Chapter 4. Development of the Brain

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By Cathleen O’Grady People who take tiny amounts of LSD, “magic mushrooms,” and related drugs report a range of benefits, from more creativity to improved psychological well-being. But do these microdoses—typically less than 10% of the amount that causes a true psychedelic experience—actually benefit the mind? That’s been a hard question to answer. Placebo-controlled trials are tricky to pull off, because psychedelics are so tightly regulated. Now, researchers have come up with a creative workaround: They’ve enlisted microdosing enthusiasts to hide their drugs in gel capsules and mix them up with empty capsules. The upshot of this “self-blinding” study: Microdosing did lead to improvements in psychological well-being—but so did the placebo capsules. “The benefits are real,” says lead author Balázs Szigeti, a neuroscientist at Imperial College London. “But they are not caused by the pharmacological effects of microdosing.” The findings, however, are “the least interesting thing about this study,” says Noah Haber, a study design specialist at Stanford University. The “very, very clever” method of self-blinding pushes the boundaries of what can be investigated using randomized placebo controls, he says. Getting the new study off the ground wasn’t easy. Obtaining ethical approval to enroll psychedelic-taking volunteers was a “long and difficult process,” Szigeti says. And then he had to go out and find those volunteers, which he did by reaching out to microdosing communities, giving talks at psychedelic societies, and holding an “ask me anything” discussion on Reddit. Szigeti eventually garnered more than 1600 sign-ups, but once potential participants realized they’d have to procure their own psychedelics, interest ebbed, and only 246 ended up in the experiment. © 2021 American Association for the Advancement of Science.

Keyword: Depression; Drug Abuse
Link ID: 27721 - Posted: 03.06.2021

By Matt Richtel Texas has one of the most restrictive medical marijuana laws in the country, with sales allowed only by prescription for a handful of conditions. That hasn’t stopped Lukas Gilkey, chief executive of Hometown Hero CBD, based in Austin, Texas. His company sells joints, blunts, gummy bears, vaping devices and tinctures that offer a recreational high. In fact, business is booming online as well, where he sells to many people in other states with strict marijuana laws. But Mr. Gilkey says that he is no outlaw, and that he’s not selling marijuana, just a close relation. He’s offering products with a chemical compound — Delta-8-THC — extracted from hemp. It is only slightly chemically different from Delta 9, which is the main psychoactive ingredient in marijuana. And that small distinction, it turns out, may make a big difference in the eyes of the law. Under federal law, psychoactive Delta 9 is explicitly outlawed. But Delta-8-THC from hemp is not, a loophole that some entrepreneurs say allows them to sell it in many states where hemp possession is legal. The number of customers “coming into Delta 8 is staggering,” Mr. Gilkey said. “You have a drug that essentially gets you high, but is fully legal,” he added. “The whole thing is comical.” The rise of Delta 8 is a case study in how industrious cannabis entrepreneurs are pulling apart hemp and marijuana to create myriad new product lines with different marketing angles. They are building brands from a variety of potencies, flavors and strains of THC, the intoxicating substance in cannabis, and of CBD, the nonintoxicating compound that is often sold as a health product. With Delta 8, entrepreneurs also believe they have found a way to take advantage of the country’s fractured and convoluted laws on recreational marijuana use. It’s not quite that simple, though. Federal agencies, including the Drug Enforcement Administration, are still considering their options for enforcement and regulation. © 2021 The New York Times Company

Keyword: Drug Abuse
Link ID: 27714 - Posted: 02.28.2021

By Tom Bartlett The stimulant hexedrone — known more commonly as “bath salts” — is the kind of drug Carl Hart believes would be ideal to take right before a hellish academic reception or departmental holiday party. He’ll do cocaine and ecstasy from time to time and is a fan of the opioids oxycodone and morphine for the “pleasurable calmness” they induce. But after a long day, there are few things that Hart, a neuroscientist and psychology professor at Columbia University, enjoys more than a few lines of heroin by the fireplace. Hart has long pushed back against what he sees as the demonization of certain drugs and those who take them, particularly Black users, who are incarcerated at higher rates than white users. He has questioned the prevailing opinion that methamphetamine interferes with cognition and presented findings that suggest marijuana has minimal impact on the working memory of regular smokers. In his 2013 memoir, High Price: A Neuroscientist’s Journey of Self-Discovery That Challenges Everything You Know About Drugs and Society, Hart makes the case for decriminalizing narcotics and argues that “we’re too afraid of these drugs and of what we think they do.” In a 2014 talk at the TEDMed conference, he argued that “science should be driving our drug policy and our drug education, even if that makes you and me uncomfortable.” In his new book, Drug Use for Grown-Ups: Chasing Liberty in the Land of Fear, the former chairman of Columbia’s psychology department goes a step further, revealing that he has used — and continues to use — a number of illegal drugs. In fact, Hart recently said on a podcast that he was on methamphetamine when he delivered that TEDMed talk and that he’s given some of his best interviews the day after using heroin. Hart, who is 54, tried heroin for the first time in his 40s and has used it regularly — and responsibly, he contends — for years. “I am an unapologetic drug user,” he writes. “I take drugs as part of my pursuit of happiness, and they work. I am a happier and better person because of them.” He is not, he writes, an addict, and his book is not about addiction. Hart says that his stressful recent stint as department chairman was more damaging to his health than any substance he has ingested. © 2021 The Chronicle of Higher Education

Keyword: Drug Abuse
Link ID: 27709 - Posted: 02.28.2021

By Linda Searing People who smoke even occasionally are more likely than nonsmokers to have a serious type of stroke caused by a ruptured blood vessel — 27 percent more likely if they smoke up to 20 packs a year, according to research published in the journal Stroke. The average American smoker, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, smokes 14 cigarettes daily, which means about 255 packs a year. The type of stroke examined by the researchers, known as a subarachnoid hemorrhage, occurs when a weakened blood vessel ruptures and bleeds into the space between a person’s brain and skull. Most often, this results from an aneurysm, an abnormal bulge in a blood vessel. A subarachnoid hemorrhage is not as common as an ischemic stroke, which is caused by a blood clot, but it also can lead to neurological problems or be life-threatening without immediate treatment to stop the bleeding. To focus on the effect that smoking may have on people’s risk for this type of stroke, the researchers analyzed data on 408,609 adults, about a third of whom smoked regularly. During the study period, 904 participants had a subarachnoid hemorrhage. The more people smoked, the greater their risk for this type of stroke, prompting the American Stroke Association to note that the findings “provide evidence for a causal link” between smoking and subarachnoid hemorrhage. washingtonpost.com © 1996-2021

Keyword: Drug Abuse; Stroke
Link ID: 27707 - Posted: 02.28.2021

By Anahad O’Connor Five years ago, a group of nutrition scientists studied what Americans eat and reached a striking conclusion: More than half of all the calories that the average American consumes comes from ultra-processed foods, which they defined as “industrial formulations” that combine large amounts of sugar, salt, oils, fats and other additives. Highly processed foods continue to dominate the American diet, despite being linked to obesity, heart disease, Type 2 diabetes and other health problems. They are cheap and convenient, and engineered to taste good. They are aggressively marketed by the food industry. But a growing number of scientists say another reason these foods are so heavily consumed is that for many people they are not just tempting but addictive, a notion that has sparked controversy among researchers. Recently, the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition explored the science behind food addiction and whether ultra-processed foods might be contributing to overeating and obesity. It featured a debate between two of the leading experts on the subject, Ashley Gearhardt, associate professor in the psychology department at the University of Michigan, and Dr. Johannes Hebebrand, head of the department of child and adolescent psychiatry, psychosomatics and psychotherapy at the University of Duisburg-Essen in Germany. Dr. Gearhardt, a clinical psychologist, helped develop the Yale Food Addiction Scale, a survey that is used to determine whether a person shows signs of addictive behavior toward food. In one study involving more than 500 people, she and her colleagues found that certain foods were especially likely to elicit “addictive-like” eating behaviors, such as intense cravings, a loss of control, and an inability to cut back despite experiencing harmful consequences and a strong desire to stop eating them. At the top of the list were pizza, chocolate, potato chips, cookies, ice cream, French fries and cheeseburgers. © 2021 The New York Times Company

Keyword: Obesity; Drug Abuse
Link ID: 27706 - Posted: 02.23.2021

By Nicholas Bakalar A large analysis looked at hundreds of factors that may influence the risk of heart failure and found one dietary factor in particular that was associated with a lower risk: drinking coffee. Heart failure, sometimes called congestive heart failure, occurs when the heart muscle becomes weakened and can no longer pump blood efficiently. It can be caused by high blood pressure, heart valve disease, heart attack, diabetes and other diseases and conditions. The analysis included extensive, decades-long data from three large health studies with 21,361 participants, and used a method called machine learning that uses computers to find meaningful patterns in large amounts of data. “Usually, researchers pick things they suspect would be risk factors for heart failure — smoking, for example — and then look at smokers versus nonsmokers,” said the senior author, Dr. David P. Kao, an assistant professor of medicine at the University of Colorado. “But machine learning identifies variables that are predictive of either increased or decreased risk, but that you haven’t necessarily thought of.” Using this technique, Dr. Kao and his colleagues found 204 variables that are associated with the risk for heart failure. Then they looked at the 41 strongest factors, which included, among others, smoking, marital status, B.M.I., cholesterol, blood pressure and the consumption of various foods. The analysis is in Circulation: Heart Failure. In all three studies, coffee drinking was associated more strongly than any other dietary factor with a decreased long-term risk for heart failure. Drinking a cup a day or less had no effect, but two cups a day conferred a 31 percent reduced risk, and three cups or more reduced risk by 29 percent. There were not enough subjects who drank more than three cups daily to know if more coffee would decrease the risk further. © 2021 The New York Times Company

Keyword: Drug Abuse
Link ID: 27701 - Posted: 02.23.2021

By Warren Cornwall Prozac might need a new warning label: “Caution: This antidepressant may turn fish into zombies.” Researchers have found that long-term exposure to the drug makes guppies act more alike, wiping out some of the typical behavioral differences that distinguish them. That could be a big problem when the medication—technically named fluoxetine—washes into streams and rivers, potentially making fish populations more vulnerable to predators and other threats. In recent decades, scientists have uncovered a plethora of ways that pharmaceuticals affect animals in the lab and in the wild, such as by altering courtship, migration, and anxiety. The drugs find their way into the environment through water that pours from sewage treatment plants, which is rarely filtered to remove the chemicals. But the findings are usually based on an average taken from combining measurements of all the individual animals in a group. Giovanni Polverino, a behavioral ecologist at the University of Western Australia, Perth, and colleagues wondered whether this calculation obscured important but subtle insights about individual animals. Did the drug change behavior similarly in all the creatures in a group? Or were certain kinds of “personalities” affected more strongly? To find out, Polverino’s team captured 3600 guppies (Poecilia reticulata)—a common silvery fish often used in labs that grows to half the length of an average human’s pinkie—from a creek in northeastern Australia. In the laboratory, the fish and their offspring—as many as six generations—spent 2 years in tanks filled with either freshwater, water with fluoxetine at levels common in the wild, or a higher dose similar to places near sewage outflows. © 2021 American Association for the Advancement of Science.

Keyword: Depression; Neurotoxins
Link ID: 27685 - Posted: 02.13.2021

by Peter Hess A new engineered protein that glows in the presence of serotonin enables researchers to track the neurotransmitter’s levels and location in the brains of living mice, according to a new study. This ‘serotonin sensor’ could help elucidate serotonin’s role in autism, experts say. Serotonin helps regulate mood, circulation and digestion, among other functions. Some people with autism have elevated levels of serotonin in their blood. Other evidence links serotonin to social behavior in mice. “Serotonin is wildly important both for basic research and human health. And for the longest time, ways to measure it were very indirect,” says co-lead researcher Loren Looger, professor of neuroscience at the University of California, San Diego. “Only with sensors like this can one follow it in vivo, which is critical.” Unlike other tools for measuring serotonin, the sensor can also show changes in serotonin activity over time, making it an exciting tool for autism research, says Jeremy Veenstra-VanderWeele, professor of psychiatry at Columbia University, who was not involved in the study. “This tool will make it possible to understand the relationships between serotonin release and complex behaviors, including in different genetic mouse models related to autism,” he says. “I imagine that this tool will come into fairly broad use.” Programmable protein: The new sensor originated from one described last year that detects a different neurotransmitter, acetylcholine. Looger and his team used a computer algorithm to redesign the acetylcholine-binding portion of the sensor protein so that it could attach to serotonin instead. © 2021 Simons Foundation

Keyword: Depression; Obesity
Link ID: 27680 - Posted: 02.08.2021

Paul Tullis On a sunny day in London in 2015, Kirk Rutter rode the Tube to Hammersmith Hospital in hopes of finally putting an end to his depression. Rutter had lived with the condition off and on for years, but the burden had grown since the death of his mother in 2011, followed by a relationship break-up and a car accident the year after. It felt as if his brain was stuck on what he describes as “an automatic circuit”, repeating the same negative thoughts like a mantra: “‘Everything I do turns to crap.’ I actually believed that,” he recalls. The visit to Hammersmith was a preview. He would be returning the next day to participate in a study, taking a powerful hallucinogen under the guidance of Robin Carhart-Harris, a psychologist and neuroscientist at Imperial College London. Years of talking therapy and a variety of anti-anxiety medications had failed to improve Rutter’s condition, qualifying him for the trial. “Everyone was super nice, like really lovely, and especially Robin,” Rutter recalls. Carhart-Harris led him to a room with a magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) machine, so researchers could acquire a baseline of his brain activity. Then he showed Rutter where he would spend his time while on the drug. Carhart-Harris asked him to lie down and played him some of the music that would accompany the session. He explained that he would have on hand a drug that could neutralize the hallucinogen, if necessary. Then the two practised a grounding technique, to help calm Rutter in the event that he became overwhelmed. Without warning, Rutter burst into tears. “I think I knew this was going to be unpacking a lot — I was carrying a bit of a load at the time,” Rutter says. © 2021 Springer Nature Limited

Keyword: Depression; Drug Abuse
Link ID: 27670 - Posted: 01.30.2021

Research shows that hallucinogens can be highly effective treatments for anxiety, depression, addiction, and trauma. Here's everything you need to know: Aren't psychedelic drugs illegal? Under federal and most states' laws, they are, but a push to legalize or decriminalize the drugs is gaining momentum. On Election Day, Oregon voters made their state the first to legalize the active ingredient in "magic mushrooms" — psilocybin — for mental health therapy in a controlled setting with a therapist. Washington, D.C., voters passed Initiative 81, making the city at least the fifth to decriminalize magic mushrooms. Similar legislation has been proposed in California, Vermont, and Iowa. Last summer, Canada issued four terminally ill patients exemptions to take psilocybin for end-of-life anxiety and depression. British Columbia resident Mona Strelaeff, 67, got an exemption for treatment for trauma, addiction, depression, and anxiety. "All the unresolved trauma," Strelaeff said, "it came back and I was beyond terrified, shaking uncontrollably, and crying." She said that psilocybin therapy helped her conquer "those tough memories" and today she "ain't afraid of jack (s---)." How does psychedelic therapy work? Participants usually take psilocybin or LSD in a relaxing setting, lying down with blindfolds and headphones on, listening to music. Trained supervisors encourage them to "go inward and to kind of experience whatever is going to come up," said Alan Davis, who studies psychedelics at Johns Hopkins University. Bad psilocybin trips are rare — Johns Hopkins and NYU researchers conducted 500 sessions without observing any "serious adverse effects" — but they can occur. Advocates say careful dose control, supervision, and controlled settings are very important. Psilocybin sessions typically last between four and six hours, while LSD sessions go on for 12. Robin Carhart-Harris, who runs the Centre for Psychedelic Research at Imperial College in London, theorized that such sessions can "reboot" the brain in a way similar to a near-death or intense spiritual experience. ® 2021 The Week Publications Inc.,

Keyword: Depression; Drug Abuse
Link ID: 27667 - Posted: 01.27.2021

By Linda Searing A surge in the number of U.S. residents who have died of a drug overdose — 81,230 in the 12 months ending last May — set a record for the most such deaths in a one-year span, according to a report issued by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Overall, drug overdose deaths jumped by 18 percent from the previous year, with increases recorded in 46 states (by more than 20 percent in 25 of those states) and just four states recording a decrease. Deaths attributed to synthetic opioids, mainly fentanyl, increased 38 percent nationwide, but 98 percent in 10 western states. Overdose deaths tied to cocaine use, often involving co-use or mixing with fentanyl or heroin, increased about 26 percent, and deaths linked to psychostimulants, such as methamphetamine, increased 35 percent. The CDC noted that the death rate from drug overdoses accelerated as the coronavirus pandemic set in, disrupting daily life and leading to isolation, depression, anxiety and economic distress for many, including people with a substance use disorder. In a health alert, the CDC urged broader distribution and use of naloxone, a medication that can block the effects of an overdose, as well as expanded prevention and treatment for those struggling with drug use. A free and confidential hotline, offering information and treatment referral, can be reached by calling the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration at 800-662-4357.

Keyword: Drug Abuse
Link ID: 27663 - Posted: 01.27.2021

By Katherine J. Wu For a lesson in euphoria, look no further than a house cat twined around a twig of silver vine. When offered a snipping of the plant, which contains chemicals similar to the ones found in catnip, most domesticated felines will purr, drool and smoosh their faces into its intoxicating leaves and stems, then zonk out in a state of catatonic bliss. But the ecstatic rush might not be the only reason felines flock to these plants, new research suggests. Compounds laced into plants like silver vine and catnip might also help cats ward off mosquitoes, equipping them with a DIY pest repellent that’s far more fun to apply than a greasy coat of DEET. Other papers have pointed to the insect-deterring effects of catnip and similar plants. But the new study, published Wednesday in the journal Science Advances, is the first to draw a direct link between the plants and their protective effects on cats. “It’s a really interesting observation, that such a well-known behavior could be having this unappreciated benefit for cats,” said Laura Duvall, a mosquito researcher at Columbia University in New York who wasn’t involved in the study. Botanically speaking, catnip and silver vine are distant cousins. But both contain iridoids, a suite of chemicals that seem to potently tickle pleasure circuits in cats. To pinpoint the evolutionary roots of this plant-feline connection, a team of researchers led by Masao Miyazaki, a biochemist and veterinary scientist at Iwate University in Japan, corralled a menagerie of cats — some domestic, some wild — and monitored their responses to an iridoid extracted from silver vine, which thrives in many mountainous parts of Asia. Presented with scraps of paper dosed with iridoid, most of the cats initiated a ritualized rolling and rubbing. Some cats were so eager to engage with the compounds that they climbed up the sides of their cages — some of which were nearly four feet tall — to anoint themselves with chemical-soaked paper secured to the ceiling. © 2021 The New York Times Company

Keyword: Drug Abuse
Link ID: 27662 - Posted: 01.23.2021

Kayt Sukel Psychedelic drugs conjure images of tie-dyed tee shirts, Woodstock, and Vietnam War protests. While early research into the properties of drugs like psilocybin (magic mushrooms) and lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD) during the middle of the 20th century suggested therapeutic potential for diverse mental health conditions, their role in the 1960s anti-war and counterculture movement made them suspect by law enforcement. Not long after American psychologist Timothy Leary called for people to “turn on, tune in, and drop out,” endorsing the regular use of psychedelic drugs for health and well-being, the federal Controlled Substances Act classified them as highly dangerous Schedule 1 compounds, or drugs with “no currently accepted medical use and a high potential for abuse.” “Initially, psychedelics showed quite a lot of promise for treating a wide range of mental health conditions—in particular, addiction and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD),” says Anil Seth, co-director of the Sackler Centre for Consciousness Science at the University of Sussex in the United Kingdom. “There’s long been a blame game going regarding what led to these drugs being outlawed, mostly focusing on people like Timothy Leary promoting indiscriminate use of what we know are quite powerful drugs. But the end result was that, despite their promise, it became nearly impossible for anyone to do any research at all on them.” Over the past decade, however, there has been a revival of psychopharmacology and neuroscience research into the effects of psychedelic drugs. In fact, despite continuing legal barriers and funding challenges involved with using these banned drugs in research studies—many researchers wait years for Food and Drug Administration approvals and require funding from non-governmental agencies to move forward—several unique research centers, including the Centre for Psychedelic Research at Imperial College London and Johns Hopkins University’s Center for Psychedelics and Consciousness Research, are now actively studying LSD, psilocybin, and dimethyltryptamine (DMT), from both basic science and clinical perspectives. © 2021 The Dana Foundation

Keyword: Depression; Drug Abuse
Link ID: 27646 - Posted: 01.15.2021

By Cara Giaimo The rooms that make up the Bloomington Drosophila Stock Center at Indiana University are lined wall to wall with identical shelves. Each shelf is filled with uniform racks, and each rack with indistinguishable glass vials. The tens of thousands of fruit fly types within the vials, though, are each magnificently different. Some have eyes that fluoresce pink. Some jump when you shine a red light on them. Some have short bodies and iridescent curly wings, and look “like little ballerinas,” said Carol Sylvester, who helps care for them. Each variety doubles as a unique research tool, and it has taken decades to introduce the traits that make them useful. If left unattended, the flies would die in a matter of weeks, marooning entire scientific disciplines. Throughout the Covid-19 pandemic, workers across industries have held the world together, taking on great personal risk to care for sick patients, maintain supply chains and keep people fed. But other essential jobs are less well-known. At the Stock Center dozens of employees have come to work each day, through a lockdown and afterward, to minister to the flies that underpin scientific research. Tiny Bug, Huge Impact To most casual observers, fruit flies are little dots with wings that hang out near old bananas. But over the course of the last century, researchers have turned the insect — known to science as Drosophila melanogaster — into a sort of genetic switchboard. Biologists regularly develop new “strains” of flies, in which particular genes are turned on or off. Studying these slight mutants can reveal how those genes function — including in humans, because we share over half of our genes with Drosophila. For instance, researchers discovered what is now called the hippo gene — which helps regulate organ size in both fruit flies and vertebrates — after flies with a defect in it grew up to be unusually large and wrinkly. Further work with the gene has indicated that such defects may contribute to the unchecked cell growth that leads to cancer in people. © 2020 The New York Times Company

Keyword: Genes & Behavior; Development of the Brain
Link ID: 27624 - Posted: 12.15.2020

By Jennie Erin Smith MEDELLÍN, Colombia — Aliria Rosa Piedrahita de Villegas carried a rare genetic mutation that had all but guaranteed she would develop Alzheimer’s disease in her 40s. But only at age 72 did she experience the first symptoms of it. Her dementia was not terribly advanced when she died from cancer on Nov. 10, a month shy of her 78th birthday, in her daughter’s home on a hillside that overlooks the city. Neurology investigators at the University of Antioquia in Medellín, led by Dr. Francisco Lopera, have followed members of Ms. Piedrahita de Villegas’s vast extended family for more than 30 years, hoping to unlock the secrets of early-onset Alzheimer’s disease. In that time they encountered several outliers, people whose disease developed later than expected, in their 50s or even 60s. But none were as medically remarkable as the woman they all knew as doña Aliria. In recent years Aliria traveled to Boston, where investigators at Massachusetts General Hospital conducted nuclear imaging studies of her brain as part of an ongoing study of this Colombian family, the largest in the world with genetic early-onset Alzheimer’s. In Boston it was discovered that Aliria had exceptionally large quantities of one protein seen in Alzheimer’s — amyloid beta — without much tau, the toxic protein that spreads later in the disease cascade. Something had interrupted the usual degenerative process, leaving her day-to-day functioning relatively preserved. Last year, researchers at Harvard Medical School and the University of Antioquia published the surprise finding that while Aliria carried a well-known mutation, unique to Colombia, that causes early Alzheimer’s, she also carried two copies of another rare mutation that appear to have thwarted the activity of the first one. Since then, investigators worldwide have been studying what is known as the Christchurch mutation, a variant on a gene, APOE, that can affect a person’s risk of developing Alzheimer’s. Thus far, drugs targeting amyloid beta have disappointed in clinical trials. If the protective effect of Aliria’s double Christchurch mutation can be replicated, a new avenue for desperately needed therapies could open. © 2020 The New York Times Company

Keyword: Alzheimers; Genes & Behavior
Link ID: 27620 - Posted: 12.12.2020

by Laura Dattaro In 1983, psychologist Christopher Gillberg posed a provocative question to the readers of the British Journal of Psychiatry: Could autism and anorexia nervosa share underlying causes? Gillberg’s curiosity came in part from his observations of three autistic boys whose female cousins all had the eating disorder, which is characterized by food restrictions, low body weight, an intense fear of gaining weight and a distorted body image. Gillberg, professor of child and adolescent psychiatry at the University of Gothenburg in Sweden, initially suggested that anorexia is the ‘female form of autism.’ Although that idea wasn’t entirely accurate, his suspicions that eating disorders and autism are linked have borne out: People with anorexia are more likely to be autistic than those without it, studies show. There are fewer data demonstrating that autistic people are at particularly high risk for eating disorders, but experts say it’s likely. How often do anorexia and autism overlap? Estimates vary, though most researchers agree that roughly 20 percent of people with anorexia are autistic. Both conditions are rare — about 1 percent of people are autistic and 0.3 percent have anorexia — and most research so far has examined the prevalence of autism in people with anorexia, not the reverse. Among 60 women receiving treatment for an eating disorder at a clinic in the United Kingdom, for example, 14 of them, or 23 percent, scored above the diagnostic cutoff on a test called the Autism Diagnostic Observation Schedule (ADOS). Similarly, about one-third of people with anorexia have been diagnosed with autism, according to a long-running study that has followed 51 people with anorexia and 51 controls in Sweden since the 1980s. © 2020 Simons Foundation

Keyword: Autism; Anorexia & Bulimia
Link ID: 27616 - Posted: 12.09.2020

Carrie Arnold In her job as a physician at the Boston Medical Center in Massachusetts, Sondra Crosby treated some of the first people in her region to get COVID-19. So when she began feeling sick in April, Crosby wasn’t surprised to learn that she, too, had been infected. At first, her symptoms felt like those of a bad cold, but by the next day, she was too sick to get out of bed. She struggled to eat and depended on her husband to bring her sports drinks and fever-reducing medicine. Then she lost track of time completely. For five days, Crosby lay in a confused haze, unable to remember the simplest things, such as how to turn on her phone or what her address was. She began hallucinating, seeing lizards on her walls and smelling a repugnant reptilian odour. Only later did Crosby realize that she had had delirium, the formal medical term for her abrupt, severe disorientation. “I didn’t really start processing it until later when I started to come out of it,” she says. “I didn’t have the presence of mind to think that I was anything more than just sick and dehydrated.” Physicians treating people hospitalized with COVID-19 report that a large number experience delirium, and that the condition disproportionately affects older adults. An April 2020 study in Strasbourg, France, found that 65% of people who were severely ill with coronavirus had acute confusion — a symptom of delirium1. Data presented last month at the annual meeting of the American College of Chest Physicians by scientists at the Vanderbilt University Medical Center in Nashville, Tennessee, showed that 55% of the 2,000 people they tracked who were treated for COVID-19 in intensive-care units (ICUs) around the world had developed delirium. These numbers are much higher than doctors are used to: usually, about one-third of people who are critically ill develop delirium, according to a 2015 meta-analysis2 (see ‘How common is delirium?’). © 2020 Springer Nature Limited

Keyword: Alzheimers
Link ID: 27613 - Posted: 12.07.2020

By Jamie Talan After 20 years of marriage, after raising two kids, after building a farm in Kentucky and tending horses and dogs, Laura Prewitt knew this much about her husband: He was tenderhearted, fun-loving and never let stress land too long on his shoulders. But in 2014, old Ted somehow morphed into a new guy, one who is not so communicative. A guy who lost his social edge and seemed unable to read faces or feelings. Who is tired and withdrawn. “He’s just not the same guy,” she says. “I want him back.” At 59, the old Ted, the sensitive husband who cried during sad movies, is gone. A scan of Ted’s brain helps explain it: Discrete regions of the right temporal lobe that regulate emotion are getting smaller; the tissue is shrinking. Ted can still do some of the things he has done for decades. Until a few years ago, he was the president at a construction company. Lately, he’ll see someone he is supposed to know but forgets who they are. He sleeps a lot. And he can’t be left alone for too long or his wife may find him trying to eat a battery or a hammer. He’s agitated. He’s always putting things in his mouth. Ted Prewitt, who has behavioral variant frontotemporal dementia (bvFTD), is one of a growing number of people in midlife diagnosed with an atypical form of dementia. Unlike Alzheimer’s, which generally occurs in older people, these are rarer dementias — including bvFTD; another frontotemporal variant that leads to language disturbances called primary progressive aphasia; a visual and spatial dementia called posterior cortical atrophy; Lewy body dementia; and early-onset Alzheimer’s in people with no family history. These conditions show up in people in their 50s and 60s, sometimes even earlier and sometimes a bit later. No one knows whether these conditions are becoming more common or doctors are better at diagnosing them. © 1996-2020 The Washington Post

Keyword: Alzheimers
Link ID: 27612 - Posted: 12.07.2020

by Angie Voyles Askham Many people with mutations that disrupt a gene called NCKAP1 have autism or autism traits — along with speech and language problems, motor delays and learning difficulties — according to a new study. The results, from a large international team of researchers and clinicians, clarify how mutations in NCKAP1 affect people and solidify its position as a top autism gene. Sequencing studies over the past decade have turned up three autistic people with de novo, or non-inherited, variants that likely disrupt NCKAP1, putting it on a list of genes strongly tied to autism. Other work has shown that mice that do not express the gene have atypical brain development. But those reports contain little information about the outward characteristics of people with NCKAP1 mutations — which are challenging to study because variants in the gene are rare, says Hui Guo, associate professor of life sciences at Central South University in Changsha, China. In the new work, Guo teamed up with scientists and clinicians across the globe to identify and characterize 18 additional people with NCKAP1 mutations. “This study demonstrates that international cooperation among many institutions is becoming fundamental to advancing our understanding of rare variants,” says Abha Gupta, assistant professor of pediatrics at Yale University, who was not involved in the study. Painting a detailed picture of traits associated with NCKAP1 mutations can also improve a person’s chance of being diagnosed and provide guidance about expected outcomes, she says. Guo asked colleagues who collect genetic data for other research to sift through their records for people with NCKAP1 variants. He also used GeneMatcher, a site that connects researchers to clinicians interested in the same genetic variants. © 2020 Simons Foundation

Keyword: Autism; Genes & Behavior
Link ID: 27611 - Posted: 12.07.2020

Abby Olena The smallest terrestrial mammal, the Etruscan shrew (Suncus etruscus), is about as big as a person’s thumb and no heavier than a couple of paper clips. To have enough energy to survive, it must eat eight or more times its body weight daily and therefore doesn’t hibernate. Instead, according to a study published November 30 in PNAS, in winter, these shrews lose 28 percent of the volume from their somatosensory cortex, which likely helps them conserve energy. “This phenomenon of an animal that is not a hibernator still implementing these energy saving strategies is just stunning,” says Christine Schwartz, a neuroscientist who studies hibernation at the University of Wisconsin La Crosse and was not involved in the work. Scientists have shown before that red-toothed shrews, which belong to a group separate from the Etruscan shrew, are born and grow to their full body size in a single summer. Then in autumn, they start to shrink all over—in their spine length, skull, brain, bones, organs such as the liver, and body weight—reaching their smallest size in the winter. Somewhere around February, they start to grow again and reach a second size peak as they sexually mature in the spring. Then they reproduce just once, and, shortly after, die. This cycle is known as Dehnel’s phenomenon. When Saikat Ray was a graduate student in Michael Brecht's lab at the Bernstein Center for Computational Neuroscience in Berlin, he was curious to see if Dehnel’s phenomenon also exists in white-toothed shrews, the subfamily that includes the Etruscan shrew. They already had a colony of Etruscan shrews in the lab, says Ray, who is now a postdoc in Nachum Ulanovsky’s lab at the Weizmann Institute in Israel, because the animals’ tiny brains are a helpful model system for studying more of the brain at once than are the brains of larger mammals, such as mice or rats. © 1986–2020 The Scientist.

Keyword: Neurogenesis
Link ID: 27602 - Posted: 12.05.2020