Chapter 13. Memory, Learning, and Development

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Fearful memories can be dampened by imagining past traumas in a safe setting. The "extinction" of fear is fragile, however, and surprising or unexpected events can cause fear memories to return. Inactivating brain areas that detect novelty prevents relapse of unwanted fear memories. Traumatic and emotional experiences often lead to debilitating mental health disorders, including post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). In the clinic, it is typical to use behavioral therapies such as exposure therapy to help reduce fear in patients suffering from traumatic memories. Using these approaches, patients are asked to remember the circumstances and stimuli surrounding their traumatic memory in a safe setting in order to "extinguish" their fear response to those events. While effective in many cases, the loss of fear and anxiety achieved by these therapies is often short-lived—fear returns or relapses under a variety of conditions. Many years ago, the famous Russian physiologist Ivan Pavlov noted that simply exposing animals to novel or unexpected events could cause extinguished responses (such as salivary responses to sounds) to return. Might exposure to novelty also cause extinguished fear responses to return? In a recent study (Maren, 2014), rats first learned that an innocuous tone predicted an aversive (but mild) electric shock to their feet. The subsequent fear response to the tone was then extinguished by presenting the stimulus to the animals many times without the shock. After the fear response to the tone was reduced with the extinction procedure, they were then presented with the tone in either a new location (a novel test box) or in a familiar location, but in the presence of an unexpected sound (a noise burst). In both cases, fear to the tone returned as Pavlov predicted: the unexpected places and sounds led to a disinhibition of fear—in other words, fear relapsed. © 2014 Publiscize

Keyword: Learning & Memory; Aggression
Link ID: 19852 - Posted: 07.19.2014

Obese women may have a "food learning impairment" that could explain their attitude to food, research from Yale School of Medicine suggests. Tests on groups of obese and healthy-weight people found that the obese women performed worst when asked to remember a sequence of food picture cards. Writing in Current Biology, Yale researchers tested 135 men and women. The findings could lead to new ways to tackle obesity, the study says. Study author Ifat Levy, assistant professor at Yale School of Medicine, said the difference in the performance of the obese women compared with the other groups was "really striking" and "significant". The tests looked at an individual's ability to learn and predict the appearance of pictures of food or money on coloured cards. The participants were told they would be given whatever appeared on these "reward" cards. In the first phase, the reward cards always followed a particular coloured card in a sequence. Later, the order was changed and the reward cards appeared following a different coloured card. During this time, participants were asked to predict the likelihood of a reward card appearing as the cards were shown one by one. The results showed that obese women performed worst because they overestimated how often the pictures of food, including pretzels or chocolate, appeared. Even after researchers had accounted for other factors, there was still a large difference in their learning performance. Prof Levy said: "This is not a general learning impairment, as obese women had no problem learning when the reward was money rather than food. BBC © 2014

Keyword: Obesity; Aggression
Link ID: 19850 - Posted: 07.19.2014

Kelly Servick If you’re a bird enthusiast, you can pick out the “chick-a-DEE-dee” song of the Carolina chickadee with just a little practice. But if you’re an environmental scientist faced with parsing thousands of hours of recordings of birdsongs in the lab, you might want to enlist some help from your computer. A new approach to automatic classification of birdsong borrows techniques from human voice recognition software to sort through the sounds of hundreds of species and decides on its own which features make each one unique. Collectors of animal sounds are facing a data deluge. Thanks to cheap digital recording devices that can capture sound for days in the field, “it’s really, really easy to collect sound, but it’s really difficult to analyze it,” say Aaron Rice, a bioacoustics researcher at Cornell University, who was not involved in the new work. His lab has collected 6 million hours of underwater recordings, from which they hope to pick out the signature sounds of various marine mammals. Knowing where and when a certain species is vocalizing might help scientists understand habitat preferences, track their movements or population changes, and recognize when a species is disrupted by human development. But to keep these detailed records, researchers rely on software that can reliably sort through the cacophony they capture in the field. Typically, scientists build one computer program to recognize one species, and then start all over for another species, Rice says. Training a computer to recognize lots of species in one pass is “a challenge that we’re all facing.” © 2014 American Association for the Advancement of Science.

Keyword: Learning & Memory
Link ID: 19849 - Posted: 07.19.2014

|By Nidhi Subbaraman and SFARI.org A team at Duke University in Durham, North Carolina, is set to launch a $40 million clinical trial to explore stem cells from umbilical cord blood as a treatment for autism. But experts caution that the trial is premature. A $15 million grant from the Marcus Foundation, a philanthropic funding organization based in Atlanta, will bankroll the first two years of the five-year trial, which also plans to test stem cell therapy for stroke and cerebral palsy. The autism arm of the trial aims to enroll 390 children and adults. Joanne Kurtzberg, the trial’s lead investigator, has extensive experience studying the effectiveness of cord blood transplants for treating various disorders, such as leukemia and sickle cell anemia. Most recently, she showed that cord blood transplants can improve the odds of survival for babies deprived of oxygen at birth. A randomized trial of the approach for this condition is underway. “To really sort out if [stem] cells can treat these children, we need to do randomized, controlled trials that are well designed and well controlled, and that’s what we intend to do,” says Kurtzberg, professor of pediatrics and pathology at Duke. “We firmly believe we should be moving ahead in the clinic.” Early animal studies have shown that stem cells isolated from umbilical cord blood can stimulate cells in the spinal cord to regrow their myelin layers, and in doing so help restore connections with surrounding cells. Autism is thought to result from impaired connectivity in the brain. Because of this, some groups of children with the disorder may benefit from a stem cell transplant, Kurtzberg says. © 2014 Scientific American

Keyword: Autism; Aggression
Link ID: 19840 - Posted: 07.16.2014

Associated Press The rate of Alzheimer's disease and other dementias is falling in the United States and some other rich countries - good news about an epidemic that is still growing simply because more people are living to an old age, new studies show. An American over age 60 today has a 44 percent lower chance of developing dementia than a similar-aged person did roughly 30 years ago, the longest study of these trends in the U.S. concluded. Dementia rates also are down in Germany, a study there found. "For an individual, the actual risk of dementia seems to have declined," probably because of more education and control of health factors such as cholesterol and blood pressure, said Dr. Kenneth Langa. He is a University of Michigan expert on aging who discussed the studies Tuesday at the Alzheimer's Association International Conference in Copenhagen. The opposite is occurring in some poor countries that have lagged on education and health, where dementia seems to be rising. More than 5.4 million Americans and 35 million people worldwide have Alzheimer's, the most common form of dementia. It has no cure, and current drugs only temporarily ease symptoms. A drop in rates is a silver lining in the so-called silver tsunami - the expected wave of age-related health problems from an older population. Alzheimer's will remain a major public health issue, but countries where rates are dropping may be able to lower current projections for spending and needed services, experts said. © 2014 Hearst Communications, Inc.

Keyword: Alzheimers
Link ID: 19838 - Posted: 07.16.2014

By PAULA SPAN What we really want, if we’re honest, is a pill or a shot that would allow us to stop worrying about ever sinking into dementia. Instead, what we’re hearing about preventing dementia is, in many ways, the same stuff we hear about preventing other kinds of illnesses. Healthy lifestyles. Behavioral modification. Stress reduction. At the Alzheimer’s Association International Conference in Copenhagen this week, researchers from Montefiore Medical Center and the Albert Einstein College of Medicine were among the scientists presenting findings that had little to do with amyloid in the brain and a lot to do with how people feel and act and cope with life. “A number of people have been interested in modifiable lifestyle factors for years,” said Richard Lipton, a neurologist at the college and director of the Einstein Aging Study, which has tracked cognition in elderly Bronx residents since the 1980s. But interest has increased lately, he said: “It’s at least in part a reflection of disappointing drug trials.” Medications have failed, over and over, to prevent or cure or substantially slow the ravages of dementing diseases. What else might help? Dr. Lipton and his colleagues, who monitor about 600 people aged 70 to 105, have been exploring the impact of stress. More specifically, they have been measuring “perceived stress,” a metric not so much about unpleasant things happening as how people respond to them. They use a scale based on the answers to 13 questions like, “In the past month, how often have you felt confident about your ability to handle your personal problems?” and “In the past month, how often have you felt difficulties were piling up so high you could not overcome them?” © 2014 The New York Times Company

Keyword: Alzheimers
Link ID: 19837 - Posted: 07.16.2014

By BENEDICT CAREY The 8-year-old juggling a soccer ball and the 48-year-old jogging by, with Japanese lessons ringing from her earbuds, have something fundamental in common: At some level, both are wondering whether their investment of time and effort is worth it. How good can I get? How much time will it take? Is it possible I’m a natural at this (for once)? What’s the percentage in this, exactly? Scientists have long argued over the relative contributions of practice and native talent to the development of elite performance. This debate swings back and forth every century, it seems, but a paper in the current issue of the journal Psychological Science illustrates where the discussion now stands and hints — more tantalizingly, for people who just want to do their best — at where the research will go next. The value-of-practice debate has reached a stalemate. In a landmark 1993 study of musicians, a research team led by K. Anders Ericsson, a psychologist now at Florida State University, found that practice time explained almost all the difference (about 80 percent) between elite performers and committed amateurs. The finding rippled quickly through the popular culture, perhaps most visibly as the apparent inspiration for the “10,000-hour rule” in Malcolm Gladwell’s best-selling “Outliers” — a rough average of the amount of practice time required for expert performance. Scientists begin to shed light on the placenta, an important organ that we rarely think of; virtual reality companies work out the kinks in their immersive worlds; research shows that practice may not be as important as once thought. The new paper, the most comprehensive review of relevant research to date, comes to a different conclusion. Compiling results from 88 studies across a wide range of skills, it estimates that practice time explains about 20 percent to 25 percent of the difference in performance in music, sports and games like chess. In academics, the number is much lower — 4 percent — in part because it’s hard to assess the effect of previous knowledge, the authors wrote. © 2014 The New York Times Company

Keyword: Learning & Memory
Link ID: 19835 - Posted: 07.15.2014

By Gary Stix Popular neuroscience books have made much in recent years of the possibility that the adult brain is capable of restoring lost function or even enhancing cognition through sustained mental or physical activities. One piece of evidence often cited is a 14-year-old study that that shows that London taxi drivers have enlarged hippocampi, brain areas that store a mental map of one’s surroundings. Taxi drivers, it is assumed, have better spatial memory because they must constantly distinguish the streets and landmarks of Shepherd’s Bush from those of Brixton. A mini-industry now peddles books with titles like The Brain that Changes Itself or Rewire Your Brain: Think Your Way to a Better Life. Along with self-help guides, the value of games intended to enhance what is known as neuroplasticity are still a topic of heated debate because no one knows for sure whether or not they improve intelligence, memory, reaction times or any other facet of cognition. Beyond the controversy, however, scientists have taken a number of steps in recent years to start to answer the basic biological questions that may ultimately lead to a deeper understanding of neuroplasticity. This type of research does not look at whether psychological tests used to assess cognitive deficits can be refashioned with cartoonlike graphics and marketed as games intended to improve mental skills. Rather, these studies attempt to provide a simple definition of how mutable the brain really is at all life stages, from infancy onward into adulthood. One ongoing question that preoccupies the basic scientists pursuing this line of research is how routine everyday activities—sleep, wakefulness, even any sort of movement—may affect the ability to perceive things in the surrounding environment. One of the leaders in these efforts is Michael Stryker, who researches neuroplasticity at the University of California San Francisco. Stryker headed a group that in 2010 published a study on what happened when mice run on top of a Styrofoam ball floating on air. They found that neurons in a brain region that processes visual signals—the visual cortex—nearly doubled their firing rate when the mice ran on the ball. © 2014 Scientific American

Keyword: Learning & Memory; Aggression
Link ID: 19834 - Posted: 07.15.2014

By ALEX STONE Last summer, in a failed attempt at humor, Clorox ran an online ad that declared, “Like dogs or other house pets, new dads are filled with good intentions but lacking the judgment and fine motor skills to execute well.” Although the company pulled the ad amid a flurry of scorn from the online commentariat, it nevertheless played to a remarkably widespread stereotype — that fathers are somehow unfit to raise children. In “Do Fathers Matter?” — spoiler alert: they do — the veteran science writer Paul Raeburn jumps to Dad’s defense, drawing on several decades of research and his own experience as a five-time father. What emerges is a thought-provoking field piece on the science of fatherhood, studded with insights on how to apply it in the real world. Historically, developmental psychologists have largely dismissed fathers as irrelevant. Nearly half the articles on child and adolescent psychology published in leading journals from 1997 to 2005, for example, make no mention of fathers; before 1970, when fathers weren’t even allowed in delivery rooms, less than a fifth of the research on parental bonding took them into account. This bias reflects a deeply ingrained assumption that fathers play a marginal role in how their children turn out, a belief enshrined in the theory of infant attachment, which grew out of the work of the British psychiatrist John Bowlby in the second half of the 20th century. “It focused exclusively on mothers,” Mr. Raeburn writes. “The role of the father, Bowlby believed, was to provide support for the mother. In the drama of childhood, he was merely a supporting actor.” This was more or less the established view until a few decades ago, when psychologists, motivated in part by the growing number of women entering the work force, finally started paying attention to fathers. © 2014 The New York Times Company

Keyword: Development of the Brain; Aggression
Link ID: 19831 - Posted: 07.15.2014

|By Maria Burke and ChemistryWorld The world needs to tackle head-on the market failures undermining dementia research and drug development, UK Prime Minister David Cameron told a summit of world health and finance leaders in London in June. He announced an investigation into how to get medicines to patients earlier, extend patents and facilitate research collaborations, to report this autumn. But just how much difference will these sorts of measures make when scientists are still grappling with exactly what causes different types of dementia? Added to these problems is that dementia has become a graveyard for a large number of promising drugs. A recent study looked at how 244 compounds in 413 clinical trials fared for Alzheimer's disease between 2002 and 2012. The researchers findings paint a gloomy picture. Of those 244 compounds, only one was approved. The researchers report that this gives Alzheimer's disease drug candidates one of the highest failures rates of any disease area – 99.6%, compared with 81% for cancer. ‘Dementia is a ticking bomb costing the global economy £350 billion and yet progress with research is achingly slow,’ warned the World Dementia Envoy, Dennis Gillings. Businesses need incentives to invest in research and bring in faster, cheaper clinical trials, or the world won’t meet the ambition to find a cure or disease-modifying therapy by 2025, he added. ‘We need to free up regulation so that we can test ground-breaking new drugs, and examine whether the period for market exclusivity could be extended.’ © 2014 Scientific American

Keyword: Alzheimers
Link ID: 19828 - Posted: 07.15.2014

By Fredrick Kunkle Sleep disturbances such as apnea may increase the risk of Alzheimer’s disease, while moderate exercise in middle age and mentally stimulating games, such as crossword puzzles, may prevent the onset of the dementia-causing disease, according to new research to be presented Monday. The findings — which are to be introduced during the six-day Alzheimer’s Association International Conference in Copenhagen — bolster previous studies that suggest sleep plays a critical role in the aging brain’s health, perhaps by allowing the body to cleanse itself of Alzheimer's-related compounds during down time. The studies also add to a growing body of literature that suggests keeping the brain busy keeps it healthy. The battle against Alzheimer’s disease has become more urgent for the United States and other developing nations as their populations turn increasingly gray. The disease is the leading cause of dementia in older people and afflicts more than 5 million Americans. At its current pace, the number is expected to soar to 16 million people by 2050. In 2012, the United States adopted a national plan to combat the disease and the G-8 nations last year adopted a goal of providing better treatment and prevention by 2025. Erin Heintz, a spokeswoman for the Alzheimer’s Association, said U.S. government funding to combat the disease now stands at about $500 million a year. To reach its 2025 goal, the United States should be spending $2 billion a year, she said.

Keyword: Alzheimers; Aggression
Link ID: 19825 - Posted: 07.14.2014

One in three cases of Alzheimer's disease worldwide is preventable, according to research from the University of Cambridge. The main risk factors for the disease are a lack of exercise, smoking, depression and poor education, it says. Previous research from 2011 put the estimate at one in two cases, but this new study takes into account overlapping risk factors. Alzheimer's Research UK said age was still the biggest risk factor. Writing in The Lancet Neurology, the Cambridge team analysed population-based data to work out the main seven risk factors for Alzheimer's disease. These are: Diabetes Mid-life hypertension Mid-life obesity Physical inactivity Depression Smoking Low educational attainment They worked out that a third of Alzheimer's cases could be linked to lifestyle factors that could be modified, such as lack of exercise and smoking. The researchers then looked at how reducing these factors could affect the number of future Alzheimer's cases. They found that by reducing each risk factor by 10%, nearly nine million cases of the disease could be prevented by 2050. In the UK, a 10% reduction in risk factors would reduce cases by 8.8%, or 200,000, by 2050, they calculated. BBC © 2014

Keyword: Alzheimers
Link ID: 19824 - Posted: 07.14.2014

By Fredrick Kunkle A simple test of a person’s ability to identify odors and noninvasive eye exams might someday help doctors learn whether their patients are at risk of Alzheimer’s disease, according to research to be presented Sunday. With Alzheimer’s disease growing fast among the world’s aging population, researchers are increasingly focused on the search for new ways to detect and treat the brain-killing disease in its earliest stages. In two separate studies on the connection between dementia and sense of smell, teams of researchers found that a decreased ability to detect odors in older people, as determined by a common scratch-and-sniff test, could point to brain cell loss and the onset of dementia. In two other studies, researchers showed that noninvasive eye exams also might offer a way to identify Alzheimer’s in its early stages. The findings — which are to be presented at the Alzheimer’s Association International Conference in Copenhagen on Sunday — raise hopes that doctors could develop simple, inexpensive diagnostic tools that would hunt down reliable biomarkers of a disease that affects more than 5 million people in the United States. Alzheimer’s is a progressive and incurable disease that begins in areas of the brain associated with memory. It is the leading cause of dementia in older people, usually striking after the age of 65. It robs people of their cognitive abilities, speech and, ultimately, their identities. Eventually, it shuts down the most basic body functions, resulting in death.

Keyword: Alzheimers
Link ID: 19823 - Posted: 07.14.2014

by Helen Thomson You are what your grandmother ate, potentially, but maybe not what your great grandmother consumed. A study in mice shows that undernourishment during pregnancy increases the chances that the next two generations will develop obesity and diabetes. But by then the slate is wiped clean. If the same holds true for humans, it may mean that stressful events in our lives affect our grandchildren's health, but not great-grandchildren. Environmental stresses cause chemical changes to DNA that turn genes on and off. Many researchers believe that these changes can be passed down through sperm and eggs – a mechanism known as epigenetic inheritance. Low-calorie diet For example, studies have linked pregnant mothers that were undernourished during the second world war with gene changes in their children that put them at higher risk of becoming obese or getting cancer. But what happens to later generations is not clear. To model this effect, Anne Ferguson-Smith at the University of Cambridge and her colleagues fed pregnant mice a diet containing 50 per cent fewer calories than usual from the 12th day of gestation until the birth, which is normally after about 20 days. Offspring were smaller than average and developed diabetes when fed a healthy diet. When the male pups had offspring, they were also at higher risk of becoming diabetic. The team analysed the sperm of the offspring from the undernourished mothers to see how many genes had had their expression altered by the addition or removal of a methyl group – an epigenetic change. The team found a decrease in methylation in 111 regions of the DNA compared with sperm from mice born to mothers fed a healthy diet. © Copyright Reed Business Information Ltd

Keyword: Obesity; Aggression
Link ID: 19816 - Posted: 07.12.2014

Erika Check Hayden Nearly 750,000 babies born each year in the United Kingdom are at risk of brain damage because of low oxygen during birth. Cooling babies who are at risk of brain damage provides long-lasting prevention of such injuries, researchers report today in the New England Journal of Medicine1. A team led by Denis Azzopardi, a neonatologist at King’s College London, lowered the body temperature of 145 full-term babies who were born after at least 36 weeks of gestation. All were at risk of brain damage because they had been deprived of oxygen during birth — a problem that is often caused by troubles with the placenta or umbilical cord, and affects nearly 750,000 babies a year in the United Kingdom. The researchers cooled the infants to between 33°C and 34°C for 72 hours, starting within 6 hours of birth. The technique is known to boost the chances that children avoid brain damage until they become toddlers2, but any longer-term benefits have remained unclear. The study finds treated babies had better mental and physical health than untreated infants through to ages 6 or 7: they were 60% more likely to have normal intelligence, hearing and vision. Those who survived to childhood also had fewer disabilities such as difficulty walking and seeing. "The bottom line is that this doubles a child’s chance of normal survival," says David Edwards, a neonatologist at King’s College London and an author of the study. Neonatologist David Rowitch from the University of California, San Francisco, who studies treatments for paediatric brain damage, says the new findings are important because they show sustained improvements. "This study is encouraging, adding to the weight of evidence showing both positive early indicators and also school-age benefits to hypothermia," Rowitch adds. © 2014 Nature Publishing Group,

Keyword: Development of the Brain
Link ID: 19814 - Posted: 07.10.2014

Thomas B. Edsall It’s been a key question of American politics since at least 1968: Why do so many poor, working-class and lower-middle-class whites — many of them dependent for survival on government programs — vote for Republicans? The debate over the motives of conservative low-income white voters remains unresolved, but two recent research papers suggest that the hurdles facing Democrats in carrying this segment of the electorate may prove difficult to overcome. In “Obedience to Traditional Authority: A heritable factor underlying authoritarianism, conservatism and religiousness,” published by the journal Personality and Individual Differences in 2013, three psychologists write that “authoritarianism, religiousness and conservatism,” which they call the “traditional moral values triad,” are “substantially influenced by genetic factors.” According to the authors — Steven Ludeke of Colgate, Thomas J. Bouchard of the University of Minnesota, and Wendy Johnson of the University of Edinburgh — all three traits are reflections of “a single, underlying tendency,” previously described in one word by Bouchard in a 2006 paper as “traditionalism.” Traditionalists in this sense are defined as “having strict moral standards and child-rearing practices, valuing conventional propriety and reputation, opposing rebelliousness and selfish disregard of others, and valuing religious institutions and practices.” Working along a parallel path, Amanda Friesen, a political scientist at Indiana University, and Aleksander Ksiazkiewicz, a graduate student in political science at Rice University, concluded from their study comparing identical and fraternal twins that “the correlation between religious importance and conservatism” is “driven primarily, but usually not exclusively, by genetic factors.” The substantial “genetic component in these relationships suggests that there may be a common underlying predisposition that leads individuals to adopt conservative bedrock social principles and political ideologies while simultaneously feeling the need for religious experiences.” © 2014 The New York Times Company

Keyword: Genes & Behavior; Aggression
Link ID: 19813 - Posted: 07.10.2014

By BENEDICT CAREY PHILADELPHIA — The man in the hospital bed was playing video games on a laptop, absorbed and relaxed despite the bustle of scientists on all sides and the electrodes threaded through his skull and deep into his brain. “O.K., that’s enough,” he told doctors after more than an hour. “All those memory tests, it’s exhausting.” The man, Ralph, a health care worker who asked that his last name be omitted for privacy, has severe epilepsy; and the operation to find the source of his seizures had provided researchers an exquisite opportunity to study the biology of memory. The Department of Defense on Tuesday announced a $40 million investment in what has become the fastest-moving branch of neuroscience: direct brain recording. Two centers, one at the University of Pennsylvania and the other at the University of California, Los Angeles, won contracts to develop brain implants for memory deficits. Their aim is to develop new treatments for traumatic brain injury, the signature wound of the wars in Iraq and in Afghanistan. Its most devastating symptom is the blunting of memory and reasoning. Scientists have found in preliminary studies that they can sharpen some kinds of memory by directly recording, and stimulating, circuits deep in the brain. Unlike brain imaging, direct brain recording allows scientists to conduct experiments while listening to the brain’s internal dialogue in real time, using epilepsy patients like Ralph or people with Parkinson’s disease as active collaborators. The technique has provided the clearest picture yet of how neural circuits function, and raised hopes of new therapies for depression and anxiety as well as cognitive problems. But experts also worry about the possible side effects of directly tampering with memory. © 2014 The New York Times Company

Keyword: Learning & Memory; Aggression
Link ID: 19810 - Posted: 07.09.2014

By Helen Briggs Health editor, BBC News website The same genes drive maths and reading ability, research suggests. Around half of the genes that influence a child's aptitude for reading also play a role in how easily they learn maths, say scientists. The study of 12-year-old British twins from 3,000 families, reported in Nature Communications, adds to the debate about the role of genes in education. An education expert said the work had little relevance for public policy as specific genes had not been identified. Past research suggests both nature and nurture have a similar impact on how children perform in exams. One study found genes explained almost 60% of the variation in GCSE exam results. However, little is known about which genes are involved and how they interact. The new research suggests a substantial overlap between the genetic variations that influence mathematics and reading, say scientists from UCL, the University of Oxford and King's College London. But non-genetic factors - such as parents, schools and teachers - are also important, said Prof Robert Plomin of King's College London, who worked on the study. "The study does not point to specific genes linked to literacy or numeracy, but rather suggests that genetic influence on complex traits, like learning abilities, and common disorders, like learning disabilities, is caused by many genes of very small-effect size," he said. BBC © 2014

Keyword: Language; Aggression
Link ID: 19808 - Posted: 07.09.2014

by Helen Thomson A blood test for Alzheimer's might be just two years away. Abdul Hye at King's College London and his colleagues have identified 10 proteins in blood that can predict who will develop Alzheimer's disease a year after having mild memory problems. Its accuracy is almost 90 per cent. That could prove a huge boost for researchers seeking treatments. So far, trials of Alzheimer's drugs are thought to have failed because they have been given too late in the course of the disease to halt progression. The new blood test will initially be used to identify those people with mild cognitive impairment who are likely to get Alzheimer's disease and so might be good candidates for clinical trials to find drugs that halt disease progression. "Having a blood test is a really big step forward," says team member Ian Pike of Proteome Sciences in Cobham, UK. "The most important thing we can do is get the correct patients into clinical trials so we can tell, for example, whether it is a drug that is slowing the progression of the disease or the fact that we just happen to have a group of patients who have a slow progressing form of the disease." "This [blood test] is a technical tour de force," says Eric Karran, director of research at the Alzheimer's Research UK charity. However, he remains cautious about its use beyond clinical research. For every 10 people who take the test, one will get an incorrect result. "Alzheimer's is the most feared diagnosis, so we have to be careful, particularly in the absence of any treatment," he says. © Copyright Reed Business Information Ltd.

Keyword: Alzheimers
Link ID: 19802 - Posted: 07.08.2014

|By Jessica Wright and SFARI.org CHD8, a gene that regulates the structure of DNA, is the closest thing so far to an ‘autism gene,’ suggests a study published today in Cell. People with mutations in this gene all have the same cluster of symptoms, including a large head, constipation and characteristic facial features; nearly all also have have autism. Autism is notoriously heterogeneous, perhaps involving mutations in any of hundreds of genes. Typically, researchers begin by studying people with similar symptoms and working backward to identify what causes those symptoms. But that approach has not been particularly productive. “We’ve tried for so long to identify subtypes of autism based on behavior alone and we’ve done abysmally at that,” says lead researcher Raphael Bernier, associate professor of psychiatry at the University of Washington in Seattle. The reverse approach — that is, beginning with people who all have mutations in the same gene and characterizing their symptoms — may prove to be more useful for simplifying autism’s complexity. For example, identifying subtypes of autism may help researchers develop drugs tailored to that particular cause, says Evan Eichler, professor of genome sciences at the University of Washington, who spearheaded the genetics side of the study. “I think the most important realization is that not all autisms are created equal,” he says. © 2014 Scientific American,

Keyword: Autism; Aggression
Link ID: 19795 - Posted: 07.04.2014