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

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By Linda Searing The more fit you are, the less likely you may be to develop Alzheimer’s disease — with those who are the most fit having a 33 percent lower risk for this dementia than the least fit, according to a report to be presented to the American Academy of Neurology at its annual meeting next month. FAQ: What to know about the omicron variant of the coronavirus D.C.-based researchers, from the Washington VA Medical Center and George Washington University, tested and tracked 649,605 veterans (average age 61) for nearly a decade. Based on their cardiorespiratory fitness, participants were divided into five categories, from lowest to highest fitness level. 10-minute exercising may slow progression to dementia for those with mild cognitive impairment The researchers found that, as fitness improved, people’s chances of developing the ailment decreased. Compared with the least-fit group, those slightly more fit had a 13 percent lower risk for Alzheimer’s; the middle group was 20 percent less likely to develop the disease; the next higher group was 26 percent less likely; with the odds reaching a 33 percent lower risk for those in the most-fit group. Alzheimer’s is the most common type of dementia. It is a progressive brain disorder that, over time, destroys memory and thinking skills and interferes with the ability to carry out daily tasks. About 6 million Americans 65 and older have Alzheimer’s. There are no proven ways to cure the disease. © 1996-2022 The Washington Post

Keyword: Alzheimers
Link ID: 28239 - Posted: 03.16.2022

Alison Abbott Every two weeks, a nurse visits 43-year-old Marty Reiswig in Denver, Colorado, and injects him with an experimental drug called gantenerumab. Every month, Reiswig drives into town for a brain scan to make sure the drug has not caused any bleeds. And every year he flies to St Louis, Missouri, for four days of brain scans, spinal taps, blood analyses and exhaustive tests of his memory and reasoning capacity. Reiswig is fit and healthy and runs two local businesses. He goes through all of this because he has a rare genetic mutation that almost guarantees he will develop early-onset Alzheimer’s disease. He hopes that the international clinical trial he has been part of for nine years might prevent, or at least delay, the onset of symptoms that will otherwise arise in just a few years’ time. “I always do my best to give the researchers as much as I can — even if it turns out not to help me, it might help my children,” he says. The trial is one of several trying to understand whether treating the root cause of Alzheimer’s before symptoms start might be the best way to handle a disease that exacts such a large toll. The drugs under scrutiny are all antibodies that have been developed to target and clear amyloid-β proteins in the brain, which clog together into toxic masses called plaques (see ‘Antibodies against amyloid’). These drugs are of the same type as aducanumab, made by Biogen in Cambridge, Massachusetts, which was provisionally approved last year by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for the treatment of mild Alzheimer’s, in large part owing to its ability to remove amyloid-β. And because such toxic proteins are a feature of several types of dementia, these antibody studies might also offer hints for how to treat the 55 million people around the world who have these conditions, says neurologist Paul Aisen at the University of Southern California in San Diego, who is a leader of the US Alzheimer’s Clinical Trials Consortium. Most dementias hit after 65 years of age; all have proved to be stubbornly incurable. Of more than 100 trials around the world, most are aiming to treat symptoms of the disease rather than its root cause. © 2022 Springer Nature Limited

Keyword: Alzheimers
Link ID: 28236 - Posted: 03.11.2022

By Gina Kolata Dr. John Q. Trojanowski, a neuropathologist whose work was at the forefront of research on Alzheimer’s and other neurodegenerative diseases, died on Feb. 8 in a hospital in Philadelphia. He was 75. His wife and longtime collaborator, Virginia M.-Y. Lee, said the cause was complications of chronic spinal cord injuries. Dr. Trojanowski “was a giant in the field,” said Leslie Shaw, a professor with Dr. Trojanowski in the department of pathology and laboratory medicine at the University of Pennsylvania — adding that he meant that in two ways. At 6 feet 4 inches, Dr. Trojanowski towered over his colleagues. And, Dr. Shaw said, he was also a towering figure in his field, whose scientific contributions were “phenomenal” because they combined pathology and biochemistry to figure out what goes wrong, and why, when people get diseases as disparate as Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s and A.L.S. The results can lead to improved diagnosis and potential treatments. Key to the work Dr. Trojanowski did with Dr. Lee was their establishment of a brain bank: stored brains from patients with diseases like Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s, as well as from people without degenerative brain diseases. It allowed them to compare the brains of people with and without the conditions and ask what proteins were involved in the diseases and what brain regions were affected. Among their first quests was an attempt to solve the mystery of strange areas in the brains of people with Alzheimer’s. Known as tangles and first described by Alois Alzheimer himself at the turn of the 20th century, they look like twisted strands of spaghetti in dying nerve cells. In 1991, Dr. Trojanowski and Dr. Lee determined that the regions are made up of a malformed protein called tau, which causes the structure of nerve cells to collapse. At a time when most Alzheimer’s researchers and drug companies were focused on a different protein, amyloid, Dr. Trojanowski and Dr. Lee insisted that tau was equally important. They then discovered that it also played a central role in a rare group of degenerative dementias known as frontotemporal lobar degeneration. © 2022 The New York Times Company

Keyword: Alzheimers; ALS-Lou Gehrig's Disease
Link ID: 28225 - Posted: 03.02.2022

by Laura Dattaro Some genomic areas that help determine cerebellar size are associated with autism, schizophrenia and bipolar disorder, according to a new study. But heritable genetic variants across the genome that also influence cerebellar size are not. The cerebellum sits at the base of the skull, below and behind the much larger cerebrum. It coordinates movement and may also play roles in social cognition and autism, according to previous research. The new work analyzed genetic information and structural brain scans from more than 33,000 people in the UK Biobank, a biomedical and genetic database of adults aged 40 to 69 living in the United Kingdom. A total of 33 genetic sequence variants, known as single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs), were associated with differences in cerebellar volume. Only one SNP overlapped with those linked to autism, but the association should be explored further in other cohorts, says lead investigator Richard Anney, senior lecturer in bioinformatics at Cardiff University in Wales. “There’s lots of caveats to say why it might be worth following up on,” Anney says. “But from this data alone, it’s not telling us there’s a major link between [autism] and cerebellar volume.” So far, cognitive neuroscientists have largely ignored the cerebellum, says Jesse Gomez, assistant professor of neuroscience at Princeton University, who was not involved in the work. The new study represents a first step in better understanding genetic influences on the brain region and its role in neurodevelopmental conditions, he says. “It’s a fun paper,” Gomez says. “It’s the beginning of what’s an exciting revolution in the field.” Of the 33 inherited variants Anney’s team found, 5 had not previously been significantly associated with cerebellar volume. They estimated that the 33 variants account for about 50 percent of the differences in cerebellar volume seen across participants. © 2022 Simons Foundation

Keyword: Autism; Genes & Behavior
Link ID: 28215 - Posted: 02.23.2022

by Angie Voyles Askham Mice chemically coaxed to produce high levels of an autism-linked gut molecule have anxiety-like behavior and unusual patterns of brain connectivity, according to a study published today in Nature. The findings present a direct mechanism by which the gut could send signals to the brain and alter development, the researchers say. “It’s a true mechanistic paper, [like] the field has been asking for,” says Jane Foster, professor of psychiatry and behavioral neurosciences at McMaster University in Hamilton, Canada, who was not involved in the study. Although it’s not clear that this exact signaling pathway is happening in people, she says, “this is the sort of work that’s going to get us that answer.” The molecule, 4-ethylphenol (4EP), is produced by gut microbes in mice and people. An enzyme in the colon and liver converts 4EP to 4-ethylphenyl sulfate (4EPS), which then circulates in the blood. Mice exposed to a maternal immune response in the womb have atypically high blood levels of 4EPS, as do some autistic people, previous research shows. And injecting mice with the molecule increases behaviors indicative of anxiety. But it wasn’t clear how the molecule could contribute to those traits. In the new work, researchers show that 4EPS can enter the brain and that its presence is associated with altered brain connectivity and a decrease in myelin — the insulation around axons that helps conduct electrical signals. Boosting the function of myelin-producing cells, the team found, eases the animals’ anxiety. “This is one of the first — maybe, arguably, the first — demonstrations of a specific microbe molecule that has such a profound impact on a complex behavior,” says lead researcher Sarkis Mazmanian, professor of microbiology at the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena. “How it’s doing it, we still need to understand.” without the engineered enzymes, they showed increased anxiety-like behaviors, © 2022 Simons Foundation

Keyword: Development of the Brain; Neuroimmunology
Link ID: 28205 - Posted: 02.16.2022

Ian Sample Science editor People who develop Alzheimer’s disease can experience sleep disturbances years before the condition takes hold, but whether one causes the other, or something more complex is afoot, has always proved hard for scientists to determine. Now, researchers in the US have shed light on the mystery, in work that raises hopes for new therapies, and how “good sleep hygiene” could help to tackle the disease and its symptoms. The findings show that humans’ 24-hour circadian clock controls the brain’s ability to mop up wayward proteins linked to Alzheimer’s disease. If the scientists are right, the work would explain, at least in part, how disruption to circadian rhythms and sleep disturbances might feed into the onset and progression of Alzheimer’s disease, and how preventing such disruption might stave off the condition. “Circadian disruption is correlated with Alzheimer’s diagnosis and it has been suggested that sleep disruptions could be an early warning sign of Alzheimer’s disease,” said Dr Jennifer Hurley, who led the research at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, in New York. Alzheimer’s takes hold when connections are lost between nerve cells in the brain. The disease is progressive and linked to abnormal plaques and tangles of proteins that steadily build up in the brain. The disease is the most common cause of dementia and affects more than half a million people in the UK, a figure that is set to rise. To keep the brain healthy, immune cells called microglia seek out and destroy troublesome proteins that threaten to accumulate in the brain. One type of protein targeted by the cells is called amyloid beta, a hallmark of Alzheimer’s. © 2022 Guardian News & Media Limited

Keyword: Alzheimers; Sleep
Link ID: 28197 - Posted: 02.12.2022

By Elizabeth Landau My grandmother was in the advanced stages of Alzheimer’s disease when she died in 2007, not long after I graduated from journalism school. As a budding health reporter, I tried to learn everything I could about Alzheimer’s and wrote about new research on preventions and treatments that everyone wanted to believe had potential. It is demoralizing and infuriating to think about how, nearly 15 years later, no breakthrough cure or proven prevention strategy has panned out. But neurologist Sara Manning Peskin argues in “A Molecule Away from Madness: Tales of the Hijacked Brain” that we could be on the brink of a revolution in confronting diseases like this because scientists have a better handle on how molecules work in the brain. Molecular research has transformed our understanding and treatment of cancer in recent years, and now it is beginning to do the same for brain diseases. In fact, it has already been key to solving several mysteries of why seemingly healthy people appear to suddenly fall into a mental inferno. While the shadow of Alzheimer’s looms over the book, representing an intractable condition that Peskin routinely confronts in her clinical practice, “A Molecule Away from Madness” is a fascinating tour of different kinds of ways that the brain can lead to the breakdown of mental life. The book is organized according to how different molecules interact with our brains to wreak havoc — Peskin calls them “mutants, rebels, invaders, and evaders.” Some have helped scientists solve longstanding puzzles, while others, like the molecules associated with Alzheimer’s, continue to leave millions of people waiting for a cure.

Keyword: Alzheimers
Link ID: 28196 - Posted: 02.12.2022

By Pallab Ghosh A paralysed man with a severed spinal cord has been able to walk again, thanks to an implant developed by a team of Swiss researchers. It is the first time someone who has had a complete cut to their spinal cord has been able to walk freely. The same technology has improved the health of another paralysed patient to the extent that he has been able to become a father. The research has been published in the journal Nature Medicine. Michel Roccati was paralysed after a motorbike accident five years ago. His spinal cord was completely severed - and he has no feeling at all in his legs. But he can now walk - because of an electrical implant that has been surgically attached to his spine. Someone this injured has never been able to walk like this before. The researchers stress that it isn't a cure for spinal injury and that the technology is still too complicated to be used in everyday life, but hail it nonetheless as a major step to improving quality of life. I met Michel at the lab where the implant was created. He told me that the technology "is a gift to me". "I stand up, walk where I want to, I can walk the stairs - it's almost a normal life." It was not the technology alone that drove Michel's recovery. The young Italian has a steely resolve. He told me that from the moment of his accident, he was determined to make as much progress as he could. "I used to box, run and do fitness training in the gym. But after the accident, I could not do the things that I loved to do, but I did not let my mood go down. I never stopped my rehabilitation. I wanted to solve this problem." The speed of Michel's recovery amazed the neurosurgeon who inserted the implant and expertly attached electrodes to individual nerve fibres, Prof Jocelyne Bloch at Lausanne University Hospital "I was extremely surprised," she told me. "Michel is absolutely incredible. He should be able to use this technology to progress and be better and better." © 2022 BBC.

Keyword: Robotics; Regeneration
Link ID: 28194 - Posted: 02.09.2022

by Holly Barker New software uses machine-learning to automatically detect and quantify gait and posture from videos of mice moving around their cage. The tool could accelerate research on how autism-linked mutations or drug treatments affect motor skills, says lead researcher Vivek Kumar, associate professor of mammalian genetics at The Jackson Laboratory in Bar Harbor, Maine. Most efforts to analyze motor behavior involve placing a mouse on a treadmill or training it to walk through a maze. These assays are a simple way of testing speed, but they restrict the animals’ movement and force mice to walk in an unnatural way. The algorithm processes footage from an overhead camera and tracks 12 key points on a mouse’s body as it freely explores its surroundings. As the animal wanders, the software detects the position of its limbs and other body parts, automatically generating data on its gait and posture. The researchers described their method in January in Cell Reports. Kumar’s group trained the software by feeding it about 8,000 video frames that had been manually annotated to tag key points on the animal’s body, such as the nose, ears and tip of the tail. They repeated the process with a variety of different strains to teach the algorithm to recognize mice of all shapes and sizes. The trained software learned to read the rodent’s pose, which was further analyzed to extract more detailed information, such as the speed and length of each stride and the width of the mouse’s stance. © 2022 Simons Foundation

Keyword: Autism; Movement Disorders
Link ID: 28186 - Posted: 02.05.2022

Bret Stetka It all started with genetic data. A gene here, a gene there. Eventually the story became clearer: If scientists are to one day find a cure for Alzheimer's disease, they should look to the immune system. Over the past couple decades, researchers have identified numerous genes involved in various immune system functions that may also contribute to Alzheimer's. Some of the prime suspects are genes that control humble little immune cells called microglia, now the focus of intense research in developing new Alzheimer's drugs. Microglia are amoeba-like cells that scour the brain for injuries and invaders. They help clear dead or impaired brain cells and literally gobble up invading microbes. Without them, we'd be in trouble. In a normal brain, a protein called beta-amyloid is cleared away through our lymphatic system by microglia as molecular junk. But sometimes it builds up. Certain gene mutations are one culprit in this toxic accumulation. Traumatic brain injury is another, and, perhaps, impaired microglial function. One thing everyone agrees on is that in people with Alzheimer's, too much amyloid accumulates between their brain cells and in the vessels that supply the brain with blood. Once amyloid begins to clog networks of neurons, it triggers the accumulation of another protein, called tau, inside of these brain cells. The presence of tau sends microglia and other immune mechanisms into overdrive, resulting in the inflammatory immune response that many experts believe ultimately saps brain vitality in Alzheimer's. To date, nearly a dozen genes involved in immune and microglial function have been tied to Alzheimer's. The first was CD33, identified in 2008. © 2022 npr

Keyword: Alzheimers; Neuroimmunology
Link ID: 28184 - Posted: 02.02.2022

by Laura Dattaro Early in her first postdoctoral position, Hollis Cline first showed her hallmark flair for creative problem-solving. Cline, who goes by Holly, and her adviser, neuroscientist Martha Constantine-Paton, wanted to study the brain’s ‘topographical maps’ — internal representations of sensory input from the external world. These maps are thought to shape a person’s ability to process sensory information — filtering that can go awry in autism and other neurodevelopmental conditions. No one knew just how these maps formed or what could potentially disrupt them. Cline and Constantine-Paton, who was then at Yale University and is now emerita professor of brain and cognitive sciences at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, weren’t sure how to find out. But as a first step, the pair decided to take the plunge with an unusual animal model: the frog — specifically, a spotted greenish-brown species called Rana pipiens, or the northern leopard frog. The amphibians spend two to three months as tadpoles, a span during which their brains change rapidly and visibly — unlike in mammals, which undergo similar stages of development inside of the mother’s body. These traits made it possible for Cline and Constantine-Paton to introduce changes and repeatedly watch their effects in real time. “That’s an extended period when you can actually have access to the developing brain,” Cline says. The unorthodox approach paid off. Cline, 66, now professor of neuroscience at the Scripps Research Institute in La Jolla, California, worked out that a receptor for the neurotransmitter glutamate, which had been shown to be important for learning and memory, also mediated how visual experiences influence the developing topographical map. She later created a novel live imaging technique to visualize frog neurons’ development over time and, sticking with frogs over the ensuing decades, went on to make fundamental discoveries about how sensory experiences shape brain development and sensory processing. © 2022 Simons Foundation

Keyword: Development of the Brain; Autism
Link ID: 28179 - Posted: 02.02.2022

By Meeri Kim Kellie Carr and her 13-year-old son, Daniel, sat in the waiting room of a pediatric neurology clinic for yet another doctor’s appointment in 2012. For years, she struggled to find out what was causing his weakened right side. It wasn’t an obvious deficit, by any means, and anyone not paying close attention would see a normal, healthy teenage boy. At that point, no one had any idea that Daniel had suffered a massive stroke as a newborn and lost large parts of his brain as a result. “It was the largest stroke I’d ever seen in a child who hadn’t died or suffered extreme physical and mental disability,” said Nico Dosenbach, the pediatric neurologist at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis who finally diagnosed him using a magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scan. "If I saw the MRI first, I would have assumed this kid's probably in a wheelchair, has a feeding tube and might be on a ventilator," Dosenbach said. "Because normally, when a child is missing that much brain, it's bad." But Daniel — as an active, athletic young man who did fine in school — defied all logic. Before the discovery of the stroke, his mother had noticed some odd mannerisms, such as zipping up his coat or eating a burger using only his left hand. When engaged, his right hand often served as club-like support instead of a dexterous appendage with fingers. Daniel excelled as a left-handed pitcher in competitive baseball, but his coach found it unusual that he would always switch the glove to his left hand when catching the ball. Medical professionals tried to help — first his pediatrician, followed by an orthopedic doctor who sent him to physical therapy — but no one could figure out the root cause. They tried constraint-induced movement therapy, which forces patients to use the weaker arm by immobilizing the other in a cast, but Daniel soon rebelled and broke himself free. © 1996-2022 The Washington Post

Keyword: Development of the Brain; Stroke
Link ID: 28174 - Posted: 01.26.2022

By Jason DeParle WASHINGTON — A study that provided poor mothers with cash stipends for the first year of their children’s lives appears to have changed the babies’ brain activity in ways associated with stronger cognitive development, a finding with potential implications for safety net policy. The differences were modest — researchers likened them in statistical magnitude to moving to the 75th position in a line of 100 from the 81st — and it remains to be seen if changes in brain patterns will translate to higher skills, as other research offers reason to expect. Still, evidence that a single year of subsidies could alter something as profound as brain functioning highlights the role that money may play in child development and comes as President Biden is pushing for a much larger program of subsidies for families with children. “This is a big scientific finding,” said Martha J. Farah, a neuroscientist at the University of Pennsylvania, who conducted a review of the study for the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, where it was published on Monday. “It’s proof that just giving the families more money, even a modest amount of more money, leads to better brain development.” Another researcher, Charles A. Nelson III of Harvard, reacted more cautiously, noting the full effect of the payments — $333 a month — would not be clear until the children took cognitive tests. While the brain patterns documented in the study are often associated with higher cognitive skills, he said, that is not always the case. © 2022 The New York Times Company

Keyword: Development of the Brain; Learning & Memory
Link ID: 28172 - Posted: 01.26.2022

by Lauren Schenkman Autism is thought to arise during prenatal development, when the brain is spinning its web of excitatory and inhibitory neurons, the main signal-generating cell types in the cerebral cortex. Though this wiring process remains mysterious, one thing seemed certain after two decades of studies in mice: Although both neuron types arise from radial glia, excitatory neurons crop up in the developing cortex, whereas inhibitory neurons, also known as interneurons, originate outside of the cortex and then later migrate into it. Not so in the human brain, according to a study published in December in Nature. A team of researchers led by Tomasz Nowakowski, assistant professor of anatomy at the University of California, San Francisco, used a new viral barcoding method to trace the descendants of radial glial cells from the developing human cortex and found that these progenitor cells can give rise to both excitatory neurons and interneurons. “This is really a paradigm-shifting finding,” Nowakowski says. “It sets up a new framework for studying, understanding and interpreting experimental models of autism mutations.” Nowakowski spoke with Spectrum about the discovery’s implications for studying the origins of autism in the developing brain. Spectrum: Why did you investigate this topic? Tomasz Nowakowski: My lab and I are interested in understanding the early neurodevelopmental events that give rise to the incredible complexity of the human cerebral cortex. We know especially little about the early stages of human development, primarily because a lot of our knowledge comes from mouse models. As we’ve begun to realize over the past decade, the processes that underlie development of the brain in humans and mice can be quite different. © 2022 Simons Foundation

Keyword: Autism; Development of the Brain
Link ID: 28165 - Posted: 01.22.2022

By Jane E. Brody Many people aren’t overly concerned when an octogenarian occasionally forgets the best route to a favorite store, can’t remember a friend’s name or dents the car while trying to parallel park on a crowded city street. Even healthy brains work less efficiently with age, and memory, sensory perceptions and physical abilities become less reliable. But what if the person is not in their 80s but in their 30s, 40s or 50s and forgets the way home from their own street corner? That’s far more concerning. While most of the 5.3 million Americans who are living with Alzheimer’s disease or other forms of dementia are over 65, some 200,000 are younger than 65 and develop serious memory and thinking problems far earlier in life than expected. “Young-onset dementia is a particularly disheartening diagnosis because it affects individuals in the prime years,” Dr. David S. Knopman, a neurologist at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn., wrote in a July 2021 editorial in JAMA Neurology. Many of the afflicted are in their 40s and 50s, midcareer, hardly ready to retire and perhaps still raising a family. Dementia in a younger adult is especially traumatic and challenging for families to acknowledge, and many practicing physicians fail to recognize it or even suspect it may be an underlying cause of symptoms. “Complaints about brain fog in young patients are very common and are mostly benign,” Dr. Knopman told me. “It’s hard to know when they’re not attributable to stress, depression or anxiety or the result of normal aging. Even neurologists infrequently see patients with young-onset dementia.” Yet recent studies indicate that the problem is far more common than most doctors realize. Worldwide, as many as 3.9 million people younger than 65 may be affected, a Dutch analysis of 74 studies indicated. The study, published in JAMA Neurology in September, found that for every 100,000 people aged 30 to 64, 119 had early dementia. © 2022 The New York Times Company

Keyword: Alzheimers; Genes & Behavior
Link ID: 28161 - Posted: 01.19.2022

By Azeen Ghorayshi An upsurge in teenagers requesting hormones or surgeries to better align their bodies with their gender identities has ignited a debate among doctors over when to provide these treatments. An international group of experts focused on transgender health last month released a draft of new guidelines, the gold standard of the field that informs what insurers will reimburse for care. Many doctors and activists praised the 350-page document, which was updated for the first time in nearly a decade, for including transgender people in its drafting and for removing language requiring adults to have psychological assessments before getting access to hormone therapy. But the guidelines take a more cautious stance on teens. A new chapter dedicated to adolescents says that they must undergo mental health assessments and must have questioned their gender identity for “several years” before receiving drugs or surgeries. Experts in transgender health are divided on these adolescent recommendations, reflecting a fraught debate over how to weigh conflicting risks for young people, who typically can’t give full legal consent until they are 18 and who may be in emotional distress or more vulnerable to peer influence than adults are. Some of the drug regimens bring long-term risks, such as irreversible fertility loss. And in some cases, thought to be quite rare, transgender people later “detransition” to the gender they were assigned at birth. Given these risks, as well as the increasing number of adolescents seeking these treatments, some clinicians say that teens need more psychological assessment than adults do. “They absolutely have to be treated differently,” said Laura Edwards-Leeper, a child clinical psychologist in Beaverton, Ore., who works with transgender adolescents. Dr. Edwards-Leeper was one of seven authors of the new adolescent chapter, but the organization that publishes the guidelines, the World Professional Association for Transgender Health, did not authorize her to comment publicly on the draft’s proposed wording. © 2022 The New York Times Company

Keyword: Sexual Behavior; Hormones & Behavior
Link ID: 28156 - Posted: 01.15.2022

Melinda Wenner Moyer Like many paediatricians, Dani Dumitriu braced herself for the impact of the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus when it first surged in her wards. She was relieved when most newborn babies at her hospital who had been exposed to COVID-19 seemed to do just fine. Knowledge of the effects of Zika and other viruses that can cause birth defects meant that doctors were looking out for problems. But hints of a more subtle and insidious trend followed close behind. Dumitriu and her team at the NewYork–Presbyterian Morgan Stanley Children’s Hospital in New York City had more than two years of data on infant development — since late 2017, they had been analysing the communication and motor skills of babies up to six months old. Dumitriu thought it would be interesting to compare the results from babies born before and during the pandemic. She asked her colleague Morgan Firestein, a postdoctoral researcher at Columbia University in New York City, to assess whether there were neurodevelopmental differences between the two groups. A few days later, Firestein called Dumitriu in a panic. “She was like, ‘We’re in a crisis, I don’t know what to do, because we not only have an effect of a pandemic, but it’s a significant one,’” Dumitriu recalled. She was up most of that night, poring over the data. The infants born during the pandemic scored lower, on average, on tests of gross motor, fine motor and communication skills compared with those born before it (both groups were assessed by their parents using an established questionnaire)1. It didn’t matter whether their birth parent had been infected with the virus or not; there seemed to be something about the environment of the pandemic itself. Dumitriu was stunned. “We were like, oh, my God,” she recalled. “We’re talking about hundreds of millions of babies.” Although children have generally fared well when infected with SARS-CoV-2, preliminary research suggests that pandemic-related stress during pregnancy could be negatively affecting fetal brain development in some children. Moreover, frazzled parents and carers might be interacting differently or less with their young children in ways that could affect a child’s physical and mental abilities.

Keyword: Development of the Brain; Learning & Memory
Link ID: 28152 - Posted: 01.12.2022

by Peter Hess Of all the brain chemistry that autism researchers study, few molecules have garnered as much attention as the so-called ‘social hormone,’ oxytocin. Some autistic children appear to have low blood levels of oxytocin, which has led several teams to test oxytocin delivered intranasally as an autism therapy. So far, though, such clinical trials have yielded inconsistent results. Here we explain what scientists know so far about oxytocin’s connection to autism. What does oxytocin do in the brain and body? Oxytocin serves multiple purposes, such as promoting trust between people, moderating our response to threats, and supporting lactation and mother-child bonding. The hormone is produced primarily in the hypothalamus, a brain region that mediates basic bodily functions, including hunger, thirst and body temperature. Oxytocin-producing neurons in the hypothalamus project into other parts of the brain, such as the nucleus accumbens, where the hormone regulates social-reward learning. In the brain’s sensory system, including the olfactory bulb, oxytocin seems to help balance excitatory and inhibitory signals, improving social-information processing, at least in rats. In the amygdala, oxytocin appears to help dull threat responses to negative social information and foster social recognition. The pituitary gland controls the release of oxytocin into the bloodstream. Blood oxytocin is crucial to start uterine muscle contractions during childbirth. It also supports lactation by facilitating the milk letdown reflex, stimulating the flow of milk into the nipple. © 2022 Simons Foundation

Keyword: Hormones & Behavior; Autism
Link ID: 28143 - Posted: 01.08.2022

by Anna Goshua A variety of traits, including developmental delay and intellectual disability, characterize people with mutations in the autism-linked gene MYT1L, according to a new study. The gene encodes a transcription factor important for cells that make myelin, which insulates nerve cells and is deficient in some forms of autism. The work, published 8 November in Human Genetics, represents the most detailed study of the traits associated with MYT1L mutations to date. “We wanted to gather more cases to bring a clearer clinical and molecular picture of the condition for lab scientists, clinicians and also for patients and families,” says study investigator Juliette Coursimault, a physician-researcher in the genetics department at Rouen University Hospital in France. She and her co-researchers described 62 people, whereas previous literature included only 12 cases. The new characterization will “benefit clinicians’ diagnosis and treatment strategies when a patient with MYT1L mutation arrives in their clinic,” says Brady Maher, a lead investigator at the Lieber Institute for Brain Development at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, Maryland, who was not part of the study. The researchers identified and reviewed data for 22 people with MYT1L mutations who had been described in the academic literature, and collected clinical and molecular data from an additional 40 people, aged 1 to 34 years old, with likely or confirmed pathogenic variants of MYT1L. They recruited the participants through Rouen University Hospital and data-sharing networks such as GeneMatcher, which connects clinicians and researchers. © 2021 Simons Foundation

Keyword: Autism; Genes & Behavior
Link ID: 28122 - Posted: 12.22.2021

Mir Jalil Razavi Weiying Dai The human brain has been called the most complex object in the known universe. And with good reason: It has around 86 billion neurons and several hundred thousand miles of axon fibers connecting them. Unsurprisingly, the process of brain folding that results in the brain’s characteristic bumps and grooves is also highly complex. Despite decades of speculation and research, the underlying mechanism behind this process remains poorly understood. As biomechanics and computer science researchers, we have spent several years studying the mechanics of brain folding and ways to visualize and map the brain, respectively. Figuring out this complexity may help researchers better diagnose and treat developmental brain disorders such as lissencephaly, or smooth brain, and epilepsy. Because many neurological disorders emerge at the early stages of development, understanding how brain folding works can provide useful insights into normal and pathological brain function. The mechanics of brain folding The brain is made of two layers. The outer layer, called the cerebral cortex, is composed of folded gray matter made up of small blood vessels and the spherical cell bodies of billions of neurons. The inner layer is composed of white matter, consisting mostly of the neurons’ elongated tails, called myelinated axons. When a story fascinates you, remember: Your donations make it possible Illustration of cross section of brain showing axonal pathways transitioning from gray matter into white matter. In recent years, researchers have shown that mechanics, or the forces that objects exert on one another, play an important role in the growth and folding of the brain. © 2010–2021, The Conversation US, Inc.

Keyword: Development of the Brain
Link ID: 28119 - Posted: 12.18.2021