Discover the most talked about and latest scientific content & concepts.

Journal: Behavioural brain research


Probiotics, defined as live bacteria or bacterial products, confer a significant health benefit to the host, including amelioration of anxiety-like behavior and psychiatric illnesses. Here we administered Lactobacillus plantarum PS128 (PS128) to a germ-free (GF) mouse model to investigate the impact of the gut-brain axis on emotional behaviors. First, we demonstrated that chronic administration of live PS128 showed no adverse effects on physical health. Then, we found that administration of live PS128 significantly increased the total distance traveled in the open field test and decreased the time spent in the closed arm in the elevated plus maze test, whereas the administration of PS128 had no significant effects in the depression-like behaviors of GF mice. Also, chronic live PS128 ingestion significantly increased the levels of both serotonin and dopamine in the striatum, but not in the prefrontal cortex or hippocampus. These results suggest that the chronic administration of PS128 is safe and could induce changes in emotional behaviors. The behavioral changes are correlated with the increase in the monoamine neurotransmitters in the striatum. These findings suggest that daily intake of the Lactobacillus plantarum strain PS128 could improve anxiety-like behaviors and may be helpful in ameliorating neuropsychiatric disorders.

Concepts: Psychology, Brain, Cerebrum, Neurotransmitter, Serotonin, Limbic system, Lactobacillus, Monoamine neurotransmitter


Studies have consistently shown that males perform better than females on several spatial tasks. Animal and human literature suggests that sex hormones have an important role in both establishing and maintaining this difference. The aim of the present study was to examine the effects of exogenous testosterone on spatial cognition and brain activity in healthy women. A cross-sectional, double-blind, randomized, placebo-controlled study was performed in 42 healthy young women who either received one dose of 0.5mg sublingual testosterone or placebo. They then learned a virtual environment and performed navigation tasks during functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI). Subsequently, their knowledge of the virtual environment, self-reported navigation strategy, and mental rotation abilities were measured. The testosterone group had improved representations of the directions within the environment and performed significantly better on the mental rotation task compared to the placebo group, but navigation success and navigation strategy were similar in the two groups. Nevertheless, the testosterone group had significantly increased activity within the medial temporal lobe during successful navigation compared to the placebo group, and a positive correlation between testosterone load and medial temporal lobe activity was found. Fetal testosterone levels, measured as second-to-fourth digit length ratio, interacted significantly with parahippocampal activity and tended towards giving higher mental rotation task scores. These results demonstrated that testosterone had a limited effect pertaining specifically to spatial cognition involving 3D-visualization in healthy women, while complex behaviors such as navigation, relying more on learned strategies, were not altered despite increased neuronal activity in relevant brain regions.

Concepts: Psychology, Brain, Magnetic resonance imaging, Cerebral cortex, Cognitive science, Temporal lobe, Cerebrum, Hippocampus


Combined use of marijuana (MJ) and tobacco is highly prevalent in today’s population. Individual use of either substance is linked to structural brain changes and altered cognitive function, especially with consistent reports of hippocampal volume deficits and poorer memory performance. However, the combined effects of MJ and tobacco on hippocampal structure and on learning and memory processes remain unknown. In this study, we examined both the individual and combined effects of MJ and tobacco on hippocampal volumes and memory performance in four groups of adults taken from two larger studies: MJ-only users (n=36), nicotine-only (Nic-only, n=19), combined marijuana and nicotine users (MJ+Nic, n=19) and non-using healthy controls (n=16). Total bilateral hippocampal volumes and memory performance (WMS-III logical memory) were compared across groups controlling for total brain size and recent alcohol use. Results found MJ and MJ+Nic groups had smaller total hippocampal volumes compared to Nic-only and controls. No significant difference between groups was found between immediate and delayed story recall. However, the controls showed a trend for larger hippocampal volumes being associated with better memory scores, while MJ+Nic users showed a unique inversion, whereby smaller hippocampal volume was associated with better memory. Overall, results suggest abnormalities in the brain-behavior relationships underlying memory processes with combined use of marijuana and nicotine use. Further research will need to address these complex interactions between MJ and nicotine.

Concepts: Psychology, Brain, Cognitive psychology, Nicotine, Cognition, Memory, Hippocampus, Psychoactive drug


Although rarely used, long-term behavioral training protocols provide opportunities to shape complex skills in rodent laboratory investigations that incorporate cognitive, motor, visuospatial and temporal functions to achieve desired goals. In the current study, following preliminary research establishing that rats could be taught to drive a rodent operated vehicle (ROV) in a forward direction, as well as steer in more complex navigational patterns, male rats housed in an enriched environment were exposed to the rodent driving regime. Compared to standard-housed rats, enriched-housed rats demonstrated more robust learning in driving performance and their interest in the ROV persisted through extinction trials. Dehydroepiandrosterone/corticosterone (DHEA/CORT) metabolite ratios in fecal samples increased in accordance with training in all animals, suggesting that driving training, regardless of housing group, enhanced markers of emotional resilience. These results confirm the importance of enriched environments in preparing animals to engage in complex behavioral tasks. Further, behavioral models that include trained motor skills enable researchers to assess subtle alterations in motivation and behavioral response patterns that are relevant for translational research related to neurodegenerative disease and psychiatric illness.


The brain-gut axis is a bidirectional communication system between the central nervous system and the gastrointestinal tract. Serotonin functions as a key neurotransmitter at both terminals of this network. Accumulating evidence points to a critical role for the gut microbiome in regulating normal functioning of this axis. In particular, it is becoming clear that the microbial influence on tryptophan metabolism and the serotonergic system may be an important node in such regulation. There is also substantial overlap between behaviours influenced by the gut microbiota and those which rely on intact serotonergic neurotransmission. The developing serotonergic system may be vulnerable to a differential microbial colonisation patterns prior to the emergence of a stable adult-like gut microbiota. At the other extreme of life, the decreased diversity and stability of the gut microbiota may dictate serotonin-related health problems in the elderly. The mechanisms underpinning this crosstalk require further elaboration but may be related to the ability of the gut microbiota to control host tryptophan metabolism along the kynurenine pathway, thereby simultaneously reducing the fraction available for serotonin synthesis and increasing the production of neuroactive metabolites. The enzymes of this pathway are immune and stress-responsive, both systems which buttress the brain-gut axis. In addition, there are neural processes in the gastrointestinal tract which can be influenced by local alterations in serotonin concentrations with subsequent relay of signals along the scaffolding of the brain-gut axis to influence CNS neurotransmission. Therapeutic targeting of the gut microbiota might be a viable treatment strategy for serotonin-related brain-gut axis disorders.

Concepts: Central nervous system, Nervous system, Neuron, Bacteria, Metabolism, Neurotransmitter, Serotonin, Tryptophan


Sensation-seeking (SS) is a personality trait that refers to individual differences in motivation for intense and unusual sensory experiences. It describes a facet of human behaviour that has direct relevance for several psychopathologies associated with high social cost. Here, we first review ways of measuring SS behaviour in both humans and animals. We then present convergent evidence that implicates dopaminergic neurotransmission (particularly via D2-type receptors) in individual differences in SS trait. Both high tonic dopamine levels and hyper-reactive midbrain dopaminergic responses to signals of forthcoming reward are evident in higher sensations-seekers. We propose that differences in the efficacy of striatal dopaminergic transmission may result in differential expression of approach-avoidance reactions to same intensity stimuli. This constitutes a quantitative trait of intensity preference for sensory stimulation that may underlie core features of the SS personality. We review the evidence that high trait SS is a vulnerability factor for psychopathologies related to changes in brain dopamine function, in particular substance and gambling addictions. Conversely, we consider the possibility that increased tolerance of high intensity stimulation may represent a protective mechanism against the development of trauma-related psychopathologies (e.g. post-traumatic stress disorder) in high sensation-seeking individuals. Further understanding of the brain mechanisms underlying SS trait might not only to shed light on the aetiology of these disorders, but also aid in developing individualised therapies and prevention strategies for psychopathologies.

Concepts: Psychology, Brain, Personality psychology, Abnormal psychology, Motivation, Metaphysics, Dopamine, Trait theory


We explore a possibility that the ‘Mozart effect’ points to a fundamental cognitive function of music. Would such an effect of music be due to the hedonicity, a fundamental dimension of mental experience? The present paper explores a recent hypothesis that music helps to tolerate cognitive dissonances and thus enabled accumulation of knowledge and human cultural evolution. We studied whether the influence of music is related to its hedonicity and whether pleasant or unpleasant music would influence scholarly test performance and cognitive dissonance. Specific hypotheses evaluated in this study are that during a test students experience contradictory cognitions that cause cognitive dissonances. If some music helps to tolerate cognitive dissonances, then first, this music should increase the duration during which participants can tolerate stressful conditions while evaluating test choices. Second, this should result in improved performance. These hypotheses are tentatively confirmed in the reported experiments as the agreeable music was correlated with longer duration of tests under stressful conditions and better performance above that under indifferent or unpleasant music. It follows that music likely performs a fundamental cognitive function explaining the origin and evolution of musical ability that have been considered a mystery.

Concepts: Psychology, Cognition, Educational psychology, Empiricism, Experiment, Knowledge, Cognitive dissonance, Music


BACKGROUND: In the last decade transcranial direct current stimulation (tDCS) have been introduced in aphasia post-stroke recovery as a tool for modulating neuroplasticity. However, it is still unclear whether tDCS should be applied at rest (off-line) or combined with behavioural treatment strategies (on-line), therefore, this study investigates the effect of repeated sessions of off-line tDCS on language recovery in post-stroke chronic aphasic patients. METHODOLOGY: Eight post-stroke patients with different type and degree of chronic aphasia underwent two weeks of off-line anodal tDCS (2mA intensity for 20minutes a day) on Broca’s area and two weeks of sham stimulation as a control condition. Language recovery was measured assessing object and action naming abilities with a computerized picture naming task. RESULTS: No significant difference between anodal tDCS and sham stimulation, both for object and action naming tasks, was found. Descriptive analysis of single cases showed that after tDCS only one patient improved substantially on action naming task. CONCLUSION: With the exception of one patient, the overall results suggest that in chronic aphasic patients the off-line tDCS protocol applied in this study is not effective in improving noun and verb naming abilities.

Concepts: Wernicke's area, Language, Noun, Transcranial direct current stimulation, Aphasia, Broca's area, Conduction aphasia, Nominal aphasia


Long Evans rats (n=32) were trained for 2 weeks to respond to an auditory conditioned stimulus (CS) which signaled the delivery of a 20% sucrose unconditioned stimulus (US) with varying probabilities. Animals were randomly assigned to 1 of 4 groups. In the control groups, the CS signaled sucrose delivery with equal probabilities across two weeks, at 100% (Group 100-100) and 25% (Group 25-25) respectively. In the experimental groups (Group 100-25) and (Group 25-100), sucrose probabilities were switched between weeks 1 and 2. Three behavioral measures were recorded: latency to enter the sucrose port upon CS presentation, head entries throughout the session and ultrasonic vocalizations. The results suggest that all groups formed associations between the CS and US, as evidenced by a decrease in latency to respond to the CS across days. The experimental groups were also able to detect when sucrose probability changed, as evidenced by Group 25-100’s increase in head entries, to the level of Group 100-100 in week 2, and Group 100-25’s decrease in head entries, to the level of Group 25-25 in week 2. Group 100-25 also produced an increase in “22 kHz” ultrasonic vocalizations following the downshift on the first day of week 2. The increase in this ultrasonic frequency range, which is associated with negative affect in rats, preceded both the decrease in head entries and the increase in missed trials, consistent with a multistage model of behaviors resulting from US probability reduction.

Concepts: Psychology, Ultrasound, Frequency, Behavior, Behaviorism, Classical conditioning, Operant conditioning, Ivan Pavlov


Globoid cell leukodystrophy (Krabbe’s disease) is an autosomal recessive neurodegenerative disorder that results from the deficiency of galactosylceramidase, a lysosomal enzyme involved in active myelination. Due to the progressive, lethal nature of this disease and the limited treatment options available, multiple laboratories are currently exploring novel therapies using the mouse model of globoid cell leukodystrophy. In order to establish a protocol for motor function assessment of the twitcher mouse, this study tested the capability of an automated system to detect phenotypic differences across mouse genotypes and/or treatment groups. The sensitivity of this system as a screening tool for the assessment of therapeutic interventions was determined by the administration of murine bone marrow-derived stem cells into twitcher mice via intraperitoneal injection. Animal behavior was analyzed using the Noldus EthoVision XT7 software. Novel biomarkers, including abnormal locomotion (e.g., velocity, moving duration, distance traveled, turn angle) and observed behaviors (e.g., rearing activity, number of defecation boli), were established for the twitcher mouse. These parameters were monitored across all mouse groups, and the automated system detected improved locomotion in the treated twitcher mice based on the correction of angular velocity, turn angle, moving duration, and exploratory behavior, such as thigmotaxis. Further supporting these findings, the treated mice showed improved lifespan, gait, wire hang ability, twitching severity and frequency, and sciatic nerve histopathology. Taken together, these data demonstrate the utility of computer-based neurophenotyping for motor function assessment of twitcher mice and support its utility for detecting the efficacy of stem cell-based therapy for neurodegenerative disorders.

Concepts: Gene, Cell, Cell division, Stem cell, Stem cells, Neurodegenerative disorders, Murinae, Krabbe disease