News Roundup 2012

Welcome to another annual roundup of the TAWOP news as 2012 draws to a close. The roundup is organised into links to reviews of the news in 2012, clinical news, neuroscience news, positive Psychiatry, evolutionary Psychiatry and miscellaneous items.

Links to Articles Looking Back at 2012

The Royal College of Psychiatrists Annual Review 2012 features the RCPsych Award winners as well as a summary of the good work that the College has done over the past year.

There is a review of medical stories from 2012 here including dissolving medical sensors.

Autism Speaks features a look at #10 developments in Autism research in 2012.

Changes in DSM-V including the conversion of Asperger Syndrome to Autistic Spectrum Disorder and the removal of gender identity disorder and the introduction of gender dysphoria are covered in this CNN post.

NHS Choices looks back at the headlines in 2012.

Top medical social media stories in 2012 are covered month-by-month in this ‘Science Roll’ article.

There is a look at the unsung heroes of medicine in this article which covers the work of the multidisciplinary team.

Dr Koven lists her top #5 medical/health books of 2012 here.

There is an interesting look at #10 science stories from 2012 here including evidence of foetal cell migration to the maternal brain.

Psychology Today provide a list of their top #25 posts of 2012 including controversial subjects.

Psychology Today looks at #5 big discoveries about leadership in 2012.

Popsci’s website features an interactive map highlighting the big science stories of 2012.

IO9 look at scientific developments in 2012 including advances in synthetic biology.

Ed Yong has a roundup of science stories in 2012 including transpovirons (in this case a virus inside a virus inside an amoeba inside a woman’s eye) and an application of Dungeons and Dragons in psychology research.

Forbes has a roundup of top science stories in 2012 including the ‘midlife crisis’ in greater apes, receiving compliments and habit forming in the brain.

Newly discovered species in 2012 are examined in this Slate article including the Lesula monkey in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

The Center for Inquiry has posted their list of their top #10 science and reason books of 2012 including Hallucinations by Oliver Sacks.

Outlier features a look at #5 behavioural science stories in 2012.

Buzz feed have an article on #26 inspiring moments of 2012 including two parents who had insulin administering devices tattooed on their bodies so that their Diabetic son wouldn’t feel different. They also have #27 remarkable science stories from 2012.

The Guardian has a collection of 24 pictures which illustrate a number of science stories that were discussed in 2012 including the discovery of the Red Deer Cave people and the chemputer (on a related note this article looks at the use of 3D printing to produce medication).

The Connectome looks at the top #5 neuroscience breakthroughs of 2012 including the Gallant study on reconstructing film footage from visual cortex activity.

The Brain and Behaviour Research Foundation identified a list of #10 research findings in 2012 including the effects of Depression on the brain and ‘brain training’ in Schizophrenia.

Clinical

A vaccine for Parkinson’s Disease is being trialled. The vaccine trial which is being sponsored by the Michael J Fox Foundation is testing the safety and tolerance of the vaccine in 32 subjects. The vaccine targets the protein Alpha Synuclein which is thought to play a central role in Parkinson’s Disease. If the vaccine is successful it will trigger the body’s immune system to attack the Alpha Synuclein.

Researchers have used intraoperative electrode recording in people with epilepsy to find that the pronunciation of vowels during speech is associated with firing in the Superior Temporal Gyrus and the Medial Frontal region. Each area has subtle correlates with vowel formation.

The neuroanatomical correlates of healthy brain aging have been investigated in this study. The researchers were interested in why some people reach an advanced age without signs of worsening memory. The researchers looked at people averaging over 80 years of age. Those with a high score on cognitive testing were compared with an age matched group who had more difficulty with the cognitive testing and also a much younger group who were in their fifties and early sixties. They found that the healthy aging group had much thicker cortices than the age-matched group. Indeed the cortical thickness was similar to that of the much younger group. They also found a much thicker cortical thickness in the Anterior Cingulate Cortex in particular. These are interesting results which will inform future studies of healthy brain aging.

In a study presented at the American Academy of Neurology, researchers presented the results of a longitudinal study of 2410 people (average age 62) who were followed up over an 11-year period. The researchers found that at baseline those with a slower walking speed were more likely to develop dementia at follow-up. However at follow-up only 34 people had developed Dementia and there are many potentially confounding risk factors such as comorbid medical illness. What would be interesting is a follow-up study, focusing on people with Mild Cognitive Impairment where this relationship can be examined in more detail and over a shorter-time period. There’s a small Positron Emission Tomography study in which researchers examined the sleep of 100 participants  (aged 45-80) with a family history of Alzheimer’s Disease, looking at the build-up of Alzheimer’s Disease related Amyloid Plaques. The researchers found that there was an association between disrupted sleep and the presence of the plaques. However the study period was short (2-weeks) and a longer term and larger replication study would be helpful in confirming these findings. Even if confirmed, the Amyloid Plaques are a disease correlate and a longitudinal study which confirmed Amyloid Plaque build up and emergent Alzheimer’s Disease would provide the strongest evidence of a relationship between sleep and future development of Alzheimer’s Disease. There’s a good write-up of a study investigating the use of Cumerin in fruit-fly model of Alzheimer’s Disease (via @MariaPage). There’s an interesting way to estimate the size of your vocabulary here (via @MariaPage). I got an estimate of 29,500 words. However it would be useful to develop a test which assesses specialised vocabularies (i’m sure i’ve used more on this blog although it would be interesting to find out!).

In one study, the researchers looked at the arteries supplying blood to the brain – the Carotid Arteries using Doppler Ultrasound. The researchers were interested in the factors that causes conversion from Mild Cognitive Impairment to Dementia. They found that a combination of the thickness of the wall of the Common Carotid Arteries as well as a measure of the reactivity of the Middle Cerebral Artery significantly influenced the risk of conversion from MCI to Dementia.

A study in the Archives of Neurology adds a new piece of evidence to the ongoing debate about whether computer games are harming or helping people’s health. One recent argument that has been developed is that the use of the internet or computers can be associated with deficits in attention and other cognitive problems. However on the other side of the argument there is the hypothesis that ‘Brain Training’ can enhance cognition. This was a study looking at a cohort of people with Alzheimer’s Disease and a control group. The study was moderately sized and what the researchers found was that a combination of activities which stimulated the brain including the smartphone app ‘Angry Birds’ were associated with a reduction in the build-up of an Amyloid plaque in the brain that is associated with Alzheimer’s Disease. This was detected using Positron Emission Tomography in conjunction with radioactive compounds that bind to the plaque. So can smartphone games protect the brain? It’s probably too early to say as the smartphone games were just one of the approaches used to stimulate the brain. However this evidence is certainly promising and supports the notion that lifestyle can help to modify the risk of developing Alzheimer’s Disease but replication studies to investigate the question about specific games will be very helpful.

In PLOS One there is a paper in which the researchers find that vowel articulation is a marker of Parkinson’s Disease progression (via @keith_laws). The researchers found that when they looked at two measures of vowel articulation the people with Parkinson’s Disease performed less well than a control group and that their performance correlated with a disturbance in gait that is characteristic of Parkinson’s Disease.

There is a Europe wide collaboration on research into detecting Alzheimer’s Disease and Parkinson’s Disease early with more details here.

The New York Times has a piece by Pam Belluck on prisoners who developed Dementia while serving their prison term (via @prison_health).

A recent study looked at Omega-3 fatty acid levels in the bloodstream (via @TheConnilyn). Omega-3 is a constituent of cell membranes and thought to be important for the brain’s structure. The researchers didn’t look at the dietary habits of subjects but instead looked at the blood levels of Omega-3 and none of the subjects had been diagnosed with Dementia. They found that the subjects who had the lowest 25% of results for Omega-3 levels performed significantly worse on memory tasks than people with the other subjects and that they also had a reduced brain volume when compared to the other group. The researchers suggested that this was equivalent to the effects of 2 years of aging.

A draft National plan to combat Alzheimer’s Disease has been released in the United States.

The Alzheimer’s Disease Research Forum has an interesting piece on radiolabelled tracer compounds. Several radiolabelled tracer compounds used in Positron Emission Tomography neuroimaging are being considered by the USA regulatory authority – the FDA – for approval for use in the clinical evaluation of Alzheimer’s Disease. However there has been a vigorous academic debate in the Journal of European Journal of Nuclear Medicine and Molecular Imaging and also in correspondence from many scientists on both sides of the argument. Debates are useful both for stimulating new lines of inquiry in a subject area as well as helping beginners in the field to quickly gain insights and an overview of the subject. In this debate the researchers are focusing on whether the tracer compounds can be effective in the clinical workup of Alzheimer’s Disease. The arguments include a debate on the resolution of the PET scans in relation to the size of the plaques, the use of the compounds in Mild Cognitive Impairment and the specificity of the compounds for their target.

The Neuroskeptic looks at a very interesting test for assessing visual hallucinations in Lewy Body Dementia developed by Japanese Neurologists.

There is a research study in the British Journal of Psychiatry in which the researchers look at people with Lewy Body Dementia and compare them with a control group using functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (fMRI) and Arterial Spin Labelling MRI. The researchers found that people with Lewy Body Dementia manifested less activity (fMRI) in V5/Middle Temporal Region (also known as Brodmann Area 17 – see Appendix) when presented with motion stimuli compared to the control group. People with Lewy Body Dementia also had reduced perfusion particularly in the higher visual association areas compared to the control group (article freely available here).

There is an interesting piece at the BPS Research Digest on a man HK with hyperthymesia – an enhanced autobiographical memory. There are previous cases including Sheresheveski and Jill Price (see review of her book here).

Researchers have found a link between the Alzheimer’s Disease associated gene ALP1 and the regulation of Insulin. The researchers investigated the association in the Nematode worm C.Elegans. The relationship between Diabetes and Alzheimer’s Disease is complex and is an area of intense research activity.

There was a malfunction in a Harvard brain bank recently which resulted in the thawing of brains being stored for research. A significant proportion of these brains were from people who had been diagnosed with Autism. Interestingly some of the brains had been divided in two with one half being frozen and the other stored in Formaldehyde. Obviously the Formaldehyde specimens were unaffected.

In a recent study (via @VaughanBell), researchers evaluated the accuracy of a software program FreeSurfer that is used to analyse structural MRI brain scans. The researchers found that the results varied between versions of FreeSurfer as well as the computers that were used. The effect sizes seen reached sizes reported in a number of clinical studies for example looking at grey matter volume reduction in Alzheimer’s Disease. This is only one software package used for this type of analysis however and the authors suggest further research looking at this software package in more detail.

 The Neuropolis is a new centre for neuroscienceis being set up in Geneva and Lausanne and which should be in operation by 2016. The centre will bring together over 1000 neuroscientists with a remit which includes the investigation of neurodegenerative conditions.

Research published in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease has provided further support for the hypothesis that Alzheimer’s Disease may in part result from Insulin resistance in the brain. The Amyloid Cascade hypothesis is commonly thought to be the best explanation for how Alzheimer’s Disease arises. This Insulin Resistance hypothesis is not a competing hypothesis but if proved correct would suggest a more complex model of the pathogenesis of Alzheimer’s Disease is needed. The researchers found an association between an altered lipid metabolite – ProCeramide, activation of Ceramide genes and the Insulin Signalling system in post-mortem human brains of people who had been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s Disease.

Explanation of Insulin, Glucagon and Diabetes

NeuGrid is an impressive research network that enables researchers to share brain images for research into neurodegenerative diseases. The program has recently expanded.

Dr Creighton Phelps discusses changes in the American Alzheimer’s Association diagnostic criteria for Alzheimer’s Disease in this video which was made available by the National Institute on Aging in the following video (from 2011).

Dr Creighton Phelps Discusses American Alzheimer’s Disease Diagnostic Criteria Changes

Treatment guidelines for NMDA-receptor antibody mediated Encephalitis were presented at a Neurology conference and the researchers concluded that early treatment were associated with improved treatment outcome measures.

There is a brief overview here showing the findings from a research group at the University of Stirling into how a home can be adapted for a person with dementia.

In a recent study, researchers looked at people between the ages of 60 and 94 to see the effects of a cognitive program which developed their inductive reasoning skills. Inductive reasoning is the ability to make useful generalisations on the basis of observations. The researchers found that the program effectively improved the inductive reasoning skills of the subjects compared to a control group. The researchers also found that a measure of one personality trait – openness – had changed at the end of the intervention. This was a small change but still significant and challenges the hypothesis that personality remains unchanged in later life. However the changes were small and it would be interesting to see the results of replication studies in this area.

Researchers investigating early-onset Alzheimer’s Disease have found a new association with the SORL 1 gene which codes for a protein involved in the production of Beta-Amyloid peptide which is thought to play a cental role in the pathology of Alzheimer’s Disease according to the Amyloid Cascade Hypothesis.

There’s an interesting paper on the Clock Drawing test. This is a very useful clinical test used in the assessment of cognition. In this moderately sized study, the researchers looked at people with right-sided brain injury. Compared to controls, this group tended to draw elliptical clocks and clocks that were smaller. One particularly interesting finding was that the further away from the centre of the paper the brain injured subjects drew the clock, the smaller the clock was. This fits with a hypothesis that injury to the right side of the brain impacts on the ability to graphically reconstruct images from memory.

There are some interesting and encouraging results from the Rush Memory and Aging Project in the Journal Neurology. The researchers used an actigraph to measure activity. The 716 participants were on average 82 years old without Dementia at the study onset. The researchers used the activity data from a one-week period to stratify subjects according to their levels of activity. As this was a longitudinal study they were then able to correlate the activity data with the risk of subsequently developing Alzheimer’s Disease. After 3.5 years of follow-up, the researchers found that the 10% of people with the lowest levels of activity were 2.3 times more likely to develop Alzheimer’s Disease than the 10% of people with the highest levels of activity. These included household activities such as cooking and cleaning  (classed as non-exercise physical activity) for those who were unable to engage in exercise.

However it should be noted that the activity results are based on a one-week period of observation and it will be interesting to see if this is further explored with extensive periods of observation of activity. Nevertheless these results are quite convincing and are consistent with a body of emerging evidence on the benefits of exercise on cognition.

NMDA-receptor encephalitis is a recently characterised condition. In one recent study, the researchers looked at the treatment of 565 people with this condition and found that early treatment (classed as treatment within the 1st month) led to better outcome. There was also an improved response on switching treatment after failure to respond to the initial treatment (compared to either repeating the first treatment or no additional treatment). As this form of encephalitis is associated with tumours in 59% of cases, treatment included tumour removal or immunotherapy depending on the presentation.

There is a case report on a man with a PSEN1 mutation which is associated with early-onset Alzheimer’s Disease. The researchers used Positron Emission Tomography with a radioactive tracer compound F-AV45 that was approved for use last year by the FDA. The researchers were able to detect Amyloid plaques at an early stage using this approach. and that the plaque appeared in the Striatum and posterior Cortex.

In an analysis of 9 clinical trials of Memantine in moderate to severe Alzheimer’s Disease including a cumulative total of 2506 participants, the researchers found that Memantine was associated with a delay in worsening of cognition compared to Placebo on three outcome measures – cognition, activities of daily living and global impression of change.

A visual rating score for atrophy in different Cortical regions was used to predict conversion from Mild Cognitive Impairment to Dementia in one study. The researchers were interested in the contribution of atrophy in the Medial Temporal Lobe and posterior Cortex. They found a stronger effect for Medial Temporal Lobe atrophy in keeping with the findings from previous studies. However they also found that there was an association between posterior Cortical atrophy and conversion in late-onset Dementia. Furthermore they found that posterior Cortical atrophy was also correlated with CSF Tau levels and suggest that the latter is a marker of a more widespread disease process which may explain these findings.

Researchers using the Open Access Imaging Data Series examined the MRI data from 196 people, 98 without Dementia and 98 with either very mild or mild Alzheimer’s Disease in this study. The researchers used the Clinical Dementia Rating scale and found that the Corpus Callosum was affected by the disease process but only at later stages when the CDR score was 0.5 or above.

There is a write-up on a series of articles in the Schizophrenia Bulletin on how smartphones can be used in the clinical setting for uses ranging from completion of questionnaires through to prompting for self-monintoring.

In PLOS One there is a paper in which the researchers find that vowel articulation is a marker of Parkinson’s Disease progression (via @keith_laws). The researchers found that when they looked at two measures of vowel articulation the people with Parkinson’s Disease performed less well than a control group and that their performance correlated with a disturbance in gait that is characteristic of Parkinson’s Disease. There is a Europe wide collaboration on research into detecting Alzheimer’s Disease and Parkinson’s Disease early with more details here.

The New York Times has a piece by Pam Belluck on prisoners who developed Dementia while serving their prison term (via @prison_health). A recent study looked at Omega-3 fatty acid levels in the bloodstream (via @TheConnilyn). Omega-3 is a constituent of cell membranes and thought to be important for the brain’s structure. The researchers didn’t look at the dietary habits of subjects but instead looked at the blood levels of Omega-3 and none of the subjects had been diagnosed with Dementia. They found that the subjects who had the lowest 25% of results for Omega-3 levels performed significantly worse on memory tasks than people with the other subjects and that they also had a reduced brain volume when compared to the other group. The researchers suggested that this was equivalent to the effects of 2 years of aging.

The Royal College of Psychiatrists has produced this video about the Institute of Psychiatry summer school for medical students to learn more about Psychiatry.

There’s a piece by Dr Beatrice Baiden on new advice from the NHS prescribing centre which she argues is putting pressure on GP’s to reduce antidepressant prescribing (via @pulsetoday). This advice is in keeping with NICE guidelines on Depression and the issues of accessibility to non-pharmacological options as well as patient preference are raised.

There’s an interesting piece on a man with Asperger Syndrome who developed his social skills by watching David Letterman and by listening to Howard Stern and has written a book about his experiences (via @WinstonschoolCA).

The debate on Brain Training Programs continues with this small study looking at people with Schizophrenia compared to a control group. The researchers looked at whether they could improve ‘reality monitoring’ in people with Schizophrenia by using a brain training program. In this case, the reality monitoring was tested by asking subjects in the study to distinguish between words presented to them by the researchers and words that they themselves had generated. The subjects were also scanned using functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging. The researchers found that using the brain training program improved the performance of subjects. They also found an increase in activity in the Medial Prefrontal Cortex after the training was completed. The Medial Prefrontal Cortex is an area of the brain that is thought to play a central role in reality monitoring.

GABA is an important neurotransmitter and there is a link to a recent case-study of Schizophrenia resulting from the person producing antibodies to Glutamic Acid Decarboxylase an important enzyme needed for the production of GABA* (via @polygenicpaths).

Another popular debate is about whether Oxytocin is an ’empathy molecule’. This is perhaps an oversimplification but Oxytocin has been trialled as a drug that can potentially improve social skills. In one study, the researchers wanted to see if they could improve the ability of people with Schizophrenia to recognise emotions in facial expressions (via @therapynews). They found at baseline that people with schizophrenia in their study performed less well then a control group whilst after training they showed a significant improvement on this task.

There is a meta-analysis in the Archives of General Psychiatry where the authors analyse randomised controlled trials of Venlafaxine and Fluoxetine. This study occurs in the context of a previous study by Kirsch and colleagues who concluded that antidepressants were no more effective than placebo in the treatment of mild depression. However the authors of this paper conclude that the data shows that both antidepressants show an advantage over placebo in cases of mild depression. They responded to many of the criticisms that Kirsh and his team raised as they included unpublished data and it will be interesting to see if there is a response from well known commentators like Dan Carlat and Irving Kirsch himself.

Treating disorders of the mind and brain with medication means getting that medication to the brain. The brain has a very effective protective mechanism known as the Blood-Brain Barrier. This barrier prevents many substances from passing through some of which may be toxic to the brain and this is really important particularly when people have other illnesses. Many drugs can pass through the Blood Brain Barrier but there are many therapeutic approaches including gene therapy where this is not the case. In these cases researchers will use lumbar punctures to deliver the therapeutic agents. However compared to taking tablets, lumbar punctures need more resources (see here for further details). An alternative method for getting drugs into the Central Nervous System is the use of focused ultrasound but it should be noted that this is currently being researched before it can be used in routine clinical practice and only if it has proved safe. The use of focused ultrasound to open the blood-brain barrier to facilitate the delivery of drugs to the brain is discussed in this paper.

The US Center for Disease Control has recently estimated a prevalence of Autism in the USA of 1 in 88 people. This is an increase on estimates from previous decades.

Actor Richard Dreyfuss recently talked about living with Bipolar Disorder in an interview here.

Anatomist 90, Coronal Section showing the Corpus Callosum, Creative Commons 3.0 Share-Alike Unported License

In a case-series, the researchers in a North Indian hospital characterised 100 consecutive referrals to a Liaison Psychiatry service with Delirium. The most common presentations of Delirium were found to be inattention (consistent with the results of a previous study by Meagher and colleagues), disorientation, visuospatial impairment and sleep disturbances.

The WHO has released an estimate that by 2050 the number of cases of Dementia will have tripled.

Although case studies are not as useful as larger trials investigating questions they can often form the basis for hypothesis which can be subsequently investigated with appropriate methodology. In this case report, the researchers identify the progression of cortical changes in a man with Posterior Cortical Atrophy. They identified progression from the Inferior Temporal and Posterior Parietal Cortices to the Occipital Cortex followed by other regions.

In this study, the researchers found that subjective memory impairment was a common complaint in older adults but few people sought medical attention for this.

There’s an interesting discussion of the Amyloid Hypothesis of Alzheimer’s Disease at Dementia Today and there is also a freely available paper here.

A new Positron Emission Tomography method for visualising plaques in Alzheimer’s Disease using F-AV45  helps clarify an unusual case of Alzheimer’s Disease with onset of visual symptoms and Posterior Cortical involvement.

In one moderately sized study, researchers looked at the integrity of the Fornix and Hippocampus in healthy controls as well as people with Alzheimer’s Disease and Mild Cognitive Impairment (paper freely available here). The researchers found that the integrity of the Fornix was reduced in people with Alzheimer’s Disease and Mild Cognitive Impairment. This was measured using a Diffuse Tensor Imaging indication of damage – fractional anistropy. The researchers also found that reduced integrity of the Fornix was associated with reduced Hippocampal volume.

Introduction to the Hippocampus

The researchers in a small but interesting study published in the British Journal of Psychiatry found that people with Lewy Body Dementia manifested altered activity (using functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging) in higher visual cortical areas compared to a control group when performing visual tasks. The researchers also looked at perfusion using arterial spin labelling MRI and found reduced perfusion in the higher visual cortical areas in the people with Lewy Body Dementia compared to the control group.

In a study published in the Journal Neurology, researchers looked at self-reported measures of engagement in cognitive activity in older adults. They found that global cognitive functioning was not predictive of self-reported levels of cognitive activities, but that higher levels of self-reported cognitive activities were associated with significantly improved global cognitive function as well as more specific components including semantic and episodic memory.

There is a case report in which commencement of Memantine was associated with an improvement in apathy in Frontotemporal Dementia although it will be interesting to see if there are any clinical trials to further investigate this finding.

Researchers have published a paper in Neurology looking at how the APOE4 gene might play a role in Alzheimer’s Disease. The researchers looked at a Murine model and found evidence that the enzyme Cyclophilin A may be playing a role in the development of Alzheimer’s Disease mediated through APOE4. They found that in APOE4 carriers there was a five-fold increase in the levels of Cyclophilin A in the Pericytes, there was a reduction of blood flow in the brain and an increase in the passage into the brain of substances including Thrombin. The Pericytes are cells that form an integral part of the Blood-Brain Barrier. They found that when Cyclophilin A was blocked in APOE4 carriers there was a reduction in the passage of a number of the previously identified substances in the brain as well as an improvement in blood flow. The researchers have thus formulated an interesting and testable hypothesis about the pathogenesis of Alzheimer’s Disease in relation to one gene variant – APOE4.

Cyclophilin_A-cyclosporin_complex_1CWA

Cyclophilin A in a complex with Cyclosporin (shown in yellow), Fvasconcellos, Public Domain

Professor Alistair Burns talks to Professor Rosser about Dementia research in this video

A private genetics company 23&me is looking for new genes associated with Parkinson’s Disease and using social media to recruit new subjects for the study.

This study suggests that more hours of sleep at night and increased slow wave sleep are associated with improved performance in working memory tasks in people with Parkinson’s Disease. However this is a small study with 54 subjects although these findings are supported by other studies showing an association between disrupted sleep and impaired cognitive performance.

An interesting synthetic nanoparticle has been found to influence cerebral blood flow and scavenge free-radicals which are commonly thought to damage cells.

In a widely reported study researchers have identified an important part of the brain’s clearing system in a Murine model. The researchers found that near to the venous drainage, the Glial cells were facilitating the removal of material from the brain when they used radiolabelled tracers. This has potential implications for diseases such as Alzheimer’s Disease (see the discussion below) but further studies will be needed to investigate these questions after these initial and encouraging results.

The Newly Discovered Glymphatic System

There’s a neat summary of the July 2012 Alzheimer’s Association International Conference® meeting here. The summary includes a look at an open-label extension study of IV Immunoglobulin therapy for Alzheimer’s Disease (with a pending Phase 3 study), a number of other intervention and prevention studies (including a Phase 2b study for a partial alpha-7 Nicotinic agonist), a study clarifying the relationship of various patterns of alcohol consumption to subsequent cognitive decline, the beneficial effects of exercise in delaying cognitive decline in one study (including an important role for resistance training), gait associations with cognitive decline and various widely reported studies that looked into the relationship between sleep pattern and cognitive decline.

The Alzheimer’s Research Forum has an interesting post on how the difficult issue of genetic testing in Alzheimer’s Disease might be approached. There are a number of genes associated with Early and Late-Onset Alzheimer’s Disease. For one of these genes, APOE4, the researchers are trying to work out if it is effective to test a person for a variant of this gene and to disclose this information. Both genes and the environment have an effect on the development of Alzheimer’s Disease. Giving people information about the gene variants when other factors may play a more significant role in their risk for Alzheimer’s Disease may cause distress. This study – the REVEAL IV study – will help the researchers begin to answer the question of whether assessment and disclosure of this gene is helpful in specific circumstances.

Professor Dennis Selkoe Discussed the APOE4 Gene and Alzheimer’s Disease

 Delirium is a reversible decline in cognition that results from organic pathology. As imaging technology has advanced, researchers have begun to better understand the subtypes of Delirium. This PLOS One study looks at one relevant organic syndrome referred to as Severe Posterior Reversible Encephalopathy Syndrome (PRES). This was by definition a severe organic syndrome and the patients in this study were admitted to the Intensive Care Unit. From the PLOS One study, PRES is defined thus

‘Posterior reversible encephalopathy syndrome (PRES) is a clinicoradiologic entity characterized by a variable combination of consciousness impairment, seizure activity, headaches, visual abnormalities, nausea/vomiting, and focal neurological signs(Legriel et al, 2012, PLOS One)

The researchers were interested in the factors that predicted recovery. They recruited 70 patients through multiple centres. Brain imaging findings were one of the criterion for diagnosis and the researchers found that most of the abnormalities were found in the Parietal and Occipital lobes in keeping with the description of a Posterior Encephalopathy. The researchers found that early treatment of the underlying medical condition as well as hyperglycaemia on day 1 were predictors of later recovery. One significant cause of PRES was Hypertensive Encephalopathy but there were many number of other causes identified.

Researchers in one study used a 7-Tesla MRI scanner to investigate Alzheimer’s Disease. MRI scanners or Magnetic Resonance Imaging scanners use powerful magnets to image the brain. 7-Tesla scanners are state-of-the-art scanners which allow a very high resolution of the brain. The team based at Stanford have previously published research in which they imaged a very small area within the Hippocampus – the CA1 layer and specifically within this area – the Stratum Radiatum/Stratum Lacunosum-Moleculare (SRLM). The researchers in this study wanted to connect the brain changes with changes seen on psychological testing. They took a battery of psychological tests including episodic recall, delayed recall and recognition memory and looked to see if there was a link with the changes in this part of the Hippocampus. Previous research has shown less detailed links between brain changes and performance on specific psychological tests. However in this study the researchers had some very interesting results. They found a very strong connection between performance on the delayed recall task and the width of CA1-SRLM in the left hemisphere. When they looked at CA3, another area in the Hippocampus they found no significant relationship. This study suggests that with sufficient resolution, there may be a clear relationship between performance on specific memory tests and neuroanatomy

Explanation of MRI

MRI of Brain

The Hippocampus

The Parahippocampal Gyrus Which Surrounds the Hippocampus

Researchers have found differences in the prevalence of Alzheimer’s Disease between people living in the urban and rural areas with the latter group showing a significantly higher prevalence in their international study.

A successful model of Alzheimer’s Disease needs to explain a broad range of research findings. The authors of this paper suggest two main strands to such a model (based on CSF ABeta(42) and CSF tau) and propose a need for a third strand to a successful model.

Researchers in one study were looking to find out how Parkinson’s Disease differed from a Parkinson’s like disease resulting from vascular damage (Vascular Parkinsonism). They found that people developing Vascular Parkinsonism were older and didn’t experience visual hallucinations compared to people with Parkinson’s Disease.

Acetylcholine is a neurotransmitter involved in memory. Disturbances of Acetylcholine can be associated with memory problems. In hospitals, older adults can frequently develop episodes of confusion. These episodes are referred to as Delirium and can either involve agitation or withdrawal. The researchers in one study wanted to see if they could replicate previous findings showing an association between delirium and anticholinergic activity in the bloodstream (Serum Anticholinergic Activity = SAA). The suggestion was that this could be used as a blood marker of Delirium. They looked at SAA in people undergoing surgery for hip fractures and did find changes that were associated with Delirium. However when they looked at other factors that could have changed SAA and caused Delirium they found that SAA by itself was no longer significant. In other words their study suggested this wasn’t a useful blood marker of Delirium.

Researchers in one study looked at a test which could characterise the cognitive profile of people with Idiopathic Normal Pressure Hydrocephalus. They compared twenty people with Idiopathic Normal Pressure Hydrocephalus with 20 people with Alzheimer’s Disease and administered a specially developed test which examined executive function. They compared their test with a neuropsychological test battery and found that their test correlated well with some of the tests on the Neuropsychological test battery and helped to characterise the performance of people with idiopathic Normal Pressure Hydrocephalus in their sample. It will be interesting to see the results of further replication studies.

Researchers used functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging to investigate the functional connection between brain regions in people with Amnestic Mild Cognitive Impairment compared to a control group without memory impairment. They compared 30 people with Amnestic MCI with 26 controls and found that the connections between the Insular Cortex and other parts of the brain were reduced in people with Amnestic MCI. Furthermore this reduction was correlated with Episodic Memory impairment. These are interesting findings although they occur in the context of other robust findings showing a significant contribution by other brain regions.

The researchers in this case-control study were interested in predicting who might go on to develop acute confusional episodes (Delirium). They looked at people in long term care over a 6-month period. Delirium was assessed on a weekly basis using a confusion assessment tool. The researchers found that inattention, disorganised thinking and new-onset perceptual disturbances were associated with subsequent onset of Delirium. The finding of inattention fits with previous findings by Meagher and colleagues in which inattention was one of the main findings characterising Delirium.

One group of researchers suggest a new hypothesis about cognitive impairment based on their post-mortem findings in people who had been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s Disease. The researchers found evidence of increased Sodium in the Frontal and Parietal cortex compared to the control group. Although there is redistribution of fluid post-mortem, the researchers provided supporting evidence from other research and suggest this may be related to the Amyloid Beta Peptide. It will be interesting to see if further evidence supports this hypothesis.

Membrane Potential

An Italian group have reported their findings in which they found a subset of amyloid-beta 1-42-specific T-cells which were found only in people with Alzheimer’s Disease and not in a control group or in people with Lewy Body Dementia. The significance of these findings is that ABeta Peptide plays an important role in Alzheimer’s Disease pathology according to the Amyloid Cascade Hypothesis. According to the hypothesis there is a central role for the immune system and so having a peripheral marker of this process would be useful. However the researchers caution that these are early findings with unclear significance.

A group of researchers in France present a case series highlighting Portosystemic shunts (shunts between the brain and the liver) as important although rare and reversible causes of cognitive impairment.

Researchers have found a variant of the gene C9ORF72 associated with Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis and Frontotemporal Dementia. However the gene variant is also frequently found in the general population and so the significance of this finding is still being investigated.

Researchers have looked at the development of symptoms in Huntington’s Disease in 111 people in a longitudinal study. They found in their sample that apathy increases with age whilst irritability increases only in the early stages.

One treatment for Parkinson’s Disease involves a technique known as Deep Brain Stimulation. This is a neurosurgical procedure in which a neurostimulating device is inserted into the brain in carefully selected people with Parkinson’s Disease as well as a number of other conditions as a treatment approach particularly for movement disorders. The authors of this paper suggest that some people may develop Mania after Subthalamic Nucleus Deep Brain Stimulation (STN DBS). Furthermore in their review they note that Mania is more likely after ventromedial versus dorsolateral placement of the electrodes and identify a number of other factors associated with Mania. In another paper they note that left STN DBS is more likely to be associated with improvement in mood compared to right STN DBS. Deep Brain Stimulation has also been successfully trialled in the treatment of carefully selected cases of Treatment Resistant Depression.

Deep Brain Stimulation Effects on the Finger Tapping Test

The researchers in this study (n=72) identified an interaction between Depression and Amnestic Mild Cognitive Impairment which was associated with grey matter volume reduction in specific brain regions. The severity of the depressive symptoms and the impairment in Episodic Memory were associated with grey matter volume reduction in the Left Medial Frontal Gyrus, the Right Inferior Frontal Gyrus and the Anterior Insular Cortex.

The Inferior Frontal Gyrus

The APOE4 allele is a recognised risk factor for Alzheimer’s Disease. In one study, researchers looked at people with an average age of 93. They compared people with and without the APOE4 allele. Surprisingly they found no difference in the quality of life. What this might mean is that the gene may have a more significant role much earlier in life. Alternatively it may mean that people in their 90’s have successfully adapted to the allele. Further research studies will hopefully shed more light on this.

The British Medical Journal has a new policy for researchers submitting data. The Journal will request that the more detailed study data is made available by the researchers when the study is submitted to the Journal so that it can be checked independently.

Elevated Blood Pressure (Hypertension) is a recognised risk factor for Dementia. Researchers using data from the Framlingham Heart Study found evidence that elevated blood pressure is associated with changes in the brain including shrinkage. The researchers found evidence that these changes were more likely with a higher blood pressure. The average age of study participants was 39*.  Although the links are not necessarily causative, these findings in conjunction with earlier work support the need to recognise mild hypertension.

eMedTV Video on Hypertension

The Physiology of Blood Pressure

A moderately sized study (n=314) showed no significant relationship between tremors and visual hallucinations in people with Parkinson’s Disease.

One small SPECT study (n=32) showed brain region differences in Benzodiazepines in Alzheimer’s Disease and Vascular Dementia. In people with Alzheimer’s Disease there was a reduction in Benzodiazepine receptors in the Temporoparietal region whilst in Vascular Dementia there was a reduction in the Frontal region.

Non-concordance with medication is related to a number of factors in older adults with cognitive impairment in this medium sized study (n=339). The researchers found that taking more than 4 medications was significantly associated with an odds ratio of 2.58 for non-concordance. Prior non-concordance and scores on memory and perseveration tests were also significantly correlated with non-concordance.

One systematic reviewed looked at the management of dysphagia in Dementia and finding the prevalence ranged from 13 to 57% in the examined studies.

The dual syndrome hypothesis of Parkinson’s Disease is covered in this post which looks at the roles of Dopamine and Acetylcholine in cognitive impairment.

The baroreflex was investigated in this study and found to be reduced in Alzheimer’s Disease compared to people with mild cognitive impairment or healthy controls and associated with significant change after treatment.

Agitation in advanced Dementia was managed using a protocol (Treatment Routes for Exploring Agitation or TREA) in this study. The researchers assessed the efficacy of the protocol and found evidence of benefit.

The relationship between ACE inhibitor use and incidence of mild cognitive impairment was investigated in this study.

There was some preliminary evidence of the benefit of reduced peripheral vascular resistance and incidence of Dementia in this study.

There is a podcast on detection of Dementia here.

In a well publicised study in the New England Journal of Medicine two drugs used to treat Alzhimer’s Disease – Donepezil and Memantine were examined in 295 older adults in the community. All of the people in the study were on Donepezil initially and they were divided into four groups – one group continued Donepezil, one group, discontinued Donepezil, one group discontinued Donepezil and started Memantine and another group continued Donepezil with the addition of Memantine. A Memantine placebo was also included for comparison with Memantine. The researchers used the standardised Mini-Mental State Examination as a measure of treatment outcome, the study continued for 52 weeks and a difference of 1.4 points on the MMSE was used as a clinically significant marker. The main finding was that people treated with Donepezil showed an improvement that exceeded the 1.4 points that the researchers identified as being clinically significant. The researchers concluded that the study supported the use of Donepezil for moderate to severe Alzheimer’s Disease.

An Italian study of the oldest old looking at gene associations found that only the APOE4 allele was associated with dementia in the genes they analysed. The APOE4 gene has been strongly associated with Alzheimer’s Disease and this study suggests that this relationship still holds at an advanced age. Using Magnetoencephalography, researchers investigated subjective memory impairment. They found that people with subjective memory impairment showed a small but significant reduction in a marker of functional connectivity (‘synchronisation likelihood’) between brain regions compared to a control group. These are interesting results although it will be useful to see the results of other studies including prospective cohort studies. In another study, the researchers characterise the pattern of functional connectivity in Alzheimer’s Disease. They found that initially there was a decrease in functional connectivity in the posterior default mode network with an apparently compensatory increase in functional connectivity in the anterior and ventral mode networks followed by a decrease in functional connectivity in all networks. Methylene Blue is a substance which is used to stain cells for histological examination and it is currently being investigated for Alzheimer’s Disease as well as a number of other conditions.

The researchers in this in vivo and in vitro study found evidence that Methylene Blue was a potent inducer of autophagy, a mechanism by which cells essentially self-destruct. This is useful when cells are compromised or during development.

The BMJ has a study in which the researchers report from the English Longitudinal Study of Aging. This is a large study and the researchers divided subjects into three groups according to their health literacy skills. This was measured using the ability to understand medical instructions as an example. The researchers found that the lower the health literacy, the higher was the risk of mortality in that group. The researchers noted that most of the subjects were classed as having high literacy and that the low literacy group were relatively under-represented in their study.

In a study looking at the build-up of Amyloid plaques and blood pressure, researchers used Positron Emission Tomography and Pittsburgh-B compound (which binds to Amyloid plaques) to investigate people in late middle-age. The researchers found that systolic blood pressure was significantly and positively correlated with the cerebral/cerebellar ratio of PiB distribution volume ratio (a marker of Amyloid presence) in both the Frontal and Temporal regions amongst other findings. These results may help to better characterise the relationship between blood-pressure and Alzheimer’s Disease as raised blood pressure is a risk factor for dementia.

The researchers in an Italian structural MRI study have found evidence of changes up to 10 years before the development of Alzheimer’s Disease. These changes discriminated between those who did and didn’t later develop Alzheimer’s Disease. The latter group were characterised by a significantly smaller right Medial Temporal Lobe volume at baseline

In a study at the Institute of Psychiatry, researchers investigated gene associations with mood, psychosis, agitation and behavioural dyscontrol in people with dementia. Amongst other findings, researchers found a significant association between the Dopamine Transporter gene DAT-3 and agitation.

In a small post-mortem study, there was found to be a depletion of Cholinergic neurons in the brainstem in people with Lewy Body Dementia compared to a control group and people who had been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s Disease. Acetylcholine is a neurotransmitter that is thought to play an important role in memory.

In a Japanese post-mortem study, the researchers investigated the neuropathological correlates of 18 FDG Fluorodeoxyglucose areas of hypometabolism and concluded that areas of occipital hypometabolism were associated with Lewy pathology in Lewy Body Dementia and Temporo-Parietal hypometabolism is associated with Alzheimer’s Disease pathology in Alzheimer’s Disease. While these results are not unsurprising, confirmation of this relationship is useful.

The UK Prime Minister David Cameron has announced a doubling in the research funding available for Dementia to £66 million in the United Kingdom by 2015. He referred to a ‘quiet crisis’ emerging and a need for the UK to become a global leader in Dementia research. The Department of Health will also be launching an awareness campaign in the Autumn.

The use of Intranasal Insulin has been trialled in an experimental study in people with Amnestic Mild Cognitive Impairment. Changes in the regulation of Insulin in the Central Nervous System have been identified in Alzheimer’s Disease and as Amnestic Mild Cognitive Impairment can sometimes be a precursor to Alzheimer’s Disease there is a rationale for investigating a possible therapeutic role for Insulin.

Dr William Frey Discusses Intranasal Insulin

The researchers recruited 88 subjects, divided into groups taking 20 International Units of Insulin, 40 International Units (IU) of Insulin and placebo. The researchers found that the group taking 20 IU showed an improved performance on a test of memory – delayed recall compared to the placebo group. They also looked at a number of other markers of illness and found that the first group were able to maintain these whereas there was a deterioration in some markers in the placebo group. There was no advantage in the 40 IU group. The Amyloid Cascade hypothesis is the most widely accepted theory of how Alzheimer’s Disease develops although there are other hypotheses which suggest parallel processes might contribute to Alzheimer’s Disease. This is consistent with Armstrong’s Modified Cascade hypothesis. Thus it could be possible that dysregulation of Insulin in the Central Nervous System contributes to small amounts of trauma which exacerbate the main pathological process. However the use of Insulin can also lead to hypoglycaemia and so Insulin is prescribed with a need to monitor the effect on glucose levels. These results need to be replicated and then will need to go through all the necessary trials to see if it can be safely used in clinical practice. This can take a long time and there is no guarantee that it will prove effective but adds to the approaches to treatment being examined for Alzheimer’s Disease.

This is a decent sized study which follows up a cohort of women over a period of 37 years. The researchers found that having a lower systolic blood pressure at baseline was associated with a higher risk of dementia later on. The researchers also found that changes in blood pressure at different time periods in the study were associated either with a lowering or increase in the risk of incident dementia. They suggest that antihypertensive treatment may be a confounding factor in this evaluation and indeed some antihypertensives are being investigated further in this regards.

There is a very interesting scheme in the West Midlands to raise awareness of Dementia. Dr Kaarim Saad, Clinical and Social Care Lead for Dementia at NHS West Midlands unveiled a series of videos designed as a training tool to help teachers in the West Midlands raise awareness of Dementia in schools. More details can be found at the site above including the videos and presentations.

New guidelines on the neuropathological assessment of Alzheimer’s Disease (Bradley et al, 2012) have been published and are freely available here.

In a longitudinal study published in Neurology, the researchers followed up 1450 older adults over 3 years and found that 72/1000 men developed Mild Cognitive Impairment over this period compared to 56/1000 women (Roberts R et al 2012).

Researchers publishing results from the Rush Memory and Aging Study in the Archives of General Psychiatry have found further evidence that having a strong sense of purpose in life can slow down the progression of Alzheimer’s Disease (paper available here). There were 246 people with Alzheimer’s Disease who had passed away at the time of the study (there were 1400 subjects in the Rush Memory and Aging study at baseline). Global cognition was assessed using 21 tests of cognition and a Z-statistic was used to represent the outcomes. The researchers used a model which incorporated pathological changes at post-mortem as well as global cognitive scores and other variables. They compared subjects with the 90th percentile of scores on Ryff’s Scale of Psychological Well-Being (one of two main rating scales for purpose in life) and those with the 10th percentile score and graphed these (see Fig 1 in the paper). The researchers identified a significant contribution of well-being scores to the global cognitive scores. A higher score of purpose in life was  significantly associated with a higher score on global cognition in the model. Curiously though there was no corresponding relationship of well-being scores to neuropathology findings.

A trial is underway involving an antibody to Amyloid, which according to the Amyloid Cascade Hypothesis plays a central role in Alzheimer’s Disease (APOE4 discussed above is also related to Amyloid). The study is a preventative trial to reduce the future prevalence of Alzheimer’s Disease in a cohort who have not yet developed the disease.

In one study, the researchers looked at people with Lewy Body Dementia and compared them with people with Alzheimer’s Disease at a similar stage in the illness (as measured by cognitive performance). The researchers found that Lewy Body Dementia progressed more quickly than Alzheimer’s Disease. The significance of this approach is that the point at which the disease process began can often be difficult to pinpoint and can be different from the time of diagnosis for many reasons. Having a measure of cognitive performance can provide researchers and clinicians with a useful tool for comparison.

The Clock Drawing Test is a commonly used test as part of the assessment of cognition. The researchers in one study have found that impairments in this test are associated with structural changes in both the Hippocampus and the Right Globus Pallidus.

The Fight Dementia campaign in Australia is recruiting Dementia Champions and has already enlisted nearly 3000. They are aiming for 100,000!

A report ‘Dementia in Australia‘ has been published under a Creative Commons License 3.0. The report is very detailed and provides information and discussion which is relevant to other countries also. The authors of the report predict that within the next 40 years the prevalence of Dementia will have increased three-fold.

An estimated 298,000 Australians had dementia in 2011, of whom 62% were women, 74% were aged 75 and over, and 70% lived in the community. Dementia poses a substantial challenge to health, aged care and social policy. Based on projections of population ageing and growth, the number of people with dementia will reach almost 400,000 by 2020. Although projection methods vary, the number of people with dementia is projected to triple between 2011 and 2050, to reach around 900,000 by 2050. Dementia is a leading cause of death, accounting for 6% of all deaths in 2010. Total direct health and aged care services expenditure on people with dementia was at least $4.9 billion in 2009–10

They further report that

People with dementia aged 65 and over had a substantially higher average number of health conditions than all people in this age group (5.4 and 2.9 respectively).
• The majority (88%) of people with dementia in private dwellings lived with others; men (93%) were more likely than women (84%) to do so.
• Among people living in the community, those with dementia were most likely to need help with health care (84%), mobility (80%) and private transport (80%). For those in cared accommodation, 99% required help with health care, 98% with self-care activities, and 91% with cognitive or emotional tasks.
• Three-quarters (75%) of people with dementia made use of a combination of formal and informal assistance to obtain help in the areas for which they needed assistance, while 22% relied solely on informal assistance.
• Among permanent residents in residential aged care, those with dementia were more likely than those without dementia to need high care (87% versus 63%), and to have higher care needs in relation to activities of daily living and behaviour, but not in relation to complex health care. The majority of residents with dementia had a diagnosis of Alzheimer disease, with the proportion higher in women (79%) than men (67%)

The report also includes other types of demographic data that help to build up a profile of people with Dementia.

There were many other pieces of useful clinical information including comorbid health conditions.

Hospitalisation figures were identified by age and graphed.

Hospitalisations were analysed according to Dementia subtype.

When Dementia was not the primary diagnosis but was present the principal diagnosis for hospitalisation was analysed as below

The authors found that there had been a decrease in the number of days that people with Dementia remained in hospital in 2009-2010 compared to 2004-2005

‘The average stay for hospitalisations with dementia as the principal diagnosis decreased from 25 days in 2004–05 to 18 days in 2009–10

The prescription data for medication for Dementia was also analysed

The authors of the report also looked at the needs of people with Dementia when they were provided with care packages. There are three types of care packages described in the table below with increasing levels of support – Community Aged Care Packages (CACPs), Extended Aged Care at Home (EACH) and Extended Aged Care at Home Dementia (EACHD).

The estimated economic costs of Dementia care were also analysed

There is a PLOS One study (n=59) which looks at male DNA in female brains post-mortem and produced some curious results. The researchers found evidence of male DNA in the brains. There were 26 women without neurological disease and 33 women with Alzheimer’s Disease. The researchers used a marker for the gene DYS14 and in one case examined for male cells (which were found). The researchers found evidence of male DNA in many of the brains. They hypothesised that this originated from male foetuses and found evidence to support this hypothesis with a secondary analysis. The researchers found a reduced prevalence and concentration of male DNA in the brains of people who had received a diagnosis of Alzheimer’s Disease. These are interesting findings and it will be useful to see the results of further replication studies.

Kwik Med have compiled a list of Autism blogs here.

A very well respected study – the Whitehall Study – has been going on for some time now. The researchers have been following Civil Servants over many decades. The researchers here report key findings with those aged 45-49 showing cognitive decline over the 10-year follow-up period for the current report.


Singh-Manoux and colleagues, BMJ 2012;344:d7622, Creative Commons 2.0 Attribution Non-Commercial License

The study has a large sample size and to quote from the study

For example, in men aged 45-49 at baseline, 10 year decline in reasoning was −3.6% (95% confidence interval −4.1% to −3.0%) ……. In women, the corresponding decline was −3.6% (−4.6% to −2.7%) in those aged 45-49

The deterioration in scores per decade increased with baseline age and was also reduced by exercise which again is shown as an important protective factor for cognition. This study supports the notion of Age Related Cognitive Decline at a much earlier stage than is thought of with Mild Cognitive Impairment. There is also R.Armstrong’s variation on the Amyloid Cascade Hypothesis which states that the multiple types of microtrauma to the brain may influence the build up of the plaques and tangles that are thought to lead to Alzheimer’s Disease.

R.Armstrong’s Modified Amyloid Cascade Hypothesis, Int J Alzheimer’s Disease, 2011, Creative Commons License

While this study does not provide direct evidence of this these findings would be consistent with the gradual and very subtle deterioration we might expect from the above hypothesis and the question of why this decline is occurring in middle-age needs to be investigated further with appropriately sensitive tests.

There is a freely available review of the differential diagnosis of visual hallucinations in Parkinsonism here. The authors of a literature review concluded that Vitamin B12 is effective in improving cognitive impairment in Dementia only if there is a Vitamin B12 deficiency on the basis of their evidence. In another literature review, the authors found evidence of impaired recognition of emotions in Mild Cognitive Impairment. There is a freely available review of pharmacological treatment options in Alzheimer’s Disease here.

In one study, White Matter Hyperintensities in the Cholinergic Pathway in Parkinson’s Disease were inversely correlated with cognitive performance and specifically executive function. They were correlated with the motor score on the UPDRS (Unified Parkinson’s Disease Rating Scale).

In a study published in the American Journal of Psychiatry, researchers found evidence of changes in semantic processing in people with amnestic mild cognitive impairment compared to a healthy control group in this moderately sized (n=121) study.

In a recent study, researchers followed 1233 older adults and looked at their calorie intake. They found that those with an average intake of more than 2,143 Kilocalories were nearly twice as likely to have Mild Cognitive Impairment as those taking in an average of less than 1526 Kilocalories a day. The US state of Albuquerque has deployed a new system known as Silver Alert to help find people with Dementia. The system works by deploying information on the Web about the missing person. Meanwhile one company has developed GPS tracking shoes to help locate people with Dementia who have got lost. In another study, neurosurgeons stimulated the Entorhinal Cortex with a Deep Brain Stimulating device during functional neurosurgery for epilepsy and were able to improve learning but only when the stimulation occurred in parallel with the learning. There are many potential applications including disorders of memory although replication is needed as well as studies for specific clinical applications. A drug approved for use by the FDA for cancer has been found to reverse some of the features of Alzheimer’s Disease in a model of the disease although  further work will be needed to see if these findings are replicated clinically.

The Department of Health has asked the National Institute for Clinical Excellence to provide guidelines on the quality of care for people with Dementia. There is now a consultation period for the draft document for registered stakeholders which ends on the 16th October 2012.

There’s a very interesting piece at the Skeptical Raptor blog on how Cochrane Reviews should always be the first port of call when reading about new medical treatments.

Professor Siris has an article in Current Psychiatry Online in which he looks at the approach to treatment of Depression in Schizophrenia including a close look at the differential diagnosis.

There is a PLOS One paper in which Brazilian researchers undertook a small cross-sectional study of people who fill up vehicles at petrol stations compared to a control group. The researchers found evidence of reduced visual function including colour discrimination and visual acuity. This is a small study first of all. Secondly it is cross-sectional. Longitudinal studies are better at picking up causal relationships. The findings still have implications and the researchers make recommendations about regulating occupational exposure.

In another PLOS One paper, researchers looked at disability benefit awarded before scheduled retirement over the period 2001-2003. The researchers found that musculoskeletal disorders were the most common reason for disability benefit awards with mental illness being the second most common cause. However those with mental illnesses received disability benefit awards at a younger age and were associated with more working days lost. The researchers also found that Anxiety and Depressive disorders were the most common types of mental illnesses for disability benefit awards.

An American group have published a study showing a benefit for behavioural interventions in the treatment of tics occurring in Tourette’s Syndrome. The researchers found significant symptom improvement in 38% of the treatment versus 6% of the control group. The treatment group’s improvement also persisted for a longer time.

In a Dutch study published in the British Journal of Psychiatry, researchers found evidence of Attention Deficit and Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) in 3% of their sample of 1494 older adults who were participating in a longitudinal study. Extrapolating these figures, the researchers suggest that there are approximately 95,000 older adults in Holland with ADHD.

Overview of ADHD

* For instance neural networks are models of brain functioning based on the biology of neurons and their connections. One form of neural network – the competitive neural network is able to complete partial patterns that are presented to it. Applying this analogy to these findings, it may be that a partially presented scene causes the brain to pattern complete. Looking at the intraoperative recording study this may also explain the increased synchronous firing between the Hippocampus, Rhinal Cortex and Amygdala as may be completing firing patterns shared between them.

Video of this Post

There is a new approach to diagnosing Epilepsy which can identify evidence of seizure activity after the seizure has happened. This approach has been developed by a team at the University of Minnesota and the Mayo Clinic. Amongst the innovations is the use of 76 electrodes compared to the routine 32 allowing the researchers to use more data points in their analysis. There is also a press release by the University of Minnesota here and a link to the original advance publication here. The researchers included 28 people with Temporal Lobe Epilepsy and found that compared to simple partial seizures, both complex-partial seizures and seizures with secondary generalisation involved more subsequent slow wave activity in the Frontal Lobe. The researchers could use these changes to identify the laterality of the seizure.

Professor He Bin explains the new approach to investigating Epilepsy

Researchers found evidence that older fathers may be passing on more mutations in DNA to their offspring and that this is more likely to be associated with Autism and Schizophrenia. Another write-up focuses on how the mutations are more likely to come from the fathers than the mothers. The researchers looked at people from Iceland which has a well characterised population with a geneological database. The researchers followed trios of mohter, father and baby. They looked at sequences of DNA in the babies that were not present in the parents. This implied that there had been a de novo mutation.

The researchers found more of these mutations in the offspring of older fathers and this difference was statistically significant. Furthermore some of these mutations were associated with Schizophrenia and Autism from previous studies. Many cases of Schizophrenia develop when a person is in their twenties or thirties so the information about prevalence was not available. However the study does provide several lines of evidence to support the hypothesis that older age at fatherhood can lead to disease associated de novo mutations. However many genes associated with Autism and Schizophrenia have small effect sizes suggesting a multifactorial aetiology. The study has started a useful debate.

There is a very good piece in the New England Journal of Medicine (via @Dr Shock) which is well worth a look. The NEJM have produced a timeline of the past 200 years of developments in medicine (and culture) to celebrate their 200th Anniversary.

A simple and freely available tool for assessing remission in depression has been developed for use in Primary Care.

There’s a piece by Dr Beatrice Baiden on new advice from the NHS prescribing centre which she argues is putting pressure on GP’s to reduce antidepressant prescribing (via @pulsetoday). This advice is in keeping with NICE guidelines on Depression and the issues of accessibility to non-pharmacological options as well as patient preference are raised.

In a 1-year longitudinal study people with Non-Insulin Dependent Diabetes Mellitus (NIDDM) and Depression were treated in primary care using an integrated care approach. Having a Depressive illness can worsen the course of Diabetes if the Depression is left untreated. There are many reasons for this. For instance having Depression can mean that a person is less motivated to manage their medication for Diabetes as well as their diet. The researchers in this study wanted to see if focusing on the treatment of both conditions could improve the outcomes. The researchers included 180 people in their study and used the Patient Health Questionnaire-9 to monitor mood, the Glycosylated Haemoglobin as a proxy marker of compliance with Diabetes treatment as well as a Medication Event Monitoring System (MEMS). Integrated care managers worked with the GP’s to educate patients, to ensure treatment was followed according to protocols and to monitor the patient’s presentation. The researchers found that there compared to treatment as usual, the integrated approach led to a statistically significant improvement that was clinically meaningful. Thus HbA1c levels of less than 7% were achieved in 60.9% of the treatment group but only 35.7% of the ‘usual care’ group (p < 0.001). A PHQ-9 score of less than 5 was used a proxy marker for remission from depression and again 58.7% of the treatment group achieved scores of less than 5 compared to 30.7% in the usual care group (p < 0.001).

Dr Thomas Insel, NIMH Director in the United States writes in a recent post that psychiatry is becoming more popular with American medical students and that there is a higher proportion entering psychiatry with PhD’s particularly in the neurosciences.

Professor Keith Laws and his colleagues have just published an interesting paper on Body Dysmorphic Disorder (BDD) in the Journal of Obsessive-Compulsive and Related Disorders. Body Dysmorphic Disorder is an illness in which a person’s view of their own body is distorted. They may think their nose is much bigger than it is for instance and will sometimes undergo cosmetic surgery to address these perceptions. The researchers recruited 12 people with Body Dysmorphic Disorder and 16 healthy controls. One explanatory hypothesis for BDD is that visual perception is altered including the possibility that perception of the whole face is altered. This hypothesis is outlined in a previous paper (freely available here). In this study the researchers found that people with BDD were significantly worse than controls at recognising fearful faces. They hypothesised that people with BDD would attribute their own critical perspective to others more readily increasing their threshold for recognising a face as fearful. The researchers also found that the BDD group were significantly better than at recognising upside-down celebrity faces. They hypothesised that people with BDD tend to focus on parts of the face rather than the whole. This approach would enable them to more quickly recognise familiar noses or mouths compared to people trying to understand the face as an (upside-down) whole. This tendency to focus on bits rather than the whole would also help to explain why people with BDD might appraise their appearances differently to other people. The researchers identify a number of factors that could have influenced the results and this is an interesting study which has generated clear hypotheses with clinical relevance and which can be further tested.

Kok and colleagues have conducted a meta-analysis of 51 randomised controlled trials of antidepressant treatment of depression in older adults and concluded that the evidence supports a beneficial effect of antidepressants in response and remission rates. The researchers were unable to distinguish between Tricyclic Antidepressants, Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors and other antidepressants in remission or response rates. However to conclude that the antidepressants were more effective than placebo in remission rates they pooled the data from all three groups of antidepressants.

In a moderately sized 12-week double-blind placebo controlled trial, Richard and colleagues investigated the treatment of Depression in Parkinson’s Disease. Using the Hamilton Anxiety and Depression Scale they found a mean reduction of 6.2 points in the Paroxetine group (p=0.0007) and 4.2 points in the Venlafaxine XR group (p=0.02)

Rihmer and colleagues have published a paper in the European Journal of Neuropsychopharmacology arguing that the placebo response has been overestimated in some trials and propose an alternative method for calculating antidepressant and placebo response rates.

The Neuroskeptic reviews an interesting paper on how people can often rate their own mood according to how they perceive mood in other people.

Researchers have found a new Narcolepsy gene association – DNTM1 (paper freely available here).

Gray Pulvinar

The Pulvinar Nucleus, Gray’s Anatomy, 20th Edition, 1918, Public Domain

The authors of a meta-analysis of fMRI studies in depression in the American Journal of Psychiatry have developed an elegant hypothesis. On the basis of their analysis they suggest that people with Depression have higher baseline activity in the Pulvinar nuclei in the Thalamus. These nuclei are thought to be involved in attention. Thus the authors argue that people with Depression will be more likely to attend to negative stimuli. They then argue that a depletion in Dopamine levels interferes with the Cortical-Striatal-Pallidal-Thalamic circuit to the Dorsolateral Prefrontal Cortex. In the Dorsolateral Prefrontal Cortex, negative stimuli could be reevaluated. Thus in this model people with Depression would be more likely to attend to negative stimuli and less able to reappraise and contextualise the negative stimuli. This clear hypothesis easily allows for further testing.

Dr Barbara Oakley has an interesting piece on the Occupy movement at Psychology Today and discusses whether well-intentioned movements can have unexpected effects.

The 165th American Psychiatric Association’s conference is underway and the BMJ website has a new look.

This week there has been a large media response to the discussion of DSM-V at the American Psychiatric Association’s (APA) 165th Annual Conference (see also Appendix I). Positive Psychiatry, DSM-V and Mental Health in the older adult population have all been important topics at the APA Conference. There are several videos  from the APA Conference on the Webs Health Edge Channel.

Dr James Scully, CEO of the APA gives an overview of the 165th Annual Conference in this video

The President Elect Professor Jeremy Lazarus of the American Medical Association speaks in this video about a trend towards integrated care where Medical and Psychiatric services can work together

An important issue that was addressed at the conference was the criminalisation of people with mental illnesses and this is discussed by Dr Marcia Goin and Dr Ken Rosenberg in this video

In this video, Judge Steven Leifman talks about strategies for keeping people with mental illnesses out of prison

In this video there is a discussion of some of the research that is being presented at the conference

The latest changes in draft version include a clarification on Bereavement Reactions, field trial data supporting the categorical diagnosis of Borderline Personality Disorder, a separation of Language and Speech Disorders, Somatic Symptom Disorder as a combination of two separate disorders and changes to the Neurocognitive and Anxiety Disorders. The more recent changes have also been covered elsewhere in the media.

The New York Times has several feature articles on DSM-V. In this article there is an examination of the Addiction category with the prediction that diagnosis rates will increase with the new criteria. This article looks at the decision to remove Mixed Anxiety and Depressive Disorder as well as the Psychosis Risk Syndrome. There is also a look at the proposed changes in the Autistic Spectrum Disorders and Asperger Syndrome along with recent research findings in this area.  Time Magazine covers the proposed change of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder to Post Traumatic Stress Injury in response to the perceived stigma of the word disorder. There is also coverage of the removal of Psychosis Risk Syndrome at Nature. There is also a Reuters piece on some of the changes.

In the Blogosphere there is coverage of the APA Conference at ShrinkRap while in another post, Dinah responds to a critical post about DSM-V by Paula Caplan. There is a good round-up of DSM-V related news at Shrink Things. There is also a round-up which links to more critical views of DSM-V at the AltMentalities Blog which are broadly divided into camps which are either against the concept of a Diagnostic Manual or else are critical of some of the changes advocated in DSM-V.

A considerable piece of work has gone into the elucidation of the relationship between adult psychosis and trauma in childhood and adolescence (more specifically before the age of 16). Researchers in Liverpool and at the University of Maastrict in the Netherlands undertook a review of 27,000 papers and concluded that if trauma is experienced before the age of 16, there is 3-fold increase in the risk of adult psychosis compared to randomly selected members of the general population.

There is an argument that the placebo response is possibly overestimated in some studies and the author suggests a solution in this paper.

Researchers who conducted a telephone survey of people with Tinnitus concluded that sleep disturbance exacerbates Tinnitus. The results were presented at a conference.

From 2014, the National Institute of Clinical Excellence (NICE) will no longer decide whether drugs can or cannot be prescribed. This responsibility will pass to the Department of Health although NICE will continue to evaluate the cost-effectiveness of drugs.

There is a brief discussion of the future of drug development in this article which includes a look at some of the barriers as well as current trends.

There’s a useful summary of an analysis of pooled data from two Phase III studies for FDA approved antidepressant Vilazodone showing statistically and clinically significant advantage over placebo.

There’s an interesting post on automated medication dispensing machines at Singularity Hub. Apparently these machines are being used in many US hospitals and are estimated to be dispensing 350 million medications per year.

Via @VaughanBell there is a very interesting piece on diagnostic substitution and Autism by Professor Deevy Bishop with a comment by Professor Uta Frith.

Bertie Gladwin has just completed his Master’s Degree in Intelligence History at the age of 91 and is planning to do a PhD. Gladwin completed his first degree in Psychology in his sixties and his second degree at the age of 70 in Molecular Biology.

There has been a recent high-profile case of a judge recommending forced treatment for a lady with Anorexia. The lady has been deemed not to have capacity in the court case and there is a transcription of the judge’s decision with discussion in this article. The case was complex and involved a consideration of Advanced Directives that had been made, the Mental Capacity Act and the Human Rights Act.

Researchers Jafari et al report on recent Olanzapine-like compounds in a BMC Pharmacology paper. The compounds have reduced H1 receptor affinity suggesting they may be associated with less weight gain. However they will now need rigorous clinical testing to see if these properties translate into clinical benefit.

There is an interesting paper on the Truman show delusion paper by Gold and Gold which is Open-Access (and has been covered also by Vaughan Bell at MindHacks). The Truman show delusion is based on the film the Truman Show featuring Jim Carrey (see also this post which looks at cultural trends which may be relevant to the generation of such delusions). The general theme of the delusion is that a person believes that they are in a fabricated world with people around them purposefully deceiving them by playing roles that fit with this fabricated world. In other words the people around them are working together to instill and perpetuate a false reality for that person. Gold and Gold describe several cases including a journalist who believed his colleagues were manipulating news stories for his benefit. Interestingly rather than a Delusional Misidentification Syndrome, the authors argue that the cases are consistent with grandiose and paranoid delusions*.

Dr Jeremy Lazarus has been elected President-elect of the American Medical Association and is the first Psychiatrist to be elected to this role in 73 years!

1500 adults between (21-80 years old) were assessed on a memory task which involved remembering whether items presented on a computer screen had been shown previously. In their sample population, the researchers showed that the memory decreased by 0.6% per year regardless of the decade of their life.

There is a special edition of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science which looks at evolution and the brain (Permalink for one article here)

Via @MariaPage  – researchers recently found that moderate levels of ambient background noise were associated with an improved performance on a task that required subjects to generate novel solutions to a problem involving commonly available objects. In other words, when the subjects were trying to think ‘creatively’ they did better when they were in a moderately noisy environment e.g a cafeteria. There is a qualifier for this interpretation however. The test was very specific and it may not be possible to generalise to other activities which involve generating ideas in specialised domains. Additionally it is useful to be cautious in the understanding of the term ‘creative’ as this can be used to describe many heterogenous cognitive processes.

There’s an interesting New York Times post (via @DrShock) on the subject of teaching doctors empathy.

Three gene associations with megencephaly (enlarged brain) have been identified by a research team at Seattle Children’s Research Institute. The genes have associations with a number of other conditions including Epilepsy.

Dr Greger describes an unusual case of Delusional Parasitosis published in General Hospital Psychiatry (2010) which after further investigation turned out to be an actual case of Parasitosis.

A Case of Delusional Parasitosis

The Medical Journal of Australia has a piece on the clinical management of Brussel Sprout overconsumption.

In a paper in the British Journal of Psychiatry, the researchers reviewed a number of meta-analyses of drug efficacy for both physical and mental illnesses. The researchers found that in general medications for both types of illness were roughly equivalent in their efficacy. However they concluded by saying that while outcome measures can be useful the efficacy of a drug needs to be contextualised by other factors including the severity and natural course of the illness.

Dr Allen Frances is an Emeritus Professor of Psychiatry and was chair of the DSM-IV taskforce. Subsequently however he has been very vocal in his criticism of DSM-V which continued in a recent New York Times Op ed. The American Psychiatric Association has produced brilliant responses published in the Huffington Post (by Dr James Scully, CEO and Medical Director of the American Psychiatric Association) as well as on the new ‘DSM-5 Facts’ website.

The President of the Royal College of Psychiatrists, Professor Sue Bailey has written an interesting piece on why Psychiatry should not be absorbed into neuroscience in response to a piece in the BMJ. Although there is a very important role for neuroscience, there are additional psychosocial elements of Psychiatry both in terms of theory and practice which fall outside the remit of Neuroscience. One simple example is the legal framework of the Mental Health Act.

In a follow-up study of 4037 people diagnosed with a Myocardial Infarct researchers found that when there was comorbid depression the all-cause mortality was highest compared to the non-depressed group. Importantly when there was insufficient treatment of depression there was a 3.04-fold increase in the risk of mortality compared to people with depression that was treated (Confidence Interval – 95% CI 2.12-4.35). These findings emphasise the importance of both identifying depression and ensuring adequate treatment in this population.

A report by Age UK states that there is a reduction in the social care spending on older adults in the UK with an estimate of a 4.5% reduction in spending by councils. Care services minister Paul Burstow is quoted in this piece as saying that there is sufficient funding to maintain ‘access and eligibility’ and goes on to suggest ways in which this can be met. Age UK have also been reminding people of the importance of older adults keeping their houses warm in the cold weather following a Met Office Cold Alert.

The neurodevelopmental condition Angelman’s Syndrome results from a gene disorder in which the gene UBE3A is not expressed. In an experimental model of Angelman’s Syndrome, an FDA approved drug has been used to regain the expression of this DNA when the expression has been disrupted by antisense RNA (there are also other causes including gene deletions however). This research is at an early stage but shows a theoretical success which will need to be followed up with replication and the establishment of clinical trials to see if this research translates into the clinical results.

I received a tweet from Helen Hutchings about a new service ‘Tea and Talk’ that she has developed to combat mental health stigma. Helen is a registered mental health nurse and a service user giving her insights from both perspectives. The video below says a little bit more about this interesting service.

There is an interesting write-up on two studies finding that Schizophrenia can be related to Circadian rhythms (via @Maria Page). In the first study from the British Journal of Psychiatry, the researchers found that there was a disruption in sleep in people with Schizophrenia that was independent of the effects of medication being taken to treat the illness. These included phase-changes in the circadian rhythm. In the second study, the researchers investigated the function of the SNAP 25 gene in a murine model. The SNAP-25 protein is a component of the SNARE complex which mediates the release of the contents of intracellular vesicles (vesicles can act as storage structures within the cell). For instance, these could be the neurotransmitters that are released by a neuron.

Snare Complex, Danko Dimchev Georgiev (M.D), Wikimedia Commons, Creative Commons 3.0 License

When the SNAP 25 gene was not expressed, the researchers found that the circadian rhythm was altered. The Suprachiasmatic Nucleus is an important structure in the brain that regulates circadian rhythms – effectively it acts as a clock.

The Suprachiasmatic Nucleus, Justin Marley, Creative Commons License 2.0

GABA is an important neurotransmitter and there is a link to a recent case-study of Schizophrenia resulting from the person producing antibodies to Glutamic Acid Decarboxylase an important enzyme needed for the production of GABA* (via @polygenicpaths).

Another popular debate is about whether Oxytocin is an ’empathy molecule’. This is perhaps an oversimplification but Oxytocin has been trialled as a drug that can potentially improve social skills.

In one study, the researchers wanted to see if they could improve the ability of people with Schizophrenia to recognise emotions in facial expressions (via @therapynews). They found at baseline that people with schizophrenia in their study performed less well then a control group whilst after training they showed a significant improvement on this task.

In a study at Princeton, researchers surveyed 1,100 students and found that having a family history of psychiatry conditions had a significant correlation with a student’s choice of studies (Benjamin et al, 2012). The researchers found that a student of the humanities was twice as likely to report having a family member with a history of a mood disorder while a student of science or a technical subject were three times more likely to report a sibling with an Autistic Spectrum Disorder.

In one study looking at a model of Rett Syndrome, an X-linked neurodevelopment condition affecting girls researchers found that Brain Derived Neurotrophic Factor (BDNF) was markedly reduced in the brainstem. Since BDNF is needed for maintenance and growth of neurons, the researchers suggest this may be a significant factor in the development of Rett Syndrome. However further research will be needed to test this hypothesis.

There’s an interesting piece on a man with Asperger Syndrome who developed his social skills by watching David Letterman and by listening to Howard Stern and has written a book about his experiences (via @WinstonschoolCA).

There’s a new film out ‘A Dangerous Method‘ which features both Sigmund Freud and Carl Jung (via @FrankSpencer) and is directed by David Cronenberg. The Official Trailer is below and highlights behaviours that today would have brought the psychotherapist quickly before the nearest regulatory body. The reader should be aware that these ethical issues also influenced the development of Psychoanalysis and Analytic Psychology which need to be considered in this context.

The Royal College of Psychiatrists has a great document ‘Make a Difference. Improve Lives. A Career for Psychiatrists’ for people thinking about a career in Psychiatry. There’s an introduction from the President of the Royal College of Psychiatrists Professor Sue Bailey as well as the registrar Dr Laurence Mynors-Wallace and Dr Max Pemberton. The document also features interviews with other psychiatrists including trainees. This is a great document that could help trainees coming through into Psychiatry placements, medical students or even students considering a career in medicine (although the document is aimed at doctors).

Alzheimer’s Disease International has recently published the World Alzheimer’s Report 2012. The report is titled ‘Overcoming the Stigma of Dementia’. The report is based on a global study of people with Dementia and reveals that 1 in 4 people with Dementia conceal their diagnosis through fear of stigma. The video below explains the results in more detail and also highlights the importance of treating people with Dementia with respect. The proposal that every country should have a National Alzheimer’s Plan is encouraging.

The theme for World Mental Health Day this year is on Depression: A Global Crisis. World Mental Health day has been organised by the World Federation for Mental Health. PsychCentral are organising a blogging event for World Mental Health Day on October 10th 2012. The intention is to coordinate a campaign for raising awareness of Mental Health issues on that day. For those interested the details can be found here.

There is an interesting article on the proposal for a Hoarding disorder being included in DSM-V. As anyone moving house will know, people can accumulate a lot of objects over the course of their life. In hoarding disorder this accumulation becomes excessive and is combined with a number of other difficulties including distress caused by the hoarding and a reluctance to throw things away. The article includes a brief look at some research which distinguishes this from Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder. DSM-V is due out in May 2013 when it will become clear if this is recognised as a distinct illness category.

The US Food and Drugs Administration has requested the recall of one strength of a generic antidepressant Budeprion (which is a formulation of Bupropion). This request applies to the American market and specifically to one strength of this preparation. This follows a small study looking at the bioavailability of the compound after administration. The FDA press release includes a recognition of the value of an American public campaign for a review of the medication. This campaign was prompted by letters received by Joe Graedon who received feedback on his website from members of the public. Graedon commissioned an independent study which found a difference in the bioavailability which was then followed by the most recent FDA requested study.

The New York Times has a piece on one man’s strategy for successfully managing the symptoms of Schizophrenia through narratives, medication and psychotherapy.

An American study provided evidence that people with Schizophrenia are more likely to die from cardiovascular disease than people without Schizophrenia. The researchers led by Dr Paul Kurdyak looked at the outcome data for 70, 688 patients that were included. They compared people with Schizophrenia with those without this diagnosis. They found that people with Schizophrenia were 56% more likely to die within 30 days of discharge from hospital and 50% less likely to undergo specific procedures. The researchers suggest that the differences in mortality rates may be due to a number of factors including lifestyle. These types of results are important in informing health campaigns to improve health in people with Schizophrenia by addressing lifestyle risk factors for example.

There is a write-up here of a lecture by Professor Joyce of UCL on the findings from research on cognitive impairment in Schizophrenia. The research suggests that cognitive skills play an important role independent of the positive and negative symptoms that occur in Schizophrenia.

Professor Keith Laws has recently published a meta-analysis on the effects of Gingko Biloba on cognition in a healthy population. He concludes that there is no identified benefit for cognition on the basis of the analysis of the included studies.

In a paper published in the Archives of General Psychiatry, Olanzapine was found to activate a food reward system in this fMRI study. The researchers found increased activity in the Striatum, Inferior Frontal Cortex and the Anterior Cingulate Cortex. This was a small study. The changes in activity were also accompanied by changes in appetite and weight.

A video of proteins being produced in the brain is generating interest.

Thomas Szasz has died. Szasz was both an iconic and controversial Psychiatrist who developed ideas critical of Psychiatry and was at the forefront of the emerging critical Psychiatry movement. His death has been covered here, here and here.

Clinical Psychiatry News have an interesting and balanced piece on the fast approaching new edition of the diagnostic manual – DSM-V.

Scientific American has a brief article by Gary Stix on drug development for the treatment of Schizophrenia in light of recent findings on gene activation in the brain.

Researchers looked at people with Schizophrenia or Schizoaffective Disorder in this small study. They used an MRI technique to evaluate the synchronisation between brain regions. Using an approach known as voxel mirrored homotopic connectivity, the researchers found that the subjects with Schizophrenia or Schizoaffective Disorder had less synchronicity in activity between several brain regions. These included the Declive of the Cerebellum and the Thalamus. This was a small study and there are many subtypes of Schizophrenia as well as biological associations.

There are already a number of medications which are used in the treatment of Alzheimer’s Disease (although licensing of medications is country specific). A new study has found that one potential new drug did not achieve the study objectives and it is due to be reviewed by the FDA. Researchers however have found some interesting results in one subgroup although they will be discussing these findings with the FDA.

There is a study which looks at the benefits of exercise in Schizophrenia here. This was a small study in Acta Psychiatrica Scandinavica with just over 30 people with Schizophrenia in each arm of the study. One group were given aerobic exercise to do and the other group did other types of activity. The researchers found improvements in the symptoms seen in Schizophrenia. These symptoms were both positive (hallucinations for example) and negative (social withdrawal for example). With exercise, people significantly improved in their functioning which wasn’t seen in the other arm of the trial. These are remarkable results for a relatively simple approach such as exercise!

A study published in PLOS Medicine has found evidence for an average gain in lifespan of 4.5 years even for light physical activity. There are numerous studies showing cognitive and mood benefits of exercise (as well as the study in people with Schizophrenia above) but this adds to the picture of more general benefits*. The study involved the use of data from over 650,000 people. The researchers used the guidelines on activity levels from the US Department of Health and Human Services. They found that even if the activity levels didn’t meet the recommended levels there were still benefits in terms of increased life expectancy. In their analysis the researchers found that increasing activity levels increased the likelihood of living longer.

National Caregiver’s Month took place in America. Such a campaign would be useful in other countries also. The American Psychiatric Association have produced a leaflet which provides helpful advice to caregivers.

The Schizophrenia Commission has released a report on the care of people with Schizophrenia in the UK. The report recommends a number of changes including an emphasis on setting up more recovery houses.

UK Doctors have set up a new political party which focuses on National Health Service issues. The complex issues around this new political party are discussed further in the article.

Virtual reality has been used to teach social skills to people with Autism in one study.

In this meta-analysis the researchers concluded that there was a critical threshold for the magnitude of the placebo response in antidepressant trials.

This paper on Clozapine monitoring extracted data from 16 studies to look at SE incidence rates.

D-cycloserine was associated with changes in activity in the Prefrontal Cortex seen at 1 week in the treatment of snake phobia in this fMRI study (n=20).

Treatment of Attention Deficit and Hyperactivity Disorder was associated with a reduction in crime rates in this study (see @ProfLAppleby).

Time covers the treatment of an excessive sleep disorder using Flumazenil in Kleine-Levin disorder here.

There is an update on the passage of the UK Mental Health (Discrimination) Bill in the House of Commons.

One research group in Scotland is piloting a drama based program which portrays the experience of people with young-onset dementia. The vignettes will be available for other researchers.

There is a piece on psychiatry in Sierra Leone which features an interview with Dr Nahim who is reported to be the only Psychiatrist in the country. The country has a population of just under 5.5 million and the article describes how mental illness is treated with relatively few resources and what happens in the absence of resources.

Neuroscience

In a study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, one research group looked at the facial recognition area in the Fusiform Gyrus. They found that this area didn’t just respond to faces but also automobiles. The study supports the hypothesis that this region is not specialised for faces alone.

In a small study (via @MariaPage) involving 17 subjects, researchers used Transcranial Direct Current Stimulation in Stage 2 of sleep. The stimulation was applied with electrodes over the Frontal and Parietal lobes. There were two courses of stimulation applied. In the first course, high and low intensity followed by no stimulation were applied during stage 2 sleep. In the second course, high intensity and no stimulation were followed by reversing the polarity of the stimulation and also by stimulating in alternative directions. The researchers found that with the first course, the subjects would experience an increase in their reports of dreams with visual images on waking. The application of a direct current across the cortex during sleep is therefore either influencing dreams or the recall of dreams. This was a small study and it will need replication but potentially has very interesting implications although it is unclear what clinical application this will have if these initial results are replicated.

Dr Ulric Neisser one of the pioneers and indeed giants in the field of Cognitive Psychology has passed away. Amongst many achievements Dr Neisser was responsible for a critical assessment of the controversial book ‘The Bell Curve’ as well as developing insights into the ‘False Memory Syndrome‘, selective attention and was also involved in the investigation of the Watergate scandal that took place during President Nixon’s term in office.

The debate on Brain Training Programs continues with this small study looking at people with Schizophrenia compared to a control group. The researchers looked at whether they could improve ‘reality monitoring’ in people with Schizophrenia by using a brain training program. In this case, the reality monitoring was tested by asking subjects in the study to distinguish between words presented to them by the researchers and words that they themselves had generated. The subjects were also scanned using functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging. The researchers found that using the brain training program improved the performance of subjects. They also found an increase in activity in the Medial Prefrontal Cortex after the training was completed. The Medial Prefrontal Cortex is an area of the brain that is thought to play a central role in reality monitoring.

In another study, researchers used Positron Emission Tomography investigated changes in the brain occurring with alcohol use. They found evidence that endorphins were released in the Nucleus Accumbens and Orbitofrontal Cortex and that the amount released correlated with the pleasure experienced. The amount of endorphins released differed between people who were alcohol dependent and a control group however.

Vaughan Bell looks at the role of psychologists in developing commercial chocolates.

Tom Stafford has written a piece on transient overeating where he discusses the brain’s reward circuits.

The Neurocritic discusses research examining neurophysiological responses to shopping coupons.

The Neuroskeptic has a write-up of a recent paper in which the researchers report that eye-blinking can interfere with the scan results in functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging studies although there is scope for modifying protocols to incorporate these findings. Bradley Voytek notes in the comments section that the influence of eye blinking has also been found in EEG studies.

One research group looked at the brains of 4 species including humans post-mortem and found evidence of a grid-like structure for neurons in deep brain structures. They used an imaging approach known as Diffusion Spectrum Magnetic Resonance Imaging. The lead researcher – neuroscientist Associate Professor Van Wedeen is currently participating in the Human Connectome Project and is looking at other methods to detect and visualise the brain’s 3-dimensional structure.

An Image from Dr Van Wedeen’s research into the 3-d organisation of the brain

The Neuroskeptic reviews a new way of teaching neuroanatomy – using a shower cap!

Via @HugoSpiers there is this great video entered for the Neuroscience Brain Awareness Contest by Professor Dwayne Godwin

A Brief History of the Brain

The Neuroskeptic discusses a case of scientism as well as how to write less.

The Connectome features a list of #5 top neuroscience studies in 2012.

Mo Costandi looks at research in which renal output was converted into brain cells

The Hippocampus is a structure in the brain that is shaped like a seahorse and is essential for memory. The Hippocampus has been investigated in relation to conditions like Alzheimer’s Disease. At the Alzheimer’s Forum, there is a very interesting write-up on a study investigating the relationship of the Hippocampus to memory.

There are various lines of evidence that show the importance of the Hippocampus for memory, but the researchers here were interested in whether different parts of the Hippocampus were more or less important for memory. They investigated the question using structural Magnetic Resonance Imaging, a technique which enables them to image the Hippocampus in detail. The researchers investigated 18 subjects aged 21-34 years of age and then gave them two sets of language tasks. In these tasks, the subjects had to place words into one of two categories. They were then scored on how well they were able to recall which category they had placed the items into. The key finding from the study was that the volume of the posterior portion of the Hippocampus was significantly correlated with the memory performance, whilst the volume of the anterior portion was not. While a functional division of the Hippocampus is unsurprising, these findings raise interesting questions, the answers to which might shed light on conditions affecting memory. Many studies looking at a condition which affects memory – Amnestic Mild Cognitive Impairment have looked at a region of the brain known as the Medial Temporal Lobe or more specifically at the volume of the entire Hippocampus in understanding how the condition progresses. This new approach to dividing up the Hippocampus has been seen in at least one study in Amnestic Mild Cognitive Impairment (looking at the CA1 subfields) but these latest findings will no doubt encourage researchers to pursue this type of research when investigating both the pathology and physiology of memory.

Professor Wray Herbert has written an interesting piece of training older adult drivers to drive more safely. The write-up is based on a study in which the researchers found that older adult drivers focused their visual scanning on the area immediately in front of them rather than in the periphery. Many accidents were associated with this omission of peripheral scanning but this habit was responsive to training. A small study has looked at the feasibility of using repetitive Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation in the treatment of Depression and the researchers found evidence of the efficacy of this approach in the treatment of Major Depressive Disorder. There is a very interesting paper on the Default Mode Network with the authors suggesting on the basis of their neuroimaging work as well neuropathological studies that this network is characterised by the presence of Von Economo neurons. These neurons are very well connected and have been a recent development in primate evolution.

Evidence that the brain assimilates new information into preexisting goals is provided in this PNAS study.

The olfactory process has been investigated in this study where the researchers found evidence of modification of the early olfactory processing by feedback from other brain regions.

Evidence for genetic mechanisms for sensitivity to pain has been found in this international collaboration. Researchers compared the exome sequences of the most and least pain sensitive volunteers to identify genetic associations.

In a particularly interesting study, researchers created a standardised neurodevelopmental brain database. They recruited 885 infants, children, teenagers and young adults aged 3-20 years of age. The subjects were scanned using MRI and the researchers were able to use the age indexed database to approximate the age of brains presented for assessment with significant accuracy.

The Smithsonian website has a summary of 10 brain related studies with links. The list includes one study on a gene that is associated with reduction in brain volume and can be activated in depression (this study is further covered here).

via @Professor Bob this article at Psychology Today reviews a Finnish Study in schoolchildren. The researchers recorded video footage of the children aged 7-8 over a period of years and asked them to talk about their learning experiences. They were particularly interested in their emotional response to the learning experiences. They formulated 10 theses about how learning could be enhanced. The theses included learning experiences which were child-centred rather than didactic, unhurried learning experiences and experiences which included an opportunity for the children to be successful at learning tasks. It would be great if this type of research could be extended to adults.

The ENCODE project has involved 442 scientists internationally collaborating on understanding the human genome. Their efforts have amongst other developments resulted in a reevaluation of the so-called junk DNA which up till now has been thought to play no useful role in the human genome. The researchers have found that this DNA influences a number of cellular processes. Furthermore changes in this DNA have been associated with mental illnesses.

The science of study is covered at Scientific American by psychologist Professor Willingham. There is a brief mention of different methods for learning new material – Professor Willingham writes that rereading and underlining material are less effective than intermittent quizzing about the material.

There is a write-up here of a study which found evidence of a benefit for increased mental activity (e.g reading). The study used Magnetic Resonance Imaging to look at a marker for cell damage and found this to be reduced as activities such as reading increased although this was assessed using retrospective recall. It will be interesting to see the results of further replication studies.

This Nature Neuroscience paper looks at neurons which detect itch sensations.

A new PLOS One study looks at how memory impacts on eating.

This ‘Frontiers in Human Neuroscience‘ paper looks at the electrophysiological correlates of fMRI activity in different brain regions.

Two studies in Psychological Science looked at the qualities which optimised the ability of people to imitate facial expressions.

The Neurocomic graphic novel due to be released in 2013 and supported by the Wellcome Trust is covered here.

IBM anticipates the development of computers which simulate human abilities to sense and smell as well as other predictions.

This PLOS Biology article looks at the Allen Human Brain Atlas which is a very useful online neuroscience resource.
3-D scans of archaeological objects are covered in this piece and this technology may be increasingly useful in medicine as well.

Mo Costandi has a very interesting article on new findings about eye blinking and how this may relate to attention.

The Harvard Business Review has a comparison of self-compassion and self-esteem.


Professor Steven Rose talks about whether neuroscience can explain the mind in this video

There is an extensive debate in the neuroscience field here. This debate is so protracted that it has even found its way into the neuroscience literature as a reference here. The crux of the argument centres around the methodology in neuroimaging studies. The first article also discuss how difficult it can be for readers and researchers alike to understand the statistical analysis and research methodology if they are outside of the neuroimaging research centres. Citing the article in the research literature shows that the Blogosphere is contributing to the mainstream research literature.

A better understanding of how the retina communicates with the brain has led to the development of this experimental artificial retina device which remains to be tested in humans. The device works through a combination of electronic sensors, microprojectors and genetic modification of cells in the retina to restore vision in a model of nightblindness. Clinical trials in humans would need to go through several stages and assuming that the trials were successful at each stage would then be eligible for clinical use.

The Anatomy of the Eye

A neuron stem cell that leads to the cells in the higher levels of the cerebral cortex has been identified in this study.

Craig Bennett has received an Ig Nobel Prize for his work on the neuroimaging of a dead salmon. The Ig Nobel awards for ‘improbable research’ highlight research that make people ‘laugh and think’. Bennett’s study showed activity in the brain of a dead Salmon facilitating a discussion about MRI methodology.

A new brain atlas has been created from 2 whole male brains and one hemisphere from another brain. The researchers from the Allen Institute divided the brains into 900 subdivisions and utilised 60,000 gene expression probes.

Evidence linking overeating of chocolate to an opiate-like substance in the neostriatum has been identified in this study.

There is an NIMH video on the promise of neuroscience here.

MRI researchers have found evidence in a multidisciplinary study that reading novels activates a number of areas in the brain involved in higher cognitive functions. They also found that changing from reading for pleasure to reading for study altered the areas involved.

Professor Eric Kandel looks at the neuroscience of interpreting the art of Gustav Klimt in this piece by Columbia Magazine.

Dr Roy Baumeister has an interesting presentation on self-control here.

In remarkable research, scientists in Japan have predicted the content of dreams based on their analysis of functional Magnetic Resonance imaging data and EEG data. The researchers examined 3 volunteers. They woke the volunteers shortly after they entered the dream stage of sleep and asked them what they had been dreaming. They then classified the dream content and correlated this with the fMRI and EEG findings. On this basis they were able to predict dream content on the basis of the fMRI and EEG findings alone. They were able to predict qualitative content within dreams but not in the same way as a previous remarkable study by Gallant and colleagues. Indeed Gallant comments on the present study in the article above.

The creation of a detailed Brain Atlas has been announced. This has been derived from the structural Magnetic Resonance Images of 100 volunteers as part of the CONNECT project.

There is an interesting post on open publishing in Neuroscience here.

The researchers in one study looked at the neuroanatomical correlates how people actively forget information. They looked at people who were actively trying to forget material using functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging. The researchers found evidence that there was an increase in activity in the Dorsolateral Prefrontal Cortex with reduced activity in the Hippocampus with the suggestion of a causal relationship between these two findings. They also found evidence of a possible second mechanism involving other parts of the Prefrontal Cortex.

At Psychology Today there is a write-up of a study investigating the correlation of EEG activity between several brain regions and the experience of déjà vu in which the person thinks their experience at that moment has been experienced before. déjà vu can occur in healthy people but also sometimes occurs as part of the aura in Epilepsy as well as being described in Schizophrenia, .

Video Explaining EEG

For instance a person might feel they have already visited a place they have been to for the first time. The researchers were interested in three regions in the Temporal Lobe – the Hippocampus, the Rhinal Cortex and the Amygdala.

Previous research has identified a relationship between déjà vu and Temporal Lobe Epilepsy (e.g here). There have also been studies which have correlated déjà vu with the Temporal Lobe when there is no evidence of Temporal Lobe Epilepsy. The unique feature of this study was that it involved intraoperative recording (using intraoperative EEG) and intraoperative stimulation (using electrodes). The subjects in the study were people with Epilepsy.

The researchers used electrode stimulation to produce a déjà vu response. When this was elicited, compared to stimulations without déjà vu, the researchers found an increased correlation of EEG activity between the 3 areas they examined. The results are slightly more complex as the researchers found subtle differences in the changes according to the frequency of activity they were looking at. The researchers have provided a useful neurophysiological correlate of déjà vu.

Another study used virtual reality environments to investigate déjà vu. The researchers had a great deal of control over the scenes that were presented which they were able to deconstruct. The researchers found that déjà vu was  more likely if the scene looked like a previous scene but that scene was not recalled. This finding may explain the occurrence of déjà vu in healthy people*. Indeed the researchers found that the more a scene described as new matched a previously seen scene, the higher the score on a  measure of déjà vu.

In a paper published in Neuron researchers found further evidence to support the organisation of memory in the brain within networks of neurons. The researchers investigated a murine model of auditory memory. They looked at which groups of neurons fired when a specific sound was produced. When they mixed sounds, rather than seeing a gradual shift in activity between groups of neurons they saw a sudden shift suggesting that the sound would activate one or other of the groups. This is consistent with neural network models of brain function.

fMRI and Electroencephalography are explained in this video

Picture of a Thought

A group at the Max Planck Institute have refined a method for examining the fine structure of the brain (cytoarchitecture). The method involves looking at large brain structures using an approach known as serial block-face scanning electron microscope. Previously this was possible only with thin slices of tissue. This new approach should enable the researchers to develop automated methods to conduct a detailed examination of the connections in the brain.

An improvement in fMRI methodology is covered by the Neuroskeptic in this post whilst Professor Hawks picks up on possible movement artefacts in fMRI here.

Dr Vaughan Bell (MindHacks) has written a piece on fMRI research at the Observer on some of the assumptions of fMRI research which are being challenged (to improve the research) and followed this up with another post at MindHacks.

Umm gargling in Lemonade increases self-control. Yes that’s right – gargling in Lemonade. A slightly unusual methodology but the researchers in this ‘Psychological Science’ study recommend gargling in Lemonade as a way to increase self-control. They depleted the levels of self-control by asking participants to cross out all the e’s in a rather dry document. Then they tested the participants on their concentration. What they found was that if people were swishing some sugary Lemonade in their mouth they were able to concentrate better. If they had an artificially sweetened Lemonade solution in their mouth they performed less well. So the upshot of this study is that if people had a sugary drink and stopped themselves from drinking it they increased their self-control ‘reserves’. Practically speaking it might prove slightly difficult to use this approach in everyday activities without appearing slightly unusual.

The British Neuroscience Association is holding a Neuroscience festival next year. Looks promising. There’s a section for Neuropsychiatry.

There’s an interesting article here on why being bilingual might offer advantages for thinking skills.

Collectively Unconscious is a brilliant new blog that takes a light-hearted look at the world of Neuroscience. In this post they report on research where the mysterious brain centre for nothingness has been located. But don’t let me spoil the fun – check out the original post.

Compliments can improve performance according to this PLOS One study. The researchers would give one group compliments. For another group they the subjects watch others being given compliments. In the third group the researchers would simply ask the subjects to monitor their own performance using a graph. The researchers found that on a simple exercise the group which were complimented performed best.

The power of intuition was shown in this Proceedings of the National Academy of Science study. This was a really interesting study. Basically the participants were asked to look at some numbers. Really quickly. Then they had to guess which group of numbers was larger. When the subjects were given a large group of numbers to compare in a ridiculously short amount of time – they ‘guessed’ it right 90% of the time. Whatever this ability is – the researchers simply referred to it as intuition. Interestingly this type of skill has been seen amongst people with Autism.

The gene HDAC4 is thought to play an important role in information processing based on the results from this study.

Employees tend to feel a strong sense of identity with their employers. In one study in the Journal of Managerial Psychology the researchers looked at ex-employees. They found that those who identified strongly with their employers had a higher self-esteem than those who identified less strongly.

Genetics is advancing quickly thanks to the use of genomes and multiple database as expanded on this article.

The Joint Academies have produced a rather intriguing document on the future of the workplace with the use of ‘enhanced cognition’. This basically means enhancing the cognition of the worker through various means. The report includes a look at the ethical issues that are raised and the technology that might support this.

Rappers have found a new outlet for their music – the MRI scanner. Moving from music venues to the close confines of the MRI scanner, one group of rappers underwent functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging while rapping. Rapping like jazz is creative in the sense that the rapper will improvise during a freestyle performance. The researchers found a reduction in activity in the Prefrontal Cortex during the freestyle performance (compared to a rehearsed performance) and an increase in activity in the Medial Prefrontal Cortex as well as other brain regions. The researchers suggest that the Medial Prefrontal Cortex may play an important role in improvisation. Now there’s something to sing about.

One recent study published in Frontiers in Neuroprosthetics showed evidence that a visual prosthesis enabled subjects in the study to read visual braille. Essentially a camera and software setup was used to convert text into a visual form of braille. This information was then fed through to a neural prosthesis that enabled the person to interpret the visual braille.

The neural cell community have created a resource for collating research and review papers in their field which may be of interest to other communities.

In this Magnetoencephalography study, researchers found that a slowing of resting state brain activity was correlated with the development of cognitive impairment in Parkinson’s Disease offering the prospect of a biomarker although further research is needed.

Aspects of motivation are covered in this Scientific American article.

Professor Baron-Cohen and colleagues use functional MRI to look at embedded figures in this study.

Thought v arm-controlled cursors covered here.

Reasoning is improved in a foreign language according to this study.

Psychiatry 2.0

There’s an article on 10 years of Open Access which is being celebrated with a conference in Budapest, Hungary.

There is a new initiative to use crowdsourcing or harnessing collective intelligence to develop new insights into the retina by analysing Electron Micrographs of the retina. However at the time of writing if you’re interested in taking part you’ll need to sign up and there is a waiting list.

There’s an interesting open-access piece in the New York Times on ‘Big Data’ looking at how people are dealing with the large increases  in data ranging from how managers are analysing data to the use of Siri the virtual personal assistant.

There’s also an optical microscope that’s been developed for use with smart phones which is expected out this year.

There is an interesting albeit quite technical article by Robert Reddick (via @Boraz) looking at some of the barriers to the progress of the Open Science movement and how these might be overcome.

 The Alzheimer’s Organisation in America has this instructive video for caregivers on Alzheimer’s Disease.

Video On Alzheimer’s Disease For Caregivers

The Director of the National Institute of Health has this post on the connectome. Initial data from the human connectome has been released recently. Meanwhile Sir Tim Berners-Lee the founder of the internet has been asking for more open data!

The Canadian Medical Association has issued guidelines for the use of social media by Doctors.

Professor John Hawks has an interesting response to a piece about online education and discusses his experience of teaching Anthropology.

There is a new white paper on Cloud Computing which is the delivery of computing as a service instead of a product. The white paper distinguishes between the relatively minor technical changes that make this possible in comparison with the significant social changes that this technology has made and will make possible.

The use of Web 2.0 technology has transformed education. One Professor of computing has already delivered a lecture on artificial intelligence to a class of 160,000 and is now aiming to increase this to 500,000.

There is a short tutorial here on how to use data from the 1000 Genomes study. The Federal Research Public Access Act is an American Act which proposes that research funded by 11 Federal Agencies should be disseminated in Open-Access platforms. The essence of the argument is that when such research is published in subscription journals, the public has to pay twice for the research – once to fund this and once more to access the findings. The Act has now been supported by 52 Nobel Prize winners in a letter to the US Congress.

The Research Councils UK have released a policy statement on Open Access which is open for comments.

The use of Web 2.0 technology has transformed education. One Professor of computing has already delivered a lecture on artificial intelligence to a class of 160,000 and is now aiming to increase this to 500,000.

Professor Wray Herbert has written an interesting piece of training older adult drivers to drive more safely. The write-up is based on a study in which the researchers found that older adult drivers focused their visual scanning on the area immediately in front of them rather than in the periphery. Many accidents were associated with this omission of peripheral scanning but this habit was responsive to training. A small study has looked at the feasibility of using repetitive Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation in the treatment of Depression and the researchers found evidence of the efficacy of this approach in the treatment of Major Depressive Disorder. There is a very interesting paper on the Default Mode Network with the authors suggesting on the basis of their neuroimaging work as well neuropathological studies that this network is characterised by the presence of Von Economo neurons. These neurons are very well connected and have been a recent development in primate evolution.

There are some useful resources here for teaching medical anthropology. Medical anthropology is the discipline which involves the study of health systems, health and illness and the interactions with culture.

How to browse a genome on your browser is discussed in this post together with a commentary.

A new Open-Access Journal e-Life is being started up and already generating a lot of interest following the success of PLOS One.

There is a new Open-Access Journal PeerJ being set up by Pete Binfield one of the former editors at PLOS One with funding from Tim O’Reilly (author of the initial Web 2.0 definition and subsequent conferences). The journal offers researchers a one-off membership fee to submit to and publish science articles in the journal.

There’s an interesting debate on Open Access here.

New Scientist has an article on Watston, an IBM computer which is being developed as a virtual physician’s assistant. Watson is programmed with skills in analysing natural language and uses this in decision making.

There is an interesting piece (via @VaughanBell) on the success of crowdsourcing volunteers for cognition studies online.

The American organisation ProPublica have launched a Facebook patient safety website.

Via @VaughanBell there is an organisation ‘Psychology Tools’ that provides freely available online tools for therapists.

The HHMI UCI Professor Program have a YouTube Channel which is a great resource for biology education.

 A recent report has supported the use of the citizen science where volunteers participate in running research trials. There is more here.

One Canadian study by Oh and colleagues showed a benefit for exercise in people following a stroke. 41 study participants underwent a 6 month exercise program and scores were found to improve after training. However it would be interesting to see the results of a larger replication study with a comparator arm in the study.

Mild Traumatic Brain Injury is associated with changes in the activity in the brain’s default mode network in this study.

An American study has looked at the effects of sedentary behaviour and walking on cognition in people with Alzheimer’s Disease. The researchers found evidence of a decline in cognition in people who did not engage in exercise compared to those engaged in over 2 hours of walking per week.

In one study researchers investigated factors that delayed progression to Alzheimer’s Disease in carriers of the apolipoprotein E epsilon 4 allele. They found that an absence of vascular risk factors, educational level and leisure activities all contributed to a delay in progression. This was a large cohort (n-932) followed up over 9 years.

There is a list of online educational tools for science here.

Frank Spencer has made his reading list of 10,000 books available here. The books are neuroscience and philosophy focused.

There is a very interesting diagram on this page displaying the results of a study investigating the relationship between journals in terms of where articles were submitted to. If an article was not published but instead resubmitted to another journal the relationship between the two was noted. The cumulative total of such links over a large sample set enabled the researchers to display a complex network of Journals. High impact Journals and Journals in related fields showed strong connections to each other.

This is a neat time-lapse video showing how a research paper is written

There’s an interesting post here on digital publishing in research here which clarifies the relationship with open-access publishing.

There are #50 online tools for science teachers here.

There is an interesting article on citizen science here.

There is the fifth part in a series on Open-Access here.

Data transfer rates across networks are being pushed by the physics community.

This study looks at how people with cancer use Twitter to establish an online dialogue and the features of the support they are able to offer each other.

Social networks were predictive of exam grades at a university course in this study although students of similar ability may have been more likely to socialise.

Deborah Blum looks at the use of social media to report on health issues in this article.

There is a review of the book ‘The Best Science Writing Online 2012’ at Wild Muse here.

This article looks at working papers with arguments for and against their use.

Josh Stearns looks at the possibility of adding a civic layer to the social web.

DSM-V/ICD 11

DSM-V has been in the news recently as there has been resistance from many directions. One of the illnesses being considered is ‘Internet Addiction‘. Meanwhile there is an interesting piece on the development of the WHO’s ICD-11 emphasising the multidisciplinary approach.

The APA invited people including non-APA members to submit comments in response to the draft version of DSM-V in the 6 week period from May 2nd 2012-June 15th. This means that interested individuals or groups could become stakeholders in the revision process. Professor Kupfer indicated that there have already been more than 11,000 comments submitted from across the world.

Other Medically Related Items

A new International Medical Emergency Trauma Register has been established for UK healthcare staff who are interested in volunteering for overseas disaster work.

There is an interesting article on the changing role of ultrasound in medical education here.

Researchers have described a new case of a man losing the ability to speak English after a stroke but being able to speak in Welsh which he had previously spoken for a brief period. His use of English has gradually returned.

There is an interesting article here on patient experiences and health outcomes.

Positive Psychiatry

Having a wide social network is associated with health and wellbeing according to this study. This is an epidemiological study looking at 6500 Britons born in 1958. Suprisingly employment didn’t affect the size of the social network but the age of leaving education did. Those that stayed in education longer had wider social networks. There are various studies which show that large social networks are protective for memory and so this study adds to the research literature showing a protective health benefit.

There is a list of the 20 most watched TED episodes here. This includes a look at ‘why are we happy‘, ‘brain magic‘ and  ‘why we do what we do‘. The ‘why are we happy’ video below is extremely entertaining as well as instructive.

October was Emotional Intelligence Awareness Month.

There’s a nice video introduction to Positive Psychology below

Miscellaneous

There is an interesting write-up of a new report by the Royal Society on how the world can flourish with 7 billion people and the necessary sociocultural changes that will facilitate this.

There is an interesting piece on Thomas Kuhn’s ‘The Structure of Scientific Revolutions’ here.

There’s an interesting piece on the impact of Thomas Kuhn’s ‘The Structure of Scientific Revolutions’ on popular culture in The Chronicle of Higher Education.

There’s an interesting piece here on why people like watching slow motion videos and there are some examples included.

The researchers in a PLOS One paper undertook a principal components analysis of 39 scientific impact measures and concluded that the impact of a scientific paper is best described by multiple measures rather than a single impact factor.

Finally while not directly related to Psychiatry, this video fly-through of the Universe based on data from the Sloan Digital Sky Survey III is inspiring!

Evolution/Evolutionary Psychiatry/Cultural Anthropology

There’s some interesting data emerging on Neanderthals in the Mediterranean (via @JshTrnf). Neanderthals are a hominid species who became extinct with the last distinct members of the group being identified in Gibraltar 24,000 years ago. However Paabo and colleagues in a landmark paper in Nature established that Neanderthals hybridised with our human ancestors and that up to 5% of the human genome is inherited from Neanderthals. The archaeological data suggests that Neanderthals were the creators of the Mousterian culture which featured a characteristic method of shaping stone tools. Evidence of the Mousterian culture from the Greek islands of Kefallinia and Zakynthos suggests that the Neanderthals reached these islands. The obvious question then is how did they get there? There are two methods. The first is swimming. The islands are some 8 miles from the mainland and there have been changes in sea levels over time. However even before the rise in sea levels, the sea levels would be have been too high to form a land bridge. Therefore it is feasible that the Neanderthals would have swam to the islands. A second possibility is that the Neanderthals sailed the Mediterranean and these findings are suggestive of an estimate of between 50,000 and 130,000 years ago. The possibility that they swam to the islands is simpler as this hypothesis does not need to include the use of boats. However this is challenged by further findings this time on the island of Crete. They are yet to be dated but again show evidence of the Mousterian culture and the island is about 50 miles from the mainland. There still remains the possibility that Neanderthals could have reached here from the islands of Kythera or Antikythera (where the Antikythera Mechanism was discovered) a distance of approximately 25 miles. By comparison, swimmers crossing the English Channel have recorded times of between 6 hours and 58 hours although the distance varies between 22 and 56 miles depending on the currents and other factors. In general these swimmers have been supported and would have been familiar with the route in advance. In contrast the Neanderthals would not have known the route in advance of the first crossing and to sustain a culture would need to have crossed as a group. They would need to have balanced the considerable risks in reaching Crete against the security of remaining in known territories. If there were boats and they were constructed from wood the remains would be lost unless they were located in special environments (e.g Peat bogs where remains of trees dating back to the end of the Ice Age have been located or ice where Otzi was preserved). Neither of these environments are relevant in this case though and evidence of boat building by Neanderthals must remain circumstantial. An endangered species, the Phillipine Tarsier has been found to communicate in ultrasound with a pitch frequency limit of 91 KHz (compared to approximately 20 KHz in humans) (via @researchblogs).

The mummified remains of Otzi the iceman were discovered in the Alps with Otzi passing away some 5000 years ago. Jason Palmer reports on a recent genetic analysis which has revealed information about early human migration patterns. Otzi is characterised as being similar in genotype to modern Sardinians and also shows evidence of migration from the Middle East. Otzi was also found to have lactose intolerance which is interesting because it is thought that agricultural practices were spreading through Europe at that time. There’s some interesting data emerging on Neanderthals in the Mediterranean (via @JshTrnf). Neanderthals are a hominid species who became extinct with the last distinct members of the group being identified in Gibraltar 24,000 years ago. However Paabo and colleagues in a landmark paper in Nature established that Neanderthals hybridised with our human ancestors and that up to 5% of the human genome is inherited from Neanderthals. The archaeological data suggests that Neanderthals were the creators of the Mousterian culture which featured a characteristic method of shaping stone tools. Evidence of the Mousterian culture from the Greek islands of Kefallinia and Zakynthos suggests that the Neanderthals reached these islands. The obvious question then is how did they get there? There are two methods. The first is swimming. The islands are some 8 miles from the mainland and there have been changes in sea levels over time. However even before the rise in sea levels, the sea levels would be have been too high to form a land bridge. Therefore it is feasible that the Neanderthals would have swam to the islands. A second possibility is that the Neanderthals sailed the Mediterranean and these findings are suggestive of an estimate of between 50,000 and 130,000 years ago. The possibility that they swam to the islands is simpler as this hypothesis does not need to include the use of boats. However this is challenged by further findings this time on the island of Crete. They are yet to be dated but again show evidence of the Mousterian culture and the island is about 50 miles from the mainland. There still remains the possibility that Neanderthals could have reached here from the islands of Kythera or Antikythera (where the Antikythera Mechanism was discovered) a distance of approximately 25 miles. By comparison, swimmers crossing the English Channel have recorded times of between 6 hours and 58 hours although the distance varies between 22 and 56 miles depending on the currents and other factors. In general these swimmers have been supported and would have been familiar with the route in advance. In contrast the Neanderthals would not have known the route in advance of the first crossing and to sustain a culture would need to have crossed as a group. They would need to have balanced the considerable risks in reaching Crete against the security of remaining in known territories. If there were boats and they were constructed from wood the remains would be lost unless they were located in special environments (e.g Peat bogs where remains of trees dating back to the end of the Ice Age have been located or ice where Otzi was preserved). Neither of these environments are relevant in this case though and evidence of boat building by Neanderthals must remain circumstantial. An endangered species, the Phillipine Tarsier has been found to communicate in ultrasound with a pitch frequency limit of 91 KHz (compared to approximately 20 KHz in humans) (via @researchblogs).

Neanderthal subsistence in Pleistocene France was examined in this study by Ecker presented in Cambridge.

Stone-tipped spears in South Africa dating back 500,000 years are the earliest such tools to have been discovered. They provide evidence of sophisticated cognitive abilities in middle Pleistocene hominids and are likely to have been created by the common ancestor of our species and Neanderthals – Homo Heidelbergensis.

There is a fascinating document on a Neandertal site in Norfolk, England published by English Heritage. The archaeological team identified multiple animal remains including woolly mammoth that have evidence of Neandertal processing. Although there were no Neandertal remains they inferred this from both the tools that were used and the date of the site circa 60,000 years before present. There were many interesting findings. For instance some of the tools showed evidence of recycling. Indeed they identified 100 kg of flint tools. They also identified sandstone material that contained red and black pigmentation in the smoothed surface. This pigmentation showed traces of Sulphur and Iron. The researchers could not discriminate between a natural (geological) origin for this material or Neandertal origins. In other Neandertal sites there is evidence of Iron Pyrrites and the researchers suggest that the Neandertals may have been using Iron Pyrrites as fire starters. If so the researchers say that the Norfolk site is the earliest evidence of fire starter materials at Neandertal sites.

John Hawks covers ongoing work at a Neandertal site in Madrid which has uncovered what may be a funeral pyre. A Neandertal child was buried with evidence of ceremonial funeral rites. The specimens at this site date to between 60,000 and 90,000 years ago.

The Gorilla genome has been fully sequenced and it turns out that in some parts of the genome, the Gorilla is more closely related to us than are Chimpanzees! Are we more similar to Gorillas than Chimpanzees in some ways?

There’s a very interesting study in PLOS One by Curnoe and colleagues who have anlaysed human remains in South China. The specimens date back 11,000 years and the skulls are characterised by the presence of brow ridges and a lateral extension of the zygomatic arches (cheekbones) compared to modern human control groups. The specimens are further characterised by Taurodontism, that is teeth in which the pulp chamber and body of the tooth contribute to a larger proportion of the tooth in relation to the root. Taurodontism is also seen in Neanderthal specimens (e.g these specimens dating back 230,000 years were found in Pontnewydd Cave in Wales) . Taurodontism also occurs in association with pathological conditions including Amelogenesis Imperfecta.

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Figure 3. Longlin 1 partial skull (each bar = 1 cm). Curnoe D et al, 2012, PLoS ONE 7(3): e31918, Creative Commons Attribution License

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Figure 12.Isolated M3 – specimen MLDG 1747 (scale bar = 1 cm) exhibiting marked taurodontism, Curnoe D et al, 2012, PLoS ONE 7(3): e31918, Creative Commons Attribution License

The researchers have thus provided convincing evidence that the specimens they have grouped together are significantly different from control groups of modern humans in a number of ways. There are still other approaches that can be used to investigate this further and so the researchers are cautious about concluding that the specimens represent a new species at this stage . Nevertheless if this does prove to be a new species it adds to other species that lived in Africa, Asia and Europe in the last 30,000 years including a specimen found in Tanzania, the controversial Homo Floresiensis species of  the Indonesian Island of Flores, the Neanderthals and the Siberian Denisovans.

There is a review article on dementia in Primates. Apparently the Primate which experiences the closest condition to Alzheimer’s Disease – a tauopathy – is the Grey Mouse Lemur.

Researchers examining Salmonella bacteria have provided evidence of genes developing a second function while the bacteria are adapting to the environment. The multiple roles of gene products is observed across diverse species.

The remains of a 10,000 year old settlement reveal life in Scotland at that time and give insights into the evolution of culture.

Researchers have sequenced the mitochondrial genome of the original New Zealand settler population by recovering DNA from archaeological sites. They have found overlap with neighbouring populations.

The grandmother hypothesis is an evolutionary hypothesis which suggests that grandmothers looking after their grandchildren brought extra resources to the family unit and through a series of further events were able to pass on genes for longevity. Professor Kristen Hawkes ran a computer simulation which supports this hypothesis. After up to 60,000 years adults increased lifespan by just under 50 years in the simulation.

Researchers looking at Chimpanzees and Bonobos find evidence of altruistic behaviour may be related to calculations of social exchanges taking place over long periods of time.

Researchers have been looking at stone tool flaking techniques at sites in Southern Africa dating back as far as 75,000 years ago which supports other lines of evidence coming from these sites. Some of the finds at these sites are amongst the oldest evidence of artwork predating European finds. The researchers have found some of the earliest evidence of complex cognition.

Researchers in this PLOS One study found evidence that paintings from Lascaux France which date back some 17,000 years showed more accurate depictions of animal movements than did later works as recent as the nineteenth century.

Researchers have announced the discovery of the world’s oldest flutes (estimated at 42000 years before present) in the Geissenkloesterle Cave in Germany. Excavations in caves in this region have produced a number of interesting findings and are attributed to the Aurignacian culture. However the controversial Divje Babe flute in Slovenia is dated to 43100 years before present and would predate the above flute although the validity of this specimen has been disputed.

There’s an interesting piece on one musician’s cultural dialogue through music.

There’s an interesting write-up by Ed Yong in Discover Magazine about a gene SRGAP2 which has been duplicated during human evolution. As SRGAP2 is involved in brain development, this duplication may be a critical event in human evolution and possibly took place during the transition from Austrolopithecus to later species. What is also interesting is that this duplication was missing from the Human Reference Genome possibly due to difficulties in the assembly of genomes (see here also).

A 3D reconstruction of Ichthyostega suggests that it would not have been able to walk on land. Icthyostega is an example of a Tetrapod (having four legs). Tetrapods were thought to have been the first animals to walk on land (an important evolutionary event) and are a distant human ancestor.

There is an interesting piece on Metopic Suture closure in Austrolopithecus Africanus at PNAS (via @MaggieKB1).

Researchers have taken another look at the skull case from an ancient fish species and on the basis of their analysis  suggest that they are the common ancestors that we share with sharks. Building up a timeline of our evolutionary history is tricky but has many benefits including helping us to understand subtle nuances of our physiology and possibly even behaviour. In this research, the brain case of the fish Acanthodes Bronni dates back 290 million years. The researchers constructed a model of the brain case and found it to be very similar to early sharks. They suggest on this basis that this species was our common ancestor with sharks and looked more similar to sharks than our bony fish ancestral line.

Other research suggests that human speech may have evolved from lip-smacking gestures in monkeys. The researchers  used X-ray movies of Macaques and determined that the use of lip-smacking involved similar anatomical structures to human speech as well as a similar frequency of these movements. Intriguingly this supports a hypothesis that suggests facial expressions evolved into speech. In this model the action of lip smacking explains the development of vowels and consonants.

In another study, Professor Zilhao’s team has used Uranium series dating to estimate the age of cave paintings in the El Castillo cave in Spain. The researchers estimated that paintings including hand stencils date back 40,800 years. These findings are significant because they provide stronger evidence that the earliest painters of cave art in Europe were Neanderthals. The cave paintings in Europe have been long held as evidence of the innovative abilities of Cro-Magnons, the ancestors of modern humans. Thus it has been suggested that when early humans (i.e Homo Sapiens Sapiens) came into Europe unlike the Neanderthals they were responsible for a flourishing of culture including artwork.

The new date however overlaps with the period in which Neanderthals inhabited Europe and support an alternative view that Neanderthals were already capable of such artwork and by inference creativity/abstract thought. For those familiar with Neanderthals this is not surprising as it fits with abundant evidence of innovative Neanderthal cultures. However the popular anthropocentric view of Neanderthals is partly due to one of the earliest specimens that was found. This was a man who had degenerative bone changes which would have caused him to have a stooped posture. Early artistic reconstructions were therefore based on a male Neanderthal with arthritic changes and generalised to Neanderthals as a species. Thus the public perception of Neanderthals was that they were not well adapted to walking. Matters were further compounded by an automatic interpretation of cultural associations of different sites with modern humans rather than Neanderthals even when a period of cohabitation was evident.

Since Paabo’s 2010 finding of a 5% contribution of Neanderthal DNA to the human gene pool, researchers in other fields have been more willing to reappraise the conventional narrative of Neanderthal capabilities. The results have been fascinating and also tell us more about ourselves. In another study for instance researchers have identified retroviruses not seen in modern humans in the DNA of Neanderthals and another archaic species known as the Denisovans (that are more closely related to Neanderthals than modern humans).

One study has shown evidence of the ability of Black Bears to count when using a specially adapted computer to test this function. * There is also an interesting discussion to be had here in distinguishing between referential and paranoid delusions depending on the perceived intent of the ‘actors’ in these cases.

Researchers have found that people are able to recognise smiling faces more quickly if the teeth are bared during the smile. Interesting in terms of this post.

There was a debate recently about whether human ancestors and Neanderthals interbred. This was based on a study published in which the authors used a computational model to examine ancient population structures. Their analysis suggested that gene similarities with Neanderthals could be accounted for entirely by inheritance of genes from the common ancestor with humans and Neanderthals. However Professor John Hawks has a very convincing response to this which includes another study that was published before this one. So the Neanderthal and human interbreeding theory is still robust. Interestingly the small number of human genes not found in the Neanderthal include several genes associated with illnesses including ADHD although the significance is unclear at this stage.

In the UK, archaeologists have found a 2600 year-old preserved brain in a body recovered from a peat bog. Hopefully this should give us insights into any changes in the brain over this time. It would be great if the microscopic architecture was preserved. Even the idea of a histopathological study on this brain would be remarkable.

Could Chimpanzees use money? This study shows that language-trained Chimpanzees can delay gratification in exchange for tokens which could be used for food.

Gorillas use motherese to communicate with infant Gorillas. These are the results of a study in Lowland Gorillas. However this ‘motherese’ is non-vocal. I took some footage of Tiny the Gorillas shortly before he very sadly died. The footage (about 5 minutes long and some of it filmed in slow motion) shows the mother playing with Tiny’s hands.

Could Neanderthals speak? This PLOS One study which includes an analysis of the upper limb and of a Neanderthal specimen suggests right-handedness and is consistent with the asymmetrical handedness associated with language. This follows a previous study looking at asymmetrical markings on teeth which may have resulted from preparing materials.

There is a brief and effective write-up of 3 studies that tell us about recent brain evolution in relation to genetics, epigenetics and wiring. This includes the DUF1220 protein, differences in gene expression in the frontal lobe between humans and Chimpanzees and gene methylation differences between humans and Chimpanzees.

A transfer of technology from one area to another has been suggested for analysing human remains and  may have an application in understanding the evolution of walking.  The software is used in geological analysis and helps researchers to understand if features of a landscape are clustered non-randomly in an area. The proposal suggests that this software can be used to examine the internal structure of bone and to make inferences about the way that bone has developed and the stresses that have been applied to the bone. This is interesting for another reason as there have been other proposals for transferring geographical information system technology to the medical domain. The video below illustrates the potential for application of this technology in public health.

Suggest for Potential Application of Open Source Geographical Information Systems to Public Health

Tool making in Bonobos is covered here. Such discussion has the potential to push back the dates of the early Stone Age if analogies are drawn with our human ancestors.

Languages have their origin in Anatolia, Turkey according to this widely reported study. There are two main theories for language spread. One states that the Proto-IndoEuropean (PIE) language originated in the Steppes of Central Asia and the other that it began with the pastoral peoples in Turkey. This study uses data about the geographical range of language as well as other variables and predicted an origin for PIE in Anatolia which interestingly also fits with evidence for the origins of agriculture. However there is criticism from an opponent of this theory in the link above.

Gibbons were able to modify their vocal calls when given Helium in much the same way as sopranos do in this study.

A 20,000 year gap in the Asian hominid fossil record has been filled thanks to a recent find. In a cave in Laos an early modern human skull was found which researchers have dated to 46,000 years ago. This is the oldest early modern human skull found in the region and helps to clarify the narrative around migration routes.

Researchers have looked at the genomes of the Khoe-San people in Africa and identified evidence of early diversity in the human genome approximately 100,000 years ago. They are making the genome data available. An important set of changes that appeared before humans migrated out of Africa were gene changes associated with the processing of fatty acids which may have contributed to successful adaptation.

Recent research has suggested that mutations in human DNA do not occur as rapidly as previously thought. The revised findings have helped to explain the divergence of hominids in recent times (by evolutionary standards) including the relationship between Homo Heidelbergensis and the Neandertals. However this new calibration throws up new problems further back in time in the divergence of our human lineage with Old World Monkeys for example.

Archaeologists have discovered evidence that Neandertals were actively hunting birds and using their feathers. These inferences were drawn from an observation of the markings on raptor bones located at Neandertals sites and suggests that they may have been used for social purposes. Neandertals are extinct as a distinct species but have passed on their DNA to modern humans through one or more hybridisation events.

A dental filling dating back 6500 years ago made from Beeswax has been located in Slovenia. It would be interesting if that knowledge had been transmitted in culture and has implications for the history of the treatment of illness.

One theory about human evolution suggests that human ancestors have passed through phases of isolation and integration and this may help to explain the rapid evolution of human culture and biology.

Were early Europeans animating cave art? This is an interesting question asked by researchers recently. The idea is that the illusion of movement in cave art can be created by changing the lighting. If this is valid it means that the artists intended for the art to illustrate movement and had an intricate understanding of lighting in artwork. The video below demonstrates this.

Humans were recycling flint tools as long ago as 13,000 years ago, new research suggests.

There is a PLOS One Genetics study on Neanderthals-Human interbreeding. The research team included Professor Svante Pääbo who first sequenced the Neanderthal genome and concluded that between 1 and 4% of DNA in modern human populations is inherited from Neanderthals. Those findings were challenged recently in another study where the researchers suggested that this DNA could have come from the ancestors humans share with Neanderthals (concestors as evolutionist Professor Richard Dawkins would refer to them). However another study in turn challenged that which due to the peculiarities of how papers were being reviewed was written before the paper challenging the findings but in turn challenged the findings from that paper. The latest study further supports the theory that 1-4% of DNA in modern human populations is inherited from Neanderthals.

For this study the researchers looked at data from the 1000 Genomes Project. In this study, the researchers are sequencing the genomes from ethnic peoples from around the world hoping to better understand variation in genomes.  In the PLOS One study, the researchers identified Single Nucleotide Polymorphisms which occurred in Neanderthals and in humans. Single Nucleotide Polymorphisms are essentially single mutations in the human genome. Some of these mutations are linked either because they are close to each other on the same chromosome or for other reasons. The researchers were careful to select SNP’s in humans that occurred with a relatively low frequency. This increased the likelihood that they had originated in the Neanderthal population although other explanations such as genetic drift were also possible.

If SNP’s are linked then with recombination in every generation there is a chance that the linked SNP’s will be separated by the recombination event. The closer they are, the longer it will take for them to be separated. The researchers found that the SNP’s that occurred in humans with low frequency were more likely to have occurred recently than before humans and Neanderthals had diverged. The original divergence must have happened (on the basis of the archaeological and genetic data) over 200,000 years ago. The results did not fit with this ancient population model. Instead they fitted with a more recent admixture or interbreeding event. Indeed by running simulations based on the genetic data from the 1000 Genomes Project and the Neanderthal data they were able to estimate that this admixture occurred between 37,000 and 86,000 years ago. However due to some subtle nuances in the data analysis they were more confident of a lower limit of 47,000 years ago. The researchers also hypothesised about the geographical localisation of the more recent admixture (since fossil evidence of earlier hybridisation has been found at the Skhul and Qafzeh caves.

Professor Chris Stringer and colleagues have concluded that the Sima specimens from Spain are not Homo Heidelbergensis but instead an early form of Homo Neanderthalensis. There is a more detailed explanation here but essentially this interpretation means that Homo Heidelbergensis can now be considered to be the common ancestor of Neanderthals, Homo Sapiens and Denisovans.

Researchers looking at genetic markers have found evidence of a large expansion in the human population between 40,000 and 50,000 years ago. The researchers looked at gene markers in the Y Chromosome.

The results of genome analysis of several species have led one group to suggest that vision began in Jellyfish 700 million years ago.

Jellyfish in Action (Members of the Phylum Cnidaria)

In a paper published in the American Journal of Physical Anthropology researchers found evidence that hybrids of two separate species of Howler Monkey were difficult to distinguish on the basis of physical characteristics alone.

Researchers in this study looked at zebrafish and a Homeobox gene Hoxd13 finding that it could regulate the development of the fin. They hypothesised a specific gain of function which could have led to the later development of hands and feet in the human lineage.

In a paper in the Journal Interface, two researchers are proposing a new definition of life which focuses on the way information is processed.

Researchers have found evidence of zinc in the Earth’s early oceans. Others have assumed that the absence of zinc in the oceans would account for the relatively stable form of Eukaryotes for a prolonged period. This new finding will necessitate alternative explanations for this lengthy period of stability.

The date for the oldest human DNA extracts has been pushed back to 7000 years ago. The research team are working with two skeletons found in the Cantabarian mountains in Spain and will provide useful data for understanding human population genealogies. The oldest cave artwork – engravings of Reindeer in a cave in Wales have been dated to around 14000 years ago. Cave artwork is of interest in understanding the evolution of human cognition. Analysis of what is thought to be a distant human ancestor – Austrolopithecus Sediba suggests their diet included tree bark. Dietary patterns can provide clues about the evolution of the brain as well as the likely cognitive abilities.

Researchers have found evidence of marked fluctuations in the environment in Olduvai Gorge at a critical period in human evolution suggesting that the climate may have played an important role.

A 5000 year old artwork was discovered in Egypt and the cultural significance is discussed.

This fascinating post looks at how mountain gorillas work together to dismantle poaching snares.

There is an interesting discussion of research into the evolution of intelligence in relation to physical exercise here.

Do goats have accents? This study suggests so and this has implications for the biological significance of accents (dialects in comparison would include variations in accent, vocabulary and other features of language).

An organism which ingests DNA from other simple organisms has been discovered.

Primates and resources allocation was examined one study examined in this video.

A paper looking at the evolution of vision 700 million years ago.

Professor Robin Dunbar has published research recently suggesting that the size of the Orbital Prefrontal Cortex is related to the size of a person’s social network. This is part of the Lucy to Language Project where Lucy refers to a very early specimen thought to be related to modern humans (see below). The research involved a small study with 40 people being administered cognitive tasks undergoing structural MRI scans and also estimated the size of their social networks.

Discover Magazine has a piece by evolutionary neurobiologist Dr Mark Changizi on the evolutionary significance of music and language which he writes about in his new book ‘Harnessed: How Language and Music Mimicked Nature and Transformed Ape to Man’. Changizi suggests that music and language resemble naturally occurring phenomenon. Professor Robin Dunbar has also written a book on the evolution of language and music and I have made a brief video illustrating Professor Dunbar’s concepts below.

In a March 2012 Nature paper, researchers have published their findings on an East African partial foot specimen which suggests that 3.5 million years ago there were at least two hominin species that were likely to be capable of walking upright. The researchers don’t have enough evidence to be confident of assigning it to a new species at this stage however it has similarities to Ardipithecus Ramidus. A species which lived in the same region at that time was Austrolopithecus Afarensis. Lucy (see below) is the most well-known example of this latter species. The foot specimen in this new finding has a grasping big toe and loss of the arch of the foot. These two findings suggest that the species was likely to be capable of walking small distances and still be adapted to climbing trees. The development of walking is a significant stage in human evolution as it would facilitate a new behavioural repertoire and would also impact on the size and shape of the female pelvis. This in turn would interact with gestation and childbirth as well as possibly interacting with foetal brain development. However both this specimen and Austrolopithecus Afarensis are not conclusively linked to the lineage of modern humans but the latter species are a likely candidate.

Lucy

Lucy » reconstruction (AL 288-1) Australopithecus Afarensis, cast from Natural History Museum, Washington DC, USA, Wikimedia Commons, author DonMatas, Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported

One important microRNA sequence which differentiates humans from Chimpanzees has recently been identified in a paper published in Nature Communications. miR-941 is thought to be involved in neurotransmitter signallying and is estimated to have evolved from the so-called junk DNA one million years after our lineage diverged from the lineage of Chimpanzees. The researchers have mapped out a detailed pathway for changes in the gene during human evolution and suspect that it has played an important role in our development.

There is an interesting piece on primates interactions with computers across multiple species. There is also an interesting write-up on a comparative neuroscience study (via @MariaPage) in which Macaques and humans underwent functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging to examine brain activity whilst they were watching a clip from the Spaghetti Western ‘The Good, the Bad and the Ugly’. Meanwhile John Hawks finds evidence that the archaic Denisovan hominids expressed the E4 allele of the Apolipoprotein E  gene which is a significant risk factor for Alzheimer’s Disease in humans. John Hawks also does some interesting analysis of data from the 1000 genomes project to characterise the Neanderthal similarity in different populations.

The atypical behaviour of herbivores is covered here.

Early humans had developed advanced tools which may have helped them to hunt prey more effectively. This in turn may have led to the expansion and later success of humans. If so, this would suggest that evolutionary explanations for the successful adaptation of humans over other species may need to look more closely at tool making and tool use.

There is a write-up on the recent 1000 Genomes data release here.

There has been a very interesting find in Serbia. Lots of artifacts from 8000 years ago with lots of symbolism.

New Scientist has a piece on Lowland Gorillas. Researchers have recently identified a modified gestural language used by adults for infants. There is a video example here. Our last common ancestor with Gorillas is estimated to have lived approximately 7 million years ago.

In a very interesting study, one group of researchers looked at the age of Olfactory neurons in adult humans. They used a method normally reserved for archaeological studies – C14 radiocarbon dating and found that the C14 in the sampled Olfactory neurons matched levels in the atmosphere at the time of the person’s birth. This suggested that people were not forming new Olfactory neurons after birth – a finding which surprised the scientists conducting the researcher. There are potential clinical implications. For instance some research shows a correlation between Alzheimer’s Disease, Lewy Body Dementia and the loss of sense of smell – Anosmia although this is complicated by other factors such as smoking which has also been associated with Anosmia in research studies. This research suggests that we would have a limited number of neurons that we then lose without replacement over the lifespan*. For those not familiar with the theory behind Radiocarbon dating, the video below explains this (This is by Mr Paul Andersen, Montana Teacher of the Year 2011. Note the 1950 threshold date in the discussion) and there is also a related discussion in the write-up.

The first settlements in Liverpool dating back to 8000 years ago are covered in this article

John Hawks considers man’s relation to Reindeer and how this might have helped them to survive.

Archaeologists excavating a cave in South Africa have identified the remains of controlled fires dating back to 1 million years ago. Their findings are published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

The likely candidate for producing these fires is Homo Erectus thought to be one of our early ancestors. Fire production enables the cooking of food and there has been one theory of how this might relate to hominid brain development (although this is controversial). Controlled fire production facilitated a number of other behaviours however and was certainly a landmark event. If you look at the behaviours of Chimpanzees and Bonobos as well as many of the other Greater Apes there is a great deal of evidence to suggest that they are intelligent creatures manifesting considerable flexibility in their behavioural and (possibly phenomenological) repertoire. The question that now remains is just how far back along the 6 million year divergence from our Greater Ape cousins did controlled fire production extend?

There is an interesting piece on primates interactions with computers across multiple species. There is also an interesting write-up on a comparative neuroscience study (via @MariaPage) in which Macaques and humans underwent functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging to examine brain activity whilst they were watching a clip from the Spaghetti Western ‘The Good, the Bad and the Ugly’. Meanwhile John Hawks finds evidence that the archaic Denisovan hominids expressed the E4 allele of the Apolipoprotein E  gene which is a significant risk factor for Alzheimer’s Disease in humans. John Hawks also does some interesting analysis of data from the 1000 genomes project to characterise the Neanderthal similarity in different populations.

Agriculture was a significant development in human culture. In contrast with hunter-gatherer communities, agricultural communities could remain in one location and developed many approaches to sustain the communities including animal domestication. The development of agriculture has been interpreted as the basis for civilisation. Agricultural practice was thought to date back 11,000 years when it was used by the Natufian culture. However a recent archaeological discovery suggests that agriculture dates back 19,000 years. An excavation in Jordan reveals a site of just under 2 hectares with evidence of cultural practices seen in the later Natufian culture. This group are thought to be related to the later Natufian culture. The site includes stones with geometric carvings, thousands of stone tools, stone huts as well as elaborate burial practices where in one case a man was buried with a fox.  The implications are that modern civilisation can be causally linked to these people. Questions about the biopsychosocial events needed to form the beginnings of civilisation should be addressed by examining the properties of these peoples and using these findings to inform appropriate models.

Video

This edition of the News Roundup is in Video Format Above

This is the video of the News Roundup – It is just over an hour long

Video of a Post

Video of a Post

Resources

 

PubMed has a YouTube Channel which was started a few years ago. They have 63 videos at the time of writing and its well worth a look for those that use this resource regularly. One of the latest videos is shown below.

The Directory of Open Access Books has just started up.

Here’s a resource for Science News – Alpha Galileo

The top #100 most influential Cognitive science papers from the Cognitive Science Millenium Project

Dementia in Australia: When thinking about how to tackle illnesses its useful to look at how this is done in other countries. This document features estimates of the prevalence of Dementia in Australia as well as the methodology behind it. Its fairly recent – September 2011 (via @dementia_centre).

Dementia in Ireland: There is also a new report on Dementia in Ireland ‘Creating Excellence in Dementia Care’ (via @Atlantic).

Schizophrenia Forum: This is a link to a Schizophrenia Forum that was started in 2004. The Forum has over 250 members and more than 2600 postings at the time of writing.

Beyond the Flynn Effect: This is a very interesting piece by Professor Flynn on the eponymous Flynn Effect in which average IQ scores in the population have increased with time (via @psychmusings). This effect however has levelled off in one country and Professor Flynn suggests that the effect is an artefact of the test rather than a true effect. The argument backed up by data is sophisticated and hinges on performance on test components including the similarities test as well as the pervasiveness of science in education which has facilitated categorisation skills.

Programs for Elderly Documentary Library: There is a video library of documentaries for older adults here (via @helpage).

References

Benjamin C. Campbell, Samuel S.-H. Wang. Familial Linkage between Neuropsychiatric Disorders and Intellectual Interests. PLoS ONE, 2012; 7 (1): e30405 DOI:

Bradley T. Hyman et al. National Institute on Aging–Alzheimer’s Association guidelines for the neuropathologic assessment of Alzheimer’s disease. Alzheimer’s & Dementia: The Journal of the Alzheimer’s Association. Volume 8, Issue 1 , Pages 1-13, January 2012.

Roberts R et al. The incidence of MCI differs by subtype and is higher in men: The Mayo Clinic Study of Aging. Neurology published ahead of print January 25, 2012.

Appendix

News Round-Up 2008-2011

Index: There are indices for the TAWOP site here and here Twitter: You can follow ‘The Amazing World of Psychiatry’ Twitter by clicking on this link. Podcast: You can listen to this post on Odiogo by clicking on this link (there may be a small delay between publishing of the blog article and the availability of the podcast). It is available for a limited period. TAWOP Channel: You can follow the TAWOP Channel on YouTube by clicking on this link. Responses: If you have any comments, you can leave them below or alternatively e-mail justinmarley17@yahoo.co.uk. Disclaimer: 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. The author is not responsible for the contents of any external sites that are linked to in this blog.

61 thoughts on “News Roundup 2012

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