Chapter 5. Hormones and the Brain

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Emily Makowski Bruce McEwen, a neuroendocrinologist at Rockefeller University, died January 2 after a brief illness. He was 81 years old. McEwen is best known for his research on how stress hormones can reconfigure neural connections in the brain, according to a university statement. In 1968, McEwen and his colleagues discovered that the rat hippocampus is affected by the hormone cortisol, sparking further research into how hormones can enter the brain and affect mental functioning and mood. At the time, most scientists believed that the brain was not malleable after becoming fully developed, a line of thinking that McEwen’s research findings contradicted. In 1993, he coined the term allostatic load, which describes the physiological effects of chronic stress. With his wife, Karen Bulloch, a Rockefeller professor, he studied how immune cells in the brain increase during a person’s lifespan and can contribute to neurodegenerative disease. He also researched how sex hormones affect the central nervous system. Over the course of his career, which spanned six decades, McEwen received many accolades including the Pasarow Foundation award in neuropsychiatry, the Fondation Ipsen Neuronal Plasticity and Endocrine Regulation prizes, the Scolnick Prize in Neuroscience, and the William James Lifetime Achievement Award for Basic Research. He was a member of the National Academy of Sciences, the National Academy of Medicine, and the American Society of Arts and Sciences. “Bruce was a giant in the field of neuroendocrinology,” McEwen’s colleague Leslie Vosshall, a neuroscientist at Rockefeller, says in the statement. “He was a world leader in studying the impact of stress hormones on the brain, and led by example to show that great scientists can also be humble, gentle, and generous human beings.” © 1986–2020 The Scientist

Keyword: Stress; Hormones & Behavior
Link ID: 26942 - Posted: 01.09.2020

Nell Greenfieldboyce Shepherds in Christmas Nativity scenes that were painted, carved or sculpted hundreds of years ago sometimes have throats with large, abnormal growths. These are realistic depictions of goiter, an enlargement of the thyroid gland caused by iodine deficiency. The condition was common in those days in northern Italy, where the soil and water are depleted of iodine. "Goiter is more often seen in poor people," says retired surgeon Renzo Dionigi of the University of Insubria in Varese, Italy, who notes that the working classes in this region would historically not have a varied diet that might supply this vital nutrient. "That's why, probably, the poor shepherds are depicted with goiters," he says. He and his son, an endocrine surgeon named Gianlorenzo Dionigi, have for years enjoyed studying art and looking for signs of medical conditions. In the Sacri Monti ("Sacred Mountains") of Piedmont and Lombardy, they have visited chapels and churches created in the 16th and 17th centuries. "In all the Sacri Monti that I and my son visited, we have been able to observe representations of goiters very, very often," says the elder Dionigi. In one Nativity tableau from 1694, for example, a young horn player with a large goiter plays for the Holy Family. And in one fresco over the main door of the Aosta Cathedral, a shepherd with goiter plays his bagpipe for the newborn Jesus. © 2019 npr

Keyword: Hormones & Behavior
Link ID: 26913 - Posted: 12.26.2019

Nicola Slawson When Lynn Enright had a hysteroscopy to examine the inside of the womb, her searing pain was dismissed by medical professionals. She only understood why when she started working on her book on female anatomy, Vagina: A Re-education. She was looking for research on pain and women’s health, only to be shocked by how little data she found. It wasn’t just the topic of pain that was poorly researched. The lack of evidence was a problem she encountered time and time again, which is no surprise when you look at the research gap: less than 2.5% of publicly funded research is dedicated solely to reproductive health, despite the fact that one in three women in the UK will suffer from a reproductive or gynaecological health problem. There is five times more research into erectile dysfunction, which affects 19% of men, than into premenstrual syndrome, which affects 90% of women. “Women have been woefully neglected in studies on pain. Most of our understanding of ailments comes from the perspective of men; it is overwhelmingly based on studies of men, carried out by men,” Enright says. Her book is one of several in the past year about the female body and the impact a lack of knowledge can have on diagnosis and treatment. They include Emma Barnett’s Period, Eleanor Morgan’s Hormonal, and Gabrielle Jackson’s Pain and Prejudice, which draws on her experience of being diagnosed with endometriosis, a chronically underfunded condition. Given that in the US, which produces a lot of medical research, research trials weren’t required by the National Institutes of Health to include women until 1993, the lack of knowledge is perhaps no surprise. Traditionally this was justified by the idea that women’s bodies were seen to be too complex due to fluctuating hormones, so clinical trials often excluded them. © 2019 Guardian News & Media Limited

Keyword: Sexual Behavior; Hormones & Behavior
Link ID: 26898 - Posted: 12.18.2019

By Rachel E. Gross In the 1960s, manufacturers of the new birth-control pill imagined their ideal user as feminine, maternal and forgetful. She wanted discretion. She was married. And she wanted visible proof that her monthly cycle was normal and that she wasn’t pregnant. In 2019, the user of the pill is perceived as an altogether different person. She’s unwed, probably would prefer to skip her period and is more forthright about when it’s that time of the month. As such, many birth-control brands now come in brightly colored rectangular packs that make no effort to be concealed. But one part of the equation remains: the week of placebo pills, in which hormones are abruptly withdrawn and a woman experiences what looks and feels a lot like her regular period — blood, cramps and all — but isn’t. Physicians have widely described this pseudoperiod as medically unnecessary. So why do millions still endure it? That’s largely the legacy of two men: John Rock and David Wagner. First there’s Rock, a Harvard fertility expert and a developer of the pill. There’s a longstanding myth that Rock, a Catholic, designed the pill in the 1950s with the church in mind and included a week of hormonal withdrawal — and therefore bleeding — to make his invention seem more natural. In fact, the thought never crossed his mind, the Rutgers University historian Margaret Marsh says. Instead, it was Gregory (Goody) Pincus, the other developer of the pill, who suggested that the pill be given as a 20-days-on, 5-days-off regimen. Pincus wanted to provide women in his trials with reassurance that they weren’t pregnant, and to know himself that the pill was working as a contraceptive. Rock agreed. After the F.D.A. approved the pill in 1960, however, those few days of light bleeding took on a new significance. Anticipating the church’s opposition, Rock became not just a researcher but also an advocate. In his 1963 book “The Time Has Come: A Catholic Doctor’s Proposals to End the Battle Over Birth Control,” he argued that the pill was merely a scientific extension of the church-sanctioned “rhythm method.” It “completely mimics” the body’s own hormones, he wrote, to extend the “safe period” in which a woman could have intercourse and not become pregnant. © 2019 The New York Times Company

Keyword: Hormones & Behavior; Sexual Behavior
Link ID: 26892 - Posted: 12.12.2019

Andrew Anthony Katrina Karkazis, a senior research fellow at Yale University, is a cultural anthropologist working at the intersection of science, technology, gender studies and bioethics. With Rebecca Jordan-Young, a sociomedical scientist, she has written Testosterone: An Unauthorised Biography. It is a critique of both popular and scientific understandings of the hormone, and how they have been used to explain, or even defend, inequalities of power. You suggest that testosterone is understood as an exclusively male hormone, even though it’s also found in women. But surely no scientist believes this. No, what we’re saying is that the hormone has a century-long biography and identity that continues to be that of a male sex hormone. That language is used by authoritative sources in the US like the National Library of Medicine, but also in many media articles. It’s an argument that has to do with how the hormone is understood, which then shapes the kinds of research questions that get asked, what kinds of research get done or not done. There’s actually almost no research on the relationship between testosterone and aggression in women. That is a consequence of the framing of the hormone as having to do with men, masculinity, behaviours understood and framed as masculine. It’s the idea that because men generally have more testosterone, somehow that makes it more relevant in men. But the truth is we know very little about it. You write that testosterone’s authorised biography is about libido, aggression and masculinity. Does this mean that testosterone is not about these things? I think that it’s still very widely understood as the driver of all things masculine. When people think about testosterone, aggression is one of the first things that comes to mind. But when you look at the evidence, there’s not good evidence at all. In fact, it’s very weak regarding the relationship between endogenous testosterone [ie testosterone that originates within an organism] and aggression. So it’s an artefact of the ideology of testosterone that we continue to believe that it drives aggression, because aggression has been framed as a masculine behaviour and testosterone has been framed as a masculine hormone. © 2019 Guardian News & Media Limited

Keyword: Hormones & Behavior; Sexual Behavior
Link ID: 26883 - Posted: 12.09.2019

By Lisa Sanders, M.D. “Please find something wrong with me,” the 28-year-old woman pleaded. For nearly a year, she’d been looking for a reason for the strange symptoms that now dominated her life. Dr. Raphael Sung, a cardiologist specializing in finding and fixing abnormal heart rhythms at National Jewish Health hospital in Denver, was surprised by her reaction to the news that her heart was normal. Most patients are happy to get that report. For this patient, it seemed like just one more dead end. The patient’s symptoms started right after her baby was born 10 months earlier. Out of nowhere, her heart would start beating like crazy. At first, she assumed that these were anxiety attacks, triggered by the stress of bringing her premature daughter home. Her baby spent her first week of life in the newborn intensive care unit. When she was big enough to come home, she still weighed only four pounds, nine ounces. The new mother worried that without the doctors and nurses and equipment that had kept her alive, her tiny baby might die. But she didn’t. She seemed to thrive at home. Despite that, her mother’s heart continued to take off like a spooked horse several times a day. After a couple of weeks, her symptoms worsened. Sometimes her racing heart would set off terrible headaches, the worst she’d ever had. It was as if someone had thrust a sharp stick deep into her brain. The knife of pain quickly turned into a sense of pressure so intense it felt as if the back of her skull would blow off. Minutes later, she would feel the blood drain from her face; she’d be suddenly drenched in sweat. Her hands would curl into tight fists, and vomit would shoot out of her mouth like a geyser. Her husband joked (though only once) that she looked like the girl in “The Exorcist.” © 2019 The New York Times Company

Keyword: Hormones & Behavior
Link ID: 26767 - Posted: 10.30.2019

Zoë Corbyn At a time when women’s reproductive freedoms are under attack, any suggestion that the birth control pill could be problematic feels explosive. But Sarah E Hill, a professor of social psychology at the Texas Christian University in Fort Worth, Texas argues we need to talk about how oral contraceptives are affecting women’s thinking, emotions and behaviour. How the Pill Changes Everything: Your Brain on Birth Control is her new book about the science behind a delicate subject. Some US states have recently made it harder to get an abortion and the Trump administration is doing its best to chisel away at access to birth control. Is your book trying to dissuade women from using the pill? My institution was founded as a Christian school, but it doesn’t have a particular religious bent now. My goal with this book is not to take the pill away or alarm women. It is to give them information they haven’t had up until now so they can make informed decisions. The pill, along with safe, legalised abortions, are the two biggest keys to women’s rights. But we also have a blind spot when it comes to thinking about how changing women’s sex hormones – which is what the pill does – influences their brains. For a long time, women have been experiencing “psychological” side-effects on the pill but nobody was telling them why. The backlash we are seeing against the pill, particularly with millennial women walking away from it, I think is because women haven’t felt right on it and have grown weary of doctors patting them on their heads and telling them they are wrong. The more information women have, the more it will bring them back to the pill. © 2019 Guardian News & Media Limited

Keyword: Hormones & Behavior; Sexual Behavior
Link ID: 26723 - Posted: 10.19.2019

Hannah Devlin Science correspondent Boosting testosterone levels significantly improves female athletic performance, according to one of the first randomised controlled trials. The findings come as the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) announced on Monday it would impose an upper limit for testosterone levels on trans female athletes competing in middle-distance events. Testosterone was assumed to be performance-enhancing and a factor in explaining differences in strength and endurance between men and women. However, there was a surprising lack of evidence on the impact of testosterone in women and the question had become mired in controversy following a series of rulings in professional sport. The latest research confirmed that testosterone significantly increases endurance and lean muscle mass among young women, even when given for a relatively short period. Angelica Hirschberg, a gynaecologist for the Swedish Olympic Committee based at Karolinska University Hospital and the study’s first author, said the results were the first to show a causal effect of testosterone on physical performance in women. “This has not been demonstrated previously because most studies have been performed in men,” she said. “Furthermore, the study shows the magnitude of performance enhancement by testosterone. Testosterone levels increased more than four times but were still much below the male range. The improvement in endurance performance by the increased testosterone levels was more than 8% – this is a huge effect in sports.” © 2019 Guardian News & Media Limited

Keyword: Hormones & Behavior; Sexual Behavior
Link ID: 26706 - Posted: 10.16.2019

By Emily Underwood Adrenaline. The word is synonymous with any activity that gets our blood racing, whether it be encountering a rattlesnake or watching the latest horror movie. But a new study reveals that when it comes with our body’s stress response, adrenaline may be less important than another hormone, one that seeps out of our bones. Our skeleton is much more than a rigid scaffold for the body, says geneticist Gérard Karsenty of Columbia University. Our bones secrete a protein called osteocalcin, discovered in the 1970s, that rebuilds the skeleton. In 2007, Karsenty and colleagues discovered that this protein acts as a hormone to keep blood sugar levels in check and burn fat. Later, his group showed that the hormone is important for maintaining brain function and physical fitness, restoring memory in aged mice and boosting performance during exercise in old mice and people. The findings led Karsenty to hypothesize that animals evolved bony skeletons to escape danger. The new study furthers that argument. Karsenty and colleagues exposed mice to several stressors, including a mild electric shock to the foot and a whiff of fox urine, a scent that triggers an innate fear response. Then, the researchers measured the osteocalcin in the animals’ blood. Within 2 to 3 minutes of being exposed to a stressor, levels of osteocalcin in the mice quadrupled, the team reports today in Cell Metabolism. A classic stressor in people had a similar effect: When the researchers asked volunteers to speak in front of an audience, osteocalcin levels also spiked. © 2019 American Association for the Advancement of Science

Keyword: Hormones & Behavior; Stress
Link ID: 26609 - Posted: 09.13.2019

By Roni Dengler | Testosterone often gets a bad rap. The hormone responsible for male sexual development has been linked in studies to aggression and a lack of empathy. People with autism – a developmental condition that can lead to anxiety and trouble interacting with others – also have a hard time empathizing. Since the condition is four times more common in boys than girls, scientists once thought testosterone might reduce our ability to tell how others are feeling. But now, researchers find that’s not the case. “Of course, the primary suspect when we have something that is sharply differentiated by sex is testosterone,” University of Pennsylvania marketing professor Gideon Nave, who led the work, said in a press release. In the new study, Nave and colleagues report men given extra testosterone were able to read emotions just as well as those with typical hormone levels. The findings contrast a prevailing hypothesis that testosterone challenges men’s ability to empathize. Emotional Eyes In previous studies, other scientists tested whether testosterone influences empathy. They gave a few dozen women testosterone and then tested their ability to infer emotions by looking at pictures of people’s eyes. The studies concluded the testosterone lowered the women’s ability to empathize. The findings lent support for what’s known as the “extreme male brain hypothesis.” The hypothesis posits that men and women process and experience the world differently – women empathize and men systemize. Another study linking prenatal testosterone levels to autism added weight to the hypothesis.

Keyword: Hormones & Behavior; Emotions
Link ID: 26603 - Posted: 09.12.2019

Briar Stewart · A Canadian-born researcher is helping to launch the first substantial study of transgender athletes in a bid to better understand how transitioning and hormone therapy affects athletic performance. The issue of how to include transgender women in competition is centred around rules, rights and biological differences. And the debate about what constitutes an unfair advantage is heated, which is why medical physicist Joanna Harper hopes science can steer the conversation. "Until we have several of these larger-scale studies done worldwide, it's hard to be truly definitive on anything," she said. Harper, who is also an adviser to the International Olympic Committee (IOC), will be moving to the U.K. this fall to help lead the research into transgender athletes. The work will be carried out at Loughborough University, through its School of Sport, Exercise and Health Sciences. Personal motivation It was Harper's own experience that motivated her to try and track transgender athletes both before and after a gender transition. Harper, who is originally from Parry Sound, Ont, but is now based in Portland, Ore., has been a competitive runner for decades. When she was younger and racing as a male, her marathon time was a very quick two hours and 23 minutes. But once she started her transition in 2004 and began taking testosterone blockers and estrogen, her pace slowed. "Within nine months of hormone therapy, I was running 12 per cent slower," she said. "That's the difference between serious male distance runners and serious female distance runners." Harper, now in her 60s, still competes, racing alongside women. She wins some events and loses others, which is why she asserts that if trans women can become hormonally like other women, competition can be "equitable and meaningful." ©2019 CBC/Radio-Canada.

Keyword: Hormones & Behavior; Sexual Behavior
Link ID: 26444 - Posted: 07.24.2019

Researchers at the University of Waterloo say they have developed a new, "kid-friendly" way of diagnosing autism in young children. It uses infrared technology to read the way a child's eyes move as they process the features of a person's face. "A neuro-typical child will spend a whole lot more time looking at the person's — or the face's — eye," Anita Layton, a professor of applied mathematics, pharmacy and biology, told CBC Kitchener-Waterloo. "A [child with autism] will look at the mouth a lot more." Layton and her team developed the technique by showing a group of 40 children 44 photographs on a screen connected to their eye-tracking device. The children were all around 5 years old. Seventeen had been previously diagnosed as on the spectrum, the other 23 were considered neuro-typical. The difference in eye tracking has been well documented, Layton said. Her team found a way to turn that difference into a diagnostic tool that works well for young children and even non-verbal kids on the more complicated end of the spectrum. Right now, the two most popular ways of diagnosing Autism Spectrum Disorder are by having the child or parent fill out a comprehensive questionnaire, or have the child evaluated by a psychologist. "It's not easy for a child. Imagine a four or five-year-old child, neuro-typical or [autistic] to sit there for a long time, to answer your questions. That simply is no fun for a kid," Layton said. The eye-tracking test, on the other hand, can be done in just a few minutes. ©2019 CBC/Radio-Canada

Keyword: Autism; Vision
Link ID: 26419 - Posted: 07.15.2019

Bethany Brookshire When researchers release a new finding about the brain, it’s often mice or rats who have run the mazes and taken the tests for science. People might wonder: Are rodents good substitutes for humans? Maybe for men, but what about women? That’s less likely, because most neuroscience experiments don’t use female rodents — a fact one scientist says comes from outdated ideas that should go into the scientific dustbin. For years, many scientists have dismissed female rodents as too variable to use in the lab, with tricky hormone surges that can affect behavior and compromise study results. In 2009, male lab mammals in neuroscience studies outnumbered females 5.5 to 1, according to a 2011 study in Neuroscience & Biobehavioral Reviews. “The idea that women are primarily driven by ovarian hormones [was] a narrative put in place intentionally in the Victorian era,” says Rebecca Shansky, a neuroscientist at Northeastern University in Boston. “That has also infiltrated the way we think about female animals” in science. Male animals can be just as “hormonal” as their female counterparts, Shansky argues in an essay published May 31 in Science, and it’s time that both sexes got equal attention in the lab. Here are five things to know about the issue of sex in the study of rodent brains. In humans, reproductive hormones such as estrogen and progesterone ebb and flow over a roughly 28-day cycle. In rodents, that cycle is compressed to four or five days. Estrogen or progesterone levels on one day could be up to four times as much as on the day before. |© Society for Science & the Public 2000 - 2019

Keyword: Sexual Behavior; Hormones & Behavior
Link ID: 26342 - Posted: 06.20.2019

By Lisa Feldman Barrett My husband found me sobbing on the kitchen floor. My job was in upheaval, my travel schedule was grueling, and with two hours left before my next departure, I’d discovered that my laptop was dead. This was the moment my husband walked in to console me, and in an impressive feat of bad timing, he also asked whether I was premenstrual. I went from sobbing to supernova in about two seconds, enraged by his presumption that surging female hormones were responsible for my emotional distress. The only thing that saved him was that, a few days later, I discovered that he’d been right. I am a scientist who studies the nature of emotions. For most of my scientific career, I didn’t believe that women systematically had emotional eruptions right before their period, even though I experienced them occasionally. Studies suggested that women who believe in premenstrual syndrome, when asked about it in retrospect, tend to misremember the symptoms as more severe than they were. The evidence for PMS overall was inconsistent. Certainly, I knew of no neurological reason that women should feel, just before their period, that the world was crashing down on them. My doubt was also political in nature. During my clinical internship over 20 years ago, my boss, a psychiatrist, asked me to research how PMS prevents women from thinking clearly. I told him he was a relic of the Stone Age. Women were as consistently clearheaded as men, if not more so. But recently, a researcher in my lab, Joe Andreano, an expert on female hormones, showed me some surprising data. As a woman’s levels of progesterone and estrogen vary, so does the connectivity between two brain networks: the default mode network and the salience network. These networks play key roles in creating your emotional life. If I hadn’t seen the data with my own eyes, I wouldn’t have believed it. © 2019 The New York Times Company

Keyword: Hormones & Behavior; Sexual Behavior
Link ID: 26317 - Posted: 06.10.2019

By Mitch Leslie If papers published in the past 6 months are right, a single number is enough to show whether people are likely to suffer a premature heart attack, land first authorship on published papers, become dependent on alcohol, or put on fat around the middle. That magic number is the ratio between the lengths of the second and fourth fingers, known as the 2D:4D ratio. It tends to be lower in men—meaning their fourth fingers tend to be longer than their second—than in women. Researchers who believe in its predictive power say it reflects a fetus's exposure to testosterone and other hormones that guide development, including that of the brain. The idea that the lengths of human fingers reveal so much stems from the work of evolutionary biologist John Manning, now at Swansea University in the United Kingdom. But the field he inspired has ballooned beyond what he could have imagined. More than 1400 papers in just over 20 years have linked the finger ratio to attributes such as personality, cognitive abilities, and sexual orientation as well as to risk of illnesses such as cardiovascular disease, cancer, and amyotrophic lateral sclerosis. Researchers have even tried to use ratios gleaned from stenciled handprints on cave walls to determine whether the artists behind ancient paintings were men or women. But the notion has also riled plenty of critics, who argue that researchers who rely on the 2D:4D comparison have been seduced by a simplistic, faulty measure. Some doubters contend that the difference in ratios between the sexes is an illusion resulting from men's larger hands or that the measure itself is statistically problematic. "I'm skeptical about every single finding involving that ratio," says physiologist and biostatistician Douglas Curran-Everett of National Jewish Health in Denver. © 2019 American Association for the Advancement of Science

Keyword: Sexual Behavior; Hormones & Behavior
Link ID: 26311 - Posted: 06.07.2019

By Aiyana Bailin To my dismay, Simon Baron-Cohen’s recent article “The Concept of Neurodiversity is Dividing the Autism Community” perpetuates a common misunderstanding of the neurodiversity movement: that it views autism as a difference but not a disability. Baron-Cohen presents the issue as one of opposing sides: the medical model, which sees autism as a set of symptoms and deficits to be cured or treated, and the neurodiversity model, which he believes ignores any disabling aspects of autism. Unfortunately, this confuses the neurodiversity movement with the social model of disability, and it is an incomplete understanding of the social model at that. Before I go into details, let me summarize what the neurodiversity movement does believe: Autism and other neurological variations (learning disabilities, ADHD, etc.) may be disabilities, but they are not flaws. People with neurological differences are not broken or incomplete versions of normal people. Disability, no matter how profound, does not diminish personhood. People with atypical brains are fully human, with inalienable human rights, just like everyone else. People with disabilities can live rich, meaningful lives. Neurological variations are a vital part of humanity, as much as variations in size, shape, skin color and personality. None of us has the right (or the wisdom) to try and improve upon our species by deciding which characteristics to keep and which to discard. Every person is valuable. Disability is a complicated thing. Often, it’s defined more by society’s expectations than by individual conditions. Not always, but often. © 2019 Scientific American

Keyword: Autism
Link ID: 26310 - Posted: 06.07.2019

By Marisa Iati A bill in Alabama awaiting the governor’s signature would require people convicted of certain sex offenses to undergo “chemical castration” as a condition of parole — a requirement meant to keep perpetrators from committing similar crimes. The proposed law, passed by the state legislature, says a judge must order anyone convicted of a sex offense involving a child under the age of 13 to start receiving testosterone-inhibiting medication a month before their release from prison. Most offenders would have to pay for their treatment, which would be administered by the Department of Public Health, until a judge decides the medication is no longer necessary. Under the proposed law, a judge — and not a doctor — would tell the offender about the effects of the treatment. An offender could choose to stop getting the medication and return to prison to serve the remainder of their term. Anyone who stopped receiving the castration treatment without approval would be considered guilty of a Class C felony, punishable under Alabama law by up to 10 years in prison and a fine of up to $15,000. “Chemical castration” is a misnomer, as the process leaves the testes intact, can be reversed and does not prevent a man from reproducing. It does not guarantee a man’s sexual urge will be eliminated. (There’s no consensus on whether chemical castration would be effective for women.) © 1996-2019 The Washington Post

Keyword: Sexual Behavior; Aggression
Link ID: 26304 - Posted: 06.06.2019

by C.L. Lynch Everyone knows that autism is a spectrum. People bring it up all the time. “My son is on the severe end of the autism spectrum.” “We’re all a little autistic– it’s a spectrum.” “I’m not autistic but I’m definitely ‘on the spectrum.'” If only people knew what a spectrum is… because they are talking about autism all wrong. Let’s use the visible spectrum as an example. As you can see, the various parts of the spectrum are noticeably different from each other. Blue looks very different from red, but they are both on the visible light spectrum. Red is not “more blue” than blue is. Red is not “more spectrum” than blue is. When people discuss colours, they don’t talk about how “far along” the spectrum a colour is. They don’t say “my walls are on the high end of the spectrum” or “I look best in colours that are on the low end of the spectrum.” But when people talk about autism they talk as if it were a gradient, not a spectrum at all. People think you can be “a little autistic” or “extremely autistic,” the way a paint colour could be a little red or extremely red. An image of a colour gradient moving from white to red. The lightest zone is labelled How people think the spectrum looks But autism isn’t that simple. Autism isn’t a set of defined symptoms that collectively worsen as you move “up” the spectrum.

Keyword: Autism
Link ID: 26254 - Posted: 05.21.2019

Ruth Williams Sequencing the nuclear RNA of more than 100,000 individual postmortem brain cells from people with and without autism spectrum disorder indicates the types of genes dysregulated in the condition and the types of cells in which such dysregulation occurs. The results, reported in Science today (May 16), help narrow the focus of future ASD studies to the most likely molecular and cellular anomalies, say researchers. “It’s using the latest technology, it’s looking at the single cell level, and it validates and extends previous observations,” says autism researcher Daniel Geschwind of the University of California, Los Angeles, who was not involved in the research. “It takes the previous work and brings it to a level of resolution that we didn’t have before.” “This was an experiment that needed to be done,” adds geneticist Stephan Sanders of the University of California, San Francisco, writing in an email to The Scientist. “At the tissue level, it broadly replicates previous data in autism. Then, [it] provides a first look at which cell types are responsible for the differences.” ASD, which currently affects somewhere around 1 in 60 children in the United States, includes a broad range of conditions that are characterized by an impaired ability to communicate and interact socially. The heterogeneous nature of ASD has made studies of its molecular pathology difficult. Nevertheless, gene expression studies carried out on postmortem brain tissue from ASD patients have pointed to commonly affected pathways, including synapse function, says Dmitry Velmeshev, an author of the study and postdoc in the lab of neurologist Arnold Kriegstein, also an author. © 1986–2019 The Scientist

Keyword: Autism
Link ID: 26245 - Posted: 05.18.2019

By Jessica Wright, Clinicians can reliably diagnose autism in some toddlers roughly two years earlier than the typical age of diagnosis, a new study suggests. The researchers assessed more than 1,200 toddlers for autism at least twice using standard diagnostic tools. They diagnosed roughly one in three with the condition by age 2; 84 percent of these toddlers retained the label at their last visit, which was at age 3 on average. The finding suggests clinicians should take autism traits in toddlers seriously, says co-lead researcher Karen Pierce, professor of neurosciences at the University of California, San Diego. “If children meet criteria and they do show signs and symptoms, don’t wait; let’s get them the help and the treatment that they need,” Pierce says. Experts are divided on whether autism can reliably be diagnosed before age 3. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends screening for autism starting at 18 months. However, the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force—a government panel that makes recommendations about preventive medicine—has said there is insufficient evidence to recommend universal screening before 3. The new study suggests that early screening and diagnosis may benefit some proportion of children: It indicates that some toddlers are likely to have clear enough signs of autism to warrant a diagnosis before 2 years of age, says Zachary Warren, associate professor of pediatrics, psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tennessee. “The study shows that well-trained, expert teams evaluating young kids with autism are able to pick up concerns at fairly young ages for some kids,” says Warren, who was not involved in the work. “It’s an interesting and creative approach to understanding screening and diagnosis.” © 2019 Scientific American

Keyword: Autism
Link ID: 26243 - Posted: 05.17.2019