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Allison Whitten When our phones and computers run out of power, their glowing screens go dark and they die a sort of digital death. But switch them to low-power mode to conserve energy, and they cut expendable operations to keep basic processes humming along until their batteries can be recharged. Our energy-intensive brain needs to keep its lights on too. Brain cells depend primarily on steady deliveries of the sugar glucose, which they convert to adenosine triphosphate (ATP) to fuel their information processing. When we’re a little hungry, our brain usually doesn’t change its energy consumption much. But given that humans and other animals have historically faced the threat of long periods of starvation, sometimes seasonally, scientists have wondered whether brains might have their own kind of low-power mode for emergencies. Now, in a paper published in Neuron in January, neuroscientists in Nathalie Rochefort’s lab at the University of Edinburgh have revealed an energy-saving strategy in the visual systems of mice. They found that when mice were deprived of sufficient food for weeks at a time — long enough for them to lose 15%-20% of their typical healthy weight — neurons in the visual cortex reduced the amount of ATP used at their synapses by a sizable 29%. But the new mode of processing came with a cost to perception: It impaired how the mice saw details of the world. Because the neurons in low-power mode processed visual signals less precisely, the food-restricted mice performed worse on a challenging visual task. “What you’re getting in this low-power mode is more of a low-resolution image of the world,” said Zahid Padamsey, the first author of the new study. All Rights Reserved © 2022

Keyword: Vision
Link ID: 28376 - Posted: 06.15.2022

By Emily Bazelon Scott Leibowitz is a pioneer in the field of transgender health care. He has directed or worked at three gender clinics on the East Coast and the Midwest, where he provides gender-affirming care, the approach the medical community has largely adopted for embracing children and teenagers who come out as transgender. He also helps shape policy on L.G.B.T. issues for the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry. As a child and adolescent psychiatrist who is gay, he found it felt natural to work under the L.G.B.T. “umbrella,” as he put it, aware of the overlap as well as the differences between gay and trans identity. It was for all these reasons that Leibowitz was selected, in 2017, to be a leader of a working group of seven clinicians and researchers drafting a chapter on adolescents for a new version of guidelines called the Standards of Care to be issued by the World Professional Association for Transgender Health (WPATH). The guidelines are meant to set a gold standard for the field of transgender health care, and this would be the first update since 2012. What Leibowitz and his co-authors didn’t foresee, when they began, was that their work would be engulfed by two intersecting forces: a significant rise in the number of teenagers openly identifying as transgender and seeking gender care, and a right-wing backlash in the United States against allowing them to medically transition, including state-by-state efforts to ban it. During the last decade, the field of transgender care for youth has greatly shifted. A decade ago, there were a handful of pediatric gender clinics in the United States and a dozen or so more in other countries. The few doctors and therapists who worked in them knew one another, and the big debate was whether kids in preschool or elementary school should be allowed to live fully as the gender they identified as when they strongly and consistently asserted their wishes. Now there are more than 60 comprehensive gender clinics in the United States, along with countless therapists and doctors in private practice who are also seeing young patients with gender-identity issues. The number of young people who identify as transgender nationally is about 300,000, according to a new report by the Williams Institute, a research center at U.C.L.A.’s law school, which is much higher than previous estimates. In countries that collect national data, like the Netherlands and Britain, the number of 13-to-17-year-olds seeking treatment for gender-identity issues has also increased, from dozens to hundreds or thousands a year. © 2022 The New York Times Company

Keyword: Sexual Behavior; Development of the Brain
Link ID: 28375 - Posted: 06.15.2022

Michael Marshall Researchers are finally making headway in understanding how the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus causes loss of smell. And a multitude of potential treatments to tackle the condition are undergoing clinical trials, including steroids and blood plasma. Once a tell-tale sign of COVID-19, smell disruption is becoming less common as the virus evolves. “Our inboxes are not as flooded as they used to be,” says Valentina Parma, a psychologist at the Monell Chemical Senses Center in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, who helped field desperate inquiries from patients throughout the first two years of the pandemic. A study published last month1 surveyed 616,318 people in the United States who have had COVID-19. It found that, compared with those who had been infected with the original virus, people who had contracted the Alpha variant — the first variant of concern to arise — were 50% as likely to have chemosensory disruption. This probability fell to 44% for the later Delta variant, and to 17% for the latest variant, Omicron. But the news is not all good: a significant portion of people infected early in the pandemic still experience chemosensory effects. A 2021 study2 followed 100 people who had had mild cases of COVID-19 and 100 people who repeatedly tested negative. More than a year after their infections, 46% of those who had had COVID-19 still had smell problems; by contrast, just 10% of the control group had developed some smell loss, but for other reasons. Furthermore, 7% of those who had been infected still had total smell loss, or ‘anosmia’, at the end of the year. Given that more than 500 million cases of COVID-19 have been confirmed worldwide, tens of millions of people probably have lingering smell problems. For these people, help can’t come soon enough. Simple activities such as tasting food or smelling flowers are now “really emotionally distressing”, Parma says. © 2022 Springer Nature Limited

Keyword: Chemical Senses (Smell & Taste)
Link ID: 28374 - Posted: 06.15.2022

By Oliver Whang Cats, so often, are a mystery, even to those that know them best. Why do they sleep so much? Why do they want your full attention one minute, none the next? How can they find their way back home after being stranded miles away for years? The writer Haruki Murakami, who is known for putting cats in his novels and essays, once confessed to not knowing why he does so; a cat “sort of naturally slips in,” he said. Another mystery: Why do cats love catnip? When exposed to the plant, which belongs to the mint family, the majority of domestic cats will lick it, rub against it, chew it and roll around in it. They brim with euphoria, getting high off the stuff. They also go wild for other plants, particularly silver vine, which is not closely related to catnip but elicits the same response from felines, including big cats like jaguars and tigers. For years, this behavior was just another cat-related enigma. But a new study, published Tuesday in the journal iScience, suggests that the reaction to catnip and silver vine might be explained by the bug repellent effect of iridoids, the chemicals in the plants that induce the high. Researchers, led by Masao Miyazaki, an animal behavior scientist at Iwate University in Japan, found that the amount of these iridoids released by the plant increased by more than 2,000 percent when the plant was damaged by cats. So perhaps kitty’s high confers an evolutionary advantage: keeping bloodsucking insects at bay. Kristyn Vitale, a cat behavior expert at Unity College who was not associated with the research, noted that the study built on strong previous work. Last year, the same lab published a study that found that cats would try their best to coat themselves in DEET-like iridoids, whether by rolling on the chemicals or by rising up to nuzzle them with their cheeks. “This indicates there may be a benefit to the cat physically placing the compounds on their body,” Dr. Vitale said. © 2022 The New York Times Company

Keyword: Drug Abuse
Link ID: 28373 - Posted: 06.15.2022

By Erika Engelhaupt To Charles Darwin, nature had a certain order. And in that order, males always came out on top. They were the leaders, the innovators, the wooers and the doers. “The males of almost all animals have stronger passions than the females,” Darwin wrote in 1871. “The female, on the other hand, with the rarest of exceptions, is less eager.” The founder of evolutionary theory posited that throughout the animal kingdom, males are active, females are passive, and that’s pretty much that. Females, in sum, are boring. That’s poppycock, Lucy Cooke writes in her latest book, Bitch. This blinkered view of nature as a man’s world was conceived and promulgated by Victorian men who imposed their values and world view on animals, she says. Cooke, a documentary filmmaker and the author of The Truth About Animals and two children’s books (SN: 4/14/18, p. 26), has traveled the world and met scientists who are exposing the truth about the sexes. She takes readers on a wild ride as she observes the ridiculous mating rituals of sage grouse, searches for orca poop (to monitor sex hormones) and watches female lemurs boss around males. Through such adventures, Cooke learns that females are anything but boring. “Female animals are just as promiscuous, competitive, aggressive, dominant and dynamic as males,” she writes. That may not sound radical to today’s feminists, but in the field of evolutionary biology, such a pronouncement has long bordered on the heretical. Generations of biologists have focused on male behavior and physiology, on the assumption that females are little more than baby-making machines to be won over by the strongest, showiest males. © Society for Science & the Public 2000–2022.

Keyword: Sexual Behavior; Evolution
Link ID: 28372 - Posted: 06.15.2022

By Benjamin Mueller Taking a scan of an injured brain often produces a map of irretrievable losses, revealing spots where damage causes memory difficulties or tremors. But in rare cases, those scans can expose just the opposite: plots of brain regions where an injury miraculously relieves someone’s symptoms, offering clues about how doctors might accomplish the same. A team of researchers has now taken a fresh look at a set of such brain images, drawn from cigarette smokers addicted to nicotine in whom strokes or other injuries spontaneously helped them quit. The results, the scientists said, showed a network of interconnected brain regions that they believe underpins addiction-related disorders affecting potentially tens of millions of Americans. The study, published in the scientific journal Nature Medicine on Monday, supports an idea that has recently gained traction: that addiction lives not in one brain region or another, but rather in a circuit of regions linked by threadlike nerve fibers. The results may provide a clearer set of targets for addiction treatments that deliver electrical pulses to the brain, new techniques that have shown promise in helping people quit smoking. “One of the biggest problems in addiction is that we don’t really know where in the brain the main problem lies that we should target with treatment,” said Dr. Juho Joutsa, one of the study’s lead authors and a neurologist at the University of Turku in Finland. “We are hoping that after this, we have a very good idea of those regions and networks.” Research over the last two decades has solidified the idea that addiction is a disease of the brain. But many people still believe that addiction is voluntary. © 2022 The New York Times Company

Keyword: Drug Abuse; Stroke
Link ID: 28371 - Posted: 06.14.2022

By John Horgan Have you ever been gripped by the suspicion that nothing is real? A student at Stevens Institute of Technology, where I teach, has endured feelings of unreality since childhood. She recently made a film about this syndrome for her senior thesis, for which she interviewed herself and others, including me. “It feels like there’s a glass wall between me and everything else in the world,” Camille says in her film, which she calls Depersonalized; Derealized; Deconstructed Derealization and depersonalization refer to feelings that the external world and your own self, respectively, are unreal. Lumping the terms together, psychiatrists define depersonalization/derealization disorder as “persistent or recurrent … experiences of unreality, detachment, or being an outside observer with respect to one’s thoughts, feelings, sensations, body, or actions,” according to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. For simplicity, I’ll refer to both syndromes as derealization. Some people experience derealization out of the blue, others only under stressful circumstances—for example, while taking a test or interviewing for a job. Psychiatrists prescribe psychotherapy and medication, such as antidepressants, when the syndrome results in “distress or impairment in social, occupational, or other important areas of functioning.” In some cases, derealization results from serious mental illness, such as schizophrenia, or hallucinogens such as LSD. Extreme cases, usually associated with brain damage, may manifest as Cotard delusion, also called walking corpse syndrome, the belief that you are dead; and Capgras delusion, the conviction that people around you have been replaced by imposters. © 2022 Scientific American,

Keyword: Consciousness; Attention
Link ID: 28370 - Posted: 06.14.2022

By Pam Belluck An experimental therapy for A.L.S., the paralyzing and fatal neurological disorder, has been approved in Canada, adding a new treatment option for a disease for which there are few effective therapies. The approval, the first in the world for the treatment — AMX0035, to be marketed in Canada as Albrioza — comes with the condition that the drug company later provide better evidence that the treatment works. It is likely to be of major interest to patients with A.L.S. (amyotrophic lateral sclerosis) in the United States, where the same therapy is being evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration, which has raised questions about the treatment’s effectiveness. An F.D.A. review earlier this year found the treatment to be safe, but said there was not enough evidence that it was effective either in helping patients live longer or slowing the rate at which they lose functions like muscle control, speaking or breathing without assistance. A committee of independent advisers to the F.D.A. voted by a narrow margin in March that the therapy was not ready for approval. The F.D.A. had been scheduled to issue a final decision this month, but recently extended the deadline to Sept. 29, saying it needed more time to review additional analyses of data submitted by the company. In the meantime, Calaneet Balas, president and chief executive of the A.L.S. Association, one of several patient advocacy organizations pressing for F.D.A. approval, said, “We expect that Americans living with A.L.S. will try to access Albrioza in Canada, just as we have heard reports of people trying to buy the ingredients on Amazon.” © 2022 The New York Times Company

Keyword: ALS-Lou Gehrig's Disease
Link ID: 28369 - Posted: 06.14.2022

Sofia Quaglia When they are in the deep, dark ocean, seals use their whiskers to track down their prey, a study has confirmed after observing the sea mammals in their natural habitat. It’s hard for light to penetrate the gloom of the ocean’s depths, and animals have come up with a variety of adaptations in order to live and hunt there. Whales and dolphins, for example, use echolocation – the art of sending out clicky noises into the water and listening to their echo as they bounce off possible prey, to locate them. But deep-diving seals who don’t have those same acoustic projectors must have evolutionarily learned to deploy another sensory technique. Scientists have long hypothesised that the secret weapons are their long, cat-like whiskers, conducting over 20 years of experiments with artificial whiskers or captive seals blindfolded in a pool, given the difficulties of directly observing the hunters in the tenebrous depths of the ocean. Now a study may have confirmed the hypothesis, according to Taiki Adachi, assistant project scientist of University of California, Santa Cruz, and one of the lead authors of the study published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Science. Adachi and his team positioned small video cameras with infrared night-vision on the left cheek, lower jaw, back and head of five free-ranging northern elephant seals, the Mirounga angustirostris, in Año Nuevo state park in California. They recorded a total of approximately nine and a half hours of deep sea footage during their seasonal migration. By analysing the videos the scientists noted that diving seals held back their whiskers for the initial part of their dives and, and once they reached a depth suitable for foraging, they rhythmically whisked their whiskers back and forth, hoping to sense any vibration caused by the slightest water movements of swimming prey. © 2022 Guardian News & Media Limited o

Keyword: Pain & Touch
Link ID: 28368 - Posted: 06.14.2022

Philip Ball How do you spot an optimistic pig? This isn’t the setup for a punchline; the question is genuine, and in the answer lies much that is revealing about our attitudes to other minds – to minds, that is, that are not human. If the notion of an optimistic (or for that matter a pessimistic) pig sounds vaguely comical, it is because we scarcely know how to think about other minds except in relation to our own. Here is how you spot an optimistic pig: you train the pig to associate a particular sound – a note played on a glockenspiel, say – with a treat, such as an apple. When the note sounds, an apple falls through a hatch so the pig can eat it. But another sound – a dog-clicker, say – signals nothing so nice. If the pig approaches the hatch on hearing the clicker, all it gets is a plastic bag rustled in its face. What happens now if the pig hears neither of these sounds, but instead a squeak from a dog toy? An optimistic pig might think there’s a chance that this, too, signals delivery of an apple. A pessimistic pig figures it will just get the plastic bag treatment. But what makes a pig optimistic? In 2010, researchers at Newcastle University showed that pigs reared in a pleasant, stimulating environment, with room to roam, plenty of straw, and “pig toys” to explore, show the optimistic response to the squeak significantly more often than pigs raised in a small, bleak, boring enclosure. In other words, if you want an optimistic pig, you must treat it not as pork but as a being with a mind, deserving the resources for a cognitively rich life. We don’t, and probably never can, know what it feels like to be an optimistic pig. Objectively, there’s no reason to suppose that it feels like anything: that there is “something it is like” to be a pig, whether apparently happy or gloomy. Until rather recently, philosophers and scientists have been reluctant to grant a mind to any nonhuman entity. Feelings and emotions, hope and pain and a sense of self were deemed attributes that separated us from the rest of the living world. To René Descartes in the 17th century, and to behavioural psychologist BF Skinner in the 1950s, other animals were stimulus-response mechanisms that could be trained but lacked an inner life. To grant animals “minds” in any meaningful sense was to indulge a crude anthropomorphism that had no place in science. © 2022 Guardian News & Media Limited

Keyword: Evolution; Intelligence
Link ID: 28367 - Posted: 06.11.2022

William E. Pelham, Jr. For decades, many physicians, parents and teachers have believed that stimulant medications help children with ADHD learn because they are able to focus and behave better when medicated. After all, an estimated 6.1 million children in the U.S. are diagnosed with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder, and more than 90% are prescribed stimulant medication as the main form of treatment in school settings. However, in a peer-reviewed study that several colleagues and I published in the Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, we found medication has no detectable effect on how much children with ADHD learn in the classroom. At least that’s the case when learning – defined as the acquisition of performable skills or knowledge through instruction – is measured in terms of tests meant to assess improvements in a student’s current academic knowledge or skills over time. Compared to their peers, children with ADHD exhibit more off-task, disruptive classroom behavior, earn lower grades and score lower on tests. They are more likely to receive special education services and be retained for a grade, and less likely to finish high school and enter college – two educational milestones that are associated with significant increases in earnings. In this study, funded by the National Institute of Mental Health, we evaluated 173 children between the ages of 7 and 12. They were all participants in our Summer Treatment Program, a comprehensive eight-week summer camp for children with ADHD and related behavioral, emotional and learning challenges. Children got grade-level instruction in vocabulary, science and social studies. The classes were led by certified teachers. The children received medication the first half of summer and a placebo during the other half. They were tested at the start of each academic instruction block, which lasted approximately three weeks. They then took the same test at the end to determine how much they learned. © 2010–2022, The Conversation US, Inc.

Keyword: ADHD; Learning & Memory
Link ID: 28366 - Posted: 06.11.2022

By Maria Temming The Terminator may be one step closer to reality. Researchers at the University of Tokyo have built a robotic finger that, much like Arnold Schwarzenegger’s titular cyborg assassin, is covered in living human skin. The goal is to someday build robots that look like real people — albeit for more altruistic applications. Super realistic-looking robots could more seamlessly interact with humans in medical care and service industries, say biohybrid engineer Shoji Takeuchi and his colleagues June 9 in Matter. (Whether cyborgs masked in living tissue would be more congenial or creepy is probably in the eye of the beholder.) To cover the finger in skin, Takeuchi and colleagues submerged the robotic digit in a blend of collagen and human skin cells called dermal fibroblasts. The mixture settled into a base layer of skin, or dermis, covering the finger. The team then poured a liquid containing human keratinocyte cells onto the finger, which formed an outer skin layer, or epidermis. After two weeks, skin covering the finger measured a few millimeters thick — comparable to the thickness of human skin. The lab-made skin was strong and stretchy enough to withstand the robotic finger bending. It could also heal itself: When researchers made a small cut on the robotic finger and covered it with a collagen bandage, the skin’s fibroblast cells merged the bandage with the rest of the skin within a week. Researchers at the University of Tokyo covered this robotic finger in living human skin to pave the way for ultrarealistic cyborgs. “This is very interesting work and an important step forward in the field,” says Ritu Raman, an MIT engineer who also builds machines with living components. “Biological materials are appealing because they can dynamically sense and adapt to their environments.” For instance, she’d like to see a future version of the living robot skin embedded with nerve cells to make robots more aware of their surroundings. © Society for Science & the Public 2000–2022.

Keyword: Pain & Touch; Robotics
Link ID: 28365 - Posted: 06.11.2022

Researchers from the National Eye Institute (NEI) have identified a new disease that affects the macula, a small part of the light-sensing retina needed for sharp, central vision. Scientists report their findings on the novel macular dystrophy, which is yet to be named, in JAMA Ophthalmology. NEI is part of the National Institutes of Health. Macular dystrophies are disorders that usually cause central visual loss because of mutations in several genes, including ABCA4, BEST1, PRPH2, and TIMP3. For example, patients with Sorsby Fundus Dystrophy, a genetic eye disease specifically linked to TIMP3 variants, usually develop symptoms in adulthood. They often have sudden changes in visual acuity due to choroidal neovascularization– new, abnormal blood vessels that grow under the retina, leaking fluid and affecting vision. TIMP3 is a protein that helps regulate retinal blood flow and is secreted from the retinal pigment epithelium (RPE), a layer of tissue that nourishes and supports the retina’s light-sensing photoreceptors. All TIMP3 gene mutations reported are in the mature protein after it has been “cut” from RPE cells in a process called cleavage. “We found it surprising that two patients had TIMP3 variants not in the mature protein, but in the short signal sequence the gene uses to ‘cut’ the protein from the cells. We showed these variants prevent cleavage, causing the protein to be stuck in the cell, likely leading to retinal pigment epithelium toxicity,” said Bin Guan, Ph.D., lead author. The research team followed these findings with clinical evaluations and genetic testing of family members to verify that the two new TIMP3 variants are connected to this atypical maculopathy.

Keyword: Vision
Link ID: 28364 - Posted: 06.11.2022

by Charles Q. Choi The primordial cells that give rise to most other brain cells do not proliferate in a typical way in autistic people — and that could explain how common traits emerge from a range of genetic origins, according to a new study. The idea that autism disrupts the proliferation of neural precursor cells isn’t new, but until now, few studies had investigated how that difference arises. In the new study, scientists fashioned neural precursor cells out of cord blood cells from five autistic boys ages 4 to 14 and, to serve as controls, either their non-autistic brothers or unrelated non-autistic people. Three of the autistic children have idiopathic cases, in which there is no known genetic cause for their autism; the other two have deletions in 16p11.2, a chromosomal region linked to autism and other neuropsychiatric conditions. Three of the autistic children have macrocephaly, or a large head. Neural precursors from the autistic boys all proliferated in atypical ways, the scientists found. Among children with macrocephaly, this growth was accelerated, leading to 28 to 55 percent more cells than in the non-autistic controls after six days. In contrast, cells from the other two boys, both with idiopathic autism, grew more slowly and more of those cells died, yielding 40 to 65 percent fewer cells than in controls after six days. “Despite the fact that these individuals are genetically distinct, especially the idiopathic individuals, it is amazing they have a common developmental process dysfunction — control of proliferation,” says study co-lead investigator Emanuel DiCicco-Bloom, professor of neuroscience, cell biology and pediatrics at Rutgers University in Piscataway, New Jersey. © 2022 Simons Foundation

Keyword: Autism; Genes & Behavior
Link ID: 28363 - Posted: 06.11.2022

ByRobert F. Service An experimental drug is raising new hopes for those with Parkinson’s disease. So far, the compound has only been tested in animals and in an initial safety assessment in humans. But results show it inhibits a cellular pathway that gives rise to the disease, which researchers have been working to target for nearly 20 years. Investigators are now launching expanded clinical trials. “This is a very, very important step forward,” says Patrick Lewis, a neuroscientist who studies the mechanisms of Parkinson’s at the University of London’s Royal Veterinary College. If further tests prove the compound is effective in humans, says Lewis, who was not involved with the new study, it would likely be given to patients as soon as they exhibit the first signs of developing the progressive disorder. “The hope is that [the new drug] would slow down the progression of disease.” Parkinson’s affects as many as 10 million people worldwide. It results when cells in the brain that produce the neurotransmitter dopamine stop working or die. Over time this causes a widespread decline in brain function, leading to shaking and loss of muscle control. Current drugs can help replace lost dopamine and reduce symptoms, but no therapies slow or halt disease progression itself. The new study focuses on a gene called leucine-rich repeat kinase 2 (LRRK2). People with mutations in this gene are at high risk for developing Parkinson’s. Among other roles, LRRK2 modifies a suite of proteins called Rab guanosine triphosphates, which act like air traffic controllers, orchestrating the flow of proteins in and out of cells. The mutations kick Rab into overdrive and reduce the efficiency of cellular structures called lysosomes, which chew up and recycle unwanted proteins. This creates a buildup of toxic byproducts that can kill neurons and lead to Parkinson’s, says Carole Ho, chief medical officer of Denali Therapeutics, a biotech startup in California. © 2022 American Association for the Advancement of Science.

Keyword: Parkinsons
Link ID: 28362 - Posted: 06.09.2022

By Christina Caron In recent years, the vagus nerve has become an object of fascination, especially on social media. The vagal nerve fibers, which run from the brain to the abdomen, have been anointed by some influencers as the key to reducing anxiety, regulating the nervous system and helping the body to relax. TikTok videos with the hashtag “#vagusnerve” have been viewed more than 64 million times and there are nearly 70,000 posts with the hashtag on Instagram. Some of the most popular ones feature simple hacks to “tone” or “reset” the vagus nerve, in which people plunge their faces into ice water baths or lie on their backs with ice packs on their chests. There are also neck and ear massages, eye exercises and deep-breathing techniques. Now, wellness companies have capitalized on the trend, offering products like “vagus massage oil,” vibrating bracelets and pillow mists, that claim to stimulate the nerve, but that have not been endorsed by the scientific community. Researchers who study the vagus nerve say that stimulating it with electrodes can potentially help improve mood and alleviate symptoms in those who suffer from treatment-resistant depression, among other ailments. But are there other ways to activate the vagus nerve? Who would benefit most from doing so? And what exactly is the vagus nerve, anyway? Here’s a look at what we know so far. The term “vagus nerve” is actually shorthand for thousands of fibers. They are organized into two bundles that run from the brain stem down through each side of the neck and into the torso, branching outward to touch our internal organs, said Dr. Kevin J. Tracey, a neurosurgeon and president of the Feinstein Institutes for Medical Research, Northwell Health’s research center in New York. Imagine something akin to a tree, whose limbs interact with nearly every organ system in the body. (The word “vagus” means “wandering” in Latin.) The vagus nerve picks up information about how the organs are functioning and also sends information from the brain stem back to the body, helping to control digestion, heart rate, voice, mood and the immune system. For those reasons, the vagus nerve — the longest of the 12 cranial nerves — is sometimes referred to as an “information superhighway.” Dr. Tracey compared it to a trans-Atlantic cable. “It’s not a mishmash of signals,” he said. “Every signal has a specific job.” © 2022 The New York Times Company

Keyword: Depression; Stress
Link ID: 28361 - Posted: 06.09.2022

Helena Horton Environment reporter Otters are able to learn from each other – but still prefer to solve some puzzles on their own, scientists have found. The semi-aquatic mammals are known to be very social and intelligent creatures, but a study by the University of Exeter has given new insight into their intellect. Researchers gave otters “puzzle boxes”, some of which contained familiar food, while others held unfamiliar natural prey – shore crab and blue mussels, which are protected by hard outer shells. For the familiar food – meatballs, a favourite with the Asian short-clawed otters in the study – the scientists had five different types of boxes, and the method to extract the food changed in each version, for example pulling a tab or opening a flap. The unfamiliar food presented additional problems because the otters did not know if the crab and mussels were safe to eat and had no experience of getting them out of their shells. In order to decide whether food was safe and desirable to eat, the otters, which live at Newquay zoo and the Tamar Otter and Wildlife Centre, watched intently as their companions inspected what was in the boxes and copied if the other otters sampled the treats. However, they spent more time trying to figure out how to remove the meat from the shells on their own and relied less on the actions of their companions. Of the 20 otters in the study, 11 managed to extract the meat from all three types of natural prey. © 2022 Guardian News & Media Limited

Keyword: Learning & Memory; Evolution
Link ID: 28360 - Posted: 06.09.2022

By Anna Gibbs Turns out there is rest for the wicked: Sleepy mosquitoes are more likely to catch up on missed z’s than drink blood, a new study finds. Most people are familiar with the aftermath of a poor night’s sleep. Insects also suffer; for instance, drowsy honeybees struggle to perform their signature waggle dance, and weary fruit flies show signs of memory loss. In the case of sleep-deprived mosquitoes, they give up valuable time for feeding in favor of sleeping overtime, researchers report June 1 in Journal of Experimental Biology. The preference for dozing over dining is surprising given that “we know that mosquitoes love blood a lot,” says Oluwaseun Ajayi, a disease ecologist at the University of Cincinnati. Scientists have long been interested in mosquitoes’ circadian rhythms, the internal clock that determines their sleep and awake times (SN: 10/2/17). Knowing when a mosquito is awake — and biting — is important for understanding and limiting disease transmission. For instance, malaria, often transmitted by nocturnal mosquitoes, is kept under control by slinging netting around beds. But new research suggests that mosquitoes that feed during the day may also spread the disease. It’s challenging to study sleeping bloodsuckers in the lab. That’s partly because awake mosquitoes are aroused by the presence of a meal — the experimenter. And when mosquitoes do fall asleep, they look rather similar to peers that are merely resting to conserve energy. © Society for Science & the Public 2000–2022.

Keyword: Sleep; Evolution
Link ID: 28359 - Posted: 06.09.2022

Daniel Lavelle With ADHD, thoughts and impulses intrude on my focus like burglars trying to break into a house. Sometimes these crooks carefully pick the backdoor lock before they silently enter and pilfer all the silverware. At other times, stealth goes out of the window; they’re kicking through the front door and taking whatever they like. Either way, I was supposed to be reading a book just now, but all I can think about is how great it would be if I waded into a river to save a litter of kittens from tumbling down a waterfall just in the nick of time. I’ve got the kittens in my hand, and the crowd has gone wild; the spectres of Gandhi, Churchill and Obi-Wan Kenobi hover over the riverbank, nodding their approval while fireworks crackle overhead … I snap back and realise I’ve read three pages, only I don’t remember a single line. I reread the same pages, but the same thing happens, only now I’m so hung up on concentrating that another fantasy has hijacked my attention. This time I’m imagining that I’m super-focused, so focused that Manchester United have called and told me they want me to be their special penalty taker. These Walter Mitty, borderline narcissistic episodes persist for a while until I give up and go and be distracted somewhere else. Advertisement Unfortunately, I don’t take Ritalin, a stimulant prescribed to daydreamers like me, so when it comes to focusing I need all the help I can get. Enter Swiss developer and typographic designer Renato Casutt, who has spent six years trying to develop a typographical trick that helps people read more quickly and efficiently. “Bionic reading” is a font people can use on their devices via apps for iPhone and other Apple products. It works by highlighting a limited number of letters in a word in bold, and allowing your brain – or, more specifically, your memory – to fill in the rest. © 2022 Guardian News & Media Limited

Keyword: ADHD; Dyslexia
Link ID: 28358 - Posted: 06.07.2022

Smriti Mallapaty Live-cell imaging of the eye’s transparent cornea has revealed a surprising resident — specialized immune cells that circle the tissue, ready to attack pathogens. “We thought that the central cornea was devoid of any immune cells,” says Esen Akpek, a clinician-scientist who works on immunological diseases of the cornea at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, Maryland. The study, published in Cell Reports1 on 24 May, could help researchers to better understand diseases that affect the eye and to develop therapies that target infections on the eye’s surface, says Tanima Bose, an immunologist at the pharmaceutical company Novartis in Kundl, Austria. Immune response The cornea has a dampened response to infection, in part because aggressive immune cells could damage the clear layer of tissue and obstruct vision, says co-author Scott Mueller, an immunologist at the University of Melbourne, Australia. For this reason, the immune cells that mount a quick but crude response to an infection, such as dendritic cells and macrophages, largely reside in the outer sections of the cornea and emerge only when needed. But in almost every tissue in the body are long-lived immune cells, known as T cells, that swiftly attack pathogens they have previously encountered — a process called ‘immune memory’. Mueller and his colleagues wondered whether such cells lived in the cornea. Using a powerful multiphoton microscope for studying living tissue, the researchers examined the corneas of mice whose eyes had been infected with herpes simplex virus. They saw that cytotoxic T cells and T-helper cells — precursors for immune memory — had infiltrated the cornea and persisted for up to a month after the infection. Further investigations, including more intrusive microscopy techniques, revealed that the cytotoxic T cells had developed into long-lived memory cells that resided in the cornea. © 2022 Springer Nature Limited

Keyword: Vision; Neuroimmunology
Link ID: 28357 - Posted: 06.07.2022