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  • December 10, 2016
  • 04:28 AM

"Are we expecting too much from the extreme male brain theory of autism?"

by Paul Whiteley in Questioning Answers

The title of this post reflects the commentary published by Andrew Whitehouse [1] (open-access) discussing the meaning of the findings reported by Kung and colleagues [2] who quite categorically stated that there was: "No relationship between prenatal androgen exposure and autistic traits" in their study.OK, androgen exposure and psychology basically refers to the extreme male brain theory and autism which suggests that the so-called over-representation of autism in males is potentially down to hormone exposure (testosterone). The theory implies that androgen exposure at critical points in early development are skewing brain development towards a more 'male brain'. The definition of a male brain: well, apparently men are better systemisers than empathisers (better engineers that priests, I assume). The extreme male brain (EMB) hypothesis is an extension of the 'Theory of Mind' (ToM) stuff, which quite a few years back suggested that those diagnosed as being on the autism spectrum have greater difficulties in decoding mental states such as intents and desires. Grand psychological theories at their very finest you might say.The problem is that whilst ToM and the EMB theory made great psychological textbook reading (certainly in their heyday between the mid-1980s up to the late 1990s) and have spawned a whole industry around testing and teaching ToM for example, the scientific evidence for these concepts being exclusively and universally attributable to the great heterogeneity that is autism is not actually all that great. A shocker I know; and don't even ask about how comorbidity around autism might also be pretty important to such psychological concepts (see here and see here for example).Whitehouse - who himself has done some research in this area - talks quite a bit about the hows and whys of quite a few negative findings when it comes to the EMB theory (yes, there are quite a few) and what perhaps needs to be done to "advance beyond this stalemate" in relation to the EMB theory and autism.  His suggestion: "future research must first understand how the prenatal hormone environment relates to individual behavioural dimensions, and then incorporate this knowledge into the investigation of links with the more aetiologically and phenotypically complex profile of ASD [autism spectrum disorder]."These are wise words indeed but I'd suggest this perhaps applies to any 'theory' in relation to autism, psychological, biological or genetic. Indeed, I believe that other authors (see here) have already staked their claim on how using the word 'autism' as a starting point for anything other than a descriptive label probably isn't going to move autism research along any time soon; autisms people, autisms. The challenge is also one of moving away from generalisations; so talking about male and female brains is probably about as useful as talking about left and right-sided brains. Indeed, I'll refer you to some discussions about 'gender brains' between the main proponent of the EMB theory and a psychologist a few years back (see here and see here) that kicked up some scientific dust.I personally do think there is something in the findings looking at androgen levels and cognitive styles in the same way that there is something in most (replicated) peer-reviewed research when it comes to autism. But as Prof. Whitehouse indicates, it's probably going to be more relevant to some on the autism spectrum than others, and even then, disentangling the 'cognitive' structure of autism is going to be important [3]. The days of grand over-arching psychological theories about autism do seem to be riding off into the scientific sunset as the huge diversity and 'burden' of over-represented comorbidity start to come into plain sight. And certainly I don't think it's too rude to end with the words 'about time too'.To close, I hark back to simpler days or should that be to a simpler future when Buck Rogers showed the 25th Century how to boogie. Tell him what you think Twiki.----------[1] Whitehouse AJO. Commentary: Are we expecting too much from the extreme male brain theory of autism? A reflection on Kung et al. (2016). J Child Psychol Psychiatry. 2016 Dec;57(12):1463-1464.[2] Kung KT. et al. No relationship between prenatal androgen exposure and autistic traits: convergent evidence from studies of children with congenital adrenal hyperplasia and of amniotic testosterone concentrations in typically developing children. J Child Psychol Psychiatry. 2016 Dec;57(12):1455-1462.[3] Happé F. et al. Time to give up on a single explanation for autism. Nat Neurosci. 2006 Oct;9(10):1218-20.----------Whitehouse AJ (2016). Commentary: Are we expecting too much from the extreme male brain theory of autism? A reflection on Kung et al. (2016). Journal of child psychology and psychiatry, and allied disciplines, 57 (12), 1463-1464 PMID: 27859346... Read more »

  • December 9, 2016
  • 07:18 PM

The Most Interesting Stellar System Of All?

by Jeffrey Daniels in United Academics

Researchers at the Carnegie Institution of Washington re-examined the Kepler data and determined that it had also been steadily dimming over the course of those four years, on top of its sporadic dips in brightness. For 1,000 days, the rate of dimming observed was constant; then, for 200 days after, its dimming rate suddenly increased by some order of magnitude; finally, for the remaining 200 days, its brightness had remained largely unchanged.... Read more »

Boyajian, T., LaCourse, D., Rappaport, S., & et al. (2016) Planet Hunters IX. KIC 8462852 – where's the flux?. Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society, 457(4), 3988-4004. DOI: 10.1093/mnras/stw218  

Montet, B., & Simon, J. (2016) KIC 8462852 FADED THROUGHOUT THE MISSION . The Astrophysical Journal, 830(2). DOI: 10.3847/2041-8205/830/2/L39  

  • December 9, 2016
  • 04:53 AM

'Big data' Taiwan and schizophrenia risk

by Paul Whiteley in Questioning Answers

Today I bring the findings reported by Chou and colleagues [1] (open-access available here) to the blogging table and how the research might of the Taiwan National Health Insurance Database (NHIRD) brought it's 'big data' ("n = 23 422 955") to bear on the question: what is the risk of developing schizophrenia where one or more first-degree or other relatives are affected?The answer: "Having an affected co-twin, first-degree relative, second-degree relative, or spouse was associated with an adjusted RR [relative risk] (95% CI) of 37.86 (30.55-46.92), 6.30 (6.09-6.53), 2.44 (1.91-3.12), and 1.88 (1.64-2.15), respectively. Compared with the general population, individuals with one affected first-degree relative had a RR (95% CI) of 6.00 (5.79-6.22) and those with 2 or more had a RR (95% CI) of 14.66 (13.00-16.53) for schizophrenia."To translate the science-talk: if one twin is diagnosed with schizophrenia, there is a hugely increased risk of the other twin also being affected. If a mother or father, sister or brother, or your child(ren) are diagnosed with schizophrenia, there is an enhanced risk but nothing like the risk to twins. As you move outwards to other outlying family members (uncles, aunts, grandparents, etc) affected, your risk continues to diminish albeit still noticeable. Interestingly, when it comes to spouses (husband or wife), there is a small but increased risk that if they are diagnosed with schizophrenia so the other partner is at some small, enhanced risk. This tallies with the concept of assortative mating [2] but does not necessarily rule out other shared non-genetic factors either.The final sentence in that quote provides some evidence for a cumulative effect too. So if one of your close family members is diagnosed with schizophrenia, so the risk to yourself might be heightened. If two or more close family members are diagnosed, the relative risk to yourself jumps quite a bit more."A family history of schizophrenia is therefore associated with a higher risk of developing schizophrenia, mood disorders, and delusional disorders. Heritability and environmental factors each account for half of the phenotypic variance of schizophrenia."To close, Yoda don't like seagulls...----------[1] Chou IJ. et al. Familial Aggregation and Heritability of Schizophrenia and Co-aggregation of Psychiatric Illnesses in Affected Families. Schizophr Bull. 2016 Nov 21. pii: sbw159.[2] Parnas J. Assortative mating in schizophrenia: results from the Copenhagen High-Risk Study. Psychiatry. 1988 Feb;51(1):58-64.----------Chou IJ, Kuo CF, Huang YS, Grainge MJ, Valdes AM, See LC, Yu KH, Luo SF, Huang LS, Tseng WY, Zhang W, & Doherty M (2016). Familial Aggregation and Heritability of Schizophrenia and Co-aggregation of Psychiatric Illnesses in Affected Families. Schizophrenia bulletin PMID: 27872260... Read more »

  • December 9, 2016
  • 04:30 AM

Balancing on the BACK

by Abbis Haider Jaffri in Sports Medicine Research (SMR): In the Lab & In the Field

Patients who suffer from current or previous symptoms of lower back pain demonstrated lower reach distances in the posterior directions of the Y-Balance Test compared to healthy individuals.... Read more »

  • December 8, 2016
  • 05:12 PM

Do We All Have Split Brains?

by Neuroskeptic in Neuroskeptic_Discover

When you're doing two things at once - like listening to the radio while driving - your brain organizes itself into two, functionally independent networks, almost as if you temporarily have two brains. That's according to a fascinating new study from University of Wisconsin-Madison neuroscientists Shuntaro Sasai and colleagues. It's called Functional split brain in a driving/listening paradigm

In referring to 'split brains' in their title, Sasai et al. are linking their work to the litera... Read more »

Sasai, S., Boly, M., Mensen, A., & Tononi, G. (2016) Functional split brain in a driving/listening paradigm. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 201613200. DOI: 10.1073/pnas.1613200113  

  • December 8, 2016
  • 10:56 AM

The Reconstruction of Ships: Sailing the Seas of International Collaboration

by Filipe Castro in United Academics

Working for both public and private institutions, archaeologists constantly construct and deconstruct narratives about our past, but traditionally publish only a fraction of the sites they excavate and thus destroy. Computers and the internet present a vast range of opportunities for archaeologists to share primary data and foster intercultural online collaborations and reinterpretations of archaeological contexts. ... Read more »

Bass, G. (1961) The Cape Gelidonya Wreck: Preliminary Report. American Journal of Archaeology, 65(3), 267. DOI: 10.2307/501687  

  • December 8, 2016
  • 09:14 AM

What are Hierarchical Orthologous Groups (HOGs)?

by Christophe Dessimoz in Open Reading Frame

One central concept in the OMA project and other
work we do to infer relationships between genes is that of Hierarchical
Orthologous Groups, or “HOGs” for the initiated.

We’ve written several papers on aspects pertaining to HOGs—how to infer
how to evaluate them, they being
increasingly adopted by orthology
resources, etc.—but there is
still a great deal of confusion as to what HOGs are and why they matter.

Natasha Glover, talented postdoc in the lab, has prepared a brief video to
introduce HOGs and convey why in the Dessimoz lab we are all mad about them!




Altenhoff, A., Gil, M., Gonnet, G., & Dessimoz, C. (2013). Inferring Hierarchical Orthologous Groups from Orthologous Gene Pairs PLoS ONE, 8 (1) DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0053786

Boeckmann, B., Robinson-Rechavi, M., Xenarios, I., & Dessimoz, C. (2011). Conceptual framework and pilot study to benchmark phylogenomic databases based on reference gene trees Briefings in Bioinformatics, 12 (5), 423-435 DOI: 10.1093/bib/bbr034

Sonnhammer, E., Gabaldon, T., Sousa da Silva, A., Martin, M., Robinson-Rechavi, M., Boeckmann, B., Thomas, P., Dessimoz, C., & , . (2014). Big data and other challenges in the quest for orthologs Bioinformatics, 30 (21), 2993-2998 DOI: 10.1093/bioinformatics/btu492
... Read more »

Sonnhammer, E., Gabaldon, T., Sousa da Silva, A., Martin, M., Robinson-Rechavi, M., Boeckmann, B., Thomas, P., Dessimoz, C., & , . (2014) Big data and other challenges in the quest for orthologs. Bioinformatics, 30(21), 2993-2998. DOI: 10.1093/bioinformatics/btu492  

  • December 8, 2016
  • 05:59 AM

Know your brain: Septum

by neurosci in Neuroscientifically Challenged

Where is the septum?

The term septum, when used in reference to the brain (it is a common anatomical term used to refer to a partition), indicates a subcortical structure in the forebrain that is found near the midline of the brain. The septum in humans can be separated into two structures: the septum pellucidum and septum verum. Each of these is sometimes referred to on is own as the "septum," which can make references to the structure a bit confusing.The septum pellucidum, which is Latin for “translucent wall,” is a thin, almost transparent membrane that runs down the middle of the brain from the corpus callosum to the area of a large fiber bundle called the fornix. The septum pellucidum acts as a partition between a portion of the lateral ventricles, forming part of the walls of the anterior region of the lateral ventricles. It is made up of a thin two-layered structure that consists of white matter, some neurons, fiber bundles, and blood vessels. The septum pellucidum is surrounded by neurons that make up the septum verum, which consists of assorted nuclei commonly referred to as the septal nuclei. The septal nuclei themselves are often categorized based on location and are split up into lateral and medial (and sometimes additional caudal and ventral) divisions.  What is the septum and what does it do?Little is known about the functional role of the septum pellucidum, and it is often treated as simply an anatomical barrier in many discussions of the septum. However, its connections with the hippocampus and hypothalamus suggest a role at least as a relay station between these structures. Although abnormalities of the septum pellucidum are associated with several neurological conditions, it is at this point unclear what role, if any, the septum pellucidum plays in directly generating the symptoms of such disorders.A bit more is known about the actions of the septal nuclei, which seem to be involved in a variety of functions, although their exact role in many of these functions is still relatively poorly understood. Additionally, most of what we do know about the septal nuclei comes from animal studies, as there is little research available on the functions of the septal nuclei in humans.The septal nuclei are considered part of the limbic system, a group of subcortical structures that are often linked to emotion but are really involved in a long list of functions in the human brain. The septal nuclei receive afferent (i.e. incoming) connections from other limbic structures like the hippocampus, amygdala, and hypothalamus, as well as the dopamine-rich ventral tegmental area. The septal nuclei also send projections to the hippocampus, habenula, thalamus, ventral tegmental area, and hypothalamus.One of the first functional roles to be linked to the septal nuclei was an involvement in processing rewarding experiences. In a now-famous group of experiments, researchers James Olds and Peter Milner found that electrical stimulation of the septal nuclei and several other areas of the brain seemed to be rewarding to rats. Rats, in fact, responded more strongly to stimulation in the septal region than any other part of the brain studied, leading Olds and Milner to hypothesize the septal region was perhaps the locus of the reward system.Although our understanding of the reward system has since expanded and less importance has been placed on the septal nuclei in favor of other structures like the ventral tegmental area and nucleus accumbens, the septal nuclei are still thought to potentially play a role in reward processing. Neurons in the septal nuclei give rise to axons that travel in the medial forebrain bundle, a collection of fibers that connects the nuclei with the hypothalamus and ventral tegmental area. The medial forebrain bundle is an important part of the reward system, thought to stimulate dopamine neurons in the ventral tegmental area in response to rewarding stimuli.The septal nuclei also are densely interconnected with the hippocampus, and through these connections may play a role in learning and memory. The septal nuclei and hippocampus are sometimes referred to as the septo-hippocampal complex, and projections to the hippocampus (which travel in a fiber bundle called the fornix and are often called septohippocampal fibers) are some of largest projections from the septal region. Although the precise role of the septal nuclei in memory functions is not yet clear, the hippocampus receives the majority of its acetylcholine projections from the septal region. These neurons are activated during learning and degenerate in conditions like Alzheimer's disease that are characterized by disruptions in memory processes. The septal nuclei have been implicated in a number of other roles such as social behavior and the expression of fear, and abnormalities in septal functioning have been linked to a variety of disorders ranging from depression to schizophrenia. The septal area, however, including both the septum pellucidum and septum verum/septal nuclei, is still relatively poorly understood; it will take more research to fully elucidate its functions and influence on behavior.Sheehan, T., Chambers, R., & Russell, D. (2004). Regulation of affect by the lateral septum: implications for neuropsychiatry Brain Research Reviews, 46 (1), 71-117 DOI: 10.1016/j.brainresrev.2004.04.009... Read more »

  • December 8, 2016
  • 04:51 AM

Prescription medication use and autism: good medicines management required

by Paul Whiteley in Questioning Answers

"Prescription drug use and polypharmacy rates among adults with ASD [autism spectrum disorder] are substantially higher than those in an age-, sex-, and race-matched cohort of adults without ASD."That sentence taken from the paper by Rini Vohra and colleagues [1] (open-access available here) is probably not likely to win any 'novel findings of the year' awards given the already quite voluminous data published on the medication use and autism (see here for example). What gives the Vohra data a bit of an edge is that: (a) they included data for some 1700 adults with autism "matched 1:3 with adults without autism", (b) data were derived from administrative health insurance claims databases in the United States ("Medicaid programs"), and (c) they examined "the rates of prescription drug use, general polypharmacy, and psychotropic polypharmacy among adults" thus were able to detail not just psychotropic medication use but also that for other, more general conditions too.Their findings were stark. Accompanying that opening sentence on medication use and autism, authors reported that: "Annually, almost 75% of adults with ASD had >20 prescription drug claims compared with 33% of adults without ASD." That's more than 20 prescription medication claims per year.Further: "Other than psychotropics, many adults with ASD used medical prescription drugs such as antimicrobials (47%), dermatologic agents (48%), respiratory agents (38%), gastrointestinal agents (31%), alternative medications (25%), antiparkinsonian agents (22.6%), antihyperlipidemics/statins (7.3%), and immunologics (2.0%)." So when we start talking about the label of autism not appearing in some sort of diagnostic vacuum, and particularly that various medical comorbidity seem to be 'over-represented' when it comes to autism (see here), this is reflected in the large burden of medication being dispensed. If readers trawl through the adjusted odds ratios (AORs) generated when those with autism were compared with controls (Table 1), you'll note that many classes of medicine were more frequently prescribed to those with autism.  And where medicines were less frequently prescribed to the autism group, there were some potentially telling signs too: analgesics (used for pain relief), antidiabetics and antimicrobials. One could argue that maybe those diagnosed with autism have less need of things like pain relief or antibiotics or less likely to need antidiabetic medicines. One might however similarly argue that their medical and healthcare screening services could perhaps be 'less rigorous' than those not diagnosed with autism too, potentially as a result of various factors (see here).Onwards: "Adults with ASD and a psychiatric comorbidity such as an adjustment disorder (26%), mood disorder (31%), or schizophrenia (32%) had significantly high rates of psychotropic polypharmacy." I probably don't need to say much more about this sentence aside from the fact that mood disorder including things like depression are not uncommon diagnoses alongside autism (see here). The links with the schizophrenia spectrum are also not to be underestimated (see here).Finally: "Older age, female gender, White race, and presence of three or more comorbid conditions among adults with ASD is significantly associated with using six or more prescription drug classes per year." This sentence is not a roadmap to predicting who will need what medicines when it comes to autism but does provide some important information. There is for example, a woeful lack of research on autism in a longitudinal sense (see here) despite the topic of ageing and autism being debated time and time again. Inevitably as people age, their medication requirements are likely to change (increase?); this is as true for autism as it is for the not-autism population.I included the words 'good medicines management required' in the title of this post because, as you can see, the level of prescription medicines use when it comes to autism can be high and one needs to be careful that medicines are appropriate, monitored regularly and don't interact with one and another. Given what is also known about psychotropic medicines in particular in terms of potential side-effects (see here and see here for examples), the onus is surely on prescribers to keep an even closer eye on those with autism who are being medicated under their care. Medication is a part of life when it comes to autism. I base that last sentence on the wealth of data, peer-reviewed and otherwise, that has been published on this topic. I'm sure nobody particularly likes the idea of medication particularly when it comes to autism and certainly nobody should like the idea that some people on the autism spectrum are receiving quite a lot of prescription medicine concurrently and over quite long periods of time. But here's the thing, medication (generally) serves an important purpose. In the case of the antiepileptics/anticonvulsants it can be life-saving. Where mood disorders such as depression are being pharmacologically treated, it can be life-saving. Until, science is able to get a better idea of why some many conditions/labels seem to be over-represented when it comes to autism, medication is often all that it can offer at the moment...----------[1] Vohra R. et al. Prescription Drug Use and Polypharmacy Among Medicaid-Enrolled Adults with Autism: A Retrospective Cross-Sectional Analysis. Drugs Real World Outcomes. 2016 Nov 21.----------Vohra R, Madhavan S, Sambamoorthi U, StPeter C, Poe S, Dwibedi N, & Ajmera M (2016). Prescription Drug Use and Polypharmacy Among Medicaid-Enrolled Adults with Autism: A Retrospective Cross-Sectional Analysis. Drugs - real world outcomes PMID: 27873285... Read more »

  • December 7, 2016
  • 05:36 PM

Love on the Move: How Tinder is changing the way we date

by Livia Gerber in Language on the Move

A 2015 article in the New York Post argued that mobile dating apps, such as Tinder and its many clones,...... Read more »

  • December 7, 2016
  • 01:21 PM

The Hunt for the Higgs Bison Is Over

by Jeffrey Daniels in United Academics

A recently-published study has now resolved the mystery of the bison bones, with the help of some Ice Age cave artists. It turns out that there once existed, during the Ice Age, a hybrid between the now-extinct aurochs (the beast from which we domesticated the cow) and the equally-extinct steppe bison (basically, the Asian version of the American bison).... Read more »

  • December 7, 2016
  • 12:36 PM

Pregnancy folic acid and offspring autism systematically reviewed

by Paul Whiteley in Questioning Answers

"A total of 22 original papers that examined the association between folic acid supplementation in human pregnancy and neurodevelopment/autism were identified after the screening, with 15 studies showing a beneficial effect of folic acid supplementation on neurodevelopment/autism, 6 studies showed no statistically significant difference, while one study showed a harmful effect in > 5 mg folic acid supplementation/day during pregnancy."That rather long quote taken from the paper published by Yunfei Gao and colleagues [1] (open-access) opens today's post and provides a welcome [peer-reviewed] overview of where science is up to when it comes to the effects (or not) of pregnancy folic acid supplementation on 'risk' of offspring autism. I say 'where the science is up to' but at the same time note that the various searches of databases for material relevant to this topic/review was carried out up to the end of 2014. There have been other reports since that date including other reviews [2]...Folic acid or folate in the context of autism has been a recurrent research theme down the years. Outside of the protective effects of pregnancy folate use with regards to reducing the risk of offspring neural tube defects (NTDs), the suggestion that pregnancy folic acid may confer a protective effect against offspring autism has been highlighted in several studies (see here).Gao et al trawled the research literature and "included randomized controlled trials (RCTs), cohort studies, and case control studies that examined the association between folic acid supplementation during pregnancy and neurodevelopment/autism in the offspring children." As per that lengthy opening sentence from their paper, the authors found data that on the whole suggested that folate supplementation was protective rather than harmful when it came to offspring developmental outcomes. Given that most/many pregnant women are already taking folic acid during pregnancy to counter the risk of NTDs, this is good news indeed.Without giving any undue weight to those studies that have perhaps not been so enthusiastic about the link between pregnancy folate use and offspring autism risk (see here) I do think there are words of caution in this area too. We're still for example, waiting for research to be published that was raised at this years IMFAR event in relation to folic acid and autism (see here). Indeed, in my discussion of that so-far-unpublished work, I mentioned that the genetics of folic acid metabolism also needs to be further inspected when it comes to autism (see here) and that screening for particular issues linked to folate might be something to consider for people on the autism spectrum and their significant others (see here). Both these areas are potentially relevant to that recent chatter on how folinic acid might be useful for some aspects of some autism (see here)."Large scale RCTs with validated diagnosis and high follow up rate are needed in order to produce robust evidence regarding the effects of folic acid supplementation in pregnancy on fetal neurodevelopment" conclude the authors. Yes, we need more investigation of this area - including what effect certain medicines used during pregnancy might have had on folate levels -  but for now, the data seems to side with a protective effect of folate supplementation in pregnancy when it comes to offspring risk of autism or related neurodevelopmental issues.----------[1] Gao Y. et al. New Perspective on Impact of Folic Acid Supplementation during Pregnancy on Neurodevelopment/Autism in the Offspring Children – A Systematic Review. PLoS ONE. 2016; 11(11): e0165626.[2] DeVilbiss EA. et al. Maternal folate status as a risk factor for autism spectrum disorders: a review of existing evidence. Br J Nutr. 2015 Sep 14;114(5):663-72.----------Gao Y, Sheng C, Xie RH, Sun W, Asztalos E, Moddemann D, Zwaigenbaum L, Walker M, & Wen SW (2016). New Perspective on Impact of Folic Acid Supplementation during Pregnancy on Neurodevelopment/Autism in the Offspring Children - A Systematic Review. PloS one, 11 (11) PMID: 27875541... Read more »

  • December 7, 2016
  • 10:30 AM

Losing a Pet Can Lead to Different Types of Grief

by CAPB in Companion Animal Psychology Blog

New research looks at the factors that influence how we feel after euthanizing a pet.The loss of a pet is a difficult process. People’s feelings of grief may be the same as for losing a human family member. New research investigates some of the factors that may affect people’s grief and sorrow after euthanizing a dog or cat.The study, by Sandra Barnard-Nguyen (University of Sydney) et al, is one of the first to use a survey designed specifically to measure people’s responses to loss of a pet, rather than a human. This takes account of differences in the experience, including the decision to euthanize a pet.A reaction of grief and sorrow on the loss of a pet can be seen as part of a normal psychological process.  However in some people there may be feelings of guilt and anger that are more problematic. This type of grief is seen as ‘complicated’ and may sometimes develop into depression or other mental health issues.The study looked at these three types of grief in people who had euthanized a pet in the previous year. Sorrow and grief was measured by questions like “I miss my pet enormously.” Anger might be directed at the person themselves, or at veterinary staff (e.g. “I feel anger at the veterinarian for not being able to save my pet.” Guilt included feeling that “I feel bad that I didn’t do more to save my pet.”One way of understanding our relationship with pets is through attachment theory, the idea being that we become attached to our pets in much the same way as we do to people. From this perspective, you would expect people with a stronger attachment to their pet to feel more grief when the pet dies.And this is one of the findings of the study. People who were more attached to their pet reported more grief and sorrow, and also more feelings of anger (but not guilt).The scientists write,“While guilt can certainly be related to the decision to euthanize a companion animal, it may be the case that pet owners are effectively rationalizing this decision as being in the best interest of the pet. Additionally, veterinary staff may be helpful in explaining the need for euthanasia in end-of-life situations and in supporting and validating the decisions made by pet owners.”The researchers expected to find that people who were younger or lived alone would be more like to experience complicated grief, perhaps because they might have less social support. However, this was not the case, even though it has been found in earlier work. It shows that more research is needed into possible links between owner characteristics and experiences of grief.Finally, they found that the circumstances of euthanasia made a difference to people’s grief. A sudden death for the animal was linked to greater feelings of anger. In contrast, if the pet had had cancer, people had lower feelings of both anger and guilt.The scientists have recommendations for veterinarians:“Identifying pet owners who may be at greatest risk for problematic grief reactions has substantial clinical value for veterinary staff. While veterinary staff should be prepared to support all clients in their grief, recognizing that an owner is highly attached to their pet or that a pet has died a sudden or traumatic death, for example, should trigger additional support responses.”The survey was completed by 409 people who had euthanized a dog (78.5%) or cat in the previous year. The average age of the pet was 10 years old; 52% had died suddenly and 43% had been diagnosed with cancer.Earlier research by Tzivian et al (2015) found that losing a pet is a stressful life event, and social support is important to help people cope. This new research by Barnard-Nguyen et al is an important addition to the literature and helps us to better understand people’s experiences of grief when losing a pet.Although social support is important to everyone who loses a pet, this study suggests some pet owners may need that support even more than others. It also suggests that the way veterinarians support their clients to make decisions about euthanasia and to understand what is in the best interests of the pet may make a difference to people's subsequent grief response.What helped you to cope with losing a pet?Reference Barnard-Nguyen, S., Breit, M., Anderson, K., & Nielsen, J. (2016). Pet Loss and Grief: Identifying At-risk Pet Owners during the Euthanasia Process Anthrozoös, 29 (3), 421-430 DOI: 10.1080/08927936.2016.1181362Photos: mannpuku and Grigorita Ko (both Read more »

  • December 7, 2016
  • 08:00 AM

MicroRNA expression is regulated by DNA methylation: a complex cascade of gene regulation events

by Barbara Banelli in EpiBeat

MicroRNAs (miRNAs) are non-coding RNAs, roughly 22 nucleotides in size that are central and negative regulators of gene expression. They exert their functions through base-pairing with the 3’UTR of mRNAs and block expression at the transcriptional and post-transcriptional levels, depending on the perfect or imperfect match in sequences between miRNAs and their target genes. miRNAs are central nodes in a variety of biological processes like cell proliferation, apoptosis, migration and differentiation, and are considered to be “epigenetic controllers” because they influence gene expression without altering the genomic sequence. Altered expression of miRNAs is a commonly observed in various pathological conditions, including cancer, where they can act as tumor suppressor genes or oncogenes. Similar to protein-coding genes, miRNAs are also subject to epigenetic regulation by DNA methylation in their promoter regions. DNA methylation of miRNAs indirectly influences the regulation of the miRNA target genes, silencing or overexpressing them in case of hypo- or hypermethylation of miRNAs respectively.

DNA methylation patterns are also altered in cancer. Usually aberrant methylation is not restricted to few genes, but instead changes are widespread throughout the genome. The functional result of DNA methylation is highly context dependent and can have opposite effects on gene expression depending if it occurs in the promoter of a coding gene or a miRNA. Presence of DNA methylation at a gene promoter often results in downregulation of the gene. However, DNA methylation of miRNAs leads to an overexpression of their target genes. Moreover, miRNAs can influence the expression of many targets and their gene targets can be regulated by multiple miRNAs at the same time, creating a network of miRNAs-targets which vastly increases the complexity of gene regulation.... Read more »

Parodi F, Carosio R, Ragusa M, Di Pietro C, Maugeri M, Barbagallo D, Sallustio F, Allemanni G, Pistillo MP, Casciano I.... (2016) Epigenetic dysregulation in neuroblastoma: A tale of miRNAs and DNA methylation. Biochimica et biophysica acta, 1859(12), 1502-1514. PMID: 27751904  

  • December 7, 2016
  • 04:30 AM

Thinking about high-dose vitamin D supplements for your athletes? Make sure the dose is right.

by Kyle Harris in Sports Medicine Research (SMR): In the Lab & In the Field

A Blanket high dose vitamin D supplement plan results in elevated levels of vitamin D metabolites after the supplementation is completed. This could result in lower than normal levels of vitamin D, which is the opposite effect of the intended supplementation.... Read more »

Owens DJ, Tang JC, Bradley WJ, Sparks SA, Fraser WD, Morton JP, & Close GL. (2016) Efficacy of High Dose Vitamin D Supplements for Elite Athletes. Medicine and science in sports and exercise. PMID: 27741217  

  • December 6, 2016
  • 02:29 PM

Fun With Non-Ionizing Radiation

by Neuroskeptic in Neuroskeptic_Discover

Does non-ionizing radiation pose a health risk? Everyone knows that ionizing radiation, like gamma rays, can cause cancer by damaging DNA. But the scientific consensus is that there is no such risk from non-ionizing radiation such as radiowaves or Wi-Fi.

Yet according to a remarkable new paper from Magda Havas, the risk is real: it's called When theory and observation collide: Can non-ionizing radiation cause cancer?

There are a few remarkable things about this paper but chief among th... Read more »

  • December 6, 2016
  • 12:20 PM

Finding the Best Personalized Cancer Therapy

by Agnese Mariotti in United Academics

It would be great if, before starting a therapy, it was possible to test small doses of several drugs, at the same time, in a patient and compare their effects on the tumor, so to identify the one that works best.
The study of Yaari and colleagues from the Israel Institute of Technology in Haifa, published in Nature Communication, opens a way to this achievement.... Read more »

Yaari, Z., da Silva, D., Zinger, A., Goldman, E., Kajal, A., Tshuva, R., Barak, E., Dahan, N., Hershkovitz, D., Goldfeder, M.... (2016) Theranostic barcoded nanoparticles for personalized cancer medicine. Nature Communications, 13325. DOI: 10.1038/ncomms13325  

  • December 6, 2016
  • 12:07 PM

Online Insomnia Therapy Effective in Clinical Trial

by William Yates, M.D. in Brain Posts

Insomnia of sufficient severity to meet clinical significance is estimated to affect up to 20% of the general population.This makes insomnia an important public health challenge.Effective, inexpensive and accessible programs to treat insomnia are needed.One recent controlled clinical trial supports the promise of an online intervention that incorporates key elements of cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT).Lee Ritterband and colleagues at the University of Virginia recently published a controlled clinical trial of online CBT in 303 adults with chronic insomnia. The key elements of design in their study included the following elements:Subjects: Adults with chronic insomnia defined as 30 minutes of insomnia (at onset or during night) 3 nights per week for the last 6 months. Subjects were also required to have total sleep times of 6.5 hours per night or less. Additionally, the insomnia was required to produce significant distress or impairment in function. Subjects had to have a reliable source of access to the internet.Intervention: The experimental intervention was a online automated program known as "Sleep Healthy Using the Internet (SHUTi). This intervention is a weekly internet-based program lasting 6 weeks. The program mimics elements of face-to-face CBT for insomnia. The control intervention consisted of a non-tailored internet-based informational program about insomnia.Outcome Measures: Self-report measure known as the Insomnia Severity Index (ISI) along with sleep diaries. The study demonstrated a statistically significant improvement in multiple sleep measures including the ISI score, duration of onset insomnia and duration of wake time after sleep onset with SHUTi compared to control.SHUTi subjects showed a reduction of sleep onset insomnia time from an average of around 45 minutes at baseline to about 20 minutes at one year follow up.Interestingly there was no difference between experimental treatment and control in total sleep time. However, both groups showed about a 50 minute increase in total sleep time at one year of follow-up.This study is important because it not only demonstrated a significant therapeutic effect for SHUTi but this effect was maintained for a full year. This supports the durability of the the therapeutic effect for this intervention.The authors note limitations to the study include a sample that tended to be highly educated with internet access. Additionally, it was impossible for complete blinding as some subjects likely could guess their assignment based on the content of their internet intervention.Readers with more interest in the SHUTi program can access the official site HERE.  The site allows completing the online program for a fee of $135. Readers can access the free full-text manuscript by clicking on the link located in the citation below.Follow me on Twitter WRY999Photo of Christmas lights at Rhema in Tulsa Oklahoma is from my files.Ritterband LM, Thorndike FP, Ingersoll KS, Lord HR, Gonder-Frederick L, Frederick C, Quigg MS, Cohn WF, & Morin CM (2016). Effect of a Web-Based Cognitive Behavior Therapy for Insomnia Intervention With 1-Year Follow-up: A Randomized Clinical Trial. JAMA psychiatry PMID: 27902836... Read more »

  • December 6, 2016
  • 08:46 AM

Are American Professors More Responsive to Requests Made by White Male Students?

by Jalees Rehman in The Next Regeneration

The vast majority of professors will gladly meet a prospective graduate student and discuss research opportunities as well as long-term career options, especially if the student requesting the meeting clarifies the goal of the meeting. However, there are cases when students wait in vain for a response. Is it because their email never reached the professor because it got lost in the internet ether or a spam folder? Was the professor simply too busy to respond? A research study headed by Katherine Milkman from the University of Pennsylvania suggests that the lack of response from the professor may in part be influenced by the perceived race or gender of the student.... Read more »

  • December 6, 2016
  • 07:08 AM

Source regions of the type II radio burst observed during a CME–CME interaction on 2013 May 22 by P. Mäkelä et al.*

by CESRA in Solar Radio Science

Occasionally the Sun ejects a pair of magnetized plasma clouds, called coronal mass ejections (CMEs), roughly into the same propagation direction in closely timed sequence. If the second CME is faster than the first one, the CMEs could either just slip through each other or they could collide and interact, [...]... Read more »

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