I'll follow up on Martin's post last week and add my first MPS here. As you probably know, there is today an abundancy in the number of papers appearing in the media, even though you take one small niche of interest area. My own interest in the medial temporal lobe, especially the perirhinal cortex (see feeble description at Wikipedia), today sees a unsurmountable number of articles pertaining to the cytoarchitecture, neurochemistry, connectivity, and cognitive function.
A lot of titles have appeared through the latest weeks. Here are just a few of those that I find interesting:
How many genes play a role in cognitive function and dysfunction? Multivariate genetic research suggests a "generalist gene" hypothesis, stating that a single set of genes affects most cognitive abilities and disabilities. In a just released review article in TICS by Kovas & Plomin this hypothesis is presented and discussed. This has considerable impact on how we must think about brain function and modularity. As the authors write, "the genetic input into brain structure and function is general not specific". Plomin's research has previously been discussed in New Scientist. See also other Hubmed abstracts on this topic.
Garland and Glimcher suggest in an article in Current Opinion in Neurobiology that neurobiologists should take care to consider how their work can be interpreted and used by lawyers and other non-science people. Why, that is just a though claim to make. Here, for two reasons: 1) because you'll never know whether your results will have any impact on the law; and 2) feasibility does not necessarily entail possibility: just because you can imagine that a given neuroscientific finding can be used directly in a law case, it ain't necessarily so. Science doesn't work that way. You have findings and conflicting findings. It's part and parcel of the science game and bringing it to the courtroom won't help a bit! Scientists should feel free to speculate about their findings (peer review won't allow the wild thoughts anyway) and we should rather seek to train the community to understand this science better.
Despite making great progress in identifying disease-causing genes, we still don't know how to turn them off. That's why biologists are so excited about a new tool for silencing bad genes, called RNA interference, or RNAi. In a webcast video editorial at Medscape.com Anthony Komaroff describes how RNA interference has little effect on practice today, but that authorities think it will have a profound effect within the next 10 years.
It has been known for a while that the closest relatives of a schizophrenia patient – even though not suffering from the disease themselves – display cognitive deficits, especially on executive tests. In this Medscape.com article Gitry Heydebrand reviews the older and more recent findings in this area. She also discusses the posibility of identifying endophenotypes that may lead to a better ability to identify people at risk of developing the disease.
Humans are not the only species showing social cognition. Apes have it, so do rats, even bees. But social cognition is a mongrel concept, and it has been argued that there are five brain areas that support social cognition. In this article Rebecca Saxe reviews the areas involved in social cognition that is uniquely human. For example, the temporo-parietal junction supports the uniquely human ability to reason about the contents of mental states. The "ventral medial prefrontal cortex is implicated in emotional empathy, whereas dorsal medial prefrontal cortex is implicated in the uniquely human representation of triadic relations between two minds and an object."
Battle on: the Kanwisher-Gauthier debate about whether face processing is specifically processed in one part of the brain, a sub-area of the fusiform gyrus, keeps on. Recently, TICS has published a review from the Gauthier lab that summarizes the findings and claims from their approach. It's definitely not the final word on this topic. Will we see a response from Nancy Kanwisher in TICS. You bet.