Predicting Suicides—Beyond STARRS

News Story from dana.org

Suicide Prevention

Image: Shutterstock

Over the past few years, America has lost several celebrities, including actor/comedian Robin Williams and fashion designer Kate Spade, to suicide. It’s not a surprise: Suicide rates have been increasing across the board in the United States. According to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), 1.3 million people in the US attempted suicide in 2016 – and nearly 45,000 died. This is nearly a 25 percent increase from the numbers posted in 2000.

To help combat what is being called a problem of epidemic proportions, the Mental Health Research Network, led by researchers at Kaiser Permanente, has developed a computer model based on data collected during outpatient visits to help identify which patients may be at the most risk for killing themselves.

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Brain’s Unconscious Loss Processing May Support Grief Resolution

Guest blog by Brenda Patoine

Animated GIF-source

A whole-brain representation of the neural signature associated with processing the loss of a loved one. Activation of this signature in the absence of a conscious thought of the loss correlated with less severe grieving. (GIF courtesy of Noam Schneck; adapted with permission from Biological Psychiatry: CNNI 2018 in press.)

What might grief look like in the brain? Is there a neural “fingerprint” associated with thoughts of a loved one, conscious or otherwise? Does the frequency with which that fingerprint shows up have anything to do with whether or not a bereaved person is able to move on from the death of a loved one and resume normal daily activities?

As psychiatry grapples with how to differentiate “normal” grief from bereavement-related depression and otherwise complicated or prolonged grief, one young scientist is tackling these questions from an altogether different angle, looking inside the brains of people recently bereaved due to suicide to identify grief-related patterns of neural activity and to track how those patterns might affect grief resolution.

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There’s No Brain in the World Like Yours

Guest post by Kayt Sukel 

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Image: Shutterstock

In the beloved children’s book, Happy Birthday to You!, Dr. Seuss writes, “Today you are YOU, that is TRUER than true. There is NO ONE alive who is YOUER than YOU.” Those who study the brain understand that the complex interplay of genetics and environment give rise to that “you-ness” of which Dr. Seuss spoke. And, as it turns out, it also makes for unique changes to brain anatomy—so much so that one can be uniquely identified by the brain, much like with fingerprints or the eye’s iris pattern.

Lutz Jäncke, a neuropsychologist at Switzerland’s University of Zurich, has spent his career studying individual differences. His work looking at brain differences in musicians, dancers, and chess players demonstrated that the human brain is profoundly shaped by experience.

“Thirty years ago, we didn’t anticipate that the human brain is so plastic,” he explains. “In learning that training and experience can have such a profound influence on the human brain, even in terms of anatomical and morphological aspects, we wondered if it was possible to identify individuals on the basis of anatomical features in the brain.”

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And All That Jazz: A Q&A with Michael Shadlen, M.D., Ph.D.

Guest post by Kayt Sukel 

Famed artist Barbara Januszkiewicz once said, “Jazz is the art of thinking out loud.” Is it any wonder then that jazz has made its way into a variety of neuroscience laboratories to help researchers investigate the neural underpinnings of creativity, communication, and timing?

In honor of International Jazz Day, a day designated by the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) to celebrate jazz’ ability to connect people from all over the globe, Michael Shadlen, M.D., Ph.D. , a neurologist at Columbia University (and jazz guitar player), shares his thoughts about jazz, timing, and the celebration of what our brains do each and every day in the service of cognition.

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Photo: Michael Shadlen

You are a jazz guitarist. What first got you interested in playing jazz music?

MS: I’ve always been interested in music. When I was younger, I played the violin. Later, I switched to guitar—mainly because my violin teacher wanted me to choose between basketball, girls, and violin. So I switched to guitar. I played in a rock band for a long time doing covers. We had the Bar Mitzvah circuit down!

But the drummer in our band was in the jazz band in high school. And he turned me on to it. We’d go to this amazing café called Amazing Grace in Evanston, Illinois. They had mostly folk music but also a lot of jazz acts. I remember seeing Chick Corea, Gary Burton, Pat Metheny, and all kinds of amazing artists play there. It was pretty spectacular.

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Sapolsky on the Biology of Good and Evil

Guest post by Carl Sherman

“We’re a miserably violent species,” said Dana Alliance member Robert M. Sapolsky. “But we’re also a profoundly empathic, compassionate species.”

“How do we make sense of this… how do we understand the biology of it?”

sapolsky 10-2006, Stanford News Services

Robert M. Sapolsky, Ph.D.

In his keynote lecture that launched the “Learning & the Brain” conference in New York City last week, Sapolsky, Ph.D., professor of biological sciences, neurology, and neurological sciences at Stanford University, led his audience on a whirlwind tour of the many-layered terrain from which human acts that include “the horrific, the wonderful, and everything in between” arise.

“We’ll get nowhere if we look for one part of the brain, or one gene, or one childhood experience” responsible for brutal murder and sublime self-sacrifice, he said. “Instead, we have to do something more complicated: to ask what went on in a person’s brain in the second before; also in the minutes, hours, days before; what hormones did to make that brain sensitive. We have to go back to adolescence, to childhood, to the cultures our ancestors invented, to ecosystems, all the way to evolution.”

In his talk, Sapolsky enlivened systematic explanations with intriguing details and quirky research findings.

Among its diverse role in regulating emotion, he pointed out, the insula cortex generates gustatory disgust; it activates if you taste spoiled food. “But it mediates moral disgust as well. When we hear of someone doing something appalling, we’re ‘sick to our stomach.’ It leaves ‘a bad taste in the mouth.’ The insula cortex can’t tell the difference between rotten food and unsavory behavior.” Continue reading

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