Possible explanation for premenstrual moodiness

mood_girl.jpgNew Scientist is reporting that the ‘moodiness’ experienced by some women during the premenstrual phase of the menstrual cycle may be linked to the function of the orbitofrontal cortex.

The oribitofrontal cortex (OFC), the part of the brain that lies just above the eyes, is known to be involved in emotional regulation.

The research, led by (the wonderfully named) Xenia Protopopescu from Cornell University, brain-scanned 12 women who did not experience mood changes during their menstrual cycle.

They found that an area in the OFC increased in activity when participants reacted to emotionally-laden words during an experimental task when in their premenstrual phase.

Crucially, there was less recorded activity for the same task when it was completed during the post-menstrual phase, suggesting emotional regulation was most needed during the earlier, premenstrual period, to maintain a steady mood.

The researchers have suggested that women who experience fluxations in mood during their cycle may not have such effective emotional regulation, although the exact mechanism of how the hormonal changes affect the function of the brain is still unclear.

The complexity of the issue is highlighted by the finding that other, more dispersed areas of the OFC, showed the opposite pattern of activity during the same experiment.

Link to New Scientist article.
Link to abstract of academic paper.

Childhood trauma and schizophrenia

Continuing the schizophrenia theme – the latest issue of the journal Acta Psychiatrica Scandinavica is a special edition on the link between childhood trauma and schizophrenia.

The new findings support the argument for a bio-psycho-social approach to psychosis and come in the wake of a recent article in Psychiatric News, published by the American Psychiatric Association, about the overmedicalisation of psychiatry, and an article in the October issue of The Psychologist, published here in the UK, subtitled ‘what happened to the ‘psycho’ and ‘social’ in explanations of mental illness?’.

If you don’t have access to the journal Acta Psychiatrica Scandinavica, Oliver James wrote an essay in Saturday’s Guardian on the new findings and their implications for the treatment of schizophrenia. For example, he says that a review of 13 studies found that between 51 to 97 per cent (depending on the study) of people diagnosed with schizophrenia had previously suffered sexual or physical abuse. His essay says the new findings will shake the intellectual foundations of the psychiatric establishment like an earthquake.

Update:A report on one of the papers from this special issue of Acta Psychiatrica Scandinavica now appears on the BPS Research Digest here

Schizophrenia featured article on Wikipedia

Schizophrenia is today’s featured article on wikipedia and already activity has hit fever pitch.

It’s an article I’ve been quite heavily involved with over the last few years, and it has proved as much a project in diplomacy and fire fighting as it has in understanding the science and history of this complex diagnosis.

There are many contrasting (and at times conficting) views of schizophrenia and trying to balance all of these approaches to produce a rounded article has been an ongoing mission for the various regular editors of the article.

The article discussion page is full of some of the more memorable and ill-informed additions, including “Medication skipping schizos murder people everywhere” and someone threatening to contact CNN if their edits weren’t included.

Since it has been posted to the front page it has been the subject of both incisive and clarifying edits, as well as vandalism and unfounded sloganism.

Isn’t the internet great ? :/

Link to wikipedia entry on Schizophrenia.

Dreams made real

slowwave_panel.jpgArtist Jesse Reklaw takes people’s descriptions of their dreams and turns them into beautifully pencilled four panel comic strips on her website SlowWave.com.

Interesting, Jesse also asks for a physical description of the person submitting the dream, so she can include their likeness into the story.

The archives are wonderfully offbeat and suitably surreal.

My favourites include a dream about going to a bar to hire drunken body parts and one about finding the subway full of penguins. A new dream is uploaded every week.

Link to SlowWave.com

2005-10-21 Spike activity

Quick links from the past week in mind and brain news:


New York Times on ‘Life Hackers‘ researching the interaction between humans and computers.

Neuroscientist Mike Merzenich interviewed on whether new technology is making us more intelligent or less.

Children born prematurely are to be studied to see how their brains adapt to damage.

Great article by Carl Zimmer on the new paper in the controversy over whether the ‘hobbit’ is a new species of human or person with microcephaly.

More on Clancy’s psychological research on self-confessed alien abductees.

BBC Radio 4 science programme Material Word on the development of music and language.

Mapping of immigation patterns in US show family, not economic reasons, are strongest influence.

Implant for deaf and hearing-impaired designed to boost music appreciation.

Vastly oversimplified neuroscience used to sell dating service.

Sociology focus for ‘Thinking Allowed’

laurie_taylor.jpgBBC Radio 4 programme Thinking Allowed seems to have changed its focus and now concentrates on sociology.

Previously, it billed itself as “weekly discussion on topical issues of academic concern” but now seems to be advertised as discussing the “latest social science research”.

In this series it has covered topics ranging from the social influence of the pharmaceutical industry to the role of sociology in public life.

The BBC’s biography for the presenter, Laurie Taylor, also makes interesting reading. As well as being a Professor of Sociology, Taylor has previously been a teacher, actor and librarian.

Link to Thinking Allowed website and realaudio archives.

High strength magnetic pulses alter touch sense

rTMS2.jpgOpen-access science journal PLoS Biology reports that high strength magnetic pulses, targetted at a specific area of the brain, can make areas of the body more sensitive to touch.

The use of focused magnetic pulses to stimulate the brain, a technique known as transcranial magnetic stimulation or TMS, is now becoming commonplace in neuroscience research.

It allows researchers to slightly alter the function of a brain area using a hand held magnetic coil. The resulting changes can hopefully be detectable using behavioural or psychological measures.

Like most neuroscience studies, research projects using this technique start by wondering whether a particular brain area is necessary for a particular type of mental activity or behaviour.

Unlike other techniques, such as brain scanning – that typically only find correlates of thought or behaviour – TMS allows researchers to make causal inferences. In other words, they can judge whether the area they are targetting is involved in causing the thought or action to occur.

Traditionally, TMS is used in research to safely inhibit or disrupt function in a brain area for a short period of time. More recently, it has been found that TMS (particularly when given in ‘trains’ or repetitive bursts) can be reliably used to increase activation in brain areas, over longer time periods.

The PloS Biology study targetted an area of the brain involved in somatosensory functions (mainly touch and body image) and found that they could increase skin sensitivity on the finger, when they aimed for the brain area that holds the ‘finger map’.

Link to PLoS Biology summary.
Link to story from nature.com.
Link to PLoS Biology full text paper.