Just checking in on a few of the new PLoS titles.... As always, you should rate the articles, post notes and comments and send trackbacks when you blog about the papers. You can now also easily place articles on various social services (CiteULike, Mendeley, Connotea, Stumbleupon, Facebook and Digg) with just one click. Here are my own picks for the week - you go and look for your own favourites:
What makes us human, what sets us apart from other animal species, and which traits do we share with our closest living relatives? Ever since Darwin introduced the notion of continuity in his theory of evolution, humans have been obsessed with the question of how to distinguish themselves from all other species. In the postwar period, our species became known as "Man the Toolmaker," until in the 1960s Jane Goodall watched chimpanzees using sticks to fish for termites, and that was that. We then distinguished ourselves using the term "Man the Hunter," but the discovery that chimpanzees and other social carnivores engage in coordinated hunts refuted this type of collective action as the one decisive feature. More recently, the issue of culture has entered center stage. Trying to distinguish the cultural "haves" from the "have-nots" tends to generate more heat than light, and it seems much more productive to think about the cognitive prerequisites for social learning, attribution of mental states, and symbolic communication.
Medical ghostwriting, the practice of pharmaceutical companies secretly authoring journal articles published under the byline of academic researchers, is a troubling phenomenon because it is dangerous to public health . For example, ghostwritten articles on rofecoxib  probably contributed to "...lasting injury and even deaths as a result of prescribers and patients being misinformed about risks" . Study 329, a randomized controlled trial of paroxetine in adolescents, was ghostwritten - to claim that paroxetine is "generally well tolerated and effective for major depression in adolescents" , although data made available through legal proceedings show that "Study 329 was negative for efficacy on all 8 protocol specified outcomes and positive for harm" . Even beyond frank misrepresentation of data, commercially driven ghostwritten articles shape the medical literature in subtler but important ways, affecting how health conditions and treatments are perceived by clinicians. The ability of industry to exercise clandestine influence over the peer-reviewed medical literature is thus a serious threat to public health ,.
We currently understand the mental effects of psychedelics to be caused by agonism or partial agonism of 5-HT2A (and possibly 5-HT2C) receptors, and we understand that psychedelic drugs, especially phenylalkylamines, are fairly selective for these two receptors. This manuscript is a reference work on the receptor affinity pharmacology of psychedelic drugs. New data is presented on the affinity of twenty-five psychedelic drugs at fifty-one receptors, transporters, and ion channels, assayed by the National Institute of Mental Health - Psychoactive Drug Screening Program (NIMH-PDSP). In addition, comparable data gathered from the literature on ten additional drugs is also presented (mostly assayed by the NIMH-PDSP). A new method is introduced for normalizing affinity (Ki) data that factors out potency so that the multi-receptor affinity profiles of different drugs can be directly compared and contrasted. The method is then used to compare the thirty-five drugs in graphical and tabular form. It is shown that psychedelic drugs, especially phenylalkylamines, are not as selective as generally believed, interacting with forty-two of forty-nine broadly assayed sites. The thirty-five drugs of the study have very diverse patterns of interaction with different classes of receptors, emphasizing eighteen different receptors. This diversity of receptor interaction may underlie the qualitative diversity of these drugs. It should be possible to use this diverse set of drugs as probes into the roles played by the various receptor systems in the human mind.
One of the most famous illustrations in all of biology is that of the somatosensory homunculus--a little man stretched along the brain's surface, each body part swollen or shrunken to match the size of the underlying neural real estate that receives its sensations from touch receptors in the skin. But while the illustration indicates where tactile sensation is recorded in the brain, it tells nothing about how. In a new study in this issue of PLoS Biology, Yu-Cheng Pei, Sliman Bensmaia, and colleagues address part of that deficiency and show that in at least one respect, the somatosensory system is like the visual system--it contains a class of direction-sensitive neurons that care not about what is moving along the skin, but only where it is going.