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December 5, 2011

What will they think of next?

Who knew? In the 1960's up until the 1970's ablative stereotactic surgery was used to treat neurologic disorders and neuropsychiatric illness. This treatment was largely abandoned after the 70's due to the development of highly effective drugs to treat these problems, for example, "Levodopa" to combat Parkinson's disorder. Today there seems to be a virtual renaissance of similar techniques used to help those suffering.

The technique being employed uses high-frequency electrical deep brain stimulation (DBS) on specific targets to negate some disorders. Compared to the traditional ablative stereotactic surgery, which consists of lesions and very invasive brain surgery (irreversible), DBS is much less invasive in some respects. By applying high-frequency electrical stimulation to specific brain structures a similar (but different) effect of a lesion is essentially observed. Ever since this technique's rise in popularity (starting in the 1990's) people have the option of a "less permanent". These electrical pulses are delivered by electrodes chronically implanted into a persons brain at specific regions. The exact mechanism of action for DBS still isn't fully understood and clear, but the affects and benefits to patients are both lasting and clear.

Some of the diseases mentioned in the article include Parkinson's, Tourettes syndrome, obsessive compulsive disorder and depression. Patients receiving DBS to treat Tourettes syndrome had a >70% decrease of vocal or motor tics with disappearance of sensory urges. 35-70% of patients receiving DBS to treat OCD were benefitted by a significant reduction in obsessive and compulsive thoughts.

In my opinion, and it seems to be the case with most neurosurgical operations, DBS is the latest and greatest treatment available. Anytime patients can avoid a permanent/irreversible effect such as a lesion the better. My reasoning behind is vast. For example if a patient is suffering from body dissociation disorder and doesn't identify with their right arm and right leg and wants to have these two limbs removed. This persons could amputate these limbs without fully understanding the long term consequences involved or even without any benefit mentally. Or perhaps, the doctor could try a different technique, such as lesioning a brain region located using fMRI thought to be triggering body dissociation disorder. There is a chance the lesion might not properly treat the disorder or not treat it at all. Also the lesion may impair the individual in a more negative way in the long run, and since lesions are practically irreversible, the person is worse off. If DBS was used (tmi could be used as a pre-emptive mapping tool) the patient could be treated for their disorder in a non permanent way and avoid negative, unforeseen, long term issues.

I'm not entirely sure how invasive DBS is but the article made it out to be much less invasive as previous surgeries. Which to me makes sense since over time medical practices should become more and more efficient. Something haunts me about the fact little is truly known and fully understood about DBS and TMI. Little red flags go up in my head every time that fact is mentioned. Whether or not it is effective and beneficial I would prefer to know exactly why it is effective and beneficial before doctors implanted electrodes in my brain to deliver pulses of high-frequency electricity. This honestly sounds like something out of a science fiction story but the real freaky part is it seems to actually work. The big question is: Would you ever have DBS performed on yourself? My answer is yes.
Posted by      Dylan R. at 5:42 PM MST
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December 2, 2011

Resonance among corporeal bodies: it might just exist in humans

"Self-construal" refers to how individuals view and make meaning of the self; at least two subtypes have been identified. Interdependent self-construal is a view of the self that includes relationships with others, and independent self-construal is a view of the self that does not include others. An individual's adoptive cognitive processing style with regard to context sensitivity is thought to be affected by the priming of these two types of self-construal. Simply put, the way a person thinks is influenced by how sensitive they are to their immediate context; priming interdependent or independent self-construal affects an individual's contextual sensitivity and by extension how an individual consequently thinks.

We affect how we think.

Okay, so that's not something new. The interesting thing is the notion that context sensitivity affects motor resonance among corporeal bodies. Yes, I'm talking about the human body and yes, we exhibit resonance. Apparently.

If you're having a hard time swallowing that idea for the first time (or if you're like me and find it intriguing in a nerdy way), perhaps a better way of thinking about it is a sort of 'subconscious chatter' of an individual's behavior emanating out from their body and, depending on how responsive we are to these continuously sent little packets of information, we subconsciously "resonate" the chatter in our own bodies in a social setting. It seems to me that resonance is another way of looking at the nonconscious mind and its effects on our behavior in a way we wouldn't normally think about.

A recent article published in The Journal of Neuroscience presents the case that motor resonance occurs between corresponding muscles in two individuals (at least in a passive observation activity conducted in the study). Ten participants (five male, five female; age range 18-39 years) were subjected to focal transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) of contralateral motor cortex while watching a video superimposed by an interdependent self-construal prime word, independent self-construal prime word, or no prime word. Focal contralateral motor cortex TMS elicited motor-evoked potentials (MEPs, amplitudes adjusted to ~1 mV at baseline fixation-cross control condition) measured from the abductor pollicis brevis (APB) muscle [the muscle of your palm attached to your thumb] of the participant's right hand. The 'motor resonance' part of the study was the passive observation of the video that showed a model contracting the APB muscle to squeeze a rubber ball between the index finger and thumb. Interdependent priming-elicited MEPs with a greater amplitude than the unprimed action showed greater motor resonance (presumably due to increased context sensitivity), and independent priming-elicited MEPs with a smaller amplitude than the unprimed action showed less resonance (presumably due to decreased context sensitivity).

They found that observation of the videos regardless of the priming condition facilitated MEPs of greater amplitude compared with the baseline fixation-cross condition (no-priming and interdependent priming condition MEP increases > independent priming condition). Little surprise there; watching a video rather engages more thought than watching fixed crosshairs. Interdependent self-construal priming facilitated motor cortical outputs beyond the unprimed-induced facilitation, and independent self-construal priming relatively suppressed unprimed-induced facilitation. Interdependent self-construal priming effects motor resonance; independent self-construal somewhat depresses motor resonance.

That's pretty interesting. So how does that tie to the whole corporeal resonance-subconscious body-to-body chatter thing?

The underlying idea is behavioral mimicry in social settings; 'contextual motor resonance sensitivity' mediates nonconscious mimicry in social settings, presumably involving the mirror neuron system (appropriately named). We resonate with other individuals on some level depending on our sensitivity to those around us. This implies that the reason why we imitate or mimic other individuals' behaviors and actions is not necessarily because we might under the influence of something and more sociable (disinhibited) from how we normally act or but rather being brought to a more resonance-receptive state/less resonance-unreceptive state; how we are brought to a more receptive state is through priming (by ourselves, others, quotes, environment, etc.). Conversely, priming also takes us farther from resonance reception/stronger resonance resistance. This article concludes that the study therefore supports the idea that motor resonant systems in the human brain mediate behavioral mimicry.

A little more on the mirror system. Complications with the mirror neuron system whether deficits or other abnormalities may play a role in disorders of excessive or reduced social influence, such as individuals with autism spectrum disorders, compulsive imitation, or psycho-pathic personality traits. Novel therapeutic interventions based on the findings of this study may benefit such patients greatly, and may even benefit us as well. Inducing interdependent self-construal could potentially make learning by observation more efficient.

Do you think resonance is the reason why we feel smarter when certain people stand next to us (or is that a bit too far of a stretch...)?

Link to the article:
Edited by      Patricia W. at 10:09 PM MST
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