Chapter 11. Motor Control and Plasticity

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Laura Beil Martha Carlin married the love of her life in 1995. She and John Carlin had dated briefly in college in Kentucky, then lost touch until a chance meeting years later at a Dallas pub. They wed soon after and had two children. John worked as an entrepreneur and stay-at-home dad. In his free time, he ran marathons. Almost eight years into their marriage, the pinky finger on John’s right hand began to quiver. So did his tongue. Most disturbing for Martha was how he looked at her. For as long as she’d known him, he’d had a joy in his eyes. But then, she says, he had a stony stare, “like he was looking through me.” In November 2002, a doctor diagnosed John with Parkinson’s disease. He was 44 years old. Carlin made it her mission to understand how her seemingly fit husband had developed such a debilitating disease. “The minute we got home from the neurologist, I was on the internet looking for answers,” she recalls. She began consuming all of the medical literature she could find. With her training in accounting and corporate consulting, Carlin was used to thinking about how the many parts of large companies came together as a whole. That kind of wide-angle perspective made her skeptical that Parkinson’s, which affects half a million people in the United States, was just a malfunction in the brain. “I had an initial hunch that food and food quality was part of the issue,” she says. If something in the environment triggered Parkinson’s, as some theories suggest, it made sense to her that the disease would involve the digestive system. Every time we eat and drink, our insides encounter the outside world. |© Society for Science & the Public 2000 - 2018.

Keyword: Parkinsons; Neuroimmunology
Link ID: 25765 - Posted: 12.08.2018

Sara Reardon Infectious-disease researchers hunting for the cause of a mysterious illness that is paralysing children are combining machine learning with a new gene-sequencing technique to pin down the culprit. The disease, called acute flaccid myelitis (AFM), causes limb weakness and paralysis that resembles the symptoms of polio. The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in Atlanta, Georgia, has confirmed 134 cases of AFM in the United States so far this year. Many of those who develop the illness never recover. Most of the evidence suggests that an enterovirus called EV-D681 is causing the illness, but researchers haven’t been able to find the pathogen in the spinal fluid of sick children. Scientists are trying to identify the culprit by using a combination of host-response diagnostics — which look at how the immune system responds to pathogens — and machine-learning analysis. The approach could lead to better diagnostics and provide hints about new treatments. Host-response diagnostic tests haven’t been used in the clinic yet. But researchers are developing similar tests to help pinpoint other conditions that can be tricky to diagnose, including tuberculosis and bacterial meningitis. This year’s AFM outbreak started in October, and is the third in a series of outbreaks in the United States that began in 2014. They have occurred every other year since, though researchers have yet to find a definitive explanation for the pattern. It is also taking scientists an unusually long time to determine the cause of the illness, says William Weldon, a microbiologist at the CDC. © 2018 Springer Nature Publishing AG

Keyword: Movement Disorders; Neuroimmunology
Link ID: 25758 - Posted: 12.07.2018

Robin McKie Science Editor Lawyers are bringing a case against a London hospital trust that could trigger major changes to the rules governing patient confidentiality. The case involves a woman who is suing doctors because they failed to tell her about her father’s fatal hereditary disease before she had her own child. The woman discovered – after giving birth – that her father carried the gene for Huntington’s disease, a degenerative, incurable brain condition. Later she found out she had inherited the gene and that her own daughter, now eight, has a 50% chance of having it. The woman – who cannot be named for legal reasons – says she would have had an abortion had she known about her father’s condition, and is suing the doctors who failed to tell her about the risks she and her child faced. It is the first case in English law to deal with a relative’s claim over issues of genetic responsibility. “This could really change the way we do medicine, because it is about the duty that doctors have to share genetic test results with relatives and whether the duty exists in law,” said Anna Middleton, head of society and ethics research at the Wellcome Genome Campus in Cambridge. Experts say that as more is discovered about the genetic components of medical conditions, including cancer and dementia, doctors will come under increasing pressure to consider not only their patients’ needs but also those of relatives who may share affected genes. The case also raises questions over how much effort clinicians need to put into tracing relatives, and whether they will be sued if their attempts do not go far enough. © 2018 Guardian News and Media Limited

Keyword: Huntingtons
Link ID: 25720 - Posted: 11.26.2018

Ashley Yeager For an hour a day, five days a week, mice in Hiroshi Maejima’s physiology lab at Hokkaido University in Sapporo, Japan, hit the treadmill. The researcher’s goal in having the animals follow the exercise routine isn’t to measure their muscle mass or endurance. He wants to know how exercise affects their brains. Researchers have long recognized that exercise sharpens certain cognitive skills. Indeed, Maejima and his colleagues have found that regular physical activity improves mice’s ability to distinguish new objects from ones they’ve seen before. Over the past 20 years, researchers have begun to get at the root of these benefits, with studies pointing to increases in the volume of the hippocampus, development of new neurons, and infiltration of blood vessels into the brain. Now, Maejima and others are starting to home in on the epigenetic mechanisms that drive the neurological changes brought on by physical activity. In October, Maejima’s team reported that the brains of rodents that ran had greater than normal histone acetylation in the hippocampus, the brain region considered the seat of learning and memory.1 The epigenetic marks resulted in higher expression of Bdnf, the gene for brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF). By supporting the growth and maturation of new nerve cells, BDNF is thought to promote brain health, and higher levels of it correlate with improved cognitive performance in mice and humans. With a wealth of data on the benefits of working out emerging from animal and human studies, clinicians have begun prescribing exercise to patients with neurodegenerative diseases such as Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s, as well as to people with other brain disorders, from epilepsy to anxiety. Many clinical trials of exercise interventions for neurodegenerative diseases, depression, and even aging are underway. Promising results could bolster the use of exercise as a neurotherapy. © 1986 - 2018 The Scientist

Keyword: Learning & Memory; Muscles
Link ID: 25713 - Posted: 11.24.2018

National Institutes of Health scientists and their colleagues have found evidence of the infectious agent of sporadic Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (CJD) in the eyes of deceased CJD patients. The finding suggests that the eye may be a source for early CJD diagnosis and raises questions about the safety of routine eye exams and corneal transplants. Sporadic CJD, a fatal neurodegenerative prion disease of humans, is untreatable and difficult to diagnose. Prion diseases originate when normally harmless prion protein molecules become abnormal and gather in clusters and filaments in the body and brain. Scientists hope that early diagnosis of prion and related diseases—such as Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s and dementia with Lewy bodies—could lead to effective treatments that slow or prevent these diseases. Scientists from NIH’s National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) collaborated on the research with colleagues from the University of California at San Diego and UC-San Francisco. About 40 percent of sporadic CJD patients develop eye problems that could lead to an eye exam, meaning the potential exists for the contamination of eye exam equipment designed for repeat use. Further, cadaveric corneal transplants from undiagnosed CJD patients have led to two probable and three possible cases of disease transmission, the researchers say. Previous studies have shown that the eyes of CJD patients contain infectious prions, though the distribution of prions among the various components of the eye was not known. To address this question, the scientists recruited 11 CJD patients who agreed to donate their eyes upon death. The researchers found evidence of prion infection throughout the eyes of all 11 deceased patients using real time quaking-induced conversion (RT-QuIC), a highly sensitive test NIAID scientists developed that detects prion seeding activity in a sample as evidence of infection.

Keyword: Prions; Vision
Link ID: 25706 - Posted: 11.21.2018

By Kelly Servick SAN DIEGO, CALIFORNIA—If a diseased or injured brain has lost neurons, why not ask other cells to change jobs and pick up the slack? Several research teams have taken a first step by "reprogramming" abundant nonneuronal cells called astrocytes into neurons in the brains of living mice. "Everybody is astonished, at the moment, that it works," says Nicola Mattugini, a neurobiologist at Ludwig Maximilian University in Munich, Germany, who presented the results of one such experiment here at the annual meeting of the Society for Neuroscience last week. Now, labs are turning to the next questions: Do these neurons function like the lost ones, and does creating neurons at the expense of astrocytes do brain-damaged animals any good? Many researchers remain skeptical on both counts. But Mattugini's team, led by neuroscientist Magdalena Götz, and two other groups presented evidence at the meeting that reprogrammed astrocytes do, at least in some respects, impersonate the neurons they're meant to replace. The two other groups also shared evidence that reprogrammed astrocytes help mice recover movement lost after a stroke. Some see the approach as a potential alternative to transplanting stem cells (or stem cell–derived neurons) into the damaged brain or spinal cord. Clinical trials of that strategy are already underway for conditions including Parkinson's disease and spinal cord injury. But Gong Chen, a neuroscientist at Pennsylvania State University in State College, says he got disillusioned with the idea after finding in his rodent experiments that transplanted cells produced relatively few neurons, and those few weren't fully functional. The recent discovery that mature cells can be nudged toward new fates pointed to a better approach, he says. His group and others took aim at the brain's most abundant cell, the star-shaped astrocyte. © 2018 American Association for the Advancement of Science

Keyword: Stem Cells; Glia
Link ID: 25687 - Posted: 11.15.2018

Anna Azvolinsky In 1976, Huda Zoghbi (then Huda El-Hibri) was an eager first-year medical student at the American University of Beirut, Lebanon, her hometown. Halfway through that year, a civil war broke out. “Bombs were falling all around the medical campus,” the neuroscientist recalls. “I couldn’t commute 500 feet, let alone the two miles it took me to get home every day.” She and the other 62 students in her class decided that they, along with their professors, would live on campus—mostly underground, in double-walled rooms—to finish the school year. Although the medical school was considered a safe zone, as both warring factions would send their wounded there for care, an occasional bullet or piece of shrapnel still pierced the campus. One afternoon, Huda had ventured out for a walk on campus with her boyfriend, William Zoghbi, a fellow medical student. They were holding hands and for no particular reason let go. In those few seconds, a bullet flew between them. Neither was hurt, but the young couple realized in an instant how close and serious the war really was. Later, shrapnel wounded Huda’s younger brother while he was walking home from high school, so their parents decided to send them and another sibling to Texas, where their oldest sister was a professor of philosophy. The move was supposed to be temporary. But when the 1977 school year was to start in Lebanon, the civil war was still raging, and neither Huda nor her siblings could return home. © 1986 - 2018 The Scientist

Keyword: Movement Disorders; Genes & Behavior
Link ID: 25684 - Posted: 11.15.2018

David Cyranoski Japanese neurosurgeons have implanted ‘reprogrammed’ stem cells into the brain of a patient with Parkinson’s disease for the first time. The condition is only the second for which a therapy has been trialled using induced pluripotent stem (iPS) cells, which are developed by reprogramming the cells of body tissues such as skin so that they revert to an embryonic-like state, from which they can morph into other cell types. Scientists at Kyoto University use the technique to transform iPS cells into precursors to the neurons that produce the neurotransmitter dopamine. A shortage of neurons producing dopamine in people with Parkinson’s disease can lead to tremors and difficulty walking. In October, neurosurgeon Takayuki Kikuchi at Kyoto University Hospital implanted 2.4 million dopamine precursor cells into the brain of a patient in his 50s. In the three-hour procedure, Kikuchi’s team deposited the cells into 12 sites, known to be centres of dopamine activity. Dopamine precursor cells have been shown to improve symptoms of Parkinson’s disease in monkeys. Stem-cell scientist Jun Takahashi and colleagues at Kyoto University derived the dopamine precursor cells from a stock of IPS cells stored at the university. These were developed by reprogramming skin cells taken from an anonymous donor. “The patient is doing well and there have been no major adverse reactions so far,” says Takahashi. The team will observe him for six months and, if no complications arise, will implant another 2.4 million dopamine precursor cells into his brain. © 2018 Springer Nature Limited

Keyword: Parkinsons; Stem Cells
Link ID: 25682 - Posted: 11.14.2018

By Meredith Wadman A treatment for Niemann-Pick type C (NPC), an extremely rare and ultimately fatal neurodegenerative disease, performed no differently than placebo in a pivotal trial in 56 children and youths, its corporate sponsor announced on Tuesday. Perplexingly, though, the disease did not progress in either the treatment or placebo groups during the 1-year study, the company said. Normally, the condition, a result of impaired cholesterol metabolism, inexorably worsens, causing loss of balance, difficulty swallowing, seizures, and cognitive disabilities. The drug, VTS-270, a doughnut-shaped sugar molecule called a cyclodextrin, “did not show a statistically significant separation from placebo,” Steven Romano, Mallinckrodt Pharmaceuticals’s executive vice present and chief scientific officer told investors on a conference call on Tuesday. “But importantly, neither did [patients in the active or placebo arms of the trial] show disease progression as would have been anticipated in the neurodegenerative condition over 52 weeks of observation.” The drug was given by spinal injection into the cerebrospinal fluid, which circulates to the brain. The news—and the way Mallinckrodt, which has its U.S. headquarters in St. Louis, Missouri, delivered it—came as a shock to families in the NPC community, who learned of it when investors began to tweet about it. (The company did email a letter to NPC disease groups on Tuesday. Mallinckrodt, whose stock is publicly traded, added in a statement emailed to Science that securities laws prevented the company from notifying patients sooner.) © 2018 American Association for the Advancement of Science

Keyword: Movement Disorders; Development of the Brain
Link ID: 25661 - Posted: 11.10.2018

By Karin Brulliard Veterans Affairs Secretary Robert Wilkie defended the agency’s ongoing experiments on dogs Friday and said he would continue to “reauthorize” them, eight months after Congress passed legislation limiting tests that are opposed by a bipartisan cast of lawmakers and several veterans’ groups. Speaking at the National Press Club, Wilkie rejected calls to end research that he said led to the invention in the 1960s of the cardiac pacemaker and the discovery in the late 1990s of a treatment for deadly cardiac arrhythmias. These days, he said, some of the testing is focused on spinal cord injuries. “I love canines,” Wilkie said. “But we have an opportunity to change the lives of men and women who have been terribly hurt. And until somebody tells me that that research does not help in that outcome, then I’ll continue.” Wilkie’s comments drew swift backlash from lawmakers who have criticized the experiments, which occur at three VA locations and are invasive and sometimes fatal to the dogs, as cruel and unnecessary. President Trump in March signed a spending bill that included language restricting such tests, and legislation has been proposed that would end all canine research at VA. “Having sustained catastrophic injuries on the battlefield, which included the loss of both my legs, I am acutely aware of the vital role dogs play in helping troops recover from war’s physical and psychological tolls,” said Rep. Brian Mast (R-Fla.), an Army veteran and co-sponsor of the legislation. “The VA has not executed what we wanted as intent, which is to bring this to an end in its entirety, so we will keep up the pressure." © 1996-2018 The Washington Post

Keyword: Animal Rights; Regeneration
Link ID: 25660 - Posted: 11.10.2018

By James Gorman David Hu was changing his infant son’s diaper when he got the idea for a study that eventually won him the Ig Nobel prize. No, not the Nobel Prize — the Ig Nobel prize, which bills itself as a reward for “achievements that make people laugh, then think.” As male infants will do, his son urinated all over the front of Dr. Hu’s shirt, for a full 21 seconds. Yes, he counted off the time, because for him curiosity trumps irritation. That was a long time for a small baby, he thought. How long did it take an adult to empty his bladder? He timed himself. Twenty-three seconds. “Wow, I thought, my son urinates like a real man already.” He recounts all of this without a trace of embarrassment, in person and in “How to Walk on Water and Climb up Walls: Animal Movements and the Robotics of the Future,” just published, in which he describes both the silliness and profundity of his brand of research. No one who knows Dr. Hu, 39, would be surprised by this story. His family, friends, the animals around him — all inspire research questions. His wife, Jia Fan, is a marketing researcher and senior data scientist at U.P.S. When they met, she had a dog, and he became intrigued by how it shook itself dry. So he set out to understand that process. Now, he and his son and daughter sometimes bring home some sort of dead animal from a walk or a run. The roadkill goes into the freezer, where he used to keep frozen rats for his several snakes. (The legless lizard ate dog food). “My first reaction is not, oh, it’s gross. It’s ‘Do we have space in our freezer,’” Dr. Fan said. He also saves earwax and teeth from his children, and lice and lice eggs from the inevitable schoolchild hair infestations. “We have separate vials for lice and lice eggs,” he pointed out. © 2018 The New York Times Company

Keyword: Movement Disorders; Evolution
Link ID: 25650 - Posted: 11.06.2018

Ian Sample Science editor Two men who were paralysed in separate accidents more than six years ago can stand and walk short distances on crutches after their spinal cords were treated with electrical stimulation. David Mzee, 28, and Gert-Jan Oskam, 35, had electrical pulses beamed into their spines to stimulate their leg muscles as they practised walking in a supportive harness on a treadmill. Doctors believe the timing of the pulses – to coincide with natural movement signals that were still being sent from the patients’ brains – was crucial. It appeared to encourage nerves that bypassed the injuries to form new connections and improve the men’s muscle control. In many spinal cord injuries a small portion of nerves remain intact but the signals they carry are too feeble to move limbs or support a person’s body weight. “They have both recovered control of their paralysed muscles and I don’t think anyone with a chronic injury, one they’ve had for six or seven years, has been able to do that before,” said Grégoire Courtine, a neuroscientist at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Lausanne. “When you stimulate the nerves like this it triggers plasticity in the cells. The brain is trying to stimulate, and we stimulate at same time, and we think that triggers the growth of new nerve connections.” Mzee was paralysed in a gymnastics accident in 2010. He recovered the use of his upper body and some control of his right leg after intensive rehabilitation at a paraplegic centre in Zurich. Doctors there told him further improvement was unlikely, but after five months of training with electrical stimulation, he regained control of the muscles in his right leg and can now take a few steps without assistance. © 2018 Guardian News and Media Limited

Keyword: Regeneration; Robotics
Link ID: 25633 - Posted: 11.01.2018

Aimee Cunningham The appendix, a once-dismissed organ now known to play a role in the immune system, may contribute to a person’s chances of developing Parkinson’s disease. An analysis of data from nearly 1.7 million Swedes found that those who’d had their appendix removed had a lower overall risk of Parkinson’s disease. Also, samples of appendix tissue from healthy individuals revealed protein clumps similar to those found in the brains of Parkinson’s patients, researchers report online October 31 in Science Translational Medicine. Together, the findings suggest that the appendix may play a role in the early events of Parkinson’s disease, Viviane Labrie, a neuroscientist at the Van Andel Research Institute in Grand Rapids, Mich., said at a news conference on October 30. Parkinson’s, which affects more than 10 million people worldwide, is a neurodegenerative disease that leads to difficulty with movement, coordination and balance. It’s unknown what causes Parkinson’s, but one hallmark of the disease is the death of nerve cells, or neurons, in a brain region called the substantia nigra that helps control movement. Lewy bodies, which are mostly made of clumped bits of the protein alpha-synuclein (SN: 1/12/2013, p. 13), also build up in those neurons but the connection between the cells’ death and the Lewy bodies isn’t clear yet. Symptoms related to Parkinson’s can show up in the gut earlier than they do in the brain (SN: 12/10/2016, p. 12). So Labrie and her colleagues turned their attention to the appendix, a thin tube around 10 centimeters long that protrudes from the large intestine on the lower right side of the abdomen. Often considered a “useless organ,” Labrie said, “the appendix is actually an immune tissue that’s responsible for sampling and monitoring pathogens.” |© Society for Science & the Public 2000 - 2018.

Keyword: Parkinsons
Link ID: 25632 - Posted: 11.01.2018

A new study puts a fresh spin on what it means to “go with your gut.” The findings, published in Nature, suggest that gut bacteria may control movement in fruit flies and identify the neurons involved in this response. The study was supported by the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS), part of the National Institutes of Health. “This study provides additional evidence for a connection between the gut and the brain, and in particular outlines how gut bacteria may influence behavior, including movement,” said Margaret Sutherland, Ph.D., program director at NINDS. Researchers led by Sarkis K. Mazmanian, Ph.D., professor of microbiology at the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, and graduate student Catherine E. Schretter, observed that germ-free flies, which did not carry bacteria, were hyperactive. For instance, they walked faster, over greater distances, and took shorter rests than flies that had normal levels of microbes. Dr. Mazmanian and his team investigated ways in which gut bacteria may affect behavior in fruit flies. “Locomotion is important for a number of activities such as mating and searching for food. It turns out that gut bacteria may be critical for fundamental behaviors in animals,” said Dr. Mazmanian. Fruit flies carry between five and 20 different species of bacteria and Dr. Mazmanian’s team treated the germ-free animals with individual strains of those microbes. When the flies received Lactobacillus brevis, their movements slowed down to normal speed. L. brevis was one of only two species of bacteria that restored normal behavior in the germ-free flies.

Keyword: Movement Disorders
Link ID: 25630 - Posted: 11.01.2018

Jon Hamilton An ancient part of the brain long ignored by the scientific world appears to play a critical role in everything from language and emotions to daily planning. It's the cerebellum, which is found in fish and lizards as well as people. But in the human brain, this structure is wired to areas involved in higher-order thinking, a team led by researchers from Washington University in St. Louis reports Thursday in the journal Neuron. "We think that the cerebellum is acting as the brain's ultimate quality control unit," says Scott Marek, a postdoctoral research scholar and the study's first author. The finding adds to the growing evidence that the cerebellum "isn't only involved in sensory-motor function, it's involved in everything we do," says Dr. Jeremy Schmahmann, a neurology professor at Harvard and director of the ataxia unit at Massachusetts General Hospital. Schmahmann, who wasn't involved in the new study, has been arguing for decades that the cerebellum plays a key role in many aspects of human behavior, as well as mental disorders such as schizophrenia. But only a handful of scientists have explored functions of the cerebellum beyond motor control. "It's been woefully understudied," says Dr. Nico Dosenbach, a professor of neurology at Washington University whose lab conducted the study. Even now, many scientists think of the cerebellum as the part of the brain that lets you pass a roadside sobriety test. It helps you do things like walk in a straight line or stand on one leg or track a moving object — if you're not drunk. © 2018 npr

Keyword: Attention; Language
Link ID: 25624 - Posted: 10.27.2018

By Gretchen Reynolds Ten minutes of mild, almost languorous exercise can immediately alter how certain parts of the brain communicate and coordinate with one another and improve memory function, according to an encouraging new neurological study. The findings suggest that exercise does not need to be prolonged or intense to benefit the brain and that the effects can begin far more quickly than many of us might expect. We already know that exercise can change our brains and minds. The evidence is extensive and growing. Multiple studies with mice and rats have found that when the animals run on wheels or treadmills, they develop more new brain cells than if they remain sedentary. Many of the new cells are clustered in the hippocampus, a portion of the brain that is essential for memory creation and storage. The active animals also perform better on tests of learning and memory. Equivalent experiments examining brain tissue are not possible in people. But some past studies have shown that people who exercise regularly tend to have a larger, healthier hippocampus than those who do not, especially as they grow older. Even one bout of exercise, research suggests, can help most of us to focus and learn better than if we sit still. But these studies usually have involved moderate or vigorous exercise, such as jogging or brisk walking and often for weeks or months at a time. Whether a single, brief spurt of very easy exercise will produce desirable changes in the brain has remained unclear. So for the new study, which was published in September in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, scientists from the University of California, Irvine, and the University of Tsukuba in Japan turned to a group of healthy, young college students. © 2018 The New York Times Company

Keyword: Learning & Memory
Link ID: 25608 - Posted: 10.24.2018

By Lena H. Sun Federal health officials took the unusual step on Tuesday of warning the public about an increase in a mysterious and rare condition that mostly affects children and can cause paralysis. So far this year, 127 confirmed or suspected cases of acute flaccid myelitis, or AFM, have been reported to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention — a significant increase over 2017 and a worrying perpetuation of a disease for which there is little understanding. Of the cases announced Tuesday, 62 have been confirmed in 22 states, according to Nancy Messonnier, a top official at the CDC. More than 90 percent of the confirmed cases have been in children 18 and younger, with the average age being 4 years old. The surge has baffled health officials, who on Tuesday announced a change in the way the agency is counting cases. They also wanted to raise awareness about the condition so parents can seek medical care if their child develops symptoms, and so physicians can quickly relay reports of the potential illness to the CDC. “We understand that people, particularly parents, are concerned about AFM,” said Messonnier, director of the National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases. Despite extensive laboratory and other testing, CDC has not been able to find the cause for the majority of the cases. “There is a lot we don’t know about AFM, and I am frustrated that despite all of our efforts, we haven’t been able to identify the cause of this mystery illness." © 1996-2018 The Washington Post

Keyword: Movement Disorders; Development of the Brain
Link ID: 25586 - Posted: 10.17.2018

By Christine Hauser Health authorities in the United States said this week that they were investigating an unusual spike in cases of a rare condition that causes limb paralysis and severe muscle weakness in children. Since mid-September, six cases of the condition, acute flaccid myelitis, in children under 10 years old have been reported to the Minnesota Department of Health, the agency said. Another two possible cases are pending confirmation, officials said. The number of cases of the illness, also known as A.F.M., is the highest in the state since 2014, when there were three reported cases, the health authorities said. Minnesota typically records one case of A.F.M. each year, and some years it does not have any at all, the department said. Officials have not found a specific cause for the illness. On Tuesday, the health authorities said three children suspected to have A.F.M. were being treated at UPMC Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh. Officials in Colorado said this week that they were investigating a viral infection outbreak among children that included 14 cases of A.F.M. this year. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says it has seen an increasing number of people across the United States with the serious condition in the past four years. A.F.M. affects the nervous system and causes, mostly in children, paralysis similar to polio. The signs include sudden muscle weakness in the arms or legs; neck weakness or stiffness; a drooping face or eyelids; difficulty swallowing; and slurred speech, health officials say. Parents usually notice the child’s loss of the use of an arm or a leg. That was the case with Orville Young, a 4-year-old boy in Minnesota who lost mobility in his right arm and had difficulty sitting up and moving his legs. © 2018 The New York Times Company

Keyword: Movement Disorders; Development of the Brain
Link ID: 25562 - Posted: 10.11.2018

Anna Azvolinsky When you move only your right arm, there’s neural activity in both the left and right sides of the brain, researchers report today (October 8) in The Journal of Neuroscience. Recent animal and human studies have hinted that moving muscle on only one side of the body resulted in neural activity from the same side—or ipsilateral—part of the brain. But the data haven’t been convincing enough to completely erase the idea that only the left side of the brain is responsible for movement on the right side of the body or vice versa. The new study shows the ipsilateral brain activity encodes detailed arm movement information including position, speed, and velocity. The results could one day be used to help improve recovery therapies for patients with brain injuries. “This is an important contribution to our understanding of how the brain controls arm movement because it reveals a greater role of ipsilateral brain activity than previously recognized,” writes Nathan Crone, a professor of neurology who runs a cognitive neurophysiology lab at Johns Hopkins University in Maryland and was not involved in the research, in an email to The Scientist. In the study, Eric Leuthardt, professor of neurosurgery, engineering, and neuroscience at Washington University in St. Louis, and his colleagues enlisted four patients with epilepsy who were to undergo surgery and who had electrodes implanted for a week under the skull. The electrodes were placed directly onto the cortex of the patients’ brain cortex regions, including the primary motor cortex—responsible for coordinating voluntary muscle movements. The patients volunteered to perform three-dimensional, individual arm motions while the researchers recorded neural activity from the implanted electrodes. The team then used machine learning to derive speed, velocity, and position information on each movement—gathering data on fine motor movements that cannot be easily captured using noninvasive techniques such as functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI). © 1986 - 2018 The Scientist.

Keyword: Movement Disorders
Link ID: 25561 - Posted: 10.11.2018

By Alex Therrien Health reporter, BBC News Doctors have been given permission to give a British man with CJD a pioneering treatment, in a world first. There is currently no treatment for the rare but lethal brain disease, known as the human version of "mad cow disease". Doctors in London were given permission for the trial use on a human for the first time by the Court of Protection. Scientists say lab testing of the man-made antibody has been encouraging, but they admit they do not know how their patient will respond. The patient in this case, who has not been named, has sporadic CJD, the most common form of the disease in humans. This is different from variant CJD, the version linked to eating beef infected by bovine spongiform encephalopathy, or BSE. Sporadic CJD happens when healthy proteins in the human body - prions - become spontaneously misshapen and build up in the brain. The man-made antibody treatment, called PRN100, aims to prevent abnormal prions from being able to attach themselves to healthy proteins, meaning that they cannot grow and cause devastation throughout the brain. University College London Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust (UCLH) is set to use it in a patient for the first time after a judge from the Court of Protection confirmed on Monday that it was lawful and in the patient's best interests to receive it. © 2018 BBC

Keyword: Prions
Link ID: 25554 - Posted: 10.10.2018