Episode 40- Meechie, Molly and Octopuses
In this episode, Stephany and stand up comedian Meechie chat it up about the sex habits of octopuses and what happens when you give them MDMA. Stephany shares a personal story about the time she did Molly and why she is scared to do it again. The show ends with a run down of science terms covered in the show. Check out blog and show notes here:
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-What is MDMA?
A. MDMA (3,4-methyenedioxymethamphetamine), a Class A substance that is usually found in a tableted form, is a psychoactive drug which is structurally similar to methylamphetamine and acts as a central nervous system stimulant, producing mood enhancement, increased energy and other empathetic effects. MDMA was first synthesized by Merck as far back as 1912 as a potential appetite suppressant; however, the company never marketed it as such.
Are there therapeutic uses for MDMA?
Brain imaging experiments have revealed for how ecstasy produces feelings of euphoria in users. The findings hint at ways that ecstasy, or MDMA, might be useful in the treatment of anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
A. fMRI scans have shown reduced blood flow in the visual cortex (back of the brain) and in the limbic system (middle of the brain) under MDMA.
1. What does the visual cortex do?
The visual cortex is the primary cortical region of the brain that receives, integrates, and processes visual information that is relayed from the retinas. It is located in the occipital lobe of the primary cerebral cortex which is in the most posterior region of the brain.Oct 27, 2018Neuroanatomy, Visual Cortex - StatPearls - NCBI Bookshelf
2. What is the limbic system?
A complex system of nerves and networks in the brain, involving several areas near the edge of the cortex concerned with instinct and mood. It controls the basic emotions (fear, pleasure, anger) and drives (hunger, sex, dominance, care of offspring).
3. The results show that MDMA decreases activity in the limbic system -- a set of structures involved in emotional responses. Communication between the medial temporal lobe and medial prefrontal cortex, which is involved in emotional control, was reduced. This effect, and the drop in activity in the limbic system, are opposite to patterns seen in patients who suffer from anxiety. MDMA also increased communication between the amygdala and the hippocampus. Studies on patients with PTSD have found a reduction in communication between these areas.
Researchers said that: "We found that MDMA caused reduced blood flow in regions of the brain linked to emotion and memory. These effects may be related to the feelings of euphoria that people experience on the drug."
As part of the Imperial study, the volunteers were asked to recall their favorite and worst memories while inside the scanner. They rated their favorite memories as more vivid, emotionally intense and positive after MDMA than placebo, and they rated their worst memories less negatively. This was reflected in the way that parts of the brain were activated more or less strongly under MDMA. These results were published in the International Journal of Neuropsychopharmacology.
-MDMA, more commonly known as ecstasy, promotes strong feelings of empathy in users and is classified as a Schedule 1 drug -- a category reserved for compounds with no accepted medical use and a high abuse potential.
Why study it?
"We've learned a lot about the nervous system from understanding how drugs work in the brain--both therapeutic and illicit drugs," says Robert Malenka, a psychiatrist and neuroscientist at Stanford University. "If we start understanding MDMA's molecular targets better, and the biotech and pharmaceutical industries pay attention, it may lead to the development of drugs that maintain the potential therapeutic effects for disorders like autism or PTSD but have less abuse liability."
MDMA is described as an "empathogen," a compound that promotes feelings of empathy and close positive social feelings in users.
What does genomics mean?
The main difference between genomics and genetics is that genetics scrutinizes the functioning and composition of the single gene where as genomics addresses all genes and their inter relationships in order to identify their combined influence on the growth and development of the organism.WHO | WHO definitions of genetics and genomics
What is serotonin?
Serotonin or 5-hydroxytryptamine is a monoamine neurotransmitter, and is popularly thought to be a contributor to feelings of well-being and happiness. Biochemically, the indoleamine molecule is derived from the amino acid tryptophan. Wikipedia
This is the article that I will tie these questions into.
By studying the genome of a kind of octopus not known for its friendliness toward its peers, then testing its behavioral reaction to a popular mood-altering drug called MDMA or 'ecstasy,' scientists say they have found preliminary evidence of an evolutionary link between the social behaviors of the sea creature and humans, species separated by 500 million years on the evolutionary tree.
What was purpose of experiment?
A summary of the experiments is published Sept. 20 in Current Biology, and if the findings are validated, the researchers say, they may open opportunities for accurately studying the impact of psychiatric drug therapies in many animals distantly related to people.
"The brains of octopuses are more similar to those of snails than humans, but the studies add to evidence that they can exhibit some of the same behaviors that we cans. Their research suggest is that certain brain chemicals, or neurotransmitters, that send signals between neurons required for these social behaviors are evolutionary conserved."
They can trick prey to come into their clutches, and there is some evidence they also learn by observation and have episodic memory. The gelatinous invertebrates (animals without backbones) are further notorious for escaping from their tank, eating other animals' food, eluding caretakers and sneaking around.
Most octopuses are asocial animals and avoid others, including other octopuses. But because of some of their behaviors, researches thought there may be a link between the genetics that guide social behavior in them and humans. One place to look was in the genomicsthat guide neurotransmitters, the signals that neurons pass between each other to communicate.
The study took a closer look at the genomic sequence of Octopus bimaculoides, commonly referred to as the California two-spot octopus.
Specifically, in the gene regions that control how neurons hook neurotransmitters to their membrane, researchers found that octopuses and humans had nearly identical genomic codes for the transporter that binds the neurotransmitter serotonin to the neuron's membrane. Serotonin is a well-known regulator of mood and closely linked to certain kinds of depression.
The serotonin-binding transporter is also known to be the place where the drug MDMA binds to brain cells and alters mood. So, the researchers set out to see if and/or how octopuses react to the drug.
Researchers designed an experiment with three connected water chambers: one empty, one with a plastic action figure under a cage and one with a female or male laboratory-bred octopus under a cage.
Four male and female octopuses were exposed to MDMA by putting them into a beaker containing a liquefied version of the drug, which is absorbed by the octopuses through their gills. Then, they were placed in the experimental chambers for 30 minutes. All four tended to spend more time in the chamber where there was single male octopus caged. They spent less time the other two empty chambers.
"It's not just quantitatively more time, but qualitative. They tended to hug the cage and put their mouth parts on the cage," says researcher. "This is very similar to how humans react to MDMA; they touch each other frequently."
Under normal conditions, without MDMA, the male and female octopuses avoided the one caged male octopus.
The lead researcher said that the experiments suggest that the brain circuits guiding social behavior in octopuses are present in normal conditions, but may be suppressed by natural or other circumstances. "Octopuses will suspend their antisocial behavior for mating, for example. Then, when they are done mating, they go into aggressive, asocial mode,".
Dölen cautions the results are preliminary and need to be replicated and affirmed in further experiments before octopuses might be used as models for brain research.
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