Archive for: June, 2011

REPOST: Dopamine and Reward Prediction, or your brain on Rickroll

Jun 29 2011 Published by under Behavioral Neuro

Today Sci is going to blog a paper that she has been meaning to blog for a long time. It's one of those papers that people who do certain kinds of science snuggle with when they go to sleep at night.

But the real reason that Sci loves this paper is that it's the neurobiological equivilant of a RickRoll.

And the question behind this paper is: what is the mechanism behind reward prediction? Schultz, Dayan, and Montague. "A neural substrate of prediction and reward" Science, 1997.

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4 responses so far

In which Sci is off to the Wild Beyond!

Jun 27 2011 Published by under Synaptic Misfires

Sci is off for the next 10 days (or so, depending on time differences and jet lag) to an exciting foreign country!! Don't worry, I'll tell you all where I've been when I get back.

Unfortunately, Sci will thus not be much on the t00bs while she's off in the back of beyond. I will be endeavoring to re-post some stuff for the enjoyment of the three of you who read this blog (for the rest of you who just google search "put [x] in penis", I have no sympathy). But if I'm not replying to your heartfelt comments and emails, well you know why. Sometimes we need a break from the internet.

So please play nice in the meantime! I may very well blog about where I've been when I get back. See you on the other side!

2 responses so far

Women in Academia, Now with 100% Fewer Sprogs

Jun 25 2011 Published by under Academia

Robot Kermit: "Hey, listen you, how about you and me getting together and makin ' some ste-e-e-am heat. Huh, snuggle bunny?"
Miss Piggy: "Snuggle bunny? Why, uh..."
Robot Kermit: "Yeah. Look, let me take you away from all this. Aaah, a marriage made in heaven. A frog and a pig. We can have bouncing baby figs."


Ok, that quote basically had nothing to do with anything except I think "bouncing baby figs" might be the best quote ever.




Last year, Hermitage ran a q&A with several female bloggers about being a woman in academia.  But hers was a special Q&A.  Sci goes to a lot of sessions on women in academia.  And it seems these sessions always come down to "how to balance work and life", and by "life", they mean "kids".


Now, Sci likes kids as much as anyone who does not have kids likes kids (I am a very proud second cousin/"aunt"/adorer of my friends' kids).  And I know these questions are really important and people need to hear their options and how to best handle life in academia and work/life balance.  But at the same time, I often feel that these sessions end up being dominated by the work/kids question, while other important aspects of being a woman in science tend to be left by the wayside.  So I LOVED last year when Hermitage held her Q&A, it gave us all the opportunity to ask the questions that we never get out in time in other sessions.


And Hermitage is doing it again this year!  She's looking for good victims panelists as well as good questions!!1  Head over there and submit yours now!  I'm looking forward to another round of interesting questions and answers.

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Friday Weird Science: Antidepressants affect sexual behavior...but HOW?

I was very pleased to run across this paper a few weeks ago.  I answer a LOT of questions about psychiatric drugs (on blog and IRL), and one of the most frequent ones is "DO antidepressants hurt sexual activity?" and "HOW?"

As for whether they DO, well, yes.  The most popular class of antidepressants, the selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) definitely has a side effect of reduced sexual function, and other antidepressant classes that target serotonin directly or indirectly do as well.  But what does "reduced sexual function" MEAN?!  Well it can mean reduced libido, delayed ejaculation or orgasm, or inhibiting ejaculation entirely.  This can be a very unfortunate side effect, really affecting how people feel about themselves.  And of course, when you're already DEPRESSED, well it doesn't help much.

(But at least it can prevent this...)

And then people ask me HOW exactly SSRIs change sexual function. And...I don't know. Or I didn't. BUT I DO NOW. And I'm going to share it with you!!!

Hueletl-Soto et al. "Fluoxetine chronic treatment inhibits male rat sexual behavior by affecting both copulatory behavior and the genital motor pattern of ejaculation" Journal of Sexual Medicine, 2011.

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13 responses so far

Guest Blog Updatez!!

Jun 23 2011 Published by under Synaptic Misfires

Two weeks just flies by, doesn't it. And now we have a new Guest Blogge(r)! For the next two weeks we will be hosting Andrew Rushby, of the II-I- blog. He's got a big thing for exoplanets, and his blog is super informative! Make sure to keep an eye out for his stuff at the guest blogg(e)!

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Tandem Posting! The Geek Subculture

Jun 22 2011 Published by under Synaptic Misfires

Krystal D'Costa of the fabulous Anthropology In Practice blog and I were chatting the other day. We got on the subject of being geeky, and I related an anecdote of my own geekdom. She wanted to look at it from an anthropological perspective, and so I've posted my recounting of it and my thoughts on it here, and Krystal is posting her analysis over THERE. YAY tandem posting!

I’m a total Game of Thrones fan. I’ve been one since I first picked up the books. Sure, there are things about it that I’ve been told I shouldn’t approve of (women are rarely in powerful positions, women are portrayed as being less than, in true HBO style there’s far too many boobs), but I’ve noticed that most of the people who point these things out have only seen one or two episodes of the show, and never read the books. The Game of Thrones series that I have come to know and love is a beautifully written portrayal of various people (male and female) in positions of political and physical power and weakness, and how they adapt and remain alive (theoretically) in the situations which are constantly building and swirling in their world. Yes, there are certainly issues of power between men and women that are, well, medieval. But I find that only makes the characters and their responses ring more true to me. It’s NOT an ideal world they are living in, and you feel it in every page. As the series goes on, I find I like all of the characters less and less, as I watch them make decisions that are ignorant, cruel, and just wrong, but watching them make those decisions in context, and how it changes their lives, is part of what makes the series such an interesting political and personal portrayal of character...

...I could go on like this for a while. As you can tell, we GoT fans are some major geeks. Most of us aren’t just geeks for GoT, either. We read other fantasy series, Sci-Fi. Many of us play Dungeons and Dragons, World of Warcraft, Portal (does that even COUNT as geeky anymore?), Magic, and more. We play board games while drinking large amounts of beer (or mead), and we feel great doing it.

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8 responses so far

3 Quarks Daily Prize!

Jun 21 2011 Published by under Synaptic Misfires

Sci woke up yesterday morning to some truly exciting news!!! I WON the 2011 Top Quark Prize for Science Writing from 3 Quarks Daily! I am so excited!!! I can't use enough exclamation points!!!!!


No really. I'm so thrilled to have made it to the finals and sufficiently pleased the judges. 🙂 The post "Serotonin and Sexual Preference: Is it really that simple?" is from the Scientific American Guest Blog and you can check it out there.

And I also wanted to say congratulations to all the finalists, for their awesome work, and to the other three winners, Anne Jefferson of Highly Allocthonous, Sean Carroll of Cosmic Variance, and Ethan Siegel of Starts With a Bang! They all wrote wonderful stuff!!!

5 responses so far

SCIENCE 101: The Vestibulo part of Cranial Nerve VIII, the Vestibulocochlear Nerve

Jun 20 2011 Published by under Basic Science Posts, Neuroanatomy, Uncategorized

Sci loves Portal. I think it's a magnificently clever game, and Portal 2 is the in the same vein. I love the songs, I love the humor, and I love the concept (puzzle solving with a giant gun! That makes portals!), and I DESPERATELY want to play.

I can't.

Sci, not unlike many people on this planet, is a sufferer of motion sickness. I've never been able to read in the car, and sitting in the back seat is often too much. Heck, sitting in the FRONT seat is sometimes bad! And Portal. Whooooo, Portal. Just WATCHING Portal makes me green in about 2 minutes, and attempting to play myself...well I only lasted about 30 seconds.

Motion sickness is caused by a mismatch between the perception of movement (say, moving in a car), and what your sense of balance perceives (that you're sitting still). Finally the difference in perception causes dizziness and nausea. It's stronger in some than in others, and for those of us who are really weak of stomach, well, we can thank an overactive vestibular system.

Last week we covered the basics of the auditory system, controlled by cranial nerve VIII, the vestibulocochlear nerve. But the "vestibulo" part of the vestibulocochlear nerve is, though in the same general location, something else entirely. Because cranial nerve VIII not only controls your hearing (the -cochlear part), it also controls your BALANCE and sense of how you're moving through space. While this may seem to most people like it's merely a matter of avoiding sharp objects and not embarrassing yourself on the dance floor, knowing your orientation in space is a universal issue for all living creatures. It's something we don't really think about, but are you facing up or down? Where is your head relative to your feet? When you're moving forward, how do you know how FAST you're going? These are all questions for your vestibular system.

And the vestibular system is OLD. All jawed vertebrates, you and the fish you just ate, and the chicken you had for dinner, pretty much have the same vestibular system setup.


You can the the cochlea sitting there, like a cute little snail, right where we covered it last time. Now, look just above it and slightly to the left. You see those two arches? Those are part of your semicircular canals. And those loops detect position and acceleration...and determine whether you're feeling motion sick.

If you'll excuse me, I'm feelin' a bit queasy talking about all that acceleration...

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3 responses so far

On tattoos and personal space

Jun 18 2011 Published by under Synaptic Misfires, Uncategorized

Some of you are aware that I have a really great tattoo. I love it. It's interesting, it's personal, it's artistic. In fact, it's SO interesting that I get comments on it every day. On any given day when it's exposed, I will get an average of four (low end 1, high end 20) people asking what it is or telling me how much they like it. I usually say thanks, cause I like it too! 🙂 Sometimes I walk around literally FEELING the eyes on my back, as people stare, trying to figure out what it is (most people think it's LSD. HAHAHAHAHA. Far too few rings, my friends). Of course I can cover it when I want, and when I don't really want people to talk to me, I do.

But when I do have it out and I'm walking around, I don't mind it being looked at. What I mind are the other eyes. The eyes of the cell phone cameras pointed at my back, accompanied by soft *click*s. The tourists pointing and then aiming their digital cameras. The hipsters giggling and aiming their cell phones, saying "I am SO putting that on Facebook".

I'm sorry, I didn't know this was YOUR tattoo I was wearing around.

Is it so very hard to ASK someone before you PHOTOGRAPH THEM? Is it so unheard of that maybe you ask someone's permission before pointing a camera? When people ASK to take a photo, I usually say yes. But somehow, most people don't ask to take a photo. I catch them as I turn around and they are pulling their phones down, embarrassed to be caught. Yeah, I'll bet you are.

So, this is just a PSA. You see a person walking around, and they look awesome for whatever reason. Say they have a cool tattoo, or interesting piercings, or cool tights, or something. And you think "I want to share this person with my friends". Please, be courteous, and ASK if they mind having their picture taken. Odds are, we know we look cool and we don't mind. But I, and my back, are not public property, and not asking before you just rude.

20 responses so far

Friday Weird Science: The curse of the tasty pine nut

Jun 17 2011 Published by under Friday Weird Science, Uncategorized

Sci got the fodder for this week's Friday Weird Science via Anne Jefferson of the Highly Allocthonous blog. Apparently Anne recently suffered a doozy of an episode of...pine nut mouth.

What, you've never heard of it?

Neither had I until this came along last week. But it's a real phenomenon, and apparently a really disgusting downer for those who have suffered from it.

Pine nut mouth is an odd case of dysgeusia, or disruption of the sense of taste. Usually you are making pesto or something else delicious with pine nuts, nom on a few, and think nothing of it. Maybe you just nom on them anyway. But the weird thing happens up to two days later, when suddenly...everything tastes funny. Not just funny, BAD. Things become oddly bitter, or even have kind of a soapy flavor.  Your morning coffee?  Ick.  A piece of toast?  Gross.  Fed up and just want a drink?  Disgusting.  NOTHING gets the flavor out. Though this usually lasts only a few days, some people suffer effects for one to two WEEKS.

But there's very little out there on the subject of pine nut mouth.  There are several blogs (this one in particular is a pretty good source) but relatively few actual papers on this.  This is possibly because it's not often reported (most people wouldn't report dysgeusia as a medical problem anyway, and often it probably goes away before people seek help for it), but also for one rather good reason; it's not known to be HARMFUL.  Disgusting? You bet. Annoying? Absolutely.  Harmful? Meh.

But it IS a kind of a funny mystery.  I mean 9 times out of ten you eat pine nuts and you're fine!  Sci has eaten pine nuts many a time in her life (mmmm...pesto....mmmmmmmm), and never even had this happen once.  So what's the DEAL!?


They look so innocent...

Destaillats, et al. "Identification of the Botanical Origin of Commercial Pine Nuts Responsible for Dysgeusia by Gas-Liquid Chromatography Analysis of Fatty Acid Profile" Journal of Toxicology, 2011.

And I dedicate this post to Anne Jefferson of the Highly Allocthonous blog, who I hope has her sense of taste back intact by now. 🙂 Want a post dedicated to yourself? Well, have a weird problem, and we'll talk.

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15 responses so far

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