Chapter 16. None

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By JAMES GORMAN and CHRISTOPHER WHITWORTH Cockatoos are smart birds, and the Goffin’s cockatoos in a Vienna lab are among the smartest. In an experiment reported about a year ago, they turned out to be real stars at making tools from a variety of materials in order to get a treat. In a new study, researchers tested the birds’ ability to match shapes using an apparatus reminiscent of a child’s toy. The birds had to put a square tile into a square hole and more complicated, asymmetrical shapes into matching holes. If they were successful, they got a treat. Cornelia Habl, a master’s student at the University of Vienna, and Alice M. I. Auersperg, a researcher at the University of Veterinary Medicine in Vienna, ran several experiments. They reported in the journal PLOS One that the cockatoos were not only able to match the shapes to the holes, but did much better than monkeys or chimpanzees. “It was thought to be an exclusively human ability for a long time,” Ms. Habl said. Tests of matching shapes are used to mark milestones in child development. Babies can put a sphere into the right hole at age 1, but they can’t place a cube until age 2. From there, they continue to improve. Some primates can do similar tasks, although they need a lot of basic training to get up to speed before they can use the experimental apparatus, called a key box. The birds jumped right in without any training and excelled. “Compared to primates, the cockatoos performed very well,” Ms. Habl said. Why are they so good? In the wild, they haven’t been observed using tools. But they are generalists, foragers who take whatever food they can find. They are adaptable enough to do well in some urban areas in Australia, Ms. Habl said. To succeed in a variety of environments eating a variety of foods, “they have to be very, very flexible.” © 2017 The New York Times Company

Keyword: Evolution; Intelligence
Link ID: 24344 - Posted: 11.21.2017

Tania Lombrozo In The Devil's Dictionary, Ambrose Bierce describes the mind as "a mysterious form of matter secreted by the brain," engaged in a futile attempt to understand itself "with nothing but itself to know itself with." Questions about the limits of self-understanding have persisted long after Bierce's 1911 publication. One user on Quora asks: "Is the human brain intelligent enough to fully understand itself?" A satirical headline at The Onion reports that psychology has come to a halt as "weary researchers say the mind cannot possibly study itself." Despite such doubts, the science of the mind has made enormous advances over the last century. Yet many questions remain, along with the more foundational worry that motivated Bierce. Are there fundamental limits to what science can explain about the human mind? Can science truly explain consciousness and love, morality and religious belief? And why do topics like these seem especially ineffable — further beyond the scope of scientific explanation than more mundane psychological phenomena, such as forgetting a name or recognizing a face? Psychology PhD student Sara Gottlieb and I decided to find out. In a series of studies forthcoming in the journal Psychological Science, we asked hundreds of participants to tell us whether they thought it was possible for science to one day fully explain various aspects of the human mind, from depth perception and memory loss to spirituality and romantic love. © 2017 npr

Keyword: Miscellaneous
Link ID: 24342 - Posted: 11.21.2017

By Bahar Gholipour, The same techniques that generate images of smoke, clouds and fantastic beasts in movies can render neurons and brain structures in fine-grained detail. Two projects presented yesterday at the 2017 Society for Neuroscience annual meeting in Washington, D.C., gave attendees a sampling of what these powerful technologies can do. “These are the same rendering techniques that are used to make graphics for ‘Harry Potter’ movies,” says Tyler Ard, a neuroscientist in Arthur Toga’s lab at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles. Ard presented the results of applying these techniques to magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scans. The methods can turn massive amounts of data into images, making them ideally suited to generate brain scans. Ard and his colleagues develop code that enables them to easily enter data into the software. They plan to make the code freely available to other researchers. The team is also combining the visualization software with virtual reality to enable scientists to explore the brain in three dimensions, and even perform virtual dissections of the brain. In one demo, the user can pick at a colored, segmented brain that can be pulled apart like pieces of Lego. “This can be useful when learning neuroanatomy,” Ard says. “The way that I learned it, we had to look at slices, and that’s real hard. This is a way that allows you to understand 3-D structure better.” The team plans to release the program, called Neuro Imaging in Virtual Reality, online next year. © 2017 Scientific American

Keyword: Brain imaging
Link ID: 24340 - Posted: 11.20.2017

By NIRAJ CHOKSHI The Rev. Jesse L. Jackson, the longtime civil rights leader and former Democratic presidential candidate, said Friday he has Parkinson’s disease. In a letter posted on Twitter on Friday afternoon, Mr. Jackson, 76, shared the news and his struggle to accept it. “Recognition of the effects of this disease on me has been painful, and I have been slow to grasp the gravity of it,” he wrote. “For me, a Parkinson’s diagnosis is not a stop sign but rather a signal that I must make lifestyle changes and dedicate myself to physical therapy in hopes of slowing the disease’s progression.” Parkinson’s is a movement disorder. Its symptoms include muscle tremors and stiffness and poor balance and coordination. It typically begins after age 50 and can cause difficulty sleeping, chewing, swallowing or speaking. Mr. Jackson has been a civil rights advocate for 50 years and sought the Democratic presidential nominations in 1984 and 1988. He was also a close associate of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Mr. Jackson wrote that he and his family about three years ago began to notice he was having increasing difficulty performing routine tasks and was initially reluctant to see doctors. He said he saw the diagnosis as “an opportunity” to use his platform to advocate a cure and said that he would not let it disrupt his other advocacy. “I will continue to try to instill hope in the hopeless, expand our democracy to the disenfranchised and free innocent prisoners around the world,” he wrote. © 2017 The New York Times Company

Keyword: Parkinsons
Link ID: 24338 - Posted: 11.20.2017

By Jennifer Couzin-Frankel Rachel Loewy was an undergraduate in 1995 when she answered a flyer seeking students to assist with a research study. A couple of floors up in a psychology department building, Loewy sat, clipboard in hand, interviewing teenagers whose brain health was beginning to falter. Some heard whispers. Others imagined that their teachers could read their minds, or that fellow students stared at them and wished them harm as they walked down the halls. The teenagers had been diagnosed with schizotypal personality disorder, a condition that can precede schizophrenia. Among the most debilitating and stigmatized psychiatric diseases, schizophrenia can rob sufferers of their self and their future, often in early adulthood. Although these teens didn't have schizophrenia, the researchers believed that some would later deteriorate and be diagnosed with the disorder. But when Loewy met them they were lucid and self-aware. And they were frightened that their mind sometimes spun out of control. Doctors routinely assess a patient's risk of heart attack, various cancers, and diabetes, often intervening to slow or stop disease before it strikes. But preventing psychiatric conditions, from anxiety to depression to schizophrenia, has received scant attention. © 2017 American Association for the Advancement of Science

Keyword: Schizophrenia
Link ID: 24336 - Posted: 11.17.2017

By RONI CARYN RABIN A. Parkinsonism refers to a group of movement abnormalities — such as stiffness, slowness, shuffling of the feet and often tremor — that are classic features of Parkinson’s disease but that can also be caused by medications and other disorders with overlapping symptoms, said Dr. Michael S. Okun, a neurologist and the national medical director of the Parkinson’s Foundation. He said that he makes no assumptions about the cause of parkinsonism “until I see the patient and pinpoint the diagnosis.” Determining the cause of parkinsonism involves asking a series of questions, starting with, “Do we think this is regular Parkinson’s disease?” said Dr. Okun, who is also co-director of the Center for Movement Disorders and Neurorestoration at the University of Florida College of Medicine in Gainesville. Though a diagnosis of Parkinson’s disease strikes fear in patients, Dr. Okun said that the illness, a neurodegenerative brain disorder caused by the loss of dopamine-containing neurons and other cells, progresses slowly in many people and generally responds well to drugs that replenish dopamine in the brain. Some patients whose parkinsonism is not caused by Parkinson’s disease also respond to these drugs, but the medications are most effective for people with Parkinson’s disease, Dr. Okun said. It’s important to rule out other potential causes of parkinsonism, he said. The condition can be triggered by antipsychotic medications that affect dopamine levels in the brain, as well as by other drugs, including stimulants like amphetamines and cocaine. Discontinuing the drugs may stop the symptoms over time, though not always. Parkinsonism may also be caused by repeated injuries to the head, exposure to various toxins or brain lesions. Once doctors rule out Parkinson’s disease, they must consider several other serious neurological disorders. The three most common ones are multiple system atrophy, a degenerative disorder also referred to as Shy-Drager syndrome, which may or may not respond well to Parkinson’s medications; progressive supranuclear palsy, or PSP, which also may respond to high doses of drugs that replace dopamine in the brain; and corticobasal degeneration (CBD). Patients with a form of dementia called Lewy body dementia may also exhibit symptoms of parkinsonism, which may or may not respond to dopamine. Various other movement disorders, called ataxias or dystonias, also may display features of parkinsonism. © 2017 The New York Times Company

Keyword: Parkinsons
Link ID: 24335 - Posted: 11.17.2017

By JAMES GORMAN One of the biggest problems in studying animal communication is figuring out whether the animals know what they are doing. A bird may screech and another bird may understand that the screech is a response to danger. But that doesn’t prove the screecher intended to warn others. It might have been a predictable but involuntary response to something scary, like a scream at a horror movie. So scientists spend a lot of time testing animals in ingenious ways to figure out what might be going on. Three scientists testing wild chimpanzees in Uganda reported Wednesday in the journal Science Advances that chimpanzees can do something that previously had only been known in human beings. They change the way they are communicating to take into account what their audience knows. Humans do this all the time. To a fellow baseball fan you might say, “So, there’s a runner on third, one out, bottom of the ninth, and McAfee hits a sac fly.” To someone from another planet, you might say, “There was a really exciting moment in a sporting event I was attending last night.” Or you might just forget it. Catherine Crockford and Roman M. Wittig of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany, and Klaus Zuberbühler of the University of St. Andrews in Scotland were studying wild chimpanzees in Uganda, so the subject of their communication was snakes, not baseball. When a chimp saw a realistic model of a snake, the animal would make more sounds — called hoos — and make a greater effort to show where the snake was if it seemed that other chimps in the area were unaware of the danger. If it seemed other chimps already knew about the snake, it would make fewer calls and stay a shorter time at the danger. To run the experiment, the researchers put a model snake on a path chimpanzees used. When a chimp came along, before it reached the snake, they would play two different chimp calls — either a “rest hoo” or several “alert hoos.” The rest hoo would be made by a chimp that was resting, not aware of any danger. The alert hoos would indicate the chimp who made it had seen something dangerous, like a snake. So the chimp on the trail would know either that its neighbors were clueless or aware of danger. © 2017 The New York Times Company

Keyword: Consciousness; Evolution
Link ID: 24333 - Posted: 11.16.2017

Rob Stein Federal health officials Tuesday issued a warning about kratom, a herbal product being promoted as a safe alternative to opioids for pain that is also marketed for treating addiction, anxiety and depression. The Food and Drug Administration says there's insufficient evidence the supplement works to treat addiction or other problems and cited growing evidence it can be dangerous. Kratom may cause seizures, liver damage and withdrawal symptoms. "It's very troubling to the FDA that patients believe they can use kratom to treat opioid withdrawal symptoms," FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb said in a statement, adding that not only is there no reliable evidence that kratom is an effective treatment for opioid use disorder, there are FDA-approved medications that work. Calls to U.S. poison control centers about kratom, which is made from a plant that grows in Asia, jumped tenfold from 2010 to 2015, according to the FDA. At least 36 deaths are associated with the use of products containing kratom, the agency says. "I understand that there's a lot of interest in the possibility for kratom to be used as a potential therapy for a range of disorders," Gottlieb added. "But the FDA has a science-based obligation that supersedes popular trends and relies on evidence." As a result, the agency has begun seizing supplies of kratom and taking steps to prevent future shipments from being imported into the United States, the FDA says. © 2017 npr

Keyword: Drug Abuse
Link ID: 24332 - Posted: 11.16.2017

By NICHOLAS BAKALAR Heart attack survivors have an increased risk for developing dementia, a new study has found. Danish researchers studied 314,911 heart attack patients and compared them with 1,573,193 controls who had not had a heart attack. They excluded anyone who had already been diagnosed with dementia or other memory disorders. The study, in Circulation, adjusted for heart failure, pulmonary disease, head trauma, kidney disease and many other variables. During 35 years of follow-up, there were 3,615 cases of Alzheimer’s disease, 2,034 cases of vascular dementia and 5,627 cases of other dementias among the heart attack patients. There was no association of heart attack with Alzheimer’s disease. But heart attack increased the risk for vascular dementia, the type caused by impaired blood flow to the brain, by 35 percent. There are several possible reasons for the link, including similar underlying causes for dementia and heart attack — among them, hypertension, stroke and having undergone coronary artery bypass surgery. The researchers had no data on smoking, and they acknowledge that there may be other variables they were unable to account for. “Dementia can’t be cured,” said the lead author, Dr. Jens Sundboll, a resident in cardiology at Aarhus University in Denmark. “What’s the solution? Prevention. And for prevention we have to identify risk factors. Here we’ve identified an important one.” © 2017 The New York Times Company

Keyword: Alzheimers
Link ID: 24330 - Posted: 11.16.2017

Mariah Quintanilla WASHINGTON, D.C. — If it takes you a while to recover from a few lost hours of sleep, be grateful you aren’t an orb weaver. Three orb-weaving spiders — Allocyclosa bifurca, Cyclosa turbinata and Gasteracantha cancriformis — may have the shortest natural circadian rhythms discovered in an animal thus far, researchers reported November 12 at the Society for Neuroscience’s annual meeting. Most animals have natural body clocks that run closer to the 24-hour day-night cycle, plus or minus a couple hours, and light helps reset the body’s timing each day. But the three orb weavers’ body clocks average at about 17.4, 18.5 and 19 hours respectively. This means the crawlers must shift their cycle of activity and inactivity — the spider equivalent of wake and sleep cycles — by about five hours each day to keep up with the normal solar cycle. “That’s like flying across more than five time zones, and experiencing that much jet lag each day in order to stay synchronized with the typical day-night cycle,” said Darrell Moore, a neurobiologist at East Tennessee State University in Johnson City. “Circadian clocks actually keep us from going into chaos,” he added. “Theoretically, [the spiders] should not exist.” For most animals, internal clocks help them perform recurring daily activities, like eat, sleep and hunt, at the most appropriate time of day. Previous studies have shown that animals that are out of sync with the 24-hour solar cycle are usually less likely to produce healthy offspring than those that aren’t. |© Society for Science & the Public 2000 - 2017.

Keyword: Biological Rhythms; Evolution
Link ID: 24328 - Posted: 11.15.2017

Patricia Neighmond A study published Tuesday in the journal Clinical Psychological Science finds that increased time spent with popular electronic devices — whether a computer, cell phone or tablet — might have contributed to an uptick in symptoms of depression and suicidal thoughts over the last several years among teens, especially among girls. Though San Diego State University psychologist Jean Twenge, who led the study, agrees this sort of research can only establish a correlation between long hours of daily screen time and symptoms of alienation — it can't prove one causes the other — she thinks the findings should be a warning to parents. "One hour, maybe two hours [a day], doesn't increase risk all that much," Twenge says. "But once you get to three hours — and especially four and then, really, five hours and beyond — that's where there's much more significant risk of suicide attempts, thinking about suicide and major depression." Twenge and her colleagues took a hard look at national surveys that asked more than a half million young people, ages 13 to 18, questions that get at symptoms of depression. Twenge says the surveys asked students to respond to statements such as "Life often feels meaningless," or "I feel I can't do anything right," or "I feel my life is not very useful. Between 2010 and 2015 Twenge found the number of teens who answered "yes" to three or more of these questions increased significantly, from 16 percent in 2010 to 22 percent in 2015. © 2017 npr

Keyword: Depression
Link ID: 24327 - Posted: 11.15.2017

By Lenny Bernstein A long-acting medication designed to help wean substance abusers off opioids is as effective as short-term therapies such as buprenorphine and methadone that patients must take every day, researchers reported Tuesday. The first major head-to-head comparison of medically assisted treatment approaches confirms that users now have two research-based options, according to the team of scientists led by Joshua D. Lee and John Rotrosen of New York University Medical School. But each method also showed a distinct disadvantage. The short-acting medicines must be taken every day for years and sometimes for a lifetime — a difficult regimen for many substance abusers to follow, especially in rural areas that may be far from dispensing clinics. Monthly injections of naltrexone, in contrast, cannot be started until users have fully detoxified from opioids, which more than 25 percent of the subjects in that part of the research study failed to do. “This provides an alternative medication for patients that may not have responded to buprenorphine . . . or patients who eventually want to be taken off their medication,” said Nora Volkow, director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse, the government agency that funded the research. In addition, more than half the opioid users in the study relapsed at least once, regardless of which medication they were taking — evidence of how difficult it is to conquer addiction. © 1996-2017 The Washington Post

Keyword: Drug Abuse
Link ID: 24326 - Posted: 11.15.2017

Jon Hamilton The Society for Neuroscience meeting is taking place in Washington, D.C., this weekend. Researchers there are focusing on how to find the biological underpinnings of mental disorders. MICHEL MARTIN, HOST: More than 30,000 brain scientists are in Washington, D.C., this week attending the Society for Neuroscience meeting. One of the hot topics this year is mental disorders such as depression and schizophrenia and autism. NPR science correspondent Jon Hamilton has just come from the meeting to talk about some of what he's been seeing and hearing. Hi, John. Thanks for coming. JON HAMILTON, BYLINE: Hi. MARTIN: So how does this work contribute to understanding mental disorders in people? HAMILTON: Twenty years ago, I'd say it didn't contribute much, but things are really changing. And I was really surprised. I was going through the abstracts to this year's meeting, and there were nearly a thousand papers that mentioned depression. There were 500 that mentioned schizophrenia or autism. And just this morning, there was this study on how - looking at the brain tissue of people with obsessive compulsive disorder and how it's different. So the fields of brain science and mental health are converging. And I think the reason is that brain scientists are finally beginning to figure out how the biology works, the biology that underlies mental health problems. So I was talking to a scientist at the meeting. His name is Robbie Greene. He's a psychiatrist, but he's also a lab scientist at UT Southwestern in Dallas. And he was telling me that neuroscience is now at a point where it can help psychiatrists and psychologists understand all of those things that are happening in the brain that we're not conscious of. Here's what he told me. © 2017 npr

Keyword: Miscellaneous
Link ID: 24324 - Posted: 11.13.2017

A new study published in Nature's Scientific Reports rejects a widely held theory that the human brain has a built-in neural capacity for religious beliefs. In other words, humans are not born believers. "What we're suggesting is whether you believe in a god is like learning a language. You have to be exposed to it, and learn it," lead author Miguel Farias told us. He studies the psychology of religion and behaviour at Coventry University in the U.K. Farias set out to test the "intuitive belief hypothesis" — a theory that has emerged in cognitive science suggesting that humans are born with the capacity for religious belief, that but their actual religious nature depends on the way they think; whether they're more intuitive or more analytical. The theory is based on the concept of two systems of thinking — "intuitive thinking" which is immediate, rapid processing of information, and "analytical thinking" which is slower and requires more cognitive effort to evaluate events and circumstances. So intuitive thinkers should be more religious, and analytical thinkers should have weaker religious beliefs. At least that's the theory. But Farias could find no evidence that it's true, even after looking at the problem in three ways. That included measuring religious beliefs and analytical thinking in people who were in the middle of the famous 30-day Camino de Santiago pilgrimage in Spain. "Our studies here suggest that it is probably about time psychologists reconsider their understanding of belief as 'natural' or 'intuitive' and instead focus on cultural and social learning factors that give rise to supernatural ideas," he said. ©2017 CBC/Radio-Canada

Keyword: Emotions
Link ID: 24323 - Posted: 11.13.2017

By JANE E. BRODY I hope you’re not chomping on a bagel or, worse, a doughnut while you read about what is probably the most serious public health irony of the last half century in this country: As one major killer — smoking — declined, another rose precipitously to take its place: obesity. Many cancer deaths were averted after millions quit lighting up, but they are now rising because even greater numbers are unable to keep their waistlines in check. Today, obesity and smoking remain the two leading causes of preventable deaths in this country. Reviewing more than 1,000 studies, the International Agency for Research on Cancer and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention linked the risk of developing 13 kinds of cancer to overweight and obesity, especially cancers that are now being diagnosed in increasing numbers among younger people. Included are cancers of the esophagus, liver, gallbladder, colon and rectum, upper stomach, pancreas, uterus, ovary, kidney and thyroid; breast cancer in postmenopausal women; meningioma and multiple myeloma. Only for colorectal cancers has the overall incidence declined, primarily the result of increased screening and removal of precancerous polyps. In most cases, the studies revealed, cancer risk rose in direct proportion to the degree of excess weight. In other words, the heavier you are, the more likely you will be to develop one of these often fatal cancers. From 2005 to 2014, the C.D.C. reported in October, there was a 1.4 percent annual increase in cancers related to overweight and obesity among people aged 20 to 49, and a 0.4 percent rise in these cancers among people 50 to 64. © 2017 The New York Times Company

Keyword: Obesity
Link ID: 24322 - Posted: 11.13.2017

Jon Hamilton The goal is simple: a drug that can relieve chronic pain without causing addiction. But achieving that goal has proved difficult, says Edward Bilsky, a pharmacologist who serves as the provost and chief academic officer at Pacific Northwest University of Health Sciences in Yakima, Wash. "We know a lot more about pain and addiction than we used to," says Bilsky, "But it's been hard to get a practical drug." Bilsky is moderating a panel on pain, addiction and opioid abuse at the Society for Neuroscience meeting in Washington, D.C., this week. Brain scientists have become increasingly interested in pain and addiction as opioid use has increased. About 2 million people in the U.S. now abuse opioids, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. But at least 25 million people suffer from chronic pain, according to an analysis by the National Institutes of Health. That means they have experienced daily pain for more than three months. The question is how to cut opioid abuse without hurting people who live with pain. And brain scientists think they are getting closer to an answer. One approach is to find drugs that decrease pain without engaging the brain's pleasure and reward circuits the way opioids do, Bilsky says. So far, these drugs have been hampered by dangerous side effects or proved less effective than opioids at reducing pain. But substances related to snail venom look promising, Bilsky says. © 2017 npr

Keyword: Pain & Touch
Link ID: 24321 - Posted: 11.13.2017

By Jef Akst | After Nelson Dellis’s grandmother passed away from Alzheimer’s disease in the summer of 2009, he became obsessed with memory. “I had seen her whole decline, so brain health was on my mind,” he says. He found out about annual memory competitions that tested people’s ability to remember large volumes of data—for example, the exact order of 104 playing cards in two decks—and began to learn the strategies so-called “memory athletes” used to pull off these incredible feats. “I found the techniques worked, and with a bit of practice, you can do a lot more than you ever thought you could,” Dellis says. He entered the 2010 USA Memory Championship in New York City and came in third. The next two years in a row, he took first. A mistake in the finals cost him the championship in 2013, but he regained the crown in 2014 and won again in 2015, making him the first and only four-time USA Memory Champion. And all it took was “a bit of practice.” Dellis says there are several strategies memory athletes use, but they’re all based on the same principle: “You want to turn information you’re trying to memorize into something that your brain naturally prefers to absorb”—typically, an image. “Once you have that picture, the next step is to store it somewhere—somewhere in your mind you can safely store it and retrieve it later.” This place is known as a “memory palace,” and it can be any place that’s familiar to you, such as your house. You can then place the images you’ve chosen along a particular path through the memory palace, and “the path, which you know very well, preserves the order.”

Keyword: Learning & Memory
Link ID: 24318 - Posted: 11.11.2017

By: George Paxinos, Being an atlas maker, I have an image problem. I recently introduced myself to a lady at a Society for Neuroscience Meeting who had used the first edition of The Rat Brain in Stereotaxic Coordinates for her PhD thesis 35 years earlier. With surprise written on her face, she said, “George Paxinos, I thought you were dead.” On another occasion, I was giving a talk at Munich and one girl asked another, “Did you see Paxinos?” The other girl replied, “Yes, it is on my shelf.” The idea of constructing an atlas came to me while on a sabbatical at Cambridge. There, I used acetylcholinesterase (AChE) as a proxy (poor at that) for acetylcholine. Looking at the rat brain stained for AChE was like looking at a coloring book that was already colored. I was convinced immediately that I would be able to construct a better atlas of the rat brain than the then popular atlas of Konig and Klippel (1963). The Konig and Klippel atlas did not display the pons, medulla, cerebellum, olfactory bulbs, spinal cord, horizontal section or the point of bregma, the most frequently used reference point in stereotaxic surgery. Further it was based on 150g female rats, while most neuroscientists used 300g male rats. However, my greatest difficult with this atlas was that as an undergraduate in psychology at Berkeley, I was going to be instructed by my professor on stereotaxic surgery, but unfortunately the rat resisted going under the anesthetic. Trying to anesthetize the rat consumed the available time and my professor left, telling me to read the coordinates and implant the electrode in the hypothalamus. In my rush to implant the electrode without the rat getting out of the anesthetic, I failed to read the Introduction of the atlas, where it was stated clearly that the stereotaxic zero point of the atlas is not (repeat “not”) the stereotaxic zero point of the stereotaxic instrument, but 4.9mm above the true stereotaxic zero for convenience. So, in targeting the hypothalamus, I missed the brain by 4.9mm. I thought any psychologist would have been able to design a better atlas than that. The only problem I had in constructing the rat brain atlas was that I did not know anatomy. © 2017 Elsevier,

Keyword: Brain imaging
Link ID: 24317 - Posted: 11.11.2017

Paula Span Medical researchers and government health policymakers, a cautious lot, normally take pains to keep expectations modest when they’re discussing some new finding or treatment. They warn about studies’ limitations. They point out what isn’t known. They emphasize that correlation doesn’t mean causation. So it’s startling to hear prominent experts sound positively excited about a new shingles vaccine that an advisory committee to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention approved last month. “This really is a sea change,” said Dr. Rafael Harpaz, a veteran shingles researcher at the C.D.C. Dr. William Schaffner, preventive disease specialist at the Vanderbilt University School of Medicine, said, “This vaccine has spectacular initial protection rates in every age group. The immune system of a 70- or 80-year-old responds as if the person were only 25 or 30.” “This really looks to be a breakthrough in vaccinating older adults,” agreed Dr. Jeffrey Cohen, a physician and researcher at the National Institutes of Health. What’s causing the enthusiasm: Shingrix, which the pharmaceutical firm GlaxoSmithKline intends to begin shipping this month. Large international trials have shown that the vaccine prevents more than 90 percent of shingles cases, even at older ages. The currently available shingles vaccine, called Zostavax, only prevents about half of shingles cases in those over age 60 and has demonstrated far less effectiveness among elderly patients. Yet those are the people most at risk for this blistering disease, with its often intense pain, its threat to vision and the associated nerve pain that sometimes last months, even years, after the initial rash fades. © 2017 The New York Times Company

Keyword: Pain & Touch
Link ID: 24316 - Posted: 11.11.2017

By Ann Gibbons Ever since Alex Pollen was a boy talking with his neuroscientist father, he wanted to know how evolution made the human brain so special. Our brains are bigger, relative to body size, than other animals', but it's not just size that matters. "Elephants and whales have bigger brains," notes Pollen, now a neuroscientist himself at the University of California, San Francisco. Comparing anatomy or even genomes of humans and other animals reveals little about the genetic and developmental changes that sent our brains down such a different path. Geneticists have identified a few key differences in the genes of humans and apes, such as a version of the gene FOXP2 that allows humans to form words. But specifically how human variants of such genes shape our brain in development—and how they drove its evolution—have remained largely mysterious. "We've been a bit frustrated working so many years with the traditional tools," says neurogeneticist Simon Fisher, director of the Max Planck Institute for Psycholinguistics in Nijmegen, the Netherlands, who studies FOXP2. Now, researchers are deploying new tools to understand the molecular mechanisms behind the unique features of our brain. At a symposium at The American Society of Human Genetics here last month, they reported zooming in on the genes expressed in a single brain cell, as well as panning out to understand how genes foster connections among far-flung brain regions. Pollen and others also are experimenting with brain "organoids," tiny structured blobs of lab-grown tissue, to detail the molecular mechanisms that govern the folding and growth of the embryonic human brain. "We used to be just limited to looking at sequence data and cataloging differences from other primates," says Fisher, who helped organize the session. "Now, we have these exciting new tools that are helping us to understand which genes are important." © 2017 American Association for the Advancement of Science.

Keyword: Development of the Brain
Link ID: 24315 - Posted: 11.10.2017