The week’s most astounding developments from the neobiological frontier.

May 25, 2023

Psychopaths on oxytocin: A love cure for violent crime?

Scientists at the University of Nottingham and King’s College London have used fMRI to explore the neurological basis for empathy (or lack thereof) in men with antisocial personality disorder, who are known to commit the majority of violent crimes. Based on how their brains process fearful expressions on the faces of other people, they showed differences between men who have antisocial personality disorder and are also diagnosed as psychopaths and men who are just antisocial but not psychopathic. The so-called love hormone oxytocin abolished these differences in the brain, which suggests that neurochemical modulation could be a way to treat this disorder—and possibly reduce the societal burden of violent crime. Nature Mental Health

The relationship between religion, life satisfaction, and your sleep cycle

A study from the University of Warsaw in Poland, based on two independent samples of 500 and 724 Polish adults, found a significant positive association between being a morning person and being more religious. Morning birds also tended to enjoy higher life satisfaction than night owls, the study found, and that greater psychological wellbeing could be informed by their attitudes toward religion. Or it could be completely unrelated and stem from something else, like the fact that early risers tend to go to bed earlier as well—and therefore may benefit from more overall sleep. PLOS ONE

Digital brain-spine interface continuously improves for people previously paralyzed

Researchers at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology Lausanne (EPFL) are reporting a breakthrough this week in restoring movement to people who suffer paralysis due to spinal cord injuries. Their digital brain-spine interface, which bridges the injury gap between the brain and the nerves that control leg movement, allowed one man with quadriplegia to learn over the course of a year to walk naturally with crutches—including up stairs and over uneven ground—even when the wireless interface was later switched off. The researchers were very bullish about what this means for people who suffer spinal cord injuries, and the work follows the breakthrough success in helping nine people who were paralyzed recover their movement, which was reported six months ago by the same group. The difference here is the digital bridge, which “augurs a new era in the treatment of motor deficits due to neurological disorders,” the researchers write. Nature

Time-lapse series of a man standing and walking with the assistance of a brain-spine interface. Below the photos are three graphs illustrating the interface’s robust performance. CC-BY-4.0

To sleep, perchance to explore other planets

Artificially inducing hibernation in humans during long-haul space flight is a serious idea that dates back to the 1960s and has figured prominently in science fiction ever since—the Alien movie franchise, for instance. It’s an attractive idea because when mammals enter a state of hibernation called torpor, their metabolic rates and body temperatures are dramatically decreased, allowing them to conserve energy. Now researchers at Washington University in St. Louis have shown they can safely and noninvasively induce a torpor-like state in rats and mice via a remote transcranial ultrasound device that stimulates a part of the brain known as the hypothalamus preoptic area. “Ultrasound-induced hypothermia and hypometabolism may unlock applications ranging from new medical treatments to long-duration human spaceflight,” they write. Nature Metabolism

Multivitamins could improve memory in older adults

A clinical trial of more than 3,500 people over age 60 who were randomized to take either a daily multivitamin supplement or a placebo for three years shows that taking a multivitamin can improve memory in older adults. That conclusion was based on cognitive tests performed at the end of each year in the study, which showed the performance of people taking the multivitamin declined less than those taking placebo. In a statement, the researchers who led the study at Columbia University in New York City and Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston said that this could be a simple, inexpensive way to help older adults slow down memory decline. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition

An apple a day keeps frailty at bay

Antioxidants and dietary compounds found in fruits and vegetables are believed to lower the risk of developing frailty and other age-related conditions in older adults. In particular, a dietary flavonol known as quercetin, is being actively pursued in longevity research. Now new research emerging from data collected in the 75-year-old U.S. Framingham Heart Study suggests that quercetin, which is found in apple peels, broccoli, berries, and kale, could help prevent the development of frailty in older adults. Following 1,701 older people for 12 years, the study found that for every 10mg higher intake of daily flavonols (about the amount in one apple), the odds of frailty were reduced by 35 percent. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition