Einstein’s Secret? A Well-Connected Brain.


 

W. Men et al. Brain (2013)

Smart, successful, and well-connected: a good description of Albert Einstein … and his brain. The father of relativity theory didn’t live to see modern brain imaging techniques, but after his death his brain was sliced into sections and photographed. Now, scientists have used those cross-sectional photos to reveal a larger-than-average corpus callosum—the bundle of nerve fibers connecting the brain’s two hemispheres. Researchers measured the thickness of the famous noggin’s corpus callosum (the lighter-colored, downward-curving region at the center of each hemisphere, above) at various points along its length, and compared it to MRIs from 15 elderly men and 52 young, healthy ones. The thickness of Einstein’s corpus callosum was greater than the average for both the elderly and the young subjects, the team reported online last week in the journal Brain. The authors posit that in Einstein’s brain, more nerve fibers connected key regions such as the two sides of the prefrontal cortex, which are responsible for complex thought and decision-making. Combined with previous evidence that parts of the physicist’s brain were unusually large and intricately folded, the researchers suggest that this feature helps account for his extraordinary gifts.

Want to Read Minds? Read Good Books.


You’re an open book. After digesting short literary excerpts, people performed better on the Reading the Mind in the Eyes Test—a common measure of the ability to judge others’ mental states—compared with readers of popular fiction.

Fifty Shades of Grey may be a fun read, but it’s not going to help you probe the minds of others the way War and Peace might. That’s the conclusion of a new study, which finds that, compared with mainstream fiction, high-brow literary works do more to improve our ability to understand the thoughts, emotions, and motivations of those around us.

Perhaps it’s no surprise that the lead author of the new study, David Kidd, came to social psychology by way of Russian literature. Now a Ph.D. student at the New School in New York City, he is versed in arguments from literary theorists that divide fiction into two categories. When we read a thrilling-but-predictable bestseller, “the text sort of grabs us and takes us on a roller-coaster ride,” he says, “and we all sort of experience the same thing.” Literature, on the other hand, gives the reader a lot more responsibility. Its imaginary worlds are full of characters with confusing or unexplained motivations. There are no reliable instructions about whom to trust or how to feel.

Kidd and his adviser, social psychologist Emanuele Castano, suspected that the skills we use to navigate these ambiguous fictional worlds serve us well in real life. In particular, the duo surmised that they enhance our so-called theory of mind. That’s the ability to intuit someone else’s mental state—to know, for example, that when someone raises their hand toward us, they’re trying to give us a high-five rather than slap us. It’s closely related to empathy, the ability to recognize and share the feelings of others. Increasing evidence supports the relationship between reading fiction and theory of mind. But much of this evidence is based on correlations: Self-reported avid readers or those familiar with fiction also tend to perform better on certain tests of empathy, for example.

To measure the immediate cognitive effects of two types of fiction, Castano and Kidd designed five related experiments. In each, they asked subjects to read 10 to 15 pages of either literary or popular writing. Literary excerpts included short stories by Anton Chekhov and Don DeLillo, as well as recent winners of the PEN/O. Henry Prize and the National Book Award. For more “mainstream” selections, they looked to Amazon.com top-sellers such as Danielle Steel’s The Sins of the Mother and Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl, and to anthologies of genre fiction, including a sci-fi story by Robert Heinlein.

When participants finished their excerpts, they took tests designed to measure theory of mind. In one test, the Diagnostic Analysis of Nonverbal Accuracy 2—Adult Faces (DANVA2-AF) test, they looked at a face for 2 seconds and decided whether the person appeared happy, angry, afraid, or sad. In the more nuanced Reading the Mind in the Eyes Test (RMET), they saw only a small slice of a face and picked from four complex emotions such as “contemplative” and “skeptical.”

On average, both groups did slightly better on these tests than control subjects who read either a nonfiction article or nothing at all. This fits with previous research showing a positive relationship between fiction and theory of mind. But among the fiction readers, those who read “literary” works scored significantly higher on the theory of mind tests than those who read popular selections, Kidd and Castano report online today in Science. The absolute differences in scores were hardly dramatic: On average, the literary group outperformed the popular group by about two questions (out of 36) on the RMET test, and missed one fewer question (out of 18) on the DANVA2-AF. But psychologist Raymond Mar of York University in Toronto, Canada, notes that even very small effects could be meaningful, provided they translate into real-world consequences—reducing the likelihood that social misunderstandings could create grudges or leave someone in tears.

Keith Oatley, a cognitive psychologist at the University of Toronto, agrees that any evidence of literature’s effect based on this experimental approach is “big news.” “I’m quite impressed that they managed to find results with these tests.”

Still, the “literariness” argument needs hammering out. Castano believes these results show that fiction’s power doesn’t hinge on exposing readers to foreign viewpoints or offering a persuasive, empathetic message. “For us, it’s not about the content,” he says. “It was about the process.” But Mar points out that there are probably many ways to improve theory of mind, and “different things might work for different people.” Some may find that stories with a moral of acceptance and empathy increase their theory of mind skills, for example, while others might benefit more from the practice of filling in the emotional gaps in an ambiguous story.

Cognitive neuroscientist Vittorio Gallese of the University of Parma in Italy, who is also exploring how the brain responds to works of art, finds the new link between real and fictional worlds exciting, but is skeptical of the distinction between literary and mainstream fiction. “This is a very slippery ground,” he says, because historical tastes often move the boundary between “high” and “low” art. For example, he says, Honoré de Balzac’s The Human Comedy was released in serial form as a work of “popular” fiction, but has since attained the status of a classic.

Invasion of the Nostril Ticks.


Tony Goldberg had been back from Uganda for only about a day when he felt a distressingly familiar itch in his nose. A veterinary epidemiologist at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, he had just spent a few weeks in Kibale National Park studying chimpanzees and how the diseases they carry might make the jump to humans. Now, he realized, he might have brought one of their parasites home with him.

There was only one way to be sure. Goldberg quickly gathered the necessary supplies—a pair of forceps, a flashlight, and a mirror—and steeled his resolve. Using the mirror to steer his hand, he poked the instrument into his irritated nostril, latched onto a suspicious lump, and quickly yanked it out, careful not to snag any nose hairs in the process. There it was: an adolescent tick. At that point, Goldberg knew, it had likely been living in his nostril for several days.

This was not Goldberg’s first nostril tick, and it’s unlikely to be his last. (On the whole, he says, the experience is “not pleasant but not as bad as you might think.”) He’s seen lots of chimpanzees with nostril ticks during his time in the field, so he’s not surprised a few of the parasites have taken advantage of his presence to burrow into the nose of a closely related primate. This particular tick, however, presented a unique opportunity. Because he found it when he was already back in his lab, Goldberg says, “I was in a position to preserve it for DNA analysis. It was just lucky that the timing was right.”

The nostril tick belonged to the genus Amblyomma, species of which are known to carry diseases that can infect mammals ranging from cows to people. But for now, that’s all Goldberg knows. “Its genetic sequence didn’t match anything in any known databases. So it could be a known species of tick that hasn’t been genetically characterized yet, or a completely new species,” he says. Goldberg reports his analysis in the latest issue of The American Journal of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene.

“It’s fun to welcome Tony to that small, elite club of publishers on ticks in the nose,” says Gary Aronsen, an anthropologist at Yale University who is one of the few other scientists to have written about a close encounter with a nostril tick. (He sneezed his out during a layover in Amsterdam and brought it home with him in a chewing gum wrapper, though he wasn’t able to sequence its DNA.) Picking up parasites like these is “part of the glory and glamour of fieldwork.”

Although researchers know very little about nostril ticks, including which other species they infest and if they carry any diseases, Goldberg speculates that his might be adapted to live in noses of chimpanzees. Chimps are fastidious groomers, so any parasite that wants to hang around for a while needs to fly under the radar. “I can’t think of a better way to do that than hide in an anatomic site that is difficult to access with the fingers,” Goldberg says. “There are several of those—some of which we won’t discuss—but the nostril certainly counts.” (In case you’re wondering, yes, chimps do pick their noses, but it doesn’t seem to dislodge the ticks.)

Because most ticks need to feed on at least three different hosts in their lifetimes, they are exceptionally good at transmitting disease. Species-jumping nostril ticks are “yet another example of how nature provides opportunities for pathogen spillover,” says tick biologist Thomas Mather of the University of Rhode Island, Kingston. Still, the thought of nostril ticks spreading throughout North America isn’t keeping him up at night. “I’m not looking at this as a likely pathway for the introduction of exotic ticks. How many ticks are going to be in a person or two’s nose?”

Nearly a year and a half after removing his own nostril tick, Goldberg hasn’t suffered any ill effects. But the parasite remains a mysterious creature, and for now, the only thing to do is wait for more specimens to turn up. He hopes his paper will raise awareness among his fellow field scientists. Soon, he suspects, “somebody somewhere will come up with another nose tick and will advance the field to the next level.”

Fatigue related to radiotherapy for breast and/or gynaecological cancer: a systematic review.


Abstract

AIMS AND OBJECTIVES:

To assess the profile, evaluation criteria and fatigue treatment.

BACKGROUND:

Fatigue, characterised by tiredness, weakness or lack of energy, involves physical, cognitive and emotional aspects. Its aetiology is not well defined and the prevalence ranges from 30-70% in women with breast cancer, reaching up to 80% when they are undergoing radiotherapy. This is one of the most frequent side effects of radiotherapy, and it may interfere with self-esteem, social activities and quality of life.

DESIGN:

Literature systematic review.

METHODS:

A search for studies published from 2000-2010 was carried out in Pubmed, Scielo and Bireme databases, using the descriptors fatigue and radiotherapy and their correlates in Portuguese.

RESULTS:

We selected 12 articles of 1085 found. The number of studies involving breast cancer was higher than those related to gynaecological cancer. Functional Assessment of Cancer Therapy-Fatigue was the most used scale specifically for the evaluation of fatigue. Pretreatment fatigue level may be an important risk factor to aggravate it during radiotherapy and decrease the quality of life. Five studies proposed interventions, all of them involving nonpharmacological therapies: cognitive-behavioural therapy associated with hypnosis, moderate-intensity physical exercises, stretching programmes, yoga and polarity therapy. The studies showed good results in relation to fatigue, physical and psychological aspects, and quality of life.

CONCLUSION:

Early detection of fatigue, using appropriate scales, is relevant to propose suitable treatments and achieve better clinical conditions, adherence and continuity of radiotherapy treatment, aiming to ensure more effective responses.

RELEVANCE TO CLINICAL PRACTICE:

Fatigue is a frequent symptom in patients undergoing radiotherapy. It may become a factor that limits or prevents the continuity of radiotherapy and therefore should be diagnosed in the initial appointments, so that it can be properly treated.

Source: Pubmed.

German Adjuvant Intergroup Node-Positive Study: A Phase III Trial to Compare Oral Ibandronate Versus Observation in Patients With High-Risk Early Breast Cancer.


Abstract

PURPOSE:

Bisphosphonates prevent skeletal-related events in patients with metastatic breast cancer. Their effect in early breast cancer is controversial. Ibandronate is an orally and intravenously available amino-bisphosphonate with a favorable toxicity profile. It therefore qualifies as potential agent for adjuvant use.

PATIENTS AND METHODS:

The GAIN (German Adjuvant Intergroup Node-Positive) study was an open-label, randomized, controlled phase III trial with a 2 × 2 factorial design. Patients with node-positive early breast cancer were randomly assigned 1:1 to two different dose-dense chemotherapy regimens and 2:1 to ibandronate 50 mg per day orally for 2 years or observation. In all, 2,640 patients and 728 events were estimated to be required to demonstrate an increase in disease-free survival (DFS) by ibandronate from 75% to 79.5% by using a two-sided α = .05 and 1-β of 80%. We report here the efficacy analysis for ibandronate, which was released by the independent data monitoring committee because the futility boundary was not crossed after 50% of the required DFS events were observed.

RESULTS:

Between June 2004 and August 2008, 2,015 patients were randomly assigned to ibandronate and 1,008 to observation. Patients randomly assigned to ibandronate showed no superior DFS or overall survival (OS) compared with patients randomly assigned to observation (DFS: hazard ratio, 0.945; 95% CI, 0.768 to 1.161; P = .589; OS: HR, 1.040; 95% CI, 0.763 to 1.419; P = .803). DFS was numerically longer if ibandronate was used in patients younger than 40 years or older than 60 years compared with patients age 40 to 59 years (test for interaction P = .093).

CONCLUSION:

Adjuvant treatment with oral ibandronate did not improve outcome of patients with high-risk early breast cancer who received dose-dense chemotherapy.

Source: Pubmed

‘GRAVITY’ IS A LACKING STORY BUT AN UNBELIEVABLE EMOTIONAL EXPERIENCE


Gravity

Alfonso Cuarón must have felt pretty certain that nobody would be coming to Gravity for the script. Though his reputation as a writer sings of creativity and deviation from the typical Hollywood fodder, every beat in his surprisingly linear outer space film feels not so much like an exploration of a fascinating story, but more like a means to transport an audience (that’s us) to the next harrowing explosion of IMAX technology. On the surface, this probably sounds cheap — you signed up for a movie, not a roller coaster. But if it is the principal purpose of any movie to offer its audience an emotional experience, then Gravity is an unquestionable triumph.

In fact, it should say a great deal that the moreover “typical” narrative that throughlines this movie doesn’t undercut the experience. Through the film’s dazzling effects and a profoundly immersive directorial style, Gravity gives us something that feels altogether new.Sandra Bullock’s new-to-space scientist Dr. Ryan Stone doesn’t break the mold on action-adventure heroes of either gender, but you’ll be adhered desperately to her every move thanks to the veritable space simulator that Gravity really is.

It’s far more than just the benefits of IMAX technology that keep us feeling like we’re inches from life-threatening danger at all times. It is Cuarón’s flare for the construction of genuine tension. We open on a painfully slow climb up a mountain of dread, with a nauseated Stone struggling to repair a faction of the ship while a pseudo-nihilistic astronaut Matt Kowalski (George Clooney, who can be paid credit for all of this film’s moments of comic relief) jet-packs around her recounting stories of Marti Gras and romantic infidelity. All the while, aimless conversation and pleasant radio melodies notwithstanding, our chests grow heavier with anticipation of what is about to follow this mammoth single take. Disaster.

Gravity© 2013 Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc.

And once it hits, we’re gone. Drowning, treading for dear life for the hour and change to follow, thrown a leaky life preserver on occasion when Stone (our consierge through this unforgiving nightmare) manages some semblance of momentary sanctuary from the insatiable abyss all around her. Our anxiety never dips below “barely sustainable” as Stone efforts to lay waist to probability and fight her way back to safety. At no point in the entire real-time adventure do we feel liberated from Stone’s danger. The magic of this movie makes us feel everything that she does, without allowing for even a second of comfort to be drawn from the fact that we, and Bullock, are in no real harm.

To reiterate, it is nearly miraculous that we can’t, even if and when we really want to, grip at the refuge of the “it’s just a movie” mentality, especially in the face of a plotline you might find occupied by a Ron Howard epic. No, we’re far too deep by the time the danger strikes to conceive of a world beyond the one Cuarón forces upon us. He’s strategic generous in his inclusion of Clooney’s loquacious playboy: without a few trembling smiles, we might succumb to full-on nervous breakdown. But Cuarón peppers the pleasantries in just seldom enough to keep the titular sentiment so painfully alive.

Gravity is the sort of movie that demands as big a screen and as focused a pair of IMAX-framed eyes as possible. It doesn’t offer much dramatic surprise — in fact, we’re prepared for just about every big turn — but the shocks, the screams, the moments that make you cower and whimper and hope to dear God that Stone is going to be okay are plentiful. Beyond plentiful, in fact. They’re the whole way through. So a great story, it might not be, but in its achievement of this degree of emotional immersion, Gravity is an unbelievable piece of work.

Source: Hollywood.com

Proteasome inhibition with bortezomib induces cell death in GBM stem-like cells and temozolomide-resistant glioma cell lines, but stimulates GBM stem-like cells’ VEGF production and angiogenesis.


Laboratory investigation

Recurrent malignant gliomas have inherent resistance to traditional chemotherapy. Novel therapies target specific molecular mechanisms involved in abnormal signaling and resistance to apoptosis. The proteasome is a key regulator of multiple cellular functions, and its inhibition in malignant astrocytic lines causes cell growth arrest and apoptotic cell death. The proteasome inhibitor bortezomib was reported to have very good in vitro activity against malignant glioma cell lines, with modest activity in animal models as well as in clinical trials as a single agent. In this paper, the authors describe the multiple effects of bortezomib in both in vitro and in vivo glioma models and offer a novel explanation for its seeming lack of activity.

METHODS

Glioma stem-like cells (GSCs) were obtained from resected glioblastomas (GBMs) at surgery and expanded in culture. Stable glioma cell lines (U21 and D54) as well as temozolomide (TMZ)-resistant glioma cells derived from U251 and D54-MG were also cultured. GSCs from 2 different tumors, as well as D54 and U251 cells, were treated with bortezomib, and the effect of the drug was measured using an XTT cell viability assay. The activity of bortezomib was then determined in D54-MG and/or U251 cells using apoptosis analysis as well as caspase-3 activity and proteasome activity measurements. Human glioma xenograft models were created in nude mice by subcutaneous injection. Bevacizumab was administered via intraperitoneal injection at a dose of 5 mg/kg daily. Bortezomib was administered by intraperitoneal injection 1 hour after bevacizumab administration in doses of at a dose of 0.35 mg/kg on days 1, 4, 8, and 11 every 21 days. Tumors were measured twice weekly.

RESULTS

Bortezomib induced caspase-3 activation and apoptotic cell death in stable glioma cell lines and in glioma stem-like cells (GSCs) derived from malignant tumor specimens Furthermore, TMZ-resistant glioma cell lines retained susceptibility to the proteasome inhibition. The bortezomib activity was directly proportional with the cells’ baseline proteasome activity. The proteasome inhibition stimulated both hypoxia-inducible factor (HIF)–1α and vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF) production in malignant GSCs. As such, the VEGF produced by GSCs stimulated endothelial cell growth, an effect that could be prevented by the addition of bevacizumab (VEGF antibody) to the media. Similarly, administration of bortezomib and bevacizumab to athymic mice carrying subcutaneous malignant glioma xenografts resulted in greater tumor inhibition and greater improvement in survival than administration of either drug alone. These data indicate that simultaneous proteasome inhibition and VEGF blockade offer increased benefit as a strategy for malignant glioma therapy.

CONCLUSIONS

The results of this study indicate that combination therapies based on bortezomib and bevacizumab might offer an increased benefit when the two agents are used in combination. These drugs have a complementary mechanism of action and therefore can be used together to treat TMZ-resistant malignant gliomas.

Source: JNS.

Endoscope-assisted sp.inal decompression surgery for lumbar spinal stenosis


Abstract

OBJECT

The authors undertook this study to document the clinical outcomes of microendoscopic laminotomy, a minimally invasive decompressive surgical technique using spinal endoscopy for lumbar decompression, in patients with lumbar spinal stenosis (LSS).

METHODS

A total of 366 patients were enrolled in the study and underwent microendoscopic laminotomy between 2007 and 2010. Indications for surgery were single- or double-level LSS, persistent neurological symptoms, and failure of conservative treatment. Microendoscopy provided wide visualization through oblique lenses and allowed bilateral decompression via a unilateral approach, through partial resection of the base of the spinous process, thereby preserving the supraspinous and interspinous ligaments and contralateral musculature. Clinical symptoms and signs of low-back pain were evaluated prior to and following surgical intervention by applying the Japanese Orthopaedic Association (JOA) scoring system, Roland-Morris Disability Questionnaire (RMDQ), Japanese Orthopaedic Association Back Pain Evaluation Questionnaire (JOABPEQ), and 36-Item Short Form Health Survey (SF-36). These items were evaluated preoperatively and 2 years postoperatively.

RESULTS

Effective circumferential decompression was achieved in all patients. The 2-year follow-up evaluation was completed for 310 patients (148 men and 162 women; mean age 68.7 years). The average recovery rate based on the JOA score was 61.3%. The overall results were excellent in 34.9% of the patients, good in 34.9%, fair in 21.7%, and poor in 8.5%. The mean RMDQ score significantly improved from 11.3 to 4.8 (p < 0.001). In all categories of both JOABPEQ and SF-36, scores at 2 years’ follow-up were significantly higher than those obtained before surgery (p < 0.001). Twelve surgery-related complications were identified: dural tear (6 cases [1.9%]), wrong-level operation (1 [0.3%]), transient neuralgia (4 [1.3%]), and infection (1 [0.3%]). All patients recovered, and there were no serious postoperative complications.

CONCLUSIONS

Microendoscopic laminotomy is a safe and very effective minimally invasive surgical technique for the treatment of degenerative LSS.

Source: JNS.

A novel device to simplify intraoperative radiographic visualization of the cervical spine by producing transient caudal shoulder displacement


Abstract

OBJECT

Intraoperative radiographic localization within the cervical spine can be a challenge because of the anatomical relation of the musculoskeletal structures of the pectoral girdle. On standard cross-table lateral radiographs, these structures can produce shadowing that obscure the anatomical features of the cervical vertebrae, particularly at the caudal levels. Surgical guidelines recommend accurate intraoperative localization as a means to reduce wrong-level spine surgery, and unobstructed visualization is needed for fluoroscopy-guided placement of spinal instrumentation. In this article, the authors describe and evaluate a novel device designed to provide transient intraoperative caudal displacement of the shoulders to improve and simplify radiographic visualization of the cervical spine.

METHODS

A 2-center prospective study was conducted to evaluate the device. The study included a total of 80 patients undergoing cervical spine surgery. The device was evaluated in a cohort of 50 patients undergoing elective single-level anterior discectomy and fusion and also in a second cohort of 30 patients at an independent institution. The patients in this second cohort were undergoing a variety of cervical spine procedures for multiple indications and were included in the study to allow the authors to assess the effectiveness of the device in a general neurosurgical practice. After the patients were anesthetized and positioned, consecutive standard cross-table lateral radiographs or intraoperative fluoroscopic were obtained before and after use of the device. The images were compared in order to determine the difference in lowest vertebral level visible.

RESULTS

There was an average difference in cervical spine visualization of +2.8 ± 0.9 vertebral levels in the first cohort, while in the second the improvement was +1.2 ± 0.7 levels (p < 0.0001 between cohorts, unpaired t-test). There was one complication, a minor shoulder abrasion, which required no specific management.

CONCLUSIONS

This device is safe and effective for increasing the radiographic visualization of the cervical spine for intraoperative localization.

Source: JNS.

How Long to Nap for the Best Brain Benefits.


Taking a nap, we’ve seen time and again, is like rebooting your brain. But napping may be as much of an art as it is a science. Scientists offer recommendations for planning your perfect nap, including how long to nap and when.

The sleep experts in the article say a 10-to-20-minute power nap gives you the best “bang for your buck,” but depending on what you want the nap to do for you, other durations might be ideal:
For a quick boost of alertness, experts say a 10-to-20-minute power nap is adequate for getting back to work in a pinch.

For cognitive memory processing, however, a 60-minute nap may do more good, Dr. Mednick said. Including slow-wave sleep helps with remembering facts, places and faces. The downside: some grogginess upon waking.

Finally, the 90-minute nap will likely involve a full cycle of sleep, which aids creativity and emotional and procedural memory, such as learning how to ride a bike. Waking up after REM sleep usually means a minimal amount of sleep inertia, Dr. Mednick said.

In addition to those recommendations, one surprising suggestion is to sit slightly upright during your nap, because it will help you avoid a deep sleep. And if you find yourself dreaming during your power naps, it may be a sign you’re sleep deprived. While you’re planning your nap, don’t forget to time it during the right time of day as well.