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By Maria Temming It might seem like a fish needs a car like — well, like a fish needs a bicycle. But a new experiment suggests that fish actually make pretty good drivers. In the experiment, several goldfish learned to drive what is essentially the opposite of a submarine — a tank of water on wheels — to destinations in a room. That these fish could maneuver on land suggests that fishes’ understanding of space and navigation is not limited to their natural environment — and perhaps has something in common with landlubber animals’ internal sense of direction, researchers report in the Feb. 15 Behavioural Brain Research. Researchers at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev in Beer-Sheva, Israel taught six goldfish to steer a motorized water tank. The fishmobile was equipped with a camera that continually tracked a fish driver’s position and orientation inside the tank. Whenever the fish swam near one of the tank’s walls, facing outward, the vehicle trundled off in that direction. This goldfish knows how to use its wheels. Successfully navigating in a tank on land suggests that the animals understand space and direction in a way that lets them explore even in unfamiliar habitats. Fish were schooled on how to drive during about a dozen 30-minute sessions. The researchers trained each fish to drive from the center of a small room toward a pink board on one wall by giving the fish a treat whenever it reached the wall. During their first sessions, the fish averaged about 2.5 successful trips to the target. During their final sessions, fish averaged about 17.5 successful trips. By the end of driver’s ed, the animals also took faster, more direct routes to their goal. © Society for Science & the Public 2000–2022.

Keyword: Learning & Memory
Link ID: 28148 - Posted: 01.12.2022

By Sabrina Imbler Common bottlenose dolphins have sex frequently — very likely multiple times in a day. Copulation lasts only a few seconds, but social sex, which is used to maintain social bonds, can last much longer, happen more frequently and involve myriad heterosexual and homosexual pairings of dolphins and their body parts. Anything is possible, and, as new research suggests, probably pleasurable for swimmers of both sexes. According to a paper published on Monday in the journal Current Biology, female bottlenose dolphins most likely experience pleasure through their clitorises. The findings come as little surprise to scientists who research these dolphins. “The only thing that surprises me is how long it has taken us as scientists to look at the basic reproductive anatomy,” Sarah Mesnick, an ecologist at NOAA Fisheries who was not involved with the research, said, speaking of the clitoris. She added, “It took a team of brilliant women,” referring to two of the authors. “A lot of people assume that humans are unique in having sex for pleasure,” Justa Heinen-Kay, a researcher at the University of Minnesota who was not involved with the paper, wrote in an email. “This research challenges that notion.” And learning more about the anatomy of marine mammals’ genitalia has clear implications for their survival, Dr. Mesnick said: “The more we know about the social behavior of these animals, the better we’re able to understand their evolution and help use that to manage and conserve them.” Historically, researchers have focused on male genitalia, driven by prejudice toward male subjects, prejudice against female choice in sexual selection and the fact that it can be easier to study something that sticks out. “Female genitalia were assumed to be simple and uninteresting,” Dr. Heinen-Kay said. “But the more that researchers study female genitalia, the more we’re learning that this isn’t the case at all.” She added that this shift may be driven in part by the increasing number of women researchers. © 2022 The New York Times Company

Keyword: Sexual Behavior; Evolution
Link ID: 28147 - Posted: 01.12.2022

Stephen Wooding The sweetness of sugar is one of life’s great pleasures. People’s love for sweet is so visceral, food companies lure consumers to their products by adding sugar to almost everything they make: yogurt, ketchup, fruit snacks, breakfast cereals and even supposed health foods like granola bars. Schoolchildren learn as early as kindergarten that sweet treats belong in the smallest tip of the food pyramid, and adults learn from the media about sugar’s role in unwanted weight gain. It’s hard to imagine a greater disconnect between a powerful attraction to something and a rational disdain for it. How did people end up in this predicament? I’m an anthropologist who studies the evolution of taste perception. I believe insights into our species’ evolutionary history can provide important clues about why it’s so hard to say no to sweet. The basic activities of day-to-day life, such as raising the young, finding shelter and securing enough food, all required energy in the form of calories. Individuals more proficient at garnering calories tended to be more successful at all these tasks. They survived longer and had more surviving children – they had greater fitness, in evolutionary terms. One contributor to success was how good they were at foraging. Being able to detect sweet things – sugars – could give someone a big leg up. In nature, sweetness signals the presence of sugars, an excellent source of calories. So foragers able to perceive sweetness could detect whether sugar was present in potential foods, especially plants, and how much. © 2010–2022, The Conversation US, Inc.

Keyword: Chemical Senses (Smell & Taste); Evolution
Link ID: 28146 - Posted: 01.12.2022

Alejandra Marquez Janse & Christopher Intagliata Imagine you're moving to a new country on the other side of the world. Besides the geographical and cultural changes, you will find a key difference will be the language. But will your pets notice the difference? It was a question that nagged at Laura Cuaya, a brain researcher at the Neuroethology of Communication Lab at at Eötvös Loránd University in Budapest. "When I moved from Mexico to Hungary to start my post-doc research, all was new for me. Obviously, here, people in Budapest speak Hungarian. So you've had a different language, completely different for me," she said. The language was also new to her two dogs: Kun Kun and Odín. "People are super friendly with their dogs [in Budapest]. And my dogs, they are interested in interacting with people," Cuaya said. "But I wonder, did they also notice people here ... spoke a different language?" Cuaya set out to find the answer. She and her colleagues designed an experiment with 18 volunteer dogs — including her two border collies — to see if they could differentiate between two languages. Kun Kun and Odín were used to hearing Spanish; the other dogs Hungarian. The dogs sat still within an MRI machine, while listening to an excerpt from the story The Little Prince. They heard one version in Spanish, and another in Hungarian. Then the scientists analyzed the dogs' brain activity. © 2022 npr

Keyword: Language; Evolution
Link ID: 28145 - Posted: 01.08.2022

Jon Hamilton When baby mice cry, they do it to a beat that is synchronized to the rise and fall of their own breath. It's a pattern that researchers say could help explain why human infants can cry at birth — and how they learn to speak. Mice are born with a cluster of cells in the brainstem that appears to coordinate the rhythms of breathing and vocalizations, a team reports in the journal Neuron. If similar cells exist in human newborns, they could serve as an important building block for speech: the ability to produce one or many syllables between each breath. The cells also could explain why so many human languages are spoken at roughly the same tempo. "This suggests that there is a hardwired network of neurons that is fundamental to speech," says Dr. Kevin Yackle, the study's senior author and a researcher at the University of California, San Francisco. Scientists who study human speech have spent decades debating how much of our ability is innate and how much is learned. The research adds to the evidence that human speech relies — at least in part — on biological "building blocks" that are present from birth, says David Poeppel, a professor of psychology and neural science at New York University who was not involved in the study. But "there is just a big difference between a mouse brain and a human brain," Poeppel says. So the human version of this building block may not look the same. © 2022 npr

Keyword: Language; Evolution
Link ID: 28144 - Posted: 01.08.2022

by Peter Hess Of all the brain chemistry that autism researchers study, few molecules have garnered as much attention as the so-called ‘social hormone,’ oxytocin. Some autistic children appear to have low blood levels of oxytocin, which has led several teams to test oxytocin delivered intranasally as an autism therapy. So far, though, such clinical trials have yielded inconsistent results. Here we explain what scientists know so far about oxytocin’s connection to autism. What does oxytocin do in the brain and body? Oxytocin serves multiple purposes, such as promoting trust between people, moderating our response to threats, and supporting lactation and mother-child bonding. The hormone is produced primarily in the hypothalamus, a brain region that mediates basic bodily functions, including hunger, thirst and body temperature. Oxytocin-producing neurons in the hypothalamus project into other parts of the brain, such as the nucleus accumbens, where the hormone regulates social-reward learning. In the brain’s sensory system, including the olfactory bulb, oxytocin seems to help balance excitatory and inhibitory signals, improving social-information processing, at least in rats. In the amygdala, oxytocin appears to help dull threat responses to negative social information and foster social recognition. The pituitary gland controls the release of oxytocin into the bloodstream. Blood oxytocin is crucial to start uterine muscle contractions during childbirth. It also supports lactation by facilitating the milk letdown reflex, stimulating the flow of milk into the nipple. © 2022 Simons Foundation

Keyword: Hormones & Behavior; Autism
Link ID: 28143 - Posted: 01.08.2022

By Charles F. Zorumski One minute you’re enjoying a nice buzz, the next your brain stops recording events that are taking place. The result can mean having vague or no memory of a time period ranging anywhere from a few minutes up to several hours. Scary—isn’t it? Unfortunately, alcohol-induced blackouts aren’t a rarity, either. A 2015 survey of English teenagers who drank showed 30 percent of 15-year-olds and 75 percent of 19-year-olds suffered alcohol-induced blackouts. In medical terms this memory loss is a form of temporary anterograde amnesia, a condition where the ability to form new memories is, for a limited time, impaired. That means you can’t remember a stretch of time because your brain was unable to record and store memories in the first place. Neuroscientists do not fully understand how blackouts occur. Researchers long assumed alcohol impairs memory because it kills brain cells. Indeed, long-standing alcohol abuse can damage nerve cells and permanently impact memory and learning. It is unlikely, however, that brain damage is behind acute blackouts. It is clear that processes in the hippocampus—the area of brain involved in the formation, storage and retrieval of new memories—are disturbed. Specifically, it appears alcohol impairs the so-called long-term potentiation of synapses at the pyramidal cells in the hippocampus. Alcohol alters the activity of certain glutamate receptors, thereby boosting the production of specific steroid hormones. This in turn slows the long-term potentiation of hippocampal synapses. Normally this mechanism, responsible for strengthening the synaptic transfer of information between neurons, is the basis of memory formation. © 2022 Scientific American,

Keyword: Drug Abuse; Learning & Memory
Link ID: 28142 - Posted: 01.08.2022

By JP O'Malley Neuroscientist Antonio Damasio believes that the link between brain and body is the key to understanding consciousness. In his latest book, Feeling & Knowing: Making Minds Conscious, he explains why. Consciousness is what gives an individual a sense of self; it helps one stay in the present, remember the past and plan for the future. Many scientists have argued that consciousness is created by vast networks of nerve cells, or neurons, in the brain. While it’s clear that the brain plays a major role in conscious experiences, it doesn’t act alone, argues Damasio, director of the University of Southern California’s Brain and Creativity Institute. Instead, he argues, consciousness is generated by a variety of structures within an organism, some neural, some not. What’s more, feelings — mental experiences of body states — help connect the brain to the rest of the body. “The feelings that we have of, say, hunger or thirst, or pain, or well-being, or desire, etc. — these are the foundation of our mind,” Damasio says. In his view, feelings have played a central role in the life-regulating processes of animals throughout the history of life. In Feeling & Knowing, Damasio suggests that consciousness evolved as a way to keep essential bodily systems steady. This concept is also known as homeostasis, a self-regulating process that maintains stability amid ever-changing conditions. Consciousness emerged as an extension of homeostasis, Damasio argues, allowing for flexibility and planning in complex and unpredictable environments. © Society for Science & the Public 2000–2022.

Keyword: Consciousness; Emotions
Link ID: 28141 - Posted: 01.08.2022

Leyland Cecco A whistleblower in the Canadian province of New Brunswick has warned that a progressive neurological illness that has baffled experts for more than two years appears to be affecting a growing number of young people and causing swift cognitive decline among some of the afflicted. Speaking to the Guardian, an employee with Vitalité Health Network, one of the province’s two health authorities, said that suspected cases are growing in number and that young adults with no prior health triggers are developing a catalog of troubling symptoms, including rapid weight loss, insomnia, hallucinations, difficulty thinking and limited mobility. The official number of cases under investigation, 48, remains unchanged since it was first announced in early spring 2021. But multiple sources say the cluster could now be as many as 150 people, with a backlog of cases involving young people still requiring further assessment. “I’m truly concerned about these cases because they seem to evolve so fast,” said the source. “I’m worried for them and we owe them some kind of explanation.” At the same time, at least nine cases have been recorded in which two people in close contact – but without genetic links – have developed symptoms, suggesting that environmental factors may be involved. One suspected case involved a man who was developing symptoms of dementia and ataxia. His wife, who was his caregiver, suddenly began losing sleep and experiencing muscle wasting, dementia and hallucinations. Now her condition is worse than his. A woman in her 30s was described as non-verbal, is feeding with a tube and drools excessively. Her caregiver, a nursing student in her 20s, also recently started showing symptoms of neurological decline. © 2021 Guardian News & Media Limited

Keyword: Movement Disorders; Alzheimers
Link ID: 28140 - Posted: 01.05.2022

By Elizabeth Landau In a narrow medical school hallway, Matt Stewart opened a large cabinet to reveal dozens of shelves stacked with wooden boxes and trays, some at least 100 years old. Stewart, tall and silver-haired, pulled out one of the trays and showed off its contents: Thin slices of human skull bones and the organs of hearing and balance they contain, stained shades of pink. Affixed to microscope slides, the anatomical bits resembled abstract rubber stamp art, no bigger than thumbprints. “Our Johns Hopkins history,” he said, referring to the university’s collection of specimens from more than 5,000 patients. Stewart’s research team at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore had a long, complicated journey to make slides like these in 2021. The researchers need these specimens, sliced from the portion of skull that houses the inner ear, to ask a fundamental question about the novel coronavirus, SARS-CoV-2: Does it directly invade the cells of tissues that enable hearing and balance? Ear surgeon Matt Stewart leads a research team at Johns Hopkins University that is investigating how SARS-CoV-2 might infect ear cells that enable hearing and balance. Data on ear problems as they relate to Covid-19, the disease caused by SARS-CoV-2, is spotty. To date, case reports and small studies have found that some Covid-19 patients experience significant and rapid hearing loss, ringing in the ears called tinnitus, or balance issues. Estimates vary on the prevalence of these symptoms, but because the coronavirus has infected hundreds of millions of people, even a few percent of Covid patients experiencing hearing loss would add up to a large increase globally. Yet no causal link has been drawn between the novel coronavirus and auditory symptoms. Hearing problems aren’t even on lists of Covid-19 symptoms, short or long-term, published by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Keyword: Hearing
Link ID: 28139 - Posted: 01.05.2022

By David J. Linden When a routine echocardiogram revealed a large mass next to my heart, the radiologist thought it might be a hiatal hernia—a portion of my stomach poking up through my diaphragm to press against the sac containing my heart. “Chug this can of Diet Dr. Pepper and then hop up on the table for another echocardiogram before the soda bubbles in your stomach all pop.” So I did. However, the resulting images showed that the mass did not contain the telltale signature of bursting bubbles in my stomach that would support a hernia diagnosis. A few weeks later, an MRI scan, which has much better resolution, revealed that the mass was actually contained within the pericardial sac and was quite large—about the volume of that soda can. Even with this large invader pressing on my heart, I had no symptoms and could exercise at full capacity. I felt great. The doctors told me that the mass was most likely to be a teratoma, a clump of cells that is not typically malignant. Their outlook was sunny. Riffing on the musical South Pacific, my cardiologist said, “We’re gonna pop that orange right out of your chest and send you on your way.” While I was recovering from surgery, the pathology report came back and the news was bad—it wasn’t a benign teratoma after all, but rather a malignant cancer called synovial sarcoma. Because of its location, embedded in my heart wall, the surgeon could not remove all of the cancer cells. Doing so would have rendered my heart unable to pump blood. The oncologist told me to expect to live an additional six to 18 months. (c) 2022 by The Atlantic Monthly Group.

Keyword: Attention; Consciousness
Link ID: 28138 - Posted: 01.05.2022

By Tina Hesman Saey Nola Sullivan recently marked an inauspicious anniversary. A little more than a year ago, on November 16, 2020, the 57-year-old pharmacy technician from Kellogg, Idaho, came down with COVID-19. “I lost my taste and smell, with a very bad head cold, body aches, muscle spasm, fatigue, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea,” she says. It took a month for her muscle spasms and a lingering headache to go away. She missed nearly three months of work. Her senses of smell and taste still haven’t fully returned. And “I still have the fatigue. It’s horrible. I’m nauseous all the time.” Sullivan has another lasting reminder of her battle with the coronavirus, too: diabetes. When she finally returned to work at the pharmacy, “I noticed that I was so thirsty all the time. And I just thought that was part of the COVID,” she says. “I was drinking gallons of water.” As a pharmacy technician, though, she knew that excessive thirst can be sign of diabetes. So she decided to check her blood sugar. A person is considered diabetic when levels of glucose in their blood reach 200 milligrams of glucose per deciliter of blood. Sullivan’s was over 500. Sullivan is not alone. In a study of more than 3,800 COVID-19 patients, just under half developed high blood sugar levels, including many, like Sullivan, who were not previously diabetic, cardiologist James Lo and colleagues reported November 2 in Cell Metabolism. About 91 percent of the intubated COVID-19 patients had high blood sugar, as did almost 73 percent of people who died of the disease, the researchers reported. © Society for Science & the Public 2000–2022

Keyword: Obesity
Link ID: 28137 - Posted: 01.05.2022

Leonard Mlodinow Charles Darwin created the most successful theory in the history of biology: the theory of evolution. He was also responsible for another grand theory: the theory of emotion, which dominated his field for more than a century. That theory was dead wrong. The most important tenet of his theory was that the mind consists of two competing forces, the rational and the emotional. He believed emotions played a constructive role in the lives of non-human animals, but in humans emotions were a vestige whose usefulness had been largely superseded by the evolution of reason. We now know that, on the contrary, emotions enhance our process of reasoning and aid our decision-making. In fact, we can’t make decisions, or even think, without being influenced by our emotions. Consider a pioneering 2010 study in which researchers analysed the work of 118 professional traders in stocks, bonds and derivatives at four investment banks. Some were highly successful, but many were not. The researchers’ goal was to understand what differentiated the two groups. Their conclusion? They had different attitudes toward the role of emotion in their job. The relatively less successful traders for the most part denied that emotion played a significant role. They tried to suppress their emotions, while at the same time denying that emotions had an effect on their decision-making. The most successful traders, in contrast, had a different attitude. They showed a great willingness to reflect on their emotion-driven behaviour. They recognised that emotion and good decision-making were inextricably linked. Accepting that emotions were necessary for high performance, they “tended to reflect critically about the origin of their intuitions and the role of emotion”. © 2021 Guardian News & Media Limited

Keyword: Emotions; Learning & Memory
Link ID: 28136 - Posted: 01.05.2022

By Jane E. Brody You’re probably familiar with these major risk factors for heart disease: high blood pressure, high cholesterol, smoking, diabetes, obesity and physical inactivity. And chances are your doctor has checked you more than once for these risks and, I would hope, offered advice or treatment to help ward off a heart attack or stroke. But has your doctor also asked about the level of stress in your life? Chronic psychological stress, recent studies indicate, may be as important — and possibly more important — to the health of your heart than the traditional cardiac risk factors. In fact, in people with less-than-healthy hearts, mental stress trumps physical stress as a potential precipitant of fatal and nonfatal heart attacks and other cardiovascular events, according to the latest report. The new study, published in November in JAMA, assessed the fates of 918 patients known to have underlying, but stable, heart disease to see how their bodies reacted to physical and mental stress. The participants underwent standardized physical and mental stress tests to see if their hearts developed myocardial ischemia — a significantly reduced blood flow to the muscles of the heart, which can be a trigger for cardiovascular events — during either or both forms of stress. Then the researchers followed them for four to nine years. Among the study participants who experienced ischemia during one or both tests, this adverse reaction to mental stress took a significantly greater toll on the hearts and lives of the patients than did physical stress. They were more likely to suffer a nonfatal heart attack or die of cardiovascular disease in the years that followed. I wish I had known that in 1982, when my father had a heart attack that nearly killed him. Upon leaving the hospital, he was warned about overdoing physical stresses, like not lifting anything heavier than 30 pounds. But he was never cautioned about undue emotional stress or the risks of overreacting to frustrating circumstances, like when the driver ahead of him drove too slowly in a no-passing zone. © 2022 The New York Times Company

Keyword: Stress
Link ID: 28135 - Posted: 01.05.2022

Chloe Tenn On October 4, physiologist David Julius and neurobiologist Arden Patapoutian were awarded the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for their work on temperature, pain, and touch perception. Julius researched the burning sensation people experience from chilies, and identified an ion channel, TRPV1 that is activated by heat. Julius and Patapoutian then separately reported on the TRPM8 ion channel that senses menthol’s cold in 2002. Patapoutian’s group went on to discover the PIEZO1 and PIEZO2 ion channels that are involved in sensing mechanical pressure. The Nobel Committee wrote that the pair’s work inspired further research into understanding how the nervous system senses temperature and mechanical stimuli and that the laureates “identified critical missing links in our understanding of the complex interplay between our senses and the environment.” This year saw innovations in augmenting the brain’s capabilities by plugging it in to advanced computing technology. For example, a biology teacher who lost her vision 16 years ago was able to distinguish shapes and letters with the help of special glasses that interfaced with electrodes implanted in her brain. Along a similar vein, a computer connected to a brain-implant system discerned brain signals for handwriting in a paralyzed man, enabling him to type up to 90 characters per minute with an accuracy above 90 percent. Such studies are a step forward for technologies that marry cutting-edge neuroscience and computational innovation in an attempt to improve people’s lives. © 1986–2021 The Scientist.

Keyword: Pain & Touch; Language
Link ID: 28134 - Posted: 12.31.2021

By Abdulrahman Olagunju How does our brain know that “this” follows “that”? Two people meet, fall in love and live happily ever after—or sometimes not. The sequencing of events that takes place in our head—with one thing coming after another—may have something to do with so-called time cells recently discovered in the human hippocampus. The research provides evidence for how our brain knows the start and end of memories despite time gaps in the middle. As these studies continue, the work could lead to strategies for memory restoration or enhancement. The research has focused on “episodic memory,” the ability to remember the “what, where and when” of a past experience, such as the recollection of what you did when you woke up today. It is part of an ongoing effort to identify how the organ creates such memories. A team led by Leila Reddy, a neuroscience researcher at the French National Center for Scientific Research, sought to understand how human neurons in the hippocampus represent temporal information during a sequence of learning steps to demystify the functioning of time cells in the brain. In a study published this summer in the Journal of Neuroscience, Reddy and her colleagues found that, to organize distinct moments of experience, human time cells fire at successive moments during each task. The study provided further confirmation that time cells reside in the hippocampus, a key memory processing center. They switch on as events unfold, providing a record of the flow of time in an experience. “These neurons could play an important role in how memories are represented in the brain,” Reddy says. “Understanding the mechanisms for encoding time and memory will be an important area of research.” © 2021 Scientific American

Keyword: Learning & Memory; Attention
Link ID: 28133 - Posted: 12.31.2021

By Emily Witt In the fall of 1972, a psychiatrist named Salvador Roquet travelled from his home in Mexico City to the Maryland Psychiatric Research Center, an institution largely funded by the United States government, to give a presentation on an ongoing experiment. For several years, Roquet had been running a series of group-therapy sessions: over the course of eight or nine hours, his staff would administer psilocybin mushrooms, morning-glory seeds, peyote cacti, and the herb datura to small groups of patients. He would then orchestrate what he called a “sensory overload show,” with lights, sounds, and images from violent or erotic movies. The idea was to push the patients through an extreme experience to a psycho-spiritual rebirth. One of the participants, an American psychology professor, described the session as a “descent into hell.” But Roquet wanted to give his patients smooth landings, and so, eventually, he added a common hospital anesthetic called ketamine hydrochloride. He found that, given as the other drugs were wearing off, it alleviated the anxiety brought on by these punishing ordeals. Clinicians at the Maryland Psychiatric Research Center had been studying LSD and other psychedelics since the early nineteen-fifties, beginning at a related institution, the Spring Grove Hospital Center. But ketamine was new: it was first synthesized in 1962, by a researcher named Calvin Stevens, who did consulting work for the pharmaceutical company Parke-Davis. (Stevens had been looking for a less volatile alternative to phencyclidine, better known as PCP.) Two years later, a doctor named Edward Domino conducted the first human trials of ketamine, with men incarcerated at Jackson State Prison, in Michigan, serving as his subjects. At higher doses, Domino noticed, ketamine knocked people out, but at lower ones it produced odd psychoactive effects on otherwise lucid patients. Parke-Davis wanted to avoid characterizing the drug as psychedelic, and Domino’s wife suggested the term “dissociative anesthetic” to describe the way it seemed to separate the mind from the body even as the mind retained consciousness. The F.D.A. approved ketamine as an anesthetic in 1970, and Parke-Davis began marketing it under the brand name Ketalar. It was widely used by the U.S. military during the Vietnam War, and remains a standard anesthetic in emergency rooms around the world. © 2021 Condé Nast.

Keyword: Depression; Drug Abuse
Link ID: 28132 - Posted: 12.31.2021

By Christina Caron Q: Sometimes my eyelid twitches on and off for days — weeks, even. It’s distracting and irritating. How do I get it to stop? And should I be concerned? Eyelid spasms, while annoying, are “rarely a sign of something serious,” said Stephanie Erwin, an optometrist at Cleveland Clinic’s Cole Eye Institute. The most common type of eye twitch is a series of muscle contractions called eyelid myokymia, which produces involuntary and intermittent contractions of the eyelid, typically the lower one. Only one eye is affected at a time because the twitch originates in the muscle surrounding the eye, and not the nerve that controls the blink reflex, which sends the same message to both eyes simultaneously, Dr. Erwin added. The spasms can last from hours to days to months. “If the twitching persists for a long period of time, or is accompanied by additional symptoms, it is a good idea to be checked by an eye doctor to make sure nothing else is going on,” she said. If the twitching spreads to other muscles in the face or if you notice both eyes are twitching at the same time, those are indications of a more serious problem. Other red flags include a drooping eyelid or a red eye. But if just one eyelid is twitching on and off, it is usually a harmless (and often exasperating) case of eyelid myokymia. As for why it happens: “Nobody knows exactly why,” said Dr. Alice Lorch, an ophthalmologist at Massachusetts Eye and Ear in Boston. But more commonly, it is stress, lack of sleep or excessive caffeine intake that brings on eyelid twitching, the experts said. Dry eye, a common affliction among those who stare at screens most of the day, is another culprit. Studies have indicated that we blink less when looking at digital devices, which makes our eyes feel dry. © 2021 The New York Times Company

Keyword: Vision; Stress
Link ID: 28131 - Posted: 12.31.2021

By Vanessa Barbara JUIZ DE FORA, Brazil — My first encounter with ketamine did not go well. A lifelong depressive — I picked up the habit of despairing sadness in early adulthood, and it remained faithfully with me — I’d turned to a more experimental form of treatment: ketamine infusions, in which a kindly anesthesiologist funnels the drug into a sad person’s veins for around 50 minutes and hopes it perks her up. Forty-five minutes into my first session, I rather anxiously asked my partner, who was in the room with me, if our 3-year-old daughter was fine. He decided it was the perfect time for a joke. Our daughter, he answered, was safe at home — and as a matter of fact, he added, she was already a very independent 15-year-old. I panicked. While under the strong, dissociative effect of the drug, patients sometimes enter what’s called a k-hole, in which their sense of time and space is distorted or eliminated. In that state of oblivion, I found it entirely plausible that my daughter was not a toddler anymore, but a strong-willed teenager. I became very distressed. My heartbeat accelerated. The anesthesiologist hurriedly ended the session as my partner said: “I’m kidding! Sorry! She’s still 3!” It was an inauspicious start, but I was determined to make the best of it. Ketamine, long used as an anesthetic but better known as an illegal party drug and, of course, a horse tranquilizer, has in recent years been gaining traction as an antidepressant. People have written enthusiastic accounts of their experiences, and researchers and psychiatrists, in a cascade of studies, have pointed to its possible benefits, not least the speed with which it can alleviate symptoms. Today, hundreds of clinics around the world provide infusions to people who have found little, if any, improvement with other treatments. That’s where I come in. Over the years, apart from the good old psychotropic medications, I have tried several types of talk therapy, meditation, acupuncture, singing lessons, bungee jumping and transcranial magnetic stimulation. (I still have sweet memories of the woodpecker sounds tapped into my brain.) © 2021 The New York Times Company

Keyword: Depression; Drug Abuse
Link ID: 28130 - Posted: 12.29.2021

By Molly Young Two distinguished academics walk into a restaurant in Manhattan. It is their first meeting — their first date, in fact — and the year is 2015. The man wears a down jacket against the icy winter evening. The woman has a shock of glossy white hair. The restaurant is on a cozy corner of the West Village and has foie gras on the menu. What the man doesn’t know is that the interior of his down jacket has suffered a structural failure, and the filling has massed along the bottom hem, forming a conspicuous bulge at his waist. As they greet each other, the woman perceives the bulge and asks herself: Is my date wearing a colostomy bag? They sit down to eat, but the woman is distracted. As they chat about their lives — former spouses, work, interests — the woman has “colostomy bag” on her mind. Is it or isn’t it? The two academics are of an age where such an intervention is, well, not exactly common, but not out of the realm of possibility. At the end of their dinner, the man takes the train back to Philadelphia, where he lives, and the woman returns to her apartment on the Upper West Side. Despite the enigma of the man’s midsection, the date is a success. It wasn’t until their third date that the question got resolved: no colostomy bag. “I was testing her,” Paul Rozin, one of the academics, later joked, “to see if she would put up with me.” (He wasn’t testing her. He was unaware of the bulge.) “I was worried,” said Virginia Valian, the other academic. It was fitting that an imaginary colostomy bag played a starring role in the couple’s first encounter. Paul Rozin is known for many things — he is an eminent psychologist who taught at the University of Pennsylvania for 52 years, and he has gathered honors and fellowships and published hundreds of influential papers and served on editorial boards and as chairman of the university’s department of psychology — but he is best known for his work on the topic of disgust. In the early 1980s, Rozin noticed that there was surprisingly little data available on this universal aspect of life. Odd, he thought, that of the six so-called basic emotions — anger, surprise, fear, enjoyment, sadness, disgust — the last had hardly been studied. © 2021 The New York Times Company

Keyword: Emotions
Link ID: 28129 - Posted: 12.29.2021