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On 24 February, Uganda’s president, Yoweri Museveni, signed a draconian Anti-Homosexuality Bill into law, after 2 months of declining to do so. Science, he says, changed his mind—in particular, the findings of a special scientific committee his Health Ministry had appointed earlier in the month. “Their unanimous conclusion was that homosexuality, contrary to my earlier thinking, was behavioural and not genetic,” Museveni wrote to President Barack Obama on 18 February, in response to Obama’s pleas that he not sign the bill. “It was learnt and could be unlearnt.” But some scientists on the committee are crying foul, saying that Museveni and his ruling party—Uganda’s National Resistance Movement (NRM)—misrepresented their findings. “They misquoted our report,” says Paul Bangirana, a clinical psychologist at Makerere University in Kampala. “The report does not state anywhere that homosexuality is not genetic, and we did not say that it could be unlearnt.” Two other committee members have now resigned to protest the use of their report to justify the harsh legislation, which mandates life imprisonment for “aggravated homosexuality,” such as sexual acts with a minor, and prison terms of 7 to 14 years for attempted and actual homosexual acts, respectively. The law was first introduced into Uganda’s Parliament in 2009, but withdrawn after widespread objections to provisions that could have included the death penalty. As he signed the new version, passed by Parliament last 20 December, Museveni claimed that “mercenaries” were recruiting young people into gay activities. © 2014 American Association for the Advancement of Science
|By Lila Stanners Beauty seems mysterious and subjective. Scientists have long attempted to explain why the same object can strike some individuals as breathtaking and others as repulsive. Now a study finds that applying stimulation to a certain brain area enhances people's aesthetic appreciation of visual images. First, participants viewed 70 abstract paintings and sketches and 80 representational (realistic) paintings and photographs and rated how much they liked each one. Then they rated a similar set of images after receiving transcranial direct-current stimulation or sham stimulation. Transcranial direct-current stimulation sends small electrical impulses to the brain through electrodes attached to the head. The technique is noninvasive and cannot be felt, so subjects in the trials were not aware when they received real stimulation. The researchers aimed the impulses at the left dorsolateral prefrontal cortex, an area just behind the brow that is known to be a region critical for emotional processing. They found that the stimulation increased participants' appreciation of representational images, according to the study published online in October 2013 inSocial Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience. The scientists believe the stimulation facilitated a shift from object recognition to aesthetic appraisal for the figurative images; the abstract art was probably being processed by a different area of the brain. This study is one of many recent successful attempts at subtly altering cognition with noninvasive brain stimulation. Some experiments have found that stimulating certain areas allows people to solve math problems or puzzles that formerly had them stumped. Other work suggests these techniques can enhance motor learning, helping athletes or musicians improve at a new sport or a new instrument more rapidly. Experts are quick to point out, however, that these effects are modest enhancements at best—thought induction remains firmly in the realm of science fiction. © 2014 Scientific American
Daniel Cressey Researchers have called for a common method of killing zebrafish used in laboratories to be abandoned amid growing evidence that it causes unnecessary suffering. The anaesthetic MS-222, which can be added to tanks to cause overdose, seems to distress the fish, two separate studies have shown. The studies’ authors propose that alternative anaesthetics or methods should be used instead. “These two studies — carried out independently — use different methodologies to reach the same conclusion: zebrafish detect and avoid MS-222 in the water,” says Stewart Owen, a senior environmental scientist at AstraZeneca’s Brixham Environmental Laboratory in Brixham, UK, and a co-author of one of the studies. “As this is a clear aversive response, as a humane choice, one would no longer use this agent for routine zebrafish anaesthesia.” The use of zebrafish (Danio rerio) in research has skyrocketed in recent years as scientists have sought alternatives to more controversial animal models, such as mammals. The fish are cheap and easy to keep, and although no firm data on numbers have been collected, millions are known to be housed in laboratories around the world. Nearly all will eventually be killed. MS-222 (ethyl 3-aminobenzoate methanesulphate, also known as TMS) is one of the agents most frequently used to kill the creatures. It is listed as an acceptable method of euthanasia by many institutions, and also by societies such as the American Veterinary Medical Association. But the study by Owen and his co-authors, published last year (G. D. Readman et al. PLoS ONE 8, e73773; 2013), and the second study, published earlier this month by Daniel Weary and his colleagues at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, Canada (D. Wong et al. PLoS ONE 9, e88030; 2014), show that zebrafish seem to find the chemical distressing. The research should fundamentally change the practice, say the authors of both papers. © 2014 Nature Publishing Group
Keyword: Pain & Touch
Link ID: 19294 - Posted: 02.26.2014
By Michelle Roberts Health editor, BBC News online Doctors have devised a new way to treat amputees with phantom limb pain. Using computer-generated augmented reality, the patient can see and move a virtual arm controlled by their stump. Electric signals from the muscles in the amputated limb "talk" to the computer, allowing real-time movement. Amputee Ture Johanson says his pain has reduced dramatically thanks to the new computer program, which he now uses regularly in his home. He now has periods when he is free of pain and he is no longer woken at night by intense periods of pain. Mr Johanson, who is 73 and lives in Sweden, lost half of his right arm in a car accident 48 years ago. After a below-elbow amputation he faced daily pain and discomfort emanating from his now missing arm and hand. Over the decades he has tried numerous therapies, including hypnosis, to no avail. Within weeks of starting on the augmented reality treatment in Max Ortiz Catalan's clinic at Chalmers University of Technology, his pain has now eased. "The pain is much less now. I still have it often but it is shorter, for only a few seconds where before it was for minutes. BBC © 2014
By Deborah Kotz / Globe Staff Obesity rates plummeted among preschool children in the past decade, from nearly 14 percent to just over 8 percent in 2011-12, according to a new federal government analysis that was hailed by one researcher as a “glimmer of hope.” But the campaign to combat the nation’s obesity epidemic has had no success with adults and older children: Americans remain just as overweight as ever, with two out of three adults at an unhealthy weight and more than one out of three obese in 2011-12, the latest years for which statistics were available. The study, published Tuesday in the Journal of the American Medical Association, examined annual government health and nutrition surveys that sampled more than 9,000 Americans of all ages. Despite the gains for toddlers, the study found that overall among children under age 20, 17 percent were at the extreme obese end of the weight spectrum. Nearly one-third of kids remain either overweight or obese—nearly triple the rate of 50 years ago—which pediatricians blame for the sharp rise in type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, and high cholesterol levels in children. Rates actually increased in one group: Women over age 60 experienced a rise in obesity from just under 32 percent 10 years ago to over 38 percent in 2011-2012. “Obesity rates haven’t changed for most Americans, but there was a glimmer of hope in preschoolers,” said study leader Cynthia Ogden, an epidemiologist at the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s National Center for Health Statistics. © 2014 Boston Globe Media Partners, LLC
Link ID: 19292 - Posted: 02.26.2014
By JAMES GORMAN SEATTLE — When Clay Reid decided to leave his job as a professor at Harvard Medical School to become a senior investigator at the Allen Institute for Brain Science in Seattle in 2012, some of his colleagues congratulated him warmly and understood right away why he was making the move. Others shook their heads. He was, after all, leaving one of the world’s great universities to go to the academic equivalent of an Internet start-up, albeit an extremely well- financed, very ambitious one, created in 2003 by Paul Allen, a founder of Microsoft. Still, “it wasn’t a remotely hard decision,” Dr. Reid said. He wanted to mount an all-out investigation of a part of the mouse brain. And although he was happy at Harvard, the Allen Institute offered not only great colleagues and deep pockets, but also an approach to science different from the classic university environment. The institute was already mapping the mouse brain in fantastic detail, and specialized in the large-scale accumulation of information in atlases and databases available to all of science. Now, it was expanding, and trying to merge its semi-industrial approach to data gathering with more traditional science driven by individual investigators, by hiring scientists like Christof Koch from the California Institute of Technology as chief scientific officer in 2011 and Dr. Reid. As a senior investigator, he would lead a group of about 100, and work with scientists, engineers and technicians in other groups. Without the need to apply regularly for federal grants, Dr. Reid could concentrate on one piece of the puzzle of how the brain works. He would try to decode the workings of one part of the mouse brain, the million neurons in the visual cortex, from, as he puts it, “molecules to behavior.” © 2014 The New York Times Company
Link ID: 19291 - Posted: 02.25.2014
|By Beth Skwarecki Prions, the protein family notorious for causing "mad cow" and neurodegenerative diseases like Parkinson's, can play an important role in healthy cells. "Do you think God created prions just to kill?" mused Nobel laureate Eric Kandel. "These things must have evolved initially to have a physiological function." His work on memory helped reveal that animals make and use prions in their nervous systems as part of an essential function: stabilizing the synapses that constitute long-term memories. These natural prions aren't infectious but on a molecular level they chain up exactly the same way as their disease-causing brethren. (Some researchers call them "prionlike" to avoid confusion.) This week, work from neuroscientist Kausik Si of the Stowers Institute for Medical Research, one of Kandel's former students, shows that the prion's action is tightly controlled by the cell, and can be turned on when a new long-term memory needs to be formed. Prions are proteins with two unusual properties: First, they can switch between two possible shapes, one that is stable on its own and an alternate conformation that can form chains. Second, the chain-forming version has to be able to trigger others to change shape and join the chain. Say that in the normal version the protein is folded so that one portion of the protein structure—call it "tab A"—fits into its own "slot B." In the alternate form, though, tab A is available to fit into its neighbor's slot B. That means the neighbor can do the same thing to the next protein to come along, forming a chain or clump that can grow indefinitely. © 2014 Scientific American,
By JoNel Aleccia The first of 18,000 University of California, Santa Barbara, students lined up for shots Monday as the school began offering an imported vaccine to halt an outbreak of dangerous meningitis that sickened four, including one young man who lost his feet. "My dad's a pediatrician and he's been sending me emails over and over to go get it," said Carly Chianese, 20, a junior from Bayville, N.Y., who showed up a half-hour before the UCSB clinic opened. It’s the second time in three months that government health officials have inoculated U.S. college students with an emergency vaccine, Bexsero, to protect against the B strain of meningitis. More than 5,400 students at Princeton University in New Jersey received the vaccine in December after an outbreak sickened eight there. Another 4,400 got booster shots last week. No new cases have been detected at UCSB since November, but health officials said the vaccine licensed in Europe, Australia and Canada but not in the U.S. would stop future spread of the infection. Current vaccines available in the U.S. protect against four strains of meningitis, but not the B strain. Bacterial meningitis is a serious infection that kills 1 in 10 affected and leaves 20 percent with severe disabilities. Shots will be offered at UCSB from Monday through March 7, with a second series planned for later this spring. “During the last couple of outbreaks on college campuses, there have been additional cases over a year or two years,” said Dr. Amanda Cohn, a medical epidemiologist with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “There is certainly that possibility. We strongly recommend that students get vaccinated.”
Link ID: 19289 - Posted: 02.25.2014
|By Jenni Laidman People born with Down syndrome have always been considered to be incurably developmentally delayed—until now. In the past few years a number of laboratories have uncovered critical drug targets within disabled chemical pathways in the brain that might be restored with medication. At least two clinical trials are currently studying the effects of such treatments on people with Down syndrome. Now geneticist Roger Reeves of Johns Hopkins University may have stumbled on another drug target—this one with the potential to correct the learning and memory deficits so central to the condition. Down syndrome occurs in about one in 1,000 births annually worldwide. It arises from an extra copy of chromosome 21 and the overexpression of each of the 300 to 500 genes the chromosome carries. “If you go back even as recently as 2004, researchers didn't have much of a clue about the mechanisms involved in this developmental disability,” says Michael Harpold, chief scientific officer with the Down Syndrome Research and Treatment Foundation. But all that has changed. “In the past six or seven years there have been several breakthroughs—and ‘breakthroughs’ is not by any means too big a word—in understanding the neurochemistry in Down syndrome,” Reeves says. This improved knowledge base has led to a series of discoveries with therapeutic promise, including the latest by Reeves. He and his team were attempting to restore the size of the cerebellum in mice engineered to show the hallmarks of Down syndrome. The cerebellum lies at the base of the brain and controls motor functions, motor learning and balance. In people with Down syndrome and in the Down mouse model the cerebellum is about 40 percent smaller than normal. By restoring its size, Reeves hoped to gain a clearer picture of the developmental processes that lead to anomalies in a brain with Down syndrome. © 2014 Scientific American
by Nathan Seppa Women who take acetaminophen during pregnancy are more likely to have a child with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder than are women who don’t, according to an analysis of nearly 41,000 pairs of mothers and children in a Danish birth registry. Researchers found that more than half of the women, who gave birth between 1996 and 2002, had used the pain reliever during pregnancy. Calls to the women when the children were 7 years old revealed that children whose moms used any acetaminophen during pregnancy were 37 percent more apt to be diagnosed with ADHD or a related disorder than children whose moms didn’t use the drug. If the women used it in all three trimesters, the apparent risk for offspring was 61 percent higher than for children whose mothers didn’t use the drug. Out of nearly 41,000 children, fewer than 1,000 were diagnosed with ADHD and related disorders. The data establish an association and not cause and effect. But the researchers note that acetaminophen, also sold as Tylenol or Panadol, can cross the placental barrier and may affect hormones in a fetus. Citations Z. Liew et al. Acetaminophen use during pregnancy, behavioral problems, and hyperkinetic disorders. JAMA Pediatrics. Online February 24, 2014. doi:10.1001/jamapediatrics.2013.4914. © Society for Science & the Public 2000 - 2013.
By Meeri Kim, How often, and how well, do you remember your dreams? Some people seem to be super-dreamers, able to recall effortlessly their dreams in vivid detail almost every day. Others struggle to remember even a vague fragment or two. A new study has discovered that heightened blood flow activity within certain regions of the brain could help explain the great dreamer divide. In general, dream recall is thought to require some amount of wakefulness during the night for the vision to be encoded in longer-term memory. But it is not known what causes some people to wake up more than others. A team of French researchers looked at brain activation maps of sleeping subjects and homed in on areas that could be responsible for nighttime wakefulness. When comparing two groups of dreamers on the opposite ends of the recall spectrum, the maps revealed that the temporoparietal junction — an area responsible for collecting and processing information from the external world — was more highly activated in high-recallers. The researchers speculate that this allows these people to sense environmental noises in the night and wake up momentarily — and, in the process, store dream memories for later recall. In support of this hypothesis, previous medical cases have found that when these same portions of the brain are damaged by stroke, patients lose the ability to remember their dreams, even though they can still achieve the REM (rapid eye movement) stage of sleep in which dreaming usually occurs. © 1996-2014 The Washington Post
Sara Reardon Freddie Lee Hall loved to gamble, although he usually lost. Winning was better: then he gladly gave the money back to the friends he'd won it from, along with all the wages he earned picking fruit in rural Florida. His friends praised him for this. It made him feel good. And Hall needed to feel good — as court documents make abundantly clear. As a child growing up in the impoverished town of Webster, Florida, he had struggled to keep up with 16 brothers and sisters, who were much smarter than he was. If he failed to understand something, his mother beat him, once while he was tied up in a bag strung over a fire. He stuttered, never learned to read and feared the dark. He was unable to live alone. “Even though he was full grown, mentally he was a child,” his sister Diana told the court. “I had hoped to protect Freddie Lee from the outside world.” But the outside world found him. In 1978, Hall and his friend Mack Ruffin decided to rob a convenience store. They needed a car, so they forced 21-year-old Karol Hurst, who was pregnant, to drive into the woods, where they raped and killed her. Later, one of the pair also shot and killed a sheriff's deputy. When the two men were caught, tried and convicted of murder, the court decided that Hall was the likely ringleader. Ruffin was eventually sentenced to life in prison; Hall was sentenced to death. Next month, after 35 years of failed appeals to have that death sentence commuted to life imprisonment, Hall will have his case heard before the US Supreme Court. His guilt is not in question: the issue is Florida's use of IQ test scores in sentencing him to death. © 2014 Nature Publishing Group,
By SABRINA TAVERNISE Dr. Michael Siegel, a hard-charging public health researcher at Boston University, argues that e-cigarettes could be the beginning of the end of smoking in America. He sees them as a disruptive innovation that could make cigarettes obsolete, like the computer did to the typewriter. But his former teacher and mentor, Stanton A. Glantz, a professor of medicine at the University of California, San Francisco, is convinced that e-cigarettes may erase the hard-won progress achieved over the last half-century in reducing smoking. He predicts that the modern gadgetry will be a glittering gateway to the deadly, old-fashioned habit for children, and that adult smokers will stay hooked longer now that they can get a nicotine fix at their desks. These experts represent the two camps now at war over the public health implications of e-cigarettes. The devices, intended to feed nicotine addiction without the toxic tar of conventional cigarettes, have divided a normally sedate public health community that had long been united in the fight against smoking and Big Tobacco. The essence of their disagreement comes down to a simple question: Will e-cigarettes cause more or fewer people to smoke? The answer matters. Cigarette smoking is still the single largest cause of preventable death in the United States, killing about 480,000 people a year. Dr. Siegel, whose graduate school manuscripts Dr. Glantz used to read, says e-cigarette pessimists are stuck on the idea that anything that looks like smoking is bad. “They are so blinded by this ideology that they are not able to see e-cigarettes objectively,” he said. Dr. Glantz disagrees. “E-cigarettes seem like a good idea,” he said, “but they aren’t.” © 2014 The New York Times Company
Keyword: Drug Abuse
Link ID: 19284 - Posted: 02.24.2014
By James Gallagher Health and science reporter, BBC News US doctors are warning of an emerging polio-like disease in California where up to 20 people have been infected. A meeting of the American Academy of Neurology heard that some patients had developed paralysis in all four limbs, which had not improved with treatment. The US is polio-free, but related viruses can also attack the nervous system leading to paralysis. Doctors say they do not expect an epidemic of the polio-like virus and that the infection remains rare. Polio is a dangerous and feared childhood infection. The virus rapidly invades the nervous system and causes paralysis in one in 200 cases. It can be fatal if it stops the lungs from working. There have been 20 suspected cases of the new infection, mostly in children, in the past 18 months, A detailed analysis of five cases showed enterovirus-68 - which is related to poliovirus - could be to blame. In those cases all the children had been vaccinated against polio. Symptoms have ranged from restricted movement in one limb to severe weakness in both legs and arms. Dr Emanuelle Waubant, a neurologist at the University of California, San Francisco, told the BBC: "There has been no obvious increase in the pace of new cases so we don't think we're about to experience an epidemic, that's the good news. BBC © 2014
Keyword: Movement Disorders
Link ID: 19283 - Posted: 02.24.2014
Brain cell regeneration has been discovered in a new location in human brains. The finding raises hopes that these cells could be used to help people recover after a stroke, or to treat other brain diseases. For years it was unclear whether or not we could generate new brain cells during our lifetime, as the process – neurogenesis – had only been seen in animals. Instead, it was thought that humans, with our large and complex brains, are born with all the required neurons. Then last year Jonas Frisén of the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm, Sweden, and his colleagues found that neurogenesis occurs in the hippocampi of the human brain. These structures are crucial for memory formation (Cell, DOI: 10.1016/j.cell.2013.05.002) Now they have found more new brain cells in a second location – golf-ball-sized structures called the striata. These seem to be involved in many different functions, including in learning and memory. These particular aspects, related as they are to the hippocampi, lead Frisén to speculate that these new brain cells may also be involved with learning. "New neurons may convey some sort of plasticity," he says, which might help people learn and adapt to new situations. To reveal the new brain cells, the team exploited the fact that there have been varying levels of a radioactive isotope of carbon – carbon-14 – in the atmosphere since nuclear bomb tests during the cold war. This means that the year of creation of many cells in the body can be found by measuring the ratio of carbon-14 to carbon-12 in its DNA. Analysis of 30 donated brains revealed which brain cells had been born during the lifetimes of the donors. © Copyright Reed Business Information Ltd.
Link ID: 19282 - Posted: 02.22.2014
There is no biological cure for deafness—yet. We detect sound using sensory cells sporting microscopic hairlike projections, and when these so-called hair cells deep inside the inner ear are destroyed by illness or loud noise, they are gone forever. Or so scientists thought. A new study finds specific cells in the inner ear of newborn mice that regenerate these sensory cells—even after damage, potentially opening up a way to treat deafness in humans. Researchers knew that cells in the inner ear below hair cells—known as supporting cells—can become the sensory cells themselves when stimulated by a protein that blocks Notch signaling, which is an important mechanism for cell communication. Albert Edge, a stem cell biologist at Harvard Medical School in Boston, and his colleagues, attempted to identify the exact type of supporting cells that transform into sensory ones and fill in the gaps left by the damaged cells. The researchers removed the organ of Corti, which is housed within a seashell-shaped cavity called the cochlea and contains sensory hair cells, from newborn mice and kept the cells alive in culture plates. They damaged the hair cells using the antibiotic gentamicin, which destroys its sound-sensing projections. When they examined the organ of Corti under the microscope, they saw that small numbers of hair cells had regenerated on their own. But if they blocked Notch signaling, they saw even more regenerated hair cells, the team reports today in Stem Cell Reports. The number that developed varied, but in the base of cochlea, where the tissue received the most damage, hair cell numbers returned to about 40% of the original. “It’s interesting and encouraging that they are capable of regenerating,” Edge says. © 2014 American Association for the Advancement of Science.
By DEBORAH BLUM Toxicologists have long considered ethylene glycol, the active ingredient in many antifreeze and engine coolant formulas, to be a seductive and uniquely dangerous poison. For one thing, it’s sweet. “We actually had a mechanic who developed a taste for it,” recalled Dr. Marsha Ford, director of the Carolinas Poison Center in Charlotte, N.C. “He’d pour himself a little and sip it. And he kept doing that until he got sick.” And that’s the other danger: Ethylene glycol is a slow-acting poison. Even following a high dose, symptoms can take up to 48 hours to appear. The country’s poison control centers record more than 5,000 ethylene glycol ingestions annually; some 2,000 cases require medical treatment. Most are accidental, but ethylene glycol also figures in hundreds of suicide attempts every year — not to mention the occasional murder. Recently an Ohio woman was convicted of killing her fiancé by spiking raspberry iced tea with antifreeze. The situation for animals has been even more dangerous than for despised spouses. According to the Humane Society of the United States, as many as 90,000 pets and wild animals are poisoned annually by drinking spilled or carelessly stored products containing ethylene glycol. Now the manufacturers of those products have determined to do something about all the carnage. They are making antifreeze taste awful — so very bitter that it will be nigh impossible to drink by accident. © 2014 The New York Times Company
If you ever feel like your emotions are getting the best of you, you may want to try dimming the lights. According to researchers at the University of Toronto Scarborough, bright light can make us more emotional — for better or for worse — making us experience both positive and negative feelings more intensely. The findings seem to contradict commonly held notions that people feel happier and more optimistic on bright, sunny days and gloomier on dark, cloudy days. In fact, the idea for the study was spurred by findings that suicide rates peak in the late spring and summer, when sunshine is most abundant. “I was very surprised by this,” study author Alison Jing Xu told CBC News. Xu is an assistant professor of management at UTSC and the Rotman School of Management. “Normally I would say if brighter days generally increase people’s affect, then suicide rates should peak in winter — but actually it does not,” she said. Xu, along with the study’s co-author Aparna Labroo of Northwestern University in the U.S., conducted six experiments to explore the relationship between light and emotion. Their paper is published in the Journal of Consumer Psychology. Participants in each case were divided into two groups: Some were placed in a brightly lit room where fluorescent ceiling lights were turned on, while others were placed in a dimly lit room where the only light came from computer monitors. © CBC 2014
When you hear a friend’s voice, you immediately picture her, even if you can’t see her. And from the tone of her speech, you quickly gauge if she’s happy or sad. You can do all of this because your human brain has a “voice area.” Now, scientists using brain scanners and a crew of eager dogs have discovered that dog brains, too, have dedicated voice areas. The finding helps explain how canines can be so attuned to their owners’ feelings. “It’s absolutely brilliant, groundbreaking research,” says Pascal Belin, a neuroscientist at the University of Glasgow in the United Kingdom, who was part of the team that identified the voice areas in the human brain in 2000. “They’ve made the first comparative study using nonhuman primates of the cerebral processing of voices, and they’ve done it with a noninvasive technique by training dogs to lie in a scanner.” The scientists behind the discovery had previously shown that humans can readily distinguish between dogs’ happy and sad barks. “Dogs and humans share a similar social environment,” says Attila Andics, a neuroscientist in a research group at the Hungarian Academy of Sciences at Eötvös Loránd University in Budapest and the lead author of the new study. “So we wondered if dogs also get some social information from human voices.” To find out, Andics and his colleagues decided to scan the canine brain to see how it processes different types of sounds, including voices, barks, and natural noises. In humans, the voice area is activated when we hear others speak, helping us recognize a speaker’s identity and pick up on the emotional content in her voice. If dogs had voice areas, it could mean that these abilities aren’t limited to humans and other primates. © 2014 American Association for the Advancement of Science
National Institutes of Health researchers have identified gene variants that cause a rare syndrome of sporadic fevers, skin rashes and recurring strokes, beginning early in childhood. The team’s discovery coincides with findings by an Israeli research group that identified an overlapping set of variants of the same gene in patients with a similar type of blood vessel inflammation. The NIH group first encountered a patient with the syndrome approximately 10 years ago. The patient, then 3 years old, experienced fevers, skin rash and strokes that left her severely disabled. Because there was no history of a similar illness in the family, the NIH group did not at first suspect a genetic cause, and treated the patient with immunosuppressive medication. However, when the NIH team evaluated a second patient with similar symptoms two years ago — a child who had experienced recurrent fevers and six strokes by her sixth birthday — they began to suspect a common genetic cause and embarked on a medical odyssey that has led not only to a diagnosis, but to fundamental new insights into blood vessel disease. In their study, which appears in the Feb. 19, 2014, advance online edition of the New England Journal of Medicine, the researchers describe how next-generation genome sequencing, only recently available, facilitated a molecular diagnosis for patients in their study. The researchers found that harmful variants in the CECR1 gene impede production of a protein vital to the integrity of healthy blood vessel walls. The researchers showed that faulty variants in their patients’ DNA that encode the CECR1 gene cause a loss of function of the gene’s ability to produce of an enzyme called adenosine deaminase 2 (ADA2). Without it, abnormalities and inflammation in blood vessel walls result. The researchers call the new syndrome, deficiency of ADA2, or DADA2.