Chapter 5. The Sensorimotor System
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Dr. Mark Saleh Bell's palsy is a neurological condition frequently seen in emergency rooms and medical offices. Symptoms consist of weakness involving all muscles on one side of the face. About 40,000 cases occur annually in the United States. Men and women are equally affected, and though it can occur at any age, people in their 40s are especially vulnerable. The facial weakness that occurs in Bell's palsy prevents the eye of the affected side from blinking properly and causes the mouth to droop. Because the eyelid doesn't close sufficiently, the eye can dry and become irritated. Bell's palsy symptoms progress fairly rapidly, with weakness usually occurring within three days. If the progression of weakness is more gradual and extends beyond a week, Bell's palsy may not be the problem, and other potential causes should be investigated. Those with certain medical conditions, such as diabetes or pregnancy, are at greater risk of developing Bell's palsy, and those who have had one episode have an 8 percent chance of recurrence. Bell's palsy is thought to occur when the seventh cranial (facial) nerve becomes inflamed. The nerve controls the muscles involved in facial expression and is responsible for other functions, including taste perception, eye tearing and salivation. The cause of the inflammation is unknown, although the herpes simplex virus and autoimmune inflammation are possible causes. © 2014 Hearst Communications, Inc.
Keyword: Movement Disorders
Link ID: 19637 - Posted: 05.20.2014
Katia Moskvitch The hundreds of suckers on an octopus’s eight arms leech reflexively to almost anything they come into contact with — but never grasp the animal itself, even though an octopus does not always know what its arms are doing. Today, researchers reveal that the animal’s skin produces a chemical that stops the octopus’s suckers from grabbing hold of its own body parts, and getting tangled up. “Octopus arms have a built-in mechanism that prevents the suckers from grabbing octopus skin,” says neuroscientist Guy Levy at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, the lead author of the work, which appears today in Current Biology1. It is the first demonstration of a chemical self-recognition mechanism in motor control, and could help scientists to build better bio-inspired soft robots. To find out just how an octopus avoids latching onto itself, Levy and his colleagues cut off an octopus’s arm and subjected it to a series of tests. (The procedure is not considered traumatic, says Levy, because octopuses occasionally lose an arm in nature and behave normally while the limb regenerates.) The severed arms remained active for more than an hour after amputation, firmly grabbing almost any object, with three exceptions: the former host; any other live octopus; and other amputated arms. “But when we peeled the skin off an amputated arm and submitted it to another amputated arm, we were surprised to see that it grabbed the skinned arm as any other item,” says co-author Nir Nesher, also a neuroscientist at the Hebrew University. © 2014 Nature Publishing Group,
Link ID: 19623 - Posted: 05.15.2014
By KATIE THOMAS Almost overnight, a powerful new painkiller has become a $100 million business and a hot Wall Street story. But nearly as quickly, questions are emerging about how the drug is being sold, and to whom. The drug, Subsys, is a form of fentanyl, a narcotic that is often used when painkillers like morphine fail to provide relief. The product was approved in 2012 for a relatively small number of people — cancer patients — but has since become an outsize moneymaker for the obscure company that makes it, Insys Therapeutics. In the last year, the company’s sales have soared and its share price has jumped nearly 270 percent. Behind that business success is an unusual marketing machine that may have pushed Subsys far beyond the use envisioned by the Food and Drug Administration. The F.D.A. approved Subsys only for cancer patients who are already using round-the-clock painkillers, and warned that it should be prescribed only by oncologists and pain specialists. But just 1 percent of prescriptions are written by oncologists, according to data provided by Symphony Health, which analyzes drug trends. About half of the prescriptions were written by pain specialists, and a wide range of doctors prescribed the rest, including general practice physicians, neurologists and even dentists and podiatrists. Interviews with several former Insys sales representatives suggest the company, based in Chandler, Ariz., has aggressively marketed the painkiller, including to physicians who did not treat many cancer patients and by paying its sales force higher commissions for selling higher doses of the drug. Under F.D.A. rules, manufacturers may market prescription drugs only for approved uses. But doctors may prescribe drugs as they see fit. Over the last decade, pharmaceutical companies have paid billions of dollars to settle claims that they encouraged doctors to use drugs for nonapproved treatments, or so-called off-label uses, to increase sales and profits. © 2014 The New York Times Compan
By Suzanne Allard Levingston, Playing with bubble wrap is a silly activity that delights most preschoolers. But for one 21 / 2-year-old from Silver Spring, loud noises such as the pop of plastic bubbles were so upsetting that he would cover his ears and run away. Some days the sound of a vacuum cleaner would make him scream. The child so persistently avoided activities with too much noise and motion that his preschool’s administrators asked to meet with his family — and soon an assessment led to a diagnosis of sensory processing disorder, or SPD. SPD is a clinical label for people who have abnormal behavioral responses to sensory input such as sound and touch. Some children with SPD seem oversensitive to ordinary stimuli such as a shirt label’s scratching their skin. Others can be underresponsive — seemingly unaffected by the prick of a needle. A third group have motor problems that make holding a pencil or riding a bike seem impossible. Whatever the difficulty, such kids are often described as “out-of-sync,” a term popularized by Carol Stock Kranowitz’s 1998 book “The Out-of-Sync Child,” which has sold nearly 700,000 copies. As many as 16 percent of school-age kids in the United States may face sensory processing challenges. And yet there’s debate over whether these challenges constitute a discrete medical disorder. Some experts contend that SPD may be merely a symptom of some other ailment — autism, attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder, anxiety disorder or fragile X syndrome, for example — while others insist it is a separate condition that should be labeled a disorder when it interferes with daily life. The debate over how to classify SPD is not merely matter of semantics. Such discussions can affect research funding and can guide whether insurers will reimburse therapy costs. © 1996-2014 The Washington Post
By BARRY MEIER Four years and a lifetime ago, a new war began for Sgt. Shane Savage. On Sept. 3, 2010, the armored truck he was commanding near Kandahar, Afghanistan, was blown apart by a roadside bomb. His head hit the ceiling so hard that his helmet cracked. His left foot was pinned against the dashboard, crushing 24 bones. Sergeant Savage came home eight days later, at age 27, with the signature injuries of the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan: severe concussion, post-traumatic stress and chronic pain. Doctors at Fort Hood in Killeen, Tex., did what doctors across the nation do for millions of ordinary Americans: They prescribed powerful narcotic painkillers. What followed was a familiar arc of abuse and dependence and despair. At one point, Sergeant Savage was so desperate that he went into the bathroom and began swallowing narcotic tablets. He would have died had his wife, Hilary, not burst through the door. Today Sergeant Savage has survived, even prevailed, through grit, his family and a radical experiment in managing pain without narcotics. When off-duty, he pulls on cowboy boots and plays with his children, does charity work and, as part of a therapy program, rides horses. The only medication he takes for pain is Celebrex, a non-narcotic drug. “You have to find alternative ways to get out and do stuff to stay active, to get your brain off the thought process of ‘I’m in pain,’ ” said Sergeant Savage, whose ears push out from under a Texas A&M baseball cap. The story of Sergeant Savage illuminates an effort by experts inside and outside the military to change how chronic, or long-term, pain is treated. By some estimates, tens of millions of Americans suffer from chronic pain, and the use of opioids — drugs like hydrocodone, methadone and oxycodone (the active ingredient in painkillers like OxyContin) — to treat such conditions has soared over the last decade. © 2014 The New York Times Company
Jessica Morrison Interference from electronics and AM radio signals can disrupt the internal magnetic compasses of migratory birds, researchers report today in Nature1. The work raises the possibility that cities have significant effects on bird migration patterns. Decades of experiments have shown that migratory birds can orient themselves on migration paths using internal compasses guided by Earth's magnetic field. But until now, there has been little evidence that electromagnetic radiation created by humans affects the process. Like most biologists studying magnetoreception, report co-author Henrik Mouritsen used to work at rural field sites far from cities teeming with electromagnetic noise. But in 2002, he moved to the University of Oldenburg, in a German city of around 160,000 people. As part of work to identify the part of the brain in which compass information is processed, he kept migratory European robins (Erithacus rubecula) inside wooden huts — a standard procedure that allows researchers to investigate magnetic navigation while being sure that the birds are not getting cues from the Sun or stars. But he found that on the city campus, the birds could not orient themselves in their proper migratory direction. “I tried all kinds of stuff to make it work, and I couldn’t make it work,” Mouritsen says, “until one day we screened the wooden hut with aluminium.” Mouritsen and his colleagues covered the huts with aluminium plates and electrically grounded them to cut out electromagnetic noise in frequencies ranging from 50 kilohertz to 5 megahertz — which includes the range used for AM radio transmissions. The shielding reduced the intensity of the noise by about two orders of magnitude. Under those conditions, the birds were able to orient themselves. © 2014 Nature Publishing Group,
Keyword: Animal Migration
Link ID: 19590 - Posted: 05.08.2014
by Susan Milius Sometimes called the unicorn of the sea, the male narwhal’s tusk is actually a tooth, and it grows directly through the whale’s upper lip instead of pushing the lip aside. It’s an exuberantly large version of a canine tooth that grows in a spiral; the only tooth known to do so. Otherwise narwhals are practically toothless, with only vestigial stubs that stop growing during development and rarely emerge into the mouth. This extreme anatomy has captivated dentist Martin Nweeia, who practices in Connecticut and teaches at Harvard University. For more than a decade, he has pioneered ways to study these difficult-to-reach Arctic whales, and he and his colleagues now describe in the April Anatomical Record that narwhals can detect changes in water salinity using only their tusks. The animals “don’t have a good sense of humor,” though, about being temporarily restrained for the testing, Nweeia says. © Society for Science & the Public 2000 - 2013
Keyword: Pain & Touch
Link ID: 19571 - Posted: 05.05.2014
by Lisa Grossman Hasta la vista, nerve damage. Experiments with bullfrog nerves show that a Terminator-style liquid metal alloy could one day be placed in the body to help severed nerves reconnect. The alloy would stay in place until the nerve has healed, before being slurped back out with a syringe. The peripheral nervous system consists of nerves that carry electrical signals from the brain to the rest of the body. Because they aren't protected by the spine or the skull, peripheral nerves are more vulnerable to injuries than those in the central nervous system. Severed nerves can reconnect if treated quickly enough, but at a rate of just 1 millimetre per day. Also, existing methodsMovie Camera for grafting nerve ends back together have serious shortcomings. For instance, most existing scaffolds for grafts must ultimately be removed, requiring risky follow-up surgery. Even more worrisome, if the nerves don't pass signals to muscles during the healing process, the muscles can atrophy to the point where they never fully recover. Liu and his colleagues wondered if liquid metal could act as a backup system for damaged nerves, helping signals pass through a graft while the nerve healed. They used an alloy of gallium, indium and selenium, which is a very good electrical conductor. The alloy is liquid at room temperature, allowing it to be removed with a syringe when it's no longer needed. © Copyright Reed Business Information Ltd.
By JAN HOFFMAN How well can computers interact with humans? Certainly computers play a mean game of chess, which requires strategy and logic, and “Jeopardy!,” in which they must process language to understand the clues read by Alex Trebek (and buzz in with the correct question). But in recent years, scientists have striven for an even more complex goal: programming computers to read human facial expressions. We all know what it’s like to experience pain that makes our faces twist into a grimace. But can you tell if someone else’s face of pain is real or feigned? The practical applications could be profound. Computers could supplement or even replace lie detectors. They could be installed at border crossings and airport security checks. They could serve as diagnostic aids for doctors. Researchers at the University of California, San Diego, have written software that not only detected whether a person’s face revealed genuine or faked pain, but did so far more accurately than human observers. While other scientists have already refined a computer’s ability to identify nuances of smiles and grimaces, this may be the first time a computer has triumphed over humans at reading their own species. “A particular success like this has been elusive,” said Matthew A. Turk, a professor of computer science at the University of California, Santa Barbara. “It’s one of several recent examples of how the field is now producing useful technologies rather than research that only stays in the lab. We’re affecting the real world.” People generally excel at using nonverbal cues, including facial expressions, to deceive others (hence the poker face). They are good at mimicking pain, instinctively knowing how to contort their features to convey physical discomfort. © 2014 The New York Times Company
By Julie Steenhuysen CHICAGO (Reuters) - International teams of researchers using advanced gene sequencing technology have uncovered a single genetic mutation responsible for a rare brain disorder that may have stricken families in Turkey for some 400 years. The discovery of this genetic disorder, reported in two papers in the journal Cell, demonstrates the growing power of new tools to uncover the causes of diseases that previously stumped doctors. Besides bringing relief to affected families, who can now go through prenatal genetic testing in order to have children without the disorder, the discovery helps lend insight into more common neurodegenerative disorders, such as ALS, also known as Lou Gehrig's disease, the researchers said. The reports come from two independent teams of scientists, one led by researchers at Baylor College of Medicine and the Austrian Academy of Sciences, and the other by Yale University, the University of California, San Diego, and the Academic Medical Center in the Netherlands. Both focused on families in Eastern Turkey where marriage between close relatives, such as first cousins, is common. Geneticists call these consanguineous marriages. In this population, the researchers focused specifically on families whose children had unexplained neurological disorders that likely resulted from genetic defects. Both teams identified a new neurological disorder arising from a single genetic variant called CLP1. Children born with this disorder inherit two defective copies of this gene, which plays a critical role in the health of nerve cells. Babies with the disorder have small and malformed brains, they develop progressive muscle weakness, they do not speak and they are increasingly prone to seizures.
It takes a lot to deter a male from wanting sex. A new study has found that male mice keep trying to copulate even when they are in pain, whereas females engage in less sex. But when given drugs that target pleasure centers in the human brain, the females again became interested. The findings could shed light on the nature of libido across various animal species. To assess how pain influences sexual desire, researchers first identified pairs of mice that wanted to have sex. “What we found early on was not all mice will mate with each other,” says clinical psychologist Melissa Farmer, who led the study while earning her Ph.D. at McGill University in Montreal, Canada. The team set up the rodents on a series of “dates,” during which a male and female were paired together for 30 minutes. Couples that copulated for most of the session were deemed compatible and moved into a cage with separate rooms. A small doorway allowed a female mouse to freely cross over from her chamber, but the male—which is larger—could not. The scientists then induced pain in males or females by applying a small dose of inflammatory compounds to the cheek, tail, foot, or genitals. The sensation would primarily be soreness, like a bad sunburn, says Farmer, who now works at Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine in Chicago, Illinois. Female mice that were in pain, whether genital or nongenital, spent 50% less time with their male partners, implying a decrease in sexual motivation. Even when they did visit their paramours, females wouldn’t allow males to mount them with the same frequency, the team reports online today in The Journal of Neuroscience. © 2014 American Association for the Advancement of Science.
Chelsea Wald The sailfish’s sword-like bill looks as if it was made to slash at prey. But a study published today in Proceedings of the Royal Society B1 reveals that the bill is actually a multifunctional killing tool, enabling the fish to perform delicate, as well as swashbuckling, manoeuvres. By following throngs of predatory birds off the coast of Cancún, Mexico, the study’s authors were able to track Atlantic sailfish (Istiophorus albicans) hunting sardines, says co-author Alexander Wilson, a behavioural ecologist now at Carleton University in Ottawa, Canada. He and his colleagues made high-speed, high-resolution films in the open ocean over six days in 2012. Sailfish hunt in groups, taking turns to approach the ball of schooling fish. Their bodies darken and sometimes flash stripes and spots, perhaps to confuse the prey, or to signal to each other. “It’s a very orderly process,” Wilson says. “They don’t want to risk breaking their bills.” Although sailfish are among the fastest creatures in the ocean — they have been documented to swim at more than 110 kilometres per hour, or 60 knots — the new research shows that their strategy is to approach their prey slowly from behind and gently insert their bills into the school, without eliciting an evasive manoeuvre from the sardines. Then, by whipping their heads in powerful, sudden jerks, they can slash their bills left and right, with their upright fins providing stability. In fact, their bill tips slash with about the same acceleration as the tip of a swinging baseball bat, even in the water, says co-author Paolo Domenici, an environmental physiologist at the Institute for the Marine and Coastal Environment of Italy's National Research Council in Torregrande, on the island of Sardinia. The result is a scene of fishy carnage, as the surrounding water fills with iridescent fragments of sardine skin. © 2014 Nature Publishing Group,
Keyword: Pain & Touch
Link ID: 19523 - Posted: 04.23.2014
Muscle weakness from long-term alcoholism may stem from an inability of mitochondria, the powerhouses of cells, to self-repair, according to a study funded by the National Institutes of Health. In research conducted with rats, scientists found evidence that chronic heavy alcohol use affects a gene involved in mitochondrial repair and muscle regeneration. “The finding gives insight into why chronic heavy drinking often saps muscle strength and it could also lead to new targets for medication development,” said Dr. George Koob, director of the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, the NIH institute that funded the study. The study is available online in the April issue of the Journal of Cell Biology. It was led by Dr. Gyorgy Hajnoczky, M.D., Ph.D., director of Thomas Jefferson University’s MitoCare Center, Philadelphia, and professor in the Department of Pathology, Anatomy and Cell Biology. Mitochondria are cellular structures that generate most of the energy needed by cells. Skeletal muscle constantly relies on mitochondria for power. When mitochondria become damaged, they can repair themselves through a process called mitochondrial fusion — joining with other mitochondria and exchanging material such as DNA. Although well known in many other tissues, the current study is the first to show that mitochondria in skeletal muscle are capable of undergoing fusion as a repair mechanism. It had been thought that this type of mitochondrial self-repair was unlikely in the packed fibers of the skeletal muscle cells, as mitochondria have little opportunity to interact in the narrow space between the thread-like structures called myofilaments that make up muscle.
By Bill Briggs A Vietnam veteran swoops his hand through a row of baby vegetables, caressing the peppers on down to the kale. The plants are aligned in tidy, military order atop his backyard fence. He could spend hours describing his first garden. But he cannot utter a word. He can’t even eat his eventual harvest. So, Bob Hoaglan, 71, simply stands and grins at the spouts behind his Oxnard, Calif., home. Then, he grabs his primary communication tool, an LCD tablet, scribbling a stylus across the screen. He displays his words with a silent chuckle: “I don’t have a green thumb.” With a button click, he erases that sentence before composing another. His daily aim is to throw his body and brain into new pursuits. The crops — fresh life for a man facing mortality — help shove his disease to the back of his mind. He admits, though, he can’t keep it there: “I try,” he writes, “Sometimes it creeps up on me.” As he shows that message, the smile vanishes. Hoaglan was diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease, nearly a year ago. Inside a malady that offers no cure or explanation, he embodies two intriguing clues that, a top researcher says, may whisper answers: Hoaglan served in the military, and he is a nice man. U.S. veterans carry a nearly 60 percent greater risk of contracting ALS than civilians, according to a white paper published in 2013 by the ALS Association, citing Harvard University research that tracked ex-service members back to 1910.
Keyword: ALS-Lou Gehrig's Disease
Link ID: 19509 - Posted: 04.19.2014
Scientists may have discovered how the most common genetic cause of Parkinson’s disease destroys brain cells and devastates many patients worldwide. The study was partially funded by the National Institutes of Health’s National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS); the results may help scientists develop new therapies. The investigators found that mutations in a gene called leucine-rich repeat kinase 2 (LRRK2; pronounced “lark two” or “lurk two”) may increase the rate at which LRRK2 tags ribosomal proteins, which are key components of protein-making machinery inside cells. This could cause the machinery to manufacture too many proteins, leading to cell death. “For nearly a decade, scientists have been trying to figure out how mutations in LRRK2 cause Parkinson’s disease,” said Margaret Sutherland, Ph.D., a program director at NINDS. “This study represents a clear link between LRRK2 and a pathogenic mechanism linked to Parkinson’s disease.” Affecting more than half a million people in the United States, Parkinson’s disease is a degenerative disorder that attacks nerve cells in many parts of the nervous system, most notably in a brain region called the substantia nigra, which releases dopamine, a chemical messenger important for movement. Initially, Parkinson’s disease causes uncontrolled movements; including trembling of the hands, arms, or legs. As the disease gradually worsens, patients lose ability to walk, talk or complete simple tasks.
Link ID: 19477 - Posted: 04.12.2014
|By Bret Stetka The data confirm it: farmers are more prone to Parkinson’s than the general population. And pesticides could be to blame. Over a decade of evidence shows a clear association between pesticide exposure and a higher risk for the second most common neurodegenerative disease, after Alzheimer's. A new study published in Neurology proposes a potential mechanism by which at least some pesticides might contribute to Parkinson’s. Regardless of inciting factors — and there appear to be many — Parkinson’s ultimately claims dopamine-releasing neurons in a small, central arc of brain called the “substantia nigra pars compacta.” The nigra normally supplies dopamine to the neighboring striatum to help coordinate movement. Through a series of complex connections, striatal signals then find their way to the motor cortex and voila, we move. But when nigral neurons die, motor function goes haywire and the classic symptoms set in, including namely tremors, slowed movements, and rigidity. Pesticides first came under suspicion as potentially lethal to the nigra in the early 1980s following a tragic designer drug debacle straight out of Breaking Bad. Patients started showing up at Northern California ERs nearly unresponsive, rigid, and tremoring — in other words, severely Parkinsonian. Savvy detective work by neurologist Dr. William Langston and his colleagues, along with the Santa Clara County police, traced the mysterious outbreak to a rogue chemist and a bad batch. He’d been trying to synthesize a “synthetic heroin” — not the snow cone flavorings he claimed — however a powder sample from his garage lab contained traces of an impurity called MPTP. MPTP, it turned out, ravages dopaminergic neurons in the nigra and causes what looks like advanced Parkinson’s. All of the newly Parkinsonian patients were heroin users who had injected the tainted product. And MPTP, it also turned out, is awfully similar in structure to the widely used herbicide paraquat, leading some neurologists to turn their attention to farms and fields. © 2014 Scientific American
by Clare Wilson A genetic tweak can make light work of some nervous disorders. Using flashes of light to stimulate modified neurons can restore movement to paralysed muscles. A study demonstrating this, carried out in mice, lays the path for using such "optogenetic" approaches to treat nerve disorders ranging from spinal cord injury to epilepsy and motor neuron disease. Optogenetics has been hailed as one of the most significant recent developments in neuroscience. It involves genetically modifying neurons so they produce a light-sensitive protein, which makes them "fire", sending an electrical signal, when exposed to light. So far optogenetics has mainly been used to explore how the brain works, but some groups are exploring using it as therapy. One stumbling block has been fears about irreversibly genetically manipulating the brain. In the latest study, a team led by Linda Greensmith of University College London altered mouse stem cells in the lab before transplanting them into nerves in the leg – this means they would be easier to remove if something went wrong. "It's a very exciting approach that has a lot of potential," says Ziv Williams of Harvard Medical School in Boston. Greensmith's team inserted an algal gene that codes for a light-responsive protein into mouse embryonic stem cells. They then added signalling molecules to make the stem cells develop into motor neurons, the cells that carry signals to and from the spinal cord to the rest of the body. They implanted these into the sciatic nerve – which runs from the spinal cord to the lower limbs – of mice whose original nerves had been cut. © Copyright Reed Business Information Ltd.
Keyword: Movement Disorders
Link ID: 19450 - Posted: 04.05.2014
By SABRINA TAVERNISE Federal health regulators approved a drug overdose treatment device on Thursday that experts say will provide a powerful lifesaving tool in the midst of a surging epidemic of prescription drug abuse. Similar to an EpiPen used to stop allergic reactions to bee stings, the easy-to-use injector — small enough to tuck into a pocket or a medicine cabinet — can be used by the relatives or friends of people who have overdosed. The hand-held device, called Evzio, delivers a single dose of naloxone, a medication that reverses the effects of an overdose, and will be used on those who have stopped breathing or lost consciousness from an opioid drug overdose. Naloxone is the standard treatment in such circumstances, but until now, has been available mostly in hospitals and other medical settings, when it is often used too late to save the patient. The decision to quickly approve the new treatment, which is expected to be available this summer, comes as deaths from opioids continue to mount, including an increase in those from heroin, which contributed to the death of the actor Philip Seymour Hoffman in February. Federal health officials, facing criticism for failing to slow the rising death toll, are under pressure to act, experts say. “This is a big deal, and I hope gets wide attention,” said Dr. Carl R. Sullivan III, director of the addictions program at West Virginia University. “It’s pretty simple: Having these things in the hands of people around drug addicts just makes sense because you’re going to prevent unnecessary mortality.” The scourge of drug abuse has battered states across the country, with deaths from overdoses now outstripping those from traffic crashes. Prescription drugs alone now account for more than half of all drug overdose deaths, and one major category of them, opioids, or painkillers, take the lives of more Americans than heroin and cocaine combined. Deaths from opioids have quadrupled in 10 years to more than 16,500 in 2010, according to federal data. © 2014 The New York Times Company
Walking backward may seem a simple task, but researchers don’t know how the mind controls this behavior. A study published online today in Science provides the first glimpse of the brain circuit responsible—at least in fruit flies. Geneticists created 3500 strains of the insects, each with a temperature-controlled switch that turned random networks of neurons on when the flies entered an incubator. One mutant batch of fruit flies started strolling in reverse when exposed to warmth (video, right panel), which the team dubbed “moonwalkers,” in honor of Michael Jackson’s famous dance. Two neurons were responsible for the behavior. One lived in the brain and extended its connections to the end of the ventral nerve cord—the fly’s version of a spine, which runs along its belly. The other neuron had the opposite orientation—it started at the bottom of the nerve cord and sent its messaging cables—or axons—into the brain. The neuron in the brain acted like a reverse gear in a car; when turned on, it triggered reverse walking. The researchers say this neuron is possibly a command center that responds to environmental cues, such as, “Hey! I see a wall in front of me.” The second neuron functioned as the brakes for forward motion, but it couldn’t compel the fly to moonwalk. It may serve as a fail-safe that reflexively prevents moving ahead, such as when the fly accidentally steps onto a very cold floor. Using the two neurons as a starting point, the team will trace their links to sensory neurons for touch, sight, and smell, which feed into and control the moonwalking network. No word yet on the neurons responsible for the Macarena. © 2014 American Association for the Advancement of Science
Keyword: Movement Disorders
Link ID: 19445 - Posted: 04.05.2014
For years, some biomedical researchers have worried that a push for more bench-to-bedside studies has meant less support for basic research. Now, the chief of one of the National Institutes of Health’s (NIH’s) largest institutes has added her voice—and hard data—to the discussion. Story Landis describes what she calls a “sharp decrease” in basic research at her institute, a trend she finds worrisome. In a blog post last week, Landis, director of the $1.6 billion National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS), says her staff started out asking why, in the mid-2000s, NINDS funding declined for R01s, the investigator-initiated grants that are the mainstay of most labs. After examining the aims and abstracts of grants funded between 1997 and 2012, her staff found that the portion of NINDS competing grant funding that went to basic research has declined (from 87% to 71%) while applied research rose (from 13% to 29%). To dig deeper, the staffers divided the grants into four categories—basic/basic; basic/disease-focused; applied/translational; and applied/clinical. Here, the decline in basic/basic research was “striking”: It fell from 52% to 27% of new and competing grants, while basic/disease-focused has been rising (see graph). The same trend emerged when the analysts looked only at investigator-initiated grants, which are proposals based on a researcher’s own ideas, not a solicitation by NINDS for proposals in a specific area. The shift could reflect changes in science and “a natural progression of the field,” Landis writes. Or it could mean researchers “falsely believe” that NINDS is not interested in basic studies and they have a better shot at being funded if they propose disease-focused or applied studies. The tight NIH budget and new programs focused on translational research could be fostering this belief, she writes. When her staff compared applications submitted in 2008 and 2011, they found support for a shift to disease-focused proposals: There was a “striking” 21% decrease in the amount of funding requested for basic studies, even though those grants had a better chance of being funded. © 2014 American Association for the Advancement of Science.
Keyword: Movement Disorders
Link ID: 19440 - Posted: 04.02.2014