The Centre for Disease Control in the United States has released epidemiological data on mental illness and there is coverage at PsychCentral. There is an interview with the author of a new book ‘The Secret Language Code’ at Scientific American. The author Dr Pennkbaker has been using computerised analysis of text to investigate the content and has produced some interesting findings on the use of pronouns. There is a
n write-up by Professor Wray Herbert on research on survivors of Hurricane Katrina looking at why some people stayed while others moved out and finding a role for communality. There is a write-up here of a recent study in which the researchers identified a gustatory map in the brain to add to the other sensory maps. There is an article (via sandygautam) challenging the interpretation of recent neuroscience findings.
There is research suggesting that Beta-Amyloid, thought to play an important role in Alzheimer’s Disease can impair the blood-brain barrier. The researchers included a small post-mortem study of 4 people with Alzheimer’s Disease in their study and found evidence of increased revascularisation in the neocortex and hippocampus. This supports the hypothesis that increasing revascularisation would impair the integrity of the Blood Brain Barrier as this process breaks down and reforms the tight junctions between vascular cells that constitute the Blood-Brain Barrier. The researchers have suggested that Beta-Amyloid or another derivative of Amyloid Precursor Protein may be driving the formation of these new blood vessels (angiogenesis). A moderately sized American study (n=139) found evidence that a person’s beliefs about their risk of Alzheimer’s Disease is strongly influenced by the information they receive about that illness and also that in their sample the younger group perceived themselves at more risk of developing Alzheimer’s Disease compared to the older group. However the older group were more likely to report engaging in risk-reducing behaviours. In work investigating the use of Lithium in Alzheimer’s Disease, the researchers report on an analysis of a sample from a larger study in which they didn’t find a difference between the Lithium and Placebo groups in serum Glial Cell Line Derived Neurotrophic Factor after treatment. There are however other positive findings in this area and it will be interesting to see the results of the large multicentred trial when it is completed.
In a longitudinal study (the three-cities study) looking at the use of the Mediterranean Diet researchers found that women with the highest adherence to the Mediterranean diet had a 50% risk reduction in incident disability (evaluated using two measures of functioning) relative to the group with lowest adherence. Previous research supports a beneficial effect of the Mediterranean Diet as in a BMJ Meta-analysis (freely available here)(see also discussion on this blog here, here, here and here). There is interesting coverage of a recent study suggesting that components in the blood influence neurogenesis in the central nervous system in an age-dependent manner. A small 6 week study showed evidence of a significant decrease in Neuropsychiatry Inventory Scores in people with behavioural variant Frontotemporal Dementia compared to a placebo group and it will be interesting to see the results of large replication studies. In a large Danish study (n=37658) researchers looked at the national registry data on patients discharged from psychiatric care with subsequent diagnoses of dementia. They found a significant reduction in incident dementia with the use of older antidepressants and although replicated with Alzheimer’s Disease was not with other forms of dementia. Large studies of this type raise interesting questions for further investigation and these results could inform smaller tailored studies aimed at further investigating these findings. An open access journal ‘Longevity and Healthspan‘ has recently started up.
The UK government is planning to implement copyright exemptions for data mining and there is further coverage here. The Neuroscience Information Framework 2.0 has a list of over 2200 neuroscience databases here (originally via a MindHacks reference to a Wiki on neuroscience databases).
There is coverage of the Second World Congress on Positive Psychology here and here. There is an interesting article on resilience and recent neuropsychiatry findings at Psychology Central. There is coverage of a study showing that laughter was associated with an increase in a measure of blood flow (brachial artery blood flow) compared to when people were watching stress provoking movie clips.
There is a fascinating write-up at the Washington Post about the responses of animals at the National Zoo in the United States before an earthquake. A number of the animals exhibited adaptive behaviour which included the use of alarm calls, huddling and climbing to higher structures up to 15 minutes before the earthquake (the red-ruffed lemur calls may have been coincidence however). The suggestion was made by one commentator that they were responding to the P-wave – the high speed wave that occurs in an earthquake before the S-wave (which causes the ground to shake). However what this means is that at some point during the evolution of the greater apes our ancestors lost the ability to detect the P-wave. Orang-Utans responded in this episode and their ancestors diverged from our own approximately 14 million years ago. However it is also noted that it has been difficult to systematically study this phenomenon in order to submit to the peer-reviewed journals. Another write-up looks at the behaviour of dolphins in response to the death of a member of their group and the suggestion that some of this behaviour resembles grieving in humans. The ancestors of Dolphins and humans diverged approximately 85 million years ago (the evolution of Dolphin is somewhat complicated as it appears they emerged fom the ocean, probably evolved into hoofed animals (Artiodactyla) and then returned to the water to evolve into Dolphins). If this is the case then it suggests either conservation of traits in our
common post-divergent lineage which includes mammals as diverse as rodents and primates or else convergent evolution in which similar adaptations to selective pressures are arrived at independently (it may also suggest that a critical brain volume is required although this is more tricky to evaluate given the differences in neuroanatomy as well as the encephalisation quotient which is an adjusted measure of the ratio of brain to body mass). There is another recent report on a finding in caves in Jersey. The researchers found evidence that the caves were occupied over a period of approximately 250,000 years, most likely by Neanderthals. These types of findings are important in hypothesising on the likely selective pressures in hominids in recent evolution as well as the interplay between culture and evolution.
Appendix – Annual News Roundups
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