Concept: Snake scales
Ayahuasca is an Amazonian psychoactive plant beverage containing the serotonergic 5-HT(2A) agonist N,N-dimethyltryptamine (DMT) and monoamine oxidase-inhibiting alkaloids (harmine, harmaline and tetrahydroharmine) that render it orally active. Ayahuasca ingestion is a central feature in several Brazilian syncretic churches that have expanded their activities to urban Brazil, Europe and North America. Members of these groups typically ingest ayahuasca at least twice per month. Prior research has shown that acute ayahuasca increases blood flow in prefrontal and temporal brain regions and that it elicits intense modifications in thought processes, perception and emotion. However, regular ayahuasca use does not seem to induce the pattern of addiction-related problems that characterize drugs of abuse. To study the impact of repeated ayahuasca use on general psychological well-being, mental health and cognition, here we assessed personality, psychopathology, life attitudes and neuropsychological performance in regular ayahuasca users (n = 127) and controls (n = 115) at baseline and 1 year later. Controls were actively participating in non-ayahuasca religions. Users showed higher Reward Dependence and Self-Transcendence and lower Harm Avoidance and Self-Directedness. They scored significantly lower on all psychopathology measures, showed better performance on the Stroop test, the Wisconsin Card Sorting Test and the Letter-Number Sequencing task from the WAIS-III, and better scores on the Frontal Systems Behavior Scale. Analysis of life attitudes showed higher scores on the Spiritual Orientation Inventory, the Purpose in Life Test and the Psychosocial Well-Being test. Despite the lower number of participants available at follow-up, overall differences with controls were maintained one year later. In conclusion, we found no evidence of psychological maladjustment, mental health deterioration or cognitive impairment in the ayahuasca-using group.
The lambeosaurine Tsintaosaurus spinorhinus has traditionally been reconstructed with an elevated, hollow, spike-like crest composed entirely of the nasal bones, although this has been disputed. Here, we provide a new reconstruction of the skull of this species based on reexamination and reinterpretation of the morphology and articular relationships of the type and Paratype skulls and a fragmentary crest. We confirm the presence of a supracranial crest composed of the elevated nasal bones, but also including the premaxillae. We hypothesize that the crest is a tall, lobate, hollow structure that projects dorsally and slightly caudally a distance greater than the height of the skull along the quadrate. In our reconstruction, the nasal passage passes through the crest, but enters the skull rostral to the tubular process of the nasals, not through it. Tsintaosaurus spinorhinus is rediagnosed on the basis of a suite of cranial autapomorphies including a circumnarial fossa subdivided into three accessory fossae, prefrontal with ascending rostral process and lateral flange, nasals fused sagittally to form elongate tubular process that rises dorsally from skull roof, each nasal being expanded rostrocaudally into a rhomboid distal process, and medial processes of premaxillae at the summit of the cranial crest inserted between rhomboid processes of nasals. Tsintaosaurus spinorhinus lacks characters that are present in more derived lambeosaurines (parasaurolophins and lambeosaurins), such as rotation of the caudal margin of the crest to an acute angle with the skull roof, lateral processes of the nasals that enclose part of the intracranial cavity and participate in the formation of the walls of the common median chamber, and a smooth narial fossa lacking ridges and accessory fossae. We hypothesize that ancestrally the rostrum of lambeosaurines may have been more similar to that in Saurolophinae, and became subsequently reduced in complexity during evolution of the group.
Although neuroscientific research has revealed experience-dependent brain changes across the life span in sensory, motor, and cognitive domains, plasticity relating to social capacities remains largely unknown. To investigate whether the targeted mental training of different cognitive and social skills can induce specific changes in brain morphology, we collected longitudinal magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) data throughout a 9-month mental training intervention from a large sample of adults between 20 and 55 years of age. By means of various daily mental exercises and weekly instructed group sessions, training protocols specifically addressed three functional domains: (i) mindfulness-based attention and interoception, (ii) socio-affective skills (compassion, dealing with difficult emotions, and prosocial motivation), and (iii) socio-cognitive skills (cognitive perspective-taking on self and others and metacognition). MRI-based cortical thickness analyses, contrasting the different training modules against each other, indicated spatially diverging changes in cortical morphology. Training of present-moment focused attention mostly led to increases in cortical thickness in prefrontal regions, socio-affective training induced plasticity in frontoinsular regions, and socio-cognitive training included change in inferior frontal and lateral temporal cortices. Module-specific structural brain changes correlated with training-induced behavioral improvements in the same individuals in domain-specific measures of attention, compassion, and cognitive perspective-taking, respectively, and overlapped with task-relevant functional networks. Our longitudinal findings indicate structural plasticity in well-known socio-affective and socio-cognitive brain networks in healthy adults based on targeted short daily mental practices. These findings could promote the development of evidence-based mental training interventions in clinical, educational, and corporate settings aimed at cultivating social intelligence, prosocial motivation, and cooperation.
Humans naturally have a sense of humor. Experiencing humor not only encourages social interactions, but also produces positive physiological effects on the human body, such as lowering blood pressure. Recent neuro-imaging studies have shown evidence for distinct mental state changes at work in people experiencing humor. However, the temporal characteristics of these changes remain elusive. In this paper, we objectively measured humor-related mental states from single-trial functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) data obtained while subjects viewed comedy TV programs. Measured fMRI data were labeled on the basis of the lag before or after the viewer’s perception of humor (humor onset) determined by the viewer-reported humor experiences during the fMRI scans. We trained multiple binary classifiers, or decoders, to distinguish between fMRI data obtained at each lag from ones obtained during a neutral state in which subjects were not experiencing humor. As a result, in the right dorsolateral prefrontal cortex and the right temporal area, the decoders showed significant classification accuracies even at two seconds ahead of the humor onsets. Furthermore, given a time series of fMRI data obtained during movie viewing, we found that the decoders with significant performance were also able to predict the upcoming humor events on a volume-by-volume basis. Taking into account the hemodynamic delay, our results suggest that the upcoming humor events are encoded in specific brain areas up to about five seconds before the awareness of experiencing humor. Our results provide evidence that there exists a mental state lasting for a few seconds before actual humor perception, as if a viewer is expecting the future humorous events.
Human brain dynamics and functional connectivity fluctuate over a range of temporal scales in coordination with internal states and environmental demands. However, the neurobiological significance and consequences of functional connectivity dynamics during rest have not yet been established. We show that the coarse-grained clustering of whole-brain dynamic connectivity measured with magnetic resonance imaging reveals discrete patterns (dynamic connectivity states) associated with wakefulness and sleep. We validate this using EEG in healthy subjects and patients with narcolepsy and by matching our results with previous findings in a large collaborative database. We also show that drowsiness may account for previous reports of metastable connectivity states associated with different levels of functional integration. This implies that future studies of transient functional connectivity must independently monitor wakefulness. We conclude that a possible neurobiological significance of dynamic connectivity states, computed at a sufficiently coarse temporal scale, is that of fluctuations in wakefulness.
In the setting of profound ocular blindness, numerous lines of evidence demonstrate the existence of dramatic anatomical and functional changes within the brain. However, previous studies based on a variety of distinct measures have often provided inconsistent findings. To help reconcile this issue, we used a multimodal magnetic resonance (MR)-based imaging approach to provide complementary structural and functional information regarding this neuroplastic reorganization. This included gray matter structural morphometry, high angular resolution diffusion imaging (HARDI) of white matter connectivity and integrity, and resting state functional connectivity MRI (rsfcMRI) analysis. When comparing the brains of early blind individuals to sighted controls, we found evidence of co-occurring decreases in cortical volume and cortical thickness within visual processing areas of the occipital and temporal cortices respectively. Increases in cortical volume in the early blind were evident within regions of parietal cortex. Investigating white matter connections using HARDI revealed patterns of increased and decreased connectivity when comparing both groups. In the blind, increased white matter connectivity (indexed by increased fiber number) was predominantly left-lateralized, including between frontal and temporal areas implicated with language processing. Decreases in structural connectivity were evident involving frontal and somatosensory regions as well as between occipital and cingulate cortices. Differences in white matter integrity (as indexed by quantitative anisotropy, or QA) were also in general agreement with observed pattern changes in the number of white matter fibers. Analysis of resting state sequences showed evidence of both increased and decreased functional connectivity in the blind compared to sighted controls. Specifically, increased connectivity was evident between temporal and inferior frontal areas. Decreases in functional connectivity were observed between occipital and frontal and somatosensory-motor areas and between temporal (mainly fusiform and parahippocampus) and parietal, frontal, and other temporal areas. Correlations in white matter connectivity and functional connectivity observed between early blind and sighted controls showed an overall high degree of association. However, comparing the relative changes in white matter and functional connectivity between early blind and sighted controls did not show a significant correlation. In summary, these findings provide complimentary evidence, as well as highlight potential contradictions, regarding the nature of regional and large scale neuroplastic reorganization resulting from early onset blindness.
Pediatric OSA is associated with cognitive risk. Since adult OSA manifests MRI evidence of brain injury, and animal models lead to regional neuronal losses, pediatric OSA patients may also be affected. We assessed the presence of neuronal injury, measured as regional grey matter volume, in 16 OSA children (8 male, 8.1 ± 2.2 years, AHI:11.1 ± 5.9 events/hr), and 200 control subjects (84 male, 8.2 ± 2.0 years), 191 of whom were from the NIH-Pediatric MRI database. High resolution T1-weighted whole-brain images were assessed between groups with voxel-based morphometry, using ANCOVA (covariates, age and gender; family-wise error correction, P < 0.01). Significant grey matter volume reductions appeared in OSA throughout areas of the superior frontal and prefrontal, and superior and lateral parietal cortices. Other affected sites included the brainstem, ventral medial prefrontal cortex, and superior temporal lobe, mostly on the left side. Thus, pediatric OSA subjects show extensive regionally-demarcated grey matter volume reductions in areas that control cognition and mood functions, even if such losses are apparently independent of cognitive deficits. Since OSA disease duration in our subjects is unknown, these findings may result from either delayed neuronal development, neuronal damaging processes, or a combination thereof, and could either reflect neuronal atrophy or reductions in cellular volume (neurons and glia).
Despite decades of research, the pathophysiology of bipolar disorder (BD) is still not well understood. Structural brain differences have been associated with BD, but results from neuroimaging studies have been inconsistent. To address this, we performed the largest study to date of cortical gray matter thickness and surface area measures from brain magnetic resonance imaging scans of 6503 individuals including 1837 unrelated adults with BD and 2582 unrelated healthy controls for group differences while also examining the effects of commonly prescribed medications, age of illness onset, history of psychosis, mood state, age and sex differences on cortical regions. In BD, cortical gray matter was thinner in frontal, temporal and parietal regions of both brain hemispheres. BD had the strongest effects on left pars opercularis (Cohen’s d=-0.293; P=1.71 × 10(-21)), left fusiform gyrus (d=-0.288; P=8.25 × 10(-21)) and left rostral middle frontal cortex (d=-0.276; P=2.99 × 10(-19)). Longer duration of illness (after accounting for age at the time of scanning) was associated with reduced cortical thickness in frontal, medial parietal and occipital regions. We found that several commonly prescribed medications, including lithium, antiepileptic and antipsychotic treatment showed significant associations with cortical thickness and surface area, even after accounting for patients who received multiple medications. We found evidence of reduced cortical surface area associated with a history of psychosis but no associations with mood state at the time of scanning. Our analysis revealed previously undetected associations and provides an extensive analysis of potential confounding variables in neuroimaging studies of BD.Molecular Psychiatry advance online publication, 2 May 2017; doi:10.1038/mp.2017.73.
- Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
- Published over 2 years ago
One of the core features of human speech is that words cause listeners to retrieve corresponding visual mental images. However, whether vocalizations similarly evoke mental images in animal communication systems is surprisingly unknown. Japanese tits (Parus minor) produce specific alarm calls when and only when encountering a predatory snake. Here, I show that simply hearing these calls causes tits to become more visually perceptive to objects resembling snakes. During playback of snake-specific alarm calls, tits approach a wooden stick being moved in a snake-like fashion. However, tits do not respond to the same stick when hearing other call types or if the stick’s movement is dissimilar to that of a snake. Thus, before detecting a real snake, tits retrieve its visual image from snake-specific alarm calls and use this to search out snakes. This study provides evidence for a call-evoked visual search image in a nonhuman animal, offering a paradigm to explore the cognitive basis for animal vocal communication in the wild.
Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response (ASMR) is a perceptual condition in which specific visual and auditory stimuli consistently trigger tingling sensations on the scalp and neck, sometimes spreading to the back and limbs. These triggering stimuli are often social, almost intimate, in nature (e.g., hearing whispering, or watching someone brush her hair), and often elicit a calm and positive emotional state. Surprisingly, despite its prevalence in the general population, no published study has examined the neural underpinnings of ASMR. In the current study, the default mode network (DMN) of 11 individuals with ASMR was contrasted to that of 11 matched controls. The results indicated that the DMN of individuals with ASMR showed significantly less functional connectivity than that of controls. The DMN of individuals with ASMR also demonstrated increased connectivity between regions in the occipital, frontal, and temporal cortices, suggesting that ASMR was associated with a blending of multiple resting-state networks. This atypical functional connectivity likely influences the unique sensory-emotional experiences associated with ASMR.