Our Brains Are Hardwired To Prefer the Sofa to the Gym

MedicalResearch.com Interview with:
“sleeping” by Venturist is licensed under CC BY 2.0Matthieu Boisgontier  PhD

Movement Control & Neuroplasticity Research Group
KU Leuven
Brain Behaviour Laboratory
University of British Columbia, Canada

MedicalResearch.com: What is the background for this study? What are the main findings?

Response: For decades, society has encouraged people to be more physically active. Yet, despite gradually scaling up actions promoting physical activity across the years, we are actually becoming less active. From 2010 to 2016, the number of inactive adults has increased by 5% worldwide, now affecting more than 1 in 4 adults (1.4 billion people). This context raised the question: Why do we still fail to be more physically active?

Our hypothesis was that this failure is explained by an “exercise paradox” in which conscious and automatic processes in the brain come into conflict. To illustrate this paradox, you can think of people taking the elevator or escalator when they go to the gym, which does not make sense. This non-sense, this paradox, could be due to the fact that their intention to exercise come into conflict with an automatic attraction to resting in the elevator.

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Bigger Amygdalas Linked to Procrastination

MedicalResearch.com Interview with:
MedicalResearch.comCaroline Schlüter, M.Sc. Psychologie

Fakultät für Psychologie
AE Biopsychologie
Ruhr-Universität Bochum

MedicalResearch.com: What is the background for this study? What are the main findings?

Response: Individuals differ in their ability to initiate intended actions. While some people tend to put tasks off, others easily manage to tackle them directly. Although interindividual differences in what we call ‘action control’ make a major contribution to our everyday life by affecting our physical and mental health as well as our academic and occupational performance, their neural foundation was mostly unknown.

Our study is the first to use both structural and functional neuroimaging methods to investigate the neural correlates of action control. We were able to show that poorer action control is significantly related to greater amygdala volume. The amygdala is considered to be a neuroanatomical hub for fear-motivated behavior. It processes sensory information in order to evaluate a given situation, behaviour or outcome. Hence, it is conceivable that individuals with a larger amygdala tend to evaluate future actions and their possible consequences more extensively. This, in turn, might lead to greater concern and hesitation, as observed in individuals with poorer action control.

Further, we were able to show that weaker functional resting-state connectivity between the amygdala and the dorsal anterior cingulate cortex (dACC) is significantly associated with lower action control scores, which are typical for procrastinators. Previous studies indicate that the dACC has reciprocal connections with the amygdala, playing a significant role in purposive behaviour and self-control mechanisms. Thus, a weaker functional connection between both brain areas might hinder successful action control, as interfering negative emotions and  Continue reading

Study Identifies Gene Mechanism Linked to Fear and Aggression

MedicalResearch.com Interview with:

Prof. Carmen Sandi Director, Brain Mind Institute Laboratory of Behavioral Genetics Brain Mind Institute Ecole Polytechnique Federale de Lausanne Lausanne, Switzerland 

Prof. Sandi

Prof. Carmen Sandi
Director, Brain Mind Institute
Laboratory of Behavioral Genetics
Brain Mind Institute
Ecole Polytechnique Federale de Lausanne
Lausanne, Switzerland 

MedicalResearch.com: What is the background for this study? What are the main findings?

Response: We are interested in understanding how the brain regulates social behaviors and aggression, both in healthy individuals and individuals with psychiatric disorders. In our recent publication in Molecular Psychiatry, we investigated the impact of an alteration in a gene, St8sia2, that plays important roles during early brain development. Alterations in this gene have been linked with schizophrenia, autism and bipolar disorder, and individuals with these disorders frequently present high aggressiveness. In addition, expression of this gene in the brain can be altered by stressful insults during very early life and development.

Our study shows that genetic and environmental conditions linked to a reduction in the expression of this neuroplasticity gene during early life can lead to impaired fear learning and associated pathological aggression. We could further reveal that deficits in St8sia2 expression lead to a dysfunction in a receptor in the amygdala (a brain region critically involved in emotionality and fear learning), the GluN2B subunit of NMDA Receptors.

This allowed us to target this receptor with D-cycloserine, a drug that facilitates NMDA receptor function. This treatment, when given acutely, ameliorated the capacity to learn from adversity and reduced individuals’ aggressiveness.  Continue reading

 Four Brain-Guided Dimensions of Psychopathology: Mood, Psychosis, Fear, and Disruptive Behavior

MedicalResearch.com Interview with:
MedicalResearch.com Interview with: Dr. Theodore Satterthwaite MD Assistant professor in the department of Psychiatry, and Cedric Xia, a MD-PhD candidate Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania MedicalResearch.com: What is the background for this study? What are the main findings? Response: Unlike other branches of modern medicine, psychiatry still solely replies on patient reports and physician observations for clinical decision-making. Without biologically-based tests, the diagnostic categories for mental health do not carve nature at its joint. This is evident in the high levels of co-morbidity across disorders and heterogeneity within disorders. Through this research, we studied a large sample of adolescents who completed MRI-based functional imaging, and used recently-developed machine learning techniques to uncover specific abnormalities that are highly predictive of a wide variety of psychiatric symptoms. Essentially, we tried to find brain patterns that were predictive of different types of psychiatric symptoms. We discovered four such brain-guided dimensions of psychopathology: mood, psychosis, fear, and disruptive behavior. While each of these dimensions exhibits a unique pattern of brain connectivity, a common feature of brain anomaly is shared across the dimensions. Notably, in all linked dimensions, the default mode network and fronto-parietal network, two brain regions that usually become increasingly distinct as the brain matures, were abnormally connected. This loss of normal brain network segregation supports the hypothesis that many psychiatric illnesses may be disorders of brain development. MedicalResearch.com: What should readers take away from your report? Response: This study shows that we can start to use the brain to guide our understanding of psychiatric disorders in a way that’s fundamentally different than grouping symptoms into clinical diagnostic categories. By moving away from clinical labels developed decades ago, we can begin to let the biology speak for itself. Our ultimate hope is that understanding the biology of mental illnesses will allow us to develop better treatments for our patients. MedicalResearch.com: What recommendations do you have for future research as a result of this work? Response: This study demonstrates the importance of incorporating vast amounts of biological data to study mental illness across clinical diagnostic boundaries. Moving forward, we hope to integrate genomic data in order to describe pathways from genes to brain to symptoms, which could ultimately be the basis for novel treatments for mental illness. MedicalResearch.com: Is there anything else you would like to add? Response: Future breakthroughs in brain science to understand mental illness requires large amount of data. While the current study takes advantage of one of the largest samples of youth, the size (n=999) remains dwarfed by the complexity of the brain. The neuroscience community is actively working towards collecting higher quality data in even larger samples, so we can validate and build upon the findings. Citation: Cedric Huchuan Xia, Zongming Ma, Rastko Ciric, Shi Gu, Richard F. Betzel, Antonia N. Kaczkurkin, Monica E. Calkins, Philip A. Cook, Angel García de la Garza, Simon N. Vandekar, Zaixu Cui, Tyler M. Moore, David R. Roalf, Kosha Ruparel, Daniel H. Wolf, Christos Davatzikos, Ruben C. Gur, Raquel E. Gur, Russell T. Shinohara, Danielle S. Bassett, Theodore D. Satterthwaite. Linked dimensions of psychopathology and connectivity in functional brain networks. Nature Communications, 2018; 9 (1) DOI: 10.1038/s41467-018-05317-y  <span class="last-modified-timestamp">Aug 8, 2018 @ 1:10 am</span> The information on MedicalResearch.com is provided for educational purposes only, and is in no way intended to diagnose, cure, or treat any medical or other condition. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health and ask your doctor any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. In addition to all other limitations and disclaimers in this agreement, service provider and its third party providers disclaim any liability or loss in connection with the content provided on this website.
Dr. Theodore Satterthwaite MD
Assistant professor in the department of Psychiatry, and
Cedric Xia, a MD-PhD candidate
Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania

MedicalResearch.com: What is the background for this study? What are the main findings? 

Response: Unlike other branches of modern medicine, psychiatry still solely replies on patient reports and physician observations for clinical decision-making. Without biologically-based tests, the diagnostic categories for mental health do not carve nature at its joint. This is evident in the high levels of co-morbidity across disorders and heterogeneity within disorders.

Through this research, we studied a large sample of adolescents who completed MRI-based functional imaging, and used recently-developed machine learning techniques to uncover specific abnormalities that are highly predictive of a wide variety of psychiatric symptoms. Essentially, we tried to find brain patterns that were predictive of different types of psychiatric symptoms. We discovered four such brain-guided dimensions of psychopathology: mood, psychosis, fear, and disruptive behavior.

While each of these dimensions exhibits a unique pattern of brain connectivity, a common feature of brain anomaly is shared across the dimensions. Notably, in all linked dimensions, the default mode network and fronto-parietal network, two brain regions that usually become increasingly distinct as the brain matures, were abnormally connected. This loss of normal brain network segregation supports the hypothesis that many psychiatric illnesses may be disorders of brain development. Continue reading

Understanding the Neuroscience of Creativity Through Music Improvisation

MedicalResearch.com Interview with:

Andrew Goldman PhD Laboratory for Intelligent Imaging and Neural Computing Department of Biomedical Engineering, Columbia University Presidential Scholar in Society and Neuroscience, Columbia University Andrew Goldman PhD
Laboratory for Intelligent Imaging and Neural Computing
Department of Biomedical Engineering, Columbia University
Presidential Scholar in Society and Neuroscience,
Columbia University 

MedicalResearch.com: What is the background for this study? What are the main findings?

Response: Many Western musicians have difficulty improvising, despite having extensive training and experience. These musicians learn about and use similar musical structures in their playing (like chords, scales, rhythmic patterns, etc.) as experienced improvisers, but they may know about them in different ways. In other words, different musicians have different ways of knowing and learning about similar musical structures. To understand which ways of knowing facilitate the ability to improvise contributes to an understanding of how people are able to use knowledge creatively. Western music provides an important opportunity to compare these different ways of knowing because in other improvisatory domains of behavior (like speaking), it is difficult to find people who know how to do it but cannot improvise with it (e.g., if you know a language, you can very likely improvise with that language).

In order to advance our understanding of these improvisatory ways of knowing, we compared musicians with varying degrees of improvisation experience in a task that tested how they categorized musical chords. In Western music, different chords are theorized to have similar “functions.” For example, on a guitar, there are different ways to play a C chord, and you could often substitute one for the other. You might even play another chord in place of the C chord and have it sound similar, or lead to a similar subsequent harmony. Improvisers often use notation that specifies classes of chords rather than specific realizations (versions) of a chord whereas those who do not typically improvise use notation that specifies the full realization of the chord. By analogy, one chef might use a recipe that calls for “citrus” (in music, a class of musical chord) while another chef’s recipe might specifically call for “lemon” (in music, a specific realization of a functional class of chords). We tested whether improvisers categorize similar-functioning harmonies as more similar to each other than different-functioning harmonies, and compared how less experienced improvisers categorize the same harmonies.

Our task required the musicians to listen to a series of repeating harmonies (the “standard” stimuli) and pick out occasional chords that were different in any way (the “deviant” stimuli). Some deviant stimuli were different versions of the standard chord (like limes in place of lemons) and some deviant stimuli were chords with different musical functions (like bananas instead of lemons).

The more experienced improvisers were better at detecting the function deviants than the exemplar deviants whereas the less experienced improvisers showed little difference in their ability to detect the two types of deviants. In other words, because improvisers categorize the different versions of the same chord as similar, they have a relatively harder time picking out the similarly functioning harmonies. This was measured using behavioral data, and electroencephalography (EEG), which can be used to provide a neural measure of how different stimuli are perceived to be from each other.

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Major Brain Networks With Altered Brain Function In Individuals with Addiction Identified

MedicalResearch.com Interview with:
Professor, Rita Z. Goldstein, PhD
Department of Psychiatry (primary)
and Department of Neuroscience, Friedman Brain Institute (secondary)
Chief, Neuropsychoimaging of Addiction and Related Conditions (NARC) Research Program

Anna Zilverstand PhD
Assistant Professor, Psychiatry

Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai
The Leon and Norma Hess Center for Science and Medicine
New York, NY 10029 

MedicalResearch.com: What is the background for this study? What are the main findings?

Response: In comparison to previous reviews that often focused on investigating select brain circuits, such as the reward network, our review is the first to systematically discuss all brain networks implicated in human drug addiction. Based on more than 100 neuroimaging studies published since 2010, we found that six major brain networks showed altered brain function in individuals with addiction. These brain circuits are involved in a person’s ability to select their actions (executive network), in directing someone’s attention (salience network), in adaptive learning of new behaviors (memory network), in the automatization of behaviors (habit network), in self-reflection (self-directed network) and the valuation of different options (reward network).

When individuals with addiction are confronted with pictures of drug taking, all of these networks become very highly engaged; however, when the same individuals are confronted with scenes depicting other people, their brains show a reduced reaction as compared to healthy individuals, indicating less involvement. Similarly, the brain of an addicted individual is less engaged when making decisions (that are not relevant to their drug taking) or when trying to inhibit impulsive actions. We further found that some impairments of brain functions, such as alterations underlying the difficulty to inhibit impulsive actions, seem to precede drug addiction, as we observe similar impairments in adolescents that later go on to abuse drugs. However, particularly the impairments in the executive network (involved in the ability to inhibit impulsive actions), the valuation network (which computes the value of an option) and the salience network (that directs attention towards events) seem to be getting worse with more severe drug use and also predict if someone is likely to relapse or not.

The good news is that we also found that it is possible to (partially) recover and normalize brain function in these networks through treatment. Importantly, the widespread alterations of brain function were independent of what drug an individual was addicted to (marijuana, alcohol, cigarettes, cocaine, methamphetamine, heroin, amongst others). Continue reading

Higher Connectivity of Brain Networks Linked to Increased Risk of Psychopathology

MedicalResearch.com Interview with:

Maxwell Elliott Clinical psychology PhD student Working with Ahmad Hariri and the Moffitt & Caspi lab Duke University

Maxwell Elliott

Maxwell Elliott
Clinical psychology PhD student
Working with Ahmad Hariri and the Moffitt & Caspi lab
Duke University

MedicalResearch.com: What is the background for this study? What are the main findings?

Response: The traditional clinical science model identifies individuals who meet specific criteria for mental illness diagnoses (e.g. Depression, Anxiety) and compares them to “healthy” controls to find brain correlates of mental illness.  However, this approach often overlooks the high rates of comorbidity and shared symptamatology across mental illnesses. Emerging research has identified a general factor of psychopathology that accounts for shared risk among internalizing, externalizing, and thought disorders across diverse samples.

This general factor of psychopathology has been called the p-factor. In our study we investigate the brain correlates of the p-factor using a data-driven analysis of resting state functional connectivity. We find that higher p-factor scores and associated risk for common mental illness maps onto hyper-connectivity between visual association cortex and both frontoparietal and default mode networks.

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Babies’ Brain Responses Predict Dyslexic Reading Skills in School

MedicalResearch.com Interview with:

Kaisa Lohvansuu, PhD
Postdoctoral Researcher
Jyväskylä Centre for Interdisciplinary Brain Research
Department of Psychology
University of Jyväskylä 

MedicalResearch.com: What is the background for this study?
Response: Developmental dyslexia, a specific reading disability, has a strong genetic basis: The risk of having developmental dyslexia at school age is eight times higher than usual if either of the parents has reading difficulty. It has been known that dyslexia and also family risk for dyslexia are strongly associated with a speech perception deficit, but the underlying mechanism of how the impaired speech processing leads to reading difficulties has been unclear.

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Recreational Cocaine Use Activates Addiction Related Brain Mechanisms Sooner Than Previously Realized

MedicalResearch.com Interview with:

Marco Leyton, Ph.D. Professor, Department of Psychiatry McGill University

Dr. Marco Leyton

Marco Leyton, Ph.D.
Professor, Department of Psychiatry
McGill University

MedicalResearch.com: What is the background for this study? What are the main findings?

Response: Drug-related cues are potent triggers for eliciting conscious and unconscious desire for the drug. In people with severe substance use disorders, these cues also activate dopamine release in the dorsal striatum, a brain region thought to be involved in hard-to-break habits and compulsions.

In the present study we found evidence that drug cues also activate this same dopamine response in non-dependent ‘recreational’ cocaine users.

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Reward Circuit in Brain Localized To Central Amygdala

MedicalResearch.com Interview with:
Joshua Kim, researcher
RIKEN-MIT Center for Neural Circuit Genetics at The Picower Institute for Learning and Memory, Department of Biology and Department of Brain and Cognitive Sciences, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge, MA 02139, USA
Howard Hughes Medical Institute, Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Cambridge, MA 02139

MedicalResearch.com: What is the background for this study?

Response: We previously identified to populations of neurons in a structure known as the basolateral amygdala, one that is capable of mediated fear-related behaviors and the other reward-related behaviors. Both of these basolateral amygdala populations send projections to a structure known as the central amygdala.

For this study, we wanted to examine the function of 7 different populations of central amygdala neurons in regard to fear-related and reward-related function and how each of these 7 populations are connected to the 2 basolateral amygdala populations.

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Brain-Reward Circuit Both Under and Over Responsive in Addiction and Gambling

MedicalResearch.com Interview with:

Guillaume Sescousse, PhD Senior post-doc Donders Centre for Cognitive Neuroimaging The Netherlands

Dr. Guillaume Sescousse

Guillaume Sescousse, PhD
Senior post-doc
Donders Centre for Cognitive Neuroimaging
The Netherlands
with collaborators Maartje Luijten, PhD,
and Arnt Schellekens, MD PhD

MedicalResearch.com: What is the background for this study? What are the main findings?

Response: People with an addiction process rewards in their brain differently from people who are not addicted. However, whether this is associated with “too much” or “too little” brain activity is an open question. Indeed, past research has produced conflicting findings.

In order to get a reliable answer, we have combined 25 studies investigating brain reward sensitivity in more than 1200 individuals with and without addiction to various substances such as alcohol, nicotine or cocaine but also gambling. By analyzing the brain images from these studies, we have discovered an important difference in brain activity between expecting a reward and receiving a reward. Compared with non-addicted individuals, individuals with substance or gambling addiction showed a weaker brain response to anticipating monetary rewards. This weaker response was observed in the striatum, a core region of the brain reward circuit, possibly indicating that individuals with an addiction have relatively low expectations about rewards. In contrast, this same region showed a relatively stronger response to receiving a reward in individuals with substance addiction compared with non-addicted individuals.

This stronger response possibly indicates a stronger surprise to getting the reward, and is consistent with low expectations. This same effect was not found among people addicted to gambling.

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Our Personality is Shaped By Wrinkles and Folds of Our Brain

MedicalResearch.com Interview with:

Dr. Roberta Riccelli Magna Graecia University Catanzaro, Italy

Dr. Roberta Riccelli

Dr. Roberta Riccelli
Magna Graecia University
Catanzaro, Italy

MedicalResearch.com: What is the background for this study? What are the main findings?

Response: In recent years, there has been a growing interest in personality neuroscience, an emergent field of research exploring how the extraordinary variety of human behaviors arise from different patterns of brain function and structure. According to psychologists, the extraordinary variety of human personality can be broken down into the so-called ‘Big Five’ personality traits, namely neuroticism (how moody a person is), extraversion (how enthusiastic a person is), openness (how open-minded a person is), agreeableness (a measure of altruism), and conscientiousness (a measure of self-control).

However, the relationships between personality profile and brain shape remains still poorly characterized and understood.

The findings of our study highlighted that the personality type characterizing each person is connected to the brain shape of several regions implicated in emotional behaviors and control. We found that neuroticism, a personality trait underlying mental illnesses such as anxiety disorders, was linked to a thicker cortex (the brain’s outer layer of neural tissue) and a smaller area and folding in some brain regions. Conversely, openness, a trait reflecting curiosity and creativity, was associated to thinner cortex and greater area and folding in the brain. The other personality traits were linked to other differences in brain structure, such as agreeableness being correlated with a thinner prefrontal cortex (which is linked to empathy and other social skills). Overall, all the traits characterizing this model of personality are related to some features (e.g. thickness, area and folding) of brain regions implicated in attention, salience detection of stimuli and emotion processing. This could reflect the fact that many personality traits are linked to high-level socio-cognitive skills as well as the ability to modulate ‘core’ affective responses.

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Brain-Computer Interface Allows Locked-in ALS Patient To Communicate

MedicalResearch.com Interview with:
Mariska Van Steensel PhD
Nick F. Ramsey, Ph.D.

Department of Neurology and Neurosurgery
Brain Center Rudolf Magnus
University Medical Center Utrecht
Utrecht, the Netherlands

MedicalResearch.com: What is the background for this study? What are the main findings?

Response: Patients who are severely paralyzed due to for example ALS or brain stem stroke are often unable to speak (also called ‘ Locked-in State’), and therefore need assistive devices, such as an eye tracker, for their communication. When these devices fail (e.g. due to environmental lighting or eye movement problems), people may indicate yes or no with eye blinks in response to closed questions. This leaves patients in a highly dependent position, since questions asked may or may not represent their actual wish or comment.

In the current study, we used a technology called brain-computer interfacing (BCI), to allow a patient with late-stage amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) to control a communication device using her brain signals. The patient was implanted with subdural electrodes that covered the brain area that is normally responsible for hand movement. The electrodes were connected with wires, subcutaneously, to an amplifier/transmitter device that was placed subcutaneously under the clavicle. The patient was able to generate a signal equivalent to a mouse-click with this brain-computer interface by attempting to move her hand, and used it to make selections of letters or words on her communication device, with high accuracy and a speed of 2 letters per minute. She used the brain-computer interface system to communicate whenever she was outside, as her eye-tracker device does not function well in that situation.

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Our Brain Makes Liars Even Better At Lying

MedicalResearch.com Interview with:
Neil Garrett PhD Student

Affective Brain Lab
Department of Experimental Psychology
University College London
London, UK

MedicalResearch.com: What is the background for this study? What are the main findings?

1. BEHAVIOURAL FINDING: The amount by which participants lied got larger and larger over the course of the block. Dishonesty escalation was observed only when participants lied for their own benefit, not when they did so solely for the benefit of others.

2. BRAIN FINDING: A network of brain regions associated with emotion responded strongly when participants lied initially. But as time went on, it would respond less and less to the same amount of lying. The greater the drop in sensitivity, the more a person increased their lying the next opportunity they got.

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