Health & Wellness


Researchers Discover New Schizophrenia Gene

Researchers at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine are one gene closer to understanding schizophrenia and related disorders. Reporting in the Jan. 9 issue of the American Journal of Human Genetics, the team describes how a variation in the neuregulin 3 gene influences delusions associated with schizophrenia.

"Neuregulin 3 is clearly one more gene to add to the few currently known to contribute to schizophrenia," says David Valle, M.D., director of the McKusick-Nathans Institute of Genetic Medicine at Hopkins. "There's much more to do, but we're making progress."

Schizophrenia is a varied condition with a number of symptoms not shared by all affected. This could be one reason why it's been difficult to identify genes that contribute to the condition.

To address this, the team first rigorously separated the 73 different symptoms into nine distinct factors associated with the condition - prodromal, negative, delusion, affective, scholastic, adolescent sociability, disorganization, disability, hallucination.

Muscle Movement Affects How We Hear

The area of the brain responsible for movement plays a larger role than previously thought in how we hear speech.

It makes sense to us that the movement of our face helps in the production of words. We move our mouth to create words. But does it follow, then, that feeling a certain muscle movement in our face helps us hear words?

Researchers recently reported in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences that altering the way facial skin moves, changes the way a person hears a word.

Attention, Shopaholics: Your Weakness May Be a Proper Disease

First there was John A. Thain's $87,000 rug. Then there was Citigroup's planned $50 million corporate jet.

Then the world of politics got involved this week when the New York State inspector general released a report saying that Antonia C. Novello, the former state commissioner of health, had such an ingrained tendency for shopping that she had employees from her office squire her on buying expeditions to Macy's, Saks Fifth Avenue and three different Albany-area malls.

Ill-advised shopping has certainly turned up recently in the news, and yet the issue also forms the core of a much more contentious and continuing debate. As spenders spend while the economy plummets, the psychiatric world is trying to decide whether compulsive buying should actually be considered a disease.

Insulin protects brain from Alzheimer's - US study

CHICAGO - Insulin appears to shield the brain from toxic proteins associated with Alzheimer's disease, U.S. researchers said on Monday, supporting a theory that Alzheimer's may be a third form of diabetes.

And they said GlaxoSmithKline's (GSK.L: Quote, Profile, Research) diabetes drug Avandia, or rosiglitazone, which increases sensitivity to insulin, appeared to enhance this protective effect.

"Our results demonstrate that bolstering insulin signaling can protect neurons from harm," William Klein of Northwestern University, whose study appears in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, said in a statement.

Klein said the findings support a new idea that Alzheimer's is a type of diabetes of the brain.

Vitamin D Tied to Muscle Power in Adolescent Girls

Vitamin D is significantly associated with muscle power and force in adolescent girls, according to a new study accepted for publication in The Endocrine Society's Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism (JCEM).

Although vitamin D is naturally produced in the body through exposure to direct sunlight, vitamin D deficiency has become widely common in the United States. Vitamin D deficiency has been shown to have a significant negative impact on muscle and bone health, and can lead to conditions including osteoporosis and rickets.

"We know vitamin D deficiency can weaken the muscular and skeletal systems, but until now, little was known about the relationship of vitamin D with muscle power and force," said Dr. Kate Ward, Ph.D., of the University of Manchester in the U.K., and lead author of the study. "Our study found that vitamin D is positively related to muscle power, force, velocity and jump height in adolescent girls."

Tiny Gold Spheres Seek And Destroy Melanoma Cells

US researchers armed tiny hollow gold spheres with a highly targeted peptide so they could hunt down and get deep inside melanoma cells and then destroy them using heat converted from infra red light.

The research was the work of scientists from the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center and is published in the 1 February issue of Clinical Cancer Research.

Senior author Dr Chun Li, a professor in MD Anderson's Department of Experimental Diagnostic Imaging said:

"Active targeting of nanoparticles to tumors is the holy grail of therapeutic nanotechnology for cancer."
Arrow Up

New Insights into Growth Factor's Role in Brain Development

New research sheds light on a neural growth factor called proBDNF, finding that it is present and potentially active during the perinatal period when the brain's circuitry and memory-encoding regions are being refined. Led by Weill Cornell Medical College investigators with those at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center (MSKCC), and reported in the Jan. 11 issue of the journal Nature Neuroscience, the study could lead to a better understanding of brain development and the formation of memories.

ProBDNF is the precursor form of mature brain-derived neurotrophic growth factor (BDNF), and both are active in the hippocampus and cortex -- areas key to learning, memory and higher thinking. Intriguingly, proBDNF and BDNF encourage different actions; BDNF promotes the differentiation of new neurons and their constituent parts (axons, dendrites and synapses), and proBDNF the pruning of synapses -- a process that occurs particularly in the early stages of life.

"Our results suggest that the nervous system plays an active role in both potentiating and dampening its own activity as necessary," says senior author Dr. Barbara Hempstead, the O. Wayne Isom Professor of Medicine at Weill Cornell Medical College and a leader in the field of neurotrophin research.

Not Just Your Imagination: The Brain Perceives Optical Illusions as Real Motion

Rotating Snakes
© A. Kitaoka 2003
It's not just your imagination: The brain perceives the concentric circles of the famous Rotating Snakes optical illusion as rotating, but the image is static.
Ever get a little motion sick from an illusion graphic designed to look like it's moving? A new study suggests that these illusions do more than trick the eye; they may also convince the brain that the graphic is actually moving.

Researchers in Japan, led by Akiyoshi Kitaoka of Kyoto's Ritsumeikan University, monitored brain activity as participants viewed the Rotating Snakes illusion, where concentric circles appear to rotate continuously. The resulting article, Functional brain imaging of the Rotating Snakes illusion by fMRI, was recently published in the Association of Research in Vision and Ophthalmology's Journal of Vision as part of a collection of papers on neuroimaging in vision science.

Prior to the study, scientists believed illusions that simulated movement involved higher-level brain activity - the imagination. But this study found the illusion sparked brain activity generated by a bottom-up process in the visual cortex.

Bipolar Disorder Linked to Risk of Early Death from Natural Causes

Bipolar disorder appears to increase the risk of early death from medical illnesses, according to a literature review study published as the lead article this week in the journal Psychiatric Services.

The researchers comprehensively reviewed 17 studies involving more than 331,000 patients. Evidence suggested that people with bipolar disorder have a higher mortality from natural causes compared to people in the general population of similar age and gender but without mental illness. The various studies indicated that the risk was from 35 percent to 200 percent higher. The risk is the same for men and women. The most common conditions leading to premature death were heart disease, respiratory diseases, stroke, and endocrine problems such as diabetes.

Scientists Explore the Mysteries of Why We Sleep

Has it ever occurred to you, when faced with a big decision, to stay awake on it?

The faculty in Berkeley's Psychology Department who research the many functions of sleep are betting not. Plumbing the mysteries of why we spend a third of our lives asleep is a modern research area, as new as the 1950s, when it was discovered that the brain is not dormant in sleep, but in fact actively cycling through various states of unconsciousness.

Together, Matthew Walker, who directs Berkeley's Sleep and Neuroimaging Laboratory, and Allison Harvey, who leads the Sleep and Psychological Disorders Laboratory, have discovered that sleep does far more than refresh the body and mind. Enough sleep, or a deficit of it, are directly linked to our immune systems, metabolic control, memory, emotional functioning and learning.