Monday, May 21, 2007

Neurobiological Correlates of Melbourne-Sydney Rivalry

You think I made this up? I can't find the article online yet, but here's the abstract.
Velakoulis D, Fornito A, Walterfang M, Malhi G, Yucel M, Pantelis C. (2007). A tale of two cities: a neuroimaging investigation of Melbourne-Sydney rivalry comparing cortical thickness in healthy adults. Australas Psychiatry 15(1):67-71.

OBJECTIVE: We sought to identify neurobiological correlates of Melbourne-Sydney rivalry through neuroimaging measures of a key brain region involved in cognitive and emotional regulation. METHOD: Twenty subjects from each city were recruited from two large neuroimaging databases, and were scanned on a GE Signa 1.5 T magnetic resonance imaging scanner. Cortical thickness of the anterior cingulate cortex (ACC) was measured using a tessellated mesh method, after image segmentation. These measures were compared with key sporting, financial and academic variables. RESULTS: Residents of Melbourne had a significantly thicker ACC (p less than 0.0001) than Sydney residents, and this difference remained significant when age and intracranial volume were controlled for (p = 0.001). This difference mirrored that in variables measuring wealth, sporting and academic success. CONCLUSIONS: The thinner ACC seen in Sydney-siders may reflect the effects of increased stress due to elevated property prices, relative lack of sporting success and other variables. An alternative explanation is that a thinner ACC is the result of increasing cortical refinement and efficiency, and a marker of a more mature city. However, if these findings are a result of latitudinal effects, this may have significant implications for residents of more northern regions of the Australian continent.
[NOTE: the authors are from the Melbourne Neuropsychiatry Centre, University of Melbourne, Melbourne, Vic, Australia.]

Perhaps the current issue of Australasian Psychiatry is similar to the (semi-)joke issue published by the British Medical Journal around Christmas...

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At May 22, 2007 4:06 AM, Anonymous David said...

I knew there was something wrong with those Sydney bastards!

I think it's safe to assume this paper is of much the same theme as the BMJ Xmas silliness. If memory serves, I had that last author as a neuropsychology lecturer a couple years ago...

At May 24, 2007 11:14 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

You'd be forgiven to think that MRI machines grew on trees down here - I live in Melbourne. I really hope they didn't turn the machine on for this paper. Funny though.. especially the bit about Northern Australia..

It's right up there with something I read in a text book the other day... (fantastic book) .. this may be an old gag for you.. but it's new to me. Re: the Hypothalamus "... It controls the autonomic nervous system and the endochrine system and organises bahaviours related to survival of the species - the so-called four F's: fighting, feeding, fleeing, and mating."
I had a good laugh over that.. and seeing as my memory is so poor.. it is one thing I may be able to remember in the exams in a little over a week.

All the best,

At June 04, 2007 6:52 AM, Anonymous Andrew said...

I bet Sydney-siders have less developed auditory cortices as well...

At June 26, 2007 6:51 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi there

I am one of the co-authors of this study, and one of my colleagues alerted me to your blog post.

You are correct in that this is meant to be a humorous paper - arising out of unexpected findings comparing two cohorts of patients scanned in separate cities. The full-text paper itself even lists it in the "humour" section of Australasian Psychiatry, one of two local Medline-indexed psychiatry journals.

The results are of course due to scanner differences rather than true thickness changes. We cannot say this with certainty for the northern Australian states however - our hypothesis stands, until data exists to refute it... and as we noted in the paper:

"A third and highly speculative possibility is that cortical thickness varies with latitude. Thicker cortex in Melburnians may reflect an evolutionary compensation for sustained cerebral hypothermia and vitamin D deficiency resulting from chronic lack of exposure to the sun's ultraviolet radiation. Melburnian neurons may have adapted to conserve energy, leading to a gradual build up in the lipid membrane of neurons and glia, thereby upregulating their thermal homeostatic levels and expanding the cortical mantle. Unfortunately, this does not bode well for Australians living in cities either closer to or further from the equator; Hobart residents may be facing a silent epidemic of cortical obesity, whereas Brisbane inhabitants may be in critical need for dietary supplementation. It may already be too late for Cairns."

In the same vein, we also put a paper in the Xmas edition of the Medical Journal of Australia (much like the BMJ), which you can find here:


Mark Walterfang

At June 27, 2007 10:33 AM, Blogger The Neurocritic said...

Thanks for your comments, Mark. I still don't have access to your paper, unfortunately. However, it's good to know the potential perils of living in Cairns.

And your piece on Lesionnaire’s Syndrome is quite funny:

The explosion in psychiatric neuroimaging research has led to the establishment of stressful and dark neuroimaging laboratories in which young researchers sweat in front of computer monitors performing laborious and tedious imaging analysis. These conditions have contributed to the development of a new psychiatric syndrome...

At June 28, 2007 2:08 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi again

If you email me at, I can email you a copy.

Of note, this paper was written over two nights of the recent International Neuropsychiatric Association congress at Sydney (2006), after we all decided it was "time to write a funny paper on that weird inter-scanner difference". Perhaps the fastest paper our group has ever written. The best ideas often come from standing around a small table with a drink in one's hand (although admittedly it was coffee).




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