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Congratulations to UofM Cognitive Sciences graduate Sophia Sakellaridi, whose recently published paper was selected by the official Frontiers Blog as one of the "100 Articles from 2015 in the Spotlight". Entitled "Cognitive mechanisms underlying instructed choice exploration of small city maps", the paper was co-authored by Peka Christova, Vasilieos Christopoulos, Alice Vialard, John Peponis and Apostolos Georgopoulos. In 2015, Frontiers published over 12,500 articles, and this list features those most viewed and downloaded within one month after publication. Sophia's paper was listed as 94!
Sakellaridi S, Christova P, Christopoulos VN, Vialard A, Peponis J and Georgopoulos AP (2015) Cognitive mechanisms underlying instructed choice exploration of small city maps. Frontiers in Neuroscience 9:60. doi: 10.3389/fnins.2015.00060
We investigated the cognitive mechanisms underlying the exploration and decision-making in realistic and novel environments. Twelve human subjects were shown small circular U.S. city maps with two locations highlighted on the circumference, as possible choices for a post office ("targets"). At the beginning of a trial, subjects fixated a spot at the center of the map and ultimately chose one of the two locations. A space syntax analysis of the map paths (from the center to each target) revealed that the chosen location was associated with the less convoluted path, as if subjects navigated mentally the paths in an "ant's way," i.e., by staying within street boundaries, and ultimately choosing the target that could be reached from the center in the shortest way, and the fewest turns and intersections. The subjects' strategy for map exploration and decision making was investigated by monitoring eye position during the task. This revealed a restricted exploration of the map delimited by the location of the two alternative options and the center of the map. Specifically, subjects explored the areas around the two target options by repeatedly looking at them before deciding which one to choose, presumably implementing an evaluation and decision-making process. The ultimate selection of a specific target was significantly associated with the time spent exploring the area around that target. Finally, an analysis of the sequence of eye fixations revealed that subjects tended to look systematically toward the target ultimately chosen even from the beginning of the trial. This finding indicates an early cognitive selection bias for the ensuing decision process.
Dr. Brian Engdahl of the BSC talks about a recently discovered test for GWI.
Research from the Brain Sciences Center at the Minneapolis Veterans Affairs medical center has shown that genetically determined immune function predicts Gulf War Illness (GWI) severity. For the nearly 200,000 US veterans affected by it, GWI can include chronic fatigue, pain, mood and cognitive problems, gastrointestinal symptoms, and rashes. All too often, these are chronic and debilitating, greatly impairing quality of life.
In the study entitled "Reduced Human Leukocyte Antigen (HLA) Protection in Gulf War Illness (GWI)" published in EbioMedicine, the BSC team found six alleles that could one day help determine who is most likely to develop illnesses like those experienced by these veterans of the 1990-91 Gulf War, and how best to diagnose and treat them. By studying their genetic make-up, specifically the Human Leucocyte Antigen (HLA) complex, at least six HLA alleles associated with GWI were identified. This indicates that vulnerability or resistance to symptoms of GWI is heritable.
Another remarkable finding came when comparing the observed allele frequencies with frequencies in the general population: Gulf War veterans with and without GWI differed systematically and in opposite directions when compared with the published allele frequencies. They were higher for healthy veterans, and lower for ill veterans.
Senior author Apostolos Georgopoulos said, "our findings provide a genetic susceptibility framework within which environmental triggers such as vaccines, exposure to chemicals, stress and so on can be discussed, investigated and evaluated… We hypothesize that vaccinations and chemical exposures of Gulf War veterans served as environmental triggers that contributed to developing GWI in genetically 'vulnerable' veterans. Specifically, we propose that the presence of certain HLA alleles in higher frequencies conferred protection, whereas their relative paucity conferred vulnerability. Understanding the genetic factors associated with GWI should help identify the underlying causal mechanisms and indicate molecular targets for pharmacological research."
Dr. Georgopoulos and his team are currently leading research studying larger groups of Gulf War veterans to confirm these findings and identify more genes involved in vulnerability and resistance to environmental triggers, paving the way for improved treatment.
Please welcome Saif AlHarthi to the Brain Sciences Center. Originally from Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, Saif is a member of the Data Management Lab at the University of Minnesota and will be working at the BSC as a Research Assistant specializing in big spatio-temporal data processing.
Scott Lipscomb, Associate Director of the University's School of Music is collaborating with BSC researchers Roger Dumas and Apostolos Georgopoulos on a study of neurophysiological responses to motion pictures.
by Wojtek Wojcik & Stephen M. Lawrie
"In this issue of EBioMedicine, Georgopoulos et al. report significant differences in the frequency of six HLA alleles in a sample of 66 US Gulf War illness (GWI) veterans and 16 healthy veteran controls (Georgopoulos et al., 2015). Their interpretation is that these alleles conferred a protective effect, as evidenced by the negative association between GWI symptom severity and allele counts, such that higher al- lele counts were associated with lower symptom severity in the whole sampled population...
"... One cannot help exercise a degree of healthy skepticism in a field so extensively studied with such little obvious advance in treatment in the past two decades, but any potentially robust means of a step forward can only be welcomed."