Chapter 5. Hormones and the Brain

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A whiff of oxytocin may help love not fade away. Researchers asked 20 unmarried men in multiyear relationships to rank the attractiveness of pictures of their partner, acquaintances, and strangers. When the men received a nasal spray of oxytocin—which is released by the body during sexual arousal—they rated their partners more highly but not the other women. MRI scans show that after an oxytocin dose, areas of the brain associated with rewards, which also drive drug addiction, were more active when the men saw pictures of their partner, the researchers report online today in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. The finding could help explain the biological roots of monogamy in humans: Being in a long-term relationship raises a person's oxytocin levels, which in turn increase the psychological reward of spending more time with that person. The cycle, the team concluded, could literally lead to an addiction to one’s lover. © 2013 American Association for the Advancement of Science

Keyword: Hormones & Behavior; Aggression
Link ID: 18971 - Posted: 11.26.2013

By MARY LOU JEPSEN IN my early 30s, for a few months, I altered my body chemistry and hormones so that I was closer to a man in his early 20s. I was blown away by how dramatically my thoughts changed. I was angry almost all the time, thought about sex constantly, and assumed I was the smartest person in the entire world. Over the years I had met guys rather like this. I was not experimenting with hormone levels out of idle curiosity or in some kind of quirky science experiment. I was on hormone treatments because I’d had a tumor removed along with part of my pituitary gland, which makes key hormones the body needs to function. This long journey may have started as early as 1978, when I was 13. I spent a summer in intensive care with an unknown disease. After that summer, I never thought I would live a long life. So I wanted to live, to do interesting, fascinating work in the limited time I thought I had left. I took on the math-intensive art form of holography, and in my early 20s traveled the world, living on university fellowships to pursue this esoteric craft. I didn’t date much, really — perhaps because I didn’t have many hormones, though I didn’t know that at the time. I worked as an artist, played in a band, met Andy Warhol, Christo, Lou Reed and David Byrne. I had fun. But the gravity of my illness grew in the 1990s. The growth that shut down my pituitary gland’s ability to produce hormones did so insidiously over many years. By my early 20s it was, I suspect in retrospect, causing misdiagnosis of symptoms that were most likely caused by lack of hormones like cortisol. No diagnosis was found, despite the efforts of many doctors. I was a doctoral student in electrical engineering at an Ivy League school, but was growing progressively worse. I routinely slept about 20 hours a day, lived with a constant blistering headache and frequent vomiting, and was periodically wheelchair-bound. Large sections of my skin cycled through a rainbow of colors and sores, half of my face wouldn’t move as if Novocain had been applied. I drooled. Worse: I felt stupid. I couldn’t subtract anymore. I couldn’t make a to-do list, let alone accomplish items on one. I recognized that I wasn’t capable of continuing in graduate school. Utterly defeated, I filled out the paperwork to drop out. © 2013 The New York Times Company

Keyword: Hormones & Behavior; Aggression
Link ID: 18969 - Posted: 11.25.2013

By NATASHA SINGER One afternoon a few months ago, a 45-year-old sales representative named Mike called “The Dr. Harry Fisch Show,” a weekly men’s health program on the Howard Stern channel on Sirius XM Radio, where no male medical or sexual issue goes unexplored. “I feel like a 70-year-old man in a 45-year-old body,” Mike, from Vancouver, British Columbia, told Dr. Fisch on the live broadcast. “I want to feel good. I don’t want to feel tired all day.” A regular listener, Mike had heard Dr. Fisch, a Park Avenue urologist and fertility specialist, talk about a phenomenon called “low testosterone” or “low T.” Dr. Fisch likes to say that a man’s testosterone level is “the dipstick” of his health; he regularly appears on programs like “CBS This Morning” to talk about the malaise that may coincide with low testosterone. He is also the medical expert featured on IsItLowT.com, an informational website sponsored by AbbVie, the drug maker behind AndroGel, the best-selling prescription testosterone gel. Like many men who have seen that site or commercials or online quizzes about “low T,” Mike suspected that diminished testosterone was the cause of his lethargy. And he hoped, as the marketing campaigns seem to suggest, that taking a prescription testosterone drug would make him feel more energetic. “I took your advice and I went and got my testosterone checked,” Mike told Dr. Fisch. Mike’s own physician, he related, told him that his testosterone “was a little low” and prescribed a testosterone medication. Mike also said he had diabetes and high blood pressure and was 40 pounds overweight. Dr. Fisch explained that conditions like obesity might be accompanied by decreased testosterone and energy, and he urged Mike to exercise more and to lose weight. But if Mike had trouble overhauling his diet and exercise habits, Dr. Fisch said, taking testosterone might give him the boost he needed to do so. “If it gives you more energy to exercise,” Dr. Fisch said of the testosterone drug, “I’m all for it.” © 2013 The New York Times Company

Keyword: Hormones & Behavior; Aggression
Link ID: 18968 - Posted: 11.25.2013

By Rahul K. Parikh, The message showed up on my desk one day while I was seeing a patient. Its choppy shorthand read: “Admits to injecting testosterone. Now decreased libido. Call back to discuss.” The caller was a 15-year-old lacrosse player who hadn’t been part of my practice long. Like many boys in his age group, he rarely came to the office. When I responded to his message later that afternoon, the young man carried his end of the conversation with the typical terseness of a teenager. “Where did you get the steroids?” I asked. “On the Internet.” “How long did you use them?” “A few months.” “And what are you experiencing now?” He told me his nipples were sore and swollen. “I’ve been more tired and moody as well.” My patient was experiencing classic side effects of steroid use. About 6 percent of teenagers admit to using performance-enhancing drugs, according to a recent survey, though it’s easy to assume that that number is low. How many teens would admit to using such drugs, even anonymously to a researcher? And yet here was one teen, forced by the drug’s side effect, having to make an embarrassing confession to me and his family. (Details of this case have been altered to protect patient privacy.) Despite my patient’s fear, I was confident that a young, healthy teenager who briefly used steroids would bounce back, though it might take some time — and patience — for his symptoms to dissipate. When I explained this to my patient, he told me that he wanted his testosterone level tested, to make sure there wasn’t something more seriously wrong. I got the sense that he thought there was some way I could magically undo the harm he had caused himself. I paused and considered his request, which came across more like an order. © 1996-2013 The Washington Post

Keyword: Hormones & Behavior; Aggression
Link ID: 18947 - Posted: 11.20.2013

Research indicates that indeed Americans girls and boys are going through puberty earlier than ever, though the reasons are unclear. Many believe our widespread exposure to synthetic chemicals is at least partly to blame, but it’s hard to pinpoint exactly why our bodies react in certain ways to various environmental stimuli. Researchers first noticed the earlier onset of puberty in the late 1990s, and recent studies confirm the mysterious public health trend. A 2012 analysis by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) found that American girls exposed to high levels of common household chemicals had their first periods seven months earlier than those with lower exposures. “This study adds to the growing body of scientific research that exposure to environmental chemicals may be associated with early puberty,” says Danielle Buttke, a researcher at CDC and lead author on the study. Buttke found that the age when a girl has her first period (menarche) has fallen over the past century from an average of age 16-17 to age 12-13. Earlier puberty isn’t just for girls. In 2012 researchers from the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) surveyed data on 4,100 boys from 144 pediatric practices in 41 states and found a similar trend: American boys are reaching puberty six months to two years earlier than just a few decades ago. African-American boys are starting the earliest, at around age nine, while Caucasian and Hispanics start on average at age 10. One culprit could be rising obesity rates. Researchers believe that puberty (at least for girls) may be triggered in part by the body building up sufficient reserves of fat tissue, signaling fitness for reproductive capabilities. Clinical pediatrician Robert Lustig of Benioff Children’s Hospital in San Francisco reports that obese girls have higher levels of the hormone leptin which in and of itself can lead to early puberty while setting off a domino effect of more weight gain and faster overall physical maturation. © 2013 Scientific American,

Keyword: Development of the Brain; Aggression
Link ID: 18814 - Posted: 10.21.2013

By ELISABETH ROSENTHAL The barrage of advertisements targets older men. “Have you noticed a recent deterioration of your ability to play sports?” “Do you have a decrease in sex drive?” “Do you have a lack of energy?” If so, the ads warn, you should “talk to your doctor about whether you have low testosterone” — “Low T,” as they put it. In the view of many physicians, that is in large part an invented condition. Last year, drug makers in the United States spent $3.47 billion on advertising directly to consumers, according to FiercePharma.com. And while ever-present ads like those from AbbVie Pharmaceuticals have buoyed sales of testosterone gels, that may be bad for patients as well as the United States’ $2.7 trillion annual health care bill, experts say. Sales of prescription testosterone gels that are absorbed through the skin generated over $2 billion in American sales last year, a number that is expected to more than double by 2017. Abbott Laboratories — which owned AbbVie until Jan. 1 — spent $80 million advertising its version, AndroGel, last year. Once a niche treatment for people suffering from hormonal deficiencies caused by medical problems like endocrine tumors or the disruptive effects of chemotherapy, the prescription gels are increasingly being sold as lifestyle products, to raise dipping levels of the male sex hormone as men age. “The market for testosterone gels evolved because there is an appetite among men and because there is advertising,” said Dr. Joel Finkelstein, an associate professor at Harvard Medical School who is studying male hormone changes with aging. “The problem is that no one has proved that it works and we don’t know the risks.” © 2013 The New York Times Company

Keyword: Hormones & Behavior; Aggression
Link ID: 18790 - Posted: 10.16.2013

By DENISE GRADY Hormone therapy for menopause is one of the most divisive subjects in medicine, hailed by some as a boon to women’s comfort and well-being, vilified by others as a threat to health. A new analysis finds truth somewhere in the middle, reaffirming previous warnings that the drugs have more risks than benefits for most women — but also stating that the harms are low early in menopause and that hormones are “appropriate for symptom management in some women.” Dr. JoAnn E. Manson, the first author of the analysis and a professor of medicine at Harvard’s medical school, said in an interview that the findings “should not be used as a basis for denying women treatment if they’re in early menopause and have significant distressing symptoms.” The new report, published on Tuesday in The Journal of the American Medical Association, is based on long-term data from the Women’s Health Initiative, a large, federally funded study that turned medical thinking on its head a decade ago by uncovering the risks of hormones. The new report is the first to include extended follow-up data from the original health initiative study, an additional six to eight years’ worth of information on about 80 percent of the original participants. They took a combination of estrogen and progesterone, estrogen alone or placebos for several years. For combined hormones, for every 10,000 women taking the drugs, the new analysis found that there were six additional instances of heart problems, nine more strokes, nine more blood clots in the lungs and nine more cases of breast cancer. On the benefit side, there were six fewer cases of colorectal cancer, one fewer case of uterine cancer, six fewer hip fractures and one fewer death. Most of the effects wore off once the drugs were stopped, but the risk of breast cancer remained slightly elevated. © 2013 The New York Times Company

Keyword: Hormones & Behavior
Link ID: 18733 - Posted: 10.02.2013

Mark Peplow Hormone-disrupting chemicals may be far more prevalent in lakes and rivers than previously thought. Environmental scientists have discovered that although these compounds are often broken down by sunlight, they can regenerate at night, returning to life like zombies. “The assumption is that if it’s gone, we don’t have to worry about it,” says environmental engineer Edward Kolodziej of the University of Nevada in Reno, joint leader of the study. “But we’re under-predicting their environmental persistence.” “Risk assessments have been built on the basis that light exposure is enough to break down these products,” adds Laura Vandenberg, an endocrinologist at the University of Massachusetts in Amherst who was not involved in the study. “This work undermines that idea completely.” Endocrine disruptors — pollutants that unbalance hormone systems — are known to harm fish, and there is growing evidence linking them to health problems in humans, including infertility and various cancers1. But pinpointing specific culprits from the vast array of trace chemicals in the environment has proved difficult. Indeed, concentrations of known endocrine disruptors in rivers often seem to be too low to explain harmful effects in aquatic wildlife, says Kolodziej. He and his colleague David Cwiertny, an environmental engineer at the University of Iowa in Iowa City, decided to find out whether the breakdown products of endocrine disruptors could be boosting their environmental impact. Their team focused on trenbolone acetate, a synthetic anabolic steroid used as a growth promoter in more than 20 million cattle in the United States each year (this practice is banned in the European Union). © 2013 Nature Publishing Group

Keyword: Hormones & Behavior; Aggression
Link ID: 18711 - Posted: 09.28.2013

Sarah Zhang Fathers with smaller testes are more involved in child care, and their brains are also more responsive when looking at photos of their own children, according to research published online today in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences1. Evolutionary biologists have long observed a trade-off in male primates between mating efforts to produce more offspring and the time males spend caring for their progeny. For instance, male chimpanzees, which are especially promiscuous, sport testes that are twice as big as those of humans, make a lot of sperm and generally do not provide paternal care. By contrast, male gorillas have relatively small testes and protect their young. The latest study suggests that humans, whose paternal care varies widely, show evidence of both approaches. The analysis1 incorporates measures of testicular volume, brain activity and paternal behaviour, notes Peter Gray, an anthropologist at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, who was not involved in the study. “We’ve got something that pulls those strands together, and it does so in a really interesting way.” The research team — led by James Rilling, an anthropologist at Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia — set out to investigate why some fathers are more involved in child care than others. The researchers recruited 70 fathers of children aged between one and two years, and scanned the men’s brains and testes in a magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) machine. The fathers and the children's mothers also filled out surveys rating the fathers' commitment to child care. © 2013 Nature Publishing Group

Keyword: Sexual Behavior; Aggression
Link ID: 18629 - Posted: 09.10.2013

The Associated Press The biggest study of its kind suggests autism might be linked with inducing and speeding up labour, preliminary findings that need investigating since labour is induced in increasing numbers of U.S. women, the authors and other autism experts say. It's possible that labour-inducing drugs might increase the risk — or that the problems that lead doctors to start labour explain the results. These include mothers' diabetes and fetal complications, which have previously been linked with autism. There is a growing consensus that risks for autism occur before birth or soon after.There is a growing consensus that risks for autism occur before birth or soon after. (Veejay Villafranca/Getty ) Like most research into autism causes, the study doesn't provide conclusive answers, and the authors say the results shouldn't lead doctors to avoid inducing labour or speeding it up since it can be life-saving for mothers and babies. Simon Gregory, lead author and an associate professor of medicine and medical genetics at Duke University, emphasized, "We haven't found a connection for cause and effect. One of the things we need to look at is why they were being induced in the first place." Government data suggest 1 in 5 U.S. women have labour induced — twice as many as in 1990. Smaller studies suggested a possible tie between induced labour and autism, but the new research is the largest to date, involving more than 600,000 births. The government-funded study was published online Monday in JAMA Pediatrics. © CBC 2013

Keyword: Autism; Aggression
Link ID: 18503 - Posted: 08.14.2013

by Sarah C. P. Williams Researchers think they've hit on why a common obesity gene causes weight gain: Those who carry a version of it don't feel full after eating and take in extra calories. That's because the variant of the FTO gene in question, which one in six individuals carry, leads to higher levels of ghrelin, a hormone involved in mediating appetite and the body's response to food, researchers have discovered. While most studies on FTO have relied on mice, the new work analyzed blood samples and brain scans from humans. "This is a very exciting piece of research," says geneticist Andrew Hattersley of the Peninsula Medical School in Exeter, U.K., who was not involved in the new study. "There is a lot of work that's been done on the mechanism of FTO in animals, but you have to be careful about applying those lessons to people. So it's nice to finally see work done in humans." Hattersley was part of a team that in 2007 reported that people who had one version of the FTO gene, called AA, weighed an average of 3 kilograms more than those with the TT version of the gene. Since then, studies in mice have shown that in everyone, there are high levels of the FTO protein in brain areas that control energy balance. Researchers have also found that animals with the AA version tend to eat more and prefer high-fat food compared with those with the TT version. But why FTO had this effect wasn't known. © 2010 American Association for the Advancement of Science.

Keyword: Obesity; Aggression
Link ID: 18381 - Posted: 07.16.2013

Melatonin is marketed as a natural sleep aid but it's potentially risky for healthy children to use long term, Canadian pediatricians say. Difficulties settling, falling asleep and staying asleep affect up to 25 per cent of children generally and up to half of those with physical and mental health problems, according to the Canadian Sleep Society. Melatonin is a hormone of darkness that is part of the sleep cycle. People can buy melatonin supplements at pharmacies and health food stores to overcome jet lag or occasional insomnia. But long-term use by healthy, developing children isn't advised, said Dr. Shelly Weiss, a neurologist at the Hospital for Sick Children in Toronto, who is studying the use of melatonin supplements for improving sleep in children with epilepsy. "It's being touted as this magic pill," said Weiss. "There's definitely concern that people are going to use it more widely and not appreciate that their child can learn to sleep better without a hormone being given." Melatonin supplements contain between 25 to 50 times as much melatonin as the body makes at night, Weiss noted. "There's definitely potential risk, mostly to delayed puberty or delayed development in children who have taken it for a long time," said Weiss, who is also president of the Canadian Sleep Society and an associate professor at the University of Toronto. © CBC 2013

Keyword: Sleep; Aggression
Link ID: 18354 - Posted: 07.08.2013

A randomized clinical trial of estrogen therapy in younger postmenopausal women, aged 50–55, has found no long-term risk or benefit to cognitive function. The National Institutes of Health-supported study, reported in JAMA Internal Medicine on June 24, 2013, looked at women taking conjugated equine estrogens, the most common type of postmenopausal hormone therapy in the United States. The earlier Women’s Health Initiative Memory Study (WHIMS) linked the same type of hormone therapy to cognitive decline and dementia in older postmenopausal women. The new findings come from the Women’s Health Initiative Memory Study of Younger Women (WHIMSY) trial and were reported by Mark A. Espeland, Ph.D., Wake Forest School of Medicine, Winston-Salem, N.C., on behalf of the academic research centers involved in the study. The study was funded primarily by the National Institute on Aging (NIA), along with the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI), both components of the NIH. “The WHIMS study found that estrogen-based postmenopausal hormone therapy produced deficits in cognitive function and increased risk for dementia when prescribed to women 65 and older,” said NIA Director Richard J. Hodes, M.D. “Researchers leading the WHIMSY study wanted to expand on those results by exploring the possibility of a window of opportunity whereby hormone therapy might promote or preserve brain health when given to younger women.” “In contrast to findings in older postmenopausal women, this study tells women that taking these types of estrogen-based hormone therapies for a relatively short period of time in their early postmenopausal years may not put them at increased risk for cognitive decline over the long term,” said Susan Resnick, Ph.D., chief of the Laboratory of Behavioral Neuroscience, in NIA’s Intramural Research Program and a co-author of the study. “Further, it is important to note that we did not find any cognitive benefit after long-term follow-up.”

Keyword: Hormones & Behavior; Aggression
Link ID: 18310 - Posted: 06.25.2013

By Brigid Schulte, Unlike the male pundits, politicians and even financiers who’ve opined freely recently about what they consider “natural” roles for mothers and fathers, with mom at home and dad at work, behavioral neuroscientist Kelly Lambert’s methodical approach has led her to a much more complicated conclusion. From her perch at Randolph-Macon College in rural Ashland, Va., Lambert has spent years designing elaborate experiments to test nurturing in both male and female rodents. She anesthetizes the animals, carefully removes their brains, firms the brains up with formalin, freezes them, then shaves them into slices thinner than a strand of human hair to study under a microscope. What Lambert’s rodent brain slices are revealing is nothing short of revolutionary, challenging the loud pundits and long-held cultural views that only mothers are wired for nurture. Lambert, one of a small but growing number of scientists who study the biology of father behavior, is finding that not just mothers experience surges of hormones associated with bonding and nurturing. The same hormones increase, though not to the same degree, in fathers. Rat mothers are not the only ones whose brains become sharper, making them more efficient foragers and more courageous and level-headed than females without offspring. Lambert has found that the same is true of fathers’ brains. Fatherhood makes the male California deer mouse smarter, too. © 1996-2013 The Washington Post

Keyword: Sexual Behavior; Aggression
Link ID: 18282 - Posted: 06.17.2013

By Breanna Draxler Is it a coincidence that the word vole is an anagram of love? Probably so, but since prairie voles mate for life, they have since been designated as the unofficial species used to study monogamy in lab animals. And a new study finds that their rare partnerships are cemented by chemical changes on their genes, called epigenetic changes, that result from their sexual encounters. When a prairie vole (Microtus ochrogaster) finds a mate, the two form a strong bond. Not only do they stay together for life and share child care duties, but the lovers will guard their mates aggressively against voles of the opposite sex. Scientists knew from previous studies that this bonding was regulated by neurotransmitters—chemical communicators in the brain such as oxytocin, which is linked to sex and reproduction, and vasopressin, associated with social recognition. However researchers were unsure what the biological basis was for such a sharp behavioral shift after mating. To find out, scientists at Florida State University paired up virgin male and female voles and gave the couples a cage together for a number of hours. Some couples were allowed to mate while others were prevented from doing so. The non-mating female voles instead received drug injections in the nucleus accumbens, a part of the brain’s pleasure center. The drugs affected the voles’ epigenetics by unwinding their DNA so that genes for vasopressin and oxytocin receptors were more highly transcribed.

Keyword: Sexual Behavior; Aggression
Link ID: 18237 - Posted: 06.06.2013

A patient at the Kwong Wah and Queen Elizabeth Hospitals discovered he was also a woman when he came for treatment for a swelling abdomen. Photo: Nora Tam A 66-year-old apparently male patient made a stunning discovery when he sought treatment for swelling in his abdomen. The swelling was a cyst on his ovary and he was in fact a woman. The condition was caused by a very rare combination of two genetic disorders. One, Turner syndrome, causes women to lack some female features, including the ability to get pregnant. Sufferers usually look like women, but in this case the patient also had congenital adrenal hyperplasia (CAH), which boosted the male hormones and made the patient look like a man. The case was reported by doctors from Kwong Wah Hospital and Queen Elizabeth Hospital, who treated the patient. It was published in the Hong Kong Medical Journal yesterday. "The patient, by definition, is a woman who cannot get pregnant. But she also has CAH, which gave her the appearance of a man," Chinese University paediatrics professor Ellis Hon Kam-lun said. "It's an interesting and very rare case of having the two combinations. It probably won't be seen again in the near future." The 66-year-old Vietnam-born Chinese man is an orphan. He has a beard, small penis and no testes. Just 1.37 metres tall, he has decided to continue perceiving himself as a male and may receive male hormone treatment, the report said. © 2013 South China Morning Post Publishers Ltd

Keyword: Sexual Behavior; Aggression
Link ID: 18236 - Posted: 06.06.2013

By ANAHAD O'CONNOR The number of middle-aged men with prescriptions for testosterone is climbing rapidly, raising concerns that increasing numbers of men are abusing the powerful hormone to boost their libidos and feel younger, researchers reported on Monday. Testosterone replacement therapy is approved specifically for the treatment of abnormally low testosterone levels, a condition called hypogonadism. The hormone helps build muscle, reduce body fat and improve sex drive. But a study published in the journal JAMA Internal Medicine found that many men who get prescriptions for the hormone have no evidence of a deficiency at all. The new study is the largest of testosterone prescribing patterns to date, involving nearly 11 million men who were tracked through a large health insurer. The report showed that the number of older and middle-aged men prescribed the hormone has tripled since 2001. Men in their 40s represent the fastest-growing group of users. About half of men prescribed testosterone had a diagnosis of hypogonadism, and roughly 40 percent had erectile or sexual dysfunction. One third had a diagnosis of fatigue. The medical group that sets clinical guidelines for testosterone replacement therapy, the Endocrine Society, recommends treatment only in men who have unequivocally low testosterone levels. That finding requires a blood test. But the new report found that a quarter of men did not have their levels tested before they received the hormone. It was also unclear what proportion of men who did undergo testing actually had results showing a deficiency. Copyright 2013 The New York Times Company

Keyword: Hormones & Behavior
Link ID: 18228 - Posted: 06.04.2013

Zoe Cormier Love really does change your brain — at least, if you’re a prairie vole. Researchers have shown for the first time that the act of mating induces permanent chemical modifications in the chromosomes, affecting the expression of genes that regulate sexual and monogamous behaviour. The study is published today in Nature Neuroscience1. Prairie voles (Microtus ochrogaster) have long been of interest to neuroscientists and endocrinologists who study the social behaviour of animals, in part because this species forms monogamous pair bonds — essentially mating for life. The voles' pair bonding, sharing of parental roles and egalitarian nest building in couples makes them a good model for understanding the biology of monogamy and mating in humans. Previous studies have shown that the neurotransmitters oxytocin and vasopressin play a major part in inducing and regulating the formation of the pair bond. Monogamous prairie voles are known to have higher levels of receptors for these neurotransmitters than do voles who have yet to mate; and when otherwise promiscuous montane voles (M. montanus) are dosed with oxytocin and vasopressin, they adopt the monogamous behaviour of their prairie cousins. Because behaviour seemed to play an active part in changing the neurobiology of the animals, scientists suspected that epigenetic factors were involved. These are chemical modifications to the chromosomes that affect how genes are transcribed or suppressed, as opposed to changes in the gene sequences themselves. © 2013 Nature Publishing Group

Keyword: Sexual Behavior; Aggression
Link ID: 18221 - Posted: 06.03.2013

By Scicurious Aging happens. As you get older, your body slows down, eventually your brain slows down, too. Some things go gradually, and some go suddenly. To many people, this might seem like a pretty random process. We used to think of aging this way, as just…well cells get old, which means we get old, too. DNA replication after a while starts making errors in repair, the errors build up, and on the whole body scale the whole thing just kind of goes downhill. It seems random. But in fact, it’s not. There are specific proteins which can help control this process. And one of these, NF-kB, in one particular brain region, may have a very important role indeed. NF-kB (which stands for nuclear factor kappa-light-chain-enhancer of activated B cells, which is why we use NF-kB) is a protein complex that has a lot of roles to play. It’s an important starting player in the immune system, where it helps to stimulate antibodies. It’s important in memory and stress responses. NF-kB is something called a transcription factor, which helps to control what DNA is transcribed to RNA, and therefore what proteins will eventually be produced. Transcription factors, as you can see, can have a very large number of functions. But in the hypothalamus, NF-kB may have the added function of helping to control aging. The hypothalamus is an area of many small nuclei (further sub areas of neurons) located at the base of the brain. It’s been coming more and more into vogue lately among neuroscientists. In the past, we were interested in the hypothalamus mostly for its role in controlling hormone release from the dangling pituitary gland before it, but now we are learning that the hypothalamus can play roles in fear, mood, food intake, reproduction, and now…aging. © 2013 Scientific American

Keyword: Development of the Brain; Aggression
Link ID: 18152 - Posted: 05.14.2013

Jo Marchant People with genes that make it tough for them to engage socially with others seem to be better than average at hypnotizing themselves. A study published today in Psychoneuroendocrinology1 concludes that such individuals are particularly good at becoming absorbed in their own internal world, and might also be more susceptible to other distortions of reality. Psychologist Richard Bryant of the University of New South Wales in Sydney and his colleagues tested the hypnotizability of volunteers with different forms of the receptor for oxytocin, a hormone that increases trust and social bonding. (Oxytocin's association with emotional attachment also earned it the nickname of 'love hormone'.) Those with gene variants linked to social detachment and autism were found to be most susceptible to hypnosis. Hypnosis has intrigued scientists since the nineteenth-century physician James Braid used it to alleviate pain in a variety of medical conditions, but it has never been fully understood. Hypnotized people can undergo a range of unusual experiences, including amnesia, anaesthesia and the loss of the ability to move their limbs. But some individuals are more affected by hypnosis than others — and no one knows why. Hormones and hypnotism How susceptible someone is to persuasion is an important factor in how easily they can be hypnotized by someone else. Bryant and his colleagues have previously shown that spraying a shot of oxytocin up people’s noses makes them more hypnotizable, and more likely to engage in potentially embarrassing activities such as swearing or dancing at a hypnotist’s suggestion. © 2013 Nature Publishing Group,

Keyword: Hormones & Behavior; Aggression
Link ID: 18052 - Posted: 04.20.2013