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By Elizabeth Pennisi One of biology’s enduring mysteries is how some animals—from humans to honey bees—became so social. Now, a study suggests that, in the inconspicuous sweat bee, changes to the expression of a single gene could determine which bees are solitary and which are social. The gene, which has previously been linked to autism in humans, has also been connected to social behavior in animals like mice and locusts. The new discovery puts scientists one step closer toward demonstrating a common evolutionary basis for social behavior. “People have been taking about the genetics of sociality for years,” says Bernard Crespi, an evolutionary biologist at Simon Fraser University in Vancouver, Canada, who was not involved with the work. “Finding this gene is a real watershed for the field.” Sweat bees don’t have the same massive colonies as honey bees, whose hundreds of workers care for and protect a single egg-laying queen. But the tiny, gentle bees have some interesting social arrangements: In some groups and species, workers help a reproducing queen, as honey bees do; in other groups, sweat bee females tend their own broods. This difference has led scientists to think sweat bees may hold the key to understanding how more complex insect societies began to evolve. © 2018 American Association for the Advancement of Science

Keyword: Autism; Genes & Behavior
Link ID: 25592 - Posted: 10.18.2018

Women whose left index and ring fingers are different lengths are more likely to be lesbians, a study suggests. Scientists measured the fingers of 18 pairs of female identical twins, where one was straight and the other gay. On average, the lesbians, but not the straight twins, had different sized index and ring fingers, typically a male trait, but only on the left hand. This may be the result of exposure to more testosterone in the womb, the University of Essex researchers said. The scientists also measured the fingers of 14 pairs of male identical twins, where one was straight and the other gay, but found no link. Both men and women were exposed to the "male" hormone, testosterone, in the womb - but some may be exposed more than others, the scientists said. Study author Dr Tuesday Watts, from the psychology department at Essex University, said: "Because identical twins, who share 100% of their genes, can differ in their sexual orientations, factors other than genetics must account for the differences. "Research suggests that our sexuality is determined in the womb and is dependent on the amount of male hormone we are exposed to or the way our individual bodies react to that hormone, with those exposed to higher levels of testosterone being more likely to be bisexual or homosexual. © 2018 BBC

Keyword: Sexual Behavior
Link ID: 25591 - Posted: 10.18.2018

By Concepción de León I hear some people have trouble with therapy, that it can take years for them to open up to their doctors, let alone cry or break down. Not me. Day one, I told my therapist, Amy Bernstein, “I’ll just tell you everything, and we’ll go from there.” I was assigned to her after revealing, during an initial interview to determine the appropriate therapist for my needs, that I’d been touched as a child. I hadn’t planned to bring it up at all, but I was asked directly, so I said, yes, you could say that. (At the time, I avoided the word “molested.”) And yes, it still crossed my mind. To be honest, what happened had always felt like such a small thing. Many others have had it much worse; I counted myself lucky for only having been touched in subtle ways — a male relative digging his hands in my tiny skirt pockets to “feel around for change”; another bringing his hand to my crotch when he thought I was asleep. These were two of a handful of men who violated me. Amy recommended books to help me understand what had happened, but I put them down after just a few pages, thinking, “This isn’t for me! My thing is too small.” But then, as tends to be the case with therapy, things got harder before they got better. I returned to one of the books Amy had recommended, “The Body Keeps the Score: Brain, Mind and Body in the Healing of Trauma,” by Bessel van der Kolk, to try to understand my visceral response to remembering. Dr. van der Kolk is a Boston-based psychiatrist who specializes in post-traumatic stress disorder and has worked with a broad range of clients, from veterans to sexual assault survivors. “The Body Keeps the Score” hinges on his idea that trauma is stored in the body and that, for therapy to be effective, it needs to take the physiological changes that occur into account. Trauma produces “a re-calibration of the brain’s alarm system, an increase in stress hormone activity” and, also, “compromises the brain area that communicates the physical, embodied feeling of being alive,” Mr. van der Kolk writes. For survivors of sexual assault and other traumas, the amygdala, which initiates the body’s fight or flight response system whenever it perceives danger, can remain activated long after the threat has subsided. In the present, survivors relive their traumas in the form of fragmented images, sounds and emotion that the brain can’t register as belonging to the past. Many people also experience dissociation, which can manifest as literal desensitization in parts of the body or the inability to describe physical sensations. © 2018 The New York Times Company

Keyword: Stress
Link ID: 25590 - Posted: 10.18.2018

Sara Reardon Cuttlefish are masters at altering their appearance to blend into their surroundings. But the cephalopods can no longer hide their inner thoughts, thanks to a technique that infers a cuttlefish’s brain activity by tracking the ever-changing patterns on its skin. The findings, published in Nature on 17 October1, could help researchers to better understand how the brain controls behaviour. The cuttlefish (Sepia officinalis) camouflages itself by contracting the muscles around tiny, coloured skin cells called chromatophores. The cells come in several colours and act as pixels across the cuttlefish’s body, changing their size to alter the pattern on the animal’s skin. The cuttlefish doesn’t always conjure up an exact match for its background. It can also blanket itself in stripes, rings, mottles or other complex patterns to make itself less noticeable to predators. “On any background, especially a coral reef, it can’t look like a thousand things,” says Roger Hanlon, a cephalopod biologist at the Marine Biological Laboratory in Chicago, Illinois. “Camouflage is about deceiving the visual system.” To better understand how cuttlefish create these patterns across their bodies, neuroscientist Gilles Laurent at the Max Planck Institute for Brain Research in Frankfurt, Germany, and his collaborators built a system of 20 video cameras to film cuttlefish at 60 frames per second as they swam around their enclosures. The cameras captured the cuttlefish changing colour as they passed by backgrounds such as gravel or printed images that the researchers placed in the tanks. © 2018 Springer Nature Limited.

Keyword: Vision; Brain imaging
Link ID: 25589 - Posted: 10.18.2018

Kerry Grens Nicotine can wield its effects on offspring in more ways than from exposures in utero or secondhand smoke: the sperm of mice that ingested nicotine carry epigenetic signatures of that exposure, a study published in PLOS Biology today (October 16) reports. The result might explain why the experiments also found the male mice’s offspring—and grandoffspring—exhibited abnormal behavior and learning impairments. “Until now, much attention had been focused on the effects of maternal nicotine exposure on their children,” Florida State University’s Pradeep Bhide, who led the study, tells The Boston Globe in an email. “Not much had been known about the effects of paternal smoking on their children and grandchildren. Our study shows that paternal nicotine exposure can be deleterious for the offspring in multiple generations.” To investigate paternal exposure, Bhide’s team spiked male mice’s drinking water with nicotine for 12 weeks. The researchers then bred those animals with unexposed females, and mated the offspring to produce the third generation. The second- and third-generation mice underwent a battery of cognitive and behavioral tests to see if their father’s or grandfather’s nicotine exposure had any effect. On some examinations, the mice performed typically, but they didn’t do as well on certain learning tasks as mice whose parent or grandparent had not been given nicotine. The second generation also exhibited hyperactivity and had lower levels of certain neurotransmitters in the brain than the offspring of unexposed animals had. © 1986 - 2018 The Scientist

Keyword: Epigenetics; Drug Abuse
Link ID: 25588 - Posted: 10.18.2018

By Nicholas Bakalar Having pre-eclampsia — dangerously high blood pressure during pregnancy — is linked to an increased risk for dementia later in life, according to a new study. Up to 5 percent of pregnant women develop pre-eclampsia, usually after the 20th week. In addition to hypertension, the condition can include signs of diminished kidney or liver function. Researchers followed the 1,178,005 Danish women who had given birth between 1978 and 2015. More than 58,000 of them had pre-eclampsia during pregnancy. The study is in BMJ. Having pre-eclampsia doubled the risk for vascular dementia, and quadrupled the risk for women over 65. There was a modest association of pre-eclampsia with Alzheimer’s disease, and none with any other type of dementia. “My advice to a woman who has had pre-eclampsia is the same for dementia as it would be for cardiovascular risk,” said the senior author, Heather A. Boyd, a researcher at the Statens Serum Institut in Copenhagen. “Get the hypertension down, get the weight within normal range, work on lowering the risk for Type 2 diabetes. We still need to confirm this finding in other populations, and then we need to figure out what to do about it. We don’t know at this point what the intervention should be.” © 2018 The New York Times Company

Keyword: Alzheimers
Link ID: 25587 - Posted: 10.18.2018

By Lena H. Sun Federal health officials took the unusual step on Tuesday of warning the public about an increase in a mysterious and rare condition that mostly affects children and can cause paralysis. So far this year, 127 confirmed or suspected cases of acute flaccid myelitis, or AFM, have been reported to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention — a significant increase over 2017 and a worrying perpetuation of a disease for which there is little understanding. Of the cases announced Tuesday, 62 have been confirmed in 22 states, according to Nancy Messonnier, a top official at the CDC. More than 90 percent of the confirmed cases have been in children 18 and younger, with the average age being 4 years old. The surge has baffled health officials, who on Tuesday announced a change in the way the agency is counting cases. They also wanted to raise awareness about the condition so parents can seek medical care if their child develops symptoms, and so physicians can quickly relay reports of the potential illness to the CDC. “We understand that people, particularly parents, are concerned about AFM,” said Messonnier, director of the National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases. Despite extensive laboratory and other testing, CDC has not been able to find the cause for the majority of the cases. “There is a lot we don’t know about AFM, and I am frustrated that despite all of our efforts, we haven’t been able to identify the cause of this mystery illness." © 1996-2018 The Washington Post

Keyword: Movement Disorders; Development of the Brain
Link ID: 25586 - Posted: 10.17.2018

By Todd E. Feinberg, Jon Mallatt Consciousness seems mysterious. By this we mean that while life in general can be explained by physics, chemistry and biology, it seems that whenever one tries to explain the relationship between the brain and the subjective events that are experienced as feelings—what philosophers often refer to as “qualia”—something appears to be “left out” of the explanation. This apparent divide between the brain and subjective experience is what philosopher Joseph Levine famously called this the “explanatory gap,” and how to bridge that gap is what philosopher David Chalmers called the term “hard problem of consciousness.” We study primary consciousness, the most basic type of sensory experience. This is the ability to have any experience or feeling at all, what philosopher Thomas Nagel called “something it is like to be” in his famous 1974 paper “What is it like to be a bat?” Over the last few years, we have tried to “demystify” primary consciousness by combining neural and philosophical aspects of the problem into a unified view of how feelings are created in a naturally biological way. Our analysis leads us to the view that the puzzle of consciousness and the explanatory gap actually has two related aspects: an ontological aspect and an epistemic aspect and that both have a natural and scientific explanation. First, we consider the ontological aspect of the problem. This part of the puzzle entails what philosopher John Searle called the “ontological subjectivity” of consciousness. This is the idea that consciousness has a unique and fundamentally “first-person” ontology—or mode of being—in that feelings only exist when experienced by an animal subject. The implications of this view would be that no manner of objective scientific explanation, no matter how complete, would “explain away” the neurobiologically unique subjective feelings that are associated with certain brain states—in other words how things feel. The challenge here is to explain this unique aspect of feelings in a way that is consistent with an entirely scientific world view and do so without invoking any new or fundamentally “mysterious” physical principles. © 2018 Scientific American

Keyword: Consciousness
Link ID: 25585 - Posted: 10.17.2018

Laura Sanders WASHINGTON — As the number of children diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder increases, so too has research on the complex and poorly understood disorder. With powerful genetic tools, advanced brain-imaging methods and large groups of children to study, the field is poised to make big contributions in understanding — and potentially treating — autism. Neuroscientist Kevin Pelphrey, who is formerly of George Washington University in Washington, D.C., but has recently moved to the University of Virginia in Charlottesville, studies autism’s beginnings. He described some of his findings about the link between brain development and the disorder on October 15 at a meeting of the Council for the Advancement of Science Writing. Here are some of the key points Pelphrey made on how autism may get its start in the developing brain, how the disorder is different between boys and girls, and how large, long-term studies of children with autism might yield clues about the condition. What causes autism spectrum disorder? For most cases, no one knows. There’s likely no single cause — environmental and genetic risk factors work in combination. In some children, rare mutations in key genes have been linked to the disorder. More commonly, many genetic changes, each with a small influence on overall risk, may increase a child’s likelihood of developing the disorder. With the number of autism diagnoses growing, partly due to better detection, researchers are looking at potential factors beyond genetics, such as parents’ age, premature birth and maternal obesity. When does the disorder begin? |© Society for Science & the Public 2000 - 20

Keyword: Autism
Link ID: 25584 - Posted: 10.17.2018

By Jonathan D. Grinstein For the 50 million individuals worldwide ailing from Alzheimer’s disease, the announcements by pharmaceutical giants earlier this year that they will end research on therapeutics were devastating. The news is even more devastating considering projections that 100 million more people will be diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease across the globe by 2050, all potentially without a medical means to better their quality of life. As it happens, though, the pursuit of a therapeutic has been given a lifeline. New research shows that physical exercise can “clean up” the hostile environments in the brains of Alzheimer’s mice, allowing new nerve cells in the hippocampus, the brain structure involved in memory and learning, to enable cognitive improvements, such as learning and memory. These findings imply that pharmacological agents that enrich the hippocampal environment to boost cell growth and survival might be effective to recuperate brain health and function in human Alzheimer’s disease patients. The brain of an individual with Alzheimer’s disease is a harsh place filled with buildups of harmful nerve cell junk—amyloid plaques and neurofibrillary tangles—and dramatic loss of nerve cells and connections that occur with severe cognitive decline, such as memory loss. Targeting and disrupting this harmful junk, specifically amyloid plaques, to restore brain function has been the basis of many failed clinical trials. This futility has led to a re-evaluation of the amyloid hypothesis—the central dogma for Alzheimer’s disease pathology based on the toxic accumulation of amyloid plaques. © 2018 Scientific American

Keyword: Alzheimers
Link ID: 25583 - Posted: 10.17.2018

By Eric Schlosser In April 1906, a Republican president of the United States met privately with a notorious socialist at the White House. The president was Theodore Roosevelt; the socialist was Upton Sinclair; and the two set aside their political differences to discuss an issue of great mutual concern: food safety. A few months earlier, Sinclair’s novel “The Jungle” had created public outrage about the sanitary conditions at America’s slaughterhouses. Roosevelt had distrusted the meatpacking industry for years, angered by the putrid meat sold to the Army and served to his troops during the Spanish-American War. In 1906 the United States was the only major industrialized nation without strict laws forbidding the sale of contaminated and adulterated food. In their absence, the free market made it profitable to supply a wide range of unappetizing fare. Ground-up insects were sold as brown sugar. Children’s candy was routinely colored with lead and other heavy metals. Beef hearts and other organ meats were processed, canned and labeled as chicken. Perhaps one-third of the butter for sale wasn’t really butter but rather all sorts of other things — beef tallow, pork fat, the ground-up stomachs of cows and sheep — transformed into a yellowish substance that looked like butter. Historians have long credited the unlikely alliance of Roosevelt and Sinclair for passage of the Meat Inspection Act and the Pure Food and Drug Act of 1906. In “The Poison Squad,” Deborah Blum makes a convincing case that a now forgotten chemist at the Department of Agriculture, Harvey Washington Wiley, played a more important role — not only in ensuring the passage of those bills but also in changing popular attitudes toward government intervention on behalf of consumers. The origins of today’s food safety laws, drug safety laws, labeling requirements and environmental regulations can be found in the arguments of the Progressive movement at the turn of the last century. As the Trump administration proudly weakens or eliminates those measures, the life work of a 19th-century U.S.D.A. chemist has an unfortunate significance. © 2018 The New York Times Company

Keyword: Neurotoxins
Link ID: 25582 - Posted: 10.17.2018

By Frankie Schembri Humans are awful at estimating a person’s age based on their face alone. This can lead not only to uncomfortable social situations, but also to critical errors in criminal investigations and enforcing age-based restrictions on such things as alcohol and gambling. New research shows people are usually off by about 8 years, and their estimate might be shaped by the last face they saw. To conduct the study, researchers collected 3968 pictures of consenting participants from the Australian Passport Office—31 men and 31 women at each age from 7 through 70. Then, they showed 81 people photographs of a man and woman at each age in a random sequence, and asked them to guess their ages. The faces above are computer-generated averages of more than 100 pictures from the study of people aged 19 to 22, 50 to 53, and 63 to 66. Volunteers consistently guessed that young faces were several years older than they actually were and that older faces were several years younger than they actually were, the team reports today in Royal Society Open Science. The results also showed that people’s estimates were affected by the previous face they had viewed—if they had just seen a young face, they usually lowballed the next face’s age, and vice versa. © 2018 American Association for the Advancement of Science

Keyword: Attention
Link ID: 25581 - Posted: 10.17.2018

By Jessica Wright Among the many things a woman is supposed to avoid when pregnant are antidepressants, particularly a subtype of the drugs that some studies have linked to an increased risk of autism and attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder. Yet the evidence linking antidepressants to autism is thin. And untreated depression is dangerous for a mother and her child. Here we explain what scientists know about the link between antidepressants and autism. Does taking antidepressants during pregnancy increase the odds that your child will have autism? Maybe, but even if so, the risk is small. Several studies have looked at the health records of thousands of women for any boost in autism rates among the children of those who took antidepressants while pregnant. Some of these studies found up to a doubling of the odds of the women having a child with autism. However, because the initial risk of autism is small, this increase still adds up to a low absolute risk. More important, women who take antidepressants may have other traits that are responsible for the increased rates of autism in their children. Many studies that control for these traits conclude that there is no risk from the antidepressants themselves. © 1996-2018 The Washington Post

Keyword: Autism; Depression
Link ID: 25580 - Posted: 10.16.2018

Ashley P. Taylor Researchers have long believed that autism spectrum disorder is caused by some sort of imbalance between excitation and inhibition in the brain. In particular, studies have suggested that something is unusual about signaling controlled by the inhibitory neurotransmitter, γ-aminobutyric acid (GABA), whether it be lower levels of GABA or the receptor it binds to. But a study published last week (October 3) in Science Translational Medicine, which zeroed in on GABA receptor levels, finds no evidence that their abundance is any different between people with autism and people without. “We were unable to identify that individuals with autism had differences in GABAA receptor binding,” says Declan Murphy, a psychiatrist who studies brain development and neuropsychiatric disorders at King’s College London, who co-led the work with the Karolinska Institute’s Jacqueline Borg. “That’s important because it had previously been reported that they do have abnormalities in GABAA receptor binding, number one, and number two, it’s important because GABAA is a target of a number of pharmaceutical companies in terms of developing new treatments,” Murphy adds. GABAA is the most common form of the neurotransmitter in human brains, and since the early 2000s, reports have been piling up that associate deficits in the production of GABA or in GABA receptors to autism. For instance, studies in postmortem brains of people who had autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and of neurotypical subjects, led by Gene Blatt, a neuroscientist at the Hussman Institute for Autism in Baltimore, had found that people who had ASD had lower levels of the enzyme that makes GABA. Blatt’s investigations also found that people with ASD had lower GABAA receptor levels in the cingulate cortex and hippocampus. And an in vivo study by another group had detected reduced GABAA levels in the brains of children with ASD. © 1986 - 2018 The Scientist.

Keyword: Autism
Link ID: 25579 - Posted: 10.16.2018

By Daphne Merkin A trauma is a trauma is a trauma. Or is it? Over the past decade, the words “trauma” and “traumatic” have been used so profligately and have entered our cultural discourse to such an extent that they have almost lost their depth-charge, the reactive implosion of psychic damage to which they were originally meant to refer. Everyone in this era is traumatized by everything, from inappropriate sexual come-ons to the use of language in novels by such literary greats as Joseph Conrad and Mark Twain now considered inflammatory in its assumptions about class, race or privilege. (Hence: trigger warnings, safe spaces and microaggressions.) The late novelist and critic V. S. Naipaul saw himself in an epochal battle against the cloudy and clichéd thinking to which this kind of easy resort to the dichotomy of the abused versus the abusers is conducive, replete with right-thinking but ultimately wishful ideas about the ways in which power and human nature interact. And then along comes a book, like Kurt Eichenwald’s “A Mind Unraveled,” that makes you rethink not only the concept of trauma but its potential impact — the ways in which trauma can work not only to weaken but to strengthen the character of the person who has experienced it. His remarkable memoir reads, unaccountably, like the most hair-raising of psychological thrillers, despite the fact that the saga of Eichenwald’s life as an epileptic from his late teens up until the present, when he has become a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist, would not seem to contain the potential for so much suspense. He grasps the gritty issues surrounding his own very real trauma and often horrific experiences — from enduring frequent convulsions and losses of consciousness to the threat of being thrown out of college to losing jobs — with so little self-pity and so much regard for the compensations the world has to offer even to those afflicted as he is. It’s a quality that sets this book vividly apart from other memoirs that deal with suffering. For anyone who wants to understand the complex dynamic between environmental battering and the sort of inner strength that often goes by the name of resilience, this is the book to turn to. “I have lived most of my life,” Eichenwald writes, “knowing I could be seconds away from falling to the ground, seizing, burning, freezing or worse. Am I too near that window? Am I too high up? Is the oven open? I ask these questions every day.” © 2018 The New York Times Company

Keyword: Epilepsy
Link ID: 25578 - Posted: 10.16.2018

Gina Mantica Have you ever seen a picture of a mother dog caring for an unusual baby, like a kitten? This sort of animal adoption story is an example of a phenomenon known as alloparenting: care provided to offspring that are not genetically related. We humans may toss around the phrase “It takes a village to raise a child,” but there are cases in the animal world where this is more literally true. Naked mole-rats, wrinkly mammals of the East African desert, offer an example of the whole “village” cooperating to raise offspring. Each individual naked mole-rat has a specific job. Like in a honeybee hive, a naked mole-rat colony has one queen, whose job it is to reproduce. There are just a few sexually reproductive males, who mate with the queen. All the others, both male and female, are either soldiers that protect the colony or workers that forage for food, dig tunnels and care for the queen’s offspring, known as pups. Until now, no one had a physiological explanation for why naked mole-rat workers care for pups that aren’t their own. Normally when a mom gives birth, estrogen levels are high and progesterone levels drop, resulting in maternal behaviors such as feeding or grooming. In many unusual adoption stories, like that of the mother dog caring for a kitten, the adoptive mom will have recently given birth to her own offspring – meaning her hormone levels have left her primed and ready to care for offspring, even those that aren’t her own. © 2010–2018, The Conversation US, Inc.

Keyword: Sexual Behavior; Chemical Senses (Smell & Taste)
Link ID: 25577 - Posted: 10.16.2018

By Katharine Q. Seelye Fresh from completing his medical residency at Yale-New Haven Hospital in 1964, Dr. Herbert Kleber fulfilled his military obligation by volunteering for the United States Public Health Service. He expected to do research at the National Institutes of Health. But to his dismay he was assigned instead to the Public Health Service Prison Hospital at Lexington, Ky. This was the notorious “narcotics farm,” a centralized prison and drug treatment center where thousands of drug users were incarcerated at one time or another, including the actor Peter Lorre, the jazz trumpeter Chet Baker and the Beat writer William S. Burroughs, who described his experience there in his vivid novel “Junky” (1953). Dr. Kleber fulfilled his two-year obligation in place of being drafted and returned to Yale, intent on a career in psychiatry. But because he had worked at Lexington, people assumed he knew all about addiction. After all, Lexington’s Addiction Research Center was an incubator for advanced research (and was the forerunner for the National Institute on Drug Abuse). Patients, doctors and parents kept asking for his help. Finally, he gave in to what he decided was his destiny and, thanks to that unwanted detour to Lexington, went on to become one of the nation’s foremost experts in the field of drug addiction. Dr. Kleber died on Oct. 5 while vacationing in Greece with his wife, Anne Burlock Lawver, his son, Marc, and his daughter-in-law, Judith. Marc Kleber confirmed the death and said his father, who lived in Manhattan, died of a heart attack on the island of Santorini. He was 84. Dr. Kleber was a pioneer in researching the pathology of addiction and in developing treatments to help patients reduce the severe discomforts of withdrawal, avoid relapse and stay in recovery. When he began his work, in the 1970s, health care professionals were paying little attention to addiction. It was a blip in the medical school curriculum. © 2018 The New York Times Company

Keyword: Drug Abuse
Link ID: 25576 - Posted: 10.16.2018

By Cade Metz REDWOOD CITY, Calif. — In the global race to build artificial intelligence, it was a missed opportunity. Jeff Hawkins, a Silicon Valley veteran who spent the last decade exploring the mysteries of the human brain, arranged a meeting with DeepMind, the world’s leading A.I. lab. Scientists at DeepMind, which is owned by Google’s parent company, Alphabet, want to build machines that can do anything the brain can do. Mr. Hawkins runs a little company with one goal: figure out how the brain works and then reverse engineer it. The meeting, set for April at DeepMind’s offices in London, never happened. DeepMind employs hundreds of A.I. researchers along with a team of seasoned neuroscientists. But when Mr. Hawkins chatted with Demis Hassabis, one of the founders of DeepMind, before his visit, they agreed that almost no one at the London lab would understand his work. Mr. Hawkins says that before the world can build artificial intelligence, it must explain human intelligence so it can create machines that genuinely work like the brain. “You do not have to emulate the entire brain,” he said. “But you do have to understand how the brain works and emulate the important parts.” At his company, called Numenta, that is what he hopes to do. Mr. Hawkins, 61, began his career as an engineer, created two classic mobile computer companies, Palm and Handspring, and taught himself neuroscience along the way. Now, after more than a decade of quiet work at Numenta, he thinks he and a handful of researchers working with him are well on their way to cracking the problem.On Monday, at a conference in the Netherlands, he is expected to unveil their latest research, which he says explains the inner workings of cortical columns, a basic building block of brain function. © 2018 The New York Times Company

Keyword: Learning & Memory; Robotics
Link ID: 25575 - Posted: 10.15.2018

By Neuroskeptic A new review paper in The Neuroscientist highlights the problem of body movements for neuroscience, from blinks to fidgeting. Authors Patrick J Drew and colleagues of Penn State discuss how many types of movements are associated with widespread brain activation, which can contaminate brain activity recordings. This is true, they say, of both humans and experimental animals such as rodents, e.g. with their ‘whisking’ movements of the whiskers. A particular concern is that many movements occur (or change in frequency) over similar timescales to some measures of neural activity – especially resting state fMRI – which means that movement-related activity could be mistaken for more interesting neural signals. Here’s how the authors describe the relationship between one kind of movement, blinking, and brain activity: Blink-related modulations are visible in BOLD functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) signals in the primary visual cortex, as well as higher brain regions, such as the frontal eye field (FEF), and regions associated with the default network and somatosensory areas… If the rate of blinking were constant, ongoing blinks would not be an issue, and they would simply be averaged out. However, spontaneous eye blink rate dynamically varies on slow time scales (~0.001 Hz to 0.1 Hz), and these variations can drive correlated activity in multiple brain regions.

Keyword: Brain imaging
Link ID: 25574 - Posted: 10.15.2018

By Wajahat Ali Ever since I was young, my mind has gotten stuck. I’ll be flooded with intrusive thoughts. An image or an idea will transform into a burning question — “What if I left the stove on?” “What if the door is unlocked?” “What if I lose control and do something violent?” This plays on an endless loop. To cope, I constantly seek reassurance by reviewing my actions, trying to replace my thoughts or using logic to undo what is utterly illogical. But all those efforts fail, instead energizing the thought, resurrecting it like a zombie on steroids, making it more vicious, resistant and cruel. That’s a snapshot of living life with obsessive-compulsive disorder, an anxiety disorder that afflicts nearly 2 percent of the population. With O.C.D., the brain misfires, causing it to malfunction and react to disturbing thoughts, images and ruminations. The sufferer tries to manage his anxiety with compulsive rituals, which include excessive double-checking, counting, repeating a prayer or mantra, and engaging in mental reassurances that give a short-term relief but ultimately become addictive crutches, fueling an endless cycle of torment. O.C.D. has often been misunderstood, undiagnosed and exploited as a set of amusing quirks for Hollywood characters. I wish my O.C.D. was as fun and lovable as depicted in “Monk.” It’s not. At one point in my life, I endured an endless stream of tormenting thoughts about sex, overwhelmed by visions of every vile variation, partnership and arrangement imaginable. They would make Caligula blush. When this happened, feelings of guilt, disgust and shame would inevitably begin to overwhelm me. Self-doubt bubbled up and asked: “What sick person could imagine such things? Surely, there must be something wrong with you?” Here I am, a somewhat intelligent, moral, responsible individual fully aware that the thoughts are irrational, but nonetheless I must perform ridiculous rituals to try to feel safe and achieve relief. I think of it as God’s sick joke. © 2018 The New York Times Company

Keyword: OCD - Obsessive Compulsive Disorder
Link ID: 25573 - Posted: 10.15.2018