A Blog Around The Clock

New and Exciting in PLoS ONE

There are 25 new articles in PLoS ONE today. As always, you should rate the articles, post notes and comments and send trackbacks when you blog about the papers. Here are my own picks for the week – you go and look for your own favourites:

Overall Alteration of Circadian Clock Gene Expression in the Chestnut Cold Response (see this for previous work):

Cold acclimation in woody plants may have special features compared to similar processes in herbaceous plants. Recent studies have shown that circadian clock behavior in the chestnut tree (Castanea sativa) is disrupted by cold temperatures and that the primary oscillator feedback loop is not functional at 4°C or in winter. In these conditions, CsTOC1 and CsLHY genes are constantly expressed. Here, we show that this alteration also affects CsPRR5, CsPRR7 and CsPRR9. These genes are homologous to the corresponding Arabidopsis PSEUDO-RESPONSE REGULATOR genes, which are also components of the circadian oscillator feedback network. The practically constant presence of mRNAs of the 5 chestnut genes at low temperature reveals an unknown aspect of clock regulation and suggests a mechanism regulating the transcription of oscillator genes as a whole.

Practicing a Musical Instrument in Childhood is Associated with Enhanced Verbal Ability and Nonverbal Reasoning:

In this study we investigated the association between instrumental music training in childhood and outcomes closely related to music training as well as those more distantly related. Children who received at least three years (M = 4.6 years) of instrumental music training outperformed their control counterparts on two outcomes closely related to music (auditory discrimination abilities and fine motor skills) and on two outcomes distantly related to music (vocabulary and nonverbal reasoning skills). Duration of training also predicted these outcomes. Contrary to previous research, instrumental music training was not associated with heightened spatial skills, phonemic awareness, or mathematical abilities. While these results are correlational only, the strong predictive effect of training duration suggests that instrumental music training may enhance auditory discrimination, fine motor skills, vocabulary, and nonverbal reasoning. Alternative explanations for these results are discussed.

Neural Correlates of Hate:

In this work, we address an important but unexplored topic, namely the neural correlates of hate. In a block-design fMRI study, we scanned 17 normal human subjects while they viewed the face of a person they hated and also faces of acquaintances for whom they had neutral feelings. A hate score was obtained for the object of hate for each subject and this was used as a covariate in a between-subject random effects analysis. Viewing a hated face resulted in increased activity in the medial frontal gyrus, right putamen, bilaterally in premotor cortex, in the frontal pole and bilaterally in the medial insula. We also found three areas where activation correlated linearly with the declared level of hatred, the right insula, right premotor cortex and the right fronto-medial gyrus. One area of deactivation was found in the right superior frontal gyrus. The study thus shows that there is a unique pattern of activity in the brain in the context of hate. Though distinct from the pattern of activity that correlates with romantic love, this pattern nevertheless shares two areas with the latter, namely the putamen and the insula.

Medicine in the Popular Press: The Influence of the Media on Perceptions of Disease:

In an age of increasing globalization and discussion of the possibility of global pandemics, increasing rates of reporting of these events may influence public perception of risk. The present studies investigate the impact of high levels of media reporting on the perceptions of disease. Undergraduate psychology and medical students were asked to rate the severity, future prevalence and disease status of both frequently reported diseases (e.g. avian flu) and infrequently reported diseases (e.g. yellow fever). Participants considered diseases that occur frequently in the media to be more serious, and have higher disease status than those that infrequently occur in the media, even when the low media frequency conditions were considered objectively ‘worse’ by a separate group of participants. Estimates of severity also positively correlated with popular print media frequency in both student populations. However, we also see that the concurrent presentation of objective information about the diseases can mitigate this effect. It is clear from these data that the media can bias our perceptions of disease.

Evidence for Differential Assortative Female Preference in Association with Refugial Isolation of Rainbow Skinks in Australia’s Tropical Rainforests:

Divergence driven by female preference can give rise to pre-mating isolation more rapidly than post-mating isolation can evolve through the accumulation of allelic incompatibilities. Moreover pre-mating isolation may be more effective at maintaining morphological differentiation between divergent populations. In the context of Australian rainforest endemic skinks that were historically subjected to refugial isolation, this study examined the following predictions: 1) that assortative female preference is associated with more recent divergence of southern C. rubrigularis (S-RED) and C. rhomboidalis (BLUE), but not with deeply divergent S-RED and northern C. rubrigularis (N-RED); and 2) that upon secondary contact, morphological differentiation is maintained between S-RED and BLUE, whereas N-RED and S-RED remain morphogically indistinguishable. Female preference trials found no evidence for assortative female preference between N-RED and S-RED, supporting a previous genetic hybrid zone study which inferred post-mating but no pre-mating isolation. In contrast there is evidence for assortative female preference between S-RED and BLUE, with BLUE females preferring to associate with BLUE males, but S-RED females showing no preference. Multi-locus coalescent analyses, used to estimate post-divergence gene-flow between proximally located S-RED and BLUE populations, rejected zero gene-flow from BLUE to S-RED and thus RED and BLUE have maintained morphological differentiation despite secondary contact. Morphometric analyses confirmed a lack of morphological divergence between N-RED and S-RED and established that BLUE is morphologically divergent from RED in traits other than throat colour. Long-term isolation has been sufficient to generate post-mating isolation but no morphological divergence between N-RED and S-RED. In contrast, greater morphological differentiation is associated with evidence for assortative female preference between more recently diverged S-RED and BLUE. Combined with previous estimates of lineage-wide gene flow, these results are consistent with the suggestion that assortative female preference is more effective than post-mating isolation in maintaining morphological differentiation between divergent populations.

Neural Correlates of Enhanced Visual Short-Term Memory for Angry Faces: An fMRI Study:

Fluid and effective social communication requires that both face identity and emotional expression information are encoded and maintained in visual short-term memory (VSTM) to enable a coherent, ongoing picture of the world and its players. This appears to be of particular evolutionary importance when confronted with potentially threatening displays of emotion – previous research has shown better VSTM for angry versus happy or neutral face identities. Using functional magnetic resonance imaging, here we investigated the neural correlates of this angry face benefit in VSTM. Participants were shown between one and four to-be-remembered angry, happy, or neutral faces, and after a short retention delay they stated whether a single probe face had been present or not in the previous display. All faces in any one display expressed the same emotion, and the task required memory for face identity. We find enhanced VSTM for angry face identities and describe the right hemisphere brain network underpinning this effect, which involves the globus pallidus, superior temporal sulcus, and frontal lobe. Increased activity in the globus pallidus was significantly correlated with the angry benefit in VSTM. Areas modulated by emotion were distinct from those modulated by memory load. Our results provide evidence for a key role of the basal ganglia as an interface between emotion and cognition, supported by a frontal, temporal, and occipital network.

New Insight into the Colonization Processes of Common Voles: Inferences from Molecular and Fossil Evidence:

Elucidating the colonization processes associated with Quaternary climatic cycles is important in order to understand the distribution of biodiversity and the evolutionary potential of temperate plant and animal species. In Europe, general evolutionary scenarios have been defined from genetic evidence. Recently, these scenarios have been challenged with genetic as well as fossil data. The origins of the modern distributions of most temperate plant and animal species could predate the Last Glacial Maximum. The glacial survival of such populations may have occurred in either southern (Mediterranean regions) and/or northern (Carpathians) refugia. Here, a phylogeographic analysis of a widespread European small mammal (Microtus arvalis) is conducted with a multidisciplinary approach. Genetic, fossil and ecological traits are used to assess the evolutionary history of this vole. Regardless of whether the European distribution of the five previously identified evolutionary lineages is corroborated, this combined analysis brings to light several colonization processes of M. arvalis. The species’ dispersal was relatively gradual with glacial survival in small favourable habitats in Western Europe (from Germany to Spain) while in the rest of Europe, because of periglacial conditions, dispersal was less regular with bottleneck events followed by postglacial expansions. Our study demonstrates that the evolutionary history of European temperate small mammals is indeed much more complex than previously suggested. Species can experience heterogeneous evolutionary histories over their geographic range. Multidisciplinary approaches should therefore be preferentially chosen in prospective studies, the better to understand the impact of climatic change on past and present biodiversity.

Remote Excitation of Neuronal Circuits Using Low-Intensity, Low-Frequency Ultrasound:

Possessing the ability to noninvasively elicit brain circuit activity yields immense experimental and therapeutic power. Most currently employed neurostimulation methods rely on the somewhat invasive use of stimulating electrodes or photon-emitting devices. Due to its ability to noninvasively propagate through bone and other tissues in a focused manner, the implementation of ultrasound (US) represents a compelling alternative approach to current neuromodulation strategies. Here, we investigated the influence of low-intensity, low-frequency ultrasound (LILFU) on neuronal activity. By transmitting US waveforms through hippocampal slice cultures and ex vivo mouse brains, we determined LILFU is capable of remotely and noninvasively exciting neurons and network activity. Our results illustrate that LILFU can stimulate electrical activity in neurons by activating voltage-gated sodium channels, as well as voltage-gated calcium channels. The LILFU-induced changes in neuronal activity were sufficient to trigger SNARE-mediated exocytosis and synaptic transmission in hippocampal circuits. Because LILFU can stimulate electrical activity and calcium signaling in neurons as well as central synaptic transmission we conclude US provides a powerful tool for remotely modulating brain circuit activity.