Brain’s Alertness Circuitry Conserved Through Evolution

NIH-funded scientists revealed the types of neurons supporting alertness, using a molecular method called MultiMAP in transparent larval zebrafish. Multiple types of neurons communicate by secreting the same major chemical messengers: serotonin (red), dopamine and norepinephrine (yellow) and acetylcholine (cyan).

Using a molecular method likely to become widely adopted by the field, researchers supported by the National Institutes of Health have discovered brain circuitry essential for alertness, or vigilance – and for brain states more generally. Strikingly, the same cell types and circuits are engaged during alertness in zebra fish and mice, species whose evolutionary forebears parted ways hundreds of millions of years ago. This suggests that the human brain is likely similarly wired for this state critical to survival.

“Vigilance gone awry marks states such as mania and those seen in post-traumatic stress disorder and depression,” explained Joshua Gordon, M.D., Ph.D., director of the NIH’s National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), which along with the National Institute on Drug Abuse, co-funded the study. “Gaining familiarity with the molecular players in a behavior – as this new tool promises – may someday lead to clinical interventions targeting dysfunctional brain states.”

Karl Deisseroth, M.D., Ph.D., Matthew Lovett-Barron, Ph.D., and Stanford University, Palo Alto, California, colleagues, report on findings using a neural activity screening technology they call Multi-MAP (Multiplexed-alignment of Molecular and Activity Phenotypes) online Nov. 2, 2017 in the journal Cell.

For the first time, Multi-MAP makes it possible to see which neurons are activated in a behaving animal during a particular brain state – and subsequently molecularly analyze just those neurons to identify the subtypes and circuits involved.

In this case, the researchers used the technique to screen activity of neurons visible through the transparent heads of genetically-engineered larval zebra fish. They gauged vigilance by measuring how long it took the animals to swish their tails in response to a threatening stimulus.

A molecular analysis revealing subtypes led to identification of six suspect circuits composed of distinct populations of neurons that modulate neuronal activity, only one of which had previously been linked to vigilance. Virtually the same players were operative in follow-up experiments examining such reaction time-related circuitry in mouse brain. Using optogenetics – another breakthrough exploratory tool developed by Deisseroth and colleagues — the researchers narrowed the field to three circuits that definitively boost alertness in mice, including the one previously known. The other three are thought to play a reportorial rather than regulatory role.

Depression’s Transcriptional Signatures Differ in Men vs. Women

Divergent illness processes may point to sex-specific treatments

Brain gene expression associated with depression differed markedly between men and women in a study by NIMH-funded researchers. Such divergent “transcriptional signatures” may signal divergent underlying illness processes that may require sex-specific treatments, they suggest. Experiments in chronically-stressed male and female mice that developed depression-like behaviors largely confirmed the human findings.

NIMH grantee Eric Nestler, M.D., Ph.D., of the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, and colleagues, reported their findings online August 21, 2017 in the journal Nature Medicine.

Discovering the likely differing causes of “depression” may lead to more precise diagnosis and treatment. Sex differences could hold clues. Women are 2-3 times more likely than men to develop depression. Evidence has been mounting of sex differences in symptoms, treatment responsiveness and brain changes associated with the disorder. But, until now, little was known about molecular mechanisms in specific brain regions that might underlie such differences.

To explore these, Nestler’s team sequenced the transcriptomes of six suspect brain regions in postmortem brains of 13 males and 13 females who had depression and 22 unaffected people.

In both sexes, all six regions showed illness-linked changes in transcription, when compared to brains of controls. But there was little overlap (5-10 percent) between male and female brains in depression-linked gene expression patterns across the regions. Upon further analysis, males showed only 31 percent of illness-linked modules of co-expressed genes seen in females, and females shared only 26 percent of such modules with males. Moreover, functions of the depression-associated modules largely differed between the sexes. The transcriptional changes affected several brain cell types in males, but mostly neurons in females. Yet, despite the lack of overlap at the level of gene transcripts, several of the same overall molecular pathways were ultimately implicated in depression in both men and women.

Similarly, genetically identical male and female mice showed little (20-25 percent) overlap in transcriptional signatures associated with depression-like behaviors experimentally induced by chronic stress. In the brain’s executive hub and reward center, expression of dozens of the same implicated genes increased and decreased in the same sex-specific directions in both humans and mice. This indicated that both species may share sex-specific stress-induced pathology, converging on several of the same biological pathways.

“The mouse work allows investigation into the cellular mechanisms by which the observed changes in gene expression lead to changes in neural circuit function and behavior,” explained Laurie Nadler, Ph.D., chief of the NIMH Neuropharmacology Program, which co-funded the study.

Using genetic engineering, the researchers uncovered molecular mechanisms underlying the sex-specific effects of changes in activity of two genes never previously linked to depression or stress responses.

The study results suggest that depression-related stress susceptibility is mediated by mostly different genes and partly different pathways across the sexes, although these converge in some common outputs. Since genome-wide studies have not turned up sex differences in genetic variation (DNA) associated with depression, the researchers suggest that the differences instead take place at the level of gene transcription. Such changes in similar gene modules organized and expressed differently across brain regions in males and females may disrupt coordinated neural activity needed to cope with stress, they propose.

These findings illustrate the importance of examining sex differences in neuropsychiatric phenomena,” said Dr. Nestler. “They also provide insight into possible approaches for the treatment of depression that selectively target women or men.

Researchers found little overlap between illness-related gene expression changes in postmortem prefrontal cortex (an executive decision-making hub) of depressed men (blue) compared to those found in depressed women (pink). They found more, but still limited, overlap between gene expression changes in the comparable brain region of chronically stressed male and female mice. They say the latter finding is particularly striking, given that the mice were genetically identical, exposed to identical stresses, and subsequently showed equivalent depression-related behavioral abnormalities. The study suggests that depression appears to involve fundamentally different molecular abnormalities in men versus women.

7 Strengths for 7 Stressors of Today

The modern world today has been the worst all across human history for the stress effects on our daily life. There are many people who are feeling the psychological burden. Lot of us are feeling very tired and withdrawn from everyday routine and daily activities. The constant exposure to media is aggravating the situation towards the downward spiral because of the environmental and social events happening all around us and in the world we live.

Here are some of the top stressors in the current times and how we can overcome them to live a simple yet fulfilling life. Following the tips will mobilize your strengths towards achieving greater resilience and buoyancy in daily life.

1. The world is going through tough times and going to a shallow bottom – there are many horrific events like fires, earthquakes, hurricanes, and flooding. The political environment all around is also not giving any sense of stability either.

To cope up, remember that in all the times of despair and calamity, we see many resources being mobilized by people to care for others whom they do not know or never met. This is the human nature which has made us coexist since so long. The feeling of altruism, sympathy, and empathy are still in all of us fundamentally. Be helpful and provide hope for yourself and others.

2. Are we destroying our planet and making it inhabitable – The population of the world has been growing ad currently it is over populated, due to which we are consuming more and more resources. This causes Earth to suffer due to waste, deterioration of resources, oil reserves, etc.

Well, think that the basic step starts from you. We must do all that we can individually and collectively to make our planet better.

3. Feeling Lonely – We are living in a mobile world where people are moving constantly for school, work, leisure, etc. Therefore, we are often lonely with extended family living at distance, whether hundred miles or thousands of miles. Disintegration of community and relatives is making us get lesser and lesser emotional support.

To cope up with feeling of loneliness, we do need to be with others and feel part of a group. Invite friends over for dinner or extended an invitation to someone for coffee. Be inspired and extend yourself to an activity or an invitation and savor some connection.

4. There is so much anger around us with people upset naturally always. – The frustrations of life comes out in any form at any time with minimal or no provocation at all. Well, you might have heard it million times before, but the coping mechanisms remain same – exercise, meditation, friends and family, vacation time, etc are all the ways to reduce the daily life frustration. Do what you enjoyed once and stopped doing it due to time and its relevance.

5. How can I help or how can I get help – Healthy stepping back from your own world can take you to the longer road of good and destressed life. Keep in mind that grief and loss are part of life. What does loss or grief mean to you? How have you managed your own loss or grief in life? What helped, what didn’t? How can you cultivate them? Time to introspect and help others introspect.

6. Accept that stress is part of life – When stressful situations arise, remind yourself that they are part of life and will come and go. Nothing in this life is permanant – neither does your stress. So take a relaxed approch towards stress in life.

7. Have a realistic outlook about everything in your life. Do not see the world through rose-coloured glasses rather have your own outlook which is realistic. You also need to check the silver lining in the tough circumstances. Stressful circumstances are there to make you become stronger and better.

The Art of Nostalgia

“The Art Of Nostalgia” is a elaborate collection of nine personal essays of Lauren. These essays aim to capture nostalgia’s essence on how does it effects the person and the thought process. The essays bring the reader on a journey as Lauren crafts a timeline of memories that reflect a deep-rooted nostalgia for places, people, and transient phases of life. She, inadvertently, strings together pieces of herself, pieces that shape who she is at her core, daring us to ponder our own stories, our own past that vitally remains within us.

Here is some insight on how to tame the phenomenon that is nostalgia.

The cycle of Nostalgia

Keep in mind that you’ve missed things a thousand times before, and it always becomes easier. It may take weeks, or months, but it always does. Whether it’s a place, a person, or your favorite food that you can no longer eat because you just found out you’re gluten free, it always gets easier.

Be Realistic: The most dangerous part of nostalgia is the tendency to romanticize. When you look back, look back on the past as it actually was. Doing so will prevent you from ranking the past as better than the present.

Look Forward: Avoid excessive planning, but when that new movie tells you how enlightening your twenty-something years are, or how incredible your forties are, listen. Your grandmother is right when she says you have a lot to look forward to. Be excited for, and do not fear, what lies ahead.

Always Live In The Moment – Try to embrace how exciting life can be when you truly live in the moment. Respect the epitomic Cards and try new things everyday.

Balance – Try to find a balance between the past and the present. Keep in touch with old friends, and remember the events that made you the person you are today. Most importantly, always participate in Instagram’s “throwback Thursday.”

The first and probably the most important consideration is the attitude with which we approach our material. Since nostalgia serves no immediate purpose besides providing pleasure it is a fundamentally aesthetic memory experience, which means we should approach our material with the mindset of an artist.

Stress Makes It Harder to Recognize Danger

Have you ever felt stress in your daily life or on any special occasion? I am sure the answer is Yes for all of us and we all go through it in our daily lives. It can be at some instances positive feeling which can help us perform better and take action at the right time. When this stress becomes chronic, things can get out of control and it can impact the daily life. When you experience the sweaty hands when there is an important event or speech, this is stress. When your heart pounds while going for a first date is what stress is. You can feel it in both mind as well as body.

This automatic response developed in our ancient ancestors as a way to protect them from predators and other threats. Faced with danger, the body kicks into gear, flooding the body with hormones that elevate your heart rate, increase your blood pressure, boost your energy and prepare you to deal with the problem.

Emotional signs of stress

There are many different ways in which stress is manifested in a healthy individual. There are some reactions which a body performs to handle some stressful or unfamiliar situation. These reactions are nothing but the stress effects on the body and while undergoing such things, our body becomes more and more prone to ddangerous situations. With constant pressure, the ability of the brain to respond to dangerous situations become weaker and can also effect the ability to identify a prevailing dangerous or imminent situation. Some of the vital symptoms of stress due to which the situation becomes out of control are as follows:

Irritation
No sense of humor
Frustration
Feeling overworked
Feeling overwhelmed
Sense of helplessness
Apathy

Some of the Behavioral signs of stress causing Danger are as follows:

– decreased contact with family and friends
– poor work relations
– sense of loneliness
– decreased sex drive

Tips to overcome affects of stress in Dangerous setup

Stress is your daily life ingredient. It cannot be skipped and only can be handled – with care. If you or a loved one is feeling overwhelmed by stress, talk to your doctor. Many symptoms of stress can also be signs of other health problems. Your doctor can evaluate your symptoms and rule out other conditions. If stress is to blame, your doctor can recommend a therapist or counselor to help you better handle your stress.

It is important to recognize when the stress in your life is causing negative consequences. Stress and anxiety can cause mental or emotional symptoms in addition to physical ones. Some of the them are as follows:

– feelings of impending doom
– panic or nervousness, especially in social settings
– difficulty concentrating
– irrational anger
– restlessness

Mental Accounting and Self-Control

Have you ever heard about Mental Accounting and Self Control? This topic has become my personal favorite concept. Richard Thaler’s work on the idea of mental accounting is that people have separate accounts in their mental being for everything and they spend everything from that account treating different things differently. People don’t treat all of their money or time or effort or other resources as if they have one big pool of it. Instead, they have separate mental accounts, and when they spend money or time or effort they keep track of it based on the mental account it came from. These accounts are typically very much individual in nature and majorly based on people’s goals for their own lives.

This concept of Mental Accounting was first named by Richard Thaler (1980). In this theory people code, categorise and evaluate economic outcomes. Mental accounting theorists argue that people group their assets into a number of non-replaceable mental accounts. One detailed application of mental accounting, the behavioural life cycle hypothesis (Shefrin & 1992), theorizes that people mentally frame assets as belonging to either current income, current wealth or future income and this has implications for their behaviour as the accounts are largely non-interchangeable.

Nobel prize for the Richard Thaler’s theory

The 2017 Nobel Prize in Economics was awarded to Richard Thaler from the University of Chicago and works at the intersection cynosure of psychology and economics. One of the things that Thaler has become known for is the concept of the “nudge,” which is a small change to someone’s environment that can have a big influence on their behavior in economic situations. The most famous example of a nudge is forcing people to “opt out” of default options. Research suggests that people typically stick with the default option on a form. That means policy makers can decide which option they want most people to choose and make that one the default.

Another very important concept used to understand mental accounting is that of modified utility function. There are 2 values attached to any transaction – acquisition value and transaction value.

How Mental Accounting is related to Self Control

The idea is by keeping separate mental accounts, it is easier to engage in self-control. When you start to spend too much against one of your mental accounts, it makes it easier to walk away from new purchases. Many of Thaler’s studies focus on these decision processes like these.

Judging Trustworthiness From a Face?

There has been a research conducted by scientists wherein they have found that our brains are able to judge the trustworthiness of a face even when we cannot consciously see it. This has shown some light on the fact that we make snap judgement about people by just looking at them.

Trust as well see is the fundamental ingredient of the human beings mutual interdependence. As an example on how trust is embedded in our daily life, just look at the following examples:

1. The server brings us a meal in a restaurant, trusting we’ll pay after we’ve eaten it.
2. We put in long hours at work, trusting that our employer will give us our wages at the end of the month.
3. We zip through green lights, trusting that cross traffic will stop at their red lights.

Changes in Trustworthiness perspective

As we grow adult, there is a big change in the way people judge trustworthiness from appearances. These judgements are not known in children. All age groups from 5-7 or 10 years old or adults have rated the trustworthiness of trustworthy and untrustworthy faces with neutral expressions. Ability to evaluate the trustworthiness of faces emerges in childhood, but may not be adult like until 10 years of age.

According to research we have two modes of thinking — a quick, intuitive mode and a slow, rational mode. Each has strengths and weaknesses. When making snap judgments in the social atosphere, the intuition will usually yield better decisions than reason. In all other cases, reason tends to triumph over intuition.

The bottom line for making social judgements – If you do not have any information to rely on, trust your intuition or guts; it will be right more often than not. But keep in mind that your gut is far from foolproof, so don’t ignore contextual cues of untrustworthiness.

How Many Ways Can We Measure Well-Being?

The definition of well being is different for different people. Everyone has a different opinion about it. But most of the people now believe that it is just not material possessions and consumptions. It is more and more related to other aspects as well such as health and good social relations. Can the happiness and its levels in life can be quoted as the fundamentl attribute towards well being? So what is the real measure of well being? Is it happiness, social progress, or combination of all factors of good life?

How to Measure happiness and Well being?

One possibility of finding this is through some opinion survery where the participants respond to simple questions on their degree of happiness or life satisfaction. According to some of these surveys it has been found that money, econimic progress, financial wellbeing has lesser than expected contribution towards satisfaction.

Some Expert opinion about Well Being

Nobel Prize winner Amartya Sen has pointed out that knowing well-being on the basis of feelings of satisfaction, pleasure, or happiness has below two issues.

The first is called physical-condition neglect wherein, human beings adapt at least partially to unfavourable situations, meaning the poor and the sick can still be relatively happy.

The second issue is called valuation neglect wherein valuing a life is a reflective activity that should not be reduced to feeling happy or unhappy.

The Office for National Statistics in the UK was asked by the Prime Minister David Cameron to know what is happiness and wellbeing and can they be measured. After six months of project the Jill Matheson, the director of the program reported that happiness is one intangible thing and wellbeing is measurable in the same way our economy is.

Some key aspects for Well Being

Children’s happiness
Economy and inequality
Health
Work/life balance

Harvey Weinstein Proves Sex Addiction Doesn’t Exist

Harvey Weinstein is been in news recently for allegations of sexual misconduct. He is reportedly seeking treatment at a center in Arizona currently which focuses on sex addiction. He has some serious more than 20 allegations of sexual misconduct, harassment and assault. He stated in one of the emails to the CEO’s and directors the following: “All I’m asking is let me take a leave of absence and get into heavy therapy and counseling. Whether it be in a facility or somewhere else, allow me to resurrect myself with a second chance,” Weinstein reportedly wrote. “A lot of the allegations are false as you know but given therapy and counseling as other people have done, I think I’d be able to get there.”

After Weinstein’s resolution for seeking treatment for sex addiction and the corresponding mental illness can wrongly make such abusive actions stand along with sexual addiction for comparison.

It is not only sexual addiction which can be seen as a mental issuess in Weinstein. There could be other mental problems, too, and why not see his primary problem as

• The abuse of power?
• The incredible lack of empathy?
• Self-destructiveness?
• The fear of being insignificant, of not even existing?
• The inability to keep marital vows?
• The lack of integrity?
• The inability to feel sufficiently nourished by an incredible career?
At the end with the Weinstein’s case it is being discussed deeply that there’s no such thing as “sex addiction,”. So what does Weinstein and others suffer from then?

The difference of offending behavior and ‘sex addiction’

Chris Samuels, director of the Sexual Addiction Treatment and Training Institute in New York, stressed that these are two separate issues. “The perpetrator (of sexual misconduct) is opportunistic, often motivated by power dynamics and often self-justifying and remorseless,” she said. “The sex addict, by contrast, is fairly constantly dealing with compulsive urges to act-out as a coping modality, is seeking emotional relief from stress rather than seeking to exercise power over another, and is rarely without shame or guilt about his or her behavior.”

Can You Change Your Personality?

No two humans walking or ever walked on this planet has the same personality and characters. Everyone is very much unique and different than other and often behave in different ways in different situations. There are no strengths and weaknesses or any particular type of personality and there is no idea of ideal personality just like there is no ideal human being to follow in this world.

That being said, it is almost impossible that at some point in life you will not say “I wish I had a different personality”. You might look for becoming more outgoing, more organized, more resistant to issues and concerns, etc. It would not be a big surprise if the most frequent question people ask for while going for personal development classes is “Can I change my personality?”.

Every personality type is unique and has different strengths. Your basic personality type cannot change, however, you can train yourself and change some of the aspects of your personality that you strive for changing or taking different course in life. Such a change in life is possible either by change in environment or your own willpower.

What the Science thinks about changing Personality

Scientists believe that personality traits not only determine what we are like, but may also impact our social relationships, work experiences, mental and physical health, and other aspects of our life. But a recently published study suggests that our characteristic personality type may be more changeable than we think.

According to researchers at the University of Chicago, who analyzed over two hundred studies to see how different types of psychotherapy and pharmaceutical drug treatments impact personality traits for people with mental-health issues, stated that personality traits are often measured and it is possible to observe shifts in them. These shifts in personality seemed to reflect actual changes in general traits, not just a temporary change in mood, such as the alleviation of depression or anxiety.

What we can do to change the personality?

The first step to making real and lasting changes in personality is to be critical of any self-development program that boasts instant, or radical change. As it takes many years to develop patterns of thoughts, feelings, and behaviors, it will take some time in the time of years to to alter them.