Elevated rate of autism symptoms found in children with Tourette syndrome

Around one in five children with Tourette syndrome, a neurological disorder characterized by involuntary movements and vocalizations, met criteria for autism in a study headed by UC San Francisco. But this prevalence may be more a reflection of similarity in symptoms than actual autism, according to the study’s researchers.

Researchers tested 535 children and adults with Tourette’s for autism, using a self-reporting test called the Social Responsiveness Scale. Among the 294 children tested, 22.8 percent reached the cutoff for autism, versus 8.7 percent of the 241 adults. In contrast, autism is estimated to affect between 0.3 and 2.9 percent of the general population, according to studies cited in the paper.

The Social Responsiveness Scale Second Edition is a 65-item quantitative measure of autism symptoms that assesses the ability to engage in “emotionally appropriate reciprocal social interactions.” It evaluates levels of social awareness, social cognition, social communication, social motivation, and restrictive interests and repetitive behavior. Its threshold for autism compares favorably with the diagnostic gold standard, the Autism Diagnostic Interview, the researchers noted.

The study is publishing on June 22, 2017, in the Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry.

OCD, ADHD Frequent Co-Occurrences

The researchers wanted to examine autism symptoms in patients with Tourette’s, including those whose diagnosis was coupled with obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) or attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), conditions that frequently co-occur. Tourette’s, OCD and ADHD have been shown to share common symptoms and genetic relationships in a recent study by the same researchers.

“Assessing autism symptom patterns in a large Tourette’s sample may be helpful in determining whether some of this overlap is due to symptoms found in both disorders, rather than an overlapping etiology,” said first author Sabrina Darrow, PhD, assistant professor in the department of psychiatry at UCSF.

“Our results suggest that although autism diagnoses were higher in individuals with Tourette’s, some of the increase may be due to autism-like symptoms, especially repetitive behaviors that are more strongly related to obsessive-compulsive disorder.”

The researchers found that the highest scores on the Social Responsiveness Scale, which met autism criteria, were found in participants with Tourette’s and either OCD or ADHD. Among those with Tourette’s who met the cutoff for autism, 83 percent also met criteria for OCD, the researchers found, noting that high scores were especially evident in the part of the autism test that measures restrictive interests and repetitive behavior.

Wide Gulf Between Adults, Kids with Autism Diagnosis.

A potentially compelling argument against the surprisingly high rates of autism found in this sample was the wide discrepancy between children and adults who met the diagnostic criteria. Tourette’s is usually diagnosed between the ages of 3 and 9; symptoms most often peak in the early teens and start to abate in the early twenties, with continued improvement in early adulthood.

“Children were more than twice as likely to meet the cutoff than adults, indicating that as tics recede, so do symptoms of autism. In contrast, autism is usually lifelong,” said Darrow.

“Previous studies have shown that children with mood and anxiety disorders also have higher rates of autism symptoms, based on the Social Responsiveness Scale,” said senior author Carol Mathews, MD, who did the research while a professor of psychiatry at UCSF. She currently is adjunct professor of psychiatry at UCSF and professor of psychiatry at the University of Florida in Gainesville.

Psychiatric Impairment Possible Factor in Diagnosis

“This suggests that some of the increase may reflect underlying psychiatric impairment rather than being specific for autism. Some of the children in the study probably have autism, others have symptoms that mimic autism, but are not really due to autism. These symptoms are called phenocopies.”

Tourette’s affects between one and 10 in 1,000 children according to the National Institutes of Health. Like autism, it is significantly more prevalent in males. Common tics include repetitive throat clearing, blinking or grimacing. Most people do not require medication to suppress their symptoms, but treatment may be recommended for co-occurring ADHD and OCD.

 

Starting school young can put child wellbeing at risk

New research has shown that the youngest pupils in each school year group could be at risk of worse mental health than their older classmates.

Starting school young is an exciting but sometimes challenging milestone for children and their families. Some children will be nearing their fifth birthday as they enter foundation classes while others will be only just four.

Now, a study led by the University of Exeter Medical School which investigated more than 2,000 children across 80 primary schools in Devon, has found that children who are younger than their peers when they start school are more likely to develop poorer mental health, as rated by parents and teachers. Overall the effect was small, however researchers believe the additional stress of keeping up with older peers could prove a “tipping point” for vulnerable children, such as those with learning difficulties or who were born prematurely.

The research team was supported by the National Institute for Health Research Public Health Research Programme and the Collaboration for Leadership in Applied Health Research and Care South West Peninsula (NIHR PenCLAHRC).

The research, published in the journal Child Care, Health and Development, could have implications on parents’ decisions on whether to defer their child’s school entry for a school year, permissible under guidance introduced in 2014.

The findings could also influence how teachers interact with younger children, particularly those with additional complex needs in the class, and on assessments and teaching and support structures within classrooms.

Anna Price, of the University of Exeter Medical School, was motivated to study the issue after home schooling her own April-born son, who has pre-existing learning difficulties, and was not ready to start school aged five. She said: “Using such a large dataset was a chance to explore what’s really happening in practice for children who start school at a young age. We found that children who started younger had slightly worse well-being- however, this effect was very small and unlikely to make a difference for most. The challenge to well-being of being young for your school year might however be one struggle too many for children who face other challenges to their mental health. Our findings can help guide parents and teachers in making decisions that best support the child.”

The researchers also explored the impact of starting school early on the child’s happiness levels and behaviour. In contrast to previous research, they found no significant impact on either. The research paper noted that the schools in the study had strong support in place, such as small group learning, which may have helped improve happiness and behaviour overall.

Professor Tamsin Ford, of the University of Exeter Medical School, oversaw the research. Professor Ford, a practising child psychiatrist, said: “Being relatively younger could be the tipping point for some, but certainly not all, children. For most it would just be something for teacher’s to be aware of but for children with other needs or who were born prematurely this difference could be significant. Awareness of this issue among teachers and educators means measures can be put in place that could help to mitigate this effect and get the best outcome for children.”

Story Source:

Materials provided by University of Exeter. Note: Content may be edited for style and length.

Alzheimer’s disease study links brain health, physical activity

People at risk for Alzheimer’s disease who do more moderate-intensity physical activity, but not light-intensity physical activity, are more likely to have healthy patterns of glucose metabolism in their brain, according to a new UW-Madison study.

Results of the research were published online in Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease. Senior author Dr. Ozioma Okonkwo, assistant professor of medicine, is a researcher at the Wisconsin Alzheimer’s Disease Research Center and the Wisconsin Alzheimer’s Institute at the UW School of Medicine and Public Health. First author Ryan Dougherty is a graduate student studying under the direction of Dr. Dane B. Cook, professor of kinesiology and a co-author of the study, and Dr. Okonkwo. The research involved 93 members of the Wisconsin Registry for Alzheimer’s Prevention (WRAP), which with more than 1,500 registrants is the largest parental history Alzheimer’s risk study group in the world.

Researchers used accelerometers to measure the daily physical activity of participants, all of whom are in late middle-age and at high genetic risk for Alzheimer’s disease, but presently show no cognitive impairment. Activity levels were measured for one week, quantified, and analyzed. This approach allowed scientists to determine the amount of time each subject spent engaged in light, moderate, and vigorous levels of physical activity. Light physical activity is equivalent to walking slowly, while moderate is equivalent to a brisk walk and vigorous a strenuous run. Data on the intensities of physical activity were then statistically analyzed to determine how they corresponded with glucose metabolism — a measure of neuronal health and activity — in areas of the brain known to have depressed glucose metabolism in people with Alzheimer’s disease. To measure brain glucose metabolism, researchers used a specialized imaging technique called 18F-fluorodeoxyglucose positron emission tomography (FDG-PET).

Moderate physical activity was associated with healthier (greater levels of) glucose metabolism in all brain regions analyzed. Researchers noted a step-wise benefit: subjects who spent at least 68 minutes per day engaged in moderate physical activity showed better glucose metabolism profiles than those who spent less time.

“This study has implications for guiding exercise ‘prescriptions’ that could help protect the brain from Alzheimer’s disease,” said Dougherty. “While many people become discouraged about Alzheimer’s disease because they feel there’s little they can do to protect against it, these results suggest that engaging in moderate physical activity may slow down the progression of the disease.”

“Seeing a quantifiable connection between moderate physical activity and brain health is an exciting first step,” said Okonkwo. He explained that ongoing research is focusing on better elucidating the neuroprotective effect of exercise against Alzheimer’s disease.

Story Source:

Materials provided by IOS Press. Note: Content may be edited for style and length.

 

System detects, translates sarcasm on social media

Researchers in the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology Faculty of Industrial Engineering and Management have developed a system for interpreting sarcastic statements in social media. The system, developed by graduate student Lotam Peled, under the guidance of Assistant Professor Roi Reichart, is called Sarcasm SIGN (sarcasm Sentimental Interpretation GeNerator).

“There are a lot of systems designed to identify sarcasm, but this is the first that is able to interpret sarcasm in written text,” said Peled. “We hope in the future, it will help people with autism and Asperger’s, who have difficulty interpreting sarcasm, irony and humor.”

Based on machine translation, the new system turns sarcastic sentences into honest (non-sarcastic) ones. It will, for example, turn a sarcastic sentence such as, “The new ‘Fast and Furious’ movie is awesome. #sarcasm” into the honest sentence, “The new Fast and Furious movie is terrible.”

Despite the vast development in this field, and the successes of sentiment analysis applications on “social media intelligence,” existing applications do not know how to interpret sarcasm, where the writer writes the opposite of what (s)he actually means.

In order to teach the system to produce accurate interpretations, the researchers compiled a database of 3,000 sarcastic tweets that were tagged with #sarcasm, where each tweet was interpreted into a non-sarcastic expression by five human experts. In addition, the system was trained to identify words with strong sarcastic sentiments — for example, the word “best” in the tweet, “best day ever” — and to replace them with strong words that reveal the true meaning of the text. The system was examined by a number of (human) judges, who gave its interpretations high scores of fluency and adequacy, agreeing that in most cases it produced a semantically and linguistically correct sentence.

Automatic identification and analysis of sentiment in text is a very complex challenge being explored by many researchers around the world because of its commercial potential and scientific importance. Sentiment identification could be used in social, commercial, and other applications to improve communication between people and computers, and between social media users.

Story Source:

Materials provided by American Technion Society. Note: Content may be edited for style and length.

Let’s block ads! (Why?)

Frequent sexual activity can boost brain power in older adults

More frequent sexual activity has been linked to improved brain function in older adults, according to a study by the universities of Coventry and Oxford.

Researchers found that people who engaged in more regular sexual activity scored higher on tests that measured their verbal fluency and their ability to visually perceive objects and the spaces between them.

The study, published today in The Journals of Gerontology, Series B: Psychological and Social Sciences, involved 73 people aged between 50 and 83.

Participants filled in a questionnaire on how often, on average, they had engaged in sexual activity over the past 12 months — whether that was never, monthly or weekly — as well as answering questions about their general health and lifestyle.

The 28 men and 45 women also took part in a standardized test, which is typically used to measure different patterns of brain function in older adults, focusing on attention, memory, fluency, language and visuospatial ability.

This included verbal fluency tests in which participants had 60 seconds to name as many animals as possible, and then to say as many words beginning with F as they could — tests which reflect higher cognitive abilities.

They also took part in tests to determine their visuospatial ability which included copying a complex design and drawing a clock face from memory.

It was these two sets of tests where participants who engaged in weekly sexual activity scored the most highly, with the verbal fluency tests showing the strongest effect.

The results suggested that frequency of sexual activity was not linked to attention, memory or language. In these tests, the participants performed just as well regardless of whether they reported weekly, monthly or no sexual activity.

This study expanded on previous research from 2016, which found that older adults who were sexually active scored higher on cognitive tests than those who were not sexually active.

But this time the research looked more specifically at the impact of the frequency of sexual activity (i.e. does it make a difference how often you engage in sexual activity) and also used a broader range of tests to investigate different areas of cognitive function.

The academics say further research could look at how biological elements, such as dopamine and oxytocin, could influence the relationship between sexual activity and brain function to give a fuller explanation of their findings.

Lead researcher Dr Hayley Wright, from Coventry University’s Centre for Research in Psychology, Behaviour and Achievement, said:

“We can only speculate whether this is driven by social or physical elements — but an area we would like to research further is the biological mechanisms that may influence this.

“Every time we do another piece of research we are getting a little bit closer to understanding why this association exists at all, what the underlying mechanisms are, and whether there is a ’cause and effect’ relationship between sexual activity and cognitive function in older people.

“People don’t like to think that older people have sex — but we need to challenge this conception at a societal level and look at what impact sexual activity can have on those aged 50 and over, beyond the known effects on sexual health and general wellbeing.”

Story Source:

Materials provided by Coventry University. Note: Content may be edited for style and length.

 

Adulthood wellbeing lower for single-parent kids

People who grew up in single-parent families have lower levels of wellbeing and life satisfaction in adulthood, according to new research by the University of Warwick.

Dr Sakari Lemola from Warwick’s Department of Psychology, and Dr David Richter from the German Institute for Economic Research, have discovered that individuals who were brought up by a single parent for their entire childhood earn on average 30% less and are more likely to be unemployed.

Furthermore, on average they were 9% less likely to be in a romantic relationship and had a smaller number of friends, according to the research.

In a study of over 24,000 adults aged 18-66, the researchers identified 641 individuals who spent their entire childhood with a single parent and 1539 who spent part of their childhood with a single parent.

The sample group was asked how satisfied they are with life in general, using an 11-point scale — ranging from zero (completely dissatisfied) to ten (completely satisfied). They were also asked who they lived with for the first fifteen years of their life.

The researchers analysed the participants’ annual income, number of visits to the doctor, level of social integration, and success in romantic relationships.

After accounting for childhood socio-economic circumstances, the differences in life-satisfaction were relatively small. Those who grew up with a single parent for their entire childhood were approximately 0.2 points lower on the scale ranging from 0 to 10 than those who were brought up by both parents — and 0.1 points lower than those who experienced parental separation during childhood.

“These findings suggest that both parents still provide important resources even when children have already grown up and left their parent’s home. During young adulthood these resources may include financial support as well as access to social networks, which is important to find a good job,” commented Dr Sakari Lemola.

“Children who had grown up with a single parent for their entire childhood are less likely to know their second parent well and to receive such support during adult life,” he continued.

“Thus, support from the state for those individuals who grew up in single-parent families should also target the life-stages after childhood and facilitate integration into adult life during important transitions such as from school to university or from education into the job market.”

Single parenthood is increasingly common in Western societies, with 20% of children in Germany and 24% in the UK currently being raised in single-parent households — more than 80% of those in households headed by single mothers.

Story Source:

Materials provided by University of Warwick. Note: Content may be edited for style and length.

Acetaminophen during pregnancy can inhibit masculinity

Paracetamol (acetaminophen) is popular for relieving pain. But if you are pregnant, you should think twice before popping these pills according to the researchers in a new study. In an animal model, Paracetamol, which is the pain-relieving substance found in the pills, actually damages the development of male behaviours.

Previous studies have shown the paracetamol can inhibit the development of the male sex hormone testosterone in male foetuses, thus increasing the risk of malformation of the testicles in infants. But a reduced level of testosterone at the fetal stage is also significant for the behaviours of adult males, says Ph.D. David Møbjerg Kristensen, a researcher employed during the studies at the Department of Biomedical Sciences and the Novo Nordisk Foundation Center for Protein Research at the Faculty of Health and Medical Sciences.

“We have demonstrated that a reduced level of testosterone means that male characteristics do not develop as they should. This also affects sex drive. In a trial, mice exposed to paracetamol at the fetal stage were simply unable to copulate in the same way as our control animals. Male programming had not been properly established during their fetal development and this could be seen long afterwards in their adult life. It is very worrying,” says David Møbjerg Kristensen.

The dosage administered to the mice was very close to the recommended dosage for pregnant women. Because the trials are restricted to mice, the results cannot be transferred directly to humans. However, the researchers’ certainty about the harmful effects of paracetamol means it would be improper to undertake the same trials on humans, explains David Møbjerg Kristensen.

Markedly reduced male behaviour

Testosterone is the primary male sex hormone that helps develop the male body and male programming of the brain. The masculine behaviours in mice observed by the researchers involved aggressiveness to other male mice, ability to copulate and the need for territorial marking. The mice reacted significantly more passively than normal for all three parameters. They did not attack other males, they were unable to copulate and behaved more like female mice when it come to urinary territorial marking.

After observing the changed behavioural patterns, Prof. Anders Hay-Schmidt, who was employed at the then Department of Neuroscience and Pharmacology during his studies at the University of Copenhagen, investigated the specific effects of a lack of testosterone on the brain. The results showed up clearly here, too.

“The area of the brain that controls sex drive — the sexual dimorphic nucleus — had half as many neurons in the mice that had received paracetamol as the control mice. The inhibition of testosterone also led to a halving of the activity in an area of the brain that is significant for male characteristics,” he explains.

Also affects female fertility

This study focused on the effect of paracetamol on masculine characteristics but paracetamol during pregnancy also has the potential to influence the subsequent lives of female mice. In 2016, the researchers published a study showing that female mice had fewer eggs in their ovaries if their mothers had had paracetamol during pregnancy. This led to the mice becoming infertile more quickly. But even if paracetamol is harmful, that does not mean it should never be taken, even when pregnant.

“I personally think that people should think carefully before taking medicine. These days it has become so common to take paracetamol that we forget it is a medicine And all medicine has side effects. If you are ill, you should naturally take the medicine you need. After all, having a sick mother is more harmful for the fetus,” says David Møbjerg Kristensen.

He emphasizes that pregnant women should continue to follow the guidelines given by their country’s health authorities and recommends people to contact their GP if in doubt about the use of paracetamol.

How serious is binge drinking among college students with disabilities?

A new study finds that college students with disabilities binge drink more often than their non-disabled student peers. The study, providing the first picture of alcohol use and binge drinking by US college students with disabilities, is out in Public Health Reports, a SAGE Publishing journal and the official journal of the Office of the U.S. Surgeon General and the U.S. Public Health Service.

“Substance abuse is the topic of high public interest, yet little attention is given to the experiences of college students with disabilities,” wrote the study authors Steven L. West et al. “Given that binge drinking is highly correlated with academic failure, drop-out, and an increased risk for various negative health conditions, such use by students with disabilities may place them at extreme risk for various negative outcomes.”

The study authors surveyed 1,285 students with disabilities from 61 U.S. colleges and universities in 2013. The students answered questions regarding alcohol and other drug use and the use of substances by student peers. The researchers found that 80% reported drinking alcohol at least once. Among these students:

  • 70% reported binge drinking, defined as having five or more drinks in one sitting by males or having four or more drinks in one sitting by females, at least once in the previous year. This number is about 30% higher than the national average of college students as a whole, according to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH), 2012 and 2013
  • Of those who binge drank at least once in 2012, 10% reported binge drinking monthly, 9% reported binge drinking 2 or 3 times per week, and 1% reported binge drinking more than 5 times per week
  • 42% drank alcohol once a month or less, 14% drank 2 to 4 times per week, 6% percent drank more than 5 times per week, and 10% drank daily

“Alcohol and drug prevention efforts are common on college campuses, and many are specific to the groups they target, such as members of fraternities or sororities or student athletes,” continued the study authors. “However, students with disabilities are largely overlooked in such programming. Our finding that students with disabilities drink and binge drink at considerable rates calls for more preventive efforts targeting this underserved population.”

Story Source:

Materials provided by SAGE. Note: Content may be edited for style and length.

My friend’s suicide, bureaucracy and cuts: why I quit as an NHS manager

I was driven to the brink by the poor care my friend received. I finally left over pointless tasks

The first time I thought I should leave the NHS and never return was at my friend’s inquest. After struggling with mental health issues for many years he had taken his own life. At his inquest, I learnt that in the period leading up to his suicide his mental health appointments had all been with support workers and he had not once seen a qualified mental health nurse. I also discovered that his last five appointments had been with four different members of staff. The coroner asked about the level of the service he had received. The manager of the service cited difficulties with a large geographical patch and described the service he received as usual practice. As an NHS manager myself, I could see it may have been usual practice, but it was far from good enough.

As I drove home from the inquest my head was spinning with dissonant thoughts and questions. I was angry and upset. I was concerned for the service manager. I was furious with government cuts. I was worrying about the service I managed. I needed the noise in my head to stop. I found myself contemplating killing myself. I did not sleep that night. I knew I was unwell and so the next day I saw my GP. I needed three months off work for severe depression and anxiety. I had excellent talking therapy via my GP surgery and my counsellor continued to support me through and beyond my return to work.

Related: The NHS sets leaders up to fail – and then recruits more in the same mould

Continue reading…

Identified brain circuitry bridges neural and behavioral roles in PTSD

Specific cerebral circuitry bridges chemical changes deep in the brain and the more outward behavioral expressions associated with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), which could lead to more objective biomarkers for the disorder, according to a comprehensive review of rapidly changing data published June 22 in the New England Journal of Medicine.

In this latest, comprehensive review, the authors — from the Steven and Alexandra Cohen Veterans Center (CVC) in the Department of Psychiatry at NYU Langone Medical Center and the University of Michigan/Veterans Affairs Ann Arbor Health Systems Mental Health Service — have identified four neural-behavioral models associated with PTSD. These models pinpoint specific circuits in the brain that “mediate” between chemical changes — which are being examined as possible PTSD biomarkers — and the expression of certain characteristics often associated with PTSD. These include fear responses, avoidance of trauma reminders, impaired emotional balance and the persistence of defensive responses despite a safe environment.

“These neural-behavioral models account for, and help further explain, many of the peripheral findings in PTSD,” says study co-author Israel Liberzon, MD, professor of Psychiatry, Psychology and Neuroscience from University of Michigan. “These models will be valuable roadmaps in examining whether certain PTSD-related behaviors have particular chemical roots. This, in turn, could advance the identification of objective biomarkers for PTSD.”

The authors point out that one of the major challenges with PTSD is that it is painstakingly difficult to objectively profile and diagnose. PTSD sufferers come from a wide swath of society, with higher rates of illness among socially disadvantaged individuals, younger persons, women, military personnel, police officers, firefighters and first responders to trauma. It also is prevalent in victims of physical and sexual assault, and those requiring assistance from first responders.

The American Psychiatric Association recently updated its diagnostic criteria for PTSD in the fifth edition of its Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. But the co-authors point out that even when examining these changes comparatively with the APA’s prior criteria as well as criteria from the World Health Organization, there is only a 30% overlap in those meeting diagnostic criteria across the three measurements.

“There continues to be major concerns with diagnosing PTSD,” says co-author Charles R. Marmar, MD, the Lucius Littauer Professor and chair of psychiatry at NYU Langone and director of the CVC. “While biomarker research continues — and we are making important strides — clinicians need to be alerted to the differences between criteria meant to index PTSD and the broader array of symptoms.”

Study Includes Guidelines to Help Identify PTSD

To address this, the authors included in their review detailed and easy-to-follow tables that provide information to better recognize signs and symptoms of PTSD for healthcare providers like primary care physicians, often the first point of contact for patients.

“We know a lot more about PTSD and related conditions than in the past,” says co-author Arieh Shalev, MD, the Barbara Wilson Professor in the Department of Psychiatry at NYU Langone and a co-director of the CVC. “Our goal is to provide a highly precise and concise summary of all of the evidence-based findings thus far for understanding, diagnosing and treating PTSD.”

The authors also say that there are more therapeutic options to offer patients, including cognitive behavior therapy, such as prolonged exposure and cognitive processing therapies; eye movement desensitization and reprocessing therapy; stress management; and medication. The review also includes data about the effectiveness of neurofeedback; transcranial magnetic stimulation; and endocannabinoid modulators, such as marijuana-derived medications.

PTSD remains the most prevalent psychological consequence of trauma. An estimated 70 percent of adults worldwide will experience a traumatic event in their lifetime, and approximately 10 percent will develop the disorder. According to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs National Center for PTSD, approximately eight million American adults suffer from PTSD in a given year.

 

New technique isolates neuronal activity during memory consolidation

A team, led by researchers from the Cajal Institute (Madrid) belonging to the Spanish National Research Council (CSIC), have discovered some basic processes underlying memory consolidation in collaboration with colleagues at the National Hospital for Paraplegics in Toledo (Spain) and the University of Szeged (Hungary). The work, which is published in Neuron, identifies some of the electrical events responsible for specific neuronal activity in the hippocampus: a region of the brain with fundamental roles in episodic memory.

In the study, highlighted at the front cover of the journal, researchers used machine learning to study brain electrical activity during memory reactivation. “Using artificial neural networks, we have been able to identify electrical fotprints associated to events with similar informational content, presumably encoding the same memory trace. Using sophisticated experimental techniques we have succeeded in isolating the activity of individual neurons during these ‘memories'” explains Liset Menéndez de la Prida, the Cajal Institute researcher who lead the work.

As the researchers observed in their study, activity of hippocampal cells is precisely modulated during memory trace reactivation. “We have seen that most hippocampal cells acutely respond to ‘excitation’ and ‘inhibition’ as a kind of cellular yin-yang, in such a way that the participation of individual neurons of memory traces is extremely selective,” explains Manuel Valero, the first author of the paper.

“Only those hippocampal neurons carrying information about a memory to be reactivated would receive more ‘excitation’ than ‘inhibition’ to be biased for a particular memory trace. This mechanism endows the hippocampus with the ability to reactivate individual memories without merging information.”

In addition, researchers show that an imbalance between ‘excitation’ and ‘inhibition’ -characteristic of some brain diseases such as epilepsy- could be catastrophic for memories. “In epilepsy, we see a link between this mechanism and memory deficits. Our data suggest that alterations of excitation-inhibition balance not only contributes to epileptic activity, but also to the collapse of individual memory traces during consolidation, like an indissoluble mixture,” explains Menéndez de la Prida.

The hippocampus, vital to generating memory

As researchers point out, the function of hippocampus in memory was unveiled by the famous patient HM. “After he underwent bilateral surgical resection of both hippocampi for treating his epilepsy, he was unable to form new episodic memories.”

Menéndez de la Prida explains that with the advancement of neuroscience, it has become increasingly clear that the hippocampus may play a dual role in memory formation. “First, it represents information concerning the time and place where you are at this moment, through sequences of neuronal activity that signal your location in the room and some other temporal contingencies”

Valero adds, “Once this information is collected, it must be transformed it into a long-term memory. This is carried out by the hippocampus through a process called consolidation. During consolidation, neuronal sequences already activated during experience are replayed several times at high speed. It is a process which expends a great deal of energy to leave an electrical footprint.” That footprint seems now to be more easily detected in the apparently noisy brain activity.

Story Source:

Materials provided by Spanish National Research Council (CSIC). Note: Content may be edited for style and length.

 

Perceptions about body image linked to increased alcohol, tobacco use for teens

How teenagers perceive their appearance, including their body image, can have significant impacts on health and wellness. Prior body image research has shown that people with negative body image are more likely to develop eating disorders and are more likely to suffer from depression and low self-esteem. Now, Virginia Ramseyer Winter, a body image expert and an assistant professor in the University of Missouri’s School of Social Work, found negative body image also is associated with increased tobacco and alcohol use, with implications for both young men and women. Notably, she also found relationships between substance use and perceived attractiveness, with girls who believe they are very good looking being more likely to drink.

“We know alcohol and tobacco can have detrimental health effects, especially for teenagers,” Ramseyer Winter said. “I wanted to see if the perception of being overweight and negative body image leads to engaging in unhealthy or risky substance use behaviors. Understanding the relationship means that interventions and policies aimed at improving body image among teenage populations might improve overall health.”

Ramseyer Winter and her co-authors, Andrea Kennedy and Elizabeth O’Neill, used data from a national survey of American teenagers to determine the associations between perceived size and weight, perceived attractiveness, and levels of alcohol and tobacco use. The researchers found that perceived size and attractiveness were significantly related to substance use. Adolescent girls who perceived their body size to be too fat were more likely to use alcohol and tobacco. Boys who thought they were too skinny were more likely to smoke, and boys who considered themselves fat were more likely to binge drink.

“While poor body image disproportionately affects females, our findings indicate that body image also impacts young males,” Ramseyer Winter said. “For example, it’s possible that boys who identified their bodies as too thin use tobacco to maintain body size, putting their health at risk.”

In addition to body size, the researchers looked at the connection between perceived attractiveness and substance use. Girls who thought they were not at all good looking were more likely to smoke. Girls who thought they were very good looking were more likely to binge drink. Ramseyer Winter suggests this is because attractiveness may be associated with popularity, which is related to increased alcohol use.

To improve body image awareness, Ramseyer Winter suggested that parents, schools and health providers need to be aware of body shaming language and correct such behavior to help children identify with positive body image messages. Body shaming language can affect teenagers who have both positive and negative perceptions of themselves.

“Adolescent tobacco and alcohol use: the influence of body image,” recently was published in the Journal of Child and Adolescent Substance Abuse. Kennedy is a doctoral candidate at the University of Southern California and O’Neill is a doctoral candidate at the University of Kansas. The MU School of Social Work is in the College of Human Environmental Sciences.

Story Source:

Materials provided by University of Missouri-Columbia. Note: Content may be edited for style and length.

Let’s block ads! (Why?)

Predicting cognitive deficits in people with Parkinson’s disease

Parkinson’s disease is commonly thought of as a movement disorder, but after years of living with the disease, approximately 25 percent of patients also experience deficits in cognition that impair function. A newly developed research tool may help predict a patient’s risk for developing dementia and could enable clinical trials aimed at finding treatments to prevent the cognitive effects of the disease. The research was published in Lancet Neurology and was partially funded by the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS), part of the National Institutes of Health.

“This study includes both genetic and clinical assessments from multiple groups of patients, and it represents a significant step forward in our ability to effectively model one of the most troublesome non-motor aspects of Parkinson’s disease,” said Margaret Sutherland, Ph.D., program director at the NINDS.

For the study, a team of researchers led by Clemens Scherzer, M.D., combined data from 3,200 people with Parkinson’s disease, representing more than 25,000 individual clinical assessments and evaluated seven known clinical and genetic risk factors associated with developing dementia. From this information, they built a computer-based risk calculator that may predict the chance that an individual with Parkinson’s will develop cognitive deficits. Dr. Scherzer is head of the Neurogenomics Lab and Parkinson Personalized Medicine Program at Harvard Medical School and a member of the Ann Romney Center for Neurologic Diseases at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, Boston.

Currently available Parkinson’s medications are only effective in improving motor deficits caused by the disease. However, the loss of cognitive abilities severely affects the individual’s quality of life and independence. One barrier to developing treatments for the cognitive effects of Parkinson’s disease is the considerable variability among patients. As a result, researchers must enroll several hundred patients when designing clinical trials to test treatments.

“By allowing clinical researchers to identify and select only patients at high-risk for developing dementia, this tool could help in the design of ‘smarter’ trials that require a manageable number of participating patients,” said Dr. Scherzer.

Dr. Scherzer and team also noted that a patient’s education appeared to have a powerful impact on the risk of memory loss. The more years of formal education patients in the study had, the greater was their protection against cognitive decline.

“This fits with the theory that education might provide your brain with a ‘cognitive reserve,’ which is the capacity to potentially compensate for some disease-related effects,” said Dr. Scherzer. “I hope researchers will take a closer look at this. It would be amazing, if this simple observation could be turned into a useful therapeutic intervention.”

Moving forward, Dr. Scherzer and his colleagues from the International Genetics of Parkinson’s Disease Progression (IGPP) Consortium plan to further improve the cognitive risk score calculator. The team is scanning the genome of patients to hunt for new progression genes. Ultimately, it is their hope that the tool can be used in the clinic in addition to helping with clinical trial design. However, considerable research remains to be done before that will be possible.

One complication for the use of this calculator in the clinic is the lack of available treatments for Parkinson’s-related cognitive deficits. Doctors face ethical issues concerning whether patients should be informed of their risk when there is little available to help them. It is hoped that by improving clinical trial design, the risk calculator can first aid in the discovery of new treatments and determine which patients would benefit most from the new treatments.

“Prediction is the first step,” said Dr. Scherzer. “Prevention is the ultimate goal, preventing a dismal prognosis from ever happening.”

 

Serotonin improves sociability in mouse model of autism

Scientists at the RIKEN Brain Science Institute (BSI) in Japan have linked early serotonin deficiency to several symptoms that occur in autism spectrum disorder (ASD). Published in Science Advances, the study examined serotonin levels, brain circuitry, and behavior in a mouse model of ASD. Experiments showed that increasing serotonergic activity in the brain during early development led to more balanced brain activity and improved the abnormal sociability of these mice.

As group leader Toru Takumi explains, “Although abnormalities in the serotonin system have been thought to be part of the ASD pathophysiology, the functional impact of serotonin deficiency in ASD was totally unknown. Our work shows that early serotonergic intervention rescues regional excitatory/inhibitory abnormalities in the brain as well as behavioral abnormalities.”

Although the causes and symptoms of ASD are varied, many people with ASD have too many genomic mutations. Previously, Takumi’s group generated a mouse model of ASD by duplicating in mice one of the most frequent copy variations found in people with ASD. These mice show many behavioral symptoms of ASD, including poor social interaction and low behavioral flexibility. The model mice also have reduced levels of serotonin in the brain during development, another symptom that has been found in patients with ASD.

In the newly published work, the researchers focused on this finding and examined how it affected the behavior of neurons in the brain as well as the behavior of the mice themselves.

After determining that the part of the brain that contains the highest amount of serotonin neurons was less active in the ASD model mice than in wild-type mice, the group examined a sensory region of the brain that receives input from these serotonergic neurons.

Patients with ASD often exhibit abnormal responses in sensory regions of the brain, and the RIKEN scientists found similar abnormalities in the brain region of the model mice that detects whisker movement. Although specific whisker movements are normally tightly mapped across this brain region, calcium imaging showed that a given whisker movement activated a much larger region of sensory cortex in the ASD model mice. This means that the responses of neighboring regions were more overlapped, which reduces the ability to distinguish sensations.

The overlap in sensory maps indicated that normally inactive neurons were somehow active. This pointed to reduced inhibitory activity, and the group confirmed this by showing that the ASD model mice had fewer inhibitory synapses and a lower frequency of naturally occurring inhibitory inputs in the sensory region.

These findings indicated an abnormality in cortical excitatory/inhibitory balance. First author Nobuhiro Nakai notes, “Because the sensory region was receiving abnormally low serotonin input, we reasoned that giving infant mice serotonin therapy might reduce the imbalance and also rescue some of the behavioral abnormalities.”

To test this hypothesis, the team administered a selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor, commonly referred to as an SSRI, to infant mice during the first three weeks after birth. This time period corresponded to the time period in which reduced serotonin was observed in the model mice. Researchers found that sensory neurons in the model mice treated with the SSRI showed more normal inhibitory responses, which improved the excitatory/inhibitory balance.

They also found that this intervention improved the social behavior of the model mice in adulthood. Social behavior was measured with a test in which mice are exposed to a cage with an unknown mouse or an empty cage. Normal mice spend more time near the cage with the unknown mouse, while the ASD model mice prefer the empty cage. After the SSRI treatment, ASD model mice spend more time around the cage with the unknown mouse, indicating more normal social behavior. Another improvement was seen in the communication behavior of the ASD mouse pups. While these pups displayed anxiety by produced more vocalizations than normal, this behavior was rescued by the SSRI treatment. These findings suggest that serotonin may have be potentially therapeutic for discrete ASD symptoms.

Looking toward the future, Takumi is optimistic, yet cautious. “Our genetic model for ASD is one of many and because the number of genetic mutations associated with ASD is so high, we need to investigate differences and common mechanisms among multiple genetic ASD models. Additionally, before we can administrate SSRIs to patients with ASD, we must study the effects of SSRIs in more detail, especially because adverse effects have been reported in some animal studies.”

Story Source:

Materials provided by RIKEN. Note: Content may be edited for style and length.

Sleep-wake rhythms vary widely with age as well as amongst individuals of a given age

The sleep rhythms that reflect circadian systems peak later in teenagers than in adults, and vary as much as 10 hours in individuals across at any ages, according to a study published June 21, 2017 in the open-access journal PLOS ONE by Dorothee Fischer from Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, USA, and colleagues.

People’s circadian systems synchronize with light and darkness in the environment, giving rise to chronotypes: individual rhythms in physiology, cognition and behavior. For example, people with early chronotypes have earlier sleep times, while those with late chronotypes have later sleep times and can sleep into the day. Currently, 30% of the U.S. workforce has unusual work schedules, such as alternating or extended shifts, and on-call duty. These unusual schedules are linked with health and safety risks. Chronotype-tailored schedules might help minimize those risks.

To investigate chronotypes variation in the US, Fischer and colleagues analyzed self-reported data from 53,689 respondents of the American Time Use Survey from 2003 to 2014. The researchers used the mid-point of sleep on weekends as a proxy for chronotype.

The researchers found that sleep chronotypes vary widely, both over an individual’s lifetime amongst age groups as well as amongst individuals. The greatest difference in chronotypes is during adolescence and early adulthood. Chronotypes become later during adolescence, peaking in lateness at about age 19. The average chronotype, or mid-point of sleep, at age 17-18 was 4:30 a.m., compared to 3:00 a.m. at age 60. Most U.S. public schools start at 8:30 a.m. or earlier, suggesting that high school students go to school during their biological night. This work supports delaying school start times to benefit the sleep and circadian alignment of high school students.

In addition, the researchers found that chronotypes vary up to 10 hours from individual to individual regardless of age. This may provide opportunities for tailoring work schedules to chronotypes, which is important because syncing workers with their optimal work times could help minimize health and safety risks.

“The timing for optimal sleep can be as different as ten hours among individuals, meaning that opposite chronotypes could share a bed without knowing that they do. What chronotype you are, is influenced by age and gender: on average, older people are earlier chronotypes than younger people and women are earlier chronotypes than men during the first half of their lives.”

Story Source:

Materials provided by PLOS. Note: Content may be edited for style and length.