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By Daniel Bergner Caroline Mazel-Carlton began hearing voices when she was in day care. Mornings, by the time she was in middle school, a bowl of oatmeal awaited her for breakfast next to a white saucer of colorful pills. Her voices remained vibrant. They weren’t within her head; they spoke and screamed from outside her skull. They belonged to beings she could not see. The voice who had been with her longest warned of catastrophes coming for her family in Zionsville, a town north of Indianapolis, calamities tied in some unspecified way to TV images from the gulf war: fighter planes, flashes in the sky, explosions on the ground, luminous and all-consuming. A woman’s voice castigated her at school, telling her that her clothes smelled and that she had better keep her hand down, no matter that she knew the answers to the teacher’s questions. Another voice tracked her every move, its tone faintly mocking. “She’s getting out of bed now; oh, she’s walking down the hall now.” Her mix of psychotropic pills shifted, expanded: antipsychotics, mood stabilizers, an antidepressant, a benzodiazepine for anxiety, a stimulant for attention deficit. The pileup of drugs was typical; people hearing voices or having other hallucinations rarely wind up on just one medication. Multiple chemicals are prescribed, often more than one similar antipsychotic simultaneously, in an attempt to quell the psyche. This article is adapted from “The Mind and the Moon: My Brother’s Story, the Science of Our Brains, and the Search for Our Psyches,” published this month by Ecco. At most, for Mazel-Carlton, the antipsychotics sometimes succeeded in reducing her voices to a wall of sound. This could feel more assaultive than hearing them separately. The antipsychotics caused obesity — 50 pounds of new weight — and the feeling that she was losing control of her forearms and her neck. Her hands quivered and seemed to want to flap-paddle the air. To the isolation caused by the difference of her mind, the drugs added isolation from severe side effects. Her agitation and self-disgust, her terror of being barely human, drove her to twist clusters of her hair around her fingers, to yank hard. Patches of bare scalp crept into view. Classmates taunted, asking why she shook and was going bald, calling her “fat-ass” and “crackhead.” © 2022 The New York Times Company

Keyword: Schizophrenia
Link ID: 28331 - Posted: 05.18.2022

By Eiman Azim, Sliman Bensmaia, Lee E. Miller, Chris Versteeg Imagine you are playing the guitar. You’re seated, supporting the instrument’s weight across your lap. One hand strums; the other presses strings against the guitar’s neck to play chords. Your vision tracks sheet music on a page, and your hearing lets you listen to the sound. In addition, two other senses make playing this instrument possible. One of them, touch, tells you about your interactions with the guitar. Another, proprioception, tells you about your arms’ and hands’ positions and movements as you play. Together, these two capacities combine into what scientists call somatosensation, or body perception. Our skin and muscles have millions of sensors that contribute to somatosensation. Yet our brain does not become overwhelmed by the barrage of these inputs—or from any of our other senses, for that matter. You’re not distracted by the pinch of your shoes or the tug of the guitar strap as you play; you focus only on the sensory inputs that matter. The brain expertly enhances some signals and filters out others so that we can ignore distractions and focus on the most important details. How does the brain accomplish these feats of focus? In recent research at Northwestern University, the University of Chicago and the Salk Institute for Biological Studies in La Jolla, Calif., we have illuminated a new answer to this question. Through several studies, we have discovered that a small, largely ignored structure at the very bottom of the brain stem plays a critical role in the brain’s selection of sensory signals. The area is called the cuneate nucleus, or CN. Our research on the CN not only changes the scientific understanding of sensory processing, but it might also lay the groundwork for medical interventions to restore sensation in patients with injury or disease. © 2022 Scientific American

Keyword: Attention
Link ID: 28330 - Posted: 05.18.2022

By Natasha Gilbert In May of 2018, Tabitha Bird spent a memorable day with her eldest son at a comic book convention in London. Later that evening, after she made sure that her two younger kids were safely tucked up in bed, Bird gathered every sleeping tablet, antidepressant, anti-anxiety med and ibuprofen pill she could find and walked out of the house. She drove to a nearby store where she bought a big bottle of water and some acetaminophen. Then she stopped in an empty industrial park and began to take the lot. Bird woke up from a coma four days later. The 47-year-old, from a town in West Sussex in the UK, now attributes her suicide attempt and the depression leading up to it to perimenopause — the time in most women’s lives when menstrual cycles become irregular and fertility wanes. During this transition, many women experience a suite of changes, including hot flashes, disrupted sleep and mood swings. Some breeze through perimenopause with little difficulty, but many — about 45 percent to 68 percent — experience depression, symptoms of which can include low mood, a loss of interest in things and even thoughts of suicide. Women with a history of depression, like Bird — who also suffered with it while pregnant — are the most vulnerable. During perimenopause, they are twice as likely to experience debilitating full-blown depressive disorder than women who haven’t had past episodes. As researchers probe for reasons why some women fall prey to depression at this time and others don’t, a leading candidate has emerged: widely fluctuating levels of the sex hormone estrogen. Estrogen directs fertility, but mounting research shows that it also holds sway on parts of the brain involved in regulating emotion and stress. © 2022 Annual Reviews

Keyword: Depression; Hormones & Behavior
Link ID: 28329 - Posted: 05.18.2022

By Gina Kolata The very treatments often used to soothe pain in the lower back, which the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says is the most common type of pain, might cause it to last longer, according to a new study. Managing pain with steroids and nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, like ibuprofen, can actually turn a wrenched back into a chronic condition, the study found. Some medical experts urged caution in interpreting the results too broadly. The study did not use the gold standard for medical research, which would be a clinical trial in which people with back pain would be randomly assigned to take a nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug or a placebo and followed to see who developed chronic pain. Instead, it involved observations of patients, an animal study and an analysis of patients in a large database. “It’s intriguing but requires further study,” said Dr. Steven J. Atlas, director of primary care practice-based research and quality improvement at Massachusetts General Hospital. Dr. Bruce M. Vrooman, a pain specialist at Dartmouth Hitchcock Medical Center in New Hampshire, agreed, but also called the study “impressive in its scope” and said that if the results hold up in a clinical trial, it could “force reconsideration of how we treat acute pain.” Dr. Thomas Buchheit, director of the regenerative pain therapies program at Duke, had a different view. “People overuse the term ‘paradigm shift’, but this is absolutely a paradigm shift,” Dr. Buchheit said. “There is this unspoken rule: If it hurts, take an anti-inflammatory, and if it still hurts, put a steroid on it,” he added. “But,” he said, the study shows that “we have to think of healing and not suppression of inflammation.” Guidelines from professional medical societies already say that people with back pain should start with nondrug treatments like exercise, physical therapy, heat or massage. Those measures turn out to be as effective as pain-suppressing drugs, without the same side effects. © 2022 The New York Times Company

Keyword: Pain & Touch
Link ID: 28328 - Posted: 05.18.2022

By Benjamin Mueller Five years ago, Tal Iram, a young neuroscientist at Stanford University, approached her supervisor with a daring proposal: She wanted to extract fluid from the brain cavities of young mice and to infuse it into the brains of older mice, testing whether the transfers could rejuvenate the aging rodents. Her supervisor, Tony Wyss-Coray, famously had shown that giving old animals blood from younger ones could counteract and even reverse some of the effects of aging. But the idea of testing that principle with cerebrospinal fluid, the hard-to-reach liquid that bathes the brain and spinal cord, struck him as such a daunting technical feat that trying it bordered on foolhardy. “When we discussed this initially, I said, ‘This is so difficult that I’m not sure this is going to work,’” Dr. Wyss-Coray said. Dr. Iram persevered, working for a year just to figure out how to collect the colorless liquid from mice. On Wednesday, she reported the tantalizing results in the journal Nature: A week of infusions of young cerebrospinal fluid improved the memories of older mice. The finding was the latest indication that making brains resistant to the unrelenting changes of older age might depend less on interfering with specific disease processes and more on trying to restore the brain’s environment to something closer to its youthful state. “It highlights this notion that cerebrospinal fluid could be used as a medium to manipulate the brain,” Dr. Iram said. Turning that insight into a treatment for humans, though, is a more formidable challenge, the authors of the study said. The earlier studies about how young blood can reverse some signs of aging have led to recent clinical trials in which blood donations from younger people were filtered and given to patients with Alzheimer’s or Parkinson’s disease. But exactly how successful those treatments might be, much less how widely they can be used, remains unclear, scientists said. And the difficulties of working with cerebrospinal fluid are steeper than those involved with blood. Infusing the fluid of a young human into an older patient is probably not possible; extracting the liquid generally requires a spinal tap, and scientists say that there are ethical questions about how to collect enough cerebrospinal fluid for infusions. © 2022 The New York Times Company

Keyword: Development of the Brain; Learning & Memory
Link ID: 28327 - Posted: 05.14.2022

By Ferris Jabr To hear more audio stories from publications like The New York Times, download Audm for iPhone or Android. On the evening of Oct. 10, 2006, Dennis DeGray’s mind was nearly severed from his body. After a day of fishing, he returned to his home in Pacific Grove, Calif., and realized he had not yet taken out the trash or recycling. It was raining fairly hard, so he decided to sprint from his doorstep to the garbage cans outside with a bag in each hand. As he was running, he slipped on a patch of black mold beneath some oak trees, landed hard on his chin, and snapped his neck between his second and third vertebrae. While recovering, DeGray, who was 53 at the time, learned from his doctors that he was permanently paralyzed from the collarbones down. With the exception of vestigial twitches, he cannot move his torso or limbs. “I’m about as hurt as you can get and not be on a ventilator,” he told me. For several years after his accident, he “simply laid there, watching the History Channel” as he struggled to accept the reality of his injury. Some time later, while at a fund-raising event for stem-cell research, he met Jaimie Henderson, a professor of neurosurgery at Stanford University. The pair got to talking about robots, a subject that had long interested DeGray, who grew up around his family’s machine shop. As DeGray remembers it, Henderson captivated him with a single question: Do you want to fly a drone? Henderson explained that he and his colleagues had been developing a brain-computer interface: an experimental connection between someone’s brain and an external device, like a computer, robotic limb or drone, which the person could control simply by thinking. DeGray was eager to participate, eventually moving to Menlo Park to be closer to Stanford as he waited for an opening in the study and the necessary permissions. In the summer of 2016, Henderson opened DeGray’s skull and exposed his cortex — the thin, wrinkled, outermost layer of the brain — into which he implanted two 4-millimeter-by-4-millimeter electrode arrays resembling miniature beds of nails. Each array had 100 tiny metal spikes that, collectively, recorded electric impulses surging along a couple of hundred neurons or so in the motor cortex, a brain region involved in voluntary movement. © 2022 The New York Times Company

Keyword: Robotics
Link ID: 28326 - Posted: 05.14.2022

By Anna Gibbs Cradled inside the hushed world of the womb, fetuses might be preparing to come out howling. In the same way newborn humans can cry as soon as they’re born, common marmoset monkeys (Callithrix jacchus) produce contact calls to seek attention from their caregivers. Those vocalizations are not improv, researchers report in a preprint posted April 14 at bioRxiv. Ultrasound imaging of marmoset fetuses reveals that their mouths are already mimicking the distinctive pattern of movements used to emit their first calls, long before the production of sound. Early behaviors in infants are commonly described as “innate” or “hard-wired,” but a team at Princeton University wondered how exactly those behaviors develop. How does a baby know how to cry as soon as it’s born? The secret may lie in what’s happening before birth. “People tend to ignore the fetal period,” says Darshana Narayanan, a behavioral neuroscientist who did the research while at Princeton University. “They just think that it’s like the baby’s just vegetating and waiting to be born…. [But] that’s where many things begin.” Research shows, for instance, that chicks inside their eggs are already learning to identify their species’ call (SN: 9/16/21). “So much is developing so much earlier in development than we previously thought,” says developmental psychobiologist Samantha Carouso-Peck, executive director of Grassland Bird Trust in Fort Edward, N.Y., who was not involved in the research. But, she says, “we really haven’t looked much at all at the production side of this. Most of what we know is the auditory side.” Carouso-Peck studies vocal learning in songbirds and how it applies to how humans acquire language. © Society for Science & the Public 2000–2022.

Keyword: Animal Communication; Language
Link ID: 28325 - Posted: 05.11.2022

Freda Kreier Some bats can imitate the sound of buzzing hornets to scare off owls, researchers say. The discovery is the first documented case of a mammal mimicking an insect to deter predators. Many animals copy other creatures in a bid to make themselves seem less palatable to predators. Most of these imitations are visual. North America’s non-venomous scarlet kingsnake (Lampropeltis elapsoides), for instance, has evolved to have similar colour-coding to the decidedly more dangerous eastern coral snake (Micrurus fulvius). Now, a study comparing the behaviour of owls exposed to insect and bat noises suggests that greater mouse-eared bats (Myotis myotis) might be among the few animals to have weaponized another species’ sound, says co-author Danilo Russo, an animal ecologist at the University of Naples Federico II in Italy. “When we think of mimicry, the first thing that comes to mind is colour, but in this case, it is sound that plays a crucial role,” he adds. The research was published on 9 May in Current Biology1. Because they are nocturnal and have poor eyesight, most bats rely on echolocation to find their way around, and communicate using a wide array of other noises. Russo first noticed that the distress call of the greater mouse-eared bat sounded like the buzzing of bees or hornets while he was catching the bats for a different research project. To investigate whether other animals might make the same connection, Russo and his colleagues compared the sound structure of buzzing by the European hornet (Vespa crabro) to that of the bat’s distress call. At most frequencies, the two sounds were not dramatically similar, but they were when the bat’s call was stripped down to include only frequencies that owls — one of the animal’s main predators — are able to hear. This suggests that the distress call as heard by owls strongly resembles the buzzing of a hornet, Russo says, so it could fool predators. © 2022 Springer Nature Limited

Keyword: Hearing; Evolution
Link ID: 28324 - Posted: 05.11.2022

Kavita Babu Buying drugs on the street is a game of Russian roulette. From Xanax to cocaine, drugs or counterfeit pills purchased in nonmedical settings may contain life-threatening amounts of fentanyl. Physicians like me have seen a rise in unintentional fentanyl use from people buying prescription opioids and other drugs laced, or adulterated, with fentanyl. Heroin users in my community in Massachusetts came to realize that fentanyl had entered the drug supply when overdose numbers exploded. In 2016, my colleagues and I found that patients who came to the emergency department reporting a heroin overdose often only had fentanyl present in their drug test results. As the Chief of Medical Toxicology at UMass Chan Medical School, I have studied fentanyl and its analogs for years. As fentanyl has become ubiquitous across the U.S., it has transformed the illicit drug market and raised the risk of overdose. Fentanyl and its analogs Fentanyl is a synthetic opioid that was originally developed as an analgesic – or painkiller – for surgery. It has a specific chemical structure with multiple areas that can be modified, often illicitly, to form related compounds with marked differences in potency. For example, carfentanil, a fentanyl analog formed by substituting one chemical group for another, is 100 times more potent than its parent structure. Another analog, acetylfentanyl, is approximately three times less potent than fentanyl, but has still led to clusters of overdoses in several states. © 2010–2022, The Conversation US, Inc.

Keyword: Drug Abuse
Link ID: 28323 - Posted: 05.11.2022

Imma Perfetto Have you ever driven past an intersection and registered you should have turned right a street ago, or been in a conversation and, as soon as the words are out of your mouth, realised you really shouldn’t have said that thing you just did? It’s a phenomenon known as performance monitoring; an internal signal produced by the brain that lets you know when you’ve made a mistake. Performance monitoring is a kind of self-generated feedback that’s essential to managing our daily lives. Now, neuroscientists have discovered that signals from neurons in the brain’s medial frontal cortex are responsible for it. A new study published in Science reports that these signals are used to give humans the flexibility to learn new tasks and the focus to develop highly specific skills. “Part of the magic of the human brain is that it is so flexible,” says senior author Ueli Rutishauser, professor of Neurosurgery, Neurology, and Biomedical Sciences at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, US. “We designed our study to decipher how the brain can generalise and specialise at the same time, both of which are critical for helping us pursue a goal.” They found that the performance monitoring signals help improve future attempts of a particular task by passing information to other areas of the brain. They also help the brain adjust its focus by signalling how much conflict or difficulty was encountered during the task. “An ‘Oops!’ moment might prompt someone to pay closer attention the next time they chat with a friend, or plan to stop at the store on the way home from work,” explains first author Zhongzheng Fu, researcher in the Rutishauser Laboratory at Cedars-Sinai.

Keyword: Attention; Learning & Memory
Link ID: 28322 - Posted: 05.11.2022

Erin Spencer The octopus is one of the coolest animals in the sea. For starters, they are invertebrates. That means they don’t have backbones like humans, lions, turtles and birds. Understand new developments in science, health and technology, each week That may sound unusual, but actually, nearly all animals on Earth are invertebrates – about 97%. Octopuses are a specific type of invertebrate called cephalopods. The name means “head-feet” because the arms of cephalopods surround their heads. Other types of cephalopods include squid, nautiloids and cuttlefish. As marine ecologists, we conduct research on how ocean animals interact with each other and their environments. We’ve mostly studied fish, from lionfish to sharks, but we have to confess we remain captivated by octopuses. What octopuses eat depends on what species they are and where they live. Their prey includes gastropods, like snails and sea slugs; bivalves, like clams and mussels; crustaceans, like lobsters and crabs; and fish. To catch their food, octopuses use lots of strategies and tricks. Some octopuses wrap their arms – not tentacles – around prey to pull them close. Some use their hard beak to drill into the shells of clams. All octopuses are venomous; they inject toxins into their prey to overpower and kill them. There are about 300 species of octopus, and they’re found in every ocean in the world, even in the frigid waters around Antarctica. A special substance in their blood helps those cold-water species get oxygen. It also turns their blood blue. © 2010–2022, The Conversation US, Inc.

Keyword: Evolution; Intelligence
Link ID: 28321 - Posted: 05.11.2022

By Laura Sanders Deep in the human brain, a very specific kind of cell dies during Parkinson’s disease. For the first time, researchers have sorted large numbers of human brain cells in the substantia nigra into 10 distinct types. Just one is especially vulnerable in Parkinson’s disease, the team reports May 5 in Nature Neuroscience. The result could lead to a clearer view of how Parkinson’s takes hold, and perhaps even ways to stop it. The new research “goes right to the core of the matter,” says neuroscientist Raj Awatramani of Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine in Chicago. Pinpointing the brain cells that seem to be especially susceptible to the devastating disease is “the strength of this paper,” says Awatramani, who was not involved in the study. Parkinson’s disease steals people’s ability to move smoothly, leaving balance problems, tremors and rigidity. In the United States, nearly 1 million people are estimated to have Parkinson’s. Scientists have known for decades that these symptoms come with the death of nerve cells in the substantia nigra. Neurons there churn out dopamine, a chemical signal involved in movement, among other jobs (SN: 9/7/17). But those dopamine-making neurons are not all equally vulnerable in Parkinson’s, it turns out. “This seemed like an opportunity to … really clarify which kinds of cells are actually dying in Parkinson’s disease,” says Evan Macosko, a psychiatrist and neuroscientist at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston and the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard. © Society for Science & the Public 2000–2022.

Keyword: Parkinsons
Link ID: 28320 - Posted: 05.07.2022

Neuroscience researchers have found a master gene that controls the development of special sensory cells in the ears – potentially opening the door to reversing hearing loss. A team led by Jaime García-Añoveros of Northwestern University, US, established that a gene called Tbx2 controls the development of ear hair cells in mice. The findings of their study are published today in Nature. What are hair cells? Hair cells are the sensory cells in our ears that detect sound and then transmit a message to our brains. They are so named because they have tiny hairlike structures called stereocilia. “The ear is a beautiful organ,” says García-Añoveros. “There is no other organ in a mammal where the cells are so precisely positioned.” Hair cells are found in a structure called the organ of Corti, in the cochlea in the inner ear. The organ of Corti sits on top of the basilar membrane. Sound waves are funnelled through our ear canal and cause the eardrum (also known as the tympanic membrane) and ossicles (tiny bones called the malleus, incus and stapes) to vibrate. The vibrations, or waves, are transmitted through fluid in the cochlea, causing the basilar membrane to move as well. When the basilar membrane moves, the stereocilia tilt, causing ion channels in the hair cell membrane to open. This stimulates the hair cell to release neurotransmitter chemicals, which will transmit the sound signal to the brain via the auditory nerve.

Keyword: Hearing; Regeneration
Link ID: 28319 - Posted: 05.07.2022

Researchers have identified distinct differences among the cells comprising a tissue in the retina that is vital to human visual perception. The scientists from the National Eye Institute (NEI) discovered five subpopulations of retinal pigment epithelium (RPE)—a layer of tissue that nourishes and supports the retina’s light-sensing photoreceptors. Using artificial intelligence, the researchers analyzed images of RPE at single-cell resolution to create a reference map that locates each subpopulation within the eye. A report on the research published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. “These results provide a first-of-its-kind framework for understanding different RPE cell subpopulations and their vulnerability to retinal diseases, and for developing targeted therapies to treat them,” said Michael F. Chiang, M.D., director of the NEI, part of the National Institutes of Health. “The findings will help us develop more precise cell and gene therapies for specific degenerative eye diseases,” said the study’s lead investigator, Kapil Bharti, Ph.D., who directs the NEI Ocular and Stem Cell Translational Research Section. Vision begins when light hits the rod and cone photoreceptors that line the retina in the back of the eye. Once activated, photoreceptors send signals through a complex network of other retinal neurons that converge at the optic nerve before traveling to various centers in the brain. The RPE sits beneath the photoreceptors as a monolayer, one cell deep. Age and disease can cause metabolic changes in RPE cells that can lead to photoreceptor degeneration. The impact on vision from these RPE changes varies dramatically by severity and where the RPE cells reside within the retina. For example, late-onset retinal degeneration (L-ORD) affects mostly peripheral retina and, therefore, peripheral vision. Age-related macular degeneration (AMD), a leading cause of vision loss, primarily affects RPE cells in the macula, which is crucial for central vision.

Keyword: Vision
Link ID: 28318 - Posted: 05.07.2022

by Rachel Zamzow Inflammation may inflate or thin out brain regions tied to autism and schizophrenia, researchers report in a new study. The findings add nuance to the long-held hypothesis that immune activation elevates the risk for neurodevelopmental conditions. Autism, for example, is associated with prenatal exposure to infection, previous studies show. Taking a different approach, the new work focuses on how a genetic predisposition to inflammation affects brain development in the general population, says John Williams, research fellow at the University of Birmingham in the United Kingdom, who conducted the work with lead researcher Rachel Upthegrove, professor of psychiatry and youth mental health at the university. By pinpointing where inflammation leaves its mark in the brain, the findings serve as a guidepost for future studies of people with neuropsychiatric conditions, he says. “We think that it points to something that’s fairly transdiagnostic.” For their analyses, the team drew on brain imaging and genetic data from 10,828 women and 9,860 men in the general population who participated in the UK Biobank. They explored how 1,436 possible structural changes in the brain track with having single-nucleotide variants previously shown to increase circulating levels of five inflammatory molecules — interleukin 1 (IL-1), IL-2, IL-6, C-reactive protein and brain-derived neurotrophic factor. Three variants thought to boost IL-6 were associated with 33 structural changes, most notably increased volume in the middle temporal gyrus and fusiform gyrus, and decreased cortical thickness in the superior frontal gyrus — all brain areas implicated in autism. Variants associated with other inflammatory molecules did not track with brain changes, the researchers found. © 2022 Simons Foundation

Keyword: Autism; Genes & Behavior
Link ID: 28317 - Posted: 05.07.2022

Perspective by Susan Berger As I faced a prophylactic double mastectomy in hopes of averting cancer, I had many questions for my surgeons — one of which was about pain. I was stunned when both my breast surgeon and plastic surgeon said that a nerve block would leave me pain-free for about three days, after which the worst of the pain would be over. Pectoralis nerve (PECS) blocks were developed to provide analgesia or pain relief for chest surgeries, including breast surgery. That is what happened. I went through the mastectomy Dec. 1 after learning I had the PALB2 gene mutation that carried a sharply elevated risk of breast cancer as well as a higher risk of ovarian and pancreatic cancers. I also had my fallopian tubes and ovaries removed in July. I had learned about the gene mutation in April 2021, when one of my daughters found out she was a carrier. As a 24-year breast cancer survivor and longtime health reporter, I was astonished that I had heard nothing about this mutation. I researched it and wrote “This Breast Cancer Gene Is Less Well Known, but Nearly as Dangerous” in August. After the double mastectomy, I also wrote about it for The Washington Post. Just as my surgeons at NorthShore University HealthSystem predicted, I was released from the hospital the same day as my surgery and remarkably pain-free. I took one Tramadol (a step down from stronger medications containing codeine) when I got home — only because it was suggested I take one pill. As I recovered, I only took Advil and Tylenol. The opioid epidemic is a major public health issue in the United States and nerve blocks could be a solution. According to a study published in the Journal of Clinical Medicine in 2021, 1 in 20 surgical patients will continue to use opioids beyond 90 days. “There is no association with magnitude of surgery, major versus minor, and the strongest predictor of continued use is surgical exposure,” the study states. © 1996-2022 The Washington Post

Keyword: Pain & Touch; Drug Abuse
Link ID: 28316 - Posted: 05.07.2022

By Jim Robbins TUCSON, Ariz. — In a small room in a building at the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum, the invertebrate keeper, Emma Califf, lifts up a rock in a plastic box. “This is one of our desert hairies,” she said, exposing a three-inch-long scorpion, its tail arced over its back. “The largest scorpion in North America.” This captive hairy, along with a swarm of inch-long bark scorpions in another box, and two dozen rattlesnakes of varying species and sub- species across the hall, are kept here for the coin of the realm: their venom. Efforts to tease apart the vast swarm of proteins in venom — a field called venomics — have burgeoned in recent years, and the growing catalog of compounds has led to a number of drug discoveries. As the components of these natural toxins continue to be assayed by evolving technologies, the number of promising molecules is also growing. “A century ago we thought venom had three or four components, and now we know just one type of venom can have thousands,” said Leslie V. Boyer, a professor emeritus of pathology at the University of Arizona. “Things are accelerating because a small number of very good laboratories have been pumping out information that everyone else can now use to make discoveries.” She added, “There’s a pharmacopoeia out there waiting to be explored.” It is a striking case of modern-day scientific alchemy: The most highly evolved of natural poisons on the planet are creating a number of effective medicines with the potential for many more. One of the most promising venom-derived drugs to date comes from the deadly Fraser Island funnel web spider of Australia, which halts cell death after a heart attack. Blood flow to the heart is reduced after a heart attack, which makes the cell environment more acidic and leads to cell death. The drug, a protein called Hi1A, is scheduled for clinical trials next year. In the lab, it was tested on the cells of beating human hearts. It was found to block their ability to sense acid, “so the death message is blocked, cell death is reduced, and we see improved heart cell survival,” said Nathan Palpant, a researcher at the University of Queensland in Australia who helped make the discovery. © 2022 The New York Times Company

Keyword: Pain & Touch; Neurotoxins
Link ID: 28315 - Posted: 05.04.2022

If you’ve ever been put under anaesthesia, you might recall the disorienting feeling of blinking your eyes one moment and the next, waking up hours later. Now, findings from a new study illustrate just how profoundly general anaesthesia alters the state of the brain as it induces and maintains unconsciousness. It’s the first paper to track travelling brain waves in subjects all the way through the process of losing to regaining consciousness. An interdisciplinary team has found that the commonly used anaesthetic, propofol, substantially alters how different frequencies of brain waves travel along the cortex – the surface of the brain – and the research has been published in the Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience. Unconsciousness induced by propofol may be in part due to an increase in the strength and direction of slow delta traveling brain waves that disrupt higher-frequency waves associated with cognition. “The rhythms that we associate with higher cognition are drastically altered by propofol,” explains senior author Earl Miller, professor of neuroscience with the Department of Brain and Cognitive Sciences at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in the US. “The beta traveling waves seen during wakefulness are pushed aside, redirected by delta traveling waves that have been altered and made more powerful by the anaesthetic,” he says. “The deltas come through like a bull in a china shop.” Conscious brains show a mixture of brain waves of different frequencies, which rotate or travel straight in various directions: you could think of them like the numerous waves on a choppy ocean.

Keyword: Sleep
Link ID: 28314 - Posted: 05.04.2022

By Lola Butcher While Covid-19’s death toll grabbed the spotlight these past two years, another epidemic continued marching grimly onward in America: deaths from opioid overdose. A record 68,630 individuals died from opioid overdoses in 2020, partly as a result of the isolation and social distancing forced by the pandemic; early data suggest that death rates in many states were even worse in the first half of 2021. But the coronavirus pandemic may also have had a paradoxical benefit for those addicted to opioids: Because Covid-19 made in-person health care unsafe, US telehealth regulations were relaxed so that more services — including addiction treatment — could be provided online. As a result, people with opioid use disorder are accessing medication and support across the country in greater numbers than ever before. While it’s too soon to know for sure whether this helps more people kick their addiction, early signs are promising. The federal government estimates that 2.7 million Americans — nearly 1 percent of the population — have opioid use disorder, also known as opioid addiction. It is a chronic brain disease that develops over time because of repeated use of prescription opioids such as hydrocodone, oxycodone and morphine or illicit fentanyl and heroin. A person with opioid use disorder has a 20 times greater risk of death from overdose, infectious diseases, trauma and suicide than one who does not. Fortunately, two medications — methadone and buprenorphine, both approved by the US Food & Drug Administration — help individuals manage withdrawal symptoms and control or eliminate their compulsive opioid use. Patients who receive these medications fare better than those who do not on a long list of outcomes, says Eric Weintraub, who heads the Division of Alcohol and Drug Abuse at the University of Maryland School of Medicine. They have fewer overdoses; less injection drug use; reduced risk for disease transmission; decreased criminal activity; lower rates of illegal drug use; and better treatment-retention rates. Indeed, people with opioid use disorder receiving long-term treatment with methadone or buprenorphine are up to 50 percent less likely to die from an overdose. © 2022 Annual Reviews

Keyword: Drug Abuse
Link ID: 28313 - Posted: 05.04.2022

Ellen Phiddian Tricyclic antidepressants have long been known to have more than one purpose: among other things, they can alleviate pain – particularly nerve pain. Recent research has finally established why these tricyclic antidepressants (TCAs) can help with nerve pain. The discovery could lead to the rapid development of pain relief medications that don’t include the side effects of TCAs. Nerve pain comes from a variety of sources – including cancer, diabetes, trauma, multiple sclerosis, and infections. These treatments could address a range of different types of nerve pain. It turns out the drugs inhibit a key protein in our nerves, called an N-type calcium channel. These N-type calcium channels are shaped like tiny gates, allowing positively charged calcium ions, or Ca2+, through them. This helps with the transmission of pain signals in the body. Researchers have long been keen to find things that “close” the gate of these calcium channels because that’s likely to have analgesic effects. Adjunct Professor Peter Duggan, a researcher with the CSIRO and senior collaborator on the project, says that he and his colleagues initially stumbled across TCAs from a very different direction: they were investigating the toxins of venomous marine cone snails. “A few of the components in that toxin are actually painkillers and they block these calcium ion channels very, very effectively,” says Duggan. The cone snail toxin has the potential to be very dangerous to people, as well as needing to be administered in an impractical way, so the researchers started looking at similar compounds that might have some of the same properties.

Keyword: Pain & Touch; Depression
Link ID: 28312 - Posted: 05.04.2022