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By CLAY ROUTLEDGE Are Americans becoming less religious? It depends on what you mean by “religious.” Polls certainly indicate a decline in religious affiliation, practice and belief. Just a couple of decades ago, about 95 percent of Americans reported belonging to a religious group. This number is now around 75 percent. And far fewer are actively religious: The percentage of regular churchgoers may be as low as 15 to 20 percent. As for religious belief, the Pew Research Center found that from 2007 to 2014 the percentage of Americans who reported being absolutely confident God exists dropped from 71 percent to 63 percent. Nonetheless, there is reason to doubt the death of religion, or at least the death of what you might call the “religious mind” — our concern with existential questions and our search for meaning. A growing body of research suggests that the evidence for a decline in traditional religious belief, identity and practice does not reflect a decline in this underlying spiritual inclination. Ask yourself: Why are people religious to begin with? One view is that religion is an ancient way of understanding and organizing the world that persists largely because societies pass it down from generation to generation. This view is related to the idea that the rise of science entails the fall of religion. It also assumes that the strength of religion is best measured by how much doctrine people accept and how observant they are. This view, however, does not capture the fundamental nature of the religious mind — our awareness of, and need to reckon with, the transience and fragility of our existence, and how small and unimportant we seem to be in the grand scheme of things. In short: our quest for significance. © 2017 The New York Times Company

Keyword: Attention; Emotions
Link ID: 23868 - Posted: 07.24.2017

By Erin Blakemore What do you see? That question is so complex it may be impossible to answer. But when Vanessa Potter lost her sight because of a rare condition, she became obsessed with describing the experience of both literal and inner vision. Patient H69: The Story of My Second Sight Book by Vanessa Potter Her new book, “Patient H69,” tracks Potter’s progression from advertising producer to patient. But her memoir shows how a medical ordeal also turned her into a scientific detective, advocate and artist. In 2012, Potter suddenly lost her sight. The first half of her book tracks her terrifying loss of vision and illustrates the psychological toll that accompanies the transition from healthy person to patient. Potter’s ailment turned out to be neuromyelitis optica, a disorder also known as Devic’s disease. People with the autoimmune disorder experience inflammation of the optic nerve, temporary blindness and spinal cord inflammation that can cause pain and sensory loss. Determined to regain her sight and understand her illness, Potter collaborated with scientists as her optical nerve healed.Along the way, she documented her experience. Her descriptive powers serve her well as she illustrates what it’s like to experience the development of sight in real time — a progression that, for Potter, included synesthesia (a blending of the senses in which a word may be seen as a certain color, for example), self-hypnosis and plenty of emotion. © 1996-2017 The Washington Post

Keyword: Vision; Neuroimmunology
Link ID: 23867 - Posted: 07.24.2017

By JANE E. BRODY Problems with estrogen and testosterone, the body’s main sex hormones, tend to attract widespread public interest. But we might all be better off paying more attention to a far more common endocrine disorder: abnormal levels of thyroid hormone. Thyroid disorders can affect a wide range of bodily functions and cause an array of confusing and often misdiagnosed symptoms. Because the thyroid, a small gland in the neck behind the larynx, regulates energy production and metabolism throughout the body, including the heart, brain, skin, bowels and body temperature, too much or too little of its hormones can have a major impact on health and well-being. Yet in a significant number of people with thyroid deficiencies, routine blood tests fail to detect insufficient thyroid hormone, leaving patients without an accurate explanation for their symptoms. These can include excessive fatigue, depression, hair loss, unexplained weight gain, constipation, sleep problems, mental fogginess and anxiety. Women of childbearing age may have difficulty getting pregnant or staying pregnant. Although thyroid disorders are more common in adults, children, whose cognitive and physical development depend on normal thyroid function, are not necessarily spared. In a review article published last year in JAMA Pediatrics, doctors from the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia pressed primary care doctors to recognize childhood thyroid disease and begin treatment as early as the second week of life to ensure normal development. Hypothyroidism — low hormone levels — in particular is often misdiagnosed, its symptoms resembling those of other diseases or mistaken for “normal” effects of aging. Indeed, the risk of hypothyroidism rises with age. Twenty percent of people over 75, most of them women, lack sufficient levels of thyroid hormone that, among other problems, can cause symptoms of confusion commonly mistaken for dementia. © 2017 The New York Times Company

Keyword: Hormones & Behavior
Link ID: 23866 - Posted: 07.24.2017

Jon Hamilton Professional fighter Gina Mazany practices during a training session at Xtreme Couture Mixed Martial Arts in Las Vegas. She well remembers her first concussion — which came in her first fight. "I was throwing up that night, Mazany says. Bridget Bennett for NPR Gina Mazany grew up in Anchorage, Alaska. And that's where she had her first fight. "It was right after I turned 18," she recalls. A local bar had a boxing ring, and Mazany decided to give it a shot. Her opponent was an older woman with a "mom haircut." "She beat the crap out of me," Mazany says. "Like she didn't knock me out, she didn't finish me. But she just knocked me around for three rounds. And I remember, later that night I was very, very nauseous. I was throwing up that night." It was her first concussion. Concussions are just part of her sport, Mazany figures, but says she tries to protect herself, and to not give anyone else a head injury--at least in training. Bridget Bennett for NPR Thanks to research on boxers and football players, both athletes and the public are becoming more aware of the dangers of sports-related head injuries. Yet there is little data on participants like Mazany. That's because, unlike the vast majority of athletes studied, she is a woman. "We classically have always known the male response to brain injury," says Mark Burns, at Georgetown University. But there have been remarkably few studies of females. The bias runs throughout the scientific literature, even in studies of mice. © 2017 npr

Keyword: Brain Injury/Concussion
Link ID: 23865 - Posted: 07.24.2017

Susan Milius Sonar pings from a hungry bat closing in can inspire hawkmoths to get their genitals trilling. The ultrasonic “eeeee” of scraping moth sex organs may serve as a last-second acoustic defense, says behavioral ecologist Jesse Barber of Boise State University in Idaho. In theory, the right squeak could jam bats’ targeting sonar, remind them of a noisy moth that tasted terrible or just startle them enough for the hawkmoth to escape. Males of at least three hawkmoth species in Malaysia squeak in response to recorded echolocation sounds of the final swoop in a bat attack, Barber and Akito Kawahara of the University of Florida in Gainesville report July 3 in Biology Letters. Female hawkmoths are hard to catch, but the few Barber and Kawahara have tested squeak too. Although they’re the same species as the males, they use their genitals in a different way to make ultrasound. Squeak power may have arisen during courtship and later proved useful during attacks. Until now, researchers knew of only two insect groups that talk back to bats: some tiger moths and tiger beetles. Neither is closely related to hawkmoths, so Barber speculates that anti-bat noises might be widespread among insects. Slowed-down video shows first the male and then the female hawkmoth creating ultrasonic trills at the tips of their abdomens. Males use a pair of claspers that grasp females in mating. To sound off, these quickly slide in and out of the abdomen, rasping specialized scales against the sides. Females rub the left and right sides of their abdominal structures together. J. Barber and A.Y. Kawahara. Hawkmoths produce anti-bat ultrasound. Biology Letters. Posted July 3, 2013. doi: 10.1098/rsbl.2013.0161 [Go to] |© Society for Science & the Public 2000 - 2017.

Keyword: Hearing
Link ID: 23864 - Posted: 07.24.2017

By Sharon Begley, STAT Lab mice whose brains were injected with cells from schizophrenia patients became afraid of strangers, slept fitfully, felt intense anxiety, struggled to remember new things, and showed other signs of the mental disorder, scientists reported on Thursday. The latest advance in “chimeras,” animals created by transplanting cells from one species into another, demonstrated the value of the technique, scientists not involved in the study said, but is likely to draw renewed attention to a controversial field that opponents see as deeply immoral and undermining the natural order. Under a 2015 moratorium, the National Institutes of Health does not fund research that transplants human stem cells into early embryos of other animals. When the NIH asked for public comment on lifting the moratorium, it received nearly 20,000 responses, almost all objecting to “grossly unethical research”; many mentioned Frankenstein. But the new study, in Cell Stem Cell, injected human cells into newborn mice, not embryos. It received funding from the NIH as well as private foundations, to unravel how brain development goes off the rails to cause schizophrenia. Although the prevailing idea has been that the devastating disease, which strikes some 1 percent of U.S. adults, is primarily caused by something going wrong with neurons, the scientists suspected the brain’s support cells, called glia. © 2017 Scientific American,

Keyword: Schizophrenia; Glia
Link ID: 23863 - Posted: 07.22.2017

Joseph Jebelli The terror of Alzheimer’s is that it acts by degrees, and can therefore bewilder family members as much as its victims. Those who first notice the onset of Alzheimer’s in a loved one tell of forgotten names and unsettling behaviour, of car keys found in the fridge and clothing in the kitchen cabinet, of aimless wanderings. Naturally, they want to understand the boundaries of normal ageing and whether these are being crossed. Often, the answer arrives when they’re greeted as complete strangers, when the patient’s mind becomes irrevocably unmoored from its past. The disease is terrifying for its insidiousness as well as its long-term manifestations. Fear partly explains why Alzheimer’s has been ignored for so long. Yet it is now the leading cause of death among the oldest people, and according to Professor Sir Michael Marmot, an expert in health inequalities, it could be an “important part” of the stagnation in increases in life expectancy since 2010 that he has identified. As a researcher, I have been struck by how many patients speak openly about their condition only after receiving a diagnosis. “I knew something wasn’t right. Sometimes I don’t know what day of the week it is or what I have to do,” one newly diagnosed patient told me. “I look in my calendar but then I think: why am I looking at this? My husband was the one who made me see a GP. I was too frightened. I thought I might have it but I didn’t want to hear it.” © 2017 Guardian News and Media Limited

Keyword: Alzheimers
Link ID: 23862 - Posted: 07.22.2017

By Becca Cudmore A mother rat’s care for her pup reaches all the way into her offspring’s DNA. A young rat that gets licked and groomed a lot early on in life exhibits diminished responses to stress thanks to epigenetic changes in the hippocampus, a brain region that helps transform emotional information into memory. Specifically, maternal solicitude reduces DNA methylation and changes the structure of DNA-packaging proteins, triggering an uptick in the recycling of the neurotransmitter serotonin and the upregulation of the glucocorticoid receptor. These changes make the nurtured rat’s brain quicker to sense and tamp down the production of stress hormones in response to jarring experiences such as unexpected sound and light. That pup will likely grow into a calm adult, and two studies have shown that female rats who exhibit a dampened stress response are more likely to generously lick, groom, and nurse their own young. Caring for pups is one example of what casual observers of behavior might call an animal’s instinct—generally considered to be an innate, genetically encoded phenomenon. But could such epigenetic changes, when encoded as ancestral learning, also be at the root of maternal care and other seemingly instinctual behaviors we see across the animal kingdom? “We don’t have a general theory for the mechanics of instinct as we do for learning, and this is something that has troubled me for a very long time,” says University of Illinois entomologist Gene Robinson. He studies social evolution in the Western honey bee and recently coauthored a perspective piece in Science together with neurobiologist Andrew Barron of Macquarie University in Sydney, Australia, suggesting methylation as a possible mechanism for the transgenerational transmission of instinctual behavior, rather than those behaviors being hardwired in the genome (356:26-27, 2017). Robinson and Barron suggest that instinctual traits, such as honey bees’ well-known waggle dance or a bird’s in-born ability to sing its species’ songs, are the result of traits first learned by their ancestors and inherited across generations by the process of methylation. This differs from classical thoughts on animal learning, which say that if a behavior is learned, it is not innate, and will not be inherited. © 1986-2017 The Scientist

Keyword: Epigenetics; Evolution
Link ID: 23861 - Posted: 07.22.2017

By Aylin Woodward See, hear. Our eardrums appear to move to shift our hearing in the same direction as our eyes are looking. Why this happens is unclear, but it may help us work out which objects we see are responsible for the sounds we can hear. Jennifer Groh at Duke University in Durham, North Carolina, and her team have been using microphones inserted into people’s ears to study how their eardrums change during saccades – the movement that occurs when we shift visual focus from one place to another. You won’t notice it, but our eyes go through several saccades a second to take in our surroundings. Examining 16 people, the team detected changes in ear canal pressure that were probably caused by middle-ear muscles tugging on the eardrum. These pressure changes indicate that when we look left, for example, the drum of our left ear gets pulled further into the ear and that of our right ear pushed out, before they both swing back and forth a few times. These changes to the eardrums began as early as 10 milliseconds before the eyes even started to move, and continued for a few tens of milliseconds after the eyes stopped. Making sense “We think that before actual eye movement occurs, the brain sends a signal to the ear to say ‘I have commanded the eyes to move 12 degrees to the right’,” says Groh. The eardrum movements that follow the change in focus may prepare our ears to hear sounds from a particular direction. © Copyright New Scientist Ltd.

Keyword: Hearing; Vision
Link ID: 23860 - Posted: 07.22.2017

by Laurel Hamers The tempo of a male elephant seal’s call broadcasts his identity to rival males, a new study finds. Every male elephant seal has a distinct vocalization that sounds something like a sputtering lawnmower — pulses of sound in a pattern and at a pace that stays the same over time. At a California state park where elephant seals breed each year, researchers played different variations of an alpha male’s threat call to subordinate males who knew him. The seals weren’t as responsive when the tempo of that call was modified substantially, suggesting they didn’t recognize it as a threat. Modifying the call’s timbre — the acoustic quality of the sound — had the same effect, researchers report August 7 in Current Biology. Unlike dolphins and songbirds, elephant seals don’t seem to vary pitch to communicate. Those vocal name tags serve a purpose. During breeding season, male elephant seals spend three months on land without food or water, competing with rivals for social status and mating rights. Fights between two blubbery car-sized animals can be brutal. “We’ve seen males lose their noses,” says Caroline Casey, a biologist at the University of California, Santa Cruz. For lower-ranking males, identifying an alpha male by his call and then backing off might prevent a beach brawl. |© Society for Science & the Public 2000 - 2017

Keyword: Animal Communication; Sexual Behavior
Link ID: 23859 - Posted: 07.21.2017

By Sam Wong Students who take Adderall to improve their test scores may get a slight benefit, but it’s mainly a placebo effect. The drug Adderall is a combination of the stimulants amphetamine and dextroamphetamine, and is used to treat attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). But it’s growing in popularity as a study drug in the US, where around a third of college students are thought to try using prescription stimulants for non-medical reasons. But does it work? Rachel Fargason, a psychiatrist at the University of Alabama, Birmingham, says the idea of stimulants as cognitive enhancers didn’t tally with her experience of patients who were diagnosed incorrectly. “If they didn’t have ADHD, the stimulants generally didn’t help them cognitively,” she says. To investigate further, Fargason’s team set up a trial in 32 people between the ages of 19 and 30, none of whom had ADHD. Each participant took a batch of cognitive tests four times. On two of these occasions they were given 10 milligrams of Adderall, while they were given a placebo the other times. With each treatment, they were once told they were getting medication, and once told they were getting a placebo. © Copyright New Scientist Ltd.

Keyword: ADHD; Drug Abuse
Link ID: 23858 - Posted: 07.21.2017

Jon Hamilton Doctors use words like "aggressive" and "highly malignant" to describe the type of brain cancer discovered in Arizona Sen. John McCain. The cancer is a glioblastoma, the Mayo Clinic said in a statement Wednesday. It was diagnosed after doctors surgically removed a blood clot from above McCain's left eye. Doctors who were not involved in his care say the procedure likely removed much of the tumor as well. Glioblastomas, which are the most common malignant brain tumor, tend to be deadly. Each year in the U.S., about 12,000 people are diagnosed with the tumor. Most die within two years, though some survive more than a decade. "It's frustrating," says Nader Sanai, director of neurosurgical oncology at the Barrow Neurological Institute in Phoenix. Only "a very small number" of patients beat the disease, he says. And the odds are especially poor for older patients like McCain, who is 80. "The older you are, the worse your prognosis is," Sanai says, in part because older patients often aren't strong enough to tolerate aggressive radiation and chemotherapy. Arizona Sen. John McCain on Capitol Hill in April 2017, three months before he was diagnosed with brain cancer. © 2017 npr

Keyword: Glia
Link ID: 23857 - Posted: 07.21.2017

By Fergus Walsh Medical correspondent One in three cases of dementia could be prevented if more people looked after their brain health throughout life, according to an international study in the Lancet. It lists nine key risk factors including lack of education, hearing loss, smoking and physical inactivity. The study is being presented at the Alzheimer's Association International Conference in London. By 2050, 131 million people could be living with dementia globally. There are estimated to be 47 million people with the condition at the moment. Nine factors that contribute to the risk of dementia Mid-life hearing loss - responsible for 9% of the risk Failing to complete secondary education - 8% Smoking - 5% Failing to seek early treatment for depression - 4% Physical inactivity - 3% Social isolation - 2% High blood pressure - 2% Obesity - 1% Type 2 diabetes - 1% These risk factors - which are described as potentially modifiable - add up to 35%. The other 65% of dementia risk is thought to be potentially non-modifiable. Source: Lancet Commission on dementia prevention, intervention and care "Although dementia is diagnosed in later life, the brain changes usually begin to develop years before," said lead author Prof Gill Livingston, from University College London. "Acting now will vastly improve life for people with dementia and their families and, in doing so, will transform the future of society." The report, which combines the work of 24 international experts, says lifestyle factors can play a major role in increasing or reducing an individual's dementia risk. It examines the benefits of building a "cognitive reserve", which means strengthening the brain's networks so it can continue to function in later life despite damage. Image caption Eve Laird is taking part in a study on how to prevent dementia © 2017 BBC

Keyword: Alzheimers
Link ID: 23856 - Posted: 07.21.2017

Ashley Yeager DNA might reveal how dogs became man’s best friend. A new study shows that some of the same genes linked to the behavior of extremely social people can also make dogs friendlier. The result, published July 19 in Science Advances, suggests that dogs’ domestication may be the result of just a few genetic changes rather than hundreds or thousands of them. “It is great to see initial genetic evidence supporting the self-domestication hypothesis or ‘survival of the friendliest,’” says evolutionary anthropologist Brian Hare of Duke University, who studies how dogs think and learn. “This is another piece of the puzzle suggesting that humans did not create dogs intentionally, but instead wolves that were friendliest toward humans were at an evolutionary advantage as our two species began to interact.” Not much is known about the underlying genetics of how dogs became domesticated. In 2010, evolutionary geneticist Bridgett vonHoldt of Princeton University and colleagues published a study comparing dogs’ and wolves’ DNA. The biggest genetic differences gave clues to why dogs and wolves don’t look the same. But major differences were also found in WBSCR17, a gene linked to Williams-Beuren syndrome in humans. Williams-Beuren syndrome leads to delayed development, impaired thinking ability and hypersociability. VonHoldt and colleagues wondered if changes to the same gene in dogs would make the animals more social than wolves, and whether that might have influenced dogs’ domestication. © Society for Science & the Public 2000 - 2017.

Keyword: Aggression; Genes & Behavior
Link ID: 23855 - Posted: 07.20.2017

How well cancer patients fared after chemotherapy was affected by their social interaction with other patients during treatment, according to a new study by researchers at the National Human Genome Research Institute (NHGRI), part of the National Institutes of Health, and the University of Oxford in the United Kingdom. Cancer patients were a little more likely to survive for five years or more after chemotherapy if they interacted during chemotherapy with other patients who also survived for five years or more. Patients were a little more likely to die in less than five years after chemotherapy when they interacted during chemotherapy with those who died in less than five years. The findings were published online July 12, 2017, in the journal Network Science. “People model behavior based on what’s around them,” Jeff Lienert, lead author in NHGRI’s Social and Behavioral Research Branch and a National Institutes of Health Oxford-Cambridge Scholars Program fellow. “For example, you will often eat more when you’re dining with friends, even if you can’t see what they’re eating. When you’re bicycling, you will often perform better when you’re cycling with others, regardless of their performance.” Lienert set out to see if the impact of social interaction extended to cancer patients undergoing chemotherapy. Joining this research effort were Lienert’s adviser, Felix Reed-Tsochas, Ph.D., at Oxford’s CABDyN Complexity Centre at the Saïd Business School, Laura Koehly, Ph.D., chief of NHGRI’s Social and Behavioral Research Branch, and Christopher Marcum, Ph.D., a staff scientist also in the Social and Behavioral Research Branch at NHGRI.

Keyword: Stress
Link ID: 23854 - Posted: 07.20.2017

By LISA SANDERS, M.D. The 35-year-old man lay on the bed with his eyes closed, motionless except for the regular jerking of his abdomen and chest — what is known medically as a singultus (from the Latin for ‘‘sob’’) but popularly and onomatopoeically as a hiccup. The man was exhausted. He couldn’t eat, could barely drink and hadn’t slept much since the hiccups began, nearly three weeks earlier. Unending Contractions At first it was just annoying — these spasms that interrupted his life every 10 to 12 seconds. Friends and family suggested remedies, and he tried them all: holding his breath, drinking cold water, drinking hot water, drinking out of the wrong side of the glass, drinking water while holding his nose. Sometimes they even worked for a while. He would find himself waiting for the next jerk, and when it didn’t come, he’d get this tiny sense of triumph that the ridiculous ordeal was over. But after 15 minutes, maybe 30, they would suddenly return: hiccup, hiccup, hiccup. His neck, stomach and chest muscles ached from the constant regular contractions. On this evening, the man had one of the all too rare breaks from the spasms and fell asleep. When his wife heard the regular sound start up again, she came into their bedroom to check on him. He looked awful — thin, tired and uncomfortable. And suddenly she was scared. They needed to go to the hospital, she told him. He was too weak, he told her, ‘‘and so very tired.’’ He would go, but first he’d rest. They had been to the emergency room several times already. During their first visit — nearly two weeks earlier — the doctors at the local hospital in their Queens neighborhood gave him a medication, chlorpromazine, an antipsychotic that has been shown to stop hiccups, though it’s not clear why. It was like a miracle; the rhythmic spasms stopped. But a few hours later, when the drug wore off, the hiccups returned. The couple went back a few days later because he started throwing up while hiccupping. Those doctors offered an acid reducer for his stomach and more chlorpromazine. They encouraged the man to have patience. Sometimes these things can last, they said. © 2017 The New York Times Company

Keyword: Miscellaneous
Link ID: 23853 - Posted: 07.20.2017

Xiaomeng (Mona) Xu, assistant professor of experimental psychology, and Ariana Tart-Zelvin, If you have experienced the evolution from having a crush to falling in love, it may seem like the transition happens naturally. But have you ever wondered how we make such a huge emotional leap? In other words, what changes take place in our brains that allow us to fall deeply in love? Stephanie Cacioppo, a psychologist at the University of Chicago who has studied the neuroscience of romantic love for the past decade, explains that the process involves several complex changes, particularly in the brain’s reward system. More specifically, in a 2012 review of the love research literature Lisa Diamond and Janna Dickenson, psychologists at the University of Utah, found romantic love is most consistently associated with activity in two brain regions—the ventral tegmental area (VTA) and the caudate nucleus. These areas play an essential role in our reward pathway and regulate the “feel good” neurotransmitter dopamine. In other words, during the early stages of love you crave the person because he or she makes you feel so good. And over time these feelings persist. Our neuroimaging research and that of others suggests that once you are in love—as long as the relationship remains satisfying—simply thinking about your partner not only makes you feel good but can also buffer against pain, stress and other negative feelings. © 2017 Scientific American,

Keyword: Emotions; Sexual Behavior
Link ID: 23852 - Posted: 07.20.2017

By Diana Kwon Using CRISPR, researchers have successfully treated congenital muscular dystrophy type 1A (MDC1A), a rare disease that can lead to severe muscle wasting and paralysis, in mice. The team was able to restore muscle function by correcting a splicing site mutation that causes the disorder, according to a study published today (July 17) in Nature Medicine. “Instead of inserting the corrected piece of information, we used CRISPR to cut DNA in two strategic places,” study coauthor Dwi Kemaladewi, a research fellow at the Hospital for Sick Children (Sick Kids) in Toronto, explains in a statement. “This tricked the two ends of the gene to come back together and create a normal splice site.” By targeting both the skeletal muscles and peripheral nerves, the team was able to improve the animals’ motor function and mobility. “This is important because the development of therapeutic strategies for muscular dystrophies have largely focused on improving the muscle conditions,” Kemaladewi says in the release. “Experts know the peripheral nerves are important, but the skeletal muscles have been perceived as the main culprit in MDC1A and have traditionally been the focus of treatment options.” “The robustness of the correction we see in animal models to me is very encouraging,” Amy Wagers, a biologist at Harvard University who was not involved in this study, tells the Toronto Star. © 1986-2017 The Scientist

Keyword: Muscles
Link ID: 23851 - Posted: 07.19.2017

By Jack Turban Fourteen-year-old Nicole, whose name I changed for her privacy, told her mother every day for years that she wanted to end her own life. Between suicide attempts were more psychiatric hospital visits than she or her mother could count. She refused to get out of bed, shower, or go to school, missing sixty school days in a single year. In one visit with her therapist, she admitted to praying every night that she would not wake up the next morning. After countless psychiatrists and psychotherapists were unable to improve her depression, her mother converted a bathroom cabinet into a locked safe, containing all of the sharp objects and pills in the house. Her parents were certain it was only a matter of time until Nicole killed herself. Today, a now seventeen-year-old Nicole greets me with a big smile. Her blonde hair is pulled back into a ponytail to reveal her bright blue eyes. She tells me she hasn’t missed a day of school and is preparing for college. Blushing, she lets me know that her first date is coming up, a prom date to be precise. For the first time in years, she is happy and wants to live. What happened to cause this dramatic change? In December, Nicole started infusions of a psychedelic drug called ketamine. Though she had failed to respond to endless medication trials for her depression (selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors, mirtazapine, topiramate, antipsychotics, and lithium to name just a few), ketamine cleared her depression within hours. The effect lasts about two weeks before she needs a new infusion. © 2017 Scientific America

Keyword: Depression; Development of the Brain
Link ID: 23850 - Posted: 07.19.2017

Laurel Hamers A common blood sugar medication or an extra dose of a thyroid hormone can reverse signs of cognitive damage in rats exposed in utero to alcohol. Both affect an enzyme that controls memory-related genes in the hippocampus, researchers report July 18 in Molecular Psychiatry. That insight might someday help scientists find an effective human treatment for fetal alcohol spectrum disorders, which can cause lifelong problems with concentration, learning and memory. “At this moment, there’s really no pharmaceutical therapy,” says R. Thomas Zoeller, a neurobiologist at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. Fetal alcohol syndrome disorders may affect up to 5 percent of U.S. kids, according to estimates from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Scientists don’t know exactly why alcohol has such a strong effect on developing brains. But the lower thyroid hormone levels commonly induced by alcohol exposure might be one explanation, suggests study coauthor Eva Redei, a psychiatrist at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine in Chicago. “The mother has to supply the thyroid hormones for brain development,” says Redei. So, pregnant women who drink might not be providing their fetuses with enough hormones for normal brain development. That could disrupt the developing hippocampus, a brain region involved in learning and memory. To counter alcohol’s effects, Redei and her colleagues gave doses of thyroxine, a thyroid hormone, to newborn rats that had been exposed to alcohol before birth. (That timing coincides developmentally with the third trimester of pregnancy in humans.) The amount of alcohol fed to the rat moms corresponded roughly to a woman drinking a glass or two of wine a day. |© Society for Science & the Public 2000 - 2017

Keyword: Drug Abuse; Development of the Brain
Link ID: 23849 - Posted: 07.19.2017