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By VIRGINIA HEFFERNAN Most newly stylish coinages carry with them some evidence of grammatical trauma. Consider “affluencer,” “selfie,” “impactful.” Notes of cynicism and cutesiness come through. But every now and then a bright exception to this dispiriting routine appears. A rookie word makes its big-league debut, a stadium of pedants prepares to peg it with tomatoes and — nothing. A halfhearted heckle. The new word looks only passably pathetic. Maddeningly, it has heft. “Mindfulness” may be that hefty word now, one that can’t readily be dismissed as trivia or propaganda. Yes, it’s current among jaw-grinding Fortune 500 executives who take sleeping pills and have “leadership coaches,” as well as with the moneyed earnest, who shop at Whole Foods, where Mindful magazine is on the newsstand alongside glossies about woodworking and the environment. It looks like nothing more than the noun form of “mindful” — the proper attitude toward the London subway’s gaps — but “mindfulness” has more exotic origins. In the late 19th century, the heyday of both the British Empire and Victorian Orientalism, a British magistrate in Galle, Ceylon (now Sri Lanka), with the formidable name of Thomas William Rhys Davids, found himself charged with adjudicating Buddhist ecclesiastical disputes. He set out to learn Pali, a Middle Indo-Aryan tongue and the liturgical language of Theravada, an early branch of Buddhism. In 1881, he thus pulled out “mindfulness” — a synonym for “attention” from 1530 — as an approximate translation of the Buddhist concept of sati. The translation was indeed rough. Sati, which Buddhists consider the first of seven factors of enlightenment, means, more nearly, “memory of the present,” which didn’t track in tense-preoccupied English. “Mindfulness” stuck — but may have saddled the subtle sati with false-note connotations of Victorian caution, or even obedience. (“Mind your manners!”) © 2015 The New York Times Company

Keyword: Stress
Link ID: 20797 - Posted: 04.14.2015

By Lenny Bernstein Children with two of the most severe forms of epilepsy can suffer scores of seizures each day, as well as long-term physical and cognitive problems. The two conditions, Dravet and Lennox-Gastaut syndromes, are quite rare but unfortunately very resistant to treatment with current epilepsy drugs. Now a compound found in marijuana plants has shown promising results in a preliminary study, during which it sharply reduced the number of seizures suffered by these children. Some were even seizure-free after three months of taking the drug, cannabidiol, the research showed. "We're very encouraged by the data," said Orrin Devinsky, director of the NYU Langone Comprehensive Epilepsy Center and leader of the research. A more rigorous study of cannabidiol's impact has begun and will help determine how effective it really is, he said. In making cannabidiol, the marijuana plant's psychoactive material (THC) was removed. A 99 percent pure liquid version of the drug was given for three to six months to 137 people with the two syndromes. Most were children (the subjects ranged in age from 2 to 26), and before the experiment they suffered a disturbing average of 95.3 convulsive seizures every month. Convulsive seizures are the more severe, violent kind; people with epilepsy can experience a wide variety of seizures, including some mild enough that they appear to be merely staring into space for a few seconds. Some of the subjects had taken as many as 10 different epilepsy drugs, with little success.

Keyword: Epilepsy; Drug Abuse
Link ID: 20796 - Posted: 04.14.2015

Fred Powledge I think I knew what was happening even before my head bounced off the hard kitchen counter on its way to the even harder stone floor. I was rapidly losing my connection with reality. My wife, Tabitha, later estimated that I was out for 10 minutes. When I emerged from unconsciousness I heard the sirens on the street in front of the house. It seemed as if half of Tucson's fire department was streaming through the front door. I was scared. At my age, which is old, you laugh at any childlike faith in your immortality. In this case, what brought on the unconsciousness was apparently a quick turn of my head while reaching for an onion to peel for the night's dinner, followed by the knockout blow from hitting the floor. I was scared. At my age, which is old, you laugh at any childlike faith in your immortality. An enormous hook and ladder and an ambulance were drawn up in front of the house, sirens winding down. The commotion was embarrassing, but it was comforting to know that my wife was in the next room, had called for help, and that 911 had responded to her call as it was supposed to. The emergency room doctor said I had a concussion — a blow to the head that our new and improved language calls a MTBI. This scared me as much as the ambulance ride itself, since it stands for "Mild Traumatic Brain Injury." © 2015 NPR

Keyword: Brain Injury/Concussion
Link ID: 20795 - Posted: 04.14.2015

by Penny Sarchet You've got a splitting migraine. If you were offered a sugar pill, would you bother taking it? What if you were told your genetic make-up means it is very likely to make you feel better? This is one of the questions raised by the burgeoning effort to understand which genes influence the placebo effect, and how these genes – collectively known as the placebome – determine a person's susceptibility to the phenomenon. There are tremendous differences in the placebo effect between individuals, says Kathryn Hall of Harvard Medical School. "It can vary from no measurable response to someone getting significantly better." Having drawn together all the studies carried out so far, Hall says there is reasonable evidence for at least 11 genes that influence a person's susceptibility. This is enough to warrant discussing the use of genetic screening to assess how likely a person is to respond to a placebo treatment, such as a sugar pill or saline injection. The idea is that this could lead to more personalised treatments for conditions like pain syndromes, migraines, depression, irritable bowel syndrome and even Parkinson's disease, symptoms of which seem to be relieved by placebo in some individuals. It could also lead to the design of more balanced clinical trials. Your personality can help you guess whether you're among the estimated third of the population who are placebo responders. Being agreeable, extroverted and open to new experiences all appear to be associated with placebo susceptibility. Although brain imaging techniques can also indicate a person's likely susceptibility, a genetic read-out would offer a convenient, easily applicable and clearly codified measure. © Copyright Reed Business Information Ltd

Keyword: Pain & Touch
Link ID: 20794 - Posted: 04.14.2015

|By Andrea Alfano To scratch an itch is to scratch many itches: placing nails to skin brings sweet yet short-lived relief because it often instigates another bout of itchiness. The unexpected culprit behind this vicious cycle, new research reveals, is serotonin, the so-called happiness hormone. Scientists thought itch was merely a mild form of pain until 2009, when Zhou-Feng Chen and his colleagues at the Center for the Study of Itch at Washington University in St. Louis discovered itch-specific neurons in mice. Though not identical, itch and pain are closely related; they share the same pathways in certain brain areas. Because of the doubling up, activating one suppresses the other, which is why scratching blocks the itch sensation momentarily. The act, however, also triggers the release of the chemical serotonin, which helps to alleviate pain. It is that burst that makes scratching feel good, but recent work by Chen's group showed that it exacerbates the itch-scratch cycle, too. Itch-sensing neurons have a set of receptors that facilitates pain relief and another that induces itch. Serotonin can bind only to the pain-related receptor, but because the two sets sit close to each other and physically interact, the chemical's arrival indirectly enhances the itch pathway. When Chen and his colleagues activated both receptors simultaneously in mice, the rodents scratched much more than if the itch-inducing receptor was turned on alone. In another experiment, mice lacking the cells that produce serotonin scratched less than normal mice when exposed to a skin irritant. The findings were published in the journal Neuron. © 2015 Scientific American

Keyword: Pain & Touch
Link ID: 20793 - Posted: 04.14.2015

Boer Deng Universities in the United States employ many more male scientists than female ones. Men are paid more, and in fields such as mathematics, engineering and economics, they hold the majority of top-level jobs. But in a sign of progress, a 13 April study finds that faculty members prefer female candidates for tenure-track jobs in science and engineering — by a ratio of two to one. That result, based on experiments involving hypothetical job seekers, held true regardless of the hirer’s gender, department, career status or university type, researchers report in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences1. “We were shocked,” says Wendy Williams, a psychologist at Cornell University in Ithaca, New York, and a co-author of the study. With fellow Cornell psychologist Stephen Ceci, she surveyed 873 tenure-track faculty members in biology, psychology, economics and engineering at 371 US universities. One experiment presented participants with three hypothetical job candidates, of which two were identical except for their gender. Another experiment added descriptions of marital and parental status, to test whether underlying assumptions about gender choices affected hiring. “You don’t frequently see that level of attention and sophistication” in statistical analysis, says Robert Santos, vice-president of the American Statistical Association in Alexandria, Virginia. Nothing seemed to sway study participants’ preference for female job candidates. The authors say that this is interesting given their previous finding that a relatively low percentage of female PhDs in the social and biological sciences secure academic positions — in part because they are less likely than men to apply for these jobs. Other research suggests that in the physical sciences, women and men are just as likely to secure a tenure-track position within five years of earning a PhD. © 2015 Nature Publishing Group

Keyword: Sexual Behavior
Link ID: 20792 - Posted: 04.14.2015

By David Grimm The U.S. Department of Agriculture has launched an investigation into Harvard University’s New England Primate Research Center after several suspicious deaths at the Southborough, Massachusetts, facility. The inquiry coincides with a series of articles published by The Boston Globe, which has uncovered a number of potential animal welfare violations at the center, including a dozen dehydrated squirrel monkeys found dead in their cages or euthanized because of poor health between 1999 and 2011. In several cases it appears that the animals were not given water or were unable to drink due to malfunctioning water lines. In one incident, a monkey’s tooth caught in her jacket, preventing her from drinking. Some of these animals were the subject of a 2014 Veterinary Pathology paper on the impact of dehydration on lab animals. The journal says it is now investigating this study. The primate center is set to close at the end of next month, though—according to the Globe—the university blames finances, not animal care problems. © 2015 American Association for the Advancement of Science

Keyword: Animal Rights
Link ID: 20791 - Posted: 04.14.2015

By STEVEN QUARTZ and ANETTE ASP THE gaping inequality of America’s first Gilded Age generated strong emotions. It produced social reformers like Jane Addams, anarchist agitators like Emma Goldman, labor leaders like Eugene V. Debs and Progressive politicians like Theodore Roosevelt. By the 1920s, sweeping legislation regulating food and drugs and breaking up corrupt trusts had been passed. The road to the New Deal was paved. But our current Gilded Age has been greeted with relative complacency. Despite soaring inequality, worsened by the Great Recession, and recent grumbling about the 1 percent, Americans remain fairly happy. All of the wage gains since the downturn ended in 2009 have essentially gone to the top 1 percent, yet the proportion of Americans who say they are “thriving” has actually increased. So-called happiness inequality — the proportion of Americans who are either especially miserable or especially joyful — hit a 40-year low in 2010 by some measures. Men have historically been less happy than women, but that gap has disappeared. Whites have historically been happier than nonwhites, but that gap has narrowed, too. In fact, American happiness has not only stayed steady, but converged, since wages began stagnating in the mid-1970s. This is puzzling. It does not conform with economic theories that compare happiness to envy, and emphasize the impact of relative income for happiness — how we compare with the Joneses. A new neuroscience of consumer behavior reinforces our argument. In one experiment, we used functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to understand our brains’ reaction to perceived coolness. We selected students from the Art Center College of Design in Pasadena, Calif., and asked them to rate, from uncool to cool, hundreds of images from the following categories: bottled water, shoes, perfumes, handbags, watches, cars, chairs, personal electronics and sunglasses. We also included images of celebrities (actors and musicians). The cooler objects typically weren’t the more expensive ones: our subjects rated a Kia hatchback above a Buick sedan, for example. © 2015 The New York Times Company

Keyword: Emotions
Link ID: 20790 - Posted: 04.13.2015

By MALIA WOLLAN “A polygraph is nothing more than a psychological billy club used to coerce and intimidate people,” says Doug Williams, a former Oklahoma City police detective and polygraph examiner who for 36 years has trained people to pass the lie-detector test. The first step is not to be intimidated. Most tests include two types of questions: relevant ones about a specific incident (“Did you leak classified information to The New York Times?”) and broader so-called control questions (“Have you ever lied to anyone who trusted you?”). The test assumes that an innocent person telling the truth will have a stronger reaction to the control questions than to the relevant ones. Before your test, practice deciphering between the two question types. “Go to the beach” when you hear a relevant question, Williams says. Calm yourself before answering by imagining gentle waves and warm sand. When you get a control question, which is more general, envision the scariest thing you can in order to trigger physiological distress; the polygraph’s tubes around your chest measure breathing, the arm cuff monitors heart rate and electrodes attached to you fingertips detect perspiration. What is your greatest fear? Falling? Drowning? Being buried alive? “Picture that,” Williams says. He used to advise trainees to clench their anus but has since concluded that terrifying mental imagery works better. Williams, who is 69, may be among the more vitriolic critics of polygraphs, which he refers to as “insidious Orwellian instruments of torture,” but their reliability has long been questioned elsewhere, too. Federal legislation prohibits most private employers from using polygraphs. The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that lower courts can ban them as evidence, and the scientific community has repeatedly raised concerns about their ability to accurately detect lies. © 2015 The New York Times Company

Keyword: Stress
Link ID: 20789 - Posted: 04.13.2015

By KEN BELSON The developers of a new drug aimed at diagnosing chronic traumatic encephalopathy, a degenerative brain disease linked to repeated head trauma, are under scrutiny by the Food and Drug Administration. In February, the F.D.A.’s Office of Prescription Drug Promotion sent a letter to two researchers at U.C.L.A. warning them that they had improperly marketed their drug on the Internet and had made overstated claims about the drug’s potential efficacy. The researchers at U.C.L.A. have been developing a biomarker called FDDNP, which aims to identify tau protein deposits in the brain (a signature of C.T.E.) when patients are given a PET scan. To date, researchers have been able to detect C.T.E. only in brain tissue obtained posthumously. The demand for a technique that can diagnose the disease in living patients is potentially large, given growing concerns about the impact of head trauma in athletes, soldiers and others. In its letter, the F.D.A. warned that the researchers, who are partners with the company Taumark, were not allowed to market the drug and make claims about its safety or effectiveness. “Thus, these claims and presentations suggest in a promotional context that FDDNP, an investigational new drug, is safe or effective for such uses, when F.D.A. has not approved FDDNP for any use,” the letter said. The Los Angeles Times first reported the details of the F.D.A.’s letter to the researchers, Dr. Gary Small and Dr. Jorge Barrio. The researchers were told to adjust the language on Taumark’s website, which is now disabled. © 2015 The New York Times Company

Keyword: Brain imaging; Brain Injury/Concussion
Link ID: 20788 - Posted: 04.13.2015

by Bethany Brookshire In 2011, a group of scientists “turned mice gay.” The only issue is, of course, they didn’t. Rather, Yi Rao and colleagues at Peking University in Beijing, China, showed that male mice will cheerfully mount both male and female mice, as long as their brains are deficient in one chemical messenger: serotonin. The paper, published in Nature, received plenty of media coverage. Now, two other research groups report seemingly opposite findings: Male mice with no serotonin in their brains still prefer female mice to males. The researchers contend that serotonin is about social communication and impulsive behaviors, not sex. Mounting behavior aside, sexual preference in mice is not about “turning mice gay.” It never has been. Instead, it’s about the role that a single chemical can play in animal behavior. And it’s about what, exactly, those behaviors really mean. Serotonin serves as a messenger between cells. It plays important roles in mood. Serotonin-related drugs are used to treat some forms of migraine. And of course, serotonin plays a role in the psychedelic effects of recreational drugs such as hallucinogens. So when the Peking University group set out to show serotonin’s role in sexual preference, they attacked it from several angles. They used mice that had been genetically engineered to lack the brain cells that usually produce serotonin. They used a chemical to deplete serotonin in the brains of normal mice. And they created another strain of mice that lacked the enzyme that makes serotonin in the brain. © Society for Science & the Public 2000 - 2015

Keyword: Sexual Behavior
Link ID: 20787 - Posted: 04.11.2015

by Catherine Brahic TRANSLUCENT comb jellies are some of the most primitive animals on Earth, yet they have remarkable nervous systems. Controversial data discussed at a meeting in London last month proposes that their neurons are unlike any others on Earth. This could be evidence that neurons evolved more than once in the history of animal life. The suggestion that neurons evolved in parallel multiple times has divided biologists for over a century. Ultimately, Erich Jarvis of Duke University in North Carolina told a Royal Society conference in March, the question relates to how special we are. If neurons evolved several times on our planet, then it becomes more likely that they could evolve elsewhere in the universe. Until recently, the consensus has leaned towards a very Darwinian story. In this scenario, sometime around 600 million years ago, the common ancestor to all animals gave rise to some organisms with simple neural networks. Central nervous systems arose later, allowing for greater coordination and more complex behaviours. These perhaps started out as tight balls of neurons, but eventually gave rise to the magnificently complex primate brain. This single origin scenario offers a tidy explanation for why some animals, like sponges and flat, simple placozoans, still don't have neurons: they must have branched off before these evolved and are relics of ancestral animals (see diagram). The story was somewhat turned on its head by the recent whole genome sequence of comb jellies. These small marine animals look like jellyfish but in fact seem to be only distantly related. They use a neural network just beneath their skin and a brain-like knot of neurons at one end to catch food, respond to light, sense gravity and escape predators. © Copyright Reed Business Information Ltd.

Keyword: Evolution
Link ID: 20786 - Posted: 04.11.2015

Robin McKie, science editor A smile is the universal welcome, the writer Max Eastman once remarked. But how sure can we be that a person’s smile is genuine? The answer is the empathy test, created by psychologist Richard Wiseman, which probes our ability to appreciate the feelings of others – from their appearance. A photographer asks a subject to imagine meeting an individual they don’t like and to put on a fake smile. Later the subject sits with a real friend and as they converse, the photographer records their genuine smile. Thus two versions of their smile are recorded. The question is: how easy is it to tell the difference? “If you lack empathy, you are very bad at differentiating between the two photographs,” says Wiseman, who teaches at the University of Hertfordshire. But how do professions differ in their ability to spot a fake? And in particular, how do scientists and journalists score? Neither are particularly renowned for their empathy, after all. Last month’s Scientists Meet the Media party, for which the Observer is the media sponsor, gave Wiseman a perfect opportunity to compare the two professions. At the party, hosted by the Science Museum in London, some of Britain’s top researchers mingled with UK science journalists. About 150 guests were shown photographs of subjects with fake and genuine smiles. Guests were then asked to spot the false and the true. The results were intriguing. © 2015 Guardian News and Media Limited

Keyword: Emotions
Link ID: 20785 - Posted: 04.11.2015

By James Gallagher Health editor, BBC News website Those who were overweight had an 18% reduction in dementia, researchers found Being overweight cuts the risk of dementia, according to the largest and most precise investigation into the relationship. The researchers admit they were surprised by the findings, which run contrary to current health advice. The analysis of nearly two million British people, in the Lancet Diabetes & Endocrinology, showed underweight people had the highest risk. Dementia charities still advised not smoking, exercise and a balanced diet. Dementia is one of the most pressing modern health issues. The number of patients globally is expected to treble to 135 million by 2050. There is no cure or treatment, and the mainstay of advice has been to reduce risk by maintaining a healthy lifestyle. Yet it might be misguided. The team at Oxon Epidemiology and the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine analysed medical records from 1,958,191 people aged 55, on average, for up to two decades. Their most conservative analysis showed underweight people had a 39% greater risk of dementia compared with being a healthy weight. But those who were overweight had an 18% reduction in dementia - and the figure was 24% for the obese. "Yes, it is a surprise," said lead researcher Dr Nawab Qizilbash. He told the BBC News website: "The controversial side is the observation that overweight and obese people have a lower risk of dementia than people with a normal, healthy body mass index. "That's contrary to most if not all studies that have been done, but if you collect them all together our study overwhelms them in terms of size and precision." Loss of tissue in a demented brain compared with a healthy one © 2015 BBC

Keyword: Obesity; Alzheimers
Link ID: 20784 - Posted: 04.11.2015

Leana Wen Every doctor and nurse in our hospital's emergency room knew Jerome. He was one of our regulars. In his 20s, he had back problems that led him to become addicted to prescription painkillers. That habit proved too expensive, and he switched to heroin. Jerome used to come to the ER nearly every week. Often, he just wanted a sandwich and someone to talk to. He had lost his job and his home. Several months ago, he decided he had to quit heroin. We helped him with health insurance so that he could find a primary care doctor. Our social worker connected him with addiction treatment, including medications and mental health counseling. He was also working on rekindling a relationship with his estranged family. One day, paramedics brought Jerome to the ER. They had found him in an abandoned building. He'd relapsed and was shooting heroin. A friend saw him unconscious and called for help. By the time paramedics arrived, he wasn't breathing and his heart had stopped beating. In the ER, we tried to resuscitate him for nearly an hour. We weren't successful. In Baltimore, where I serve as health commissioner, more people die from drug and alcohol overdoses than from homicide. In 2013, there were 246 deaths related to drugs and alcohol, compared with 235 homicides. © 2015 NPR

Keyword: Drug Abuse
Link ID: 20783 - Posted: 04.11.2015

By Jennifer Couzin-Frankel Sudden death, a mysterious and devastating outcome of epilepsy, could result from a brain stem shutdown following a seizure, researchers report today in Science Translational Medicine. Although the idea is still preliminary, it’s engendering hope that neurologists are one step closer to intervening before death strikes. Sudden unexpected death in epilepsy (SUDEP) has long bedeviled doctors and left heartbroken families in its wake. “It’s as big a mystery as epilepsy itself,” says Jeffrey Noebels, a neurologist at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston, Texas, and the senior author of the new paper. As its name suggests, SUDEP attacks without warning: People with epilepsy are found dead, often following a seizure, sometimes face down in bed. Many are young—the median age is 20—and patients with uncontrolled generalized seizures, the most severe type, are at highest risk. About 3000 people are thought to die of SUDEP each year in the United States. And doctors have struggled to understand why. “How can you have seizures your whole life, and all of a sudden, it’s your last one?” Noebels asks. In 2013, an international team of researchers described its study of epilepsy patients who had died while on hospital monitoring units. In 10 SUDEP cases for which they had the patients’ heart function and breathing patterns, the authors found that the patients’ cardiorespiratory systems collapsed over several minutes, and their brain activity was severely depressed. “Their EEG went flat after a seizure,” says Stephan Schuele, an epileptologist at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine in Chicago, Illinois, who wasn’t involved in the study. © 2015 American Association for the Advancement of Science

Keyword: Epilepsy
Link ID: 20782 - Posted: 04.10.2015

By Nicholas Bakalar A new study suggests that early to bed and early to rise makes a man healthy — although not necessarily wealthy or wise. Korean researchers recruited 1,620 men and women, ages 47 to 59, and administered a questionnaire to establish whether they were morning people or night owls. They found 480 morning types, 95 night owls, and 1,045 who fit into neither group. The scientists measured all for glucose tolerance, body composition and waist size, and gathered information on other health and behavioral characteristics. The study is online in The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism. After controlling for an array of variables, they found that compared with morning people, men who were night owls were significantly more likely to have diabetes, and women night owls were more than twice as likely to have metabolic syndrome — high blood sugar levels, excess body fat around the waist, and abnormal lipid readings. The reasons for the effect are unclear, but the scientists suggest that consuming more calories after 8 p.m. and exposure to artificial light at night can both affect metabolic regulation. Can a night owl become a morning person? “Yes,” said the lead author, Dr. Nan Hee Kim, an endocrinologist at the Korea University College of Medicine. “It can be modified by external cues such as light, activity and eating behavior. But it isn’t known if this would improve the metabolic outcomes.” © 2015 The New York Times Company

Keyword: Sleep
Link ID: 20781 - Posted: 04.10.2015

Jon Hamilton Researchers have discovered the exact structure of the receptor that makes our sensory nerves tingle when we eat sushi garnished with wasabi. And because the "wasabi receptor" is also involved in pain perception, knowing its shape should help pharmaceutical companies develop new drugs to fight pain. The receptor, which scientists call TRPA1, is "an important molecule in the pain pathway," says David Julius, a professor of physiology at the University of California, San Francisco and an author of a paper published in this week's Nature. "A dream of mine is that some of the work we do will translate into medicines people can take for chronic pain." Julius led a team that discovered the receptor about a decade ago. Since then, researchers have shown that TRPA1 receptors begin sending distress signals to the brain whenever they encounter pungent chemical irritants, including not only wasabi but tear gas and air pollution from cars or wood fires. The receptors also become activated in response to chemicals released by the body itself when tissue becomes inflamed from an injury or a disease like rheumatoid arthritis. © 2015 NPR

Keyword: Pain & Touch
Link ID: 20780 - Posted: 04.10.2015

By Emily Underwood A splashy headline appeared on the websites of many U.K. newspapers this morning, claiming that men whose brothers or fathers have been convicted of a sex offense are “five times more likely to commit sex crimes than the average male” and that this increased risk of committing rape or molesting a child “may run in a family’s male genes.” The study, published online today in the International Journal of Epidemiology, analyzed data from 21,566 male sex offenders convicted in Sweden between 1973 and 2009 and concluded that genetics may account for at least 40% of the likelihood of committing a sex crime. (Women, who commit less than 1% of Sweden’s sexual offenses, were omitted from the analysis.) The scientists have suggested that the new research could be used to help identify potential offenders and target high-risk families for early intervention efforts. But independent experts—and even the researchers who led the work, to a certain degree—warn that the study has some serious limitations. Here are a few reasons to take its conclusions, and the headlines, with a generous dash of salt. Alternate explanations: Most studies point to early life experiences, such as childhood abuse, as the most important risk factor for becoming a perpetrator of abuse in adulthood. The new study, however, did not include any detail about the convicted sex criminals’ early life exposure to abuse. Instead, by comparing fathers with sons, and full brothers and half-brothers reared together or apart, the scientists attempted to tease out the relative contributions of shared environment and shared genes to the risk of sexual offending. Based on their analyses, the researchers concluded that shared environment accounted for just 2% of the risk of sexual offense, while genetics accounted for roughly 40%. Although there is likely some genetic contribution to sexual offending—perhaps related to impulsivity or sex drive—the group “may be overestimating the role of genes” because their assumptions were inaccurate, says Fred Berlin, a psychiatrist and sexologist at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, Maryland. © 2015 American Association for the Advancement of Science.

Keyword: Aggression; Genes & Behavior
Link ID: 20779 - Posted: 04.10.2015

By Rachel Feltman If you give a mouse an eating disorder, you might just figure out how to treat the disease in humans. In a new study published Thursday in Cell Press, researchers created mice who lacked a gene associated with disordered eating in humans. Without it, the mice showed behaviors not unlike those seen in humans with eating disorders: They tended to be obsessive compulsive and have trouble socializing, and they were less interested in eating high-fat food than the control mice. The findings could lead to novel drug treatments for some of the 24 million Americans estimated to suffer from eating disorders. In a 2013 study, the same researchers went looking for genes that might contribute to the risk of an eating disorder. Anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa aren't straightforwardly inherited -- there's definitely more to an eating disorder than your genes -- but it does seem like some families might have higher risks than others. Sure enough, the study of two large families, each with several members who had eating disorders, yielded mutations in two interacting genes. In one family, the estrogen-related receptor α (ESRRA) gene was mutated. The other family had a mutation on another gene that seemed to affect how well ESRRA could do its job. So in the latest study, they created mice that didn't have ESRRA in the parts of the brain associated with eating disorders. "You can't go testing this kind of gene expression in a human," lead author and University of Iowa neuorscientist Michael Lutter said. "But in mice, you can manipulate the expression of the gene and then look at how it changes their behavior."

Keyword: Anorexia & Bulimia; Genes & Behavior
Link ID: 20778 - Posted: 04.10.2015