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Fri, 02 Dec 2016
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Signature of consciousness captured in brain scans

A telltale signature of consciousness has been detected that takes us a step closer to disentangling the brain activity underlying conscious and unconscious brain processes.

It turns out that there is a similar pattern of neural activity each time we become conscious of the same picture, but not if we process information from the image unconsciously. These contrasting patterns of activity can now be detected via brain scans, and could one day help determine if patients with brain damage are conscious. They might even be used to probe consciousness in animals.

"It's very exciting work," says neuroscientist Raphaël Gaillard of the University of Cambridge, who was not involved in the work. "The use of a reproducibility measure to disentangle conscious and non-conscious processes is genuinely new." Gaillard has previously shown that coordinated activity across the entire brain is one of the signatures of consciousness .

Pills

Study Reveals Why Certain Drug Combinations Backfire

Combination drug therapy has become a staple for treating many infections. For instance, doctors treat extensively drug resistant forms of tuberculosis with one drug that breaks down the pathogen's protective barriers and opens the door for another to deliver the deathblow.

Just as some drugs work better together, however, other pairings are counter-productive. "The question we asked was how can it be that two drugs in combination are less effective than one of them alone," said senior author and Harvard Medical School associate professor of systems biology Roy Kishony.

Kishony and his team have found that the answer lies in the way some antibiotic drugs influence a bacterial cell's gene expression levels. Combinations of these altered genetic behaviors can "put the cell in a better position for survival," said Kishony.

Arrow Up

Humans Still Evolving as Our Brains Shrink

© dreamstime
Weighing in at an average of 2.7 pounds (1,200 grams), the human brain packs a whopping 100 billion neurons. Every minute, about three soda-cans worth of blood flow through the brain.
Evolution in humans is commonly thought to have essentially stopped in recent times. But there are plenty of examples that the human race is still evolving, including our brains, and there are even signs that our evolution may be accelerating.

Shrinking brains

Comprehensive scans of the human genome reveal that hundreds of our genes show evidence of changes during the past 10,000 years of human evolution.

"We know the brain has been evolving in human populations quite recently," said paleoanthropologist John Hawks at the University of Wisconsin at Madison.

Surprisingly, based on skull measurements, the human brain appears to have been shrinking over the last 5,000 or so years.

"When it comes to recent evolutionary changes, we currently maybe have the least specific details with regard the brain, but we do know from archaeological data that pretty much everywhere we can measure - Europe, China, South Africa, Australia - that brains have shrunk about 150 cubic centimeters, off a mean of about 1,350. That's roughly 10 percent," Hawks said.

Heart

Can Thinking of a Loved One Reduce Your Pain?

"The very thought of you ... the mere idea of you" - from the song "The Very Thought of You" by Ray Noble

Can the mere thought of your loved one reduce your pain?

Yes, according to a new study by UCLA psychologists that underscores the importance of social relationships and staying socially connected.

The study, which asked whether simply looking at a photograph of your significant other can reduce pain, involved 25 women, mostly UCLA students, who had boyfriends with whom they had been in a good relationship for more than six months.

The women received moderately painful heat stimuli to their forearms while they went through a number of different conditions. In one set of conditions, they viewed photographs of their boyfriend, a stranger and a chair.

Gear

Winnipeg, Canada: People line up for Saturday H1N1 clinics

People not already in line at two special H1N1 immunization clinics were being turned away Saturday afternoon.

The clinics were held at the University of Manitoba and the Philippine Canadian Centre of Manitoba.

A spokeswoman for the Winnipeg Regional Health Authority said there were enough people queued up at the U of M clinic at 2:30 p.m. to keep staff and volunteers busy until the 4 p.m. closing time or later, so the line was cut off. The same decision was made at the Philippine Canadian Centre at 3 p.m.

Comment: Click here to educate yourself on the truth about recent H1N1 vaccination craze.


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Diet Sodas May Be Hard on the Kidneys

Women who drink 2 or more diet sodas daily double their risk of kidney function decline, study shows

Diet soda may help keep your calories in check, but drinking two or more diet sodas a day may double your risk of declining kidney function, a new study shows.

Women who drank two or more diet sodas a day had a 30% drop in a measure of kidney function during the lengthy study follow-up, according to research presented Saturday at the annual meeting of the American Society of Nephrology in San Diego.

"Thirty percent is considered significant,'' says researcher Julie Lin, MD, MPH, assistant professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School and a staff physician at Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston. That's especially true, she says, because most study participants had well-preserved kidney function at the start of the study.

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Artificial Sweeteners are Continually Found to be Unsafe and Toxic

A recent study presented at the annual meeting of the American Society of Nephrology in San Diego found that adult women who drink at least two diet sodas a day experience a 30 percent drop in kidney function over the course of a decade.

Findings indicate that artificial sweeteners such as aspartame and sucralose are the culprits in the rapid degeneration of glomerular filtration rates in the kidneys of those consuming excessive amounts of artificially-sweetened diet sodas.

Dr. Julie Lin of Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston and her colleague Dr. Gary Curhan conducted the research correlating artificial sweetener intake to kidney degradation, highlighting one of the many dangers of artificial sweeteners.

A 2005 study conducted by Dr. Morando Soffritti of the esteemed European Ramazzini Foundation of Oncology and Environmental Sciences and the Cesare Maltoni Cancer Research Center confirmed once again what independent scientists discovered over thirty years ago; aspartame consumption leads to all sorts of illness and disease including cancerous tumors, lymphomas, leukemias, lesions in various organs, transitional cell carcinomas, nerve damage, seizures, and premature death.

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Love and Envy Linked by Same Hormone, Oxytocin

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© iStockphoto
Studies have shown that the oxytocin hormone has a positive effect on positive feelings. The hormone is released in the body naturally during childbirth and when engaging in sexual relations.
A new study carried out at the University of Haifa has found that the hormone oxytocin, the "love hormone," which affects behaviors such as trust, empathy and generosity, also affects opposite behaviors, such as jealousy and gloating. "Subsequent to these findings, we assume that the hormone is an overall trigger for social sentiments: when the person's association is positive, oxytocin bolsters pro-social behaviors; when the association is negative, the hormone increases negative sentiments," explains Simone Shamay-Tsoory who carried out the research.

Previous studies have shown that the oxytocin hormone has a positive effect on positive feelings. The hormone is released in the body naturally during childbirth and when engaging in sexual relations. Participants in an experiment who inhaled the synthetic form of the hormone displayed higher levels of altruistic feelings, and it is supposed that the hormone plays an important role in the formation of relationships between people.

However, in earlier studies carried out by other investigators with rodents, it was found that the hormone is also related to higher levels of aggression. Therefore, it was decided to examine whether the hormone also affects negative social sentiments.

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Human Expectation of Pleasure Enhanced by Dopamine

Enhancing the effects of the brain chemical dopamine influences how people make life choices by affecting expectations of pleasure, according to new research from the UCL Institute of Neurology.

The study, published in Current Biology, confirms an important role for dopamine in how human expectations are formed and how people make complex decisions. It also contributes to an understanding of how pleasure expectation can go awry, for example in drug addiction.

Dopamine is a neurotransmitter produced in several areas of the brain that is found in a wide variety of animals. Its role in reward learning and reward-seeking behaviour is well established by animal studies - however, in humans its role is much less understood.

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Shape Perception in Brain Develops by Itself

Tests with westerners and African nomads suggest that brain has innate sense of geometry; incidental result: baby likely can do without ubiquitous shape sorter

Despite minimal exposure to the regular geometric objects found in developed countries, African tribal people perceive shapes as well as westerners, according to a new study.

The findings, published online this week in Psychological Science, suggested that the brain's ability to understand shapes develops without the influence of immersion in simple, manufactured objects.

"In terms of perceiving the world ... either genetics or the natural world will give you the right type of experiences," said lead author Irving Biederman, an expert on perception who holds a named chair in neuroscience at the University of Southern California's College of Letters, Arts and Sciences.