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James Gorman What fly is famous on TV? Think corpses and detectives wanting to know how long that body has been in a storage locker or suitcase. It’s the blowfly, of course. Its larvae, a.k.a. maggots, feed on rotting flesh, which could be that spouse or business partner who got in the way. Or, in a good police procedural, both the spouse and the business partner, sent to the great beyond together for their transgressions. By seeing whether the eggs have hatched and how big the larvae are, forensic scientists can get an idea of how much time has passed since the victims met their end and began the final chapter in the way of all flesh. By the way, if you have a problem with a spouse or business partner, it’s worth keeping in mind that the flies can indeed get into a suitcase. They stick their ovipositor through the gaps in the zipper. Or the newly hatched larvae themselves can sneak through. But there are aspects of the maggot’s life that have remained somewhat obscure. Martin Hall, a forensic entomologist at the Natural History Museum in London, thought that one part of the fly’s development in particular needed further study. The maggots are a bit like caterpillars in that at a certain point in their development they wrap themselves up in a case and go through one of the most astonishing events in the natural world: metamorphosis. In 10 days, the maggot, which has no legs or eyes and is something like “an animated sock,” Dr. Hall said, turns into the extraordinarily complex blowfly. No doubt blowflies are not as appealing as butterflies to most people, but chalk that up to a human bias for pretty fluttery things that land on flowers. It’s certainly not the fly’s fault. Any close-up image of its multifaceted, jewel-like eye shows that it is marvelous in its own way, even if it does feed on the dead. Science Times © 2017 The New York Times Company

Keyword: Development of the Brain
Link ID: 23169 - Posted: 01.31.2017

Sara Constantino Certain multisensory conditions can alter the experience of bodily ownership. For instance, in the rubber hand illusion, simultaneous visual and haptic inputs lead to the adoption of sensations applied to an artificial limb as one's own. Understanding body ownership, and its malleability, has implications for the development of prosthetics. In a recent paper, Kelly Collins and colleagues at the University of Washington and Karolinska Institute elicited the illusion of ownership of an artificial hand in two epilepsy patients with embedded electrodes through the direct electrical stimulation of the hand area in somatosensory cortex (SI) applied in synchrony with visible touches to a rubber hand. When stimulation was asynchronous or administered to a different SI area, feelings of ownership were no longer induced, stressing the importance of temporal and spatial congruence. They also found that the details of the visual signal (for example, type of touch) affected the sensation. This method extends previous studies by eliciting ownership without stimulation of the peripheral nervous system, which is damaged in patients with spinal cord or nerve lesions. Human–technology mixtures have a long history, with the first known prosthesis, a wooden toe, dating as far back as 950 bc. Today, recent materials, electronics and neuroscience advances are enabling the development of prosthetic limbs that both look and feel real. © 2017 Macmillan Publishers Limited,

Keyword: Pain & Touch
Link ID: 23168 - Posted: 01.31.2017

By JAMES HAMBLIN In 1997, a few hundred people who responded to a job posting in a Pittsburgh newspaper agreed to let researchers spray their nostrils with a rhinovirus known to cause the common cold. The people would then be quarantined in hotel rooms for five days and monitored for symptoms. In return they’d get $800. “Hey, it’s a job,” some presumably said. Compensation may also have come from the knowledge that, as they sat alone piling up tissues, they were contributing to scientific understanding of our social-microbial ecosystem. The researchers wanted to investigate a seemingly basic question: Why do some people get more colds than others? To Gene Brody, a professor at the University of Georgia, the answer was “absolutely wild.” (Dr. Brody is a public-health researcher, so “wild” must be taken in that context.) He and colleagues recently analyzed the socio-economic backgrounds and personalities of the people in the Pittsburgh study and found that those who were “more diligent and tended to strive for success” were more likely than the others to get sick. To Dr. Brody, the implication was that something suffers in the immune systems of people who persevere in the face of adversity. Over the past two years, Dr. Brody and colleagues have amassed more evidence supporting this theory. In 2015, they found that white blood cells among strivers were prematurely aged relative to those of their peers. Ominous correlations have also been found in cardiovascular and metabolic health. In December, Dr. Brody and colleagues published a study in the journal Pediatrics that said that among black adolescents from disadvantaged backgrounds, “unrelenting determination to succeed” predicted an elevated risk of developing diabetes. The focus on black adolescents is significant. In much of this research, white Americans appeared somehow to be immune to the negative health effects that accompany relentless striving. As Dr. Brody put it when telling me about the Pittsburgh study, “We found this for black persons from disadvantaged backgrounds, but not white persons.” © 2017 The New York Times Company

Keyword: Neuroimmunology; Stress
Link ID: 23167 - Posted: 01.30.2017

Noah Charney The Chinese government just arrested a group of people associated with a sham tourist attraction that had lured hundreds of sight-seers to a fake Terracotta Warriors exhibit, comprised entirely of modern replicas. Sotheby’s recently hired Jamie Martin of Orion Analytical, a forensic specialist at testing art, who then discovered that a Parmigianino painting recently sold is actually a modern forgery (Sotheby’s returned the buyer’s money and then sued the person for whom they sold it). And the Ringling Museum in Sarasota, Florida, is hoping that a painting of Philip IV of Spain in their collection will be definitively determined to be by Velazquez, and not a copy in the style of Velazquez. And that’s just in the last week or so. Art forgery and authenticity seems to be in the news just about every week (to my publicist’s delight). But I’m on a bit of a brainstorm. After my interview with Nobel Prize winner Dr. Eric Kandel on the neuroscience behind how we humans understand art, I’ve developed a keen interest in art and the mind. I tackled selfies, self-portraits and facial recognition recently, as well as what happens when the brain fails to function properly and neglects to recognize the value of art. Since my last book was a history of forgery, it was perhaps inevitable that I would wonder about the neurology of the recognition of originals versus copies. But while I looked into forgery from a wide variety of angles for the book, neuroscience was not one of them. © 2017 Salon Media Group, Inc.

Keyword: Attention; Vision
Link ID: 23166 - Posted: 01.30.2017

By ADAM BEAR and JOSHUA KNOBE What’s normal? Perhaps the answer seems obvious: What’s normal is what’s typical — what is average. But in a recent paper in the journal Cognition, we argue that the situation is more complicated than that. After conducting a series of experiments that examined how people decide whether something is normal or not, we found that when people think about what is normal, they combine their sense of what is typical with their sense of what is ideal. Normal, in other words, turns out to be a blend of statistical and moral notions. Our key finding can be illustrated with a simple example. Ask yourself, “What is the average number of hours of TV that people watch in a day?” Then ask yourself a question that might seem very similar: “What is the normal number of hours of TV for a person to watch in a day?” If you are like most of our experimental participants, you will not give the same answer to the second question that you give to the first. Our participants said the “average” number was about four hours and the “normal” number was about three hours. In addition, they said that the “ideal” number was about 2.5 hours. This has an interesting implication. It suggests that people’s conception of the normal deviates from the average in the direction of what they think ought to be so. Our studies found this same pattern in numerous other cases: the normal grandmother, the normal salad, the normal number of students to be bullied in a middle school. Again and again, our participants did not take the normal to be the same as the average. Instead, what people picked out as the “normal thing to do” or a “normal such-and-such” tended to be intermediate between what they thought was typical and what they thought was ideal. © 2017 The New York Times Company

Keyword: Attention
Link ID: 23165 - Posted: 01.30.2017

Bruce Bower Hunter-gatherers and farming villagers who live in worlds without lightbulbs or thermostats sleep slightly less at night than smartphone-toting city slickers, researchers say. “Contrary to conventional wisdom, people in societies without electricity do not sleep more than those in industrial societies like ours,” says UCLA psychiatrist and sleep researcher Jerome Siegel, who was not involved in the new research. Different patterns of slumber and wakefulness in each of these groups highlight the flexibility of human sleep — and also point to potential health dangers in how members of Western societies sleep, conclude evolutionary biologist David Samson of Duke University and colleagues. Compared with other primates, human evolution featured a shift toward sleeping more deeply over shorter time periods, providing more time for learning new skills and knowledge as cultures expanded, the researchers propose. Humans also evolved an ability to revise sleep schedules based on daily work schedules and environmental factors such as temperature. Samson’s team describes sleep patterns in 33 East African Hadza hunter-gatherers over a total of 393 days in a paper published online January 7 in the American Journal of Physical Anthropology. The team’s separate report on slumber among 21 rural farmers in Madagascar over 292 days will appear later this year in the American Journal of Human Biology. |© Society for Science & the Public 2000 - 201

Keyword: Sleep; Evolution
Link ID: 23164 - Posted: 01.28.2017

By Andrew Joseph, Public health officials on Thursday said they had detected a bizarre cluster of cases in which patients in Massachusetts developed amnesia over the past few years — a highly unusual syndrome that could be connected to opioid use. The officials have identified only 14 cases so far. But officials said it’s possible that clinicians have simply missed other cases. The patients were all relatively young — they ranged in age from 19 to 52. Thirteen of the 14 patients identified had a substance use disorder, and the 14th patient tested positive for opioids and cocaine on a toxicology screen. “What we’re concerned about is maybe a contaminant or something else added to the drug might be triggering this,” said Dr. Alfred DeMaria, the state epidemiologist at the Massachusetts Department of Public Health and an author of the new report. “Traditionally there’s no evidence that the drugs themselves can do this.” The pattern emerged when Dr. Jed Barash, a neurologist at Lahey Hospital and Medical Center in Burlington, Mass., reported four of the amnesia cases to the state’s public health department. The department then sent out an alert to specialists, including neurologists and emergency physicians, asking about similar cases, ultimately identifying 10 more from 2012 to 2016 at hospitals in eastern Massachusetts. (The patients included one person who lived in New Hampshire and one person who was visiting Massachusetts from Washington state.) © 2017 Scientific American,

Keyword: Drug Abuse; Learning & Memory
Link ID: 23163 - Posted: 01.28.2017

Erin Hare One chilly day in February 1877, a British cotton baron named Joseph Sidebotham heard what he thought was a canary warbling near his hotel window. He was vacationing with his family in France, and soon realized the tune wasn’t coming from outside. “The singing was in our salon,” he wrote of the incident in Nature. “The songster was a mouse.” The family fed the creature bits of biscuit, and it quickly became comfortable enough to climb onto the warm hearth at night and regale them with songs. It would sing for hours. Clearly, Sidebotham concluded, this was no ordinary mouse. More than a century later, however, scientists discovered he was wrong. It turns out that all mice chitter away to each other. Their language is usually just too high-pitched for human ears to detect. Today, mouse songs are no mere curiosity. Researchers are able to engineer mice to express genetic mutations associated with human speech disorders, and then measure the changes in the animals’ songs. They’re leveraging these beautifully complex vocalizations to uncover the mysteries of human speech. Anecdotal accounts of singing mice date back to 1843. In the journal The Zoologist, the British entomologist and botanist Edward Newman wrote that the song of a rare “murine Orpheus” sounds as “if the mouth of a canary were carefully closed, and the bird, in revenge, were to turn ventriloquist, and sing in the very centre of his stomach.” © 2017 by The Atlantic Monthly Group.

Keyword: Language; Sexual Behavior
Link ID: 23162 - Posted: 01.28.2017

By Roni Caryn Rabin Neuromas of the foot, a painful condition caused by an inflamed nerve in the ball of the foot, can be effectively treated at home with daily massage and stretches and over-the-counter painkillers, said Dr. Jacqueline Sutera, a doctor of podiatric medicine and surgery. “Of all the patients with neuromas I see in the office, I would say that ultimately only two of 10 might need surgery,” said Dr. Sutera, who practices in New York City and New Jersey. Neuromas of the foot, also known as Morton's neuromas, typically cause sharp, stabbing pain in the second, third and fourth toes. The goal of massaging and stretching is to open up the space between the bones — the metatarsals — in the ball of the foot and increase circulation, which can help reduce the pain and inflammation. Focus on the ball of the foot, not the toes, since the pain in the toes is referred pain from the ball of the foot. Dr. Sutera recommends placing the thumbs at the top of the foot and the other fingers on the bottom of the foot — or vice versa — and pressing and massaging the bones of the ball of the foot, “creating pressure on both sides, top and bottom.” Follow massages with stretches, using your hands to “grab your forefoot and pull it apart so you’re stretching the spaces between the metatarsals in the ball of the foot.” Massages and stretches are most effective at the end of the day, she said, ideally after a hot shower, bath or other heat application. After the massage and stretching, the area should be iced. © 2017 The New York Times Company

Keyword: Pain & Touch
Link ID: 23161 - Posted: 01.28.2017

By Matt Blois Some of the signals animals use to communicate are obvious. Birds sing. Lions roar. But there’s a whole category of signals in the natural world that humans rarely notice. Researchers have found that one species of cichlid uses urine to send chemical signals to rivals during aggressive displays. The team separated large fish from small fish with a transparent divider. Half the dividers contained holes to allow water to flow back and forth. The scientists then injected the fish with a violet dye (pictured), turning their urine bright blue. When the animals saw each other, they raised their fins and rushed toward the divider. They also changed the way they peed. Fish separated by a solid barrier couldn’t detect their opponent’s urine. In an attempt to get their message across, they urinated even more. Without the chemical cues provided by the urine, smaller fish often tried to attack their larger opponents, the team reports this month in Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology. Humans could be missing other signals as well, the researchers contend. In addition to chemical signals, animals use seismic vibrations, electricity, and ultraviolet light to communicate. Visual signals might be more obvious, but this research stresses the importance of looking for less noticeable forms of communication, the authors say. © 2017 American Association for the Advancement of Science.

Keyword: Chemical Senses (Smell & Taste)
Link ID: 23160 - Posted: 01.28.2017

By NICHOLAS BAKALAR Psychological distress may increase your chances of dying from cancer. Researchers interviewed 163,363 adults in England and Scotland using well-validated questionnaires on general and mental health. They followed the population in 16 studies conducted between 1994 and 2008. After controlling for age, smoking, physical activity and other factors, they found that compared with those with the lowest scores on depression and anxiety, those with the highest had higher rates of cancer death. The associations were particularly strong for colon and rectal, prostate, pancreatic and esophageal cancers, and for leukemia. In instances of colorectal and prostate cancer, they found a “dose-response” effect: the greater the distress, the greater the likelihood of death from those cancers. People might have had undiagnosed cancer at the start of the study, which would affect their mood, so the researchers accounted for this possibility by doing an analysis that excluded study members who died of cancer in the first five years. The results were largely the same. The study, in BMJ, is observational so cannot determine cause and effect, and it depended in part on self-reports. “The extent to which these associations could be causal,” the authors write, “requires further testing with alternative study designs.” © 2017 The New York Times Company

Keyword: Stress; Neuroimmunology
Link ID: 23159 - Posted: 01.28.2017

By Emily Underwood LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA—In a barbed wire–enclosed parking lot 100 meters downwind of the Route 110 freeway, an aluminum hose sticks out of a white trailer, its nozzle aimed at an overpass. Every minute, the hose sucks up hundreds of liters of air mixed with exhaust from the roughly 300,000 cars and diesel-burning freight trucks that rumble by each day. Crouched inside the trailer, a young chemical engineer named Arian Saffari lifts the lid off a sooty cylinder attached to the hose, part of a sophisticated filtration system that captures and sorts pollutants by size. Inside is a scientific payload: particles of sulfate, nitrate, ammonium, black carbon, and heavy metal at least 200 times smaller than the width of a human hair. The particles are too fine for many air pollution sensors to accurately measure, says Saffari, who works in a lab led by Constantinos Sioutas at the University of Southern California (USC) here. Typically smaller than 0.2 µm in diameter, these “ultrafine” particles fall within a broader class of air pollutants commonly referred to as PM2.5 because of their size, 2.5 µm or less. When it comes to toxicity, size matters: The smaller the particles that cells are exposed to, Saffari says, the higher their levels of oxidative stress, marked by the production of chemically reactive molecules such as peroxides, which can damage DNA and other cellular structures. © 2017 American Association for the Advancement of Science.

Keyword: Alzheimers; Neurotoxins
Link ID: 23158 - Posted: 01.27.2017

Amy Maxmen The acid tests of 1960s San Francisco have morphed into something quite different in today’s Silicon Valley. Mind-altering trips have given way to subtle productivity boosts purportedly caused by tiny amounts of LSD or other psychedelic drugs. Fans claim that this ‘microdosing’ boosts creativity and concentration, but sceptics doubt that ingesting or inhaling one-tenth of the normal dose could have an effect. Science could soon help to settle the matter. Researchers have finally mapped the 3D structure of LSD in its active state — and the details, published today in Cell1, indicate the key to the chemical’s potency1. Another team reports today in Current Biology2 that it has pinpointed the molecular go-between that creates the perception of deep meaning experienced during acid trips — a feeling that the writer Aldous Huxley once described as “solidarity with the Universe”. “This is what we dreamed of doing when I was a graduate student in the seventies,” says Gavril Pasternak, a pharmacologist at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York City who has spent decades studying the receptor proteins in the brain that mediate the activity of opioids and psychedelic drugs. “Work like this expands our understanding of how these receptors work.” In 1972, researchers revealed LSD’s shape by mapping the arrangement of atoms in its crystallized form3. But in the decades since, they’ve struggled to reveal the crystal structure of a receptor grasping a molecule of LSD or another psychedelic drug. This active configuration is key to understanding how drugs work, because their action depends on how they cling to molecules in the body. © 2017 Macmillan Publishers Limited,

Keyword: Drug Abuse; Depression
Link ID: 23157 - Posted: 01.27.2017

By Anil Ananthaswamy People with post-traumatic stress disorder often get flashbacks that can be triggered by an innocuous smell or sound. Now a study that linked unrelated memories and separated them again, suggests that one day we may be able to decouple memories and prevent flashbacks in people with PTSD. Individual memories are stored in groups of neurons – an idea first proposed by psychologist Donald Hebb in 1949. Only now are we developing sophisticated techniques for examining these ensembles of neurons. To see whether two independent memories can become linked, Kaoru Inokuchi at the University of Toyama in Japan, and colleagues used a standard method for creating memories in mice. When mice are exposed to pain, they can learn to link this with associated stimuli, a taste, for example. The team trained mice to form two separate fear memories. First, the mice learned to avoid the sugary taste of saccharine. Whenever they licked a bottle filled with saccharine solution, they were injected with lithium chloride, which induces nausea. Disconnecting memories A few days later, the same mice were taught to associate a tone with a mild electric shock. This caused the mice to freeze whenever they heard it, even if it wasn’t followed with a shock. They remembered the tone as a traumatic experience. © Copyright Reed Business Information Ltd.

Keyword: Learning & Memory; Stress
Link ID: 23156 - Posted: 01.27.2017

By Mitch Leslie When we have food poisoning, the last thing we want to do is eat. But in mice, a microbe that causes this ailment actually increases appetite, a new study reveals. Researchers say they might be able to use the same trick to increase eating in cancer patients and old folks, who often lose their desire for food. “I think it’s a fantastic paper,” says immunophysiologist Keith Kelley of the University of Illinois in Urbana, who wasn’t connected to the study. The researchers deserve praise for combining approaches from several disciplines such as microbiology, neurobiology, and immunology to draw a surprising conclusion, he says. “It’s the way disease responses should be investigated.” Some of the symptoms you endure when you are ill, such as lethargy and fever, are actually good for you. Lolling on the couch all day, for instance, saves energy for your immune cells. But the picture is more complex for another of these so-called sickness behaviors—reduced appetite. Animal studies have found that eating less seems to improve the odds of surviving some infections, perhaps because it robs the invading microbes of key nutrients, but in other cases the loss of appetite often proves fatal. © 2017 American Association for the Advancement of Science

Keyword: Neuroimmunology; Obesity
Link ID: 23155 - Posted: 01.27.2017

Nicola Davis Girls as young as six years old believe that brilliance is a male trait, according research into gender stereotypes. The US-based study also found that, unlike boys, girls do not believe that achieving good grades in school is related to innate abilities. Andrei Cimpian, a co-author of the research from New York University, said that the work highlights how even young children can absorb and be influenced by gender stereotypes – such as the idea that brilliance or giftedness is more common in men. Are gendered toys harming childhood development? Read more “Because these ideas are present at such an early age, they have so much time to affect the educational trajectories of boys and girls,” he said. Writing in the journal Science, researchers from three US universities describe how they carried out a range of tests with 400 children, half of whom were girls, to probe the influence of gender stereotypes on children’s notions of intelligence and ability. In the first test, a group of 96 boys and girls of ages five, six and seven, were read a story about a highly intelligent person, and were asked to guess the person’s gender. They were then presented with a series of pictures showing pairs of adults, some same-sex, some opposite sex, and were asked to pick which they thought was highly intelligent. Finally, the children were asked to match certain objects and traits, such as “being smart”, to pictures of men and women. © 2017 Guardian News and Media Limited

Keyword: Sexual Behavior; Attention
Link ID: 23154 - Posted: 01.27.2017

By Marcy Cuttler, CBC News Imagine waking up suddenly deaf in one ear. Musician and composer Richard Einhorn has lived through it. In June 2010, the 64-year-old New Yorker awoke to his ears ringing. "The first thing you think of, of course, is a brain tumour or a stroke," he said. At the time, he was in upstate Massachusetts, far from help. So he called a cab and went to the closest hospital. Doctors eventually told him it was sudden sensorineural hearing loss (SSHL) — a little-known and not well understood condition that affects one person per 5,000 every year according to the U.S. National Institutes of Health. What doctors do know: that most people diagnosed with it are between the ages of 40 and 60; that men and women can be equally afflicted; and that it usually only impacts one ear. Einhorn, who couldn't hear well in his other ear due to a pre-existing condition, was left completely deaf. "It was incredibly difficult to communicate with anybody ... we were doing it with notes," he said. "I wouldn't recommend it on my worst enemy. It was really, really terrible." Dr. James Bonaparte says if you wake up with ringing in your ears that continues throughout the day, or if you notice a drop in hearing on one side — and you don't have a cold at the time — get checked. (CBC) ©2017 CBC/Radio-Canada

Keyword: Hearing
Link ID: 23153 - Posted: 01.27.2017

Jon Hamilton What Einstein did for physics, a Spaniard named Santiago Ramón y Cajal did for neuroscience more than a century ago. Back in the 1890s, Cajal produced a series of drawings of brain cells that would radically change scientists' understanding of the brain. And Cajal's drawings aren't just important to science. They are considered so striking that the Weisman Art Museum in Minneapolis has organized a traveling exhibition of Cajal's work called The Beautiful Brain. "Cahal was the founder of modern neuroscience," says Larry Swanson, a brain scientist at the University of Southern California who wrote an essay for the book that accompanies the exhibit. "Before Cajal it was just completely different," Swanson says. "Most of the neuroscientists in the mid-19th century thought the nervous system was organized almost like a fishing net." They saw the brain and nervous system as a single, continuous web, not a collection of separate cells. But Cajal reached a different conclusion. "Cajal looked under the microscope at different parts of the brain and said, 'It's not like a fishing net,'" Swanson says. "There are individual units called nerve cells or neurons that are put together in chains to form circuits." Cajal didn't just take notes on what he saw. He made thousands of highly detailed drawings, many of which are considered works of art. © 2017 npr

Keyword: Brain imaging
Link ID: 23152 - Posted: 01.27.2017

Esther Landhuis As big brain-mapping initiatives go, Taiwan's might seem small. Scientists there are studying the humble fruit fly, reverse-engineering its brain from images of single neurons. Their efforts have produced 3D maps of brain circuitry in stunning detail. Researchers need only a computer mouse and web browser to home in on individual cells and zoom back out to intertwined networks of nerve bundles. The wiring diagrams look like colourful threads on a tapestry, and they're clear enough to show which cell clusters control specific behaviours. By stimulating a specific neural circuit, researchers can cue a fly to flap its left wing or swing its head from side to side — feats that roused a late-afternoon crowd in November at the annual meeting of the Society for Neuroscience in San Diego, California. But even for such a small creature, it has taken the team a full decade to image 60,000 neurons, at a rate of 1 gigabyte per cell, says project leader Ann-Shyn Chiang, a neuroscientist at the National Tsing Hua University in Hsinchu City, Taiwan — and that's not even half of the nerve cells in the Drosophila brain. Using the same protocol to image the 86 billion neurons in the human brain would take an estimated 17 million years, Chiang reported at the meeting. Other technologies are more tractable. In July 2016, an international team published a map of the human brain's wrinkled outer layer, the cerebral cortex1. Many scientists consider the result to be the most detailed human brain-connectivity map so far. Yet, even at its highest spatial resolution (1 cubic millimetre), each voxel — the smallest distinguishable element of a 3D object — contains tens of thousands of neurons. That's a far cry from the neural connections that have been mapped at single-cell resolution in the fruit fly. © 2017 Macmillan Publishers Limited

Keyword: Brain imaging
Link ID: 23151 - Posted: 01.26.2017

By Meredith Wadman Many children with congenital heart disease (CHD)—the most common major birth defect in the United States—sustain brain damage that often leads to problems with behavior, thinking, and learning. Now, for the first time, researchers have described how the lack of brain oxygen that results from heart malformations might stunt the brains of newborns, opening avenues to potential therapies that could be used even before babies are born. The results are “incredibly exciting,” says Caitlin Rollins, a child neurologist at Boston Children’s Hospital. “This kind of study allows us to start understanding the cellular mechanisms” behind the brain damage, she says. In the future, she adds, “we might be able to alter the course of brain development” with drugs targeted at the cellular anomalies and delivered during pregnancy. CHD reduces oxygen delivery to the brain at a time when the fetus most needs it. This lack of oxygen is thought to be a primary cause of the brain aberrations, which first become visible on MRI scans in the third trimester of pregnancy. (The heart anomalies themselves are commonly identified in the second trimester, on routine ultrasound scans.) Yet until now, scientists have been unclear about the underlying cellular process causing the brain problems. So a research team led by scientists at Children’s National Health System in Washington, D.C., delivered subpar levels of oxygen to newborn piglets, whose course of brain development and whose highly evolved brain structure mirrors in many respects those of humans. © 2017 American Association for the Advancement of Science.

Keyword: Development of the Brain
Link ID: 23150 - Posted: 01.26.2017