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Jon Henley Europe correspondent Four Covid-19 sniffer dogs have begun work at Helsinki airport in a state-funded pilot scheme that Finnish researchers hope will provide a cheap, fast and effective alternative method of testing people for the virus. A dog is capable of detecting the presence of the coronavirus within 10 seconds and the entire process takes less than a minute to complete, according to Anna Hielm-Björkman of the University of Helsinki, who is overseeing the trial. “It’s very promising,” said Hielm-Björkman. “If it works, it could prove a good screening method in other places” such as hospitals, care homes and at sporting and cultural events. After collecting their luggage, arriving international passengers are asked to dab their skin with a wipe. In a separate booth, the beaker containing the wipe is then placed next to others containing different control scents – and the dog starts sniffing. If it indicates it has detected the virus – usually by yelping, pawing or lying down – the passenger is advised to take a free standard polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test, using a nasal swab, to verify the dog’s verdict. In the university’s preliminary tests, dogs – which have been successfully used to detect diseases such as cancer and diabetes – were able to identify the virus with nearly 100% accuracy, even days before before a patient developed symptoms. Scientists are not yet sure what exactly it is that the dogs sniff when they detect the virus. A French study published in June concluded that there was “very high evidence” that the sweat odour of Covid-positive people was different to that of those who did not have the virus, and that dogs could detect that difference. Dogs are also able to identify Covid-19 from a much smaller molecular sample than PCR tests, Helsinki airport said, needing only 10-100 molecules to detect the presence of the virus compared with the 18m needed by laboratory equipment. © 2020 Guardian News & Media Limited

Keyword: Chemical Senses (Smell & Taste)
Link ID: 27490 - Posted: 09.25.2020

By Pam Belluck Annrene Rowe was getting ready to celebrate her 10th wedding anniversary this summer when she noticed a bald spot on her scalp. In the following days, her thick shoulder-length hair started falling out in clumps, bunching up in the shower drain. “I was crying hysterically,” said Mrs. Rowe, 67, of Anna Maria, Fla. Mrs. Rowe, who was hospitalized for 12 days in April with symptoms of the coronavirus, soon found strikingly similar stories in online groups of Covid-19 survivors. Many said that several months after contracting the virus, they began shedding startling amounts of hair. Doctors say they too are seeing many more patients with hair loss, a phenomenon they believe is indeed related to the coronavirus pandemic, affecting both people who had the virus and those who never became sick. In normal times, some people shed noticeable amounts of hair after a profoundly stressful experience such as an illness, major surgery or emotional trauma. Now, doctors say, many patients recovering from Covid-19 are experiencing hair loss — not from the virus itself, but from the physiological stress of fighting it off. Many people who never contracted the virus are also losing hair, because of emotional stress from job loss, financial strain, deaths of family members or other devastating developments stemming from the pandemic. “There’s many, many stresses in many ways surrounding this pandemic, and we’re still seeing hair loss because a lot of the stress hasn’t gone away,” said Dr. Shilpi Khetarpal, an associate professor of dermatology at the Cleveland Clinic. Before the pandemic, there were weeks when Dr. Khetarpal didn’t see a single patient with hair loss of this type. Now, she said, about 20 such patients a week come in. One was a woman having difficulty home-schooling two young children while also working from home. Another was a second-grade teacher anxiously trying to ensure that all her students had computers and internet access for online instruction. © 2020 The New York Times Company

Keyword: Stress
Link ID: 27489 - Posted: 09.25.2020

Jordana Cepelewicz Our sense of time may be the scaffolding for all of our experience and behavior, but it is an unsteady and subjective one, expanding and contracting like an accordion. Emotions, music, events in our surroundings and shifts in our attention all have the power to speed time up for us or slow it down. When presented with images on a screen, we perceive angry faces as lasting longer than neutral ones, spiders as lasting longer than butterflies, and the color red as lasting longer than blue. The watched pot never boils, and time flies when we’re having fun. Last month in Nature Neuroscience, a trio of researchers at the Weizmann Institute of Science in Israel presented some important new insights into what stretches and compresses our experience of time. They found evidence for a long-suspected connection between time perception and the mechanism that helps us learn through rewards and punishments. They also demonstrated that the perception of time is wedded to our brain’s constantly updated expectations about what will happen next. “Everyone knows the saying that ‘time flies when you’re having fun,’” said Sam Gershman, a cognitive neuroscientist at Harvard University who was not involved in the study. “But the full story might be more nuanced: Time flies when you’re having more fun than you expected.” “Time” doesn’t mean just one thing to the brain. Different brain regions rely on varied neural mechanisms to track its passage, and the mechanisms that govern our experience seem to change from one situation to the next. All Rights Reserved © 2020

Keyword: Attention
Link ID: 27488 - Posted: 09.25.2020

By Bret Stetka With enough training, pigeons can distinguish between the works of Picasso and Monet. Ravens can identify themselves in a mirror. And on a university campus in Japan, crows are known to intentionally leave walnuts in a crosswalk and let passing traffic do their nut cracking. Many bird species are incredibly smart. Yet among intelligent animals, the “bird brain” often doesn’t get much respect. Two papers published today in Science find birds actually have a brain that is much more similar to our complex primate organ than previously thought. For years it was assumed that the avian brain was limited in function because it lacked a neocortex. In mammals, the neocortex is the hulking, evolutionarily modern outer layer of the brain that allows for complex cognition and creativity and that makes up most of what, in vertebrates as a whole, is called the pallium. The new findings show that birds’ do, in fact, have a brain structure that is comparable to the neocortex despite taking a different shape. It turns out that at a cellular level, the brain region is laid out much like the mammal cortex, explaining why many birds exhibit advanced behaviors and abilities that have long befuddled scientists. The new work even suggests that certain birds demonstrate some degree of consciousness. The mammalian cortex is organized into six layers containing vertical columns of neurons that communicate with one another both horizontally and vertically. The avian brain, on the other hand, was thought to be arranged into discrete collections of neurons called nuclei, including a region called the dorsal ventricular ridge, or DVR, and a single nucleus named the wulst. In one of the new papers, senior author Onur Güntürkün, a neuroscientist at Ruhr University Bochum in Germany, and his colleagues analyzed regions of the DVR and wulst involved in sound and vision processing. To do so, they used a technology called three-dimensional polarized light imaging, or 3D-PLI—a light-based microscopy technique that can be employed to visualize nerve fibers in brain samples. The researchers found that in both pigeons and barn owls, these brain regions are constructed much like our neocortex, with both layerlike and columnar organization—and with both horizontal and vertical circuitry. They confirmed the 3D-PLI findings using biocytin tracing, a technique for staining nerve cells. © 2020 Scientific American

Keyword: Evolution; Learning & Memory
Link ID: 27487 - Posted: 09.25.2020

by Terje Falck-Ytter, Sofia Loden Historians and authors have given many famous figures an armchair diagnosis of autism over the years: Albert Einstein, Michelangelo and Thomas Jefferson, to name just a few. Looking for signs of autism in historical figures and fictional characters can give us important insight into society’s changing perceptions of the condition through time. But however intellectually interesting, we urge caution before labelling such figures actually autistic. Consider the idea that Perceval, one of the Knights of the Round Table in the King Arthur legend, was autistic — a claim levied by the literary scholar Paula Leverage1. If correct, it suggests that today’s fascination with portraying autism traits in popular culture — for example, in television shows such as “The Big Bang Theory” and novels such as “The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time” — has a near thousand-year-long history2. But given Perceval’s anti-heroism, comical and sometimes immoral behavior, describing him as autistic could also increase the risk for misconceptions and stigmatization of actual people with the condition. Adventure time: Perceval made his debut in “Le Conte du Graal” (The Story of the Grail), a rhymed verse romance written by the Old French poet Chrétien de Troyes in the late 12th century3. The tale describes Perceval’s many adventures, including his discovery of the famous grail — an ornate gold dish purported to have unusual powers and the object of fascination for numerous writers ever since the Middle Ages. © 2020 Simons Foundation

Keyword: Autism
Link ID: 27486 - Posted: 09.25.2020

By Lisa Friedman WASHINGTON — The Trump administration has rejected scientific evidence linking the pesticide chlorpyrifos to serious health problems, directly contradicting federal scientists’ conclusions five years ago that it can stunt brain development in children. The Environmental Protection Agency’s assessment of the pesticide, which is widely used on soybeans, almonds, grapes and other crops, is a fresh victory for chemical makers and the agricultural industry, as well as the latest in a long list of Trump administration regulatory rollbacks. In announcing its decision, the E.P.A. said on Tuesday that “despite several years of study, the science addressing neurodevelopmental effects remains unresolved.” However, in making its finding, the agency excluded several epidemiological studies, most prominently one conducted at Columbia University, that found a correlation between prenatal exposure to chlorpyrifos and developmental disorders in toddlers. As a result, the assessment may be the first major test of the Trump administration’s intention, often referred to as its “secret science” proposal, to bar or give less weight to scientific studies that can’t or don’t publicly release their underlying data. This controversial policy would eliminate many studies that track the effects of exposure to substances on people’s health over long periods of time, because the data often includes confidential medical records of the subjects, scientists have said. © 2020 The New York Times Company

Keyword: Development of the Brain; Neurotoxins
Link ID: 27485 - Posted: 09.25.2020

By Ann Gibbons Neanderthals have long been seen as uber-masculine hunks, at least compared with their lightweight human cousins, with whom they competed for food, territory, and mates. But a new study finds Homo sapiens men essentially emasculated their brawny brethren when they mated with Neanderthal women more than 100,000 years ago. Those unions caused the modern Y chromosomes to sweep through future generations of Neanderthal boys, eventually replacing the Neanderthal Y. The new finding may solve the decade-old mystery of why researchers have been unable to find a Neanderthal Y chromosome. Part of the problem was the dearth of DNA from men: Of the dozen Neanderthals whose DNA has been sequenced so far, most is from women, as the DNA in male Neanderthal fossils happened to be poorly preserved or contaminated with bacteria. “We began to wonder if there were any male Neanderthals,” jokes Janet Kelso, a computational biologist at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology and senior author of the new study. But in a technical breakthrough, Max Planck graduate student Martin Petr designed a set of probes that used the DNA sequence from small chunks of modern men’s Y chromosomes to “fish out” and bind with DNA from archaic men’s Y chromosomes. The new method works because the Neanderthal and modern human chromosomes are mostly similar; the DNA probes also reel in the few basepairs that differ. The researchers probed the fragmentary Y chromosomes of three Neanderthal men from Belgium, Spain, and Russia who lived about 38,000 to 53,000 years ago, and two male Denisovans, close cousins of Neanderthals who lived in Siberia’s Denisova Cave about 46,000 to 130,000 ago. When the researchers sequenced the DNA, they got a surprise: The Neanderthal Y “looked more like modern humans’ than Denisovans’,” Kelso says. © 2020 American Association for the Advancement of Science.

Keyword: Sexual Behavior
Link ID: 27484 - Posted: 09.25.2020

By Carolyn Wilke New findings in mice suggest yet another role for gut microbes, even before birth. The microbes residing in a female mouse’s gut help shape the wiring of her offspring’s brain, researchers report September 23 in Nature. While mouse and human development are worlds apart, the study hints at how a mother’s microbiome may have long-term consequences for her offspring. Scientists have previously found links between a mouse mother’s microbiome and her young’s brain and behavior, but many of those studies worked with animals that were stressed (SN: 7/9/18) or sick. Instead, Helen Vuong, a neurobiologist at UCLA, and her colleagues looked at what a mother’s microbial mix normally does for her pups’ brains. The new results point to the influence of specific microbes and the small molecules they produce, called metabolites. “Metabolites from the microbiome of the mother can influence the developing brain of the fetus,” says Cathryn Nagler, an immunologist at the University of Chicago who was not involved with the study. The metabolites do this by reaching a developing pup’s brain where they affect the growth of axons, she says. Axons are the threadlike signal-transmitters of nerve cells. Vuong and her team looked at the brains of fetuses from pregnant mice — some with their usual gut bugs, some raised without microbes and others ridded of their gut bacteria with antibiotics. When a mother’s microbes were missing, fetuses had shorter and fewer axons extending from the brain’s “relay station” to the cortex, Vuong says. These connections are important for processing sensory information. © Society for Science & the Public 2000–2020.

Keyword: Development of the Brain
Link ID: 27483 - Posted: 09.25.2020

By Gunjan Sinha Light therapy can help lift moods, heal wounds, and boost the immune system. Can it improve symptoms of Parkinson’s disease, too? A first-of-its-kind trial scheduled to launch this fall in France aims to find out. In seven patients, a fiber optic cable implanted in their brain will deliver pulses of near-infrared (NIR) light directly to the substantia nigra, a region deep in the brain that degenerates in Parkinson’s disease. The team, led by neurosurgeon Alim- Louis Benabid of the Clinatec Institute—a partnership between several government-funded research institutes and industry—hopes the light will protect cells there from dying. The study is one of several set to explore how Parkinson’s patients might benefit from light. “I am so excited,” says neuropsychologist Dawn Bowers of the University of Florida College of Medicine, who is recruiting patients for a trial in which NIR will be beamed into the skull instead of delivered with an implant. Small tests in people with Parkinson’s and animal models of the disease have already suggested benefits, but some mainstream Parkinson’s researchers are skeptical. No one has shown exactly how light might protect the key neurons—or why it should have any effect at all on cells buried deep in the brain that never see the light of day. Much or all of the encouraging hints seen so far in people may be the result of the placebo effect, skeptics say. Because there are no biomarkers that correlate well with changes in Parkinson’s symptoms, “we are reliant on observing behavior,” says neurobiologist David Sulzer of Columbia University Irving Medical Center, an editor of the journal npj Parkinson’s Disease. “It’s not easy to guard against placebo effects.” © 2020 American Association for the Advancement of Science

Keyword: Parkinsons
Link ID: 27482 - Posted: 09.19.2020

Ken Solt & Oluwaseun Akeju The state of dissociation is commonly described as feeling detached from reality or having an ‘out of body’ experience. This altered state of consciousness is often reported by people who have psychiatric disorders arising from devastating trauma or abuse. It is also evoked by a class of anaesthetic drug, and can occur in epilepsy. The neurological basis of dissociation has been a mystery, but writing in Nature, Vesuna et al.1 describe a localized brain rhythm that underlies this state. Their findings will have far-reaching implications for neuroscience. The authors first recorded brain-wide neuronal activity in mice using a technique called widefield calcium imaging. They studied changes in these brain rhythms in response to a range of drugs that have sedative, anaesthetic or hallucinogenic properties, including three that induce dissociation — ketamine, phencyclidine (PCP) and dizocilpine (MK801). Only the dissociative drugs produced robust oscillations in neuronal activity in a brain region called the retrosplenial cortex. This region is essential for various cognitive functions, including episodic memory and navigation2. The oscillations occurred at a low frequency, of about 1–3 hertz. By contrast, non-dissociative drugs such as the anaesthetic propofol and the hallucinogen lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD) did not trigger this rhythmic retrosplenial activity. Vesuna et al. examined the active cells in more detail using a high-resolution approach called two-photon imaging. This analysis revealed that the oscillations were restricted to cells in layer 5 of the retrosplenial cortex. The authors then recorded neuronal activity across multiple brain regions. Normally, other parts of the cortex and subcortex are functionally connected to neuronal activity in the retrosplenial cortex; however, ketamine caused a disconnect, such that many of these brain regions no longer communicated with the retrosplenial cortex. © 2020 Springer Nature Limited

Keyword: Drug Abuse; Consciousness
Link ID: 27481 - Posted: 09.19.2020

Jon Hamilton Scientists used light to control the firing of specific cells to artificially create a rhythm in the brain that acted like the drug ketamine enjoynz/Getty Images Out-of-body experiences are all about rhythm, a team reported Wednesday in the journal Nature. In mice and one person, scientists were able to reproduce the altered state often associated with ketamine by inducing certain brain cells to fire together in a slow, rhythmic fashion. "There was a rhythm that appeared, and it was an oscillation that appeared only when the patient was dissociating," says Dr. Karl Deisseroth, a psychiatrist and neuroscientist at Stanford University. Dissociation is a brain state in which a person feels separated from their own thoughts, feelings and body. It is common in people who have some mental illnesses or who have experienced a traumatic event. It can also be induced by certain drugs, including ketamine and PCP (angel dust). The study linking dissociation to brain rhythms represents "a big leap forward in understanding how these drugs produce this unique state," says Dr. Ken Solt, an anesthesiologist at Harvard Medical School and Massachusetts General Hospital. Solt is the co-author of an article that accompanied the study but was not involved in the research. The finding also could be a step toward finding non-drug methods to control states of consciousness, Solt says. Deisseroth's lab made the discovery while studying the brains of mice that had been given ketamine or other drugs that cause dissociation. The team was using technology that allowed them to monitor the activity of cells throughout the brain. © 2020 npr

Keyword: Drug Abuse; Consciousness
Link ID: 27480 - Posted: 09.19.2020

By Rebekah Tuchscherer Call it neuroscience on the go. Scientists have developed a backpack that tracks and stimulates brain activity as people go about their daily lives. The advance could allow researchers to get a sense of how the brain works outside of a laboratory—and how to monitor diseases such as Parkinson’s and post-traumatic stress disorder in real-world settings. The technology is “an inspiring demonstration of what’s possible” with portable neuroscience equipment, says Timothy Spellman, a neurobiologist at Weill Cornell Medicine who was not involved with the work. The backpack and its vast suite of tools, he says, could broaden the landscape for neuroscience research to study the brain while the body is in motion. Typically, when scientists want to scan the brain, they need a lot of room—and a lot of money. Functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) scanners, which detect activity in various regions of the brain, are about the size of a pickup truck and can cost more than $1 million. And patients must stay still in the machine for about 1 hour to ensure a clear, readable scan. © 2020 American Association for the Advancement of Science.

Keyword: Brain imaging
Link ID: 27479 - Posted: 09.19.2020

By William Wan If only Dan Goerke could hold his wife’s hand. Maybe she would talk again. Maybe she would look at him and smile as she used to. Maybe she would eat and stop wasting away. Since the pandemic began, Goerke’s wife, Denise — 63 years old and afflicted with Alzheimer’s disease — had declined dramatically. Left alone in her nursing home, she had lost 16 pounds, could not form the simplest words, no longer responded to the voices of her children. In recent weeks, she had stopped recognizing even the man she loved. Goerke, 61, could tell the isolation was killing his wife, and there was nothing he could do but watch. “Every day it gets a little worse,” he said. “We’ve lost months, maybe years of her already.” Beyond the staggering U.S. deaths caused directly by the novel coronavirus, more than 134,200 people have died from Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia since March. That is 13,200 more U.S. deaths caused by dementia than expected, compared with previous years, according to an analysis of federal data by The Washington Post. Overlooked amid America’s war against the coronavirus is this reality: People with dementia are dying not just from the virus but from the very strategy of isolation that’s supposed to protect them. In recent months, doctors have reported increased falls, pulmonary infections, depression and sudden frailty in patients who had been stable for years. Social and mental stimulation are among the few tools that can slow the march of dementia. Yet even as U.S. leaders have rushed to reopen universities, bowling alleys and malls, nursing homes say they continue begging in vain for sufficient testing, protective equipment and help.

Keyword: Alzheimers
Link ID: 27478 - Posted: 09.19.2020

By Laura J. Snyder I’m an inveterate storyteller,” confesses the celebrated neurologist and writer Oliver Sacks at the start of Oliver Sacks: His Own Life. “I tell many stories, some comic, some tragic.” Tales of both types abound in this elegiac yet lighthearted film based on director Ric Burns’s interviews with Sacks and his friends, colleagues, family members, and patients in the months before and after the physician’s death in 2015 at the age of 82. The result is a vivid portrait of an ebullient, provocative, brilliant man who transformed the practice of medicine and spearheaded the neurodiversity movement. Born into an upper-middle-class Jewish family in northwest London in 1933, Sacks was the youngest of four sons. He was an outsider: one of only three Jews at his elite prep school; a gay adolescent at a time when gay sex was illegal; an introverted, dreamy, chemistry-obsessed boy in a family of accomplished physicians. His father was a general practitioner who made house calls, and his mother was one of the first female surgeons in England. His two eldest brothers were already studying medicine when he was in high school. Sacks dutifully followed his expected career path and was drawn to neurology when his third brother, Michael, developed schizophrenia. But after completing medical training, Sacks fled the homophobic confines of his nation and family—his mother had called him “an abomination.” Paul Theroux tells Burns that Sacks’s “great luck” was ending up in Los Angeles in 1960, where he found ample “guys, weights, drugs, and hospitals.” © 2020 American Association for the Advancement of Science

Keyword: Parkinsons
Link ID: 27477 - Posted: 09.19.2020

By Elizabeth Preston This is Panurgus banksianus, the large shaggy bee. It lives alone, burrowed into sandy grasslands across Europe. It prefers to feed on yellow-flowered members of the aster family. The large shaggy bee also has a very large brain. Just like mammals or birds, insect species of the same size may have different endowments inside their heads. Researchers have discovered some factors linked to brain size in back-boned animals. But in insects, the drivers of brain size have been more of a mystery. In a study published Wednesday in Proceedings of the Royal Society B, scientists scrutinized hundreds of bee brains for patterns. Bees with specialized diets seem to have larger brains, while social behavior appears unrelated to brain size. That means when it comes to insects, the rules that have guided brain evolution in other animals may not apply. “Most bee brains are smaller than a grain of rice,” said Elizabeth Tibbetts, an evolutionary biologist at the University of Michigan who was not involved in the research. But, she said, “Bees manage surprisingly complex behavior with tiny brains,” making the evolution of bee brains an especially interesting subject. Ferran Sayol, an evolutionary biologist at University College London, and his co-authors studied those tiny brains from 395 female bees belonging to 93 species from across the United States, Spain and the Netherlands. Researchers beheaded each insect and used forceps to remove its brain, a curled structure that’s widest in the center. “It reminds me a little bit of a croissant,” Dr. Sayol said. One pattern that emerged was a connection between brain size and how long each bee generation lasted. Bees that only go through one generation each year have larger brains, relative to their body size, than bees with multiple generations a year. © 2020 The New York Times Company

Keyword: Evolution; Learning & Memory
Link ID: 27476 - Posted: 09.16.2020

By John Horgan I interviewed psychologist Susan Blackmore 20 years ago while doing research for my book Rational Mysticism. Here, lightly edited, is my description of her: “Her hair was dyed orange, red, and yellow, dark-rooted, cut short as a boy’s, with sideburns plunging like daggers past each multi-ringed ear. Words spewed from her pell-mell, accompanied by equally vigorous hand signals and facial expressions. She was keen on onomatopoeic sound effects: Ahhhhh (to express her pleasure at finding other smart people when she entered Oxford); DUN da la DUN da la DUN (the galloping noise she heard as she sped down a tree-lined tunnel in her first out-of-body experience); Zzzzzzt (the sound of reality dissolving after her second toke of the psychedelic dimethyltryptamine). We were talking in the dining room of the inn where she was staying, and twice we had to move to a quieter spot when employees or patrons of the inn started talking near us. One side effect of her spiritual practice, she explained, is that she has a hard time ignoring stimuli. ‘I think it is one of the bad effects of practicing mindfulness. I'm so aware of everything all the time.’” Blackmore began her career as a parapsychologist, intent on finding evidence for astral projection and extrasensory perception. Her investigations transformed her into a materialist and Darwinian (one of her best-known books describes humans as “meme machines”) who doesn’t believe in ESP, God or free will. And yet she is a mystic, too, who explores consciousness via meditation and psychedelics. In other words, Blackmore pulls off the trick of being both a hard-nosed skeptic and an open-minded adventurer. What more can one ask of a mind scientist? Curious about how her thinking has evolved in our mind-boggling era, I e-mailed her a few questions. An edited transcript of the interview follows. © 2020 Scientific American

Keyword: Consciousness; Drug Abuse
Link ID: 27475 - Posted: 09.16.2020

By Lisa Sanders, M.D. The pain woke the 52-year-old physician from a dead sleep. It was as if all the muscles in his right leg, from those in the buttock down his thigh to the very bottom of his calf, were on fire. He shifted slightly to see if he could find a more comfortable position. There was a jag of pain, and he almost cried out. He glanced at the clock: 4 a.m. In just three hours he would have to get up. He had a full day of patients to see. Massage didn’t help. He couldn’t get comfortable lying flat, so finally he moved to the living room, to a recliner. Only then, and only by lying completely still, did he manage to get the pain to abate. He drifted off, but never for long. The searing pain in his leg and buttock slowly eased, and by the time his alarm went off, he could stand and walk — though his muscles still ached and he had to baby his right leg, causing a limp. Between patients, he arranged to see his own doctor. He’d had pain off and on in his buttocks, one side or the other, for more than a year. The pain was in the middle of each cheek and was worse when he was sitting and at the end of the day. Walking to and from his car on the way home was brutal. And then, as mysteriously as it came, it would disappear — only to come back a week or two later. When he first told his doctor about his pain, the exam didn’t show much. He was a little tender at the bottom of the bones you sit on, called the ischia. His doctor thought it was ischial bursitis. Between the tips of the ischia and the largest muscles of the buttocks, there are little pads called bursae. Sometimes these pads become inflamed. The man’s doctor recommended stretching exercises for the muscles around the bursae. He did them regularly, though he wasn’t sure they helped. The pain he had that night, though, was different, and a whole lot worse. Again, his doctor couldn’t find much. Maybe it was a kind of nerve pain, like sciatica, the patient suggested. The doctor agreed and ordered an M.R.I. to look for a pinched nerve. The result was normal. © 2020 The New York Times Company

Keyword: Pain & Touch; Neuroimmunology
Link ID: 27474 - Posted: 09.16.2020

David Cox Gérard Karsenty was a young scientist trying to make a name for himself in the early 1990s when he first stumbled upon a finding that would go on to transform our understanding of bone, and the role it plays in our body. Karsenty had become interested in osteocalcin, one of the most abundant proteins in bone. He suspected that it played a crucial role in bone remodelling – the process by which our bones continuously remove and create new tissue – which enables us to grow during childhood and adolescence, and also recover from injuries. Intending to study this, he conducted a genetic knockout experiment, removing the gene responsible for osteocalcin from mice. However to his dismay, his mutant mice did not appear to have any obvious bone defects at all. “For him, it was initially a total failure,” says Mathieu Ferron, a former colleague of Karsenty who now heads a research lab studying bone biology at IRCM in Montreal. “In those days it was super-expensive to do modification in the mouse genome.” But then Karsenty noticed something unexpected. While their bones had developed normally, the mice appeared to be both noticeably fat and cognitively impaired. “Mice that don’t have osteocalcin have increased circulating glucose, and they tend to look a bit stupid,” says Ferron. “It may sound silly to say this, but they don’t learn very well, they appear kind of depressed. But it took Karsenty and his team some time to understand how a protein in bone could be affecting these functions. They were initially a bit surprised and terrified as it didn’t really make any sense to them.” © 2020 Read It Later, Inc.

Keyword: Hormones & Behavior; Obesity
Link ID: 27473 - Posted: 09.16.2020

By Priyanka Runwal Acorn woodpeckers are renowned food hoarders. Every fall they stash as many as thousands of acorns in holes drilled into dead tree stumps in preparation for winter. Guarding these “granary trees” against acorn theft is a fierce, familial affair. But all hell breaks loose when there are deaths in a family and newly vacant spots in prime habitat are up for grabs. The news travels fast. Nearby woodpecker groups rush to the site and fight long, gory battles until one collective wins, according to a study published Monday in Current Biology. These wars also draw woodpecker audiences, the researchers reported, who leave their own territories unattended, demonstrating the immense investment and risks the birds are willing to take in pursuit of better breeding opportunities and intelligence gathering. “I think these power struggles are major events in the birds’ social calendars,” said Sahas Barve, an avian biologist at the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History and lead author of the study. “They’re definitely trying to get social information out of it.” Acorn woodpecker societies are complex. Each family consists of up to seven adult males, often brothers, which breed with one to three females, often sisters but unrelated to the males. They live with nest helpers who are typically their offspring from previous years. Together they defend 15-acre territories, on average, encompassing one or more granaries in the oak forests along coastal Oregon down into Mexico. The helpers don’t breed, but stick around for five to six years to help raise their half-siblings until these babysitters can find a new territory to start their own families. “It’s all about biding your time and gaining indirect fitness,” Dr. Barve said. “But it’s never as good as reproducing directly.” © 2020 The New York Times Company

Keyword: Aggression; Evolution
Link ID: 27472 - Posted: 09.14.2020

By Elizabeth Landau At dinnertime, 10-year-old Clive Rodgers used to wrap his arms around his plate because he was afraid of germs at the table. “I was really scared, and if somebody tried to move my arm, I would, like, get really angry and stuff,” says Clive, who lives in San Diego with his parents and two younger siblings. Clive is just one of many young people who have struggled with obsessive-compulsive disorder. OCD affects about 1 in every 200 children and teenagers, which is similar to the prevalence of diabetes in this age group. The hallmarks of OCD are intrusive, unwanted thoughts and repetitive behaviors in response to those thoughts, a cycle that may cause significant anxiety and hamper daily activities. As the coronavirus pandemic rages on, it’s a tough time for any kid who has to stay home all day, studying remotely instead of going to school, unable to enjoy normal social activity with friends. Such stressors are making OCD symptoms worse in some children, even those who didn’t specifically fear germs before, doctors say. Andy Rodgers and his son, Clive, of in San Diego. Clive is just one of many youths who has struggled with obsessive-compulsive disorder. OCD affects about 1 in every 200 children and teenagers, which is similar to the prevalence of diabetes in this age group. “Their rituals and obsessions are just worse because their general mental health is worse,” said Suzan Song, director of the Division of Child/Adolescent & Family Psychiatry at George Washington University. Fears of contamination and illness are generally common among people with OCD, but usually their concerns are not in line with likely threats, said Joseph McGuire, assistant professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Johns Hopkins Medicine. With the coronavirus, which causes the disease covid-19, there is actual danger present. He is seeing a “rekindling” of symptoms in many patients who received treatment in the past, and need a refresher.

Keyword: OCD - Obsessive Compulsive Disorder; Stress
Link ID: 27471 - Posted: 09.14.2020