New kid on the (news) block: Neuroscience news

So not only did I create a fancy new website, I also decided to spice it up a bit more. *Intense drumroll* From now on I will do a bi-weekly news block to keep you updated on what awesome stuff has been discovered in neuroscience while we all were struggling through the week. On the menu this week: magic mushrooms and depression, what happens in your brain when you talk to God, and memory enhancement by brain manipulation. 

1. Magic mushrooms have been shown to lift severe depression.
It's been too long since I talked about my favourite stuff, so here goes. Magic mushrooms, those versatile little miraculous plants, are in the headlines again, bringing psychedelic Renessaince closer yet (this sentence was even more enthusiastic before I edited it). This time a quite small study (involving 12 participants suffering from a treatment-resistant depression) showed that a little bit of psilocybin helped to lift resistant depression in ALL the volunteers and even kept the disease away for three months for five of them. That fits well with previous results of how a) the brain area implicated in self-reflection is hyperactive in depression causing rumination and negative thought cycles and b) how psychedelics basically shut it down. Of course, there a lot of caveats and still a long way to go, but looks like psychedelic drugs are paving the way for a whole new depression treatment. 

2. Scientists recorded brain activity of a man who was catching up with Heaven.
Could Moses, Jesus and Mohammed all have suffered from a temporal lobe epilepsy? Obviously we can't know, but they MIGHT have -- according to a case reported this week by Jerusalem researchers. A patient suffering from a temporal lobe epilepsy (TLE) was undergoing an electro encephalography (EEG) recording his brain activity when he suddenly froze, stared at the ceiling for a couple of minutes and finally exclaimed "And you are Adonai (name of the Hebrew God) the Lord!”. Then he unplugged all the wires from his head and marched off to convince fellow patients God has sent him to bring redemption to them. Right before this religious revelation took place researches observed a spike in the EEG activity in the patient's prefrontal cortex, an area responsible for A TON of higher cognitive functions, amongst other things linked to religious and mystical experiences. 

The scientific team believes the man could have had a “grandiose religious delusion of revelation and missionary zeal in the context of post-ictal psychosis (PIP)” (PIP being a post-seizure psychosis). Indeed, patients with TLE previously reported hallucinations giving them warning or auras with flowery smell which echoes with reports by religious experiencers of smelling flowers. This story doesn't offer any causal conclusions like "a spike here and there will make you a believer and spend a billion for the church" but it does give us interesting insights in how brain works. 

God as we know Her. I hope you get the reference. If not, do yourself a favour and google search this pic. Then get familiar with the source.

God as we know Her. I hope you get the reference. If not, do yourself a favour and google search this pic. Then get familiar with the source.

3. Memory improvement through some brain tweaking.
It has been long assumed that long-term storage of memories relies on the communication between two brain areas: hippocampus and neocortex (neocortex is not a brain area per se, but let's go with it for the sake of simplicity) happening during sleep. Yet a causal link, as it so often happens in neuroscience, was never established; it was merely correlated. French researchers indeed managed to show the direct link. First, they found a correlation between activity in these areas: when there were specific kind of brain waves in the hippocampus, cortex answered with another distinguishable brain waves. Then, some lab mice took part in a memory test. Some of them were allowed to memorise objects for 20 minutes, while others -- only for three. Expectedly, mice from the first group were much better at remembering where the objects were and the second group failed. Then, they developed a technique which allowed them to trigger the cortex "response" waves as soon as they detected the waves of interest in the hippocampus -- they basically forced the coupling on demand. Finally, they showed that mice who underwent this forced coupling procedure passed the memory test perfectly even though they only had three minutes to memorise the object location and failed before the stimulation. So, oversimplifying: modulating your brain waves might help to overcome certain memory deficits and enhance your memory [insert a standard joke about the Brave New World here]. 

That was it for this week, like, share, stay tuned -- I will write about memory and stuff pretty soon!