Review of Podcasts

Podcasts are a great way to learn about a subject quickly. In this posting, I’ve reviewed a few of the podcasts that are out at the moment.

The journal Science produces a weekly podcast. In the Podcast for the week of  25th July 2008 there is an interesting discussion of the possible function of sleep. By looking at the sleep patterns of 60 animals species (from pre-existing data), they found that social animals (animals that sleep in groups) sleep less than animals that sleep apart. They also found that if animals sleep on the ground where they’re more likely to be hunted by predators, they sleep less than those that sleep above the ground. The other finding was that animals that spend more time grazing, spend less time sleeping giving some possible clues about the evolutionary function of sleep.

In June 2008’s Nature Neuropod, a number of interesting topics were discussed. Neanderthals were found to have the same variation of FOX-P2 gene as modern humans. Fox-P2 is a transcription factor – that is a gene which affects the expression of other genes. Fox-P2 has been shown to be associated with a condition known as developmental verbal dyspraxia (a condition of speech and language). There is an ongoing project to compare Neanderthal, chimpanzee and human genomes. The idea is that finding genes specific to humans will give us a greater understanding of the evolutionary process. Cortical thinning in sensory-motor areas is associated with the occurrence of Tics in certain body parts in people with Tourette’s. This is an interesting finding as Tourette’s is classically thought of as a disorder of the basal ganglia. People with schizophrenia may have a family history or not. The ratio is about 40:60. In one study, researchers were interested in the occurrence of spontaneous mutations in non-familial schizophrenia, known as copy number variants. People normally have two copies of a gene, one from the father and the other from the mother. With copy number variants they have either one or more than two copies of the gene. The study findings makes sense if we consider schizophrenia as a neurodevelopmental disorder i.e. resulting from the way the brain develops in the foetus and early childhood. Steve Pinker talks about a new book he has written on language and discussed his thoughts on the relationship between language and thought.

In the NEJM Podcast for the week of July 10th. The NEJM reports on a mental health parity bills which have been supported by the house and the senate, with however different wording in both cases. The parity bills relate to the higher cost of insuring people with a mental illness. The bill has stalled however as the house and senate differ in their definitions of mental illness. In the June podcast of the American Journal of Psychiatry, there were again a number of interesting issues. Reduced amygdala response in adolescents with ‘callous and unemotional traits with conduct disorder or oppositional disorder. Shown emotional or non-emotional faces – whilst being fMRI scanned. Healthy subjects showed more activation of the Amygdala when shown emotional faces than did the adolescents with ‘callous and unemotional traits’. There was also an implication of the connections between the ventromedial prefrontal cortex and amygdala in this difference. This supports a model in which antisocial behaviour is related to not being able to process the emotional reactions of other people. An interesting case report discussed is a 55 year old lady with treatment resistant depression refractory to treatment with single antidepressants, combination therapy, augmentation strategies, ECT and cingulotomy. She finally improved with deep brain stimulation which adds to the recent publication of the success of deep brain stimulation in depression.


The comments made here represent the opinions of the author and do not represent the profession or any body/organisation. The comments made here are not meant as a source of medical advice and those seeking medical advice are advised to consult with their own doctor.


  1. The age of the father and the increasing risk of autism, schizophrenia, type 1 diabetes, MS, cancers etc. is the key. Read the male biological clock Sperm stem cells accumulate mutations.


  2. Thank you Les, nice comment. I’ve checked out the blog at and it makes for interesting reading. In the podcast above they discussed spontaneous mutations as occurring at a rate of 1% in the population, and that this is a ‘device’ for creating variety which should increase the overall population fitness (if we assume that mutations are necessary for adaptation to the environment). However, the point you’ve made in this case is excellent, as even if the spontaneous mutations are necessary for heterogeneity, the odds are that this will be provided by older fathers.


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