You May Not Have Rhythm, but Your Brain Does

YOU MAY NOT HAVE RHYTHM, BUT YOUR BRAIN DOES

New research begins to demystify communication between brain regions, potentially paving the way to treating disorders caused by crossed signals

A great set of studies by scientists I’ve corresponded with and respect. It’s all about rhythm.

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Slow wave sleep and race

A blurb that’s just coming out into the press.

Slow wave activity (SWA), a stable trait dependent marker of the intensity of non-rapid eye movement (NREM) sleep, is lower in young healthy African-Americans compared to Caucasians who were matched for age, gender and body weight, according to recent research.

It would be interesting to see the full report on this, whether subjects were matched on social and economic scales, and whether other health issues played a factor.

Update: Apparently there was a big sleep convention lately. Here were some other findings:

Sleep restriction affects children’s speech

Electrical brain waves predict attentional deficits following sleep deprivation

Sleep disorders are highly prevalent among police officers

Sleep deprivation can lead to increased smoking and drinking

Finally:
A good night’s sleep improves athletic performance

Antidepressants in children: researchers vs. psychiatrists

A small handful of researchers, and the FDA, are skeptical about prescribing selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors to children and teenagers. First, the point of view of the researchers.

Gingrich used mice that were genetically altered so that they lacked the ability to mop up serotonin. They were—in effect—born on Prozac. He wanted to see how depression was related to serotonin and norepinephrine, another neurotransmitter. “Our simple-minded idea was these mice would look like mice treated chronically with Prozac,” Gingrich says. They should have been free of anything like a mouse’s version of depression or anxiety.

Gingrich found quite the opposite. Because he could not chat with them about their feelings, he gave the mice stress tests. (An inability to handle stress is one hallmark of depression.) He put a small electric charge on the floor on one side of their cage. Normal mice will quickly learn to escape the tiny shock by running to the other side. These mice did not. “They have a tendency to freeze,” he says. “They stay on the same side where the foot shock is being administered, or they escape much more slowly.” The mice—­despite having lived their entire lives as if they were on Prozac—were afflicted with what looked suspiciously like an anxiety disorder.

Now, fair and balanced, the psychiatrists…

Even in the face of this evidence, however, many psychiatrists believe that antidepressants do far more good than harm in children and teens. Like Emslie in Texas, Harold Koplewicz, a professor of psychiatry at New York University and one of the city’s top child psychiatrists, has been using SSRIs aggressively in children and teenagers for more than a decade. “I am probably the first person to give these meds to kids clinically,” he says. As recently as a few years ago, most psychiatrists thought they should try talk therapy with kids before giving them medication. But that has changed, he declares.

He has seen what happens to teenagers who are not treated. “After they’ve had one episode of depression, they’re 60 percent more likely to have another. If they have two, they’re 90 percent more likely to have a third. And subsequent episodes are more difficult to treat…. Every good clinician will tell you the risk of not taking the medication is greater” than the possible risks of taking SSRIs.

Evidence for the inflammation hypothesis of Alzheimer’s

The inflammation hypothesis of Alzheimer’s, which suggests that inflammation in the brain triggers a cascade of cellular events that over time results in deposits and atrophy, and subsequent cognitive deficits, is still relatively controversial.

A Harvard researcher found a correlation between inflammation and future prevalence of Alzheimer’s.

The participants’ blood was tested for levels of cytokines, which are protein messengers that trigger inflammation. Those with the highest amount of cytokines in their blood were more than twice as likely to develop Alzheimer’s disease as those with the lowest amount of cytokines.

Doogie mice version 2.0

“It’s pretty rare when you can make an animal smarter,” said Dr. James Bibb, assistant professor of psychiatry at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center, who led the study published in the journal Nature Neuroscience.

I’ll say. These guys deleted a certain gene, Cdk5, which apparently controls the destruction of the NMDA receptor. The NMDA receptor is important for learning new associations and retaining them as memories. Seems pretty legit.

Aggression and mice, an Ohio story

A shout out to my neighbors with the big press release.

“We found that estrogen has totally opposite effects on behavior in these mice depending only on how much light they got each day,” said Brian Trainor, co-author of the study and postdoctoral fellow in psychology and neuroscience at Ohio State University. “It is quite a surprising finding.”

Microeconomics and the brain

A pretty cool story on the diminishing marginal utility theory.

The microeconomic law of diminishing marginal utility states that while accumulating a good—pretzels, pencils, nickels, whatever—each successive unit of that good will be less satisfying to acquire than the one before it. Finding a shiny quarter on the street is a real thrill. But, if you are carrying around a bag of coins, acquiring another one does not seem nearly as exciting. In fact, would you even bother to pick it up?

That hesitation is what researchers at the University of Cambridge in England were banking on when they designed a study to see if the haves catch on more slowly than the have-nots when it comes to reward-based learning. Reporting in the current issue of Neuron, the scientists reveal that when a small sum of money is on the line, poorer people learn quickly how to maximize their profits, leaving their wealthier counterparts in the dust.