Archive for the 'Behavioral Neuro' category

Of Genes and Eating Disorders

Oct 09 2013 Published by under Behavioral Neuro

Eating disorders like anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa are difficult psychiatric disorders. They are especially tragic because, while they may seem like just messed up eating, they are far, far more. Eating disorders have some of the highest rates of death of any psychiatric disease, as malnutrition puts the body at risk.

When we think of eating disorders, though, we tend to think of them from a cultural angle. It's because our culture is so obsessed with thin, no one can ever be thin enough, and so that must bring out eating disorders. It is true that a culture which glorifies skinny the way ours does tend to bring out more extreme dieting than one that does not. But it is also true that eating disorders are far more than the product of a culture which glorifies the size 0. Reports and descriptions of anorexia, for example, date all the way back to the Greeks, and famous case studies that fully described the disorder date from the 1860's. There is clearly a genetic component, anorexia in particular runs strongly in families. There is also a potential sex effect, eating disorders are far more common in women than in men.

Eating disorders are a combination disease, a combination of genetic risks and environmental triggers, including things like stress. Unfortunately, it's been difficult to identify specific genes that predispose people to eating disorders. Studying large populations of people with the disease and find some common genetic variants, for example, but for such a complex disorder that is not dependent on a single gene, many of those will also be present in healthy populations.

Another approach is instead to look at families which have a strong history of eating disorders, to see what common genes are passed down. While this has its own limitations (for example, you then have to look for the occurrence of those genes in the wider population, and being within a single family or two, there are bound to be environmental factors that aren't present elsewhere), it's a way to uncover genetic variants that my have previously gone undiscovered. And it means you might, as they did here, uncover two genes that, when screwed up in very precise ways, result in the same eating disorder.

Cui et al. "Eating disorder predisposition is associated with ESRRA and HDAC4 mutations" Journal of Clinical Investigation, 2013.

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Did Your Daddy Teach You to Sing?

Oct 07 2013 Published by under Behavioral Neuro

Over at SciAm Blogs today, I'm talking about a new study in zebra finches, and how much, and how, they sing. Is it genes? Environment? Or did your dad teach you to sing like that? Head over and find out!

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Practice Spinning, Tiny Dancer.

Sep 30 2013 Published by under Behavioral Neuro, Neuroscience

One of the most impressive things to see a ballet dancer do is SPIN. They go round and round and never seem to get dizzy! How do they do it? They alter their brains! I'm at SciAm blogs today showing how. Head over and check it out!

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Does optogenetics light up your life?

Aug 26 2013 Published by under Behavioral Neuro

Sci is at SciAm blogs today, talking about optogenetics. One of my colleagues over there isn't so enthusiastic. I rather disagree. Check out our arguments! I want to see who "wins". 🙂 Head over and check it out.

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Exercise to sleep? Or sleep to exercise?

Aug 19 2013 Published by under Behavioral Neuro

Sci is at SciAm Blogs today, writing about exercise and sleep. We all think that exercise should make you sleep like a baby, but may be that sleeping like a baby makes you exercise! Sort of. Head over and check it out.

Note: The irony of this post being that I wrote it while I could not not sleep...and subsequently skipped my workout. Of course.

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Death by Sugar?

Aug 14 2013 Published by under Behavioral Neuro

We've been hearing a lot about sugar lately. Every few years, a new bugbear of diet comes to haunt us. First it was fats. Then it was carbs. Now it's sugars. Sometimes it's gluten or cholesterol. And it's pretty scary to see all the studies come out. I worried about my sugar intake, now I'm worried about my artificial sweeteners, and now I should be worried about sugar again?!

Possibly I should be. A new study out yesterday showed that "safe" levels of sugar are still harmful to mice.

But being a good little science nerd, I'm not just believing Nature News (though in general I like them very much). I'm getting my hands on the study itself. And I'm sharing it with you.

Ruff et al. "Human-relevant levels of added sugar consumption increase female mortality and lower male fitness in mice" Nature Communications, 2013.


(Admit it, your mouth started watering. With GUILT. Source)

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Arclight: lighting the brain in action

Aug 12 2013 Published by under Behavioral Neuro

Over at SciAm Blogs, I'm talking about a brand new technique called Arclight, which detects voltage changes in neurons, allowing you to watch as a neuron fires, in real time. It's pretty cool, and there are videos! Head over and check it out!

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The anxiety/sleep cycle

Jul 15 2013 Published by under Behavioral Neuro

Sci is at SciAm Blogs today, talking about anxiety and sleep. You know how it is, get stressed and anxious, stay up, get less sleep, the next day you're less effective and even MORE stressed and anxious...well, it maybe the sleep loss catching up to you. Head over and check it out.

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Can we get some neuro-nuance?

Jul 14 2013 Published by under Behavioral Neuro

Make sure to check out the piece I wrote Friday for DoubleXScience. Aside from being a great site in their own right, they let me write a piece about Neurohype, Neuroskepticism, and the need for some Neuronuance. Heck, with enough of it, we might stop putting "neuro" in front of things. Head over and check it out!

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Running the stress away

Jul 10 2013 Published by under Behavioral Neuro

Whenever you get really stressed out, do you ever get the urge to Literally? Ok, maybe most of us run in the direction of the nearest bakery. But running (or otherwise doing long term exercise, probably not just a jog around the block) really can help with anxiety. But how does it work?



Schoenfeld et al. "Physical Exercise Prevents Stress-Induced Activation of Granule Neurons and Enhances Local Inhibitory Mechanisms in the Dentate Gyrus" Journal of Neuroscience, 2013.

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