JNeurosci: Highlights from the March 29 Issue

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Check out these newsworthy studies from the March 29, 2017, issue of JNeurosci. Media interested in obtaining the full text of the studies should contact [email protected]

Romantic Rejection: There's a Placebo for That

The use of placebos to alleviate physical pain is well established, but placebo effects on emotional pain are not as well understood. In a new functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) study, researchers examined the impact of a placebo on social pain stemming from a recent romantic breakup. Young adults who were told that the saline nasal spray they received was a powerful analgesic for both physical and emotional pain reported reduced negative feelings while viewing a photograph of their ex compared to those who were told that the same spray was used to improve the quality of fMRI images. Those in the placebo group also had reduced activation of a pattern of brain activity associated with social rejection. The placebo increased activity in the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex (dlPFC) in both the social pain test and in a separate physical pain condition in which heat was applied to participants' forearms (however, the placebo effect was more modest in this pain condition). The researchers further identify a pathway between the dlPFC and the periaqueductal gray in the brainstem involved in the regulation of social pain. Overall, the findings suggest that this brain network may underlie the placebo effect across a range of mental health conditions.

Corresponding author: Leonie Koban, [email protected]

How Birds of a Feather Keep in Touch on the Fly

Zebra finches are social songbirds that use distance calls to establish contact with one another, similar to the way humans use speech to communicate. Although it has been demonstrated that these birds can determine the identity of a caller as far away as 256 meters (or about 830 feet), it is not clear how their brain extracts this information from the call, which becomes degraded and loses intensity relative to the background noise as it travels through the environment. In a new study, researchers played natural and synthetic calls recorded from distances between 2 and 256 meters while they recorded electrophysiological activity from the auditory area of the brains of zebra finches under anesthesia. The researchers found single neurons that are sensitive to the uniqueness of calls from different individuals and maintain much of their ability to identify vocalizers with increasing distance. Other neurons are sensitive to the degradation of the signal, and thus encode information about the propagation distance. A number of neurons are able to discriminate to some extent both individuality and distance. These findings may help to explain how birds and many other animals are able to maintain communication with others in natural settings.

Corresponding author: Solveig C. Mouterde, [email protected]

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The Journal of Neuroscience is published by the Society for Neuroscience, an organization of nearly 37,000 basic scientists and clinicians who study the brain and nervous system.

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