “I expect these findings will lead to much greater interest in the role of proliferation in neural development.” Ten years ago, Kalanit Grill-Spector, a psychologist at Stanford University in Palo Alto, California, first noticed that several parts of the brain’s visual cortex, including a segment known as the fusiform gyrus that’s known to be involved in facial recognition, appeared to develop at different rates after birth. To get more detailed information on how the size of certain brain regions changes over time, she turned to a recently developed brain imaging technology known as quantitative magnetic resonance imaging (qMRI). The technique tracks how long it takes for protons, excited by the imaging machine’s strong magnetic field, to calm down. Like a top spinning on a crowded table, these protons will slow down more quickly if they’re surrounded by a lot of molecules—a proxy for measuring volume. © 2017 American Association for the Advancement of Science

Keyword: Development of the Brain; Attention
Link ID: 23063 - Posted: 01.06.2017

By Gary Stix The last six months have witnessed the failure of two drugs in late-stage clinical trials for which the research community had high hopes. In truth, these new reports should not have come as too much of a surprise. Drug after drug continues to show little or no effect in helping the more than 5 million patients in the U.S. diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. Scientists who study neurodegenerative diseases have started to call for new approaches that go beyond targeting the amyloid in plaques and the tau in tangles, proteins that have been thought to be culprits in killing brain cells. One organization—The Alzheimer’s Drug Discovery Foundation (ADDF)—has for years provided funding to move untried ideas into clinical trials. Howard Fillit, the organization’s executive director, recently gave Scientific American his surprisingly optimistic view of where research and drug development for Alzheimer’s is headed. There have been recent failures of late-stage clinical trials and a figure often cited is that more than 99 percent of Alzheimer's drugs fail. Given all that, what level of confidence do you have for the field moving forward? There's a lot of reason for hope. There are over 130 different clinical trials going on now. I remember the days when there were none. We have had many failures. But I think one of the big advances that is creating hope is that we know how to do clinical trials better now. In a study that is being conducted by Biogen, everyone who was recruited into that study actually had Alzheimer's disease, for the first time. © 2017 Scientific American

Keyword: Alzheimers
Link ID: 23062 - Posted: 01.06.2017

By Virginia Smart, CBC News A controversial Canadian program that gives a regulated, hourly dose of wine to alcoholics to help manage their addiction and keep them safe has caught the attention of health care researchers in Australia. The managed alcohol programs (MAPs) that have sparked the international interest have been giving new hope and new lives to many alcoholics struggling with homelessness and troubles with addiction in communities from British Columbia to Ontario. Kate Dolan, a professor at the National Drug and Alcohol Research Centre at the University of New South Wales in Australia, has visited programs in Ottawa and Vancouver and was impressed. "We used to lead the world in harm reduction services," Dolan tells the fifth estate, but "the alcohol field has not progressed as much as the illicit drug use field." Research led Dolan to Ottawa's MAP. She found MAPs to be cost-effective through reductions in spending on health care and emergency services. Participants also significantly reduce their alcohol consumption and learn a sense of community. The Pour Lucia Ali monitors 'The Pour,' the hourly distribution of a prescribed dose of alcohol dictated by the in-house nurse at the Oaks, a residence for stabilized alcoholics in Ottawa. (CBC) When participants arrive at a MAP, Dolan wrote in her study, "it is all about me, myself and I." But as they progress, they lose the "chip on their shoulder and open up." ©2016 CBC/Radio-Canada.

Keyword: Drug Abuse
Link ID: 23061 - Posted: 01.06.2017

By Kevin McCarthy There’s a dearth of safety data for melatonin, but there are a number of potential concerns, especially for children. “I think we just don’t know what the potential long-term effects are, particularly when you’re talking about young children,” said Dr. Judith Owens, director of the Center for Pediatric Sleep Disorders at Boston Children’s Hospital. “Parents really need to understand that there are potential risks.” The pineal gland in the brain ramps up production of the hormone melatonin in the evening, as light fades, to encourage sleep, and it turns down production in the early morning hours. Synthetic forms of the hormone are also sold as a dietary supplement; because melatonin is found in some foods, like barley, olives and walnuts, it is regulated as a nutritional supplement rather than a drug, as most other hormones are. In adults, studies have found melatonin to be effective for jet lag and some sleep disorders. It is also hugely popular as a sleep aid for children and can be useful for sleep disorders among those with attention-deficit disorders or autism, Dr. Owens said. “I rarely see a family come in with a child with insomnia who hasn’t tried melatonin,” she said. “I would say at least 75 percent of the time when they come in to see us” at the sleep clinic, “they’re either on melatonin or they’ve tried it in the past.” While short-term use of the hormone is generally considered safe, it can have side effects, including headaches, dizziness and daytime grogginess, which could pose a risk for drivers. Melatonin can also interfere with blood pressure, diabetes and blood thinning medications. © 2017 The New York Times Company

Keyword: Sleep; Hormones & Behavior
Link ID: 23060 - Posted: 01.06.2017

By Alice Klein A tumour containing a miniature brain has been found growing on the ovary of a 16-year-old girl in Japan. The 10-centimetre-wide tumour was discovered when the girl had surgery to remove her appendix. When doctors cut the tumour out, they found clumps of greasy, matted hair inside, and a 3-centimetre-wide brain-like structure covered by a thin plate of skull bone. Closer analysis revealed that it was a smaller version of a cerebellum – which usually sits underneath the brain’s two hemispheres. A mass on one side resembled a brain stem – the structure that normally joins to the spinal cord. About one-fifth of ovarian tumours contain foreign tissue, including hair, teeth, cartilage, fat and muscle. These tumours, which are normally benign, are named teratomas after the Greek word “teras”, meaning monster. Although the cause of ovarian teratomas is unknown, one theory is that they arise when immature egg cells turn rogue, producing different body parts. Brain cells are often found in ovarian teratomas, but it is extremely unusual for them to organise themselves into proper brain-like structures, says Masayuki Shintaku at the Shiga Medical Centre for Adults in Japan, who studied the tumour. Angelique Riepsamen at the University of New South Wales in Australia, agrees. “Neural elements similar to that of the central nervous system are frequently reported in ovarian teratomas, but structures resembling the adult brain are rare.” © Copyright Reed Business Information Ltd.

Keyword: Development of the Brain
Link ID: 23059 - Posted: 01.06.2017

Hannah Devlin Science correspondent People living near a busy road have an increased risk of dementia, according to research that adds to concerns about the impact of air pollution on human health. Roughly one in 10 cases of Alzheimer’s in urban areas could be associated with living amid heavy traffic, the study estimated – although the research stopped short of showing that exposure to exhaust fumes causes neurodegeneration. Hong Chen, the scientist who led the work at Public Health Ontario, said: “Increasing population growth and urbanisation has placed many people close to heavy traffic, and with widespread exposure to traffic and growing rates of dementia, even a modest effect from near-road exposure could pose a large public health burden.” Previously, scientists have linked air pollution and traffic noise to reduced density of white matter (the brain’s connective tissue) and lower cognition. A recent study suggested that magnetic nano-particles from air pollution can make their way into brain tissue. The latest study, published in The Lancet, found that those who live closest to major traffic arteries were up to 12% more likely to be diagnosed with dementia – a small but significant increase in risk. The study, which tracked roughly 6.6 million people for more than a decade, could not determine whether pollution is directly harmful to the brain. The increased dementia risk could also be a knock-on effect of respiratory and cardiac problems caused by traffic fumes or due to other unhealthy life-style factors associated with living in built-up urban environments. © 2017 Guardian News and Media Limited

Keyword: Alzheimers; Stress
Link ID: 23058 - Posted: 01.05.2017

Eating a Mediterranean diet has been linked to less brain shrinkage in older adults. Human brains naturally shrink with age. But a study that followed 401 people in their 70s found that the brains of those who adhered more closely to a Mediterranean-style diet shrank significantly less over a period of three years. A typical Mediterranean diet contains a high amount of vegetables, fruits, olive oil, beans and cereal grains, moderate amounts of fish, dairy products, and wine, and only a small amount of red meat and poultry. “As we age, the brain shrinks and we lose brain cells, which can affect learning and memory,” says Michelle Luciano, at the University of Edinburgh, UK, who led the study. “This study adds to the body of evidence that suggests the Mediterranean diet has a positive impact on brain health.” The differences in brain shrinkage were measured using brain scans. Statistical analysis of diet data found that simply eating more fish and less meat were not associated with reduced shrinking. “While the study points to diet having a small effect on changes in brain size, it didn’t look at the effect on risk of dementia,” says David Reynolds, at the charity Alzheimer’s Research UK. “We would need to see follow-up studies in order to investigate any potential protective effects against problems with memory and thinking.” Other studies have found that being overweight seems to accelerate shrinking of the brain’s white matter. © Copyright Reed Business Information Ltd.

Keyword: Obesity; Alzheimers
Link ID: 23057 - Posted: 01.05.2017

Joanne Silberner For a revolutionary, Deepali Vishwakarma of Bhopal, India, is more quiet and reflective than you might expect. She's in her 30s, small, with a round face that holds intense brown eyes and a shy grin. Vishwakarma is a lay counselor — a well-trained community member who goes out daily to fight what novelist William Styron once called a "howling tempest in the brain." She's part of an effort by the Indian nonprofit group Sangath to provide mental health treatment to poor people in India and to show that people with much less training than a psychiatrist or psychologist can deliver effective care. Vishwakarma had 40 hours of training for her role as a counselor. So her counseling is definitely revolutionary. And some mental health observers wonder if it might work in the U.S. But it's a controversial approach. Critics say the use of lay counselors means that patients receive substandard care. Tell that to Vishwakarma. In a typical week, she may meet with 25 people, and in her several years as a counselor, patients who've stuck with her, as most have, have done well. The patients have been diagnosed with serious depression (or stress or tension, as it's more often called in India), or alcoholism, and every so often, someone with schizophrenia. She's been trained to listen and to assign specific tasks to her patients. She might tell someone who's feeling really low to go for a daily walk, or go out and play soccer, or work in the garden or listen to the radio. For depression, it means thinking about anything other than that paralyzing howling tempest. For schizophrenia, it means helping people, many of whom are on medication, adjust to living in society. © 2017 npr

Keyword: Depression
Link ID: 23056 - Posted: 01.05.2017

By LESLEY ALDERMAN Here’s a New Year’s challenge for the mind: Make this the year that you quiet all those negative thoughts swirling around your brain. All humans have a tendency to be a bit more like Eeyore than Tigger, to ruminate more on bad experiences than positive ones. It’s an evolutionary adaptation that helps us avoid danger and react quickly in a crisis. But constant negativity can also get in the way of happiness, add to our stress and worry level and ultimately damage our health. And some people are more prone to negative thinking than others. Thinking styles can be genetic or the result of childhood experiences, said Judith Beck, a psychologist and the president of the Beck Institute for Cognitive Behavior Therapy in Bala Cynwyd, Pa. Children may develop negative thinking habits if they have been teased or bullied, or experienced blatant trauma or abuse. Women, overall, are also more likely to ruminate than men, according to a 2013 study. “We were built to overlearn from negative experiences, but under learn from positive ones,” said Rick Hanson, a psychologist and senior fellow at the Greater Good Science Center at the University of California, Berkeley. But with practice you can learn to disrupt and tame negative cycles. The first step to stopping negative thoughts is a surprising one. Don’t try to stop them. If you are obsessing about a lost promotion at work or the results of the presidential election, whatever you do, don’t tell yourself, “I have to stop thinking about this.” “Worry and obsession get worse when you try to control your thoughts,” Dr. Beck said. Instead, notice that you are in a negative cycle and own it. Tell yourself, “I’m obsessing about my bad review.” Or “I’m obsessing about the election.” © 2017 The New York Times Company

Keyword: Stress; Depression
Link ID: 23055 - Posted: 01.04.2017

By Jessica Hamzelou One woman’s unique experiences are helping us understand the nature of synaesthesia. We don’t know yet what causes synaesthesia, which links senses and can enable people to taste words or smell sounds, for example. It may be at least partly genetic, as it tends to run in families. Some researchers think a brain chemical called serotonin might play a role, because hallucinogenic drugs that alter serotonin levels in the brain can create unusual perceptions. There’s also some evidence that synaesthesia can change or disappear, and a detailed assessment of one woman’s experiences is helping Kevin Mitchell at Trinity College Dublin in Ireland and his team investigate. The woman, referred to as “AB”, sees colours when she hears music, linked to pitch, volume or instrument – higher notes have more pastel shades. She also associates colours with people, largely based on personality. Green is linked to loyalty, for instance. But several experiences in her life have caused her synaesthesia to change. “To say she had a series of unfortunate events would be an understatement,” says Mitchell. As a teenager and young adult, AB sustained several concussions, had migraines, contracted viral meningitis and was struck by lightning. © Copyright Reed Business Information Ltd.

Keyword: Miscellaneous
Link ID: 23054 - Posted: 01.04.2017

Erin Ross What lengths would you go to stifle the thunderous snorts and buzz-saw growls of a spouse or roommate, just so you can get a good night's sleep? Dozens of anti-snoring devices crowd the market, ranging from slightly absurd to moderately torturous. "Some of them are more medieval than others," says Dr. Kim Hutchison, associate professor of sleep medicine in the department of neurology at Oregon Health and Science University in Portland, Ore. And some of the devices, she says, even have some basis in fact. "When you sleep, the back of your throat relaxes. That narrows your airway and, as you're breathing in, it causes it to vibrate," explains Hutchison. So, many anti-snoring products are aimed at opening up that airway, or the tunnels that lead to it. For example, you can buy hollow nose plugs that, instead of closing the nostrils, prop them open. "If you have a deviated septum or something like that, those could help open up your nose and decrease snoring," says Hutchison, but they won't help everyone because "most snoring appears in the back of your throat." Other devices are designed to force sleepers to turn on their sides. "Sleeping on your back makes your tongue block your airway a little, sort of like the skinny part of a balloon, when you let air out of it," Hutchison says. So some devices combine straps and pillows that make sleeping on your back uncomfortable — or poke you if you roll over. © 2017 npr

Keyword: Sleep
Link ID: 23053 - Posted: 01.04.2017

National Institutes of Health (NIH) researchers have discovered molecular mechanisms that may underlie a woman’s susceptibility to disabling irritability, sadness, and anxiety in the days leading up to her menstrual period. Such premenstrual dysphoric disorder (PMDD) affects 2 to 5 percent of women of reproductive age, whereas less severe premenstrual syndrome (PMS) is much more common. “We found dysregulated expression in a suspect gene complex which adds to evidence that PMDD is a disorder of cellular response to estrogen and progesterone,” explained Peter Schmidt, M.D. of the NIH’s National Institute of Mental Health, Behavioral Endocrinology Branch. “Learning more about the role of this gene complex holds hope for improved treatment of such prevalent reproductive endocrine-related mood disorders.” Schmidt, David Goldman, M.D., of the NIH’s National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, and colleagues, report on their findings January 3, 2017 in the journal Molecular Psychiatry. “This is a big moment for women’s health, because it establishes that women with PMDD have an intrinsic difference in their molecular apparatus for response to sex hormones – not just emotional behaviors they should be able to voluntarily control,” said Goldman. By the late 1990s, the NIMH team had demonstrated (link is external) that women who regularly experience mood disorder symptoms just prior to their periods were abnormally sensitive to normal changes in sex hormones — even though their hormone levels were normal. But the cause remained a mystery.

Keyword: Hormones & Behavior; Sexual Behavior
Link ID: 23052 - Posted: 01.04.2017

By Michael Price We’ve all heard the stories about humans losing their jobs to robots. But what about man’s best friend? A new study suggests that drug-sniffing dogs may soon have a competitor in the workplace: an insect-piloted robotic vehicle that could help scientists build better odor-tracking robots to find disaster victims, detect illicit drugs or explosives, and sense leaks of hazardous materials. The robotic car’s driver is a silkworm moth (Bombyx mori) tethered in a tiny cockpit so that its legs can move freely over an air-supported ball, a bit like an upside-down computer mouse trackball. Using optical sensors, the car follows the ball’s movement and moves in the same direction. With its odor-sensitive antennae, the moth senses a target smell—in this case, female silkworm sex pheromones—and walks toward it along the trackball, driving the robotic car. Across seven trials with seven different drivers, the insects piloted the vehicle consistently toward the pheromones, nearly as well as 10 other silkworm moths who could walk freely on the ground toward the smells, the researchers reported last month in the Journal of Visualized Experiments. On average, the driving moths reached their target about 2 seconds behind the walking moths, although their paths were more circuitous. The researchers say their findings could help roboticists better integrate biologically inspired odor detection systems into their robots. Engineers might even be able to develop more powerful and maneuverable versions of the study’s robot car that could be driven by silkworms genetically modified to detect a wide variety of smells to help with sniffing tasks traditionally done by trained animals. Time to start polishing up those résumés, pooches. © 2016 American Association for the Advancement of Science

Keyword: Chemical Senses (Smell & Taste)
Link ID: 23051 - Posted: 01.04.2017

By Joshua A. Krisch Experiments in mice find that obesity reinforces a sedentary lifestyle. According to a December 29 study in Cell, obese mice were less active due to changes in their dopamine receptors—specifically, a drop in activity in DR2 receptors in the brain’s striatum, which plays a role in motor control. “There’s a common belief that obese animals don’t move as much because carrying extra body weight is physically disabling,” coauthor Alexxai Kravitz of the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases said in a press release. “But our findings suggest that assumption doesn't explain the whole story.” Kravitz and colleagues fed mice either a standard diet or a high-fat diet for 18 weeks, and then examined their dopamine signaling pathways. They found that the least active mice had less-active DR2 dopamine receptors in the striatum. Then they genetically engineered mice to have the same DR2 deficiency, and found that even those that remained lean engaged in less physical activity than other mice. Together, the findings suggest that the DR2 deficiency may account for a lack of movement in obese mice. “Other studies have connected dopamine signaling defects to obesity, but most of them have looked at reward processing—how animals feel when they eat different foods,” Kravitz said in the press release. “We looked at something simpler: dopamine is critical for movement, and obesity is associated with a lack of movement. Can problems with dopamine signaling alone explain the inactivity?” © 1986-2017 The Scientist

Keyword: Obesity; Genes & Behavior
Link ID: 23050 - Posted: 01.03.2017

Alexander Fornito, The human brain is an extraordinarily complex network, comprising an estimated 86 billion neurons connected by 100 trillion synapses. A connectome is a comprehensive map of these links—a wiring diagram of the brain. With current technology, it is not possible to map a network of this size at the level of every neuron and synapse. Instead researchers use techniques such as magnetic resonance imaging to map connections between areas of the human brain that span several millimeters and contain many thousands of neurons. At this macroscopic scale, each area comprises a specialized population of neurons that work together to perform particular functions that contribute to cognition. For example, different parts of your visual cortex contain cells that process specific types of information, such as the orientation of a line and the direction in which it moves. Separate brain regions process information from your other senses, such as sound, smell and touch, and other areas control your movements, regulate your emotional responses, and so on. These specialized functions are not processed in isolation but are integrated to provide a unitary and coherent experience of the world. This integration is hypothesized to occur when different populations of cells synchronize their activity. The fiber bundles that connect different parts of the brain—the wires of the connectome—provide the substrate for this communication. These connections ensure that brain activity unfolds through time as a rhythmic symphony rather than a disordered cacophony. © 2017 Scientific American

Keyword: Brain imaging
Link ID: 23049 - Posted: 01.03.2017

By Don Lattin In the fall of 1965, a 33-year-old father of three named Arthur King—a patient on the alcoholics ward at Baltimore’s Spring Grove Hospital—swallowed an LSD pill and laid back on his bed in a special unit called “Cottage Thirteen.” Sanford Unger, the chief of psychosocial research at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, knelt beside King’s bed, holding his hand and reassuring the patient as he started to feel the drug’s mind-altering effects. This was not a normal psychotherapy session. During his 12-hour experience, designed to help stop his destructive drinking habit, King sat on the edge of the bed and looked at the photo of his son that he’d brought. Suddenly, the child became alive in the picture, which initially frightened him. Then King noticed that a lick of his son’s hair was out of place, so he stroked the photo, putting the errant strands back in place. His fear vanished. Later, Unger held out a small vase with a single red rose. King looked at the flower, which seemed to be opening and closing, as though it were breathing. At one point, Unger asked him whether he’d like to go out to a bar and have a few drinks. King didn’t say anything but was shocked when the rose suddenly turned black and dropped dead before his eyes. He never picked up another drink. Arthur King was one of thousands of research subjects who were given LSD, psilocybin, and mescaline as therapeutic tools in the 1950s and 1960s, often with government support and with promising results. But by the time King was enjoying his sobriety, the backlash against psychedelic testing had already begun. By the mid-1970s, the legal exploration of the therapeutic benefits of psychedelic drugs was over.

Keyword: Drug Abuse; Depression
Link ID: 23048 - Posted: 01.03.2017

By KATHARINE Q. SEELYE BROOKLINE, Mass. — When Michael Dukakis lost the presidential election in 1988, his wife, Kitty, felt as if she had been squashed in a compactor, all the air forced out of her. Her even-keeled husband went back to work as governor of Massachusetts; she started binge drinking. “An alcoholic can contain himself for only so long,” Mrs. Dukakis would later write. “When a crisis hits, the restraints snap.” Her drinking masked a long-smoldering depression that eventually led her to receive electroconvulsive therapy, also known as electroshock therapy or ECT. Like most people, she had no idea that the procedure was still used. She thought it a relic, scrapped after it was depicted as an instrument of torture in the 1975 movie “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.” But Mrs. Dukakis was desperate. Rehabilitation, talk therapy and antidepressants had failed to ease her crippling depression, so in 2001, at age 64, she turned to shock therapy. To her amazement, it helped. After the first treatment, Mrs. Dukakis wrote, “I felt alive,” as if a cloud had lifted — so much so that when Mr. Dukakis picked her up at Massachusetts General Hospital, she astonished him by proposing that they go out to dinner. “I was so shocked I almost drove off Storrow Drive,” Mr. Dukakis recalled. “I had left this wife of mine at the hospital a basket case just the night before.” Now, 15 years later, the Dukakises have emerged as the nation’s most prominent evangelists for electroconvulsive therapy. Truth be told, there is not much competition. Few boldface names who have had the treatment will acknowledge as much; the stigma is still too great. Exceptions include Carrie Fisher, the actress and writer who died Tuesday, and Dick Cavett, the talk-show host; both have openly discussed their positive experiences. Electroconvulsive therapy is not a one-and-done procedure. Mrs. Dukakis, 80, still receives maintenance treatment every seven or eight weeks. She said that she had minor memory lapses but that the treatment had banished her demons and that she no longer drank, smoked or took antidepressants. © 2017 The New York Times Company

Keyword: Depression
Link ID: 23047 - Posted: 01.02.2017

Linda Bauld January is a time for New Year’s resolutions and if you’re one of the world’s one billion smokers, your resolution may be to stop smoking. For some people, this year’s quit attempt might involve an electronic cigarette, and a recent study in England, published in the BMJ, suggested that these devices helped at least 18,000 smokers to stop in 2015 who would not otherwise have done so. That’s very good news, but will there be as many quit attempts in 2017 as there have been in the past with e-cigarettes? I’m not so sure. Since I last wrote about e-cigarettes in this column one year ago, headlines about the dangers of these devices have continued to appear and show no sign of abating. The result is clear. More people believe today, compared with a year ago, that e-cigarettes are as harmful as smoking. In fact these incorrect perceptions have risen year on year, from fewer than one in ten adults in Great Britain in 2013 to one in four this past summer. Surveys of smokers show similar patterns, with an increasing proportion believing that e-cigarettes are more or equally harmful than tobacco. Yet we know that these harm perceptions are wrong. There is now very strong evidence, from a range of studies, that vaping - inhaling nicotine without the combustion involved in smoking - is far less risky than smoking cigarettes. Just a few months ago this body of evidence was brought together by the Royal College of Physicians who published an authoritative report analysing dozens of studies and concluded that the hazard to health arising from long term vapour inhalation from e-cigarettes is unlikely to exceed 5% of the harm from smoking tobacco. The RCP, and since then other UK doctor’s organisations such as the Royal College of General Practitioners, have made clear that it is important to promote the use of e-cigarettes, along with other non-tobacco nicotine products (like Nicotine Replacement Therapy such as gum or inhalators) to smokers who are trying to quit. The work of these organisations is underpinned by a consensus statement endorsed by many of the main health charities and public health bodies in the UK. They agree that vaping is safer than smoking, and while these products are not risk free and should not be promoted to children or never smokers, they have a legitimate and positive role to play in tobacco control. © 2017 Guardian News and Media Limited

Keyword: Drug Abuse
Link ID: 23046 - Posted: 01.02.2017

By LISA FELDMAN BARRETT Think about the people in your life who are 65 or older. Some of them are experiencing the usual mental difficulties of old age, like forgetfulness or a dwindling attention span. Yet others somehow manage to remain mentally sharp. My father-in-law, a retired doctor, is 83 and he still edits books and runs several medical websites. Why do some older people remain mentally nimble while others decline? “Superagers” (a term coined by the neurologist Marsel Mesulam) are those whose memory and attention isn’t merely above average for their age, but is actually on par with healthy, active 25-year-olds. My colleagues and I at Massachusetts General Hospital recently studied superagers to understand what made them tick. Our lab used functional magnetic resonance imaging to scan and compare the brains of 17 superagers with those of other people of similar age. We succeeded in identifying a set of brain regions that distinguished the two groups. These regions were thinner for regular agers, a result of age-related atrophy, but in superagers they were indistinguishable from those of young adults, seemingly untouched by the ravages of time. What are these crucial brain regions? If you asked most scientists to guess, they might nominate regions that are thought of as “cognitive” or dedicated to thinking, such as the lateral prefrontal cortex. However, that’s not what we found. Nearly all the action was in “emotional” regions, such as the midcingulate cortex and the anterior insula. My lab was not surprised by this discovery, because we’ve seen modern neuroscience debunk the notion that there is a distinction between “cognitive” and “emotional” brain regions. © 2017 The New York Times Company

Keyword: Alzheimers; Learning & Memory
Link ID: 23045 - Posted: 01.02.2017