Chapter 15. Emotions, Aggression, and Stress

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By James Gorman Don’t judge a book by its cover. Don’t judge a dog by its breed. After conducting owner surveys for 18,385 dogs and sequencing the genomes of 2,155 dogs, a group of researchers reported a variety of findings in the journal Science on Thursday, including that for predicting some dog behaviors, breed is essentially useless, and for most, not very good. For instance, one of the clearest findings in the massive, multifaceted study is that breed has no discernible effect on a dog’s reactions to something it finds new or strange. This behavior is related to what the nonscientist might call aggression and would seem to cast doubt on breed stereotypes of aggressive dogs, like pit bulls. One thing pit bulls did score high on was human sociability, no surprise to anyone who has seen internet videos of lap-loving pit bulls. Labrador retriever ancestry, on the other hand, didn’t seem to have any significant correlation with human sociability. This is not to say that there are no differences among breeds, or that breed can’t predict some things. If you adopt a Border collie, said Elinor Karlsson of the Broad Institute and the University of Massachusetts Chan Medical School, an expert in dog genomics and an author of the report, the probability that it will be easier to train and interested in toys “is going to be higher than if you adopt a Great Pyrenees.” But for any given dog you just don’t know — on average, breed accounts for only about 9 percent of the variations in any given dog’s behavior. And no behaviors were restricted to any one breed, even howling, though the study found that behavior was more strongly associated with breeds like Siberian huskies than with other dogs. And yet, in what might seem paradoxical at first, the researchers also found that behavior patterns are strongly inherited. The behaviors they studied had a 25 percent heritability, a complex measure which indicates the influence of genes, but depends on the group of animals studied. But with enough dogs, heritability is a good measure of what’s inherited. In comparing whole genomes, they found several genes that clearly influence behavior, including one for how friendly dogs are. © 2022 The New York Times Company

Keyword: Genes & Behavior; Aggression
Link ID: 28309 - Posted: 04.30.2022

By Lisa Feldman Barrett Do your facial movements broadcast your emotions to other people? If you think the answer is yes, think again. This question is under contentious debate. Some experts maintain that people around the world make specific, recognizable faces that express certain emotions, such as smiling in happiness, scowling in anger and gasping with widened eyes in fear. They point to hundreds of studies that appear to demonstrate that smiles, frowns, and so on are universal facial expressions of emotion. They also often cite Charles Darwin’s 1872 book The Expression of the Emotions in Man and Animals to support the claim that universal expressions evolved by natural selection. Other scientists point to a mountain of counterevidence showing that facial movements during emotions vary too widely to be universal beacons of emotional meaning. People may smile in hatred when plotting their enemy’s downfall and scowl in delight when they hear a bad pun. In Melanesian culture, a wide-eyed gasping face is a symbol of aggression, not fear. These experts say the alleged universal expressions just represent cultural stereotypes. To be clear, both sides in the debate acknowledge that facial movements vary for a given emotion; the disagreement is about whether there is enough uniformity to detect what someone is feeling. This debate is not just academic; the outcome has serious consequences. Today you can be turned down for a job because a so-called emotion-reading system watching you on camera applied artificial intelligence to evaluate your facial movements unfavorably during an interview. In a U.S. court of law, a judge or jury may sometimes hand down a harsher sentence, even death, if they think a defendant’s face showed a lack of remorse. Children in preschools across the country are taught to recognize smiles as happiness, scowls as anger and other expressive stereotypes from books, games and posters of disembodied faces. And for children on the autism spectrum, some of whom have difficulty perceiving emotion in others, these teachings do not translate to better communication. © 2022 Scientific American,

Keyword: Emotions; Evolution
Link ID: 28306 - Posted: 04.30.2022

By Hope Reese Can we do without love? For many years, the neuroscientist Stephanie Ortigue believed that the answer was yes. Even though she researched the science of human connections, Dr. Ortigue — an only child and, in her 20s and 30s, contentedly single — couldn’t completely grasp its importance in her own life. “I told myself that being unattached made me a more objective researcher: I could investigate love without being under its spell,” she writes in her new book, “Wired for Love: A Neuroscientist’s Journey Through Romance, Loss and the Essence of Human Connection.” But then, in 2011, at age 37, she met John Cacioppo at a neuroscience conference in Shanghai. Dr. Cacioppo, who popularized the concept that prolonged loneliness can be as toxic to health as smoking, intrigued her. The two scientists fell hard for each other and married. She took his last name and they soon became colleagues at the University of Chicago’s Pritzker School of Medicine (where she now directs the Brain Dynamics Laboratory) — forming a team at home and in the lab. “Wired for Love” is the neurobiological story of how love rewires the brain. It’s also a personal love story — one that took a sad turn when John died of cancer in March 2018. Here, Dr. Cacioppo discusses what exactly love does to the brain, how to fight loneliness and how love is, literally, a product of the imagination. You went from being happily single, to coupled, to then losing your husband. How did meeting him bring your research on love to life? Sign Up for Love Letter Your weekly dose of real stories that examine the highs, lows and woes of relationships. This newsletter will include the best of Modern Love, weddings and love in the news. Get it sent to your inbox. When we first met, we spoke for three hours, but I couldn’t feel time go by. I felt euphoria — from the rush of dopamine. I blushed — a sign of adrenaline. We became closer, physically, and started imitating each other. This was from the activation of mirror neurons, a network of brain cells that are activated when you move or feel something, and when you see another person moving. When you have a strong connection with someone, the mirror neuron system is boosted. © 2022 The New York Times Company

Keyword: Sexual Behavior; Emotions
Link ID: 28302 - Posted: 04.27.2022

Diana Kwon Susannah Cahalan was 24 years old when her world turned upside down. Cahalan was living a busy life as a news reporter at the New York Post when she suddenly began experiencing sensitivity to light, numbness in her limbs, and an unsettling feeling that something was not quite right in her body and her brain. One day at work, she found herself inexplicably going from crying hysterically to skipping giddily down a hall. After a seizure landed her in the hospital, her condition rapidly worsened. She started having delusions and hallucinations, believing that her father was a murderer, that she was being secretly recorded, and that she could age people using her mind. In a matter of weeks, walking, speaking, and swallowing became difficult. She eventually became immobile and unresponsive, lying in her hospital bed in a catatonic state. Despite her worsening condition, dozens of specialists from various fields—psychiatry, neurology, internal medicine—couldn’t figure out what was wrong. Numerous blood tests and brain scans failed to generate answers. To many who saw her, Cahalan’s condition looked indistinguishable from mental illnesses such as bipolar disorder or schizophrenia, in which people can experience delusions and hallucinations that make it difficult for them to distinguish what’s real and what’s not. It wasn’t until a neurologist asked Cahalan to draw a clock that the problem became clear. Cahalan had drawn all the numbers on just one side of the clock face, indicating that there was a problem in the functioning of one half of her brain. A brain biopsy confirmed what the doctor had suspected. Cahalan had anti-NMDAR encephalitis, a rare autoimmune disease in which the body produces antibodies that attack the NMDA receptor, a protein found throughout the brain. The condition had only been discovered in the early 2000s, just a few years prior to Cahalan’s diagnosis, by neurologist Josep Dalmau, then at the University of Pennsylvania. This diagnosis was much-needed good news for sufferers of the mysterious condition—their disease was treatable. After receiving immunotherapy, Cahalan was able to fully recover. © 1986–2022 The Scientist.

Keyword: Schizophrenia; Neuroimmunology
Link ID: 28289 - Posted: 04.20.2022

By Sabrina Imbler Sign up for Science Times Get stories that capture the wonders of nature, the cosmos and the human body. Get it sent to your inbox. One morning in the Panamanian rainforest, a small fruit bat sized up his competition. The odds did not appear to be in his favor. The winged mammal, a Seba’s short-tailed bat, weighed about half an ounce. But his six opponents, fringe-lipped bats, were twice as heavy and occupying the shrouded corner where the small bat wanted to roost. Even worse, the larger bats are known to feast on small animals, such as frogs, katydids and smaller bats — including Seba’s short-tailed bats. None of this fazed the Seba’s short-tailed bat, which proceeded to scream, shake his wings and hurl his body at the posse of bigger bats, slapping one in the face more than 50 times. “I’ve never seen anything like it,” said Ahana Aurora Fernandez, a behavioral biologist at the Natural History Museum, Berlin, who viewed a recording of the bats but was not involved in the research that produced it. “It’s one bat against six,” Dr. Fernandez said. “He shows no fear at all.” The tiny bat’s belligerence paid off as the big bats fled. The corner clear, the Seba’s short-tailed bat moved in, joined a minute later by his female companion, who had nonchalantly watched the fight from nearby. This fun-size brawl and two similar bat bullying incidents in other roosts were observed by Mariana Muñoz-Romo, a biologist at the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute, and her colleagues, who had been monitoring the sexual preferences of the larger fringe-lipped bats. In a paper published in March in the journal Behaviour, they asked how often tiny bats antagonize bigger ones. When it comes with a risk of being eaten, why pick a fight? The researchers originally set out to study fringe-lipped bats, who were recently discovered to smear a sticky, fragrant substance on their arms, potentially to attract mates. The animals also have impressive appetites, and have been observed eating sizable frogs. © 2022 The New York Times Company

Keyword: Aggression; Hearing
Link ID: 28287 - Posted: 04.16.2022

By Annie Roth and Hisako Ueno The reign of Japan’s monkey queen has just begun. Last year, Yakei, a 9-year-old female Japanese macaque, fought several other macaques, including her own mother, to become the alpha of her troop. That made Yakei the first known female troop leader in the history of Takasakiyama Natural Zoological Garden in Southern Japan, which was established in 1952 and is home to over 1,000 macaques. But during her first breeding season as queen, which began in November 2021 and concluded in March 2022, a messy love triangle threatened to weaken her grip on power. According to officials at the park, the macaque that Yakei showed interest in mating with, a 15-year-old male named Goro, rejected her advances despite their coupling during a previous breeding season. Meanwhile, an 18-year-old macaque named Luffy did his best to woo Yakei, much to her displeasure. Japanese macaques are polyamorous and scientists were worried that Yakei would not be able to maintain her status while pursuing and rejecting potential mates. Tensions run high during breeding season, and a challenge from a spurned male could easily rob Yakei, an average-sized female, of her rank. Yakei rose to power by defeating her troop’s alpha male, but he was elderly and less formidable than the average young male. Fortunately for Yakei, no other macaques attempted to usurp her throne this season and the queen remained the troop’s alpha at the end of March, according to reserve officials. Her continued rule has surprised scientists and given them an opportunity to observe how macaque society functions under a matriarchy. Despite having to maintain her supremacy, Yakei managed to have a successful breeding season. After Goro gave her the cold shoulder, she spent many weeks playing the field, expressing interest in no fewer than five males. Among these males was Chris, a male ranked 10th in the troop, and Shikao, who holds the rank just below Chris. But the only male the reserve is sure she mated with was Maruo. Maruo, Yakei’s mate. © 2022 The New York Times Company

Keyword: Aggression; Sexual Behavior
Link ID: 28279 - Posted: 04.13.2022

By Alla Katsnelson A dog gives a protective bark, sensing a nearby stranger. A cat slinks by disdainfully, ignoring anyone and everyone. A cow moos in contentment, chewing its cud. At least, that’s what we may think animals feel when they act the way they do. We take our own lived experiences and fill in gaps with our imaginations to better understand and relate to the animals we encounter. Often, our assumptions are wrong. Take horse play, for example. Many people assume that these muscular, majestic animals are roughhousing just for the fun of it. But in the wild, adult horses rarely play. When we see them play in captivity, it isn’t necessarily a good sign, says Martine Hausberger, an animal scientist at CNRS at the University of Rennes in France. Hausberger, who raises horses on her farm in Brittany, began studying horse welfare about three decades ago, after observing that people who keep horses often misjudge cues about the animals’ behavior. Adult horses that play are often ones that have been restrained, Hausberger says. Play seems to discharge the stress from that restriction. “When they have the opportunity, they may exhibit play, and at that precise moment they may be happier,” she says. But “animals that are feeling well all the time don’t need this to get rid of the stress.” Scientists studying animal behavior and animal welfare are making important strides in understanding how the creatures we share our planet with experience the world. “In the last decade or two, people have gotten bolder and more creative in terms of asking what animals’ emotional states are,” explains Georgia Mason, a behavioral biologist and animal welfare scientist at the University of Guelph in Canada. They’re finding thought-provoking answers amid a wide array of animals. © Society for Science & the Public 2000–2022.

Keyword: Emotions; Evolution
Link ID: 28276 - Posted: 04.09.2022

By Roni Caryn Rabin Almost a million people in the United States have died of Covid-19 in the past two years, but the full impact of the pandemic’s collateral damage is still being tallied. Now a new study reports that the number of Americans who died of alcohol-related causes increased precipitously during the first year of the pandemic, as routines were disrupted, support networks frayed and treatment was delayed. The startling report comes amid a growing realization that Covid’s toll extends beyond the number of lives claimed directly by the disease to the excess deaths caused by illnesses left untreated and a surge in drug overdoses, as well as to social costs like educational setbacks and the loss of parents and caregivers. Numerous reports have suggested that Americans drank more to cope with the stress of the pandemic. Binge drinking increased, as did emergency room visits for alcohol withdrawal. But the new report found that the number of alcohol-related deaths, including from liver disease and accidents, soared, rising to 99,017 in 2020, up from 78,927 the previous year — an increase of 25 percent in the number of deaths in one year. That compares with an average annual increase of 3.6 percent in alcohol-related deaths between 1999 and 2019. Deaths started inching up in recent years, but increased only 5 percent between 2018 and 2019. The study, done by researchers with the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, a division of the National Institutes of Health, was published in The Journal of the American Medical Association on Friday. Using information from death certificates, the researchers included all deaths in which alcohol was listed as an underlying or contributing cause. (Only a very small number also involved Covid-19.) “The assumption is that there were lots of people who were in recovery and had reduced access to support that spring and relapsed,” said Aaron White, the report’s first author and a senior scientific adviser at the alcohol abuse institute. © 2022 The New York Times Company

Keyword: Drug Abuse; Stress
Link ID: 28253 - Posted: 03.26.2022

By Ellen Barry After more than a decade of argument, psychiatry’s most powerful body in the United States added a new disorder this week to its diagnostic manual: prolonged grief. The decision marks an end to a long debate within the field of mental health, steering researchers and clinicians to view intense grief as a target for medical treatment, at a moment when many Americans are overwhelmed by loss. The new diagnosis, prolonged grief disorder, was designed to apply to a narrow slice of the population who are incapacitated, pining and ruminating a year after a loss, and unable to return to previous activities. Its inclusion in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders means that clinicians can now bill insurance companies for treating people for the condition. It will most likely open a stream of funding for research into treatments — naltrexone, a drug used to help treat addiction, is currently in clinical trials as a form of grief therapy — and set off a competition for approval of medicines by the Food and Drug Administration. Since the 1990s, a number of researchers have argued that intense forms of grief should be classified as a mental illness, saying that society tends to accept the suffering of bereaved people as natural and that it fails to steer them toward treatment that could help. A diagnosis, they hope, will allow clinicians to aid a part of the population that has, throughout history, withdrawn into isolation after terrible losses. “They were the widows who wore black for the rest of their lives, who withdrew from social contacts and lived the rest of their lives in memory of the husband or wife who they had lost,” said Dr. Paul S. Appelbaum, who is chair of the steering committee overseeing revisions to the fifth edition of the D.S.M. © 2022 The New York Times Company

Keyword: Depression; Emotions
Link ID: 28247 - Posted: 03.19.2022

By Christa Hillstrom To hear more audio stories from publications like The New York Times, download Audm for iPhone or Android. In 2017, when Becky was about to turn 40, she woke up in the middle of the night and was startled by her reflection in the bathroom mirror. Her face, gaunt from weight loss, looked pale. A scar snaked under her chin from when her boyfriend punched her. Her nostrils were now asymmetrical from when he broke her nose. Smaller scars marked her eyebrows and her bottom lip, where a tooth once cut through. She always wore her hair in a bun to mask a bald spot; he had slammed her head against a door frame, and she had needed staples there. She could barely hear from one ear. Her chipped front tooth was harder to hide than the broken molars knocked loose during two decades of beatings. When she went shopping, she would hold items in her hands, assessing how much damage they would do to her body. She had stopped buying leather belts, the braided kind. She remembered getting some of her injuries. With others, the memories hung fuzzy and distant. They met in 1996, when she was a teenager with a new baby. She had already spent years raising her younger siblings when her own mother, who suffered from mental illness and was a survivor of domestic abuse, could not. The first time Becky remembers her boyfriend hurting her, about six months into their relationship, was when he was joking around: a tug on her hair that was surprisingly forceful. Underneath the laughing, something felt mean. And then the meanness got darker. From the beginning of their relationship, Becky’s boyfriend drew the reins tightly around their lives. She could never predict what would set him off. Some days, he attacked her for sleeping too late; others, for waking him up too early. He hit her when the house was too messy or if he wasn’t in the mood for the breakfast she made. Becky, who asked to be identified by a nickname for her safety, often showed up to work with bruises on her face, caked over with foundation, but her co-workers never said anything. © 2022 The New York Times Company

Keyword: Brain Injury/Concussion; Aggression
Link ID: 28229 - Posted: 03.02.2022

By Kim Tingley Denis Burkitt, an Irish surgeon, traveled to Africa during World War II as a member of the Royal Army Medical Corps, and afterward he settled in Uganda to practice medicine. There he observed that a surprising number of children developed strange jaw tumors, a cancer that would come to be known as Burkitt lymphoma. Eventually, Burkitt sent samples of the tumor cells to Middlesex Hospital Medical School in London, where Michael Anthony Epstein, a pathologist, and his colleagues Yvonne Barr and Bert Achong examined them through an electron microscope. Their findings — they noticed particles shaped like a herpesvirus, only smaller — were published in a landmark paper in The Lancet in 1964 and spurred the realization that this newly identified member of the Herpes​viridae family, subsequently named Epstein-Barr virus, was a cause of Burkitt lymphoma. It was the first evidence that a viral infection could lead to cancer. The virus has since been shown to increase the risk of Hodgkin lymphoma, as well as nasopharyngeal and stomach cancer. It is also the virus most often responsible for infectious mononucleosis, a disease usually characterized by extreme fatigue, sore throat, fever and swollen lymph nodes in the neck. These symptoms can last for weeks and, in chronic cases, recur for years. We now know that upward of 90 percent of adults have the Epstein-Barr virus. As happens with other herpes​viruses, once you have been infected, the virus stays with you forever — it deposits its DNA alongside yours in the nucleus of many of your cells. (RNA viruses, like SARS-CoV-2, can be cleared from your body.) Most people contract Epstein-Barr in childhood: It is spread through body fluids, usually saliva; kissing is a frequent route of transmission (as may be the sharing of utensils). Young children, if they get sick at all, typically develop symptoms indistinguishable from those of a cold or flu; mono is more common when the first infection happens after puberty. “Most people never know they’re infected,” says Jeffrey Cohen, the chief of the Laboratory of Infectious Diseases at the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. © 2022 The New York Times Company

Keyword: Multiple Sclerosis; Neuroimmunology
Link ID: 28223 - Posted: 02.26.2022

By Amanda Coletta Health officials in New Brunswick released a long-awaited report Thursday into a mysterious and debilitating neurological disorder that has struck dozens of people with bizarre symptoms — including a belief that family members have been replaced by impostors — stumped doctors and stoked fears across the province. The conclusion? There is no new disorder. “The oversight committee has unanimously agreed that these 48 people should never have been identified as having a neurological syndrome of unknown cause, and that based on the evidence reviewed, no such syndrome exists,” said Jennifer Russell, chief medical officer of health for the Canadian province. “Public Health concurs with these findings. But I stress again, this does not mean that these people aren’t seriously ill. It means they are ill with a known neurological condition.” The report’s authors say the 48 cases in what was thought to be a cluster were randomly allocated to pairs of neurologists who reviewed them and presented their findings to an oversight committee of six New Brunswick neurologists and other officials. The committee said none of the cases met the full criteria of the case definition. But that finding, coming at the end of an investigation marred by accusations of opacity from the start and allegations that Canada’s top scientists and experts from around the world had been abruptly shut out of the process, appeared unlikely to assuage alarm in the province and more likely to deepen mistrust. Patients and their family members questioned the committee’s findings Thursday, saying the province has not carried out the relevant testing and opted to “abandon scientific rigor in exchange for political expediency.” © 1996-2022 The Washington Post

Keyword: Stress; Prions
Link ID: 28222 - Posted: 02.26.2022

By Matt Richtel During the pandemic, emergency rooms across the country reported an increase in visits from teenage girls dealing with eating and other disorders, including anxiety, depression and stress, according to new data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The report provides new detail about the kinds of mental health issues affecting a generation of adolescents. Mental health experts hypothesize that the pandemic prompted some youth to feel isolated, lonely and out-of-control. Some coped by seeking to have control over their own behavior, said Emily Pluhar, a pediatric psychologist at Boston Children’s Hospital and instructor at Harvard Medical School. “You take a very vulnerable group and put on a global pandemic,” she said. “The eating disorders are out of control.” In the C.D.C. study, the agency said that the proportion of eating disorder visits doubled among teenage girls, set off by pandemic-related risk factors, like the “lack of structure in daily routine, emotional distress and changes in food availability.” The agency said that the increase in tic disorders was “atypical,” as these disorders often present earlier, and are more common in boys. But the C.D.C., reinforcing speculation from other clinicians and researchers, said that some teenage girls may be developing tics after seeing the phenomenon spread widely on social media, notably on TikTok. “Stress of the pandemic or exposure to severe tics, highlighted on social media platforms, might be associated with increases in visits with tics and tic-like behavior among adolescent females,” the C.D.C. wrote. In a related report, the C.D.C. also said on Friday that the increase in visits for mental health issues occurred as emergency rooms reported sharp declines overall in visits during the pandemic. As compared with 2019, overall visits fell by 51 percent in 2020 and by 22 percent in 2021, declines that the agency attributed in part to families delaying care, and a drop in physical injuries from activities like swimming and running. © 2022 The New York Times Company

Keyword: Anorexia & Bulimia; Stress
Link ID: 28213 - Posted: 02.19.2022

Jon Hamilton When Michael Schneider's anxiety and PTSD flare up, he reaches for the ukulele he keeps next to his computer. "I can't actually play a song," says Schneider, who suffered two serious brain injuries during nearly 22 years in the Marines. "But I can play chords to take my stress level down." It's a technique Schneider learned through Creative Forces, an arts therapy initiative sponsored by the National Endowment for the Arts, in partnership with the departments of Defense and Veterans Affairs. It's also an example of how arts therapies are increasingly being used to treat brain conditions including PTSD, depression, Parkinson's and Alzheimer's. But most of these treatments, ranging from music to poetry to visual arts, still have not undergone rigorous scientific testing. So artists and brain scientists have launched an initiative called the NeuroArts Blueprint to change that. A brain circuit tied to emotion may lead to better treatments for Parkinson's disease Shots - Health News A brain circuit tied to emotion may lead to better treatments for Parkinson's disease The initiative is the result of a partnership between the Johns Hopkins International Arts + Mind Lab Center for Applied Neuroaesthetics and the Aspen Institute's Health, Medicine and Society Program. Its leadership includes soprano Renée Fleming, actress and playwright Anna Deavere Smith, and Dr. Eric Nestler, who directs the Friedman Brain Institute at Mt. Sinai's Icahn School of Medicine. One goal of the NeuroArts initiative is to measure how arts therapies change the brains of people like Schneider. "I had a traumatic brain injury when I was involved in a helicopter incident on board a U.S. Naval vessel," he explains. That was in 2005. Article continues after sponsor message Later that same year, he experienced sudden decompression – the aviator's version of the bends — while training for high-altitude flights. The result was like a stroke. © 2022 npr

Keyword: Stress; Hearing
Link ID: 28212 - Posted: 02.19.2022

By Pam Belluck Social isolation, economic stress, loss of loved ones and other struggles during the pandemic have contributed to rising mental health issues like anxiety and depression. But can having Covid itself increase the risk of developing mental health problems? A large new study suggests it can. The study, published Wednesday in the journal The BMJ, analyzed records of nearly 154,000 Covid patients in the Veterans Health Administration system and compared their experience in the year after they recovered from their initial infection with that of a similar group of people who did not contract the virus. The study included only patients who had no mental health diagnoses or treatment for at least two years before becoming infected with the coronavirus, allowing researchers to focus on psychiatric diagnoses and treatment that occurred after coronavirus infection. People who had Covid were 39 percent more likely to be diagnosed with depression and 35 percent more likely to be diagnosed with anxiety over the months following infection than people without Covid during the same period, the study found. Covid patients were 38 percent more likely to be diagnosed with stress and adjustment disorders and 41 percent more likely to be diagnosed with sleep disorders than uninfected people. “There appears to be a clear excess of mental health diagnoses in the months after Covid,” said Dr. Paul Harrison, a professor of psychiatry at the University of Oxford, who was not involved in the study. © 2022 The New York Times Company

Keyword: Stress
Link ID: 28211 - Posted: 02.19.2022

By Lisa Sanders, M.D. “OK, I give up,” said the 74-year-old man. “I’ll go to the hospital.” His wife of 46 years gave an inner sigh of relief. Her husband was stubborn, a seventh-​generation Mainer, not given to complaining. But a few weeks earlier, she noticed that he was parking his tractor next to the back porch so he could get on it without pulling himself up. Then he needed help getting out of his big chair. Now he could barely walk. It happened so suddenly it scared her. She eased the car right next to the porch. He needed both hands on the railing to get down, grunting with each step. His legs moved awkwardly, as if they had somehow forgotten what to do. At the LincolnHealth-Miles Campus Hospital in nearby Damariscotta, it was clear to the E.R. doctors that the patient wasn’t weak but ataxic, lacking not strength but coordination. Virtually every movement the body makes requires several muscles working together — a collaboration that occurs in the cerebellum. The uncertain and awkward way the patient moved made doctors at LincolnHealth worry that something — maybe a stroke, maybe a tumor — had injured that part of the brain. But two CT scans and an M.R.I. were unrevealing. When his doctors weren’t sure what to do next, the patient decided it was time to go home. His wife was supportive but worried. How could she help him get around? He was a big guy and outweighed her by 50 pounds. And they still needed to figure out what was wrong with him. Couldn’t they try another hospital? Maybe, he said, but first he wanted to go home. So that’s where she took him. Once there, it took only a day for the man to recognize, again, that he couldn’t just tough it out at home. There was another hospital, a larger one a couple of towns over in Brunswick: Mid Coast Hospital. His wife was happy to take him there. Those few steps he took from porch to car, supported by his wife, were the last he would take for weeks. © 2022 The New York Times Company

Keyword: Movement Disorders; Neuroimmunology
Link ID: 28204 - Posted: 02.16.2022

Jon Hamilton Paul knew his young grandson was in danger. "Out of the corner of my eye I could see this little figure moving," he says. The figure was heading for a steep flight of stairs. But what could he do? Paul was sitting down. And after more than a decade of living with Parkinson's disease, getting out of a chair had become a long and arduous process. But not on this day. "Paul jumped up from the chair and ran to my grandson," says his wife, Rose. (The couple asked to be identified by only their first names to protect their medical privacy.) "I mean, he just got up like there was nothing and ran to pick up Max." Amazing. But it's also the kind of story that's become familiar to Peter Strick, professor and chair of neurobiology at the University of Pittsburgh and scientific director of the University of Pittsburgh Brain Institute. "It was a great example of what people call paradoxical kinesia," Strick says. "It was a description of just what we are studying." Article continues after sponsor message Paradoxical kinesia refers to the sudden ability of a person with Parkinson's to move quickly and fluidly, the way they did before the disease eroded a brain area involved in movement. The phenomenon is a variation of the placebo effect. But instead of being induced by the belief that a sugar pill is really medicine, it tends to appear in situations that involve stress or a strong emotion. For Paul, "it was the fear of his grandson falling down the stairs," says Strick, who learned about the event in an email from Rose. A treatment that's "all in your head" © 2022 npr

Keyword: Parkinsons; Emotions
Link ID: 28193 - Posted: 02.09.2022

By Laura Sanders A tussle with COVID-19 can leave people’s brains fuzzy. SARS-CoV-2, the virus behind COVID-19, doesn’t usually make it into the brain directly. But the immune system’s response to even mild cases can affect the brain, new preliminary studies suggest. These reverberating effects may lead to fatigue, trouble thinking, difficulty remembering and even pain, months after the infection is gone. It’s not a new idea. Immune systems gone awry have been implicated in cognitive problems that come with other viral infections such as HIV and influenza, with disorders such as myalgic encephalomyelitis/chronic fatigue syndrome, or ME/CFS, and even from the damaging effects of chemotherapy. What’s different with COVID-19 is the scope of the problem. Millions of people have been infected, says neurologist Avindra Nath of the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, Md. “We are now faced with a public health crisis,” he says. Sign up for e-mail updates on the latest coronavirus news and research To figure out ways to treat people for the fuzzy thinking, headaches and fatigue that hang around after a bout with COVID-19, scientists are racing to figure out what’s causing these symptoms (SN: 4/27/21). Cognitive neurologist Joanna Hellmuth at the University of California, San Francisco had a head start. As someone who had studied the effects of HIV on the brain, she quickly noted similarities in the neurological symptoms of HIV and COVID-19. The infections paint “the same exact clinical picture,” she says. HIV-related cognitive symptoms have been linked to immune activation in the body, including the brain. “Maybe the same thing is happening in COVID,” Hellmuth says. © Society for Science & the Public 2000–2022.

Keyword: Neuroimmunology; Learning & Memory
Link ID: 28189 - Posted: 02.05.2022

Bret Stetka It all started with genetic data. A gene here, a gene there. Eventually the story became clearer: If scientists are to one day find a cure for Alzheimer's disease, they should look to the immune system. Over the past couple decades, researchers have identified numerous genes involved in various immune system functions that may also contribute to Alzheimer's. Some of the prime suspects are genes that control humble little immune cells called microglia, now the focus of intense research in developing new Alzheimer's drugs. Microglia are amoeba-like cells that scour the brain for injuries and invaders. They help clear dead or impaired brain cells and literally gobble up invading microbes. Without them, we'd be in trouble. In a normal brain, a protein called beta-amyloid is cleared away through our lymphatic system by microglia as molecular junk. But sometimes it builds up. Certain gene mutations are one culprit in this toxic accumulation. Traumatic brain injury is another, and, perhaps, impaired microglial function. One thing everyone agrees on is that in people with Alzheimer's, too much amyloid accumulates between their brain cells and in the vessels that supply the brain with blood. Once amyloid begins to clog networks of neurons, it triggers the accumulation of another protein, called tau, inside of these brain cells. The presence of tau sends microglia and other immune mechanisms into overdrive, resulting in the inflammatory immune response that many experts believe ultimately saps brain vitality in Alzheimer's. To date, nearly a dozen genes involved in immune and microglial function have been tied to Alzheimer's. The first was CD33, identified in 2008. © 2022 npr

Keyword: Alzheimers; Neuroimmunology
Link ID: 28184 - Posted: 02.02.2022

By Christina Caron For the entirety of my adult life I have tried to avoid driving. I could claim all sorts of noble reasons for this: concern about the environment, a desire to save money, the health benefits gained from walking or biking. But the main reason is that I’m anxious. What if I did something stupid and accidentally pressed the gas pedal instead of the brake? What if a small child suddenly darted into the middle of the road? What if another driver was distracted or full of rage? By 2020 I had managed to avoid driving for eight years, even though I’d gotten my license in high school. Then came the pandemic. After more than a year of hunkering down in our Manhattan neighborhood, my little family of three was yearning for new surroundings. So, I booked lodging in the Adirondacks, about a three-hour drive from New York City, and — for the first time in my life — signed up for formal driving lessons. On that first day, I arrived queasy and full of impending doom, muscles tensed and brain on high alert. But my instructor assured me that we would not meet our demise — we wouldn’t be driving fast enough for that, he explained — and then he told me something that nobody ever had: “The fear never leaves you.” You have to learn to harness it, he said. Have just enough fear to stay alert and be aware of your surroundings, but not so much that it is making you overly hesitant. The idea that I didn’t need to completely erase my anxiety was freeing. Having some anxiety — especially when faced with a stressful situation — isn’t necessarily bad and can actually be helpful, experts say. Anxiety is an uncomfortable emotion, often fueled by uncertainty. It can create intense, excessive and persistent worry and fear, not just about stressful events but also about everyday situations. There are usually physical symptoms too, like fast heart rate, muscle tension, rapid breathing, sweating and fatigue. Too much anxiety can be debilitating. But a normal amount is meant to help keep us safe, experts say. © 2022 The New York Times Company

Keyword: Emotions; Evolution
Link ID: 28168 - Posted: 01.22.2022