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by Viviane Callier It's a fresh problem. People who smoke menthol cigarettes often smoke more frequently and can be less likely to quit – and it could be because fresh-tasting menthol is changing their brains to more sensitive to nicotine. How menthol enhances nicotine addiction has been something of a mystery. Now, Brandon Henderson at the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena and his colleagues have shown that exposing mice to menthol alone causes them to develop more nicotinic receptors, the parts of the brain that are targeted by nicotine. Menthol can be used medically to relieve minor throat irritations, and menthol-flavoured cigarettes were first introduced in the 1920s. But smokers of menthol cigarettes can be less likely to quit. In one study of giving up smoking, 50 per cent of unflavoured-cigarette smokers were able to quit, while menthol smokers showed quitting rates as low as 23 per cent, depending on ethnicity. Over time, smokers of both menthol and unflavoured cigarettes acquire more receptors for nicotine, particularly in neurons involved in the body's neural pathways for reward and motivation. And research last year showed that smokers of menthol cigarettes develop even more of these receptors than smokers of unflavoured cigarettes. To understand how menthol may be altering the brain, Henderson's team exposed mice to either menthol with nicotine, or menthol alone. They found that, even without nicotine, menthol increased the numbers of brain nicotinic receptors. They saw a 78 per cent increase in one particular brain region – the ventral tegmental area – which is involved in the dopamine signalling pathway that mediates in addiction. © Copyright Reed Business Information Ltd.
Keyword: Drug Abuse
Link ID: 20395 - Posted: 12.06.2014
Injections of a new drug may partially relieve paralyzing spinal cord injuries, based on indications from a study in rats, which was partly funded by the National Institutes of Health. The results demonstrate how fundamental laboratory research may lead to new therapies. “We’re very excited at the possibility that millions of people could, one day, regain movements lost during spinal cord injuries,” said Jerry Silver, Ph.D., professor of neurosciences, Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine, Cleveland, and a senior investigator of the study published in Nature. Every year, tens of thousands of people are paralyzed by spinal cord injuries. The injuries crush and sever the long axons of spinal cord nerve cells, blocking communication between the brain and the body and resulting in paralysis below the injury. On a hunch, Bradley Lang, Ph.D., the lead author of the study and a graduate student in Dr. Silver’s lab, came up with the idea of designing a drug that would help axons regenerate without having to touch the healing spinal cord, as current treatments may require. “Originally this was just a side project we brainstormed in the lab,” said Dr. Lang. After spinal cord injury, axons try to cross the injury site and reconnect with other cells but are stymied by scarring that forms after the injury. Previous studies suggested their movements are blocked when the protein tyrosine phosphatase sigma (PTP sigma), an enzyme found in axons, interacts with chondroitin sulfate proteoglycans, a class of sugary proteins that fill the scars.
Link ID: 20394 - Posted: 12.04.2014
By recording from the brains of bats as they flew and landed, scientists have found that the animals have a "neural compass" - allowing them to keep track of exactly where and even which way up they are. These head-direction cells track bats in three dimensions as they manoeuvre. The researchers think a similar 3D internal navigation system is likely to be found throughout the animal kingdom. The findings are published in the journal Nature. Lead researcher Arseny Finkelstein, from the Weizmann Institute of Science in Rehovot, Israel, explained that this was the first time measurements had been taken from animals as they had flown around a space in any direction and even carried out their acrobatic upside-down landings. "We're the only lab currently able to conduct wireless recordings in flying animals," he told BBC News. "A tiny device attached to the bats allows us to monitor the activity of single neurons while the animal is freely moving." Decades of study of the brain's internal navigation system garnered three renowned neuroscientists this year's Nobel Prize for physiology and medicine. The research, primarily in rats, revealed how animals had "place" and "grid" cells - essentially building a map in the brain and coding for where on that map an animal was at any time. Mr Finkelstein and his colleagues' work in bats has revealed that their brains also have "pitch" and "roll" cells. These tell the animal whether it is pointing upwards or downwards and whether its head is tilted one way or the other. BBC © 2014
by Andy Coghlan How does this make you feel? Simply asking people to think about emotion-laden actions as their brains are scanned could become one of the first evidence-based tests for psychiatric illness. Assessing people in this way would be a step towards a more scientific approach to diagnosis, away from that based on how someone behaves or how they describe their symptoms. The US National Institute of Mental Health has had such a goal in mind since 2013. Marcel Just of Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and his colleagues developed the brain scanning technique and used it to identify people with autism. "This gives us a whole new perspective to understanding psychiatric illnesses and disorders," says Just. "We've discovered a biological thought-marker for autism." The technique builds on work by the group showing that specific thoughts and emotions are represented in the brain by certain patterns of neural activation. The idea is that deviations from these patterns, what Just refers to as thought-markers, can be used to diagnose different psychiatric conditions. The team asked a group of adults to imagine 16 actions, some of which required emotional involvement, such as "hugging", "persuading" or "adoring", while they lay in an fMRI scanner. © Copyright Reed Business Information Ltd.
By Beth Winegarner When Beth Wankel’s son, Bowie, was a baby, he seemed pretty typical. But his “terrible twos” were more than terrible: In preschool, he would hit and push his classmates to a degree that worried his parents and teachers. As Bowie got a little older, he was able tell his mom why he was so combative. “He would say things like, 'I thought they were going to step on me or push me,’” Wankel said. “He was overly uncomfortable going into smaller spaces; it was just too much for him.” Among other things, he refused to enter the school bathroom if another student was inside. When Bowie was 3, he was formally evaluated by his preschool teachers. They said he appeared to be having trouble processing sensory input, especially when it came to figuring out where his body is in relation to other people and objects. He’s also very sensitive to touch and to the textures of certain foods, said Wankel, who lives with her family in San Francisco. Bowie has a form of what’s known as sensory processing disorder. As the name suggests, children and adults with the disorder have trouble filtering sights, smells, sounds and more from the world around them. While so-called neurotypicals can usually ignore background noise, clothing tags or cluttered visual environments, people with SPD notice all of those and more — and quickly become overwhelmed by the effort. Rachel Schneider, a mental-health expert and a blogger for adults with SPD, describes it as a “neurological traffic jam” or “a soundboard, except the sound technician is terrible at his job.”
Ewen Callaway A shell found on Java in the late 1800s was recently found to bear markings that seem to have been carved intentionally half a million years ago. The photograph is about 15 millimetres wide. Expand A zigzag engraving on a shell from Indonesia is the oldest abstract marking ever found. But what is most surprising about the half-a-million-year-old doodle is its likely creator — the human ancestor Homo erectus. "This is a truly spectacular find and has the potential to overturn the way we look at early Homo," says Nick Barton, an archaeologist at the University of Oxford, UK, who was not involved in the discovery, which is described in a paper published online in Nature on 3 December1. By 40,000 years ago, and probably much earlier, anatomically modern humans — Homo sapiens — were painting on cave walls in places as far apart as Europe2 and Indonesia3. Simpler ochre engravings found in South Africa date to 100,000 years ago4. Earlier this year, researchers reported a 'hashtag' engraving in a Gibraltar cave once inhabited by Neanderthals5. That was the first evidence for drawing in any extinct species. But until the discovery of the shell engraving, nothing approximating art has been ascribed to Homo erectus. The species emerged in Africa about 2 million years ago and trekked as far as the Indonesian island of Java, before going extinct around 140,000 years ago. Most palaeoanthropologists consider the species to be the direct ancestor of both humans and Neanderthals. © 2014 Nature Publishing Group
Link ID: 20390 - Posted: 12.04.2014
Jia You Ever wonder how cockroaches scurry around in the dark while you fumble to switch on the kitchen light? Scientists know the insect navigates with its senses of touch and smell, but now they have found a new piece to the puzzle: A roach can also see its environment in pitch darkness, by pooling visual signals from thousands of light-sensitive cells in each of its compound eyes, known as photoreceptors. To test the sensitivity of roach vision, researchers created a virtual reality system for the bugs, knowing that when the environment around a roach rotates, the insect spins in the same direction to stabilize its vision. First, they placed the roach on a trackball, where it couldn’t navigate with its mouthpart or antennae. Then the scientists spun black and white gratings around the insect, illuminated by light at intensities ranging from a brightly lit room to a moonless night. The roach responded to its rotating environment in light as dim as 0.005 lux, when each of its photoreceptors was picking up only one photon every 10 seconds, the researchers report online today in The Journal of Experimental Biology. They suggest that the cockroach must rely on unknown neural processing in the deep ganglia, an area in the base of the brain involved in coordinating movements, to process such complex visual information. Understanding this mechanism could help scientists design better imaging systems for night vision. © 2014 American Association for the Advancement of Science.
Link ID: 20389 - Posted: 12.04.2014
Katharine Sanderson Although we do not have X-ray vision like Superman, we have what could seem to be another superpower: we can see infrared light — beyond what was traditionally considered the visible spectrum. A series of experiments now suggests that this little-known, puzzling effect could occur when pairs of infrared photons simultaneously hit the same pigment protein in the eye, providing enough energy to set in motion chemical changes that allow us to see the light. Received wisdom, and the known chemistry of vision, say that human eyes can see light with wavelengths between 400 (blue) and 720 nanometres (red). Although this range is still officially known as the 'visible spectrum', the advent of lasers with very specific infrared wavelengths brought reports that people were seeing laser light with wavelengths above 1,000 nm as white, green and other colours. Krzysztof Palczewski, a pharmacologist at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, Ohio, says that he has seen light of 1,050 nm from a low-energy laser. “You see it with your own naked eye,” he says. To find out whether this ability is common or a rare occurrence, Palczewski scanned the retinas of 30 healthy volunteers with a low-energy beam of light, and changed its wavelength. As the wavelength increased into the infrared (IR), participants found the light at first harder to detect, but at around 1,000 nm the light became easier to see. How humans can do this has puzzled scientists for years. Palczewski wanted to test two leading hypotheses to explain infrared vision. © 2014 Nature Publishing Group,
Link ID: 20388 - Posted: 12.03.2014
By CHRISTOPHER F. CHABRIS and DANIEL J. SIMONS NEIL DEGRASSE TYSON, the astrophysicist and host of the TV series “Cosmos,” regularly speaks to audiences on topics ranging from cosmology to climate change to the appalling state of science literacy in America. One of his staple stories hinges on a line from President George W. Bush’s speech to Congress after the 9/11 terrorist attacks. In a 2008 talk, for example, Dr. Tyson said that in order “to distinguish we from they” — meaning to divide Judeo-Christian Americans from fundamentalist Muslims — Mr. Bush uttered the words “Our God is the God who named the stars.” Dr. Tyson implied that President Bush was prejudiced against Islam in order to make a broader point about scientific awareness: Two-thirds of the named stars actually have Arabic names, given to them at a time when Muslims led the world in astronomy — and Mr. Bush might not have said what he did if he had known this fact. This is a powerful example of how our biases can blind us. But not in the way Dr. Tyson thought. Mr. Bush wasn’t blinded by religious bigotry. Instead, Dr. Tyson was fooled by his faith in the accuracy of his own memory. In his post-9/11 speech, Mr. Bush actually said, “The enemy of America is not our many Muslim friends,” and he said nothing about the stars. Mr. Bush had indeed once said something like what Dr. Tyson remembered; in 2003 Mr. Bush said, in tribute to the astronauts lost in the Columbia space shuttle explosion, that “the same creator who names the stars also knows the names of the seven souls we mourn today.” Critics pointed these facts out; some accused Dr. Tyson of lying and argued that the episode should call into question his reliability as a scientist and a public advocate. © 2014 The New York Times Company
Keyword: Learning & Memory
Link ID: 20387 - Posted: 12.03.2014
| By Carolyn Gregoire When reading about Harry Potter's adventures fighting Lord Voldemort or flying around the Quidditch field on his broomstick, we can become so absorbed in the story that the characters and events start to feel real. And according to neuroscientists, there's a good reason for this. Researchers in the Machine Learning Department at Carnegie Mellon University scanned the brains of Harry Potter readers, and found that reading about Harry's adventures activates the same brain regions used to perceive people's intentions and actions in the real world. The researchers performed fMRI scans on a group of eight study participants while they read chapter nine of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone, which describes Harry's first flying lesson. Then, they analyzed the scans, one cubic millimeter at a time, for four-word segments of the chapter in order to build the first integrated computational model of reading. The researchers created a technique such that for each two-second fMRI scan, the readers would see four words. And for each word, the researchers identified 195 detailed features that the brain would process. Then, an algorithm was applied to analyze the activation of each millimeter of the brain for each two-second scan, associating various word features with different regions of the brain. Using the model, the researchers were able to predict which of two passages the subjects were reading with a 74 percent accuracy rate. ©2014 TheHuffingtonPost.com, Inc
By Gabe Bergado It's not news that reading has countless benefits: Poetry stimulates parts of the brain linked to memory and sparks self-reflection; kids who read the Harry Potter books tend to be better people. But what about people who only read newspapers? Or people who scan Twitter all day? Are those readers' brains different from literary junkies who peruse the pages of 19th century fictional classics? Short answer: Yes — reading enhances connectivity in the brain. But readers of fiction? They're a special breed. The study: A 2013 Emory University study looked at the brains of fiction readers. Researchers compared the brains of people after they read to the brains of people who didn't read. The brains of the readers — they read Robert Harris' Pompeii over a nine-day period at night — showed more activity in certain areas than those who didn't read. Specifically, researchers found heightened connectivity in the left temporal cortex, part of the brain typically associated with understanding language. The researchers also found increased connectivity in the central sulcus of the brain, the primary sensory region, which helps the brain visualize movement. When you visualize yourself scoring a touchdown while playing football, you can actually somewhat feel yourself in the action. A similar process happens when you envision yourself as a character in a book: You can take on the emotions they are feeling. It may sound hooey hooey, but it's true: Fiction readers make great friends as they tend to be more aware of others' emotions. Copyright © Mic Network Inc.
Katie Langin In the first couple of years after birth, sea lion sons seem to be more reliant on their mothers—consuming more milk and sticking closer to home—than sea lion daughters are, according to a study on Galápagos sea lions published in the December issue of the journal Animal Behaviour. The young males venture out to sea on occasion, but their female counterparts dive for their own food much more often. The curious thing is, it's not like the young males aren't capable of diving. As one-year-olds, males can dive to the same depth as females (33 feet, or 10 meters, on a typical dive). It's also not like their mother's milk is always on hand. Sea lion moms frequently leave their growing offspring for days at a time to find food at sea. (Watch a video of a Galápagos sea lion giving birth.) And yet, despite all this, for some reason sons are far less likely than daughters to take to the sea and seek out their own food. "We always saw the [young] males around the colony surfing in tide pools, pulling the tails of marine iguanas, resting, sleeping," said Paolo Piedrahita, a Ph.D. student at Bielefeld University in Germany and the lead author of the study. "It's amazing. You can see an animal—40 kilograms [88 pounds]—just resting, waiting for mom." © 1996-2014 National Geographic Society.
Close to 8 percent of Americans have depression of some kind, but only about a third of those are getting treated for it, a major federal survey finds. The most depressed group? Women ages 40 to 59. More than 12 percent of women that age say they're depressed. The least? Teenage boys. Just 4 percent of them have been diagnosed with depression. "During 2009-2012, 7.6 percent of Americans aged 12 and over had depression (moderate or severe depressive symptoms in the past 2 weeks)," Laura Pratt and Debra Brody of the National Center for Health Statistics wrote. "About 3 percent of Americans aged 12 and over had severe depressive symptoms," they added. "Of those with severe symptoms, 35 percent reported having contact with a mental health professional in the past year." This is troubling, because depression is difficult to treat and does best when people are given a combination of drugs and counseling. People living below the poverty level were more than twice as likely to have depression than people making more money. Almost 43 percent of people with severe depressive symptoms reported serious difficulties in work, home and social activities.
Link ID: 20383 - Posted: 12.03.2014
|By Ryan Bradley Five years ago Viviana Gradinaru was slicing thin pieces of mouse brain in a neurobiology lab, slowly compiling images of the two-dimensional slivers for a three-dimensional computer rendering. In her spare time, she would go to see the Body Worlds exhibit. She was especially fascinated by the “plasticized” remains of the human circulatory system on display. It struck her that much of what she was doing in the lab could be done more efficiently with a similar process. “Tissue clearing” has been around for more than a century, but existing methods involve soaking tissue samples in solvents, which is slow and usually destroys the fluorescent proteins necessary for marking certain cells of interest. To create a better approach, Gradinaru, at the time a graduate student, and her colleagues in neuroscientist Karl Deisseroth's lab focused on replacing the tissue's lipid molecules, which make it opaque.* To keep the tissue from collapsing, however, the replacement would need to give it structure, as lipids do. The first step was to euthanize a rodent and pump formaldehyde into its body, through its heart. Next they removed the skin and filled its blood vessels with acrylamide monomers, white, odorless, crystalline compounds. The monomers created a supportive hydrogel mesh, replacing the lipids and clearing the tissue. Before long, they could render an entire mouse body transparent in two weeks. Soon they were using transparent mice to map complete mouse nervous systems. The transparency made it possible for them to identify peripheral nerves—tiny bundles of nerves that are poorly understood—and to map the spread of viruses across the mouse's blood-brain barrier, which they did by marking the virus with a fluorescent agent, injecting it into the mouse's tail and watching it spread into the brain. © 2014 Scientific American
Keyword: Brain imaging
Link ID: 20382 - Posted: 12.03.2014
By Joyce Cohen Like many people, George Rue loved music. He played guitar in a band. He attended concerts often. In his late 20s, he started feeling a dull ache in his ears after musical events. After a blues concert almost nine years ago, “I left with terrible ear pain and ringing, and my life changed forever,” said Mr. Rue, 45, of Waterford, Conn. He perceived all but the mildest sounds as not just loud, but painful. It hurt to hear. Now, he has constant, burning pain in his ears, along with ringing, or tinnitus, so loud it’s “like a laser beam cutting a sheet of steel.” Everyday noise, like a humming refrigerator, adds a feeling of “needles shooting into my ears,” said Mr. Rue, who avoids social situations and was interviewed by email because talking by phone causes pain. Mr. Rue was given a diagnosis of hyperacusis, a nonspecific term that has assorted definitions, including “sound sensitivity,” “decreased sound tolerance,” and “a loudness tolerance problem.” But hyperacusis sometimes comes with ear pain, too, a poorly understood medical condition that is beginning to receive more serious attention. “This is clearly an emerging field,” said Richard Salvi of the Department of Communicative Disorders and Sciences at the University at Buffalo and a scientific adviser to Hyperacusis Research, a nonprofit group that funds research on the condition. “Further work is required to understand the symptoms, etiology and underlying neural mechanisms.” Loud noises, even when they aren’t painful, can damage both the sensory cells and sensory nerve fibers of the inner ear over time, causing hearing impairment, said M. Charles Liberman, a professor of otology at Harvard Medical School, who heads a hearing research lab at the Massachusetts Eye and Ear Infirmary. And for some people who are susceptible, possibly because of some combination of genes that gives them “tender” ears, noise sets in motion “an anomalous response,” he said. © 2014 The New York Times Company
Link ID: 20381 - Posted: 12.02.2014
|By David Z. Hambrick If you’ve spent more than about 5 minutes surfing the web, listening to the radio, or watching TV in the past few years, you will know that cognitive training—better known as “brain training”—is one of the hottest new trends in self improvement. Lumosity, which offers web-based tasks designed to improve cognitive abilities such as memory and attention, boasts 50 million subscribers and advertises on National Public Radio. Cogmed claims to be “a computer-based solution for attention problems caused by poor working memory,” and BrainHQ will help you “make the most of your unique brain.” The promise of all of these products, implied or explicit, is that brain training can make you smarter—and make your life better. Yet, according to a statement released by the Stanford University Center on Longevity and the Berlin Max Planck Institute for Human Development, there is no solid scientific evidence to back up this promise. Signed by 70 of the world’s leading cognitive psychologists and neuroscientists, the statement minces no words: "The strong consensus of this group is that the scientific literature does not support claims that the use of software-based “brain games” alters neural functioning in ways that improve general cognitive performance in everyday life, or prevent cognitive slowing and brain disease." The statement also cautions that although some brain training companies “present lists of credentialed scientific consultants and keep registries of scientific studies pertinent to cognitive training…the cited research is [often] only tangentially related to the scientific claims of the company, and to the games they sell.” © 2014 Scientific American,
Keyword: Learning & Memory
Link ID: 20380 - Posted: 12.02.2014
By Nicholas Bakalar Short-term psychotherapy may be an effective way to prevent repeated suicide attempts. Using detailed Danish government health records, researchers studied 5,678 people who had attempted suicide and then received a program of short-term psychotherapy based on needs, including crisis intervention, cognitive therapy, behavioral therapy, and psychodynamic and psychoanalytic treatment. They compared them with 17,034 people who had attempted suicide but received standard care, including admission to a hospital, referral for treatment or discharge with no referral. They were able to match the groups in more than 30 genetic, health, behavioral and socioeconomic characteristics. The study is online in Lancet Psychiatry. Treatment focused on suicide prevention and comprised eight to 10 weeks of individual sessions. Over a 20-year follow-up, 16.5 percent of the treated group attempted suicide again, compared with 19.1 percent of the untreated group. In the treated group, 1.6 percent died by suicide, compared with 2.2 percent of the untreated. “Suicide is a rare event,” said the lead author, Annette Erlangsen, an associate professor at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, “and you need a huge sample to study it. We had that, and we were able to find a significant effect.” The authors estimate that therapy prevented 145 suicide attempts and 30 deaths by suicide in the group studied. © 2014 The New York Times Company
Link ID: 20379 - Posted: 12.02.2014
By Sarah C. P. Williams Craving a stiff drink after the holiday weekend? Your desire to consume alcohol, as well as your body’s ability to break down the ethanol that makes you tipsy, dates back about 10 million years, researchers have discovered. The new finding not only helps shed light on the behavior of our primate ancestors, but also might explain why alcoholism—or even the craving for a single drink—exists in the first place. “The fact that they could put together all this evolutionary history was really fascinating,” says Brenda Benefit, an anthropologist at New Mexico State University, Las Cruces, who was not involved in the study. Scientists knew that the human ability to metabolize ethanol—allowing people to consume moderate amounts of alcohol without getting sick—relies on a set of proteins including the alcohol dehydrogenase enzyme ADH4. Although all primates have ADH4, which performs the crucial first step in breaking down ethanol, not all can metabolize alcohol; lemurs and baboons, for instance, have a version of ADH4 that’s less effective than the human one. Researchers didn’t know how long ago people evolved the more active form of the enzyme. Some scientists suspected it didn’t arise until humans started fermenting foods about 9000 years ago. Matthew Carrigan, a biologist at Santa Fe College in Gainesville, Florida, and colleagues sequenced ADH4 proteins from 19 modern primates and then worked backward to determine the sequence of the protein at different points in primate history. Then they created copies of the ancient proteins coded for by the different gene versions to test how efficiently each metabolized ethanol. They showed that the most ancient forms of ADH4—found in primates as far back as 50 million years ago—only broke down small amounts of ethanol very slowly. But about 10 million years ago, the team reports online today in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, a common ancestor of humans, chimpanzees, and gorillas evolved a version of the protein that was 40 times more efficient at ethanol metabolism. © 2014 American Association for the Advancement of Science.
By Nicholas Bakalar Researchers have found that people diagnosed with diabetes in their 50’s are significantly more likely than others to suffer mental decline by their 70’s. The study, published Monday in the Annals of Internal Medicine, started in 1990. Scientists examined 13,351 black and white adults, aged 48 to 67, for diabetes and prediabetes using self-reported physician diagnoses and glucose control tests. They also administered widely used tests of memory, reasoning, problem solving and planning. About 13 percent had diabetes at the start. The researchers followed them with five periodic examinations over the following 20 years. By that time, 5,987 participants were still enrolled. After adjusting for numerous health and behavioral factors, and for the large attrition in the study, the researchers found people with diabetes suffered a 30 percent larger decline in mental acuity than those without the disease. Diabetes can impair blood circulation, and the authors suggest that the association of diabetes with thinking and memory problems may be the result of damage to small blood vessels in the brain. “People may think cognitive decline with age is inevitable, but it’s not,” said the senior author, Elizabeth Selvin, an associate professor of epidemiology at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. “Factors like diabetes are potentially modifiable. If we can better control diabetes we can stave off cognitive decline and future dementia.” © 2014 The New York Times Company
By EUGENIA BONE I TRIED magic mushrooms out of curiosity and in middle age. I’d been on the amateur mycological circuit for a couple of years, but hallucinogenic species were rarely mentioned at the foraging expeditions and conferences I attended. It’s almost as if they were the black sheep of mycology: embarrassing to serious taxonomy jocks. I read some books on the subject, but most were tripper’s guides that didn’t utilize, um, specific language or current science. Psychoactive mushrooms had been in a kind of scientific ghetto ever since they were criminalized in 1968. But now the drug derived from the mushroom, psilocybin, is finally being re-examined for its medical applications. A study published last month in the Journal of the Royal Society Interface compared M.R.I.s of the brains of subjects injected with psilocybin with scans of their normal brain activity. The brains on psilocybin showed radically different connectivity patterns between cortical regions (the parts thought to play an important role in consciousness). The researchers mapped out these connections, revealing the activity of new neural networks between otherwise disconnected brain regions. The researchers suspect that these unusual connections may be responsible for the synesthetic experience trippers describe, of hearing colors, for example, and seeing sounds. The part of the brain that processes sound may be connecting to the part of the brain that processes sight. The study’s leader, Paul Expert at King’s College London, told me that his team doubted that this psilocybin-induced connectivity lasted. They think they are seeing a temporary modification of the subject’s brain function. © 2014 The New York Times Company