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

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By Donald McCarthy I lived only half a childhood. Friendships were difficult, because I often did not know what to say. I had little patience for small talk and a dislike of new situations. Thrust into unfamiliar surroundings, my whole body would warm, my hands would shake, and I would feel a tightening in my chest and a deep, almost primal urge to scream. Even as an adult, I felt like I viewed reality through a foggy window. I thought it was simply me — that my personality was just odd — and I would need to learn to cope with the fact that I did not fit in well with most people. Then, at age 28, I was diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder (ASD). My diagnosis was a relief. Suddenly, I knew why I felt the way I did, and why I had a hard time living the way others did. But I can only imagine how much better my life would have been if I had been diagnosed as a child and had the chance to understand myself at a younger age. Might I have made emotional connections with my peers, instead of just with Bruce Springsteen songs and characters in Stephen King novels? It turns out I’m not alone. Many people go more than half of their lives before learning that they are autistic; the exact number remains a mystery, as research on adults with autism has been scarce. Although public awareness of ASD and its symptoms has improved in recent decades, many children still slip through the cracks, especially girls and children of color. We as a society have the power and resources to change that; all we need is the will. Consider the science: There is little question among psychologists specializing in autism that an early diagnosis can change a person’s life for the better. Therapy aimed at reworking the way a young person with ASD thinks and comprehends has shown success. Children who undergo therapy see results that allow them to curb undesirable behavior, improve social interactions, and better their own quality of life.

Keyword: Autism
Link ID: 26856 - Posted: 11.29.2019

By Meredith Wadman Tony Magana, chief of neurosurgery at Mekelle University School of Medicine in Ethiopia’s Tigray province, confronts his country’s high prevalence of neural tube defects nearly every day. His team operates on more than 400 babies annually to repair these severe, often lethal birth malformations, in which babies can be born without brains or with their spinal cords protruding from their backs. “Probably every other day we see a child that is so bad we can’t help them,” Magana says. The holes where the spinal cord protrudes “are so big that you can’t close them.” This month, a team of nutrition experts converged in Addis Ababa to lay groundwork for an unproven but possibly highly effective intervention: fortifying Ethiopia’s salt supply with folic acid, a synthetic form of the B vitamin folate. In the first 4 weeks of pregnancy, folate is essential to proper closure of the neural tube, which gives rise to the brain and spinal cord, and since the mid-1990s, more than 80 countries have mandated flour fortification with folic acid. Ethiopia, where fewer than one-third of people eat flour, is not among them. Last year, a pair of studies that surveyed births at 11 public hospitals there shook the global health community. The studies—one co-authored by Magana—found that among every 10,000 births, between 126 and 131 babies suffered from neural tube defects (NTDs). That’s seven times their global prevalence and 26 times the prevalence in high-income, flour-fortifying countries such as the United States. According to Ethiopian government data, 84% of Ethiopian women of reproductive age have folate levels in their red blood cells that put them at risk of giving birth to a child with an NTD. © 2019 American Association for the Advancement of Science

Keyword: Development of the Brain
Link ID: 26851 - Posted: 11.26.2019

A disturbing aspect of Canada's opioid crisis is that more babies are being born to mothers who use fentanyl and other opioid drugs. The Canadian Institute for Health Information says more than 1,800 infants per year are born with symptoms of opioid withdrawal. A study presented Monday at the 105th Scientific Assembly and Annual Meeting of the Radiological Society of North America suggests that prenatal exposure to opioids may have a significant impact on the brain development of unborn children. A team of obstetricians, neonatologists, psychologists and radiologists led by Dr. Rupa Radhakrishnan, a radiologist at Indiana University School of Medicine, did functional MRI brain scans on 16 full-term infants. Eight of the infants had mothers who used opioids during pregnancy and eight had mothers who did not use opioids. The brain imaging technique used by the researchers is called resting state functional MRI (fMRI). The technique enabled researchers to measure brain activity by detecting changes in blood flow. The technique permits researchers to measure how well different regions of the brain talk to one another. The researchers found abnormal connections to and from a part of the brain called the amygdala. It's a region that is responsible for the perception and regulation of emotions such as anger, fear, sadness and aggression. This is one of the first studies to suggest that the brain function of infants may be affected by prenatal exposure to opioids. Abnormal function in the amygdala could make it difficult for children exposed to opioids to regulate their emotions. That could have serious implications on their social development and on their behaviour. The researchers say the study is small. They say they aren't certain as to the clinical implications of this study. A long-term outcome study is underway to understand better the functional brain changes caused by prenatal opioid exposure and their associated long-term developmental outcomes. How newborns face opioid withdrawal This research may become even more important should current trends continue, and we see an increase in the number of infants exposed to opioids prenatally. ©2019 CBC/Radio-Canada

Keyword: Development of the Brain; Drug Abuse
Link ID: 26850 - Posted: 11.26.2019

By Nicholas Bakalar Long-term exposure to air pollution is associated with lower scores on tests of mental acuity, researchers have found. And one reason may be that air pollution causes changes in brain structure that resemble those of Alzheimer’s disease. The scientists studied 998 women ages 73 to 87 and free of dementia, periodically giving them tests of learning and memory. They used magnetic resonance imaging to detect brain atrophy, or wasting, and then scored the deterioration on its degree of similarity to the brain atrophy characteristic of Alzheimer’s disease. They matched Environmental Protection Agency data on air pollution to the women’s residential addresses. Over 11 years of follow-up, they found that the greater the women’s exposure to PM 2.5, the tiny particulate matter that easily penetrates the lungs and bloodstream, the lower their scores on the cognitive tests. After excluding cases of dementia and stroke, they also found a possible reason for the declining scores: The M.R.I. results showed that increased exposure to PM 2.5 was associated with increased brain atrophy, even before clinical symptoms of dementia had appeared. The study is in the journal Brain. “PM 2.5 alters brain structure, which then accelerates memory decline,” said the lead author, Diana Younan, a postdoctoral researcher at the University of California. “I just want people to be aware that air pollution can affect their health, and possibly their brains.” © 2019 The New York Times Company

Keyword: Neurotoxins; Development of the Brain
Link ID: 26849 - Posted: 11.26.2019

By Tina Hesman Saey Picking embryos based on genetics might not give prospective parents the “designer baby” they’re after. DNA predictions of height or IQ might help would-be parents select an embryo that would grow into a child who is, at most, only about three centimeters taller or about three IQ points smarter than an average embryo from the couple, researchers report November 21 in Cell. But offspring predicted by their DNA to be the tallest among siblings were actually the tallest in only seven of 28 real families, the study found. And in five of those families, the child predicted to be tallest was actually shorter than the average for the family. Even if it were ethical to select embryos based on genetic propensity for height or intelligence, “the impact of doing so is likely to be modest — so modest that it’s not likely to be practically worth it,” says Amit Khera, a physician and geneticist at the Center for Genomics Medicine at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston who was not involved in the new study. For years, couples have been able to use genetic diagnosis to screen out embryos carrying a disease-causing DNA variant. The procedure, called preimplantation genetic diagnosis, or PGD, involves creating embryos through in vitro fertilization. Clinic staff remove a single cell from the embryo and test its DNA for genetic variants that cause cystic fibrosis, Tay-Sachs or other life-threatening diseases caused by defects in single genes. © Society for Science & the Public 2000–2019

Keyword: Genes & Behavior; Intelligence
Link ID: 26847 - Posted: 11.23.2019

By Nicholas Bakalar People who never learned to read and write may be at increased risk for dementia. Researchers studied 983 adults 65 and older with four or fewer years of schooling. Ninety percent were immigrants from the Dominican Republic, where there were limited opportunities for schooling. Many had learned to read outside of school, but 237 could not read or write. Over an average of three and a half years, the participants periodically took tests of memory, language and reasoning. Illiterate men and women were 2.65 times as likely as the literate to have dementia at the start of the study, and twice as likely to have developed it by the end. Illiterate people, however, did not show a faster rate of decline in skills than those who could read and write. The analysis, in Neurology, controlled for sex, hypertension, diabetes, heart disease and other dementia risk factors. “Early life exposures and early life social opportunities have an impact on later life,” said the senior author, Jennifer J. Manly, a professor of neuropsychology at Columbia. “That’s the underlying theme here. There’s a life course of exposures and engagements and opportunities that lead to a healthy brain later in life.” “We would like to expand this research to other populations,” she added. “Our hypothesis is that this is relevant and consistent across populations of illiterate adults.” © 2019 The New York Times Company

Keyword: Language; Alzheimers
Link ID: 26838 - Posted: 11.21.2019

By Knvul Sheikh Shortly after the birth of her first son, Monika Jones learned that he had a rare neurological condition that made one side of his brain abnormally large. Her son, Henry, endured hundreds of seizures a day. Despite receiving high doses of medication, his little body seemed like a rag doll as one episode blended into another. He required several surgeries, starting when he was 3 1/2 months old, eventually leading to a complete anatomical hemispherectomy, or the removal of half of his brain, when he turned 3. The procedure was first developed in the 1920s to treat malignant brain tumors. But its success in children who have brain malformations, intractable seizures or diseases where damage is confined to half the brain, has astonished even seasoned scientists. After the procedure, many of the children are able to walk, talk, read and do everyday tasks. Roughly 20 percent of patients who have the procedure go on to find gainful employment as adults. Now, research published Tuesday in the journal Cell Reports suggests that some individuals recover so well from the surgery because of a reorganization in the remaining half of the brain. Scientists identified the variety of networks that pick up the slack for the removed tissue, with some of the brain’s specialists learning to operate like generalists. “The brain is remarkably plastic,” said Dorit Kliemann, a cognitive neuroscientist at the California Institute of Technology, and the first author of the study. “It can compensate for dramatic loss of brain structure, and in some cases the remaining networks can support almost typical cognition.” The study was partially funded by a nonprofit organization that Mrs. Jones and her husband set up to advocate for others who need surgery to stop seizures. The study’s findings could provide encouragement for those seeking hemispherectomies beyond early childhood. © 2019 The New York Times Company

Keyword: Development of the Brain; Laterality
Link ID: 26837 - Posted: 11.20.2019

By Michele C. Hollow As soon as James Griffin gets off the school bus he tells his mom, “Go dance, go dance.” James is 14 and has autism, and his speech is limited. He’s a participant in a program for children on the autism spectrum at the University of Delaware that is studying how dance affects behavior and verbal, social and motor skills. One afternoon while dancing, he spun around, looked at his mother, smiled and shouted, “I love you.” His mom, Rachelan Griffin, said she had waited his whole life to hear him say those words. “I think that the program is a big part of that, because he was dancing when he said it,” she said. According to Anjana Bhat, an associate professor in the department of physical therapy at the University of Delaware, “Parents report that their children with autism enjoy musical activities and show more positive interactions with others through greater eye contact, smiling and speaking after engaging in a dance and music program.” James is one of about a dozen children on the autism spectrum who meet individually with Dr. Bhat’s graduate and undergraduate students for the dance study, which also uses yoga and musical activities. Some children also participated in robotic therapy, in which a humanoid robot helps them learn to follow dance moves. “Across many different studies we find that social skills like smiling and verbalization are substantially higher when children with autism engage in socially embedded movements versus sedentary games like checkers or building a Lego set,” Dr. Bhat said. © 2019 The New York Times Company

Keyword: Autism
Link ID: 26835 - Posted: 11.20.2019

Robin McKie Major psychological disorders such as schizophrenia will continue to affect humans because men and women are continually generating genetic mutations that disrupt brain development. This will be the key conclusion of Professor Sir Michael Owen, director of Cardiff University’s centre for neuropsychiatric genetics and genomics, when he gives the annual Darwin Lecture at the Royal Society of Medicine this week. Understanding such conditions at an evolutionary level will be crucial to developing treatments, Owen believes. Thirty years ago, the new technology of DNA analysis raised hopes that schizophrenia – a condition that can track through families – would soon reveal links to one or two specific genes, said Owen. Treatments might then be relatively easy to develop, it was thought. Instead scientists found that hundreds of genes, each having a tiny effect, dictate whether or not a person will be susceptible to the condition. Characterised by profound behavioural changes, hallucinations, and delusions, these transformations in behaviour can have profound consequences, he added. For example, men with schizophrenia have – on average – only a quarter as many children as males in the general population while women with the condition have about half as many as unaffected females. That low reproduction rate should have had one clear result, Owen told the Observer last week. “Schizophrenia cases should have declined and disappeared long ago as those affected were out bred by those unaffected. This has not happened. A steady level of 1% people continue to be affected.” © 2019 Guardian News & Media Limited

Keyword: Schizophrenia; Genes & Behavior
Link ID: 26831 - Posted: 11.19.2019

Lorenz Wagner Henry Markram, the neuroscientist behind the billion-dollar Blue Brain Project to build a supercomputer model of the brain, has set the goal of decoding all disturbances of the mind within a generation. This quest is personal for him. The driving force behind his grand ambition has been his son Kai, who suffers from autism. Raising Kai made Henry Markram question all that he thought he knew about neuroscience, and then inspired his groundbreaking research that would upend the conventional wisdom about autism, leading to his now-famous theory of the Intense World Syndrome. When Kai was first diagnosed, his father consulted studies and experts. He knew as much about the human brain as almost anyone but still felt as helpless as any parent confronted with this condition in his child. What’s more, the scientific consensus that autism was a deficit of empathy didn’t mesh with Markram’s experience of his son. He became convinced that the disorder, which has seen a 657 percent increase in diagnoses over the past decade, was fundamentally misunderstood. Bringing his world-class research to bear on the problem, he devised a radical new theory of the disorder: People like Kai don’t feel too little; they feel too much. Their senses are too delicate for this world. The following is an extract condensed from "The Boy Who Felt Too Much: How a Renowned Neuroscientist Changed Our View of Autism Forever," by Lorenz Wagner, just out from Arcade Publishing, which tells this remarkable story. The car was coasting. Kai heard the wheels crunch as it drew to a halt outside his house. The car door opened, and a young man hopped out. He popped the hood and disappeared beneath it. “You’ve got to be kidding me!” he fumed. © 2019 Salon.com, LLC

Keyword: Autism
Link ID: 26828 - Posted: 11.18.2019

Ruth Williams Throughout the animal kingdom, there are numerous examples of neurons that respond to multiple stimuli and faithfully transmit information about those various inputs. In the mouse, for example, there are certain neurons that respond to both temperature and potentially damaging touch. In the fruit fly, there are neurons that sense light, temperature, pain, and proprioceptive stimuli—those arising as a result of body position and movement. And in C. elegans, two sensory neurons, known as PVD neurons, that run the length of the body on either side are thought to regulate proprioception as well as responses to harsh touch and cold temperature. Scientists have now figured out how a single PVD neuron can relay two different stimuli: while harsh touch results in typical firing of the neuron—an impulse that travels the length of the cell—proprioception causes a localized response in one part of the cell with no apparent involvement of the rest. The findings are reported today (November 14) in Developmental Cell. “[The] paper illustrates that different parts of the neuron do different things,” says neuroscientist Scott Emmons of Albert Einstein College of Medicine who did not participate in the research, “and that just makes the whole system much more complex to interpret,” he says. To examine how a single neuron interprets distinct inputs and drives corresponding behaviors, neuroscientist Kang Shen of Stanford University and colleagues focused on PVD neuron–regulated escape behavior when a worm is poked with a wire and the worm’s normal wiggling motion as it responds to proprioceptive stimuli. © 1986–2019 The Scientist

Keyword: Pain & Touch; Development of the Brain
Link ID: 26823 - Posted: 11.16.2019

Emily Makowski China’s approval of the drug oligomannate earlier this month for treating mild to moderate Alzheimer’s disease has been met with surprise and skepticism from some members of the scientific community, who claim that the preclinical data raise questions about the underlying mechanism of the drug. One microbiome researcher has pointed out inconsistencies between the researchers’ data and their proposed mechanism for how oligomannate could treat Alzheimer’s. “The field is seeing this [research] with a large dose of skepticism,” Malú Tansey, a neuroimmunologist at the University of Florida College of Medicine, tells The Scientist. On November 2, Shanghai Green Valley Pharmaceuticals announced that oligomannate, an oligosaccharide mixture derived from brown algae, had been approved by the National Medical Product Administration (NMPA), China’s equivalent of the US Food and Drug Administration. The announcement followed the completion of a Phase 3 clinical trial in China that found the drug appeared to slow cognitive decline in Alzheimer’s patients. In addition, researchers led by Meiyu Geng at the Shanghai Institute of Materia Medica published a paper in Cell Research in September on oligomannate’s ability to remodel the gut microbiome in mice and reduce neuroinflammation. There is an emerging link between the gut microbiome and Alzheimer’s disease in humans. In the study, the researchers gave oligomannate to mice that are genetically engineered to show physical and behavioral symptoms similar to Alzheimer’s disease. The team collected mouse feces to study the microorganisms present in gut microbiota, drew blood to analyze the presence of immune cells, and also examined the levels of cytokines, which are inflammatory compounds, in the brain. © 1986–2019 The Scientist

Keyword: Alzheimers
Link ID: 26821 - Posted: 11.16.2019

By Gary Stix Socrates famously railed against the evils of writing. The sage warned that it would “introduce forgetfulness into the soul of those who learn it: they will not practice using their memory because they will put their trust in writing.” He got a few things wrong. For one, people nurture Socrates’ memory because of all of the books written about him. But he also was off the mark in his musings about a forgetfulness of the soul. If anything, it appears that just the opposite holds: a study of hundreds of illiterate people living at the northern end of an island considered to be a world media capital roundly contradicts the father of Western philosophy. Evaluations of the elderly in the environs of Manhattan’s Washington Heights (the neighborhood immortalized by a Lin-Manuel Miranda musical) reveal that the very act of reading or writing—largely apart from any formal education—may help protect against the forgetfulness of dementia. “The people who were illiterate in the study developed dementia at an earlier age than people who were literate in the study,” says Jennifer J. Manly, senior author of the paper, which appeared on November 13in Neurology. Earlier studies trying to parse this topic had not been able to disentangle the role of reading and writing from schooling to determine whether literacy, by itself, could be a pivotal factor safeguarding people against dementia later in life. The researchers conducting the new study, who are mostly at Columbia University’s Vagelos College of Physicians and Surgeons, recruited 983 people with four years or less of schooling who were part of the renowned Washington Heights–Inwood Columbia Community Aging Project. Of that group, 238 were illiterate, which was determined by asking the participants point-blank, “Did you ever learn to read or write?”—followed by reading tests administered to a subsample. Even without much time in school, study subjects sometimes learned from other family members. © 2019 Scientific American

Keyword: Alzheimers; Language
Link ID: 26819 - Posted: 11.14.2019

By Richard C. Paddock CIDAHU, Indonesia — Thousands of children with crippling birth defects. Half a million people poisoned. A toxic chemical found in the food supply. Accusations of a government cover-up and police officers on the take. This is the legacy of Indonesia’s mercury trade, a business intertwined with the lucrative and illegal production of gold. More than a hundred nations have joined a global campaign to reduce the international trade in mercury, an element so toxic there is “no known safe level of exposure,” according to health experts. But that effort has backfired in Indonesia, where illicit backyard manufacturers have sprung up to supply wildcat miners and replace mercury that was previously imported from abroad. Now, Indonesia produces so much black-market mercury that it has become a major global supplier, surreptitiously shipping thousands of tons to other parts of the world. Much of the mercury is destined for use in gold mining in Africa and Asia, passing through hubs such as Dubai and Singapore, according to court records — and the trade has deadly consequences. “It is a public health crisis,” said Yuyun Ismawati, a co-founder of an Indonesian environmental group, Nexus3 Foundation, and a recipient of the 2009 Goldman Environmental Prize. She has called for a worldwide ban on using mercury in gold mining. Mercury can be highly dangerous as it accumulates up the food chain, causing a wide range of disorders, including birth defects, neurological problems and even death. ImageA small mine on Sumbawa. Miners often dig for ore on land without permission or government permits. Today, despite the risks, small-scale miners using mercury operate in about 80 countries in Asia, Africa and the Americas. They produce up to 25 percent of all gold sold. © 2019 The New York Times Company

Keyword: Development of the Brain; Neurotoxins
Link ID: 26809 - Posted: 11.11.2019

New preclinical research reported in animal models shows that exposure to compounds found in marijuana called cannabinoids (CBs), which includes cannabidiol (CBD) and tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), during early pregnancy can cause malformations in the developing embryo. The research also demonstrated that co-exposure to CBs and alcohol increased the likelihood of birth defects involving the face and brain. The study, funded by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA), part of the National Institutes of Health, was published in Scientific Reports. “Prenatal alcohol exposure is a leading preventable cause of birth defects and neurodevelopmental abnormalities in the United States,” said NIAAA Director, George F. Koob, Ph.D. “Since marijuana and alcohol are frequently used simultaneously, the combined effects of cannabinoids and alcohol are worrisome as well as the dangers of either substance alone.” The detrimental effects of prenatal alcohol exposure on human development are well known and include an array of lifelong physical, cognitive, and behavioral problems collectively called fetal alcohol spectrum disorders (FASD). Alcohol can disrupt fetal development at any stage during pregnancy, even the earliest stages before a woman knows she is pregnant. The effects of marijuana exposure during pregnancy and the combined effect of alcohol and marijuana are less known. In the study, scientists led by Scott Parnell, Ph.D., at the Bowles Center for Alcohol Studies at the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill, administered a variety of CBs alone and in combination with alcohol in varying amounts to mice on day eight of pregnancy, which is similar to the third and fourth weeks of pregnancy in humans. The CBD amounts administered were within what is considered a therapeutic range for several medical conditions in humans. The THC concentration administered was similar to levels reached by a person smoking marijuana.

Keyword: Development of the Brain; Drug Abuse
Link ID: 26806 - Posted: 11.09.2019

By Sara Manning Peskin, M.D. At 66, Bob Karger was losing language. It was not the tip-of-the-tongue feeling that melts when you recall a sought-after word. He had lost the connection between sounds and meaning — the way ba-na-na recalls a soft, yellow fruit or ea-gle calls to mind a large bird of prey. In a recent conversation, he had thought acorns grew on pine trees. Mr. Karger did not know how to use items around the house, either. When he picked up a can opener, he would not realize it could remove the top from a tin. If he held a hammer, he might grasp it by the head, turning it around in his palm, not knowing he could swing it into a nail. His world was filled with incomprehensible items. His wife, Sandy Karger, noticed other changes. When she told her husband about a family member who died, Mr. Karger laughed instead of comforting her. He tipped excessively, slipping $20 bills to strangers, because they reminded him of close friends. He fixated on obese people. “Look at that person, they’re really fat,” he would say loudly, in public. Overcome by impatience, he would push people ahead of him in line at the store. “Can’t you hurry up?” he’d yell. “Do you really need to buy that?” In other ways, Mr. Karger’s mind was as sharp as it had ever been. He could remember upcoming appointments and recent dinners. He didn’t repeat himself in conversation. His long-term memory was at times better than Ms. Karger’s. After two years of worsening symptoms, the Kargers found Dr. Murray Grossman at the University of Pennsylvania. Dr. Grossman is short and charismatic, a quick-witted Montreal native who has mentored me since I began training in neurology. For the past several decades, he has pioneered research on neurodegenerative diseases that change behavior and language. When he saw Mr. Karger in 2007, the diagnosis was clear within the hour: Mr. Karger had a type of frontotemporal dementia. © 2019 The New York Times Company

Keyword: Alzheimers; Learning & Memory
Link ID: 26799 - Posted: 11.07.2019

By Andrew Joseph, STAT Chinese regulators have granted conditional approval to an Alzheimer’s drug that is derived from seaweed, potentially shaking up the field after years of clinical failures involving experimental therapies from major drug companies. The announcement over the weekend has been met with caution as well as an eagerness from clinicians and others to see full data from the drug maker, Shanghai Green Valley Pharmaceuticals. The company said its drug, Oligomannate, improved cognitive function in patients with mild to moderate Alzheimer’s compared to placebo in a Phase 3 trial, with benefits seen in patients as early as week four and persisting throughout the 36 weeks of the trial. It has been almost two decades since any Alzheimer’s drug was approved. Oligomannate has received scant attention in the United States during its development. Advertisement Although full data on the drug have not yet been made available, the conditional approval by regulators means Oligomannate, also known as GV-971, will on the market in China by the end of the year, Green Valley said. The company will have to submit additional research on the mechanism of the drug and its long-term safety and effectiveness to the country’s National Medical Products Administration, Reuters reported. Green Valley also said it would launch a global Phase 3 trial next year in hopes of filing for approval in other countries as well. “It’s good to see that drug regulators in China are prioritizing emerging treatments for Alzheimer’s, but we do still need to see more evidence that this drug is safe and effective,” Carol Routledge, the director of research at Alzheimer’s Research UK, said in a statement. “For any potential drug to gain a stamp of approval by regulators in the UK, we’ll need to see larger trials in countries around the world to back up the evidence from China.” © 2019 Scientific American

Keyword: Alzheimers
Link ID: 26795 - Posted: 11.06.2019

By Gretchen Reynolds Being physically fit may sharpen the memory and lower our risk of dementia, even if we do not start exercising until we are middle-aged or older, according to two stirring new studies of the interplay between exercise, aging, aerobic fitness and forgetting. But both studies, while underscoring the importance of activity for brain health, also suggest that some types of exercise may be better than others at safeguarding and even enhancing our memory. The scientific evidence linking exercise, fitness and brain health is already hefty and growing. Multiple studies have found that people with relatively high levels of endurance, whatever their age, tend to perform better on tests of thinking and memory than people who are out of shape. Other studies associate better fitness with less risk for developing Alzheimer’s disease. But many of these studies have been one-time snapshots of people’s lives and did not delve into whether and how changing fitness over time might alter people’s memory skills or dementia risk. They did not, in other words, tell us whether, by midlife or retirement age, it might be too late to improve our brain health with exercise. So, for the first of the new studies, which was published this month in The Lancet Public Health, researchers at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology in Trondheim, Norway, helpfully decided to look into that very issue, taking advantage of the reams of health data available on average Norwegians. They began by turning to records from a large-scale health study that had enrolled almost every adult resident in the region around Trondheim beginning in the 1980s. The participants completed health and medical testing twice, about 10 years apart, that included estimates of their aerobic fitness. © 2019 The New York Times Company

Keyword: Alzheimers
Link ID: 26794 - Posted: 11.06.2019

By Pam Belluck The woman’s genetic profile showed she would develop Alzheimer’s by the time she turned 50. She, like thousands of her relatives, going back generations, was born with a gene mutation that causes people to begin having memory and thinking problems in their 40s and deteriorate rapidly toward death around age 60. But remarkably, she experienced no cognitive decline at all until her 70s, nearly three decades later than expected. How did that happen? New research provides an answer, one that experts say could change the scientific understanding of Alzheimer’s disease and inspire new ideas about how to prevent and treat it. In a study published Monday in the journal Nature Medicine, researchers say the woman, whose name they withheld to protect her privacy, has another mutation that has protected her from dementia even though her brain has developed a major neurological feature of Alzheimer’s disease. This ultra rare mutation appears to help stave off the disease by minimizing the binding of a particular sugar compound to an important gene. That finding suggests that treatments could be developed to give other people that same protective mechanism. “I’m very excited to see this new study come out — the impact is dramatic,” said Dr. Yadong Huang, a senior investigator at Gladstone Institutes, who was not involved in the research. “For both research and therapeutic development, this new finding is very important.” A drug or gene therapy would not be available any time soon because scientists first need to replicate the protective mechanism found in this one patient by testing it in laboratory animals and human brain cells. © 2019 The New York Times Company

Keyword: Alzheimers; Genes & Behavior
Link ID: 26792 - Posted: 11.05.2019

Nicola Davis A potential route to reducing brain injury in premature babies has been found, say researchers who have discovered a way to tackle overactive immune cells in the brain. Microglia are a type of immune cell that play an important part in the building of a baby’s brain. However, if these cells go into overdrive as a result of inflammation – often because of a bacterial infection of the foetal membranes, a maternal infection or even sepsis after delivery of the baby – they can cause harm to the child’s brain. In particular, they can damage white matter, reducing the degree to which neurons are insulated and thereby affecting connectivity in the brain. It is thought that of the 15 million infants born before 37 weeks every year, up to 9 million are left with lifelong harm to the brain, sometimes resulting in conditions such as epilepsy or cerebral palsy. Now researchers say they have found a signalling pathway in these immune cells that is behind their transformation. “We have actually identified the immune switch that turns these immune cells in the developing brain from being helpful in building a brain and taking care of the brain to causing damage,” said Dr Bobbi Fleiss from RMIT University in Melbourne, Australia, a co-author of the study. What is more, the researchers say, it might even be possible to intervene and turn rogue microglia back into helpful workhorses. Writing in the journal Brain, Fleiss and colleagues reported how they took mouse pups just after birth and injected them with proteins that mimic an infection in the mother or foetus, inducing the transformation of microglia from helpful to harmful. © 2019 Guardian News & Media Limited

Keyword: Development of the Brain; Glia
Link ID: 26785 - Posted: 11.02.2019