Chapter 7. Life-Span Development of the Brain and Behavior

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By Jon Cohen Until now, researchers wanting to understand the Neanderthal brain and how it differed from our own had to study a void. The best insights into the neurology of our mysterious, extinct relatives came from analyzing the shape and volume of the spaces inside their fossilized skulls. But a recent marriage of three hot fields—ancient DNA, the genome editor CRISPR, and "organoids" built from stem cells—offers a provocative, if very preliminary, new option. At least two research teams are engineering stem cells to include Neanderthal genes and growing them into "minibrains" that reflect the influence of that ancient DNA. None of this work has been published, but Alysson Muotri, a geneticist at the University of California, San Diego (UCSD) School of Medicine, described his group's Neanderthal organoids for the first time this month at a UCSD conference called Imagination and Human Evolution. His team has coaxed stem cells endowed with Neanderthal DNA into pea-size masses that mimic the cortex, the outer layer of real brains. Compared with cortical minibrains made with typical human cells, the Neanderthal organoids have a different shape and differences in their neuronal networks, including some that may have influenced the species's ability to socialize. "We're trying to recreate Neanderthal minds," Muotri says. Muotri focused on one of approximately 200 protein-coding genes that differ between Neanderthals and modern humans. Known as NOVA1, it plays a role in early brain development in modern humans and also is linked to autism and schizophrenia. Because it controls splicing of RNA from other genes, it likely helped produce more than 100 novel brain proteins in Neanderthals. Conveniently, just one DNA base pair differs between the Neanderthal gene and the modern human one. © 2018 American Association for the Advancement of Science.

Keyword: Development of the Brain; Evolution
Link ID: 25116 - Posted: 06.21.2018

By Sara Goudarzi The presidents of the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine issued a statement Wednesday advocating for the U.S. Department of Homeland Security to stop separating migrant families. The statement cites research that indicates endangerment of those involved. Last week the American Psychological Association released a letter opposing the Trump administration’s policy of taking immigrant children from their parents at the border. Under the zero-tolerance immigration policy, since May more than 2,300 immigrant children—some of them babies—have been forcibly separated from their parents attempting to enter the U.S. from Mexico. Also Wednesday, as the backlash and public outcry continue to grow, Pres. Donald Trump said he would sign an executive order to stop separating families at the order. It was unclear when children already separated might be reunited with their families. But even if reunited soon, medical experts say the effects of separation can potentially last a lifetime. Scientific American spoke with Alan Shapiro, assistant clinical professor in pediatrics at Albert Einstein College of Medicine, about the effects of separation trauma and other health and mental consequences of breaking up families. Shapiro is also senior medical director for Community Pediatric Programs (CPP), a collaboration between the Children’s Hospital at Montefiore in New York City and the Children’s Health Fund, and medical director and co-founder of Terra Firma, a partnership that provides medical and legal services to immigrant children. © 2018 Scientific American

Keyword: Development of the Brain
Link ID: 25115 - Posted: 06.21.2018

Cassandra Willyard One of the earliest attempts to estimate the number of genes in the human genome involved tipsy geneticists, a bar in Cold Spring Harbor, New York, and pure guesswork. That was in 2000, when a draft human genome sequence was still in the works; geneticists were running a sweepstake on how many genes humans have, and wagers ranged from tens of thousands to hundreds of thousands. Almost two decades later, scientists armed with real data still can’t agree on the number — a knowledge gap that they say hampers efforts to spot disease-related mutations. The latest attempt to plug that gap uses data from hundreds of human tissue samples and was posted on the BioRxiv preprint server on 29 May1. It includes almost 5,000 genes that haven’t previously been spotted — among them nearly 1,200 that carry instructions for making proteins. And the overall tally of more than 21,000 protein-coding genes is a substantial jump from previous estimates, which put the figure at around 20,000. But many geneticists aren’t yet convinced that all the newly proposed genes will stand up to close scrutiny. Their criticisms underscore just how difficult it is to identify new genes, or even define what a gene is. “People have been working hard at this for 20 years, and we still don’t have the answer,” says Steven Salzberg, a computational biologist at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, Maryland, whose team produced the latest count. © 2018 Macmillan Publishers Limited

Keyword: Genes & Behavior
Link ID: 25106 - Posted: 06.20.2018

Chris Benderev Stephanie and Natalie enrolled their older son in sessions at a Brain Balance Achievement Center in the hope that it would help him make friends. Hokyoung Kim for NPR Some parents see it coming. Natalie was not that kind of parent. Even after the director and a teacher at her older son's day care sat her down one afternoon in 2011 to detail the 3-year-old's difficulty socializing and his tendency to chatter endlessly about topics his peers showed no interest in, she still didn't get the message. Her son, the two educators eventually spelled out, might be on the autism spectrum. "I was in tears at the end," she says. "When I got home, I was just devastated." Natalie broke the news to her wife, Stephanie, whose mind fast-forwarded to a distressing future. Would her son — a squat, cheerful boy who, despite his affectionate nature, didn't have any playmates — ever be able to make friends? When a doctor eventually confirmed he had an autism spectrum disorder, the diagnosis came with a suggestion: Perhaps the boy would benefit from Prozac when he turned 7. "That was when both of us fell apart in that meeting," Natalie says. For both parents, medication wasn't an option. Article continues after sponsorship "Prozac is a very powerful drug for adults. Why would you give it to a 7-year-old?" Stephanie wondered after the doctor's visit. "I welled up with all of this emotion. And I said I will not let that happen." (To protect their privacy, we are only using Natalie's and Stephanie's first names. We are not naming their children.) The fear of psychotropic drugs led the family to pursue alternative treatments for autism. To start, they dropped gluten. © 2018 npr

Keyword: ADHD; Autism
Link ID: 25104 - Posted: 06.19.2018

By Jessica Wright, Spectrum o Young people with autism have more psychiatric and medical conditions than do their typical peers or those with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), a new study suggests. The early onset of these problems suggests they do not stem solely from a lifetime of poor healthcare, says lead researcher Lisa Croen, director of the Autism Research Program at Kaiser Permanente, a managed healthcare provider based in California. “One possible explanation is that there’s something physiologic or genetic that’s underlying not only what falls into the definition of autism, but also physical health and, more broadly, mental health,” she says. Some of the problems in young people with autism, such as obesity, may be related to poor diet, medication use and limited physical activity, says Alice Kuo, associate professor of internal medicine and pediatrics at the University of California, Los Angeles, who was not involved in the study. Several studies have documented the co-occurrence of psychiatric and medical conditions in people with autism. Croen’s team published a similar analysis in 2015 of adults with autism aged 18 to 74. (The oldest control was 92.) © 2018 Scientific American

Keyword: Autism
Link ID: 25100 - Posted: 06.18.2018

by Judith Graham You’ve turned 65 and exited middle age. What are the chances you’ll develop cognitive impairment or dementia in the years ahead? New research about “cognitive life expectancy” — how long older adults live with good vs. declining brain health — shows that after age 65, men and women spend more than a dozen years in good cognitive health, on average. And, over the past decade, that time span has been expanding. By contrast, cognitive challenges arise in a more compressed time frame in later life, with mild cognitive impairment (problems with memory, decision-making or thinking skills) lasting about four years, on average, and dementia (Alzheimer’s disease or other related conditions) occurring over 1½ to two years. Even when these conditions surface, many seniors retain an overall sense of well-being, according to new research presented in April at the Population Association of America’s annual meeting. “The majority of cognitively impaired years are happy ones, not unhappy ones,” said Anthony Bardo, a co-author of that study and an assistant professor of sociology at the University of Kentucky at Lexington. Recent research finds that: Most seniors don’t have cognitive impairment or dementia. Of Americans 65 and older, about 20 to 25 percent have mild cognitive impairment while about 10 percent have dementia, according to Kenneth Langa, an expert in the demography of aging and a professor of medicine at the University of Michigan. Risks rise with advanced age, and the portion of the population affected is significantly higher for people older than 85. © 1996-2018 The Washington Post

Keyword: Alzheimers
Link ID: 25099 - Posted: 06.18.2018

By Jan Hoffman One in seven high school students reported misusing prescription opioids, one of several disturbing results in a nationwide survey of teenagers that revealed a growing sense of fear and despair among youth in the United States. The numbers of teenagers reporting “feelings of sadness or hopelessness,” suicidal thoughts, and days absent from school out of fear of violence or bullying have all risen since 2007. The increases were particularly pointed among lesbian, gay and bisexual high school students. Nationally, 1 in 5 students reported being bullied at school; 1 in 10 female students and 1 in 28 male students reported having been physically forced to have sex. “An adolescent’s world can be bleak,” said Dr. Jonathan Mermin, an official with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which conducted the survey and analyzed the data. “But having a high proportion of students report they had persistent feelings of hopelessness and 17 percent considering suicide is deeply disturbing.” In 2017, 31 percent of students surveyed said they had such feelings, while 28 percent said so in 2007. In 2017, nearly 14 percent of students had actually made a suicide plan, up from 11 percent in 2007. The Youth Risk Behavior Survey is given every two years to nearly 15,000 students in high schools in 39 states, and poses questions about a wide array of attitudes and activities. The report did offer some encouraging trends, suggesting that the overall picture for adolescents is a nuanced one. Compared to a decade ago, fewer students reported having had sex, drinking alcohol or using drugs like cocaine, heroin or marijuana. © 2018 The New York Times Company

Keyword: Development of the Brain; Depression
Link ID: 25098 - Posted: 06.18.2018

Darby Saxbe Flinching as a gunshot whizzes past your window. Covering your ears when a police car races down your street, sirens blaring. Walking past a drug deal on your block or a beating at your school. For kids living in picket-fence suburbia, these experiences might be rare. But for their peers in urban poverty, they are all too commonplace. More than half of children and adolescents living in cities have experienced some form of community violence – acts of disturbance or crime, such as drug use, beatings, shootings, stabbings and break-ins, within their neighborhoods or schools. Researchers know from decades of work that exposure to community violence can lead to emotional, social and cognitive problems. Kids might have difficulty regulating emotions, paying attention or concentrating at school. Over time, kids living with the stress of community violence may become less engaged in school, withdraw from friends or show symptoms of post-traumatic stress, like irritability and intrusive thoughts. In short, living in an unsafe community can have a corrosive effect on child development. Few studies, though, have specifically looked at the toll community violence may take on the growing brain. Recently, I studied this question in collaboration with a team of researchers here at the University of Southern California. Our goal: to see whether individuals exposed to more community violence in their early teen years would show differences in the structure and function of their brains in late adolescence. © 2010–2018, The Conversation US, Inc.

Keyword: Aggression; Development of the Brain
Link ID: 25087 - Posted: 06.14.2018

By Hannah Furfaro, Spectrum Boys with autism have smaller heads, are shorter and weigh less at birth than their typical peers do—but all that changes by age 3, a new study suggests. The new work is among the first to link autism to rapid skeletal growth. “Mapping physical growth as well as growth in head circumference is really important because it implicates a lot of other mechanisms that might be involved, not just the brain,” says Cheryl Dissanayake, professor of developmental psychology at La Trobe University in Melbourne, Australia, who co-led the work. Advertisement The findings hint that children with autism are smaller in utero, but their growth then accelerates: They catch up and surpass typical children in height and head size between birth and age 3. The results from the new study contrast with those from a 2014 report that found no difference in the rate of head or body growth between infants at risk for autism and controls. But many other studies have found differences in head size in children and adolescents with autism. “It’s now quite clear that growth dysregulation is a key and important phenomenon in autism,” says Eric Courchesne, co-director of the Autism Center of Excellence at the University of California, San Diego, who was not involved in the research. Growth spurt: The researchers reviewed growth charts for 135 boys with autism and 74 typical boys who live in Victoria, Australia. (They excluded children taking medications that affect growth and those born prematurely.) © 2018 Scientific American

Keyword: Autism; Development of the Brain
Link ID: 25078 - Posted: 06.11.2018

By Clyde Haberman For nine frustrating years, Lesley and John Brown tried to conceive a child but failed because of her blocked fallopian tubes. Then in late 1977, this English couple put their hopes in the hands of two men of science. Thus began their leap into the unknown, and into history. On July 25, 1978, the Browns got what they had long wished for with the arrival of a daughter, Louise, a baby like no other the world had seen. She came into being through a process of in vitro fertilization developed by Robert G. Edwards and Patrick Steptoe. Her father’s sperm was mixed with her mother’s egg in a petri dish, and the resulting embryo was then implanted into the womb for normal development. Louise was widely, glibly and incorrectly called a “test-tube baby.” The label was enough to throw millions of people into a moral panic, for it filled them with visions of Dr. Frankenstein playing God and throwing the natural order of the universe out of kilter. The reality proved far more benign, maybe best captured by Grace MacDonald, a Scottish woman who in January 1979 gave birth to the second in vitro baby, a boy named Alastair. Nothing unethical was at work, she told the BBC in 2003. “It’s just nature being given a helping hand.” In this installment of its video documentaries, Retro Report explores how major news stories of the past shape current events by harking back to Louise Brown’s birth. If anything, more modern developments in genetics have raised the moral, ethical and political stakes. But the fundamental questions are essentially what they were in the 1970s with the advent of in vitro fertilization: Are these welcome advances that can only benefit civilization? Or are they incursions into an unholy realm, one of “designer babies,” with potentially frightening consequences? In vitro fertilization, or I.V.F., is by now broadly accepted, though it still has objectors, including the Roman Catholic Church. Worldwide, the procedure has produced an estimated six million babies, and is believed to account for 3 percent of all live births in some developed countries. Designer-baby fears have proved in the main to be “overblown,” said Dr. Paula Amato, a professor of obstetrics and gynecology at Oregon Health & Science University in Portland. “We have not seen it with I.V.F. in general,” she told Retro Report. “We have not seen it with P.G.D.” © 2018 The New York Times Company

Keyword: Development of the Brain; Genes & Behavior
Link ID: 25077 - Posted: 06.11.2018

by Anthea Rowan When Mike Shooter was in medical school, he suffered the first of what he calls “thunderous depressions.” More followed. Shooter’s efforts to come to grips with these experiences has made him acutely aware of what young people with mental-health problems endure and forged his career as a preeminent child psychiatrist in England. He was the first such specialist to be elected president of the Royal College of Psychiatrists, a position he held from 2002 to 2005. Recently he published “Growing Pains,” which is based on 40 years of working with young people. The book explains why it’s imperative to differentiate between depression and the ordinary but often intense difficulties some children face. He recently spoke with The Washington Post on these issues. This transcript was edited for clarity and length. Q: Do you think young people are more vulnerable to mental illness now? A: Research suggests that the United Kingdom is the least happy place for a child to be brought up in the Western world; America cannot be far behind. Some of this could be attributed to the grinding effect of poverty. But not all: The frenetic competition, in school, in the scramble for jobs, in peer-group relationships, means many children fall off the bottom of the ladder of competition and feel as if they’ve failed. Or are so unsure of their own worth that they sit up all night searching for “likes” on social media in lieu of proper friendships. But it’s not all bad news. There is currently much research into resilience: what enables some children to cope while others do not. I know from experience that there is one thing that can make all the difference: a relationship with an adult close enough to them, that supports them, listens to their distress and treats them as worthwhile. That person could be a relative, a family friend, a teacher or, dare I say it, a child psychiatrist. © 1996-2018 The Washington Post

Keyword: Depression; Development of the Brain
Link ID: 25074 - Posted: 06.11.2018

Aimee Cunningham American kids with food allergies are more than twice as likely to have autism spectrum disorder as kids without, a study of national health data finds. The population-based finding adds to experimental evidence that there may be a connection between false steps or overreactions by the immune system and the neurodevelopmental disorder. Researchers looked only for an association between allergies and autism spectrum disorder, or ASD, among a total of 199,520 children ages 3 to 17 surveyed from 1997 to 2016 as part of the U.S. National Health Interview Survey. The study was not designed to discover what may be behind the link. The team found that, out of 1,868 children with autism, 216 had a food allergy — or about 11 percent. By comparison, only about 4 percent of children without autism had a food allergy, the researchers report online June 8 in JAMA Network Open. Kids with autism were also more likely to have respiratory or skin allergies like eczema than kids without autism. The number of children with autism has more than doubled since 2000, to a prevalence of 16.8 per 1,000 kids. Meanwhile, the number of kids with food allergies rose from 3.4 percent in 1997–1999 to 5.1 percent in 2009–2011. It is unknown whether developing food allergies may contribute to the development of autism, or vice versa, or if something else is causing both, says study coauthor and epidemiologist Wei Bao of the University of Iowa’s College of Public Health in Iowa City. “The causes of ASD remain unclear,” he says. |© Society for Science & the Public 2000 - 2018.

Keyword: Autism; Neuroimmunology
Link ID: 25072 - Posted: 06.09.2018

/ By Michael Schulson Biswaroop Roy Chowdhury is an Indian engineer with, he says, an honorary Ph.D. in diabetes science from Alliance International University, a school in Zambia that bears many of the hallmarks of an online scam. He runs a small nutrition clinic near Delhi. Two months ago, Chowdhury posted a brief video on YouTube arguing that HIV is not real, and that anti-retroviral medication actually causes AIDS. He offered to inject himself with the blood of someone who had tested positive. Within weeks, the video had more than 380,000 views on YouTube. Tens of thousands more people watched on Facebook. Most of the viewers appear to be in India, where some 60,000 people die of HIV-related causes each year. After the March video, Chowdhury kept on posting. Follow-up videos on HIV racked up hundreds of thousands more hits. He also distributed copies of an ebook titled “HIV-AIDS: The Greatest Lie of 21st Century.” When I spoke with Chowdhury by phone last month, he claimed that 700 people had gotten in touch to say they had gone off their HIV medications. The actual number, he added, might be even higher. “We don’t know what people are doing on their own. I can only tell you about the people who report to us,” he said. Chowdhury’s figures are impossible to verify, but his skills with digital media are apparent — as are the troubling questions they raise about the role of Silicon Valley platforms in spreading misinformation. Such concerns, of course, aren’t new: Over the past two years, consumers, lawmakers, and media integrity advocates in the United States and Europe have become increasingly alarmed at the speed with which incendiary, inaccurate, and often deliberately false content spreads on sites like Facebook and YouTube — the latter a Google subsidiary. Copyright 2018 Undark

Keyword: Autism
Link ID: 25065 - Posted: 06.07.2018

By Elizabeth Pennisi Three nearly identical genes could help explain how 0.5 liters of gray matter in early human ancestors became the 1.4-liter organ that has made our species so successful and distinctive. The newly identified genes could also help explain how brain development sometimes goes wrong, leading to neurological disorders. The genes, descendants of an ancient developmental gene that multiplied and changed in the course of evolution, add to a growing list of DNA implicated in human brain expansion. But they stand out because so much has been learned about how they work their magic, says James Noonan, an evolutionary genomicist at Yale University. Researchers have shown that this trio boosts the number of potential nerve cells in brain tissue, and one team even pinned down the protein interactions likely responsible. “These are new proteins that are potentially modifying a very important pathway in brain development in a very powerful way,” Noonan adds. Until now, the four genes were thought to be one, NOTCH2NL, itself a spinoff of the NOTCH gene family, which controls the timing of development in everything from fruit flies to whales. But two studies in the 31 May issue of Cell trace a series of genetic accidents in recent evolutionary history that have yielded four very closely related NOTCH2NL genes in humans (see graphic, below). David Haussler, a bioinformatician at the University of California, Santa Cruz, and his colleagues got on the trail of the genes after they discovered that the NOTCH pathway works differently in human and macaque brain organoids—test tube models of the developing brain. NOTCH2NL was missing in the macaque organoid and, later analyses showed, in other nonhuman apes as well. That suggested NOTCH2NL might have played a unique role in human evolution. © 2018 American Association for the Advancement of Science.

Keyword: Evolution; Development of the Brain
Link ID: 25046 - Posted: 06.01.2018

By Jessica Wright | A new patent on variants in an autism gene is unlikely to hold up in court, some experts say, but may still hamper research. In December, LabCorp, a healthcare diagnostics company in Burlington, North Carolina, received a patent that appears to cover any test that can identify three variants in the gene HOMER1. The patent relates to the testing of these variants to signal an increase in autism risk in a child or fetus. But the patent might also allow LabCorp to charge a licensing fee to any scientists who wish to sequence HOMER1 in people who may have autism. The patent revives a debate that many scientists hoped was behind them. In 2013, in response to the controversy over a breast cancer gene patent, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that genes cannot be patented. “Gene patents restrict access to genetic tests; they restrict access to confirmatory testing and second opinions; they squelch sharing of data and they squelch research,” says James Evans, who headed a government advisory task force on the impact of gene patents. “That should be a settled issue, so it’s very depressing to see that at least in some people’s minds, it’s not.” Evans is professor of genetics and medicine at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. © 1986-2018 The Scientist

Keyword: Autism; Genes & Behavior
Link ID: 25043 - Posted: 06.01.2018

Mark Brown Arts correspondent Teenagers are being damaged by the British school system because of early start times and exams at 16 when their brains are going through enormous change, a leading neuroscientist has said. Sarah-Jayne Blakemore said it was only in recent years that the full scale of the changes that take place in the adolescent brain has been discovered. “That work has completely revolutionised what we think about this period of life,” she said. Blakemore, a professor in cognitive neuroscience at University College London, told the Hay festival that teenagers were unfairly mocked and demonised for behaviour they had no control over, whether that was moodiness, excessive risk-taking, bad decision making or sleeping late. The changes in the brain were enormous, she said, with substantial rises in white matter and a 17% fall in grey matter, which affects decision making, planning and self-awareness. All parents know that teenagers would sleep late if they could but it is all to do with brain changes, she said. “It is not because they are lazy, it is because they go through a period of biological change where melatonin, which is the hormone humans produce in the evenings and makes us feel sleepy, is produced a couple of hours later than it is in childhood or adulthood.” They are then forced to go to school when their brain says they should still be sleeping. That is then exacerbated at weekends when teenagers try to catch up by sleeping until lunchtime – what Blakemore called “social jetlag”. © 2018 Guardian News and Media Limited

Keyword: Development of the Brain; Biological Rhythms
Link ID: 25035 - Posted: 05.30.2018

By Shawna Williams | Complications during pregnancy can magnify the effect of genetic risk factors for schizophrenia by altering gene expression in the placenta, a new study suggests. The paper appeared yesterday (May 28) in Nature Medicine. “To me the key thing in this paper is the recognition that environmental factors in early development, prenatal factors, are likely to be very important in schizophrenia and just as important as genes,” Allan Brown of Columbia University Medical Center who was not involved in the study tells Scientific American. An international team of researchers analyzed data from nearly 3,000 participants, including people with schizophrenia and healthy controls. The researchers found that, among people with known genetic risk factors, those who were products of a pregnancy complicated by conditions such as preeclampsia or diabetes were at least five times more likely to have the disease than were people born of uncomplicated pregnancies. The researchers also analyzed gene expression in placental tissue from complicated and uncomplicated pregnancies. That assay revealed that genes associated with schizophrenia risk tended to be “turned on” in the placentas from complicated pregnancies, and that higher expression of those genes was associated with inflammation and other signs of stress in the tissue. “We need to create a new risk score for schizophrenia, incorporating not only genes but also placental health,” study coauthor Daniel Weinberger of the Lieber Institute for Brain Research and the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine tells STAT. “The odds of becoming schizophrenic based on your polygenic risk score is more than 10 times greater with these early-life complications than without them.” © 1986-2018 The Scientist

Keyword: Schizophrenia; Development of the Brain
Link ID: 25032 - Posted: 05.30.2018

By Dana G. Smith About 60 to 70 percent of a person’s risk for schizophrenia depends on their genes. Most of us have some of the schizophrenia-associated genetic variants—single-letter changes in the DNA of genes scattered across our genome—and the more we have, the greater our risk. At the same time, scientists have known that complications during pregnancy, including viral infections in the mother, increase the fetus’s risk for developing schizophrenia by two-fold, but scientists have been unsure why. New research published in Nature Medicine on May 28 reveals how when these two risk factors interact, the likelihood of an individual eventually being diagnosed with schizophrenia goes up at least five-fold compared to someone with a high genetic risk alone. Daniel Weinberger, director of the Lieber Institute for Brain Development in Baltimore and team discovered that roughly a third of the genes associated with schizophrenia are in the placenta. But certain variations in the DNA of these genes only result in schizophrenia if there are complications during pregnancy. The gene variants likely affect how resilient the placenta is to stress from its environment. If the mother or baby experiences a major health complication during pregnancy, the variants could activate these genes in the placenta and induce inflammation or affect the fetus’s development, increasing the risk for schizophrenia later in life. “The placenta is the missing link between maternal risk factors that complicate pregnancies and the development of the fetal brain and the emergence of developmental behavioral disorders,” Weinberger says. © 2018 Scientific American

Keyword: Schizophrenia; Development of the Brain
Link ID: 25029 - Posted: 05.29.2018

By Matthew Hutson It's a Saturday morning in February, and Chloe, a curious 3-year-old in a striped shirt and leggings, is exploring the possibilities of a new toy. Her father, Gary Marcus, a developmental cognitive scientist at New York University (NYU) in New York City, has brought home some strips of tape designed to adhere Lego bricks to surfaces. Chloe, well-versed in Lego, is intrigued. But she has always built upward. Could she use the tape to build sideways or upside down? Marcus suggests building out from the side of a table. Ten minutes later, Chloe starts sticking the tape to the wall. "We better do it before Mama comes back," Marcus says in a singsong voice. "She won't be happy." (Spoiler: The wall paint suffers.) Implicit in Marcus's endeavor is an experiment. Could Chloe apply what she had learned about an activity to a new context? Within minutes, she has a Lego sculpture sticking out from the wall. "Papa, I did it!" she exclaims. In her adaptability, Chloe is demonstrating common sense, a kind of intelligence that, so far, computer scientists have struggled to reproduce. Marcus believes the field of artificial intelligence (AI) would do well to learn lessons from young thinkers like her. Researchers in machine learning argue that computers trained on mountains of data can learn just about anything—including common sense—with few, if any, programmed rules. These experts "have a blind spot, in my opinion," Marcus says. "It's a sociological thing, a form of physics envy, where people think that simpler is better." He says computer scientists are ignoring decades of work in the cognitive sciences and developmental psychology showing that humans have innate abilities—programmed instincts that appear at birth or in early childhood—that help us think abstractly and flexibly, like Chloe. He believes AI researchers ought to include such instincts in their programs. © 2018 American Association for the Advancement of Science.

Keyword: Learning & Memory; Development of the Brain
Link ID: 25026 - Posted: 05.26.2018

By Judith Graham, You’ve turned 65 and exited middle age. What are the chances you’ll develop cognitive impairment or dementia in the years ahead? New research about “cognitive life expectancy”—how long older adults live with good versus declining brain health—shows that after age 65 men and women spend more than a dozen years in good cognitive health, on average. And, over the past decade, that time span has been expanding. By contrast, cognitive challenges arise in a more compressed time frame in later life, with mild cognitive impairment (problems with memory, decision-making or thinking skills) lasting about four years, on average, and dementia (Alzheimer’s disease or other related conditions) occurring over 1½ to two years. Even when these conditions surface, many seniors retain an overall sense of well-being, according to new research presented last month at the Population Association of America’s annual meeting. “The majority of cognitively impaired years are happy ones, not unhappy ones,” said Anthony Bardo, a co-author of that study and assistant professor of sociology at the University of Kentucky-Lexington. Recent research finds that: Most seniors don’t have cognitive impairment or dementia. Of Americans 65 and older, about 20 to 25 percent have mild cognitive impairment while about 10 percent have dementia, according to Dr. Kenneth Langa, an expert in the demography of aging and a professor of medicine at the University of Michigan. Risks rise with advanced age, and the portion of the population affected is significantly higher for people over 85. © 2018 Scientific American

Keyword: Alzheimers
Link ID: 25022 - Posted: 05.25.2018