Frontiers in Human Neuroscience
Drinking water can boost cognitive performance
There is evidence that mild dehydration has a negative effect on the brain's performance. Caroline Edmonds and colleagues from the University of East London and the University of Westminster here report that drinking water can improve performance on tasks that require a rapid response, particularly when thirsty. They tested 34 adults, who had not eaten or drunk anything overnight, for memory, attention, learning, and reaction time. Subjects were tested on two mornings: once after they had consumed a cereal bar and water, and once after eaten a cereal bar only. Reaction times were up to 14% shorter after drinking water, especially for those who felt thirsty. Unexpectedly, performance on a complex-rule-learning task became slightly worse after drinking. Future research will have to determine why drinking water can be beneficial for some cognitive tasks, but not for others, say the authors.
Dr Caroline Edmonds
School of Psychology
University of East London, UK
Frontiers in Psychiatry
Differences in brain circuitry make it more difficult for impulsive persons to control their craving for cigarettes
Impulsiveness plays an important role in addiction to drugs. For example, impulsiveness is strongly associated with smoking, in particular with an early onset of smoking and frequent relapses of smokers who try to quit. Furthermore, impulsiveness is known to promote drug craving, a key feature of addiction and one of the best predictors of relapse. In the first study on the neural pathways that underlie the relationship between impulsivity and cigarette craving, Josiane Bourque and colleagues from the University of Montreal, Canada, found that impulsive people (who experienced the most intense cravings in response to images of cigarettes) showed diminished activity in the posterior cingulate cortex of the brain. Bourque and colleagues conclude that a lower activity in this region makes it more difficult for impulsive people to control their cravings for cigarettes and other drugs.
Dr Stéphane Potvin
Centre de recherche de l'Institut Universitaire de Santé Mentale de Montréal &
Department of Psychiatry, Faculty of Medicine, University of Montreal, Canada
Frontiers in Neural Circuits
A mutant strain of zebrafish is an alternative model for Rett syndrome in humans
An important challenge for neuroscientists is to find cures for diseases that affect the central nervous system, such as autism, Alzheimer's, or Parkinson's disease. For this purpose, researchers use several vertebrate species as model organisms. The zebrafish has recently received much attention because it has many advantages over other vertebrate models. For example, development of its nervous system can be followed from its earliest stages in naturally behaving individuals.
Thomas Pietri and colleagues from six institutes in France, Spain, and the USA developed a strain of zebrafish with a nonfunctional mecp2 gene ("methyl CpG binding protein 2", which controls many other genes). In humans, defects in mecp2 cause Rett syndrome, a disease within the family of autism spectrum disorders. Patients with Rett syndrome (mostly girls and women, since mecp2 lies on the X chromosome) often show mental retardation, stereotyped hand movements, seizures, and an increased response to sensory stimuli.
Surprisingly, zebrafish without mecp2 survive and reproduce normally, unlike mice with defective mecp2. But Pietri and colleagues found that the mutation modifies the behavior of zebrafish: mutant embryos respond more to tactile stimulation, while mutant larvae swim less and appear to have a reduced preference for the walls of their tank. Understanding why zebrafish without mecp2 develop only mild symptoms could lead to new directions in the search for treatments of Rett sydrome in humans.
Dr Thomas Pietri
Ecole Normale Supérieure
IBENS Section Neuroscience, France
Frontiers in Cellular and Infection Microbiology
How do tick-borne diseases evade the tick's immune system?
Ticks, blood-sucking arthropods that occur across the world, can transmit viruses, bacteria, and protozoa that threaten the health of their vertebrate hosts. Dangerous diseases transmitted by ticks include Lyme disease, which attacks humans in Europe and the USA and is caused by Borrellia bacteria; babesiosis, caused by the protozoan Babesia (a relative of the malaria parasite) that infects pets, cattle, and sometimes humans; and anaplasmosis, caused by the Anaplasma bacterium, which can have serious effects on cattle. Before such diseases can be transmitted to uninfected hosts, they need to circumvent the tick's immune system and persist in the hostile environment of the tick's body.
Ondrej Hajdusek and colleagues from the Czech Republic and Spain here summarize recent knowledge about the major components of tick immune system and focus on their interaction with the relevant tick-transmitted pathogens. Availability of the tick genomic database and feasibility of functional genomics based on RNA interference greatly contribute to the understanding of molecular and cellular interplay at the tick-pathogen interface and may provide new targets for blocking the transmission of tick pathogens, say the authors.
Dr Petr Kopáček
Institute of Parasitology
Biology Centre, Academy of Science of the Czech Republic
Note to Editors
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Sad music might actually evoke positive emotions reveals a new study by Japanese researchers published in the open-access journal Frontiers in Psychology. The findings help to explain why people enjoy listening to sad music, say Ai Kawakami and colleagues from Tokyo University of the Arts and the RIKEN Brain Science Institute, Japan.
Kawakami and colleagues asked 44 volunteers, including both musicians and non-specialists, to listen to two pieces of sad music and one piece of happy music. Each participant was required to use a set of keywords to rate both their perception of the music and their own emotional state.
The sad pieces of music included Glinka's "La Séparation" in F minor and Blumenfeld's Etude "Sur Mer" in G minor. The happy music piece was Granados's Allegro de Concierto in G major. To control for the "happy" effect of major key, they also played the minor-key pieces in major key, and vice versa.
The researchers explained that sad music evoked contradictory emotions because the participants of the study tended to feel sad music to be more tragic, less romantic, and less blithe than they felt themselves while listening to it.
"In general, sad music induces sadness in listeners, and sadness is regarded as an unpleasant emotion. If sad music actually evokes only unpleasant emotion, we would not listen to it," the researchers wrote in the study.
"Music that is perceived as sad actually induces romantic emotion as well as sad emotion. And people, regardless of their musical training, experience this ambivalent emotion to listen to the sad music," added the researchers.
Also, unlike sadness in daily life, sadness experienced through art actually feels pleasant, possibly because the latter does not pose an actual threat to our safety. This could help people to deal with their negative emotions in daily life, concluded the authors.
"Emotion experienced by music has no direct danger or harm unlike the emotion experienced in everyday life. Therefore, we can even enjoy unpleasant emotion such as sadness. If we suffer from unpleasant emotion evoked through daily life, sad music might be helpful to alleviate negative emotion," they added.
Please cite "Frontiers in Psychology" as the source of publication, and for online articles include a link to the paper, is available on the following URL: http://www.frontiersin.org/Emotion_Science/10.3389/fpsyg.2013.00311/abstract
Title: Sad music induces pleasant emotion
Journal: Frontiers in Psychology
Dr Ai Kawakami
International Press Officer RIKEN
Communications Officer, Frontiers
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The "Frontiers in" series of journals publish around 500 peer-reviewed articles every month, which receive 5 million monthly views and are supported by over 25,000 editors and reviewers around the world.
Frontiers has formed partnerships with international organizations such as the Max Planck Society and the International Union of Immunological Societies (IUIS). For more information, please visit: http://www.frontiersin.org
When people sing in a choir their heart beats are synchronised, so that the pulse of choir members tends to increase and decrease in unison. This has been shown by a study from the Sahlgrenska Academy at University of Gothenburg that examined the health effects for choir members.
In the research project "Kroppens Partitur" (The Body's Musical Score), researchers at the Sahlgrenska Academy are studying how music, in purely biological terms, affects our body and our health. The object is to find new forms where music may be used for medical purposes, primarily within rehabilitation and preventive care.
In the latest study, published in the open-access journal Frontiers in Psychology, the research group is able to show how the musical structure influences the heart rate of choir members.
In December 2012, Björn Vickhoff and his research group brought together fifteen 18-year-olds at Hvitfeltska High School in Gothenburg and arranged for them to perform three different choral exercises: monotone humming, singing the well-known Swedish hymn "Härlig är Jorden" (Lovely is the Earth) as well as the chanting of a slow mantra. The heart rhythm of the choir members was registered as they performed in each case.
The results from the study show that the music's melody and structure has a direct link is linked to the cardiac activity of the individual choir member; to sing in unison has a synchronising effect so that the heart rate of the singers tends to increase and decrease at the same time.
"Singing regulates activity in the so-called vagus nerve which is involved in our emotional life and our communication with others and which, for example, affects our vocal timbre. Songs with long phrases achieve the same effect as breathing exercises in yoga. In other words, through song we can exercise a certain control over mental states," explains Björn Vickhoff, lead author of the study.
Choral singing's positive effects on health and well-being are testified by many, although it has only been studied scientifically to a lesser extent. The researchers' hypothesis is that the health effects arise through singing "imposing" a calm and regular breathing pattern which has a dramatic effect on heart rate variability – something that, in its turn, is assumed to have a favourable effect on health.
"In the case of controlled breathing, the heart rate or pulse decreases when breathing out during exhalation in order to then increase again when breathing in during inhalation. This is due to breathing out Exhalation activates the vagus nerve that lowers the heart rate which slows down the heart. The medical term for this fluctuation in heart rate the connection between breathing and heart rate is RSA and it is more pronounced with young people in good physical condition and not subject to stress. Our hypothesis is that song is a form of regular, controlled breathing, since breathing out exhaling occurs on the song phrases and breathing in inhaling between these," says Björn Vickhoff.
"We already know that choral singing synchronises the singers' muscular movements and neural activities in large parts of the body. Now we also know that this applies to the heart, to a large extent."
The research group now wishes to investigate whether the biological synchronising of the choral singers also creates a shared mental perspective which could be used as a method for strengthening the ability to collaborate.
Wherever acting and singing in unison takes place there is a link Collective acting and singing is often an expression of a collective will, according to Björn Vickhoff. "One need only think of football stadiums, work songs, hymn singing at school, festival processions, religious choirs or military parades. Research shows that synchronised rites contribute to group solidarity. We are now considering testing choral singing as a means of strengthening working relationships in schools," he says.
For online articles, please include a reference and link to the study, which will become available on this active link after the embargo lifts: http://www.frontiersin.org/Auditory_Cognitive_Neuroscience/10.3389/fpsyg.2013.00334/abstract
A video of the researchers performing their experiment is available:
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Title: Music determines heart rate variability of singers
Journal: Frontiers in Psychology
DOI: doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2013.00334
Researcher at the Centre for Brain Repair and Rehabilitation
Sahlgrenska Academy at University of Gothenburg
Musician and Composer in Björn's research team
Interim Head of Communications
Sahlgrenska Academy, University of Gothenburg
Communications Officer, Frontiers
The "Frontiers in" series of journals publish around 500 peer-reviewed articles every month, which receive 5 million monthly views and are supported by over 25,000 editors and reviewers around the world. Frontiers has formed partnerships with international organizations such as the Max Planck Society and the International Union of Immunological Societies (IUIS). For more information, please visit: http://www.frontiersin.org
About The Sahlgrenska Academy
The Sahlgrenska Academy is the faculty of health sciences at the University of Gothenburg. Education and research are conducted within the fields of pharmacy, medicine, odontology and health care sciences.
About 4,000 undergraduate students and 1,200 postgraduate students are enrolled at Sahlgrenska Academy. Around 1,400 people work at the Sahlgrenska Academy. 850 of them are researchers and/or teachers. 2009 Sahlgrenska Academy had a turnover of 2,100 million SEK. For more information, please visit: http://www.sahlgrenska.gu.se/english
A device that trains the brain to turn sounds into images could be used as an alternative to invasive treatment for blind and partially-sighted people, researchers at the University of Bath have found.
The vOICe sensory substitution device is a revolutionary tool that helps blind people to use sounds to build an image in their minds of the things around them.
A research team, led by Dr Michael Proulx, from the University’s Department of Psychology, looked at how blindfolded sighted participants responded to an eye test using the device. They were asked to perform a standard eye chart test called the Snellen Tumbling E test, which asked participants to view the letter E turned in four different directions and in various sizes.
Normal, best-corrected visual acuity is considered 20/20, calculated in terms of the distance (in feet) and the size of the E on the eye chart.
The participants, even without any training in the use of the device, were able to perform the best performance possible, nearly 20/400. This limit appears to be the highest resolution currently possible with the ever-improving technology.
Dr Michael Proulx said: “This level of visual performance exceeds that of the current invasive technique for vision restoration, such as stem cell implants and retinal prostheses after extensive training.
"A recent study found successful vision at a level of 20/800 after the use of stem cells. Although this might improve with time and provide the literal sensation of sight, the affordable and non-invasive nature of The vOICe provides another option.
"Sensory substitution devices are not only an alternative, but might also be best employed in combination with such invasive techniques to train the brain to see again or for the first time."
The findings are reported in the paper "How well do you see what you hear? The acuity of visual-to-auditory sensory substitution," published in the journal Frontiers in Psychology, as part of a Research Topic in Cognitive Science on synaesthesia research.
The research team included the inventor of The vOICe sensory substitution device, Dr Peter Meijer of The Netherlands, and Alastair Haigh and Dave Brown of Queen Mary University of London.
For online articles, please cite "Frontiers in Psychology" as the source and include a link to the paper, is available on the following URL: http://www.frontiersin.org/Cognitive_Science/10.3389/fpsyg.2013.00330/abstract
Title: How well do you see what you hear? The acuity of visual-to-auditory sensory substitution
Journal: Frontiers in Psychology
About University of Bath
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Frontiers in Computational Neuroscience
Large-scale network organisation in the avian forebrain
Birds have been evolving separately from mammals for around 300 million years. So it's hardly surprising that under a microscope, the brain of a bird looks quite different to that of a mammal. Nevertheless, birds have been shown to be remarkably intelligent. They can use tools, make plans, and solve unfamiliar puzzles. How is it that both kinds of brain are capable of these things? A new study published in Frontiers in Computational Neuroscience presents the first large-scale wiring diagram for the brain of a prototypical bird (a pigeon). Using mathematical tools from the theory of networks, a team of researchers show that the way the connections are organised in a pigeon's brain is remarkably similar to the way they are organised in mammals, including cats, monkeys, and humans. In particular, both types of brain can be thought of as comprising a number of modules. And both types of brain contain "hub nodes", which can be thought of as regions with widespread, global connections (like major airports in a transport network). Most remarkably, the major hub nodes in the bird brain have analogous functional roles to those in the mammalian brain, and in both animals they include the most important regions for high-level cognition.
Prof. Murray Shanahan
Department of Computing
Imperial College London, UK
Frontiers in Microbiology
Toxoplasma gondii inhibits mast cell degranulation by suppressing phospholipase Cy-mediated Ca2+ mobilization
An estimated one-third of people around the world are infected by the parasite Toxoplasma gondii, a distant relative of the malaria parasite, although normally only persons with a weakened immune response show any symptoms. But how does T. gondii subvert immune defenses, enabling it to survive inside cells of its bird and mammal hosts? With new methods for the real-time imaging of single cells, David Holowka and his team from Cornell University, USA, obtained results that help to explain this trick: when T. gondii is about to enter a host cell, it releases a factor that dampens a key signal within the host's white blood cells, namely the release of calcium from within-cell stores into the cytoplasm, necessary to relay the message that an invader has been detected outside the cell. Holowka and colleagues suggest that T. gondii could use the same mechanism to suppress other immune responses, for example the production of cytokines, signaling molecules that promote inflammation.
Dr. David Holowka
Department of Chemistry and Chemical Biology
Cornell University, USA
Frontiers in Plant Science
Plant growth in Arabidopsis is assisted by compost soil-derived microbial communities
Plant growth has been doubled by adding soil microbes. Plants and soil microbes are constantly interacting in natural and agricultural environments and many examples of one-to-one interactions have been studied. However, the effect of mixed microbial populations on the growth and gene expression of plants still remained largely unknown. This study evaluated the growth of leaves and roots of the model plant Arabidopsis thaliana in the presence or absence (i.e. in sterilized soil) of microbes extracted from compost soil. Surprisingly, leaf growth was doubled in the presence of microbes. Chemical analyses and high-throughput analysis of gene expression within plant tissues and soil surrounding roots revealed that the added microorganisms facilitated iron acquisition by plants. Soil microbes also affected other plant processes, including acquisition of nitrogen, production of free radicals, and defense against diseases. In conclusion, this study showed the main underlying processes occurring in plants during interactions with soil microbial populations and emphasized the important role of soil microbes for plant growth.
Prof. Peer Schenk
School of Agriculture and Food Sciences
University of Queensland
Frontiers in Neuroscience
Dopamine imbalance in Huntington's disease: a mechanism for the lack of behavioral flexibility
Huntington's disease is a hereditary neurodegenerative disease that is caused by a mutation in the human huntingtin gene. It is characterized by uncontrollable dance-like movements (chorea) in the early stages of the disease and loss of voluntary movement (behavioral inflexibility) in the later stages. Huntington's disease leads to massive cell death in the striatum, a part of the brain involved in voluntary motor movement, as well as to degenerative changes in the brain's cortex. Since many cells in the striatum use dopamine as a chemical signal for communication, changes in dopamine neurotransmission may hinder cell-to-cell communication in the brain, which leads to dysfunction and ultimately cell death. In this article, researchers discuss the function of dopamine in the striatum as affected during Huntington's disease. Based on studies of human patients and genetically modified mice, they show that changes in dopamine function could contribute to some of the symptoms of Huntington's disease. Specifically, they propose that increases in dopamine levels may be involved in the initial onset of chorea whereas decreases in dopamine are part of the late-stage symptoms of this disease. According to the researchers, effective treatments for Huntington's disease should be tailored to these time-dependent changes in dopamine levels.
Dr. Michael S. Levine
Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities Research Center, Semel Institute for Neuroscience and Human Behavior, and the Brain Research Institute
University of California, USA
Frontiers in Plant Science
Electrical signalling along the phloem and its physiological responses in the maize leaf
Electrical phenomena in plants have attracted scientists since the eighteenth century. Similar to animal cells, also plant cells possess the ability to become excited under the influence of certain environmental factors and to generate rapid electrical signals propagating over long distances. The reason why plants have developed pathways for fast signal transmission presumably lies in the necessity to rapidly respond to environmental stress factors. Jörg Fromm and colleagues from the University of Hamburg here show that maize plants generate electrical signals in the phloem, that is, the inner layer of the bark, after cold shock as well as wounding of a leaf tip. Interestingly, the signal induced by cold shock travels rapidly with up to 3 cm per second towards the middle of the leaf to reduce assimilate transport within the phloem and the neighbouring leaf cells, and to trigger the synthesis of carbohydrates like starch and callose. In contrast, wound-induced signals have a different shape, a speed of only 0.5 cm per second, and do not inhibit assimilate translocation but reduce photosynthesis and the amount of almost all metabolites in the leaf. Fromm and colleagues conclude that different environmental factors such as cold shock and wounding incite characteristic electrical signals, each with a specific influence on photosynthesis, assimilate transport and biochemistry.
Prof. Jörg Fromm
Institute for Wood Biology
University of Hamburg, Germany
Frontiers in Microbiology
Nitrate ammonification by Nautilia profundicola AmH: experimental evidence consistent with a free hydroxylamine intermediate
Many microbes use nitrate in the environment for growth. Nitrate can be converted to ammonium and used in molecules such as proteins, or used as a terminal electron acceptor to make energy. A new report in Frontiers in Microbiology sheds light on how the deep-sea hydrothermal vent bacterium Nautilia profundicola strain AmH carries out these functions. Normally, genes encoding the enzymes required for nitrate reduction to ammonium are easily recognized in complete genome sequences. The genome of N. profundicola does not encode any recognizable nitrite reductases, enzymes that are necessary for the second step in the reduction of nitrate to ammonium. Three research groups from the USA predicted and then experimentally tested a new pathway for nitrate reduction to ammonium. The novel aspect of this pathway is that hydroxylamine, a potent mutagen, appears to be a free intermediate between nitrite and ammonium. The key module in the pathway is a quinone-reactive protein coupled to a hydroxylamine dehydrogenase enzyme that works in reverse. Hydroxylamine dehydrogenase shares ancestry with certain nitrite reductases and the nitrite-reducing type may represent an evolutionary precursor of the variants that oxidize hydroxylamine to nitrite. This enzyme complex is also found in other ε-proteobacteria, including some pathogenic Campylobacteria.
Prof. Barbara Campbell
Department of Biological Sciences
Clemson University, USA
Plants that emit an airborne distress signal in response to herbivory may actually attract more enemies, according to a new study published in the open-access journal Frontiers in Plant Science.
A team of researchers from Switzerland found that the odor released by maize plants under attack by insects attract not only parasitic wasps, which prey on herbivorous insects, but also caterpillars of the Egyptian cotton leafworm moth Spodoptera littoralis, a species that feeds on maize leaves.
When damaged, many plants release hydrocarbons called volatile organic compounds, similar to the compounds that cause the characteristic smell of freshly cut grass. These volatile organic compounds are known to be attractive to parasitoid wasps that lay their eggs inside other insects, killing them. Plants appear to use this strategy to fight back against herbivorous insects by calling for their enemies' enemies. In contrast, herbivorous insects tend to avoid the herbivore-induced volatile organic compounds.
"Adult moths and butterflies avoid food plants that are under attack by conspecifics. This seems adaptive, because it reduces both competition and the risk of predation by parasitoids. But we found that S. littoralis caterpillars are actually attracted to the odor of damaged maize plants, even when this odor is mimicked in the laboratory with a mix of synthetic compounds," said Prof. Ted Turlings, an author of the study and head of the Laboratory for Fundamental and Applied Research in Chemical Ecology Institute of Biology at the University of Neuchâtel, Switzerland.
To determine what kind of odors the caterpillars preferred, the researchers let the caterpillars chose among several odors by placing them in an olfactometer, a device consisting of four tubes connected to a central chamber, with each tube introducing an airflow carrying a different odor. The caterpillars were more than twice as likely to crawl towards the odor from maize plants under attack by conspecifics than towards undamaged plants, especially if the damage was recent and the caterpillars had already fed on maize.
So what might be the advantage to the caterpillars of moving towards plants that are already infested? "When S. littoralis caterpillars drop from a plant they are highly vulnerable to predators and pathogens in the soil, as well as to starvation. The advantage seems to be that fallen caterpillars can quickly rediscover the plant on which they fed. The caterpillars feed less and move more when exposed to high concentrations of the volatiles. By moving away from freshly damaged sites, they can minimize risk of predation and avoid competition," explained Prof. Turling.
Turlings and colleagues propose that hungry S. littoralis caterpillars do the best of a bad job by moving towards volatile organic compounds released by damaged maize plants. On these plants the competition may be more intense, but at least the caterpillars are assured of a suitable plant. Adult moths, on the other hand, are much more mobile and take little risk exploring the environment to discover the best food source -- so they avoid maize that is already under attack.
Title: Herbivore-induced maize leaf volatiles affect attraction and feeding behaviour of Spodoptera littoralis caterpillars
Journal: Frontiers in Plant Science
DOI: doi: 10.3389/fpls.2013.00209
For online articles, please include a link to the study: http://www.frontiersin.org/Plant-Microbe_Interaction/10.3389/fpls.2013.00209/abstract
Prof. Ted Turlings
Laboratory for Fundamental and Applied Research in Chemical Ecology
Institute of Biology
University of Neuchâtel
Frontiers in Microbiology
The genome of the endophytic bacterium H. frisingense GSF30T identifies diverse strategies in the Herbaspirillum genus to interact with plants
Microbes whose habitat is inside other organisms, such as so-called "endophytic" bacteria that live inside plants, have evolved genes that enable them to overcome their host's defensive mechanisms. But once they have entered the host tissue, such microbes may actually benefit their host, for example, by activating genes that capture atmospheric nitrogen and turn it into natural fertilizer to promote plant growth. Daniel Straub and colleagues from the University of Hohenheim and the Helmholtz Zentrum München, Germany, found that the genomic "toolbox" of the endophytic bacterium H. frisingense, which lives inside grasses, is very different from the toolbox of its closest relatives: unlike other Herbaspirillum species, H. frisingense can fix atmospheric nitrogen to benefits its host, and also uses very different molecular pathways and metabolic modules to enter and survive in host cells. These results can help to identity endophytic bacteria that can be added to soil to improve the yield of crops, without posing a risk to human health or to the environment.
Dr. Daniel Straub
Crop Science Institute,
University of Hohenheim, Germany
Frontiers in Neuroscience
Flying fruit flies correct for visual sideslip depending on relative speed of forward optic flow
Flies are spectacular in flight, executing precise maneuvers at high speed. But because they are small, they are easily blown off course, and must correct their heading using tiny brains with limited neural resources. When moving forward, images of distant objects travel across the retina more slowly than nearby ones. This geometrical effect, called motion parallax, informs us if we run through the forest that the hovering moon is far off, and that the tree branches whizzing by are near and must be dodged. To determine if flies use motion parallax for corrective flight maneuvers, Stephanie Cabrera and Jamie Theobald, of Florida International University, used a cube with images on the sides to simulate three dimensional forward flight for a fruitfly that was held in place in the cube's center. They found that fruitflies responded more strongly to images that, by virtue of speed, appeared closer. But the crucial variable wasn't absolute speed; it was that some images moved faster than others. These results suggest that tiny fly brains use geometrical clues to identify the closest objects during flight.
Prof. Jamie Theobald
Department of Biological Sciences
Florida International University, USA
Frontiers in Human Neuroscience
Clustering the lexicon in the brain: a meta‑analysis of the neurofunctional evidence on noun and verb processing
Virtually every known human language features two different classes of words, one for "calling" things – like dogs, clouds, or rumours – and one for saying something about how they are or what they do – dogs bark, clouds are coming, rumours spread. These classes are called nouns and verbs in Western languages, and sits at the very heart of human communication. It was widely believed that separate areas in the brain subserve the production and comprehension of nouns and verbs, based on the outcome of individual studies using functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (fMRI). Davide Crepaldi, Manuela Berlingeri and colleagues from the University of Milan Bicocca and the University of Milan have put together the evidence coming from those individual studies through a hierarchical clustering technique, and have found that, once results from different experiments are considered as a whole, evidence shows instead that the brain areas deputed to nouns and verbs are mostly overlapping, and the difference in the neural circuitries deputed to either grammatical class scale down to spatial and temporal resolutions that are far out of the grasp of current brain-snapshot techniques. According to the researchers, these results impact deeply on how functional specialization of individual brain areas is currently conceived.
Dr. Davide Crepaldi
Department of Psychology
University of Milano-Bicocca, Italy
Frontiers in Oncology
A double-edged sword: how oncogenes and tumor suppressor genes can contribute to chromosomal instability
Cells rely on an intricate network of signaling pathways to govern a number of processes ranging from tissue repair to programmed cell death. De-regulation of signaling pathways is a hallmark of cancer and responsible for driving tumor formation. Aneuploidy, defined as an abnormal chromosome number, is a distinct feature commonly observed in most solid tumors that arises from errors in cell division during mitosis. While some tumors maintain a stably aneuploid genome, many cancer cells persistently mis-segregate their chromosomes during mitosis, a phenomenon known as chromosomal instability (CIN). CIN is thought to drive the genomic re-shuffling that enables cells to acquire new phenotypes such as drug resistance and is intimately associated with loss of mitotic fidelity. Emerging data show that CIN and de-regulated cell signaling pathways are closely interrelated suggesting the roles that signaling pathways play in the accuracy of mitosis may be underappreciated. These results imply that the induction of CIN can no longer be thought of as a separate event from the cancer-associated driver mutations found in cell signaling pathways. In the context of tumorigenesis this may turn out to be a double-edged sword that combines de-regulated cell cycle progression with the disruption of mitosis to generate the highly complex genomic rearrangements typical of solid tumors. These results change the way we think about how to intervene therapeutically in cancer patients and provide insights on the molecular targets that may contribute significantly to improve patient prognosis.
Prof. Duane A. Compton
Department of Biochemistry
Geisel School of Medicine at Dartmouth, USA
Frontiers in Human Neuroscience
Agency matters! Social preferences in the three-person ultimatum game
The young field of "neureconomics" has shown that humans have a well-developed, innate sense of justice, presumably due to our evolutionary history as social animals. Johanna Alexopoulos and colleagues from the Medical University of Vienna, Austria, here show that two key variables determine whether we feel that a reward has been fairly distributed: how much we received compared to our peers, and how much influence we had over the distribution. Volunteers who were allowed to determine how a small monetary reward should be distributed exhibited community-level thinking: they felt rewarded themselves as long as either they or their peers received a reasonable sum of money, even if some received more than others. In contrast, people without influence over the distribution only cared about fairness towards themselves, and felt rewarded when influential peers were "punished" by receiving less than others. The researchers conclude that the way we feel about others and our perception of injustice both depend on how much power we have.
Department of Psychoanalysis and Psychotherapy
Medical University of Vienna, Austria
Frontiers in Immunology
Control of uterine microenvironment by Foxp3+ cells facilitates embryo implantation
With methods ranging from ceremonies in honor of fertility gods to in vitro fertilization, humans have always tried to promote a successful pregnancy. Implantation, the moment when an embryo inserts into the lining of the uterus, marks the start of a prolonged physiological relationship between mother and offspring. This relationship is critically dependent on the correct balance between inflammatory and anti-inflammatory responses by the mother. Together with the German Cancer Research Center in Heidelberg and two Portuguese institutions, Ana Zenclussen and colleagues from the Otto von Guericke University in Magdeburg here report that so-called regulatory T cells, a type of cells responsible for maintaining immune tolerance and avoiding autoimmunity, are critical for successful implantation. Female mice without regulatory T cells showed impaired implantations with infiltration of inflammatory cells into the uterine lining, resulting in inflammation. Without regulatory T cells, the uterus thus becomes a hostile environment for the fetus. These results may in due course help to overcome infertility in humans, the study concludes.
Ana C. Zenclussen
Department of Experimental Obstetrics and Gynecology
Otto von Guericke University, Germany
Frontiers in Psychology
Speech versus singing: Infants choose happier sounds
Mothers around the world regulate the emotions of their babies by body contact and by talking and singing to them. Mariève Corbeil and colleagues at the University of Montreal, Canada, asked whether babies prefer to listen to speech, a type of sound with obvious social significance, or to song, a type of sound that is universally attractive but whose social significance remains unclear. When babies between 4 and 13 were given the choice between listening to speech and song in an unfamiliar language, they listened longer to the stimulus that sounded happier, irrespective of whether this was speech or song. For example, infants listened equally long to joyfully spoken and sung versions of a Turkish children's song, but they listened longer when the lyrics of the song were sung joyfully than when spoken in an emotionally neutral manner.
International Laboratory for Brain, Music and Sound Research (BRAMS)
University of Montreal
Lumosity, the leading brain training company, today announced a new web-based, big data methodology for conducting human cognitive performance research. Lumosity’s research platform, the Human Cognition Project, contains the world’s largest and continuously growing dataset of human cognitive performance, which currently includes more than 40 million people who have been tracked for up to 6 years. The study, published today in the open-access journal Frontiers in Neuroscience, examined how Lumosity’s dataset can provide insights into the lifestyle correlates of cognitive performance and the impact of age on learning rate.y
Human cognitive performance research is typically conducted through experiments in the laboratory, with small numbers of participants – often limited to university undergraduates – and requiring in-laboratory follow-ups. This approach limits the kinds of questions that can be studied, the number and demographics of participants, and can be time-consuming and costly.
“New technologies and research platforms have the potential to transform the speed, scale, efficiency and range of topics in which neuroscience research is conducted,” said P. Murali Doraiswamy, Professor of Psychiatry at Duke University Medical Center and member of the Duke Institute for Brain Sciences, and co-author of the study. “This study is interesting because it brings to light the possibilities of what we can uncover by taking a big data approach to cognitive performance research.”
The study presented two examples of research that can be conducted using Lumosity’s dataset. Using survey results and a subset of the dataset tied to baseline performance on three cognitive exercises, the first study examined the effects of sleep and alcohol consumption on cognitive abilities, including speed (N = 162,462), memory (N = 161,717), and flexibility (N = 127,048). The study found that cognitive performance in all three tasks was most efficient, on average, for users reporting seven hours of sleep each night. The study also found that low to moderate alcohol intake – a self-reported one or two drinks per day – was associated with better performance in all three tasks, with brain performance scores decreasing steadily with every additional drink.
The second study examined how learning ability changes over the lifespan and how aging might affect learning across distinct cognitive abilities. The study included adults ages 18-74, and looked at how age influences improvement over the course of the first 25 sessions of a cognitive task. Tasks that rely on fluid intelligence, which contribute to learning, problem solving, and the ability to adapt to novel challenges such as working memory (N = 22,718) and spatial memory tasks (N = 23,109), were compared to tasks that rely on crystallized knowledge, which draws on accumulated knowledge and skills from your life experience such as verbal fluency (N = 107,478) and basic arithmetic (N = 41,338). The study found that the amount of improvement decreased as age increased, and that performance on tasks that rely on fluid intelligence decreased with age at a faster rate than the tasks that rely on crystallized intelligence. This finding supports the notion that, although raw cognitive performance peaks in young adulthood, the lifelong accumulation of knowledge compensates such that older adults can still perform at a high level.
“The goal of the Human Cognition Project is to rapidly and efficiently advance our understanding of brain,” said Daniel Sternberg, Ph.D, Data Scientist at Lumosity and lead author of the study. “We’re excited for the potential that big data holds for conducting large-scale, collaborative, global research on human cognition. We’re particularly interested in applying the knowledge we gain from this research in real-world settings where they can help people live better, fuller lives.”
The Human Cognition Project works with researchers worldwide to study human cognitive performance. The technology supports both experimental research, where independent researchers design and conduct studies on the effects of computerized cognitive training, and observational research, where collaborators explore data from Lumosity’s continuously growing database. Researchers interested in exploringLumosity’s de-identified dataset can submit research proposals at http://hcp.lumosity.com/get_involved/researcher.
For online articles, please include a reference to the source (Frontiers in Neuroscience) and link to the study, which will be freely available to read on the following active URL when the embargo lifts: http://www.frontiersin.org/Human_Neuroscience/10.3389/fnhum.2013.00292/abstract
Lumosity is committed to pioneering the understanding and enhancement of the human brain to give each person the power to unlock their full potential. Lumosity's online and mobile programs train core cognitive abilities such as memory and attention. Launched in 2007, Lumosity now has more than 40 games, 40 million members, and paying subscribers from 180 countries. Lumosity’s games are based on the latest discoveries in neuroscience, with continuing independent third-party studies being conducted by researchers at Harvard, Stanford, and other academic institutions. Lumosity is available at Lumosity.com and on the iPhone. Lumosity is headquartered in San Francisco, California. For more information, please visit www.lumosity.com
Frontiers, a partner of Nature Publishing Group, is a community driven scholarly open-access publisher and research networking platform. Based in Switzerland, and formed by scientists in 2007, Frontiers is one of the largest and fastest growing publishers and its mission is to empower all academic communities to drive research publishing and communication into the 21st century with a whole ecosystem of open science tools.
The "Frontiers in" series of journals publish around 500 peer-reviewed articles every month, which receive 5 million monthly views and are supported by over 25,000 editors and reviewers. Frontiers has formed partnerships with international organizations, such as, the Max Planck Society and the International Union of Immunological Societies (IUIS). For more information, please visit: http://www.frontiersin.org
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Frontiers in Microbiology
Insights into fungal communities in composts revealed by 454-pyrosequencing: Implications for human health and safety
Composting is a process for converting waste into materials beneficial for plant growth through the action of microbes, especially of fungi which can break down large molecules. But fungi involved in composting are not always harmless. Vidya De Gannes and colleagues show that composts can contain more fungi that are potentially harmful to humans than was previously realized. Using intensive DNA-sequencing to analyze fungal communities in three different composts of tropical agricultural plant waste, the authors found many fungal species not previously known to occur in composts. These include 15 species of opportunistic pathogens that can cause a variety of diseases, especially in people whose immune system has been weakened. Intensive DNA-sequencing can therefore serve as a "sentinel" technology to identify a potential health risk, conclude the authors.
Prof. William Hickey
O.N. Allen Laboratory for Soil Microbiology, Department of Soil Science
University of Wisconsin-Madison, USA
Ms. Vidya de Gannes
Department of Food Production
University of the West Indies, St. Augustine, Trinidad and Tobago
Frontiers in Oncology
The role of microRNAs in the tumorigenesis of ovarian cancer
Despite intensive research on epithelial ovarian cancer over the last decade, there is still an urgent need to develop new genetic markers and treatments to detect, treat and cure the disease. It was recently discovered that so-called microRNAs, short RNA molecules that are not translated into protein, play a major role in the origin and the progression of ovarian cancer. Carlo Croce and Gianpiero Di Leva from the Ohio State University here review the most recent evidence on this subject. After discussing the essentials of microRNA activity in human cancer, the authors show that the measurement of the expression profile of microRNAs within the ovary can be used to identify neoplastic tissues, to distinguish between subtypes of ovarian cancers, and to predict the response to chemotherapy. Croce and di Leva conclude that microRNAs are a powerful avenue for the detection and diagnosis of ovarian cancer.
Dr. Carlo Croce and Dr. Gianpiero Di Leva
Department of Molecular Virology, Immunology and Medical Genetics
Ohio State University, USA
Email: firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com
Frontiers in Neuroscience
On the nature of extraversion: variation in conditioned contextual
activation of dopamine-facilitated affective, cognitive, and motor processes
The difference between extroverts and introverts comes down to a person's sensitivity to the neurotransmitter dopamine in the brain. When we encounter "rewards", dopamine activates positive emotions, such as, euphoria and elation, and motivational feelings like desire and craving. Richard Depue and Yu Fu from Cornell University, USA, here explain why extroverts consistently seek out rewarding environments: in extroverts, dopamine has a stronger capacity to promote the formation of mental associations between environmental stimuli and rewards. Over four consecutive days, Depue and Yu gave methylphenidate, a drug that activates dopamine, to volunteers to increase their perception of subjective reward. They found that extroverts more readily associated stimuli with reward, as shown by an increase of those motor, affective, and cognitive processes that are regulated by dopamine. These results suggest that extraversion is associated with individual variation in the capacity to encode rewarding stimuli in memory.
Prof. Richard A. Depue
Department of Human development
Cornell University, USA
Also of interest, published in Frontiers in Microbiology:
Epidemiology of criniviruses, an emerging problem in world agriculture
The genus Crinivirus includes the whitefly-transmitted members of the family Closteroviridae. Criniviruses emerged as major agricultural threats at the end of the twentieth century with the establishment and naturalization of their whitefly vectors, members of the genera Trialeurodes and Bemisia, in temperate climates around the globe. These viruses are responsible for diseases that lead to losses measured in the billions of dollars annually, many through single infections; whereas other criniviruses remain asymptomatic alone but interact with other viruses during mixed infections that cause disease. This article discusses the emerging significance of criniviruses to global production agriculture, and provides a detailed review on each member of the genus Crinivirus, addressing factors influencing virus epidemiology, disease etiology, transmission by whiteflies, and the role of mixed virus infections in disease severity.
Dr. William M. Wintermantle
Agricultural Research Service
United States Department of Agriculture, USA
Frontiers in Neuroscience
Immune regulation of ovarian development: programming by neonatal immune challenge
Bacterial infections during early life, such as Chlamydia which is present in 15% of newly born babies, may reduce reproductive success in adult women. For example, exposure to bacteria can cause a delay in the onset of puberty and changes in ovarian morphology and sexual behavior. Luba Sominsky and colleagues from the University of Newcastle, Australia, here show that when infant rats are injected with lipopolysaccharide molecules that are normally found on the exterior of bacteria, the expression of genes in their ovaries changes, especially for genes implicated in immune-mediated inflammatory disease such as arthritis and inflammatory bowel disease. Sominsky et al. propose that during early development, immune factors are major regulators of ovarian development, so that an immune imbalance in infant girls interferes with the formation of follicles in their ovaries, reducing their fertility later in life. This link between adult fertility to childhood infections may help explain the ongoing trend for declining fertility in young women worldwide.
School of Psychology
University of Newcastle, Australia
Frontiers in Microbiology
Metagenome reveals potential microbial degradation of hydrocarbon coupled with sulfate reduction in an oil-immersed chimney from Guaymas Basin
"Extremophiles" are organisms that thrive in extreme environments where other species cannot survive. Ying He and colleagues from Shanghai Jiao Tong University, China, found numerous extremophiles, particularly thermophilic sulfate-reducing archaea and bacteria, in a hydrothermal vent chimney from the Guaymas Basin in the Gulf of California. Unlike hydrothermal vents in the mid-Atlantic and mid-Pacific, the Guaymas Basin is rich in organic material derived from the ocean surface; its unique microbial community reflects this, being rich in species that derive energy from hard-to-degrade hydrocarbons like cellulose, toluene, ethylbenzene and xylene. This study shows that deep-sea microbial communities play an essential role in the Earth's carbon cycle, breaking down complex molecules that cannot be utilized by most organisms.
Prof Fengping Wan
State Key Laboratory of Microbial Metabolism
School of Life Sciences and Biotechnology
Shanghai Jiao Tong University, China
Frontiers in Plant Science
Gomphrena claussenii, the first South American metallophyte species with indicator-like Zn and Cd accumulation and extreme metal tolerance
Contamination of soils with heavy metals is a major environmental problem worldwide. A powerful method for cleaning up soils is to grow "metallophytes", that is, plants with an extreme tolerance for heavy metals in contaminated areas. Because metallophytes render metals harmless by sequestering them in their tissue, metals can be removed from the soil by harvesting the fully grown plants. Mina Villafort and colleagues from Wageningen, the Netherlands, and Lavras, Brazil, here present the first known case of a metallophyte from South America: Gomphrena claussenii, a weed that thrives in heavily contaminated soils in the neighborhood of Vazante, a mining town in Brazil, where levels of zinc and the carcinogen cadmium are so high that other plants cannot survive. Since G. claussenii grows quickly and accumulates high levels (0.1 to 1% of dry mass) of cadmium and zinc in shoots, it is an excellent candidate for use in soil remediation, conclude the authors.
Dr Mark G.M. Aarts
Laboratory of Genetics
Wageningen University, The Netherlands
Dr Luiz R.G. Guilherme
Soil Science Department
Federal University of Lavras, Brazil
Psychologists who analyzed video footage of a female chimpanzee, a female bonobo and a female human infant in a study to compare different types of gestures at comparable stages of communicative development found remarkable similarities among the three species.
This is the first time such data have been used to compare the development of gestures across species. The chimpanzee and bonobo, formerly called the "pygmy chimpanzee," are the two species most closely related to humans in the evolutionary tree.
"The similarity in the form and function of the gestures in a human infant, a baby chimpanzee and a baby bonobo was remarkable," said Patricia Greenfield, a Distinguished Professor of Psychology at UCLA and co-author of the study, published in the open-access journal Frontiers in Psychology.
Gestures made by all three species included reaching, pointing with fingers or the head, and raising the arms to ask to be picked up. The researchers called "striking" the finding that the gestures of all three species were "predominantly communicative," Greenfield said.
To be classified as communicative, a gesture had to include eye contact with the conversational partner, be accompanied by vocalization (non-speech sounds) or include a visible behavioral effort to elicit a response. The same standard was used for all three species. For all three, gestures were usually accompanied by one or more behavioral signs of an intention to communicate.
Charles Darwin showed in his 1872 book "The Expression of the Emotions in Man and Animals" that the same facial expressions and basic gestures occur in human populations worldwide, implying that these traits are innate. Greenfield and her colleagues have taken Darwin's conclusions a step further, providing new evidence that the origins of language can be found in gestures and new insights into the co-evolution of gestures and speech.
The apes included in the study were named Panpanzee, a female chimpanzee (Pan troglodytes), and Panbanisha, a female bonobo (Pan paniscus). They were raised together at the Language Research Center in Atlanta, which is co-directed by Sue Savage-Rumbaugh, a co-author of the study. There, the apes learned to communicate with caregivers using gestures, vocalizations and visual symbols (mainly geometric shapes) called lexigrams.
"Lexigrams were learned, as human language is, during meaningful social interactions, not from behavioral training," said the study's lead author, Kristen Gillespie-Lynch, an Assistant Professor of Psychology at the City University of New York and a former UCLA graduate student in Greenfield's laboratory.
The human girl grew up in her parents' home, along with her older brother. Where the apes' symbols were visual, the girl's symbols took the form of spoken words. Video analysis for her began at 11 months of age and continued until she was 18 months old; video analysis for the two apes began at 12 months of age and continued until they were 26 months old. An hour of video was analyzed each month for the girl, the chimpanzee and the bonobo.
Overall, the findings support the "gestures first" theory of the evolution of language. During the first half of the study, communicating with gestures was dominant in all three species. During the second half, all three species increased their symbol production — words for the child and lexigrams for the apes.
"Gesture appeared to help all three species develop symbolic skills when they were raised in environments rich in language and communication," said Gillespie-Lynch, who conducted the research while she was at UCLA. This pattern, she said, suggests that gesture plays a role in the evolution, as well as the development, of language.
At the beginning stage of communication development, gesture was the primary mode of communication for human infant, baby chimpanzee and baby bonobo. The child progressed much more rapidly in the development of symbols. Words began to dominate her communication in the second half of the study, while the two apes continued to rely predominantly on gesture.
"This was the first indication of a distinctive human pathway to language," Greenfield said.
All three species increased their use of symbols, as opposed to gestures, as they grew older, but this change was far more pronounced for the human child. The child's transition from gesture to symbol could be a developmental model of the evolutionary pathway to human language and thus evidence for the "gestural origins of human language," Greenfield said.
While gesture may be the first step in language evolution, the psychologists also found evidence that the evolutionary pathway from gesture to human language included the "co-evolution of gestural and vocal communication." Most of the child's gestures were accompanied by vocalization (non-language sounds); the apes' gestures rarely were.
"This finding suggests that the ability to combine gesture and vocalization may have been important for the evolution of language," Greenfield said.
The researchers conclude that humans inherited a language of gestures and a latent capacity for learning symbolic language from the last ancestor we share with our chimpanzee and bonobo relatives — an ancestor that lived approximately 6 million years ago.
The evolution of human language built on capacities that were already present in the common ancestor of the three species, the psychologists report.
"Our cross-species comparison provides insights into the communicative potential of our common ancestor," Gillespie-Lynch said.
Note to editors: Color images of child and ape gestures from the video are available within the research paper. The article is available on request.
For online articles, please cite "Frontiers in Psychology" as the source and include a link to the paper, which will become available on the following active URL after the embargo lifts: http://www.frontiersin.org/Comparative_Psychology/10.3389/fpsyg.2013.00160/abstract
Frontiers, a partner of Nature Publishing Group, is a scholarly open access publisher and research networking platform. Based in Switzerland, and formed by scientists in 2007, it is one of the largest and fastest growing publishers and its mission is to empower all academic communities to drive research publishing and communication into the 21st century with open science tools.
The "Frontiers in" series of journals publish around 500 peer-reviewed articles every month, which receive 5 million monthly views and are supported by over 25,000 editors and reviewers. Frontiers has formed partnerships with international organizations, such as, the Max Planck Society and the International Union of Immunological Societies (IUIS). For more information, please visit: http://www.frontiersin.org.
UCLA is California's largest university, with an enrollment of more than 40,000 undergraduate and graduate students. The UCLA College of Letters and Science and the university's 11 professional schools feature renowned faculty and offer 337 degree programs and majors. UCLA is a national and international leader in the breadth and quality of its academic, research, health care, cultural, continuing education and athletic programs. Six alumni and six faculty have been awarded the Nobel Prize. For more information, please visit: http://www.ucla.edu
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Frontiers in Psychology
When language switching has no apparent cost: Lexical access in sentence context
Bilinguals have the remarkable ability to switch from one language to the other. In a new study, Jason Gullifer and colleagues from Pennsylvania State University, USA, looked at whether language switching incurs a processing cost. They show that the mind has little difficulty in preventing such mix-ups between languages. When 26 North American Latino people were asked to read aloud an underlined word within a text that mixed English and Spanish, they did not think longer or make more mistakes than when the text was in a single language. Gullifer et al. conclude that voluntary language switching is a natural feature of bilingualism that requires little additional processing time by the mind.
Department of Psychology
Pennsylvania State University, USA
Phone: +1 9782738062
Frontiers in Microbiology
Contrasting genomic properties of free-living and particle-attached microbial assemblages within a coastal ecosystem
In terms of environmental and economic impact, the Columbia River is the most important river in the US Pacific Northwest. To characterize the microbial diversity within its estuary, Holly M. Simon and colleagues from Oregon Health & Science University's Center for Coastal Margin Observation and Prediction and the J. Craig Venter Institute, sequenced total DNA from water in four habitats: the Columbia River's immediate outflow; the river plume that extends into Pacific Ocean; upwelling low-oxygen water off the coast; and the ocean bottom. They show that the Columbia River estuary is a complex region characterized by high turbidity ("cloudiness"), in which bacteria attached to solid particles suspended in the water are crucial for recycling organic matter.
Paradoxically, the turbidity blocks sunlight in these estuarine waters and makes it difficult for photosynthetic algae to grow there, yet light-dependent bacteria dominate these waters. These bacteria are known as photoheterotrophs because they use both organic substrates and light energy for growth and survival. They employ a protein that is related to light-sensitive pigments in mammalian eyes to generate energy from light, which helps them survive when nutrients are scarce. Habitat diversity, in the form of local variation in size and type of suspended particles, maintains the considerable bacterial biodiversity in the estuary of the Columbia River.
Holly M. Simon
Center for Coastal Margin Observation & Prediction and Division of Environmental & Biomolecular Systems
Oregon Health and Science University, USA
Frontiers in Neuroscience
Age-related similarities and differences in brain activity underlying reversal learning
Memories are constantly updated because surroundings are not static. One way that researchers have investigated memory updating is with "reversal learning" tasks in which participants learn as association (e.g., Mary is angry) and then update their response when contingencies change (e.g., Mary is no longer angry). Kaoru Nasiro at the Center for Vial Longevity at the University of Texas, Dallas and colleagues from the University of Southern California, USA, examined brain activity in younger (19-35 years) and older (61-78 years) adults while they were engaged in two types of reversal learning tasks in an fMRI scanner; one involved emotion and the other did not (e.g., who is angry? vs. who wears eye-glasses?).
During emotional reversal learning, both groups showed similar activity in the amygdala, a region critical for emotional memory, and the frontopolar/orbitofrontal cortex, which updates old emotional memory. During neutral reversal learning however, older adults showed greater activity in regions that control attention than did younger adults. The results suggest that brain mechanisms underlying emotional memory updating is little affected by age.
Center for Vital Longevity y
University of Texas at Dallas, USA
Also of interest, Frontiers research not under embargo:
Frontiers in Psychology
Music training, cognition, and personality
Two key personality traits – openness-to-experience and conscientiousness – predict better than IQ who will take music lessons and continue for longer periods, according to a new study. A team of researchers, led by Glenn Schellenberg at the University of Toronto Mississaug, also found that when personality traits and demographic factors are considered, the link between cognitive ability and music training disappears. In separate groups of 167 10-12-year-olds and 118 university undergraduates, the researchers looked at how individual differences in cognitive ability and personality predict who takes up music lessons and for how long. They found that pre-existing differences in personality could explain why musically trained children have substantially higher IQs and perform better in school than other children.
E. Glenn Schellenberg
Department of Psychology
University of Toronto Mississauga, Canada
Frontiers in Plant Science
Automated conserved noncoding sequence (CNS) discovery reveals differences in gene content and promoter evolution among grasses
Within the genome of each species, there are thousands of stretches of DNA that undergo little change in position and sequence over millions of years, but do not code for any proteins. Some of these evolutionarily stable sequences, so-called conserved noncoding sequences (CNSs), are known to regulate the expression of other genes or the condensation of chromosomes, but the function of many CNSs remains unknown. Michael Freeling and colleagues from Berkeley here present their new open-source program "CNS Discovery Pipeline 3.0" which has taken three programmers six years to develop and can automatically find CNSs in newly sequenced genomes. The authors show that the program gives highly accurate results in a short time, requiring only 30 minutes to find the same number of CNSs as two trained biologists could do in two years. By helping us to understand how key genes are regulated, the program's output can boost medicine and the breeding of new crops.
Prof Michael Freeling
Department of Plant & Microbial Biology
University of California at Berkeley
Frontiers in Behavioral Neuroscience
Spatial learning of female mice: a role of the mineralocorticoid receptor during stress and the estrous cycle
In a stressful situation, rodents produce the stress hormone corticosterone. This helps the animal, because spatial learning is promoted when corticosterone binds to one of the stress hormone receptors (mineralocorticoid receptors) in the hippocampus, a region of the brain. Judith ter Horst and colleagues from Leiden University here show that female mice that lack the gene for the mineralocorticoid receptor in the forebrain have difficulty finding their way home through a maze, especially shortly before ovulation. The interaction between female sex hormones and stress hormones could result in worsening of spatial learning. There was also an interaction with stress: it was easier for mutant females to find their way home after they had been briefly and gently restrained, probably due to an increase in corticosterone levels in the blood. Ter Horst and colleagues conclude that mineralocorticoid receptors are necessary for efficient spatial learning by female mice.
Dr Judith ter Horst
Division of Medical Pharmacology
Leiden Academic Center for Drug Research and Leiden University Medical Center
Tel: +31 205257719
Frontiers in Neuroscience
Abrupt changes in the patterns and complexity of anterior cingulate cortex activity
It simply feels good to regain your bearings after getting lost, especially when you are hungry and had been looking for a particular restaurant. Jeremy Seamans and colleagues from the University of British Columbia, Canada, here show that hungry rats experience a similar abrupt neural change when they stumble upon food in an unfamiliar environment. They recorded patterns of activity in the medial prefrontal cortex of the brain, an area implicated in the regulation of behavior and emotion. When the rats first realized that food had to begun to literally drop from above, their patterns of brain activity changed abruptly and dramatically from preceding patterns, characteristic of hungry rats that are busy exploring a new enclosure. Not only were the patterns completely different after finding the food, but they were also simpler. Seamans et al. conclude that whenever a critical goal is realized, the medial prefrontal cortex can change abruptly from a "search state", where many outcomes are possible, to a simpler "consumption state" that needs to consider fewer outcomes: principally, the outcome of digging into tasty food.
Prof Jeremy K. Seamans
Department of Psychiatry
Brain Research Centre
University of British Columbia
Tel. : +1 6048227759
Frontiers in Endocrinology
Differential roles of orexin receptors in the regulation of sleep/wakefulness
Takeshi Sakurai, the lead author on the 1998 article that first described orexin, here reviews the latest research on orexin and its role in regulating sleep and wakefulness.
The sleep cycle of mammals is partly regulated by the neuropeptide orexin, which is exclusively produced in the hypothalamus and from there travels to other parts of the nervous system. Wakefulness tends to increase when orexin binds to specific receptors in the brain and brain stem. Loss of orexin-producing nerve cells or mutations that disrupt the orexin gene or its receptor genes can cause narcolepsy, a disorder of humans and other mammals, whose main symptom is that patients suddenly and involuntarily fall asleep several times per day.
Sakurai and colleagues show that the expression of the two orexin receptor genes throughout the nervous system is a complex mosaic, while the effects of orexin are tissue-specific and poorly understood. A further complication is that orexin also plays an important role in regulating appetite, mood, and metabolism. Despite these complications, the orexin pathway is a promising avenue for treating sleep disorders.
For a video of a narcoleptic attack in mice, please contact Frontiers' Communications Officer: firstname.lastname@example.org
Prof. Takeshi Sakurai
Kanazawa University, Japan
Tel: +81 762652173
Frontiers in Microbiology
Reclaimed water as a reservoir of antibiotic resistance genes: distribution system and irrigation implications
Bacteria evolve faster than other organisms, partly because bacterial populations grow fast and hold enormous genetic diversity, and partly because many bacteria are capable of sharing their genes with each other, for example, genes that confer resistance against antibiotics. Amy Pruden and colleagues from Virginia Tech tested recycled wastewater in the western USA, and detected genes for resistance against five classes of antibiotics, with densities of up 100 million gene copies per liter.
The study emphasized the importance of testing water at the point of use, where several resistance genes were detected that were not found in water leaving the treatment plants. Since recycled wastewater is commonly used for irrigation, these genes could spread to other bacteria, in the soil or on the skin of people exposed to the water, making them likewise resistant. Genetic material from waterborne pathogenic bacteria (e.g. Legionella, which can cause Legionnaires disease) was also detected.
The presence in recycled wastewater of genes conferring resistance against vancomycin is especially cause for concern, since vancomycin is commonly used as a last-resort treatment against infections that are resistant to other antibiotics. These results call for more research to identify effective disinfection practices that destroy DNA, in addition to inactivating bacteria, and protect the distribution pipes from re-growth of antibiotic resistant bacteria.
Prof. Amy Pruden
Virginia Tech, USA
Tel: +1 540 2313980
Frontiers in Physiology
Cholesterol accelerates the binding of Alzheimer's beta-amyloid peptide to ganglioside GM1 through a universal hydrogen-bond-dependent sterol tuning of glycolipid conformation
In Alzheimer's disease, a protein called beta-amyloid binds to the cell membrane of brain cells and disrupts their function. It has long been known that lipid molecules such as ganglioside GM1 (common in the membrane of brain cells) and cholesterol contribute to the toxic effects of beta-amyloid, but the underlying mechanism remained unclear. Jacques Fantini and colleagues here use chemistry and molecular modelling to elucidate this mechanism. They describe a perfectly tuned molecular "ballet" between beta-amyloid and the membranes of brain cells. In this ballet, cholesterol initially interacts with two ganglioside GM1 molecules and forces them to group into a chalice-shaped structure, which beta-amyloid can then enter to bind to ganglioside GM1. These results thus explain the well-established, but not previously explained, association between between high cholesterol and the risk of Alzheimer's disease. Fantini et al. suggest that a fruitful new approach for Alzheimer therapy might be to use drugs that prevent the interaction between cholesterol and ganglioside GM1.
Prof. Jacques Fantini
University Aix-Marseille, France.
Tel: +33 491 288 761
Frontiers in Physiology
Flexible echolocation behavior of fishing bats during natural hunting situations
It has been known for some time that fishing bats use echolocation to detect and classify acoustical cues from insects along and above water surfaces, and also to detect small water-dwelling prey breaking the water surface for a very short time. But comparisons of echolocation behaviour of a single bat species performing prey captures under different conditions remains scarce. In a new study, Kirstin Übernickel and colleagues compared the echolocation and dip performance of the trawling bat Noctilio leporinus in Panamá when reacting to two different types of cues presented at a water surface using ultrasound recordings with synchronized high-speed video.
Results suggest that trawling bats possess the ability to modify their generally rather stereotyped echolocation behavior during approaches within very short reaction times. Capture behavior usually began less than half a second before prey capture, but could also be realized in less than half the time if necessary. The bats were able to react to a cue very fast within approximately 50 ms. In the case of a disappearing cue, the bats probably used spatial memory to dip at the original location after its disappearance. Furthermore, in some failed capture attempts the bats continued to emit calls, likely to achieve fast updates of information for a subsequent capture attempt.
Institute of Experimental Ecology
University of Ulm, Albert-Einstein-Allee 11, 89069 Ulm, Germany
Frontiers in Psychology
Showing positive emotions: A good way of achieving goals at work
How can you promote goal attainment when interacting with others in the workplace? Whether it is to ask your boss for a vacation, or simply to assure a smooth and agreeable cooperation with your colleagues for mutual benefit? In a new study, Elena Wong and colleagues find that it is important to express positive emotions in social situations to achieve goals. They studied 113 employees at different work organizations, whom reported 494 real life social interactions in which they pursued a goal. Participants also reported which emotions they felt and showed in such interactions.
Results show that expressing positive emotions promotes goal attainment, yet, amplifying positive emotions increased goal attainment in interactions only with superiors, but not with colleagues. The authors of the study discuss the importance of hierarchy for detecting, and interpreting, signs of strategic display of positive emotions.
Dr. Elena Wong
Institute of Work and Organizational Psychology
Université de Neuchâtel, Switzerland
Frontiers in Microbiology
Links between metabolic plasticity and functional redundancy in freshwater bacterioplankton communities
Bacteria play a key role in all aquatic ecosystems functioning. The widespread application of molecular techniques has revealed an unsuspected level of genetic diversity within aquatic prokaryotic communities. These communities are extremely sensitive and reactive to changes in environmental conditions.. Metabolic plasticity and functional redundancy are fundamental properties of microbial communities, yet, their actual quantification has been elusive.
In this study, Jérôme Comte and colleagues present an experimental framework in which they simultaneously quantify metabolic plasticity and functional redundancy in freshwater bacterioplankton communities, and explore connections that may exist between them. Results show that metabolic plasticity is an intrinsic property of bacterial communities, whereas the expression of functional redundancy appears to be more dependent on environmental factors. Furthermore, there was a strong positive relationship between them, suggesting no trade-offs between these community attributes but rather a possible co-selection. This study has important conceptual and practical implications on how we view and assess the links between composition and the functioning of microbial communities.
Dr. Jérôme Comte
Université Laval Pavillon Charles-Eugène-Marchand, Québec Canada
Frontiers in Psychology
Inherently analog quantity representations in olive baboons (Papio anubis)
Human babies can 'count' up to 3 or 4, but for greater numbers, infants – and adults when distracted from counting precisely – use the analog system for comparing between counts of objects. Through this system, the relative difference between two counts is more important than the absolute difference, making it easier to distinguish 20 from 10 than 30 from 20. Previous studies suggested that monkeys also use the analog system, but this has remained controversial.
In this study Jessica Cantlon and colleagues from the University of Rochester tested for the capacity of eight olive baboons from Seneca Park Zoo to compare between the numbers 1 to 8. Importantly, these baboons had never been used in any psychological tests, suggesting that the results are representative of wild-living baboons. The baboons were more likely to choose the greater number of peanuts if the relative difference between two counts was larger, irrespective of the absolute difference. The authors conclude that the analog system is probably the ancestral mechanism for comparing quantities in primates, while the ability to count might be an evolutionarily recent trait unique to humans.
Contact Gozde Zorlu for photographs: email@example.com
Dr. Jessica F. Cantlon
Department of Brain and Cognitive Science
University of Rochester, USA
Frontiers in Neuroscience
Common muscle synergies for balance and walking
Researchers from Georgia Tech and Emory University have improved understanding of the neural control of multiple muscles that must be coordinated in activities such as walking and maintaining balance. Lena Ting and colleagues show that muscle synergies, or patterns of muscles recruited by a single neural command, may be a fundamental building block for constructing movement.
The new concept of muscle synergy represents a fundamental shift in the understanding of movement control and the findings have strong implications for addressing motor impairments and rehabilitation, because it has potential to specifically reveal neural mechanisms underlying motor deficit and recovery.
Muscle synergies are like building blocks for movement, providing a library of possible actions available to an individual. Like musical chords, each muscle synergy specifies how particular muscles (or notes) are concurrently activated in a functional unit. Just as one note may belong to several different chords, each muscle can belong to more than one muscle synergy. Through combinations of muscle synergies, a wide repertoire of movements becomes possible. Using computational methods, Ting and colleagues helped to reveal this underlying structure in muscle activity, which is not always evident in movements where many muscle synergies are simultaneously used.
Dr. Lena Ting
Emory University and Georgia Institute of Technology, USA
Frontiers in Psychiatry
What Italian defense attorneys know about factors affecting eyewitness accuracy
Surveys of the beliefs and knowledge of legal professionals about factors that affect eyewitness accuracy suggest that judges and police officers are no more knowledgeable about eyewitness testimony than are jurors or the general public. A majority, or a substantial minority, of the legal professionals surveyed in the US, Norway, Estonia, China and Sweden harbor ideas about eyewitness memory that are not supported by available research, which suggests that many court decisions may be based on folklore with little support in memory science. The only exception to this pattern was the US defense attorneys, who knew more about eyewitness memory than the other legal professionals and performed closer to eyewitness experts. In this paper, Giuseppe Sartori surveyed Italian defense attorneys, and the results more or less confirmed the results from the US survey: Defense attorneys are more aware of the pitfalls of eyewitness memory than are other legal professionals. The role of defense attorneys in legal proceedings may alert them to the pitfalls of the eyewitness memory and make them more skeptical of it.
Department of Psychology
University of Padua, Italy
Also of interest, published last week in Frontiers in Neuroscience:
Motor development and motor resonance difficulties in autism: relevance to early intervention for language and communication skills
Professionals have long attempted to support the development of language in Autistic children but with mixed outcomes. While not all of the current interventions used are effective, a new paper authored by researchers from the University of Birmingham, says there is hope for progress by using interventions based on understanding natural language development and the role of motor and "motor mirroring" behaviour in toddlers.
Dr. Joe McCleery
School of Psychology
University of Birmingham, UK
Frontiers in Psychology
Short-term attentional perseveration associated with real-life creative achievement
What makes some people more creative than others? Psychologists have suggested that creativity partly depends on a person's ability to continuously switch attention between the details and the bigger picture of a given task. But in two carefully designed experiments, Darya Zabelina and Mark Beeman from Northwestern University found evidence for the opposite effect, at least for one measure of creativity: creative people with achievements in the real world may concentrate so much on one aspect that they have difficulty switching to another.
Across two studies, 74 college students were selected from among a large number of students for their extremely high or low scores on a questionnaire about their achievements in creative fields like cooking, science, writing, and music. Each student was subjected to a series of 128 challenges to quickly (within 1 second) and accurately identify either the details or the larger picture, in alternating sets of trials. This task required persistence, such that participants needed to zoom in on the details for some time before unpredictably zooming out to see the bigger picture (and vice versa), over a series of challenges.
When the researchers accounted for differences in intelligence and reaction speed, creative achievers made significantly more (9% of challenges) mistakes than less creative students (2%). Thus higher scores on real-world measure of creativity (but not on divergent thinking task) predicted persistence in the attention task. It appears that the tendency for persistent attention is a defining characteristic of individuals who have achieved noteworthy creative successes, even though this tendency seems to undermine the ability to engage in the type of flexible thinking associated with other measures of creative cognition. Results thus suggest that people's attentional styles may differ depending on the type of creativity they exhibit.
Darya L. Zabelina
Northwestern University, USA
Frontiers in Microbiology
Biogeography of Persephonella in deep-sea hydrothermal vents of the Western Pacific
Ever since the origin of life on Earth, bacteria and Archaea have been far richer in species than any other group of organisms. But it is difficult to assess their full biodiversity because most species of bacteria and Archaea cannot be grown in the laboratory. For example, Persephonella bacteria – aptly named after the Greek goddess of hell, after their extreme habitat – can only survive around thermal vents on the ocean floor at depths of 2 to 3 km, under extreme pressure, in complete darkness, and in superheated water of up to 300 °C. Sayaka Mino and colleagues from the University of Hokkaido used deep-sea submersibles to sample Persephonella hydrogeniphila from the Okinawa Trough between Japan and China and the South Mariana Trough south of Japan. They show that this species is highly diverse, with pronounced genetic and metabolic differences between the two ocean troughs. This implies that both populations have been long isolated from each other, presumably because P. hydrogeniphila cannot easily spread across parts of the ocean floor that lack thermal vents. This study confirms that we have hardly begun to sample the enormous biodiversity at the ocean floor – we currently know more about the surface of Mars.
Images of the bacterial colonies, thermal vents, and the submersible are available. These can be requested from Gozde Zorlu, Frontiers Communications Officer at firstname.lastname@example.org
Hokkaido University, Japan
Frontiers in Plant Science
When proteomics reveals unsuspected roles: the plastoglobule example
Chloroplasts are complex green organelles that host the photosynthetic reactions within plant cells, converting solar into electric energy. They contain so-called plastoglobules, droplets of oil approximately 100 nm across. Traditionally plastoglobules have been viewed as "junk cupboards" for storing excess lipids. But in an exciting review article on this topic, Claire Bréhélin and colleagues from the University of Bordeaux synthetize data from recent proteomics studies on plastoglobules. They conclude that far from being passive storage organelles, plastoglobules actively participate in the plastid's metabolism. For example, plastoglobules contain more than 30 different proteins, including unknown proteins, enzymes, and proteins called plastoglobulins that maintain structure. Plastoglobules also store pigments (e.g. carotenoids, which give fruit their red color) and vitamins E and K and play an active role in the plant's response to stress. Bréhélin et al. suggest that plastoglobules might be a promising target of "molecular farming", that is, increasing the yield of crops through genetic modification.
New Jersey Medical School
Instituto Valenciano de Investigaciones Agrarias, Spain
Frontiers in Microbiology
Genetic variability and evolutionary dynamics of viruses of the family Closteroviridae
The family Closteroviridae includes viruses causing economic losses in different agricultural crops worldwide, including citrus, grapevine and vegetables. Presently, control of viral diseases consists of prophylactic measures to limit virus dispersion and the use of resistant cultivars obtained by plant breeding or genetic engineering. However, viruses have a great potential for rapid evolution and they often overcome the disease control methods. Characterization of the genetic diversity of viral populations provides relevant information on the processes involved in virus evolution and epidemiology and it is crucial for designing reliable diagnostic tools and developing efficient and durable disease control strategies. In this review by Luis Rubio and colleagues, analyses of the genetic variability of closteroviruses showed a risk of emergence of new diseases produced by: A) generation of new genotypes by genome recombination, or adaptation to new hosts or insect vectors, B) introduction of new genotypes by long distance transport of infected propagative plant material, and C) increased virulence resulting from interaction between different viruses of viral genotypes. On the other hand, genetic stability provided by strong negative selection in some closteroviruses could be exploited for crop protection based on genetic engineering.
Instituto Valenciano de Investigaciones Agrarias, Spain
Also of interest, published last week in Frontiers in Oncology:
Implementing and Integrating a Clinically-Driven Electronic Medical Record for Radiation Oncology in a Large Medical Enterprise
Hospitals can save medical personnel's time, physical space for filing, and money with Electronic Medical Records (EMRs), digital databases that consolidate all information about patients in an integrated enterprise-wide system. The Radiation Oncology department of the Duke University Medical Center in North Carolina, US, shifted from paper medical records to exclusively EMRs and the move involved adapting 2 pre-existing systems, at a one-time cost of approximately $ 125000. John P. Kirkpatrick and colleagues report that over $ 21000 are saved per year and that 90% of clinicians who used the system agreed that the EMR is an improvement over paper charts. Clinicians were typically positive about the effects of EMRs on the quality of care, patient safety, the quality of records, communication within the department, and ease of use.
John P. Kirkpatrick
Duke University Medical Center, US
An Autistica consultation published this month found that 24% of children with autism were non-verbal or minimally verbal, and it is known that these problems can persist into adulthood. Professionals have long attempted to support the development of language in these children but with mixed outcomes. An estimated 600,000 people in the UK and 70 million worldwide have autism, a neuro-developmental condition which is life-long.
Today, scientists at the University of Birmingham publish a paper in Frontiers in Neuroscience showing that while not all of the current interventions used are effective, there is real hope for progress by using interventions based on understanding natural language development and the role of motor and “motor mirroring” behaviour in toddlers.
The researchers, led by Dr Joe McCleery, who is supported by autism research charity Autistica, examined over 200 published papers and more than 60 different intervention studies, and found that:
With the support of Autistica, the UK’s leading autism research charity, Dr McCleery’s team have now embarked on new work which builds on these findings to design interventions which specifically target the aspects of development where there are deficits in non-verbal autistic children.
Dr McCleery says “We feel that the field is approaching a turning point, with potentially dramatic breakthroughs to come in both our understanding of communication difficulties in people with autism, and the potential ways we can intervene to make a real difference for those children who are having difficulties learning to speak.”
Christine Swabey, CEO of Autistica, says: “80% of the parents in our recent consultation wanted interventions straight after diagnosis. Dr McCleery’s work shows how critical it is for all intervention to be evidence-based, and that the best approaches are based on a real understanding of the development of difficulties in autism. We are proud to be supporting the next steps in this vital research which will improve the quality of life for people with autism.”
Alison Hardy, whose son Alfie is six, says: "As a parent of an autistic child, who is non-verbal, I feel quite vulnerable. People are always saying "try this, it worked wonders for us". But you can't try everything. We need a proper, scientific evidence base for what works and what does not. Then we can focus our time and our effort, with some confidence that we have a chance of helping our children. The publication of this research is an exciting step in giving us that confidence, it is great that Autistica is supporting this vital work."
The paper is published in the peer-reviewed, open-access journal Frontiers in Neuroscience, and as part of a Research Topic consisting of a special collection of papers on Autism, which you can view here.
Article: Motor development and motor resonance difficulties in autism: relevance to early intervention for language and communication skills
Frontiers in Neuroscience
Autistica is the UK’s largest charitable funder of autism research. Founded in 2004, they have raised and invested over £4 million in pioneering research to understand the causes of autism, improve diagnosis and explore new interventions. Autistica is completely dependent on donations, please give: www.autistica.org.uk
Frontiers, a partner of Nature Publishing Group, is a community-oriented open access scholarly publisher and social networking platform for researchers. Founded in 2007 by scientists in Switzerland, its industry leading platform www.frontiersin.org together with a growing range of exciting and innovative open science tools empowers all academic research communities to steer the evolution of science communication into the 21st century.
For more information, high resolution photographs, interviews or comment please contact Olivia Curno at Autistica on: 07870 606 563 or Olivia.email@example.com
Frontiers in Psychology
Numerical cognition in bees and other insects
In this article, Dr. Mario Pahl and colleagues review the main studies on the ability of insects to perceive number, and discuss the possible mechanisms involved in number recognition. Recent behavioral investigations have shown that several invertebrate species (animals without backbones) share various numerical activities with bigger animals, such as birds and mammals. This is because the ability to assess the number of food items, competitors or mates can help animals – even smaller ones like insects – to make better decisions when competing for resources or sexual partners. For example, male mealworm beetles take into account the number of female and male beetles around them, when deciding on a strategy to guard their mates. Social insects such as bees and ants use numerical information when travelling outside the nest or hive. Honeybees make use of the number of landmarks on the way to a food source to find their way, and can discriminate between images based on the number of displayed objects. When bumblebees forage on flowers with a constant number of 5 nectaries, they avoid revisiting an already depleted nectary by leaving the flower after exactly 5 probings. Such studies clearly demonstrate that there is a continuum of abilities between the so-called 'higher' and 'lower' animals.
Dr. Mario Pahl
Department of Behavioral Physiology and Sociobiology Biocentre
Julius-Maximilians University Wuerzburg, Germany
Frontiers in Psychology
Navigating comics: an empirical and theoretical approach to 6 strategies of reading comic page layouts
How do people navigate through the panels of comic book pages, and why do some people find it so hard to figure out which image comes next? Most people believe that the reading of comic pages moves along the same order as text: the "z-path" of left-to-right and down. This paper reports the findings of a psychology experiment showing that readers follow a far more complex process of page layout navigation than the z-path. These results suggest that people follow several constraints guided by an underlying hierarchic structure, and this knowledge appears to be modulated by the experience people have in reading comics. Altogether, this paper shows that the strategies used to read comics are far more complex than standard written language.
Dr. Neil Cohn
Center for Research in Language
University of California, San Diego, USA
Frontiers in Physiology
Respiratory and cardiovascular response during electronic control device exposure in law enforcement trainees
Law enforcement represents a large population of workers who may be exposed to electronic control devices (ECDs). With the number of adverse events occurring proximal to ECD exposure, concern has been raised on the direct impact of ECD exposure on respiration and the cardiac cycle. However, little is known about the potential effect of exposure to these devices on respiration or cardiovascular response during current discharge. Participants in the study were members of law enforcement exposed to 5 seconds of an ECD (Taser X26®) as a component of training. Participants were asked to inhale during exposure to ensure that trainees exhibited breathing activity during the brief period of ECD exposure. The exposure period resulted in the cessation of normal breathing patterns in all participants and in particular a decrease in inspiratory activity. No significant changes in heart rate during ECD exposure were found. This is the first study to examine breathing patterns during ECD exposure with the resolution to detect changes over this discrete period of time. In contrast to reports suggesting respiration is unaffected by ECDs, present evidence suggests that voluntary inspiration is severely compromised. There is no evidence of cardiac disruption during ECD exposure.
Dr. Kirsten M. VanMeenen
New Jersey Medical School
Stress and Motivated Behavior Institute
University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey, USA
Frontiers in Neuroscience
Restoration of upper limb movement via artificial corticospinal and musculospinal connections in a monkey with spinal cord injury
Functional loss of limb control in individuals with spinal cord injury or stroke can be caused by interruption of the neural pathways between brain and spinal cord, although the neural circuits located above and below the lesion remain functional. An artificial neural connection that bridges the lost pathway and connects brain to spinal circuits has potential to ameliorate the functional loss. Researchers investigated the effects of introducing a novel artificial neural connection which bridged a spinal cord lesion in a paretic monkey. This allowed the monkey to electrically stimulate the spinal cord through volitionally controlled brain activity and thereby to restore volitional control of the paretic hand. This study demonstrates that artificial neural connections can compensate for interrupted descending pathways and promote volitional control of upper limb movement after damage of neural pathways such as spinal cord injury or stroke.
Precursory Research for Embryonic Science and Technology
Japan Science and Technology Agency
Emerging publisher Frontiers is joining Nature Publishing Group (NPG) in a strategic alliance to advance the global open science movement.
NPG, publisher of Nature, today announces a majority investment in the Swiss-based open access (OA) publisher Frontiers.
NPG and Frontiers will work together to empower researchers to change the way science is communicated, through open access publication and open science tools. Frontiers, led by CEO and neuroscientist Kamila Markram, will continue to operate with its own platform, brands, and policies.
Founded by scientists from École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL) in 2007, Frontiers is one of the fastest growing open access publishers, more than doubling articles published year on year. Frontiers now has a portfolio of open access journals in 14 fields of science and medicine, and published over 5,000 OA articles in 2012.
Working with NPG, the journal series “Frontiers in” will significantly expand in 2013-2014. Currently, sixty-three journals published by NPG offer open access options or are open access and NPG published over 2000 open access articles in 2012. Bilateral links between nature.com and frontiersin.org will ensure that open access papers are visible on both sites.
Frontiers and NPG will also be working together on innovations in open science tools, networking, and publication processes.
Frontiers is based at EPFL in Switzerland, and works out of Innovation Square, a technology park supporting science start-ups, and hosting R&D divisions of large companies such as Logitech & Nestlé.
Quotes from key spokespeople
“Combining NPG’s established publishing expertise with Frontiers’ innovative solutions for researchers opens up a wealth of opportunities for transforming the landscape of science communication. Frontiers is not only aiming to innovate in open access, but also to provide a more transparent and constructive peer review process, and offer an ecosystem of tools for scientists to build their academic standing.” - Dr Kamila Markram, CEO of Frontiers
“Frontiers is innovating in many ways that are of interest to us and to the scientific community,” said Dr Philip Campbell Editor-in-Chief, Nature. “Referees and handling editors are named on published papers, which is very unusual in the life sciences community. Nature has experimented with open peer review in the past, and we continue to be interested in researchers’ attitudes. Frontiers also encourages non-peer reviewed open access commentary, empowering the academic community to openly discuss some of the grand challenges of science with a wide audience.”
“In Frontiers, we have a partner who shares our desire to further research through increasingly open communication amongst scientists. Our alliance will accelerate both NPG and Frontiers’ experiments, improvements and innovations. We can achieve more together, and more quickly, than either publisher could working alone.” - Steven Inchcoombe, Managing Director, Nature Publishing Group
Frontiers is a community-oriented open access scholarly publisher and social networking platform for researchers. Founded in 2007 by scientists in Switzerland, its industry leading platform www.frontiersin.org together with a growing range of exciting and innovative open science tools, empowers all academic research communities to steer the evolution of science communication into the 21st century.
Frontiers has become one of the fastest-growing scholarly publishers, with community-driven journals publishing around 500 high-quality, peer-reviewed articles every month, and with doubling publication rates every year. Frontiers editorial boards are served by over 25,000 world-renowned scientists.
About Nature Publishing Group
Nature Publishing Group (NPG) is a publisher of high impact scientific information online and in print and part of Macmillan Science and Education.
NPG is dedicated to serving the scientific community and the wider scientifically interested general public. NPG is a global company with principal offices in London, New York and Tokyo, and 22 offices in cities worldwide. For more information, please go to www.nature.com.
About Macmillan Science and Education
Macmillan Science and Education is a global division of the family owned Holtzbrinck Publishing Group. Recently established, the division is home to the Macmillan businesses which empower learning and discovery through the provision of high quality content and services to scientists, educationalists, students and academics around the world. Operating in over 70 countries with some 5000 employees, the division consists of Nature Publishing Group (NPG), Palgrave, Macmillan Education, Macmillan Higher Education, Digital Science, Digital Education and Macmillan New Ventures. For more information, please see www.macmillan.com
Head of Corporate Communications, Nature Publishing Group
Associate Communications Officer, Frontiers
Yoga on our minds: The 5,000-year-old Indian practice may have positive effects on major psychiatric disorders, including depression, schizophrenia, ADHD and sleep complaints
Yoga has positive effects on mild depression and sleep complaints, even in the absence of drug treatments, and improves symptoms associated with schizophrenia and ADHD in patients on medication, according to a systematic review of the exercise on major clinical psychiatric disorders.
Published in the open-access journal, Frontiers in Psychiatry, on January 25th, 2013, the review of more than one hundred studies focusing on 16 high-quality controlled studies looked at the effects of yoga on depression, schizophrenia, ADHD, sleep complaints, eating disorders and cognition problems.
Yoga in popular culture
Yoga is a popular exercise and is practiced by 15.8 million adults in the United States alone, according to a survey by the Harris Interactive Service Bureau, and its holistic goal of promoting psychical and mental health is widely held in popular belief.
"However, yoga has become such a cultural phenomenon that it has become difficult for physicians and patients to differentiate legitimate claims from hype," wrote the authors in their study. "Our goal was to examine whether the evidence matched the promise."
Benefits of the exercise were found for all mental health illnesses included in the review, except for eating disorders and cognition problems as the evidence for these was conflicting or lacking.
Dr. P. Murali Doraiswamy, a professor of psychiatry and medicine at Duke University Medical Center, US, and author of the study, explained that the emerging scientific evidence in support of the 5,000 year old Indian practice on psychiatric disorders is "highly promising" and showed that yoga may not only help to improve symptoms, but also may have an ancillary role in the prevention of stress-related mental illnesses.
The review found evidence from biomarker studies showing that yoga influences key elements of the human body thought to play a role in mental health in similar ways to that of antidepressants and psychotherapy. One study found that the exercise affects neurotransmitters, inflammation, oxidative stress, lipids, growth factors and second messengers.
Unmet need among mental health patients
Depression alone affects more than 350 million people globally and is the leading cause of disability worldwide, according to the World Health Organization (WHO). On World Mental Health Day last year, the WHO called for improved access to treatments.
While there has been an increase in the number of medications available for mental health disorders, many of which can be life saving for patients, there remains "a considerable unmet need," according to Dr. Meera Balasubramaniam, lead author of the study, who is also based at Duke University, US.
Poor compliance and relapse as well as treatment resistance are growing problems, and medications are expensive and can leave patients with significant side effects.
The Primary Care study, carried out by WHO, found that 60% of patients were still depressed after a year of being treated with an anti-depressant and a National Institute of Mental Health funded research showed remission in only one-third of patients.
"The search for improved treatments, including non-drug based, to meet the holistic needs of patients is of paramount importance and we call for more research into yoga as a global priority," said Doraiswamy. "If the promise of yoga on mental health was found in a drug, it would be the best selling medication world-wide," he added.
There are many benefits associated with practicing yoga for improving mental health, including, fewer side effects, relatively low cost, generally good access and the improvement of physical fitness, added the authors.
The authors also note that while the results are promising, the findings should be viewed as preliminary because all studies of yoga to date have consisted of small samples, and more rigorous research will be needed before the exercise can be applied to help patients with mental health disorders.
Dr. P. Murali Doraiswamy
Duke University Medical Center
Study shows networking properties between brains when guitarists play together
The rate of people who seek preventive cancer screenings has fallen over the last ten years in the United States with wide variations between white-collar and blue-collar workers, according to a University of Miami Miller School of Medicine study published on December 27 in the open-access journal Frontiers in Cancer Epidemiology and Prevention.
While earlier diagnoses and improved treatments have increased the number of survivors, cancer remains one of the most prominent chronic diseases and, last year alone, claimed the lives of more than 570,000 people in the U.S.
"There is a great need for increased cancer prevention efforts in the U.S., especially for screening as it is considered one of the most important preventive behaviors and helps decrease the burden of this disease on society in terms of quality of life, the number of lives lost and insurance costs," said lead author Tainya Clarke, M.P.H., research associate in the Department of Epidemiology and Public Health.
"But despite this," Clarke continued, "our research has shown that adherence rates for cancer screenings have generally declined with severe implications for the health outlook of our society."
For their NIH-funded study, Clarke and her team evaluated the cancer screening behaviors of the general public and cancer survivors to see if government-recommended screenings goals were achieved.
The study looked at cancer screening adherence rates for colorectal, breast, cervical and prostate cancers and compared the screening rates among the general public to all cancer survivors and to the subpopulation of employed survivors.
Results showed that the general public did not meet government recommendations for cancer screenings for any cancer types except colorectal cancer. About 54 percent of the general public underwent colorectal screenings, exceeding the 50 percent goal of the government's "Healthy People 2010" national health promotion and disease prevention initiative.
By contrast, cancer survivors, who are at an increased risk of developing the disease, had higher screening rates and underwent the recommended cancer screenings for all types except cervical cancer, which decreased to 78 percent over the last decade. The study also showed a decline among cancers survivors who sought cancer screenings over the last three years.
The researchers used the recommended cancer screening rates set by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and looked at data from the National Health Interview Survey between 1997 and 2010. In total, 174,393 people were included in the study analysis, with 7,528 employed cancer survivors and 119,374 people representing the general population.
In addition, the study showed that among survivors, white collar workers had higher screening rates than blue collar workers – a crucial discovery that Clarke hopes will help change current job-related policies and overcome disparities within different professions of working cancer survivors.
The researchers speculated that ongoing disagreements among the United States Preventive Services Task Force, American Cancer Society and others over screening guidelines, as well as the decrease in worker insurance rates over the decade may have influenced the decline in screening rates.
Clarke hopes that more comprehensive research will assess the combined factors affecting screening rates and lead to more effective workplace interventions and increase screening within each occupational sector.
Tainya C. Clarke
Dept. of Epidemiology and Public Health
University of Miami, Miller School of Medicine
Miami, Florida 33136
Researchers from the Max Planck Institute for Human Development in Berlin have shown functional connectivity emerges between brains when making music together. In a study published November 29th in Frontiers in Neuroscience, Johanna Sänger and her team used electrodes to record the brain waves of guitarists while they played different voices of the same duet. The results point to brain synchronicity that cannot be explained away by similitudes in external stimulation but can be attributed to a more profound interpersonal coordination.
Scientists working with Ulman Lindenberger at the Max Planck Institute in Berlin already discovered synchronous brain activity between musicians playing the same piece in 2009. The current study goes one step further by examining the brain activity of guitar players performing a piece of music with two different parts. Their aim was to find out whether the synchronisation of the brain waves would still occur if the two guitarists were not playing exactly the same notes.
To test their hypothesis, the psychologists arranged 32 experienced guitarists in 16 duet pairs and attached 64 electrodes to each of the musicians’ heads, enabling the scientists to record activity in different brain regions. The musicians were asked to play a rondo sequence from the Sonata in G major by Christian Gottlieb Scheidler a total of 60 times. The duet partners were given slightly different tasks: They had to play different voices, and one of the two was responsible for ensuring that they both started at the same time and for holding the same tempo. Thus, one person took the lead and the other one followed.
The brain activity showed coordinated brain oscillations even if the players were playing different voices of the same duet. Called phase locking, this synchronous activity shows a neuroscientific bases for interpersonal coordination on a cellular level.
"When people coordinate actions, small networks between brain regions are formed. But we also observed similar network properties between the brains of the players themselves, especially when mutual coordination is very important; for example at the joint play onset of a piece," says Johanna Sänger.
The difference between roles was also reflected in the results of the measurement of electrical activity in their brains: "The synchronization of brain waves measured at a single electrode was stronger in the leading player and, importantly, was present already before the duet started to play, unlike in the follower," says Johanna Sänger, first author of the study. This was particularly true for delta waves, which are located in the low-frequency range below four Hertz. "This could be a reflection of the leading player's decision to begin playing at a certain moment in time," Sänger thinks.
The current data indicates that network properties are present between brain regions in separate individuals that have previously been associated with social cognition and music production. And such interbrain networks are expected to occur not only when making music. "We assume that different people's brain waves also synchronise when people mutually coordinate their actions in other ways, such as during sport, or when we communicate with one another," Sänger says.
Johanna Sänger, Viktor Müller and Ulman Lindenberger: Intra- and interbrain synchronization and network properties when playing guitar in duets.
Frontiers in Human Neuroscience, 2012 / DOI=10.3389/fnhum.2012.00312
Dr. Britta Grigull
Max Planck Institute for Human Development, Berlin
Phone: +49 30 82406-211
Related article (previous study):
Gehirne im Gleichtakt [Brains in Sync]
Mobile neuroscience lab looks at differences in brain activity across social spectrum in Canada
Children of low socioeconomic status work harder to filter out irrelevant environmental information than those from a high-income background because of learned differences in what they pay attention to, according to new research published in the open access journal Frontiers in Human Neuroscience.
Numerous studies in the past few years have begun to reveal how poverty affects brain development and function. In 2008, Amedeo D’Angiulli of Carleton University in Ottawa, Canada and his colleagues used electroencephalography (EEG) to measure the brain wave patterns associated with an auditory selective attention task in children of high and low socioeconomic status (SES).
They found that the two groups of children exhibited differences in theta brain waves in the frontal lobe, which plays an important role in attention. This suggested that each group of children recruits different neural mechanisms for this particular type of task, and that the lower SES children allocate additional resources to attending to irrelevant information.
“Socioeconomic environment shapes the way our neurocognitive functions develop in childhood and influence the way we learn to process information when we are adults so that we can be well adapted in a certain specific type of social environment,” says D’Angiulli.
For their latest study, D’Angiulli and his colleagues recruited 28 children aged 12-14 from two schools in neighborhoods of disparate socioeconomic status. One of them was attended predominantly by children from a high income background, and the other largely by children from a low income background.
The researchers performed the study at the schools during an ordinary school day. Working in a mobile lab – a van equipped with all the apparatus needed –they took saliva samples from the participants throughout the day, to measure changes in the levels of the stress hormone cortisol, and asked them to complete three questionnaires about their emotional and motivational state, at different times.
In the afternoon, the participants’ brain waves were recorded while they performed a task in which they heard different sounds being played simultaneously into both ears, and were required to press a button as fast as possible when they heard one particular sound.
There were no significant differences between the two groups in the accuracy or reaction time during the task. The researchers did, however, observe differences in brain wave patterns between the two groups. Higher SES children exhibited far larger theta waves in response to sounds they attended to than to than those they should have ignored. In the lower SES children, however, this pattern was reversed – the theta waves evoked by the unattended sounds were much larger than those for the attended sounds.
There were also significant differences between the two groups in the contributions of the left and right hemispheres – lower SES children exhibited stronger theta waves in the right frontal lobe in response to attended sounds. Overall, the lower SES children had higher cortisol levels than the higher SES children during the school day, but the differences before and after the attention task were small, suggesting that the stress response of both groups to the task was similar. And the questionnaires revealed that both groups experienced similar levels of boredom and motivation throughout the day and a similar increase of boredom before the attention task.
The findings suggest that lower SES children have to exert more cognitive control to avoid attending to irrelevant stimuli than higher SES children, and that doing so therefore requires more mental effort. This may be because they live in more threatening environments, in which it might be advantageous to pay attention to a broad range of environmental stimuli which are not unambiguous distractions, and may turn out to be important for survival.
“We are now studying how other domains that may be related to attention, such as decision-making, may differ in individuals with different socioeconomic background,” says D’Angiulli.
D’Angiulli, A., et al. (2012). Frontal EEG/ERP correlates of attentional processes, cortisol and motivational states in adolescents from lower and higher socioeconomic status.
Frontiers in Human Neuroscience / DOI=10.3389/fnhum.2012.00306
Amedeo D'Angiulli, PhD
Department of Neuroscience & Institute of Interdisciplinary Studies
1125 Colonel By Drive,
Ottawa, Ontario K1S 5B6
Room 1316 Dunton Tower
Tel: (613) 520-2600, ext. 2954
Fax: (613) 520-3985
Neuroprosthetic device uses implant to project visual braille
For the very first time researchers have streamed braille patterns directly into a blind patient’s retina, allowing him to read four-letter words accurately and quickly with an ocular neuroprosthetic device. The device, the Argus II, has been implanted in over 50 patients, many of who can now see color, movement and objects. It uses a small camera mounted on a pair of glasses, a portable processor to translate the signal from the camera into electrical stimulation, and a microchip with electrodes implanted directly on the retina. The study was authored by researchers at Second Sight, the company who developed the device, and has been published in Frontiers in Neuroprosthetics on the 22nd of November.
“In this clinical test with a single blind patient, we bypassed the camera that is the usual input for the implant and directly stimulated the retina. Instead of feeling the braille on the tips of his fingers, the patient could see the patterns we projected and then read individual letters in less than a second with up to 89% accuracy,” explains researcher Thomas Lauritzen, lead author of the paper.
Similar in concept to successful cochlear implants, the visual implant uses a grid of 60 electrodes—attached to the retina—to stimulate patterns directly onto the nerve cells. For this study, the researchers at Second Sight used a computer to stimulate six of these points on the grid to project the braille letters. A series of tests were conducted with single letters as well as words ranging in length from two letters up to four. The patient was shown each letter for half a second and had up to 80% accuracy for short words.
“There was no input except the electrode stimulation and the patient recognized the braille letters easily. This proves that the patient has good spatial resolution because he could easily distinguish between signals on different, individual electrodes.” says Lauritzen.
According to Silvestro Micera at EPFL’s Center for Neuroprosthetics and scientific reviewer for the article, “this study is a proof of concept that points to the importance of clinical experiments involving new neuroprosthetic devices to improve the technology and innovate adaptable solutions.”
Primarily for sufferers of the genetic disease Retinitis Pigmentosa (RP), the implant Argus II has been shown to restore limited reading capability of large conventional letters and short words when used with the camera. While reading should improve with future iterations of the Argus II, the current study shows how the Argus II could be adapted to provide an alternative and potentially faster method of text reading with the addition of letter recognition software. This ability to perform image processing in software prior to sending the signal to the implant is a unique advantage of Argus II.
Reading visual Braille with a retinal prosthesis Author: Lauritzen Thomas Zaccarin, Harris Jordan, Mohand-Said Saddek, Sahel Jose, Dorn Jessy, McClure Kelly, Greenberg Robert.
Frontiers in Neuroscience / DOI=10.3389/fnins.2012.00168
Thomas Lauritzen, Ph.D.
Senior Research Scientist
Second Sight Medical Products, Inc.
12744 San Fernando Road, Building 3
Sylmar, CA 91342
An ebook of 18 articles make the case for a radical change in scientific peer review and publishing
In an editorial accompanying an ebook titled “Beyond open access: visions for open evaluation of scientific papers by post-publication peer review,” Nikolaus Kriegeskorte argues that scientists, not publishers, are in the best position to develop a fair evaluation process for scientific papers. The ebook, published today in Frontiers, compiles 18 peer-reviewed articles that lay out detailed visions on how an transparent, open evaluation (OE) system could work for the benefit of all science. This transparency is paramount because the evaluation process is the central steering mechanism of science and influences public policy as well. The authors are from a wide variety of disciplines including neuroscience, psychology, computer science, artificial intelligence, medicine, molecular biology, chemistry, and economics.
“Peer reviews should be made public information, like the scientific papers themselves. In a lot of ways, the network of scientific publications is similar to a neural network. Each paper or peer review could be seen as a neuron with excitatory and inhibitory connections, and this information is vital in judging the value of its results,” says Kriegeskorte, researcher at the University of Cambridge.
Yet unlike the richly interactive and ongoing activity in a neural network, the current peer review process is typically limited to 2-4 reviewers and remains fossilized in pre-publication phase. According to Kriegeskorte, secretive and time-limited pre-publication peer review is no longer the optimal system. He writes, “Open evaluation, an ongoing post-publication process of transparent peer review and rating of papers, promises to address the problems of the current system. However, it is unclear how exactly such a system should be designed.”
To explore possible design solutions for OE, Kriegeskorte and his student Diana Deca launched a Research Topic at Frontiers—where a researcher chooses a topic and invites his or her peers to contribute an article. And while Kriegeskorte was expecting a diverging series of solutions, he says that the visions turned out to be largely convergent: the evaluation of papers should be completely transparent, post-publication, perpetually ongoing, and backed by modern statistical methods for inferring the quality of papers; and the system should provide a plurality of perspectives on the literature.
According to Kriegeskorte, transparency is the antidote to corruption and bias. “Science will continue to rely on peer review, because it needs explicit expert judgments, rather than media buzz, to evaluate papers.” He suggests a two-step process based on a fundamental division of powers. In the first step after a manuscript is published online, anyone can publicly post a review or rate the paper. In the second step, independent web-portals to the literature combine all the evaluations to give a prioritized perspective on the literature.
The scoring system could simply be an average of all of the ratings. But different web-portals would weight varying scales and individual reviewers differently. In the end, he believes, “the important thing is that scientists themselves take on the challenge of building the central steering mechanism for science: its evaluation system."
Open evaluation: a vision for entirely transparent post-publication peer review and rating for science. Author: Nikolaus Kriegeskorte.
Frontiers in Computational Neuroscience / DOI=10.3389/fncom.2012.00079
Nikolaus Kriegeskorte, PhD, Programme-Leader Track
Medical Research Council, Cognition and Brain Sciences Unit
15 Chaucer Road, Cambridge, CB2 7EF, UK
New US study says money spent on prison system and war on drugs should go towards education
Mental health experts from Meharry Medical College School of Medicine have released the first comprehensive report on the correlation between the incarceration of African American males and substance abuse and other health problems in the United States. Published in Frontiers in Psychology on the 12th of November, the report looks at decades of data concerning the African American population rates of incarceration and subsequent health issues. The authors conclude that the moral and economic costs of current racial disparities in the judicial system are fundamentally avoidable, especially if more resources are spent on education and treatment.
“Instead of getting health care and education from civil society, African American males are being funneled into the prison system. Much of this costly practice could be avoided in the long-term by transferring funds away from prisons and into education,” says Dr. William D Richie, assistant professor in the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at Meharry Medical College, lead author of the paper.
Money would be better spent on treatment than on incarceration
The study highlights the fact that with regard to African American males in the prison system, individual States are paying more to lock up non-violent offenders than they are for education, since 60% of incarcerations are due to non-violent, illicit drug-related crimes. The authors also point to a previous study from 2000 showing that the total cost of substance abuse—be it incarceration, crime or treatment—is over $500 billion per year for the US.
These and other statistics have led the authors—scientific experts often called upon to testify in court—to conclude in the paper that: “Spending money on prevention and intervention of substance abuse treatment programs will yield better results than spending on correctional facilities.”
Need more teachers of color
Even though crime rates have dropped across the country over the past two decades, incarceration rates have continued to skyrocket—with black people accounting for a largely disproportionate 38% of inmates. More alarmingly, incarceration rates for African American males jumped 500% between 1986 and 2004. And while substance abuse increases the chances of individuals’ ending up in prison, those without any previous history of substance abuse have a higher risk of substance abuse once they leave the prison system, and could more easily fall back into the judicial system instead of getting a solid job or education.
According to Richie, much of this disparity is due to a fundamental problem of perception on both sides. For example, negative reinforcement of disruptive behavior is prevalent already in preschool—young children of color are often treated more harshly for behavior similar to their white peers.
“One step in the right direction, would be to have more black teachers during the early stages of development” says Dr. Richie. “From a behavioral scientific perspective, having teachers that look like the students and the parents of students from an early age could go a long way in changing perceptions of authority for black youth.”
Getting more African American teachers means increasing the number of African Americans in the higher education system and getting them out of the incarceration system. In the end, the authors conclude, effective treatment of substance use disorders and alternatives to prison would cost the United States much less and improve the lives of African American males, their families, and the entire country.
Overview of substance use disorders and incarceration of African American males. Authors: Mukku Venkata K, Benson Timothy G, Alam Farzana, Richie William Donald, Bailey Rahn Kennedy.
Frontiers in Psychiatry / DOI=10.3389/fpsyt.2012.00098
William D. Richie, M.D., F.A.P.A.
Board Certified in
General and Forensic Psychiatry
Director, Division of Forensic Psychiatry
Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences
Meharry Medical College
1005 Dr. D. B. Todd, Jr. Boulevard
Nashville, Tennessee 37208-3599
fMRI study finds neural correlates to support cognitive model
Researchers at the University of Bergen in Norway have found new support for their theory that cannabis use causes a temporary cognitive breakdown in non-psychotic individuals, leading to long-term psychosis. In an fMRI study published in Frontiers in Psychiatry on the 30th of October, researchers found a different brain activity pattern in schizophrenia patients with previous cannabis use than in schizophrenic patients without prior cannabis use.
The results reinforce the researchers model where cannabis users suffering from schizophrenia actually may have higher cognitive abilities than non-cannabis using schizophrenics. This difference may mean that the cannabis-user group did not have the mental propensity for psychosis, and helps build the case that the effects of cannabis are not triggering a latent psychotic state but alone create the necessary conditions to induce psychosis.
“While brain activity for both groups was similar, there are subtle differences between schizophrenia sufferers with a history of cannabis use and those who have never used cannabis. These differences lead us to believe that the cognitive weakness leading to schizophrenia is imitated by the effects of cannabis in otherwise non-psychotic people,” explains Else-Marie Loeberg, lead author on the article and associate professor of Psychology at the University of Bergen, Norway.
The 26 patients involved in the study attempted difficult cognitive tasks while in an fMRI machine. They were asked to listen to different syllables in each ear and try to say which syllable was spoken when instructed to concentrate on either the left or right ear—a difficult task for anyone but particularly difficult for schizophrenia patients who often have impaired attention, limited executive functioning and difficulty in processing verbal cues.
The study shows that schizophrenia sufferers with pervious cannabis use had consistently higher levels of brain activity while undergoing these tests as well as a higher number of correct answers. These results are in line with previous conclusions from the Bergen researchers who support the idea that cannabis users with schizophrenic characteristics do not appear to suffer from the same neuro-cognitive weaknesses as other patients with schizophrenia.
This implies that it is the cannabis use itself that leads otherwise non-psychotic individuals down the nightmarish path towards schizophrenia by imitating the cognitive weakness that is the main risk factor for developing the psychological condition.
An fMRI study of neuronal activation in schizophrenia patients with and without previous cannabis use. Authors: Loeberg Else-Marie, Nygaard Merethe, Berle Jan Oeystein, Johnsen Erik, Kroken Rune, Joergensen Hugo, Hugdahl Kenneth.
Frontiers in Pharmacology / DOI=10.3389/fpsyt.2012.00094
Specialist in clinical psychology (NPF)
Inst. biological and medical psychology, University of Bergen and
Division of Psychiatry, Haukeland University Hospital
Recent study controls for genetic variables in cognitive performance
In a new study published in Frontiers, Dr Timothy Durazzo and colleagues from the San Francisco VA Medical Center and University of California, San Francisco, expand upon their decade of research showing that smoking while kicking the alcohol habit impairs memory, learning and other cognitive skills--ultimately making it more difficult to weather the long storm of sobriety.
Cigarettes, substance abuse and the military
“Given our strong and consistent research findings in both Veterans and civilians on the ill-effects of chronic smoking, we truly hope to see smoking cessation programs become increasingly available for our current active-duty war fighters,” says Dr. Durazzo
Active duty US soldiers smoke at around a 10% higher rate than the civilian population. And after serving their country in the military, they statistically run higher risks of alcohol and substance abuse. In 2007, over 375,000 VA patients had a substance use disorder diagnosis and nearly 500,000 additional patients had a nicotine dependence. According to Dr. Durazzo, alcohol and cigarettes have a greater negative effect on brain biology and cognitive function when they are combined.
“Our results suggest that it is a high priority to offer comprehensive smoking cessation treatment for all patients, especially for those seeking treatment for alcohol and substance abuse, given the high prevalence of smoking in these individuals,” Dr. Durazzo adds.
Controlling for the genetic variables
Previous research showed that variants in the COMT and BDNF genes influence cognitive function. Therefore, the researchers wanted to determine if variants in these genes explained the poorer cognitive performance they repeatedly observed in their smoking alcohol dependent patients.
In 70, primarily male Veterans seeking treatment for alcohol dependence, Durazzo and colleagues studied the effects of cigarette smoking and genetic factors on cognitive function after about 1-month of abstinence. The results showed after controlling for the influence of these genotypes that smokers performed significantly worse than non-smokers on measures of learning and memory, general intelligence, processing speed and global cognitive abilities. Importantly, within the smoking group, greater number of years of smoking was related to worse cognitive function.
According to Durazzo: “Intact functioning in these areas will assist individuals in incorporating the treatment they receive in into their everyday lives.”
Overall, the results confirm their previous research and lend strong support to the growing movement to make smoking cessation programs common fare at the inception of alcohol and substance abuse treatments. There are an increasing number of studies that report smokers have a greater chance of relapse to alcohol or substances than non-smokers.
Associations of Cigarette Smoking and Polymorphisms in Brain-Derived Neurotrophic Factor and Catechol-O-Methyltransferase with Neurocognition in Alcohol Dependent Individuals during Early Abstinence. Authors: Durazzo Timothy, Hutchison Kent, Fryer Susanna, Mon Anderson, Meyerhoff Dieter
Frontiers in Pharmacology / DOI=10.3389/fphar.2012.00178
Timothy C. Durazzo, PhD
Department of Radiology and Biomedical Imaging
University of California, San Francisco
Center for Imaging of Neurodegenerative Diseases
San Francisco VA Medical Center
Tel: +41 79 416 93 91
Study shows prevalent desire to discuss assisted suicide with doctor
A study published in Frontiers in Psychology for Clinical Settings shows that while current Swiss law does not necessarily increase the desire for assisted suicide, patients wish to discuss the option with their physician. Ralf Stutzki, researcher at the University of Basel Institut für Bio- und Medizininethik, interviewed 33 Swiss patients with Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS) to assess their attitudes towards assisted suicide. 94% (31) of the patients expressed no immediate wish for assisted suicide at the time of the interview, yet over half of the patients would like the option of discussing suicide by means of a prescribed drug with their doctor.
“This research makes it clear that doctors throughout Switzerland should be prepared to discuss end-of-life options with these kinds of patients,” says Stutzki.
Liberal laws do not increase desire for death
According to this study, even though assisted suicide is permissible by Swiss law and tolerated by society, it does not appear as though the legal option increases the patients’ desire for immediate death after having been diagnosed with the fatal disease.
“Other factors such as family life, quality of care and overall quality of life play a bigger role in determining the desire for assisted suicide than the mere existence of the permissive law,” explains Stutzki. “But the possibility to eventually discuss the option with their doctor at a later stage is a comfort for the patient.”
Suicide and ALS
ALS, known as Lou Gehrig’s disease in North America, is the most common of neurodegenerative diseases. Its debilitating effects radically decrease the quality of life of its sufferers and ultimately lead to death. A 2004 study by the City of Zurich states that out of 421 cases of assisted suicide with Dignitas or Exit, 24% had neurological disorders, including ALS. In the Netherlands, 16.8% of ALS patients opted for physician-assisted suicide between 2000-2005.
Out of the 33 patients interviewed, 39% (13) said that they had already considered the possibility of suicide. While 94% of the interviewees did not express a desire for assisted suicide at the time of the interview, 54% of the patients could imagine asking a physician to prescribe a fatal drug that they could take themselves in the future. And 57% said that they could imagine a physician administering the drug—which is currently an illegal practice in Switzerland.
“The fact that over half of the patients I interviewed could imagine asking their physician to administer the drug, an illegal practice in Switzerland, reveals an attitude which exceeds the options provided by current law,” says Stutzki. “The report highlights the need for a larger-scoped study to help guide the legal and ethical discussion.”
“Attitudes towards assisted suicide and life-prolonging measures in Swiss ALS patients and their caregivers.” Ralf Stutzki, Ursula Schneider, Stella Reiter-Theil and Markus Weber, Frontiers in Psychology for Clinical Settings, doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2012.00443
Institute for Biomedical Ethics
Mobile: +41 79 416 93 91
Sexual Orientation Biases Attentional Control
Homosexuals are often believed to have a telepathic “sixth sense” for recognizing one another, an ability often referred to as gaydar (a portmanteau of gay and radar). In a study published in May in the open-access journal Frontiers in Cognition (www.frontiersin.org), researchers at Leiden University and the University of Amsterdam, led by Lorenza Colzato, provide evidence for the existence of an attentional gaydar mechanism.
In a task that requires the processing of complex visual stimuli, male and female homosexuals showed a significantly stronger preference for detail than heterosexuals, indicating that a homosexual orientation is associated with a more analytic perceptual/attentional style.
Adopting such a processing style increases the likelihood to detect perceptual cues indicative of the sexual orientation of others, which again facilitates identifying like-minded, social peers, and potential friends and sex mates. Homosexuals are apparently better trained in making use of the subtle, but distinctive features that they tend to share, including body-movement, gesturing style, and speech patterns. Their attentional control is faster and more efficiently tuned to pick up the visual cues correlated with sexual orientation.
No indications were found for greater anxiety or arousal in the homosexual participants, which rules out a stress-related alternative conclusion. There is no reason to assume that this scenario is restricted to sexual orientation. Rather, these and other observations seem reflect a very general mechanism: being a member of any social group might shape cognitive-control operations, no matter if the group is defined by shared culture, religious practice, or shared sexual orientation.
Beneficial Effects of Shooting Games despite Accusations of Causing Aggressive Behaviors
In a study published on April 22 in the open-access journal Frontiers in Cognition, researchers at Leiden University and the University of Amsterdam, led by Lorenza Colzato, have shown that playing First Person Shooter videogames is associated with superior mental flexibility.
Compared to non-players, players of such games are found to require a significantly shorter reaction time while switching between complex tasks, because they are required to develop a more responsive mindset to rapidly react to fast-moving visual and auditory stimuli, and to shift back and forth between different subduties.
A prompt response to situational changes is an essential skill for functional everyday behavior and it is greatly reduced with aging. Training elderly with ad-hoc videogames is, therefore, a potential strategy to successfully compensate for losses in their ability to adapt and restructure the cognitive system while changing situational demands.
First Person Shooter videogames are often accused by media of causing extreme behaviors (e.g. violent, addictive and anti-social behaviors) despite the fact that these effects are yet to be scientifically confirmed, and that players can be found at any age and socio-economical background. Compared to the amount of attention received by potentially negative effects, only little research was done on the beneficial influences that videogame experience may have on cognitive skills, and this study is the first of its kind.
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