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Charity begins and ends at home

It is perhaps a sign to get out more when you have not one, but two favourite parachute papers. The first is clearly the clarion call for a trial of ‘Parachute use to prevent death and major trauma related to gravitational challenge’. The second is an older paper, calculating the cost–benefit ratio of charity parachute jumps. Based on an injury rate of 11% in charity jumps and an average cost per casualty of £3751, the authors concluded that for each pound raised, it cost the National Health Service £13.75 in return. On second thoughts, perhaps not getting out more is just the ticket—that is until they publish those ghastly reports about how many people are hospitalised by treading on Lego or tripping over the dog.

BMJ 2003;327:1459.

Injury 1999;30:283–7.

And now for something completely different…

Fans of national stereotyping will use the existence of words in a language that have no direct English equivalent to draw conclusions about that nation. Oft-quoted examples include schadenfreude (pleasure derived from the misfortune of others: German) or hiraeth (a nostalgic romantic homesick feeling: Welsh). An exception to this xenophobic rule is perhaps witzelsucht: a compulsion to make wisecracks, gags and puns (German). The literature has been blessed this year with two further cases of patients with witzelsucht. The first was a 69-year-old with a 5-year history who had both a right frontal cortex injury from a subarachnoid haemorrhage and a left caudate nucleus lesion. The second was a 57-year-old man with Pick's disease whose postmortem showed, ‘frontotemporal atrophy, severe in the frontal lobes and moderate in the temporal lobes, affecting the right side more than the left’. These two patients' ‘best’ jokes are reproduced in the article (for masochists with too much time on their hands); translation from the original German had done nothing to improve them.

J Neuropsychiatry Clin Neurosci 2016. [Epub ahead of print]

Brain food?

Forget the latest berry or seed—what could be more apposite than eating an individualised model of your own brain that has been hand crafted in chocolate? The advent of three-dimensional (3D) printing has allowed the conversion of a person's MRI scans into a 3D representation—useful for determining a lesion's exact location, informative for public engagement sessions, and now, thanks to this video (with links to full instructions), helpful for creating tasty treats for the children. Surely, the perfect dinner party conversation piece.

Don't blame it on the boogie

Ah—soft background music, romantic candlelight and a shared spoon for the chocolate pudding—all you need for love as you gaze adoringly into your beloved's eyes? Perhaps not. An fMRI study investigated 17 people who were in ‘the early stages of intense romantic love’ and found they had significantly greater activation in their right ventral tegmental area and medial caudate nucleus when gazing at their loved one, compared with looking at other faces. The degree of activity in the caudate was related to the intensity for the romantic passion. So do not blame it on the moonlight, blame it on the subcortical reward and motivation systems.

J Neurophysiol 2005;94:327–37.

A delete button for the brain?

An episode of Charlie Brooker's dystopian speculative fiction series, Black Mirror, centres on a memory implant that permits the ability to record, revisit and delete memories (‘The Entire History of You’, 2011). However, technology is advancing fast and this possibility is perhaps not as far off as one might think. It is well known that there are place cells in the hippocampus—neurones that code for the memory of a specific place in the environment. A recent paper in Nature Neuroscience has taken this further by using optogenetics to switch off this memory in mice—leading to a forgetting of a place memory. While this might not seem to have immediate consequences for humans, apart from dealing with some confused rodents, another recent study used recordings from electrodes placed directly on the auditory cortex (electrocorticography) to decode heard speech, from those signals alone. Exciting and important science that holds huge promise as well as potential ethical dilemmas.

PLoS Biol 2012:10:e1001251.

Nat Neurosci 2016:19:564–567.

Figure 1

Fans of comparative anatomy will revel in this 3D CT scan of the skull of a lung fish. Picture courtesy of Dr Ed Stanley, University of Florida. @DrScanley.

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