Chapter 8. Hormones and Sex

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By Katarina Zimmer Human mothers will usually cradle their infants on their left sides, such that they can gaze into each other’s left eyes, a position thought to favor processing in the brain’s right hemisphere. A new study in Biology Letters today (January 10) shows that walruses and flying foxes are no different, having such lateralized cuddling biases during maternal care, too. “Several decades ago, it was a popular belief that [this] brain asymmetry is only a human thing,” says the lead author of the study, Andrey Giljov, a zoologist at St. Petersburg University. But recent research has shown that in addition to humans, primate mothers tend to hold their infants to the left, and some of Giljov’s previous work demonstrated that several species of mammal infants like to keep their mothers in their left visual fields when approaching their parents from behind. A bias towards keeping a social partner on a certain side, the new study explains, reflects specialization of the brain’s right hemisphere for processing social information, as visual information is handled by an animal’s contralateral brain hemisphere. The work reveals that flying foxes and walruses not only have a left-biased cuddling preference, but also tend to rest face-to-face in the position that allows mother and young to keep each other within their left visual fields. © 1986-2018 The Scientist

Keyword: Laterality; Sexual Behavior
Link ID: 24524 - Posted: 01.12.2018

By Jessica Wright, The prevalence of autism in the United States remained relatively stable from 2014 to 2016, according to a new analysis. The results were published January 2 in the Journal of the American Medical Association. The researchers report the frequency of autism in the U.S. as 2.24 percent in 2014, 2.41 percent in 2015 and 2.76 percent in 2016, respectively. The new data come from the National Health Interview Survey—a yearly interview in which trained census workers ask tens of thousands of parents about the health of their children. These questions include whether a healthcare professional has ever told them that their child has autism. The new figures, released by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), represent the highest autism prevalence in the U.S. reported by the agency to date. “We cannot consider autism as rare a condition as people previously thought,” says lead researcher Wei Bao, assistant professor of epidemiology at the University of Iowa. The peak is likely to result from the fact that the data are based on parent reports. These reports may capture children with relatively mild autism features better than do approaches that rely on medical records, Bao says. Autism’s reported prevalence in the U.S. has climbed steadily in the past few decades. Researchers attribute most of this increase to changes in how the prevalence is measured, increased awareness of the condition and shifts in the criteria for diagnosing autism. © 2018 Scientific American,

Keyword: Autism
Link ID: 24522 - Posted: 01.12.2018

Richard Harris The results of an IQ test can depend on the gender of the person who's conducting the test. Likewise, studies of pain medication can be completely thrown off by the gender of the experimenter. This underappreciated problem is one reason that some scientific findings don't stand the test of time. Colin Chapman found out about this problem the hard way. He had traveled to Sweden on a Fulbright scholarship to launch his career in neuroscience. And he decided to study whether a nasal spray containing a hormone called oxytocin would help control obesity. The hormone influences appetite and impulsive behavior in obese men. "I was really excited about this project, from what I understood about how the brain works, I thought it was kind of a slam dunk," he says. Chapman set up the experiment and then left for a few years to attend Harvard Law School. When he returned, the findings were not at all what he expected, "and I was really disappointed because this was my baby, it was my big project going into neuroscience." But Chapman, who is now a graduate student at the University of Uppsala, says his idea turned out to be right after all. "There was another research group that around the same time came up with the same idea," he says. "And they ran basically the same project and they got exactly the results I was expecting to get." © 2018 npr

Keyword: Sexual Behavior; Pain & Touch
Link ID: 24517 - Posted: 01.11.2018

By KAREN WEINTRAUB Male sea turtles are disappearing from Australia’s Great Barrier Reef. A new study of gender ratios found that 99 percent of immature green turtles born in the northern part of the reef are female. Among adult turtles, 87 percent are female, suggesting that there has been a shift in gender ratios over the last few decades. A sea turtle’s sex is determined by its nesting environment. As sands warm, more females will hatch relative to males; if the sand temperature tops 84.7 degrees during incubation, only females will emerge. The gender shift suggests that climate change is having a significant effect on one of the biggest green turtle populations in the world, said Michael Jensen, lead author of the new study, published in Current Biology. “We’re all trying to wrap our heads around how these populations are going to respond to those changes,” said Dr. Jensen, a marine biologist with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration in San Diego. The gender shift has been noticed before by people who study hatchlings, said Jeanette Wyneken, a sea turtle expert and professor at Florida Atlantic University, who was not involved in the new research. But it wasn’t clear until this study that the shift was so dramatic and happening in such a large population across time, she said. “This is the first paper that’s shown this multigenerational effect,” influencing the gender of juveniles, older adolescents and adults, Dr. Wyneken said. It takes 35 to 40 years for a green sea turtle to reach sexual maturity, she said. “These animals are teenagers for an awfully long time,” Dr. Wyneken said. “We won’t see the effects of what’s happening today for several decades.” David Owens, a professor emeritus from the College of Charleston in South Carolina, was not involved in the new study, but said he’s dreamed of doing such research for years. He praised the way the study team — which included a wide range of expertise — was able to link temperature with turtle gender. © 2018 The New York Times Company

Keyword: Sexual Behavior
Link ID: 24516 - Posted: 01.11.2018

Aimee Cunningham Internist Gail Povar has many female patients making their way through menopause, some having a tougher time than others. Several women with similar stories stand out in her mind. Each came to Povar’s Silver Spring, Md., office within a year or two of stopping her period, complaining of frequent hot flashes and poor sleep at night. “They just felt exhausted all the time,” Povar says. “The joy had kind of gone out.” And all of them “were just absolutely certain that they were not going to take hormone replacement,” she says. But the women had no risk factors that would rule out treating their symptoms with hormones. So Povar suggested the women try hormone therapy for a few months. “If you feel really better and it makes a big difference in your life, then you and I can decide how long we continue it,” Povar told them. “And if it doesn’t make any difference to you, stop it.” At the follow-up appointments, all of these women reacted the same way, Povar recalls. “They walked in beaming, absolutely beaming, saying, ‘I can’t believe I didn’t do this a year ago. My life! I’ve got my life back.’ ” That doesn’t mean, Povar says, that she’s pushing hormone replacement on patients. “But it should be on the table,” she says. “It should be part of the discussion.” Hormone replacement therapy toppled off the table for many menopausal women and their doctors in 2002. That’s when a women’s health study, stopped early after a data review, published results linking a common hormone therapy to an increased risk of breast cancer, heart disease, stroke and blood clots. The trial, part of a multifaceted project called the Women’s Health Initiative, or WHI, was meant to examine hormone therapy’s effectiveness in lowering the risk of heart disease and other conditions in women ages 50 to 79. It wasn’t a study of hormone therapy for treating menopausal symptoms. |© Society for Science & the Public 2000 - 2018.

Keyword: Hormones & Behavior; Sexual Behavior
Link ID: 24512 - Posted: 01.10.2018

By Catherine Offord Graduate student Anne Murphy had run out of rats. Or rather, she’d run out of male rats, the animals she was using to study brain regions involved in pain modulation for her PhD at the University of Cincinnati in the early 1990s. At a time when neuroscientists almost exclusively used male animals for research, what Murphy did next was unusual: she used a female rat instead. “I had the hardest time to get the female to go under the anesthesia; she wasn’t acting right,” Murphy says. Her advisor’s explanation? “‘Well, you know those females, they have hormones, and those hormones are always fluctuating and they’re so variable,’” Murphy recalls. The comments struck a nerve. “It really got to me,” she says. “I’m a female. I have hormones that fluctuate. . . . It made me determined to investigate the differences between males and females in terms of pain processing and alleviation.” Her decision was timely. Since the ’90s, evidence has been accumulating to suggest that not only do women experience a higher incidence of chronic pain syndromes than men do—fibromyalgia and interstitial cystitis, for example—females also generally report higher pain intensities. Additionally, Murphy notes, a handful of clinical studies has suggested that women require higher doses of opioid pain medications such as morphine for comparable analgesia; plus, they experience worse side effects and a higher risk of addiction. © 1986-2018 The Scientist

Keyword: Pain & Touch; Sexual Behavior
Link ID: 24486 - Posted: 01.04.2018

By NEIL GENZLINGER Ben Barres, a neuroscientist who did groundbreaking work on brain cells known as glia and their possible relation to diseases like Parkinson’s, and who was an outspoken advocate of equal opportunity for women in the sciences, died on Wednesday at his home in Palo Alto, Calif. He was 63. In announcing the death, Stanford University, where Dr. Barres was a professor, said he had had pancreatic cancer. Dr. Barres was transgender, having transitioned from female to male in 1997, when he was in his 40s and well into his career. That gave him a distinctive outlook on the difficulties that women and members of minorities face in academia. and especially in the sciences. An article he wrote for the journal Nature in 2006 titled “Does Gender Matter?” took on some prominent scholars who had argued that women were not advancing in the sciences because of innate differences in their aptitude. “I am suspicious when those who are at an advantage proclaim that a disadvantaged group of people is innately less able,” he wrote. “Historically, claims that disadvantaged groups are innately inferior have been based on junk science and intolerance.” The article cited studies documenting obstacles facing women, but it also drew on Dr. Barres’s personal experiences. He recounted dismissive treatment he had received when he was a woman and how that had changed when he became a man. “By far,” he wrote, “the main difference that I have noticed is that people who don’t know I am transgendered treat me with much more respect: I can even complete a whole sentence without being interrupted by a man.” Dr. Barres (pronounced BARE-ess) was born on Sept. 13, 1954, in West Orange, N.J., with the given name Barbara. “I knew from a very young age — 5 or 6 — that I wanted to be a scientist, that there was something fun about it and I would enjoy doing it,” he told The New York Times in 2006. “I decided I would go to M.I.T. when I was 12 or 13.” © 2017 The New York Times Company

Keyword: Glia; Sexual Behavior
Link ID: 24472 - Posted: 12.30.2017

By Melissa McCradden Do girls take longer than boys to recover after a concussion? A recent study of middle- and high school athletes they found that the female athletes took twice as long to be symptom-free as the male athletes. Shockingly, the female athletes took nearly a full month to report being symptom-free, while the male athletes took less than two weeks. It was reported widely across the media as evidence the young women may have a special problem with concussions. This conclusion, unfortunately, is not well supported. Meta-analyses (which look at the full body of literature on a topic) have found conflicting evidence regarding male-female differences in concussion recovery. Consensus statements on sport-related concussion have not deemed there to be sufficient reason to distinguish between the genders for return-to-play protocols or guidelines on handling the injury. And the study itself has important flaws. There are hundreds of thousands of female athletes who have scholarships, professional careers, and Olympic hopes at stake, and let’s not forget the basic principle that our girls deserve equal opportunity as the boys to participate in sports. These conclusions have real consequences, and we need to get our information right. One of the strongest predictive factors for prolonged post-concussion symptoms is expectation of recovery—those who believe they will recover quickly are more likely to do so. So if we label women in this way, it can have a direct, negative effect on their recovery from concussion. © 2017 Scientific American

Keyword: Brain Injury/Concussion; Sexual Behavior
Link ID: 24444 - Posted: 12.20.2017

By Sarah DeWeerdt Older men and women are more likely than young ones to have a child with autism, according to multiple studies published in the past decade. Especially regarding fathers, this effect is one of the most consistent findings in the epidemiology of autism. The link between a mother’s age and autism is more complex: Women seem to be at an increased risk both when they are much older and much younger than average, according to some studies. Nailing down why either parent’s age influences autism risk has proved difficult, however. How do we know that older men are at elevated risk of fathering a child with autism? Epidemiologists have gathered data on large numbers of families and calculated how often men of different ages have a child with autism. The first rigorous study of this type, published in 2006, drew on medical records of 132,000 Israeli adolescents. It showed that men in their 30s were 1.6 times as likely to have a child with autism as men younger than 30. Men in their 40s had a sixfold increase in risk. Since then, scientists have conducted similar analyses of data on children born in California, Denmark and Sweden, as well as of an international data set on 5.7 million children. Nearly all of this research has shown an increased prevalence of autism among the children of older fathers. At what age does the risk increase for men? No one knows. The age ranges and ages of the men differ across studies, making results hard to compare. Overall, the findings indicate that the risk increases steadily over time rather than suddenly rising after a certain age. © 1996-2017 The Washington Post

Keyword: Autism; Epigenetics
Link ID: 24436 - Posted: 12.18.2017

Nicola Davis Sexual interactions between snow monkeys and sika deer could be a new behavioural tradition within a group of monkeys observed in Japan, researchers have suggested. While the first report of a male Japanese macaque, or snow monkey, and female sika deer taking to each other was revealed earlier this year, scientists say they are now confident the behaviour is sexual after scrutinising adolescent females suggestively interacting with stags at Minoo in Japan. “The monkey-deer sexual interactions reported in our paper may reflect the early stage development of a new behavioural tradition at Minoo,” said Dr Noëlle Gunst-Leca, co-author of the study from the University of Lethbridge in Canada. While sexual interactions between closely related species have been seen for all manner of animals, from various species of fish to species of baboon, such liaisons are rare, with the sexual assault of king penguins by Antarctic fur seals the only other known example between distant species. But earlier this year, a study revealed a male Japanese macaque had been filmed mounting a female Sika deer at Yakushima island in southern Japan. Gunst-Leca said it wasn’t clear quite what was going on. “They were dealing with a single anecdotal event between one individual monkey and one individual deer, and the description they provided was short, vague and out of context,” she said. “As a result, even the sexual nature of this interaction was not clearly demonstrated.” © 2017 Guardian News and Media Limited

Keyword: Sexual Behavior
Link ID: 24434 - Posted: 12.18.2017

By Simon Makin Researchers have known for some time that female athletes experience higher rates of concussion than their male counterparts, and also often suffer harsher symptoms and take longer to recover. But why women seem more vulnerable to such injuries has long remained a puzzle. Concussion symptoms range from headache, dizziness and confusion to memory loss, noise or light sensitivity, and irritability. Most people recover quickly but some develop problems lasting a year or more. A 2010 study led by neurologist Jeffrey Bazarian of the University of Rochester found that women—especially those of child-bearing age—had worse symptoms measured three months after injury. Several explanations have been proposed including sex hormones, neck structure and cerebral blood flow, but no one really knows what is to blame. Now, however, a study led by Douglas Smith, director of the Center for Brain Injury and Repair at the University of Pennsylvania, adds a new candidate: differences in axons—the output “wires” of neurons. Smith and his colleagues discovered differences in the size and structure of male and female axons, and found the female structure was more susceptible to damage. “The findings are intriguing,” says neuropsychologist Donna Broshek of the University of Virginia, who was not involved in the study. “Many theories have been put forth, including that—because of differences in cultural socialization—women are more likely to endorse symptoms.” But the new results, published online last month, “suggest that women report more symptoms because they are...experiencing more symptoms,” Broshek says. © 2017 Scientific American,

Keyword: Sexual Behavior; Brain Injury/Concussion
Link ID: 24431 - Posted: 12.16.2017

By Andy Coghlan Two gene variants have been found to be more common in gay men, adding to mounting evidence that sexual orientation is at least partly biologically determined. How does this change what we already knew? Didn’t we already know there were “gay genes”? We have known for decades that sexual orientation is partly heritable in men, thanks to studies of families in which some people are straight and some people are gay. In 1993, genetic variations in a region on the X chromosome in men were linked to whether they were heterosexual or homosexual, and in 1995, a region on chromosome 8 was identified. Both findings were confirmed in a study of gay and straight brothers in 2014. However, these studies didn’t home in on any specific genes on this chromosome. What’s new about the latest study? For the first time, individual genes have been identified that may influence how sexual orientation develops in boys and men, both in the womb and during life. Alan Sanders at North Shore University, Illinois, and his team pinpointed these genes by comparing DNA from 1077 gay and 1231 straight men. They scanned the men’s entire genomes, looking for single-letter differences in their DNA sequences. This enabled them to home in on two genes whose variants seem to be linked to sexual orientation. © Copyright New Scientist Ltd.

Keyword: Sexual Behavior; Genes & Behavior
Link ID: 24413 - Posted: 12.09.2017

Michael Ruffolo When we talk about female representation in science, we’re rarely talking about test subjects. We tend to want more women behind the microscope, not under it. Neuroscience is one of the most skewed fields when it comes to testing on female physiology. One review found single-sex brain studies using male animals outnumbered those using females 6.7 to one. Aarthi Gobinath, a neuroscientist at the University of British Columbia, calls this a “hidden gap” in her field. She says there’s reason to question the assumption that the brains of males and females are identical, particularly in unique states like pregnancy. This is particularly true for early animal testing, where new drugs for depression and anxiety are first developed. “This leads to the ultimate outcome of our research not even benefiting males and females equally,” Gobinath said. Gobinath wanted to tackle the issue of sex bias by trying to understand what depression looks like in female rat brains, specifically looking at postpartum depression. Her research suggests our standard depression treatments don’t apply to new moms. VICE caught up with Gobinath to ask about her new study, which could have wide-ranging implications for humans of all sexes and genders. VICE: What do you mean when you say there’s “sex bias” in brain research? Aarthi Gobinath: So when I say "sex," what I mean is genetic sex, meaning XX or XY chromosomes. [Sex bias] is a bias toward using male subjects in research and then concluding from that research that what was true in that experiment will be true for both sexes without necessarily addressing that maybe it won’t be true for the female physiology.

Keyword: Sexual Behavior
Link ID: 24411 - Posted: 12.09.2017

By Mitch Leslie Scientists once had high hopes that inhibiting a hormone named ghrelin would be the key to preventing obesity. Ghrelin didn’t turn out to be a weight loss panacea. But now, the discovery of the first molecule naturally made by the body that blocks ghrelin’s effects may open up new avenues for treating other conditions, including diabetes and anorexia. The finding may also explain some of the benefits of bariatric surgery, which shrinks or reroutes the stomach to control weight. “It’s a very impressive piece of research,” says bariatric physician Carel le Roux of University College Dublin, who wasn’t connected to the study. “I think it will have significant clinical impact.” When researchers discovered ghrelin about 20 years ago, they dubbed it the “hunger hormone” because early results suggested it ramped up our appetite. But studies soon found that thwarting the molecule didn’t curtail food consumption or promote weight loss in mice. Still, the hormone induces a variety of other positive changes in our metabolism. For example, ghrelin may bolster muscle strength, spurring scientists to test whether drugs that mimic the hormone can counteract the muscle deterioration and weakness often suffered by cancer patients. The new study didn’t start as a hunt for ghrelin-blocking compounds. Instead, a team headed by researchers at NGM Biopharmaceuticals in South San Francisco, California, was investigating how bariatric surgery overhauls metabolism. The scientists operated on obese mice, performing a type of bariatric surgery called vertical sleeve gastrectomy that involves removing most of the stomach. They then examined which genes became more or less active after the procedure. As they report online today in Cell Metabolism, the rodents’ downsized stomachs produced 52 times more of a protein named LEAP2 than normal. © 2017 American Association for the Advancement of Science

Keyword: Obesity; Hormones & Behavior
Link ID: 24407 - Posted: 12.08.2017

Laura Sanders When you lock eyes with a baby, it’s hard to look away. For one thing, babies are fun to look at. They’re so tiny and cute and interesting. For another, babies love to stare back. I remember my babies staring at me so hard, with their eyebrows raised and unblinking eyes wide open. They would have killed in a staring contest. This mutual adoration of staring may be for a good reason. When a baby and an adult make eye contact, their brain waves fall in sync, too, a new study finds. And those shared patterns of brain activity may actually pave the way for better communication between baby and adult: Babies make more sweet, little sounds when their eyes are locked onto an adult who is looking back. The scientists report the results online November 28 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Psychologist Victoria Leong of the University of Cambridge and Nanyang Technological University in Singapore and colleagues invited infants into the lab for two experiments. In the first, the team outfitted 17 8-month-old babies with EEG caps, headwear covered with electrodes that measure the collective behavior of nerve cells across the brain. The infants watched a video in which an experimenter, also outfitted in an EEG cap, sung a nursery rhyme while looking either straight ahead at the baby, at the baby but with her head turned at a 20-degree angle, or away from the baby and with her head turned at a 20-degree angle. When the researcher looked at the baby (either facing the baby or with her head slightly turned), the babies’ brains responded, showing activity patterns that started to closely resemble those of the researcher. © Society for Science and the Public

Keyword: Sexual Behavior; Attention
Link ID: 24395 - Posted: 12.06.2017

By Shawna Williams While humans aren’t as smell-dependent as many other animals, studies have shown we respond differently to others when they’re emitting certain olfactory signals—even if we can’t consciously detect them. In a study published today in Nature Neuroscience, researchers find that men with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) sometimes respond differently to these chemical cues in human sweat than do people without the disorder, indicating that such responses may partly explain the disorder’s symptoms. In one experiment, the researchers asked 20 men with ASD and 20 typical men to perform cognitive tasks while they smelled either pads with sweat from skydivers (which contained high levels of cortisol, indicating fearfulness), or pads with no sweat. Just a few participants in each group reported being able to consciously detect scent from the sweat-infused pads, but the men in the non-ASD group showed an increase in electrodermal activity, a proxy for an aroused nervous system, while ASD participants did not. To see what effect the smell of fear might have on behavior, the researchers rigged up two mannequins to “talk” and emit the odor of either fear-related sweat or workout sweat. Participants received clues from the mannequins on how to complete a task, and the researchers measured their performance on the task as a measure of trust. “[W]e observed a dissociation whereby [typically developed] participants had increased trust in the control-smell [mannequin], yet ASD participants had increased trust in the fear-smell [mannequin],” the study’s authors write. © 1986-2017 The Scientist

Keyword: Autism; Chemical Senses (Smell & Taste)
Link ID: 24374 - Posted: 11.29.2017

By BENEDICT CAREY The recent surge in accusations of sexual harassment and assault has prompted some admitted offenders to seek professional help for the emotional or personality distortions that underlie their behavior. “My journey now will be to learn about myself and conquer my demons,” the producer Harvey Weinstein said in a statement in October. The actor Kevin Spacey announced that he would be “taking the time necessary to seek evaluation and treatment.” Whatever mix of damage control and contrition they represent, pledges like these suggest that there are standard treatments for perpetrators of sexual offenses. In fact, no such standard treatments exist, experts say. Even the notion of “sexual addiction” as a stand-alone diagnosis is in dispute. “There are no evidence-based programs I know of for the sort of men who have been in the news recently,” said Vaile Wright, director of research and special projects at the American Psychological Association. That doesn’t mean that these men cannot change their ways with professional help. The evidence that talk therapy and medication can curb sexual misconduct is modest at best, and virtually all of it comes from treating severe disorders, like pedophilia and exhibitionism, experts said — powerful urges that cannot be turned off. Still, there is reason to think that these therapeutic approaches can be adapted to treatment of the men accused of offenses ranging from unwanted attention to rape. “You’re really looking at two categories of people,” said Rory Reid, an assistant professor of psychiatry at the University of California, Los Angeles, who has a clinical practice focusing on sexual problems. “One is what I call sexually compulsive behavior. The other is reserved for people committing non-consensual acts — sex offenders.” The first group includes the college student failing out because he spends all his time surfing porn sites, or the man who is visiting prostitutes so often it’s threatening his livelihood and health. © 2017 The New York Times Company

Keyword: Sexual Behavior; Aggression
Link ID: 24371 - Posted: 11.28.2017

Sara Reardon When it comes to lab mice and antidepressants, it's complicated. Mouse experiments with the popular club drug ketamine may be skewed by the sex of the researcher performing them, a study suggests. The findings, presented on 14 November at the Society for Neuroscience (SfN) meeting in Washington DC, only deepen the mystery of how ketamine, which has powerful mood-lifting properties, interacts with the brain. They also raise questions about the reproducibility of behavioural experiments in mice. Ketamine is best known as a psychoactive recreational drug. But it has caught psychiatrists’ interest because of its potential to treat depression within hours. It’s unclear exactly how the drug works, however, and many researchers are using animal models to suss out the mechanism. Polymnia Georgiou, a neuroscientist at the University of Maryland in Baltimore, is one of them. In 2015, a male colleague asked her to run some experiments for him while he was out of town, including a standard way of testing antidepressants called the forced-swim test. In this assay, researchers inject healthy mice with a drug, place them into a tank of water and measure how long they swim before they give up and wait for someone to rescue them. Antidepressants can cause healthy mice to swim for longer than their untreated counterparts, which is what Georgiou’s male colleague found during his experiments using ketamine. © 2017 Macmillan Publishers Limited

Keyword: Sexual Behavior; Depression
Link ID: 24341 - Posted: 11.20.2017

By Sarah DeWeerdt, Young adults with autism have an unusual gait and problems with fine motor skills. Researchers presented the unpublished findings today at the 2017 Society for Neuroscience annual meeting in Washington, D.C. Motor problems such as clumsiness, toe-walking and altered gait are well documented in autism. But most studies have been limited to children or have included adults only as part of a broad age range. “Studies haven’t focused on just adults,” says Cortney Armitano, a graduate student in Steven Morrison’s lab at Old Dominion University in Norfolk, Virginia, who presented the work. The researchers looked at 20 young adults with autism between the ages of about 17 and 25, and 20 controls of about the same age range. They put these participants through a battery of standard tests of fine motor skills, balance and walking. When it comes to simple tasks—such as tapping a finger rapidly against a hard surface or standing still without swaying—those with autism perform just as well as controls do. But with activities that require more back-and-forth between the brain and the rest of the body, differences emerge. Adults with autism have slower reaction times compared with controls, measured by how fast they can click a computer mouse in response to seeing a button light up. They also have a weaker grip. © 2017 Scientific American,

Keyword: Autism; Movement Disorders
Link ID: 24329 - Posted: 11.15.2017

By Jessica Hamzelou Heavy drinkers and abstainers don’t make the best couples. In humans, one partner that drinks more than the other is thought to be a recipe for a breakup. The same appears to be true for prairie voles, one of the only other mammals known to form long-term monogamous relationships. The finding suggests the link between alcohol consumption and relationship failure may have a biological basis, say the researchers. “There is an increase in divorce in couples in which there is discordant drinking,” says Andrey Ryabinin at Oregon Health and Science University. Money is thought to play a role, but nobody knows the precise causes because a randomised study in people would be unethical. “You can’t tell people to start drinking,” he says. To explore the question in animals, Ryabinin and his colleague Andre Walcott turned to prairie voles: the only rodents known to form lasting, monogamous relationships. “They maintain the same pair bond for their entire lives,” says Ryabinin. Unlike other rodents, both partners take care of offspring. And rather than leaving the nest as soon as they reach adolescence, the young stay and look after their younger siblings. Prairie voles are also the only rodents known to willingly drink alcohol. While mice and rats avoid the stuff, prairie voles prefer it to water, says Ryabinin. Voles on the sauce Ryabinin has previously shown that alcohol consumption affects prairie vole relationships. When given a choice between their partner and a new female, male voles that drank more alcohol were more likely to go and mate with the new female than those that abstained. Alcohol seemed to have the opposite effect in females – those that drank more alcohol more strongly preferred their original partner. © Copyright New Scientist Ltd.

Keyword: Sexual Behavior; Drug Abuse
Link ID: 24325 - Posted: 11.15.2017