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'Language Gene' Has a Partner

Few genes have made the headlines as much as FOXP2. The first gene associated with language disorders , it was later implicated in the evolution of human speech. Girls make more of the FOXP2 protein, which may help explain their precociousness in learning to talk. Now, neuroscientists have figured out how one of its molecular partners helps Foxp2 exert its effects.

The findings may eventually lead to new therapies for inherited speech disorders, says Richard Huganir, the neurobiologist at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine in Baltimore, Maryland, who led the work. Foxp2 controls the activity of a gene called Srpx2, he notes, which helps some of the brain's nerve cells beef up their connections to other nerve cells. By establishing what SRPX2 does, researchers can look for defective copies of it in people suffering from problems talking or learning to talk.

Until 2001, scientists were not sure how genes influenced language. Then Simon Fisher, a neurogeneticist now at the Max Planck Institute for Psycholinguistics in Nijmegen, the Netherlands, and his colleagues fingered FOXP2 as the culprit in a family with several members who had trouble with pronunciation, putting words together, and understanding speech. These people cannot move their tongue and lips precisely enough to talk clearly, so even family members often can?t figure out what they are saying. It “opened a molecular window on the neural basis of speech and language,” Fisher says.

Photo credit: Yoichi Araki, Ph.D.


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Carl Zimmer Primates are unquestionably clever: Monkeys can learn how to use money, and chimpanzees have a knack for game theory. But no one has ever taught a nonhuman primate to say “hello.” Scientists have long been intrigued by the failure of primates to talk like us. Understanding the reasons may offer clues to how our own ancestors evolved full-blown speech, one of our most powerful adaptations. On Friday, a team of researchers reported that monkeys have a vocal tract capable of human speech. They argue that other primates can’t talk because they lack the right wiring in their brains. “A monkey’s vocal tract would be perfectly adequate to produce hundreds, thousands of words,” said W. Tecumseh Fitch, a cognitive scientist at the University of Vienna and a co-author of the new study. Human speech results from a complicated choreography of flowing air and contracting muscles. To make a particular sound, we have to give the vocal tract a particular shape. The vocal tracts of other primates contain the same elements as ours — from vocal cords to tongues to lips — but their geometry is different. That difference long ago set scientists to debating whether primates could make speechlike sounds. In the 1960s, Philip H. Lieberman, now a professor emeritus of Brown University, and his colleagues went so far as to pack a dead monkey’s vocal tract with plaster to get a three-dimensional rendering. © 2016 The New York Times Company

Keyword: Language; Evolution
Link ID: 22975 - Posted: 12.10.2016

By Michael Price The famed parrot Alex had a vocabulary of more than 100 words. Kosik the elephant learned to “speak” a bit of Korean by using the tip of his trunk the way people whistle with their fingers. So it’s puzzling that our closest primate cousins are limited to hoots, coos, and grunts. For decades, monkeys’ and apes’ vocal anatomy has been blamed for their inability to reproduce human speech sounds, but a new study suggests macaque monkeys—and by extension, other primates—could indeed talk if they only possessed the brain wiring to do so. The findings might provide new clues to anthropologists and language researchers looking to pin down when humans learned to speak. “This certainly shows that the macaque vocal tract is capable of a lot more than has previously been assumed,” says John Esling, a linguist and phonetics expert at the University of Victoria in Canada, who was not involved with the work. The study’s lead author, William Tecumseh Sherman Fitch III, an evolutionary biologist and cognitive scientist at the University of Vienna, says the question of why monkeys and apes can’t speak goes back to Darwin. (Yes, Fitch is the great-great-great-grandson of U.S. Civil War General William Tecumseh Sherman.) Darwin thought nonhuman primates couldn’t talk because they didn’t have the brains, he says. But over time, anthropologists instead embraced the idea that the primates’ vocal tracts were holding them back: They simply lacked the flexibility to produce the wide range of vowels present in human speech. That remains the “textbook answer” today, Fitch says. © 2016 American Association for the Advancement of Science.

Keyword: Language; Evolution
Link ID: 22974 - Posted: 12.10.2016

By Sam Wong Size matters. Bigger genitals mean more mating success for male mosquito fish, a relative of the guppy. But the development of longer male organs prompts females to evolve bigger brains to help them escape overeager mates. Mating among mosquito fish is far from romantic. The male makes no effort to court partners, instead sneaking up and attempting to copulate by force up to a thousand times a day. It uses a modified anal fin, the gonopodium, to deliver sperm into the female. In this sort of mating system, the relationship between males and females can resemble that between predators and prey, which commonly involve an evolutionary arms race where adaptations on one side are closely matched by changes on the other. For example, big-brained predators tend to prey on big-brained prey, as the two try to outsmart each other. Séverine Buechel and colleagues at Stockholm University in Sweden wondered if a similar arms race was going on between male and female mosquito fish. Do females evolve bigger brains to defend against sneaky males, and do males evolve bigger brains in response? To test this, the team looked at what happened to brain size when males were bred to have longer gonopodia. Male mosquito fish have long gonopodia compared with related species in which coercion is not the dominant mating strategy, and males with longer gonopodia tend to be more successful at mating. The researchers found that breeding more well-endowed males led to bigger-brained females. But there was no arms race: male brains didn’t get bigger at the same time. © Copyright Reed Business Information Ltd.

Keyword: Sexual Behavior; Evolution
Link ID: 22973 - Posted: 12.10.2016

by Tom Siegfried SAN DIEGO — Society’s record for protecting public health has been pretty good in the developed world, not so much in developing countries. That disparity has long been recognized. But there’s another disparity in society’s approach to public health — the divide between attention to traditional diseases and the resources devoted to mental disorders. “When it comes to mental health, all countries are developing countries,” says Shekhar Saxena, director of the World Health Organization’s department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse. Despite a breadth of scope and depth of impact exceeding that of many more highly publicized diseases, mental illness has long been regarded as a second-class medical concern. And modern medicine’s success at diagnosing, treating and curing many other diseases has not been duplicated for major mental disorders. Saxena thinks that neuroscience research can help. He sees an opportunity for progress through increased interdisciplinary collaboration between neuroscience and mental health researchers. “The collaboration seems to be improving, but much more is needed and not only in a few countries, but all countries,” he said November 12 at the annual meeting of the Society for Neuroscience. |© Society for Science & the Public 2000 - 2016.

Keyword: Depression; Schizophrenia
Link ID: 22972 - Posted: 12.10.2016

By Alice Klein How can you stop old anxieties from resurfacing? An injection of new neurons may help, a study in mice suggests. Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), anxiety and other fear-related disorders are difficult to treat, and many people who seem to get better later relapse. A similar phenomenon occurs in rodents. Adult mice can be conditioned to fear a sound by giving them an electric shock every time they hear it. Playing the sound repeatedly without the shock gradually wipes out the fear – a process known as extinction training. However, the fear often returns spontaneously if the mouse hears the sound later on. Baby mice, on the other hand, do not seem to relapse as much. Yong-Chun Yu at Fudan University in China and his colleagues wanted to know if they could treat fearful adult mice with brain cells from mouse embryos. The transplants did not prevent the mice developing new fears, nor help them overcome existing ones – at least not by themselves. But coupled with extinction training, the embryonic cells did help wipe out existing fears and prevent the mice relapsing. First, the researchers injected live brain cells from mouse embryos into the amygdalae of adult mice – the parts of the brain involved in fear. Other mice were implanted with dead embryonic brain cells as a comparison. © Copyright Reed Business Information Ltd.

Keyword: Emotions; Stress
Link ID: 22971 - Posted: 12.09.2016

Men and women who suffered traumatic brain injuries had more than twice the risk of winding up in a federal prison in Canada as their uninjured peers, a new study shows. That doesn't surprise Dr. Geoffrey Manley, a neurosurgeon who runs a trauma centre. He knows all too well the long-term struggles of survivors of traumatic brain injuries. "Because there's no system of care for these individuals, they fall into the cracks and get themselves in trouble. And we really as a society are not doing a good job of taking care of people with traumatic brain injuries," Manley, who was not involved in the study, said in a phone interview. For 13 years, researchers followed more than 1.4 million people who were eligible for health care in Ontario and were between the ages of 18 and 28 in 1997. As reported in CMAJ Open, the open-access journal of the Canadian Medical Association, the research team linked subjects' health records to correctional records, adjusted for a variety of factors like age and substance abuse, and found that men with traumatic brain injuries were 2.5 times more likely to serve time in a Canadian federal prison than men without head injuries. Female prisoners were even more likely to have survived traumatic brain injuries. For women with these injuries, the risk of winding up in a Canadian federal prison was 2.76 times higher than it was for uninjured women, although the authors caution that the pool of incarcerated females was small, accounting for only 210 of the more than 700,000 women studied. ©2016 CBC/Radio-Canada.

Keyword: Brain Injury/Concussion; Aggression
Link ID: 22970 - Posted: 12.09.2016

By Jason G. Goldman In her widely celebrated 1978 book Illness as Metaphor Susan Sontag wrote that when medical experts attribute psychological causality to biological disease, they “assign to the luckless ill the ultimate responsibility both for falling ill and for getting well.” The latest salvo in the ongoing debate over the extent to which psychological factors can explain physiological outcomes comes from a study published today, which finds optimistic women are less likely to die of a variety of illnesses—from cancer to heart failure to infectious disease. Researchers from Harvard University's T. H. Chan School of Public Health turned to a 40-year survey-based study begun in 1976 of American female nurses, most of whom were white, called the “Nurses’ Health Study.” They extracted data on the women's personalities from the 2004 and 2008 surveys and compared it with mortality rates for the same women between 2006 and 2012. Altogether, they collected information from more than 70,000 individuals. To assess optimism, the study asked participants to rate on a five-point scale the extent to which they agreed with six statements such as, “in uncertain times, I usually expect the best.” “When comparing the top 25 percent most optimistic [women] to the bottom 25 percent, they had about a 30 percent reduced risk of mortality,” says study leader Eric Kim of Harvard. Those relationships remained, albeit less robustly, even after the researchers adjusted the predictions to account for sociodemographic factors and health-related behaviors. Kim is quick to point out that this does not necessarily mean optimism leads to healthier lifestyles, only that there is a statistical association. Still, he and his colleagues argue that because personality traits are somewhat malleable, optimism-based interventions could be a fairly simple, low-cost way to improve public health. © 2016 Scientific American

Keyword: Stress; Neuroimmunology
Link ID: 22969 - Posted: 12.09.2016

Between email and cell phones, many of us feel like we're at work 24/7. The concept of workplace burnout is not that old. NPR's Planet Money team has the story of the man who coined the term. ARI SHAPIRO, HOST: If you're the type of person who checks your work email right before bed and just as you wake up the next day, you might know the word burnout, but you may not know the story behind it. Noel King from NPR's Planet Money podcast tells us about the man who coined the term burnout and then found a sort of solution. NOEL KING, BYLINE: In the early '70s, Herbert Freudenberger had a successful psychology practice on New York's Upper East Side. He was a serious, driven man. He'd survived the Holocaust and moved to the U.S. as a kid. Here's his daughter Lisa Freudenberger. Her dad died in 1999. LISA FREUDENBERGER: His childhood kind of stopped at 7 or 8 because he had then had to grow up pretty quickly and survive in a new country. KING: In the States, he was taken in by an aunt who was cruel to him. She made him sleep in an attic. In his teens, he ran away and lived on the street for a while. Herbert grew up to become someone who was always pushing himself to help more people. That's why in addition to his practice on the Upper East Side, he opened a clinic on the Bowery - New York's Skid Row. He worked with drug addicts. © 2016 npr

Keyword: Stress
Link ID: 22968 - Posted: 12.09.2016

By Meredith Wadman There have been few happy endings when it comes to spinal muscular atrophy (SMA), the most common genetic cause of death in childhood. The disease inexorably destroys the motor neurons of the spinal cord and brainstem that control movement, including swallowing and breathing. In its most severe form, SMA kills those afflicted at about age 2, most commonly by suffocating them. There are no Food and Drug Administration (FDA)–approved drugs for the disease. That is almost certainly about to change. An innovative drug that helps cells bypass the genetic flaw responsible for SMA may be approved as soon as this month, on the heels of strongly positive results from late-stage clinical trials. On 7 November, a trial of the drug, nusinersen, in wheelchair-bound children aged 2 to 12, was stopped on the grounds that it was unethical to deny the drug to children in the control arm, given the positive results in the treated children. In August, a similar trial in infants was stopped for the same reason, allowing the untreated infants in a control arm to begin receiving the drug. And today, a paper appearing in The Lancet provides compelling biological evidence that nusinersen is having its desired effect in the cells of the brain and spinal cord. “These [infant-onset] SMA kids are going to die. And not only are they now not dying, you are essentially on the path to a true cure of a degenerative [neurological] disease, which is unheard of,” says Jeffrey Rothstein, a neurologist at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine in Baltimore, Maryland, who was not affiliated with the trials of the drug and is not connected with either of the two companies involved in its development: Ionis of Carlsbad, California, and Biogen of Cambridge, Massachusetts. © 2016 American Association for the Advancement of Science

Keyword: Movement Disorders; Development of the Brain
Link ID: 22967 - Posted: 12.08.2016

Laura Sanders Flickering light kicks off brain waves that clean a protein related to Alzheimer’s disease out of mice’s brains, a new study shows. The results, described online December 7 in Nature, suggest a fundamentally new approach to counteracting Alzheimer’s. Many potential therapies involve drugs that target amyloid-beta, the sticky protein that accumulates in the brains of Alzheimer’s patients. In contrast, the new method used on mice causes certain nerve cells to fire at a specific rhythm, generating brain waves that researchers believe may clear A-beta. “This is a very creative and innovative new approach to targeting brain amyloid load in Alzheimer’s,” says geriatric psychiatrist Paul Rosenberg of Johns Hopkins Medicine. But he cautions that the mouse results are preliminary. Neuroscientist Li-Huei Tsai of MIT and colleagues saw that mice engineered to produce lots of A-beta don’t produce as many gamma waves in the hippocampus, a brain structure important for memory. Using a method called optogenetics, the researchers genetically designed certain nerve cells in the hippocampus to fire off signals in response to light. In this way, the researchers induced gamma waves — rhythmic firings 40 times per second. After just an hour of forced gamma waves, the mice had less A-beta in the hippocampus, the researchers found. Further experiments revealed that gamma waves packed a double whammy — they lowered A-beta by both reducing production and enhancing the brain’s ability to clear it. © Society for Science & the Public 2000 - 2016

Keyword: Alzheimers
Link ID: 22966 - Posted: 12.08.2016

By Helen Briggs BBC News Humans may in part owe their big brains to a DNA "typo" in their genetic code, research suggests. The mutation was also present in our evolutionary "cousins" - the Neanderthals and Denisovans. However, it is not found in humans' closest living relatives, the chimpanzees. As early humans evolved, they developed larger and more complex brains, which can process and store a lot of information. Last year, scientists pinpointed a human gene that they think was behind the expansion of a key brain region known as the neocortex. They believe the gene arose about five or six million years ago, after the human line had split off from chimpanzees. Now, researchers have found a tiny DNA change - a point mutation - that appears to have changed the function of the gene, sparking the process of expansion of the neocortex. It may have paved the way for the brain's expansion by dramatically boosting the number of brain cells found in this region. Dr Wieland Huttner of the Max Planck Institute of Molecular Cell Biology and Genetics in Dresden, Germany, led the research. "A point mutation in a human-specific gene gave it a function that allows expansion of the relevant stem cells that make a brain big," he told BBC News. "This one, as it is fixed in the human genome - so all living humans have the gene - apparently gave a tremendous selection advantage, and that's why we believe it spread in the human population." Between two and six million years ago, the ancestors of modern humans began to walk upright and use simple tools.

Keyword: Evolution; Genes & Behavior
Link ID: 22965 - Posted: 12.08.2016

Children don’t usually have the words to communicate even the darkest of thoughts. As a result, some children aged 5 to 11 take their own lives. It’s a rare and often overlooked phenomenon—and one that scientists are only just beginning to understand. A study published today in the journal Pediatrics reveals that attention deficit disorder (A.D.D.), not depression, may be the most common mental health diagnosis among children who die by suicide. By contrast, the researchers found that two-thirds of the 606 early adolescents studied (aged 12 to 14) had suffered from depression. While the finding isn’t necessarily causal, it does suggest that impulsive behavior might contribute to incidences of child suicide. Alternatively, some of these cases could be attributed to early-onset bipolar disorder, misdiagnosed as A.D.D. or A.D.H.D. Here’s Catherine Saint Louis, reporting for The New York Times: Suicide prevention has focused on identifying children struggling with depression; the new study provides an early hint that this strategy may not help the youngest suicide victims. “Maybe in young children, we need to look at behavioral markers,” said Jeffrey Bridge, the paper’s senior author and an epidemiologist at the Research Institute at Nationwide Children’s Hospital in Columbus, Ohio. Jill Harkavy-Friedman, the vice president of research at the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, agreed. “Not everybody who is at risk for suicide has depression,” even among adults, said Dr. Harkavy-Friedman, who was not involved in the new research. © 1996-2016 WGBH Educational Foundation

Keyword: ADHD; Depression
Link ID: 22964 - Posted: 12.08.2016

By MATT RICHTEL Soaring use of e-cigarettes among young people “is now a major public health concern,” according to a report being published Thursday from the United States Surgeon General. It is the first comprehensive look on the subject from the nation’s highest public-health authority, and it finds that e-cigarettes are now the most commonly used tobacco product among youths, surpassing tobacco cigarettes. E-cigarettes, which turn nicotine into inhalable vapor, can harm developing brains of teenagers who use them, and also can create harmful aerosol for people around the user, the equivalent of secondhand smoke, the report said, citing studies in animals. “Adolescent brains are particularly sensitive to nicotine’s effects,” and can experience “a constellation of nicotine-induced neural and behavioral alterations,” the report said. It urged stronger action to prevent young people from getting access to e-cigarettes. Some researchers have said that e-cigarette use among youth could act as a gateway to traditional smoking, but the report says the relationship is not yet fully established. Cigarette smoking among youth has fallen sharply in recent years but use of nicotine products over all remains essentially flat among young people. With its focus on youth, the report did not address adult use of e-cigarettes, and the most divisive issue of whether the technology is an effective tool to help smokers of traditional cigarettes quit their deadly habit. The report also did not break new scientific ground, but public health advocates said the voice of the surgeon general in the debate marked a milestone. “It’s the most comprehensive and objective answer to the question of whether e-cigarette use is a matter of serious concern that requires government action,” said Matthew Myers, President of the Campaign for Tobacco Free Kids. “The answer, based on the findings, is: yes.” © 2016 The New York Times Company

Keyword: Drug Abuse; Development of the Brain
Link ID: 22963 - Posted: 12.08.2016

Betsy Mason With virtual reality finally hitting the consumer market this year, VR headsets are bound to make their way onto a lot of holiday shopping lists. But new research suggests these gifts could also give some of their recipients motion sickness — especially if they’re women. In a test of people playing one virtual reality game using an Oculus Rift headset, more than half felt sick within 15 minutes, a team of scientists at the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis reports online December 3 in Experimental Brain Research. Among women, nearly four out of five felt sick. So-called VR sickness, also known as simulator sickness or cybersickness, has been recognized since the 1980s, when the U.S. military noticed that flight simulators were nauseating its pilots. In recent years, anecdotal reports began trickling in about the new generation of head-mounted virtual reality displays making people sick. Now, with VR making its way into people’s homes, there’s a steady stream of claims of VR sickness. “It's a high rate of people that you put in [VR headsets] that are going to experience some level of symptoms,” says Eric Muth, an experimental psychologist at Clemson University in South Carolina with expertise in motion sickness. “It’s going to mute the ‘Wheee!’ factor.” Oculus, which Facebook bought for $2 billion in 2014, released its Rift headset in March. The company declined to comment on the new research but says it has made progress in making the virtual reality experience comfortable for most people, and that developers are getting better at creating VR content. All approved games and apps get a comfort rating based on things like the type of movements involved, and Oculus recommends starting slow and taking breaks. But still some users report getting sick. © Society for Science & the Public 2000 - 2016.

Keyword: Vision
Link ID: 22962 - Posted: 12.07.2016

By Karinna Hurley Autonomy, peer relationships, and parental conflict — these are the universal themes that made the popular 1990s comic Zits identifiable for anyone who has, or has been, a teenager. In one strip, hands in pockets and making a sullen sideways glance, Jeremy slouches next to his father. His t-shirt reads, “question authority.” Next to him, his equally chagrined father sports the t-shirt: “do not question my authority.” While his parents work to steer the 16-year-old in the right direction on his path to adulthood, Jeremy is equally determined to forge his own way. For the most part, their suggestions, pleas, and cajoles, don’t make it past his headphones. Figuring out how to effectively appeal to adolescents was the first challenge facing researchers in a fascinating new study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Their goal was to induce teens to change one critically important behavior — food choice — in a completely novel way. The researchers set-up a scenario where healthy eating itself became an avenue for fighting authority. While such a unique value-based intervention also has the potential to be applicable to other groups and values, it’s hard to find a better place to start in today’s society than healthy eating. One of the major initiatives developed and championed by outgoing First Lady Michelle Obama was aimed at reducing childhood obesity. Because, despite the consequences — heart disease, stroke, diabetes — about one in three American adults and nearly one in five children are obese. Carrying extra weight is harmful to individuals and also costly to society. But changing eating habits, one factor in being overweight, is just plain hard. It is not enough to know the consequences of eating junk food: In movie theaters, on best-seller lists and billboards, the warnings are all around us. Yet, even widespread public health messages and access to kitchen gardens, like on the South Lawn of the White House, have not yet curbed rising obesity levels. © 2016 Scientific American

Keyword: Obesity
Link ID: 22961 - Posted: 12.07.2016

Sometimes the biggest gifts arrive in the most surprising ways. A couple in Singapore, Tianqiao Chen and Chrissy Luo, were watching the news and saw a Caltech scientist help a quadriplegic use his thoughts to control a robotic arm so that — for the first time in more than 10 years — he could sip a drink unaided. Inspired, Chen and Luo flew to Pasadena to meet the scientist, Richard Andersen, in person. Now they’ve given Caltech $115 million to shake up the way scientists study the brain in a new research complex. Construction of the Tianqiao and Chrissy Chen Institute for Neuroscience at Caltech will begin as early as 2018 and bring together biology, engineering, chemistry, physics, computer science and the social sciences to tackle brain function in an integrated, comprehensive way, university officials announced Tuesday. The goal of connecting these traditionally separate departments is to make “transformational advances” that will lead to new scientific tools and medical treatments, the university said. Research in shared labs will include looking more deeply into fundamentals of the brain and exploring the complexities of sensation, perception, cognition and human behavior. Neuroscience research has advanced greatly in recent years, Caltech President Thomas Rosenbaum said. The field now has the tools to look at individual neurons, for example, as well as the computer power to analyze massive data sets and an entire system of neurons. Collaborating across traditional academic boundaries takes it to the next level, he said. “The tools are at a time and place where we think that the field is ready for that sort of combination.”

Keyword: Robotics
Link ID: 22960 - Posted: 12.07.2016

Scientists have developed a mind-controlled robotic hand that allows people with certain types of spinal injuries to perform everyday tasks such as using a fork or drinking from a cup. The low-cost device was tested in Spain on six people with quadriplegia affecting their ability to grasp or manipulate objects. By wearing a cap that measures electric brain activity and eye movement the users were able to send signals to a tablet computer that controlled the glove-like device attached to their hand. Participants in the small-scale study were able to perform daily activities better with the robotic hand than without, according to results published Tuesday in the journal Science Robotics. The principle of using brain-controlled robotic aids to assist people with quadriplegia isn't new. But many existing systems require implants, which can cause health problems, or use wet gel to transmit signals from the scalp to the electrodes. The gel needs to be washed out of the user's hair afterward, making it impractical in daily life. "The participants, who had previously expressed difficulty in performing everyday tasks without assistance, rated the system as reliable and practical, and did not indicate any discomfort during or after use," the researchers said. It took participants just 10 minutes to learn how to use the system before they were able to carry out tasks such as picking up potato chips or signing a document. ©2016 CBC/Radio-Canada.

Keyword: Robotics
Link ID: 22959 - Posted: 12.07.2016

By MARC SANTORA At least four babies have been born in New York City with Zika-related brain developmental symptoms since July, the city’s health department said on Wednesday, bringing the total number of such births to five. The numbers were announced in an alert the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene sent to doctors, urging them to remain vigilant and to continue to warn pregnant women and sexually active women of reproductive age not using a reliable form of birth control against traveling to places where the virus is spreading. It was a reminder that while the threat of the virus may have eased in many places around the world, it still poses a danger and its consequences are likely to be felt for some time. Zika is primarily transmitted by mosquitoes but can also be passed on through sex. In most cases, the virus causes only mild illness, but the danger to women pregnant or trying to become pregnant is much greater, because of the impact the disease can have on fetal development. A small percentage of women with the virus have given birth to infants with a abnormally small heads and stunted brain growth — a condition known as microcephaly. As of Friday, about 8,000 New Yorkers have been tested for Zika and 962 have tested positive, including 325 pregnant women, according to the health department. All the cases were associated with travel; six involved sexual transmission by a partner who had been to the areas hit hardest by the Zika epidemic. © 2016 The New York Times Company

Keyword: Development of the Brain
Link ID: 22958 - Posted: 12.07.2016

A graduate student has been charged with murder in the fatal stabbing of beloved USC neuroscience professor, Bosco Tjan on campus Friday. David Jonathan Brown, 28, of Los Angeles is expected to be arraigned Tuesday in downtown Los Angeles, according to the L.A. County district attorney’s office. If he is convicted, Brown faces up to 26 years to life in prison. Prosecutors allege that Brown used a knife when he attacked and stabbed Tjan in the chest at 4:30 p.m. Friday in his office in the Seeley G. Mudd Building on campus. Brown was immediately taken into custody. It was the last day of classes. Tjan, who joined the faculty in 2001, was a professor of psychology at the USC Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences and a vision loss expert. As co-director of the Dornsife Cognitive Neuroimaging Center, Tjan ran a laboratory devoted to studying human sight. Brown was a doctoral student in Tjan’s lab, according to a USC website. The district attorney’s announcement comes a day after hundreds of students, staff and faculty gathered to honor the slain professor. “Bosco died doing what he loved, doing what he believed in — serving his students and building up a new generation of scholars,” USC President C.L. Max Nikias said. “His achievements are real, his influence enduring.” Tjan led a number of research projects and conducted a lab course on functional imaging. He was also a member of the Society for Neuroscience and Vision Sciences Society.

Keyword: Miscellaneous
Link ID: 22957 - Posted: 12.07.2016

By Michael Price The titular detective of the BBC television series Sherlock possesses a “mind palace”—a highly organized mental catalog of nearly every memory he’s ever had. We mere mortals can’t match Holmes’s remarkable recollection, but when we store and recall memories, our brain activity probably looks a lot like his, according to a new study. The findings might help us find early warning signs of memory loss in diseases like Alzheimer’s. Previous research has found that when people perceive an event for the first time and when they are asked to remember it later, the same brain regions are activated. But whether different people encode the same memory in the same way has been a topic of debate. So scientists turned to Sherlock Holmes for answers. A group led by Janice Chen, a postdoc in the psychology department at Princeton University, and Yuan Chang Leong, a graduate student studying psychology at Stanford University in Palo Alto, California, strapped 22 study participants into a functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) machine, which traces blood flow in the brain to measure brain activity. The scientists then showed them a 48-minute segment of BBC’s Sherlock. (Roughly the first half of the series’s first episode, “A Study in Pink,” for the curious superfans.) Immediately afterward, Chen asked the volunteers to tell her as much about the episode as they could. © 2016 American Association for the Advancement of Science.

Keyword: Learning & Memory
Link ID: 22956 - Posted: 12.06.2016