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  • March 20, 2015
  • 12:08 PM

Gliding Ant Flies like a Backward Superman

by Elizabeth Preston in Inkfish

Travel to the Amazon and flick an ant off a leaf, and you might be surprised what you see. Certain rainforest ant species can control their falls and glide back onto the trunks of the trees they came from. Unlike Superman, though, they're only flying to rescue themselves.

An ant is light enough that a drop to the forest floor might not hurt it. But the other animals cruising the ground for snacks will cause trouble for that ant soon enough. That's why many rainforest ants have evolved to ... Read more »

Munk Y, Yanoviak SP, Koehl MA, & Dudley R. (2015) The descent of ant: field-measured performance of gliding ants. The Journal of experimental biology. PMID: 25788722  

  • March 20, 2015
  • 03:55 AM

How chemistry affects the evolution of life

by GrrlScientist in Maniraptora

SUMMARY: In this fascinating video, Professor Ros Rickaby from Oxford chats with Professor Simon Conway-Morris at Cambridge about how Earth’s changing chemistry has affected evolution, and how this can sometimes lead to evolutionary convergence... Read more »

  • March 20, 2015
  • 03:50 AM

Autism genes and cognitive ability

by Paul Whiteley in Questioning Answers

Autism IS linked to higher intelligence: People with genes related to the condition 'scored better in mental ability tests' was one of the media headlines reporting on the study by Toni-Kim Clarke and colleagues [1].Clarke et al reported results based on a pretty good sample size (in the thousands) whereby autism-associated genes and cognitive ability were examined in several cohorts including those taking part in The Generation Scotland : Scottish Family Health Study (GS:SFHS) (see here for further information). Polygenic risk for autism spectrum disorder (ASD), that is risk governed by several genes, "is positively correlated with general cognitive ability" was a primary finding. Ergo, among the general population omong those not diagnosed with autism, carrying some of the proposed genetic risk factors for the condition might confer something of a cognitive advantage albeit only a slight advantage. The same could not be said for the relationship between polygenic risk for ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder) and cognitive ability also reported on by the authors.These are potentially important findings covered pretty well by the NHS Choices website (see here) which concluded that "The study is likely to be of interest to researchers, but does not have any obvious practical implications for individuals." Aside from the idea that certain genes linked to autism might not necessarily just be solely linked to 'disability' and *might* offer some explanation for the islets of ability reported in some on the autism spectrum [2], the Clarke findings could also be interpreted in a number of other ways. They could for example, be taken as evidence that to talk about 'autism-related genes' might actually be more accurately done so as referring to them as being autism-cognition related genes stressing the link between presented traits and cognitive ability. They may also suggest that carrying said risk genes does not automatically equate as receiving a label of autism as per the authors focus on those who never developed autism yet presented with the risk versions of the genes. Accepting also that 'autism genes' refers to a complicated and ever-increasing bank of risk genes, this might also open the door to other mechanisms at work related to risk of autism, perhaps other, more environmentally driven factors also having some interactive effect?I could spend all day talking about the genetics of cognitive ability on the back of studies such as the one from Plomin & Deary [3]. Among the important points made with such research in mind is that genes linked to concepts such as intelligence or cognitive ability are also likely to similarly impact on other traits too. The paper from Eva Krapohl and colleagues [4] hinted at this with regards to education achievement and test performance scores, and how one has to take quite a wide view when it comes to the genetics of something like cognition or autism. The days of one gene = one condition / one trait are seemingly long gone. Oh, and that gene function outside of structural genomics might also be important [5] is worth mentioning...Without wishing to dilute the positive message to come from the Clarke findings, I feel I should also raise the important issue of how enhanced cognitive ability does not necessarily automatically translate into better life outcomes. I kinda touched upon this in a post a few years back talking about outcome and autism (see here) and how we live in an age where some truly intellectually gifted individuals live among us, but this does not necessarily mean that they live the life they want or deserve. The quite depressing figures on the rates of employment for those with autism [6] who can and want to work are for example, a stark reminder of how societal and other factors play an important role irrespective of any cognitive prowess.And of course, there may be other factors at work...Music: Setting Sun by The Chemical Brothers. Particularly apt for today (see here).----------[1] Clarke T-K. et al. Common polygenic risk for autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is associated with cognitive ability in the general population. Molecular Psychiatry. 2015. March 10.[2] Shah A. & Frith U. An islet of ability in autistic children: a research note. J Child Psychol Psychiatry. 1983 Oct;24(4):613-20.[3] Plomin R. & Deary IJ. Genetics and intelligence differences: five special findings. Mol Psychiatry. 2015 Feb;20(1):98-108.[4] Krapohl E. et al. The high heritability of educational achievement reflects many genetically influenced traits, not just intelligence. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2014 Oct 21;111(42):15273-8.[5] Haggarty P. et al. Human Intelligence and Polymorphisms in the DNA Methyltransferase Genes Involved in Epigenetic Marking. PLoS ONE. 2010;5(6):e11329.[6] Taylor JL. & Seltzer MM. Employment and post-secondary educational activities for young adults with autism spectrum disorders during the transition to adulthood. J Autism Dev Disord. 2011 May;41(5):566-74.----------Clarke TK, Lupton MK, Fernandez-Pujals AM, Starr J, Davies G, Cox S, Pattie A, Liewald DC, Hall LS, MacIntyre DJ, Smith BH, Hocking LJ, Padmanabhan S, Thomson PA, Hayward C, Hansell NK, Montgomery GW, Medland SE, Martin NG, Wright MJ, Porteous DJ, Deary IJ, & McIntosh AM (2015). Common polygenic risk for autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is associated with cognitive ability in the general population. Molecular psychiatry PMID: 25754080... Read more »

  • March 19, 2015
  • 06:05 AM

Objective measures of sleep in autism meta-analysed

by Paul Whiteley in Questioning Answers

"Children with ASD [autism spectrum disorder] have small but measurable objective differences in their sleep parameters that are consistent with subjective reporting."That was the main conclusion reached in the meta-analysis from Marilisa Elrod and Bradley Hood [1] who looked at the collected peer-reviewed data "that used objective measures such as actigraphy or polysomnography (PSG) to describe the sleep parameters of TST [total sleep time], SL [sleep latency], and SE [sleep efficiency] in children with ASD compared with children with TD [typical development]."Just in case you didn't want to click on the links to some of those explanations, actigraphy is all about measuring movements and so useful in analysing the 'rest/activity' cycle; PSG is a slightly move comprehensive way of measuring various biophysical parameters during sleep; sleep latency is basically the amount of time it takes for a person to fall asleep, and sleep efficiency refers to how much sleep a person gets from time of lying down to getting up from bed (usually expressed as a percentage).Ten studies met the authors' inclusion criteria covering nearly 350 children diagnosed with an ASD and 221 asymptomatic controls. Researchers reported that children with autism spent on average half an hour less per day TST (total sleep time) and took about 10 minutes longer to fall asleep than controls. Sleep efficiency was also marginally reduced for the autism group. As one might have expected, there was some "notable heterogeneity" across the various study results. That and the fact that comorbidity (if I can still call it that) such as intellectual (learning) disability also seemed to play some hand in the results obtained: "those with ASD and intellectual disability (ID) had a significant decrease in TST as compared with TD peers."There are a few points to make about this research. First is the continuing idea that 'subjective reporting' when it comes to autism is actually not a bad indicator of what might be going on or have been going on. We've seen evidence of this quite a few times now in the peer-reviewed literature: maternal recall vs. medical records (see here), the reported presence of gastrointestinal (GI) symptoms (see here), first concerns about autism (see here) and now possibly with sleep in mind. Obviously this doesn't mean that every single person questioned about a topic area of autism is going to be providing an authoritative history allowing research to 'do away' with more objective measures. But it does mean that parent or caregiver report might be a very good place to start.Next, allowing for the text "small but measurable", Elrod & Hood further add to the quite voluminous literature indicating that sleep issues can be a real point of contention for quite a few people on the autism spectrum. I've talked about sleep a few times on this blog (see here and see here) including the idea that melatonin might be a medication of consideration for some [2]. More recently I've also discussed the idea that other factors might play some role in sleep issues in cases of autism as per some research on pain predicting sleeping problems (see here) and/or behavioural sleep intervention being indicated (see here) (particularly when certain comorbidity might be present). Whatever the reasons/intervention suggested, sleep or rather a lack of sleep (quality sleep), is probably not a great thing for anyone.And with that, some music and a song about a sidewinder sleeping...----------[1] Elrod MG. & Hood BS. Sleep Differences Among Children With Autism Spectrum Disorders and Typically Developing Peers: A Meta-Analysis. J Dev Behav Pediatr. 2015 Feb 18.[2] Rossignol DA. & Frye RE. Melatonin in autism spectrum disorders. Curr Clin Pharmacol. 2014;9(4):326-34.----------Elrod, M., & Hood, B. (2015). Sleep Differences Among Children With Autism Spectrum Disorders and Typically Developing Peers Journal of Developmental & Behavioral Pediatrics DOI: 10.1097/DBP.0000000000000140... Read more »

  • March 18, 2015
  • 06:43 PM

How alien cell membranes could form in methane seas

by This Science is Crazy in This Science Is Crazy!

Scientist identify 'azotosomes' - short carbon chains with a nitrogen terminus native to the atmosphere of Titan which can potentially self-assemble into bilayers in liquid methane.... Read more »

  • March 18, 2015
  • 02:19 PM

Not “just in your head,” brain networks differ among those with severe schizophrenia

by Dr. Jekyll in Lunatic Laboratories

The brain is plastic, it’s how we grow, it’s how we adapt, it is quite literally how we survive. This can unfortunately be to our detriment and new research shows that people with a severe form of schizophrenia have major differences in their brain networks compared to others with schizophrenia, bipolar disorder and healthy individuals. So while it may be true, that it is all be in your head, it isn’t how people usually mean it.... Read more »

Anne L. Wheeler, PhD, Michèle Wessa, PhD, Philip R. Szeszko, PhD, George Foussias, MD, MSc, M. Mallar Chakravarty, PhD, Jason P. Lerch, PhD, Pamela DeRosse, PhD, Gary Remington, MD, PhD, Benoit H. Mulsant, MD, Julia Linke, PhD.... (2015) Further Neuroimaging Evidence for the Deficit Subtype of Schizophrenia: A Cortical Connectomics Analysis. JAMA Psychiatry. info:/10.1001/jamapsychiatry.2014.3020

  • March 18, 2015
  • 09:36 AM

Video Tip of the Week: Designing proteins, using Rosetta

by Mary in OpenHelix

As often happens, last week’s tip on visualizing structures led me to some more reading and thinking about creating protein structures. And although it’s important for biologists to be able to use more of the information about protein structures and variations in their work from tools like Aquaria or PDB, it’s also important for some […]... Read more »

Kuroda D., M. P. Jacobson, & H. Nakamura. (2012) Computer-aided antibody design. Protein Engineering Design and Selection, 25(10), 507-522. DOI:  

  • March 18, 2015
  • 08:00 AM

The Search For The Unicorn - Slightly Off Center

by Mark Lasbury in As Many Exceptions As Rules

One of the most amazing animals is one of the least often seen. It has one tooth that grows into a tusk that’s off center. The tusk is basically inside out, with the inside of the tooth exposed to the world. This animal also has the world’s only spiraled tooth, for strength and because that’s what keeps it growing straight. Finally, this animal spends an amazing amount of time on its back. Why do we care about these animal…..because they are so awesome!... Read more »

Christen AG, & Christen JA. (2011) The unicorn and the narwhal: a tale of the tooth. Journal of the history of dentistry, 59(3), 135-42. PMID: 22372187  

Kingsley, M., & Ramsay, M. (1988) The Spiral in the Tusk of the Narwhal. ARCTIC, 41(3). DOI: 10.14430/arctic1723  

Nweeia, M., Eichmiller, F., Hauschka, P., Donahue, G., Orr, J., Ferguson, S., Watt, C., Mead, J., Potter, C., Dietz, R.... (2014) Sensory ability in the narwhal tooth organ system. The Anatomical Record, 297(4), 599-617. DOI: 10.1002/ar.22886  

Dietz, R., Shapiro, A., Bakhtiari, M., Orr, J., Tyack, P., Richard, P., Eskesen, I., & Marshall, G. (2007) Upside-down swimming behaviour of free-ranging narwhals. BMC Ecology, 7(1), 14. DOI: 10.1186/1472-6785-7-14  

  • March 18, 2015
  • 05:52 AM

The label of autism rarely exists in a diagnostic vacuum

by Paul Whiteley in Questioning Answers

"Most young ASD [autism spectrum disorder] children met the criteria for additional psychopathology." That was the primary conclusion reported by Fernando Salazar and colleagues [1].At the risk of sounding like a broken record going on and on about how the diagnosis/label of autism very rarely exists in a diagnostic vacuum when it comes to comorbidity, I did think it important that the findings of Salazar et al were [briefly] brought to your attention. I've talked a few times on this blog about the ESSENCE around autism (see here) and autism plus (see here) as putting some flesh on the scientific bones that the presentation of autism is often only one part of behaviour in those diagnosed as being on the autism spectrum. That and the plurality of autism..."Most common diagnoses were: generalized anxiety disorder (66.5 %), specific phobias (52.7 %) and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (59.1 %)." The sorts of comorbid diagnoses listed most frequently by Salazar and colleagues are no strangers to autism comorbidity research as per some of my other musings on anxiety (see here) and ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder) (see here).Anxiety in particular, has been something in receipt of quite a bit of research attention, whether it be through discussions on possible reasons why (see here) or associations made with more physical features also known to be over-represented following a diagnosis of autism (see here). I don't doubt that the hows and whys connecting autism and anxiety are likely to be complicated and quite individual. Indeed, from Salazar et al: "Higher IQ was associated with anxiety disorders" which kinda taps into some other work on the effect of insight on the presentation of anxiety (see here) for example.There's little more for me to say about the Salazar paper aside from pointing out the impressive authorship roll call included on the paper, including those who've also looked at more somatic comorbidity alongside the diagnosis of autism (see here) and horror of horrors, gut barrier issues appearing in some children on the spectrum (see here). Oh, and that comorbidity occurring alongside a diagnosis of autism doesn't always have to be psychological/behavioural is an important point to raise too...Music to close: Golden Brown by The Stranglers.----------[1] Salazar F. et al. Co-occurring Psychiatric Disorders in Preschool and Elementary School-Aged Children with Autism Spectrum Disorder. J Autism Dev Disord. 2015. March 4.----------Salazar, F., Baird, G., Chandler, S., Tseng, E., O’sullivan, T., Howlin, P., Pickles, A., & Simonoff, E. (2015). Co-occurring Psychiatric Disorders in Preschool and Elementary School-Aged Children with Autism Spectrum Disorder Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders DOI: 10.1007/s10803-015-2361-5... Read more »

Salazar, F., Baird, G., Chandler, S., Tseng, E., O’sullivan, T., Howlin, P., Pickles, A., & Simonoff, E. (2015) Co-occurring Psychiatric Disorders in Preschool and Elementary School-Aged Children with Autism Spectrum Disorder. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders. DOI: 10.1007/s10803-015-2361-5  

  • March 17, 2015
  • 07:25 PM

Hippos are (almost) definitely whales, not pigs

by Isabel Torres in Science in the clouds

Hippos are strange mammals. They lack hairs and sweat glands, and have an unusually thick skin. The only other mammals that share these features with hippos are whales, but they look nothing alike, except they’re also huge and live in water. Coincidence? Traditionally hippos were included in the Suidae (pigs) branch of the mammalian evolutionary tree, but molecular data unambiguously shows that they're closely related to cetaceans (whales, dolphins and porpoises). This not only sounds unlikely (hippos look much more like pigs than whales), but it's also quite difficult to test—there is simply not enough fossil evidence. So the origin of hippos has remained something of a mystery. Now, a new fossil discovery by a team of French and Kenyan palaeontologists may have tipped the balance of the hippo evolutionary history.Common hippo showing off its mandibles.Fossils of hippo are rare. Every now and then a tooth pops up, but bones are nearly impossible to find. “To make a comparison between whales and hippos we need to find their ancestors. We had the whale ancestor but until now the hippo ancestor was unknown,” says Fabrice Lihoreau, a palaeontologist at the University of Montpellier, in France.In 2005, Lihoreau and colleagues discovered a mandible with teeth of unusual morphology in the paleontological collection of the National Museum of Kenya, in Nairobi. Lihoreau is an expert on anthracotheres, a diverse group of semi-aquatic herbivorous mammals that lived in Africa from around two to 40 million years ago. For some time palaeontologists had suspected that anthracotheres could be the ancestor of hippos. “We published many studies suggesting hippo is related to anthracotheres, and not to pigs. This new discovery not only supports that, but it tells us precisely to which lineage of anthracotheres hippos originated from,” Lihoreau explains.The newly found teeth have morphological features of both anthracotheres and hippos. They belonged to a large herbivorous mammal that thrived in Lokona, Kenya, around 28 million years ago. The discovery of this new hippo-like anthracothere, named Epirigenys lokonensis for ‘hippo’ (Epiri)and ‘origin’ (genys), shows that hippos are definitely not pigs—they originated from an old lineage of antrachotheres, the bothriodontines. And not only that, Lihoreau says, “we added a bit more to the history of mammals in saying that hippos are African, they were born in Africa.” Evolutionary transition of the upper molar from an anthracothere (left), Epirigenys (middle) and a primitive hippo (right). Many African mammals (rhinos, elephants, giraffes…) originated in Eurasia and then migrated to Africa in two large waves of migration, around 35 and 20 million years ago. Because the oldest fossils of a ‘true’ hippo are about 16 millions years old, palaeontologists have assumed they crossed into Africa on a land bridge during the second wave of migration. But Epirigenys lived 28 million years ago, so hippos must have originated from their anthracotheres ancestor in Africa. This also explains why fossils of hippo ancestors hadn’t been found before: palaeontologists were looking in the wrong place. But are hippos whales? The discovery of Epirigenys doesn’t prove that hippos and whales came from the same ancestor, but it makes any different scenario rather unlikely. “This study is very important because now we have a hippo ancestor. And we know that the ancestors of hippos are from South-East Asia, and the ancestors of whales are also from South-East Asia, from the same period”, Lihoreau says.Phylogenetic relationships between hippos, anthracotheres and cetaceans. Lihoreau and colleagues are now going to focus on searching for the ancestor of anthracotheres in South-East Asia, to then compare it with the ancestor of whales, which is well known. If the team gets lucky, they might find their  ‘holy grail’—the common ancestor of hippos and whales.Jonathan Geisler, a palaeontologist at the New York Institute of Technology who studies the evolution of dolphins and whales says “About 15 years ago th... Read more »

  • March 17, 2015
  • 06:14 PM

Is diet soda making you fat?

by Dr. Jekyll in Lunatic Laboratories

The diet soda controversy is still raging on, study after study has been coming in saying that it helps weight loss, it hurts weight loss, and frankly it can all be a little confusing. Well this probably won’t help matters any, a new study shows that increasing diet soda intake is directly linked to greater abdominal obesity in adults 65 years of age and older. These findings raise concerns about the safety of chronic diet soda consumption, which may increase belly fat and contribute to greater risk of metabolic syndrome and cardiovascular diseases.... Read more »

  • March 17, 2015
  • 10:53 AM

The Palm Tree That Waters and Fertilizes Itself

by Elizabeth Preston in Inkfish

Even the most dismal gardener wouldn't mind taking charge of a plot of Lodoicea maldivica. This palm tree knows how to water itself. It even adds fertilizer. As a result, it rules the forest, turning a bad soil situation into seeds the size of a four-year-old human.

Lodoicea maldivica is commonly called the coco de mer palm. "Commonly" might be the wrong word, though, since the tree grows on exactly two islands in the world, in the Seychelles. It roots itself in soil made from weathered g... Read more »

  • March 17, 2015
  • 08:23 AM

To Catch A Killer: Age, Behavior and the Flu

by Gunnar de Winter in United Academics

Studying the social context of flu transmission helps manage the virus’ reach and its effects.... Read more »

  • March 17, 2015
  • 08:00 AM

I See, Said The Blind Man

by Mark E. Lasbury in The 'Scope

I can’t stand it when I get dust in my eye. Can you imagine having a neural implant in your eye? Star Trek’s Geordi LaForge had implanted electrodes that, along with his visor, let him see. Visual neural prostheses are no longer a thing of science fiction, making the blind see is science fact. The only difference is that he saw in all wavelengths of the electromagnetic spectrum. But there’s no reason we can’t do that as well. ... Read more »

Jung, J., Aloni, D., Yitzhaky, Y., & Peli, E. (2014) Active confocal imaging for visual prostheses. Vision Research. DOI: 10.1016/j.visres.2014.10.023  

Nirenberg, S., & Pandarinath, C. (2012) Retinal prosthetic strategy with the capacity to restore normal vision. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 109(37), 15012-15017. DOI: 10.1073/pnas.1207035109  

Stingl, K., Bartz-Schmidt, K., Gekeler, F., Kusnyerik, A., Sachs, H., & Zrenner, E. (2013) Functional Outcome in Subretinal Electronic Implants Depends on Foveal Eccentricity. Investigative Ophthalmology , 54(12), 7658-7665. DOI: 10.1167/iovs.13-12835  

  • March 17, 2015
  • 06:13 AM

Psychotic symptoms managed by a gluten-free diet?

by Paul Whiteley in Questioning Answers

The case report detailed by William Eaton and colleagues [1] illustrating how a gluten-free diet might not just be the treatment of choice for the autoimmune condition coeliac (celiac) disease is served up for your consumption today.The authors report the story of 'Chris' an 8-year old boy who experienced various symptoms including "intermittent auditory and visual hallucinations" then moving later in his life to being hospitalised and eventually diagnosed with "major depressive disorder with psychotic features". Accompanying his behavioural presentation, we learn that Chris had a blood test showing "the presence of antinuclear antibodies (ANAs)" and later IgE antigluten antibodies. ANAs are generally reported in the context of autoimmunity and specifically related to conditions such as systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE). Chris however "had no symptoms of any autoimmune disease". IgE antibodies to gluten is reflective of an allergy / type 1 hypersensitivity to gluten. This is probably also why gluten was removed from his diet at the behest of his mother who just happened to be a dietitian."After the dietary change, the intensity of Chris's auditory hallucinations declined dramatically and the violent element diminished". It was also after this point that he was discharged from hospital. The authors discuss how over the course of 2 years on a gluten-free diet, Chris's symptoms continued to abate, further suggesting some relationship between gluten and psychiatry. This change also had an impact on the prescription of antipsychotic medication and his eventual withdrawal from the use of risperidone.There is also another twist to this tale. Those ANAs which has previously been reported eventually led him to receiving a diagnosis of "autoimmune inner ear disease", something that had been kinda seen in one of his extended family members. Indeed, some further inspection of his medical family tree suggested that both autoimmune disease and psychiatric conditions were not an uncommon finding.As per other case studies talked about on this blog, one has to be slightly careful in how the experiences of Chris are discussed so as not to over-generalise. I am not for example, saying that every case of major depressive disorder with psychotic features is a 'diet thing' nor that autoimmunity might 'correlate' with such behavioural features despite other suggestions (see here). That being said, the sorts of testing undertaken on/for Chris - conducting an MRI scan and looking at EEGs onwards to looking for some of the potential tell-tale signatures of issues with gluten (including coeliac disease) - might be something that clinicians charged with the care of people presenting like Chris would like to emulate. I would definitely like to see more research in this area too (see here).This is not however the first time that the potential extra-intestinal effects of gluten have discussed with psychiatry and behaviour in mind on this blog. I'll draw your attention to the entry talking about another case report highlighting how gluten consumption might have had something to do with a case of OCD and tics (see here). This follows other work venturing into the realms of schizophrenia (see here) and even cases of autism (see here).With the introduction of schizophrenia into discussions, I also note an interesting addition to the authorship of the Eaton paper (who himself has some research form in this area) with the name 'F. Curtis Dohan Jr'. Those of you who have heard about the late Dohan Sr (his father) and his insightful work looking at a possible relationship between gluten and psychiatry (see here) might know that Dr Dohan Jr has kinda followed in his father's footsteps. I actually had the good fortune to email converse with Dr Dohan Jr and briefly discuss the family research legacy a few years back. Let's just say that after that conversation, I remained an avid fan of this research topic.Just before I let you go, outside of the idea that receipt of a psychiatric / behavioural label should be a starting point to further inquiry not an endpoint (where have I heard that before??) I do think we need to be asking quite a few more questions about why there might be a link between behaviour, immune function and food. The opinion piece from Moises Velasquez-Manoff (see here) covers quite a bit of the work done in this area including how coeliac disease might not always be confined to a gastrointestinal (GI) presentation. "Rather than celiac disease driving autoimmune brain problems, he thinks, distinct autoimmune diseases are likely to cluster in the same individual. Avoiding gluten won’t entirely mend these patients" is one of the quotes used, which nicely brings me back to the another 'old friend' of this blog, gut hyperpermeability (leaky gut) as a potentially important bridge and an important part of the triad that includes gut bacteria and mucosal immunity. Oh, and the idea that outside of coeliac disease, there might be a whole range of [non-coeliac] gluten-related conditions to consider...To close: Pavement and Cut Your Hair.----------[1] Eaton WW. et al. Improvement in Psychotic Symptoms After a Gluten-Free Diet in a Boy With Complex Autoimmune Illness. Am J Psychiatry. 2015; 172: 219-221.----------Eaton, W., Chen, L., Dohan, F., Kelly, D., & Cascella, N. (2015). Improvement in Psychotic Symptoms After a Gluten-Free Diet in a Boy With Complex Autoimmune Illness American Journal of Psychiatry, 172 (3), 219-221 DOI: 10.1176/appi.ajp.2014.14040550... Read more »

  • March 16, 2015
  • 11:45 PM

Pairing tools and problems: a lesson from the methods of mathematics and the Entscheidungsproblem

by Artem Kaznatcheev in Evolutionary Games Group

Three weeks ago it was my lot to present at the weekly integrated mathematical oncology department meeting. Given the informal setting, I decided to grab one gimmick and run with it. I titled my talk: ‘2’. It was an overview of two recent projects that I’ve been working on: double public goods for acid mediated […]... Read more »

  • March 16, 2015
  • 01:57 PM

Does watching porn affect your performance in bed?

by Dr. Jekyll in Lunatic Laboratories

Pornography, it’s why google and other search engines have safesearch. It’s all around us and if sales are any indication, it is not going away. There have been lots of claims regarding it, but does a predilection for porn mean bad news in bed? That’s the conclusion of many clinicians and the upshot of anecdotal reports claiming a man’s habit of viewing sex films can lead to problems getting or sustaining an erection, but what does science say?... Read more »

  • March 16, 2015
  • 05:37 AM

Decreased plasma levels of lipoxin A4 in autism

by Paul Whiteley in Questioning Answers

The paper by Chun-Lin Yan and colleagues [1] talking about significantly lower plasma levels of lipoxin A4 (LXA4) "a mediator involved in the resolution of inflammation" in cases of childhood autism is the point of discussions today.Continuing an important theme of immune system involvement in at least some cases of autism, Yan et al focused on a less well-trodden path looking at lipoxins that seem to be involved in something of a yin and yang relationship with another set of eicosanoids (signalling molecules formed through oxidation of certain fatty acids), the leukotrienes. If leukotrienes are thought of as the promoters of inflammation, the lipoxins might be seen as promoting the resolution of inflammation. That all being said, don't be fooled in to thinking that their relationship is anything but complex.So:Seventy-five children - "confirmed ASD [autism spectrum disorder] cases" - were included for study alongside 75 age- and sex-matched asymptomatic controls. Plasma levels of LXA4 were analysed alongside the severity of autism via the use of the Childhood Autism Rating Scale (CARS).Results: mean levels of LXA4 were significantly lower in the group with autism compared to controls. Further, something of a relationship was found between CARS scores and plasma levels of LXA4.As per other autism researchers (see here), ROC analysis was also undertaken in an attempt to see if LXA4 *might* be "an indicator for an auxiliary diagnosis of ASD". A specific cut-off point for LXA4 levels of 81.5 pg/ml was thought to be potentially predictive (albeit with specificity stats which aren't great, 76%). The authors conclude that with more to do: "autistic children had lower plasma LXA4 levels, suggesting an increased susceptibility to recurring inflammation in these samples."Before heading a little further into these findings, I note that China is starting to come around to autism research in quite a big way in recent years. My recent coverage of the paper by Zhang and colleagues [2] talking about thioredoxin levels in children with autism (see here) is testament to that, including utilising the formula of potential biomarker analysis + CARS + ROC analysis. I'm assuming that Yan et al had either read the Zhang paper or had contact with the authors given that some of their terminology is pretty similar (such as the term 'auxiliary diagnosis' which I'm yet to understand thoroughly). Similar terminology was also used in other papers too [3] (see here).The lower mean levels of LXA4 reported by authors, potentially describing a reduction in the ability to put out the 'inflammatory fire', are interesting. I've talked a few times on the blog on how looking at inflammation and autism is all-well-and-good, but quite a bit more focus is needed on the counter-balance processes in place which keep inflammation in check (see here). It seem that the Yan paper fits this bill. Insofar as other work on LXA4 with autism in mind, well, a quick PubMed search only reveals one other paper by Das [4] which seems to be more of a review/opinion paper over the currency of hard data.This is an interesting area of autism research that really needs quite a bit more investigation; not least replicating the Yan findings in other geographical populations. I hold back from saying anything further about the specificity of these findings to just autism given that other work looking at severe asthma, for example, has reported reduced levels of LXA4 too [5]. This is perhaps all the more interesting in light of some researchers making potential connections between autism and asthma (see here) which might also need to be included in any future schedules of work.Music. Waiting Room by Fugazi.----------[1] Yan CL. et al. Decreased plasma levels of lipoxin A4 in children with autism spectrum disorders. Neuroreport. 2015 Feb 24.[2] Zhang QB. et al. Thioredoxin: a novel, independent diagnosis marker in children with autism. Int J Dev Neurosci. 2015 Feb;40:92-6.[3] Gong ZL. et al. Serum 25-hydroxyvitamin D levels in Chinese children with autism spectrum disorders. Neuroreport. 2014 Jan 8;25(1):23-7.[4] Das UN. Autism as a disorder of deficiency of brain-derived neurotrophic factor and altered metabolism of polyunsaturated fatty acids. Nutrition. 2013 Oct;29(10):1175-85.[5] Celik GE. et al. Lipoxin A4 levels in asthma: relation with disease severity and aspirin sensitivity. Clin Exp Allergy. 2007 Oct;37(10):1494-501.----------Yan CL, Zhang J, & Hou Y (2015). Decreased plasma levels of lipoxin A4 in children with autism spectrum disorders. Neuroreport PMID: 25714424... Read more »

  • March 15, 2015
  • 02:52 PM

Folic acid supplementation cuts stroke risk in adults with high blood pressure

by Dr. Jekyll in Lunatic Laboratories

When we think hypertension (high blood pressure) you might not think stroke risk. However, high blood pressure can damage arteries, which often leads to an increased risk for a stroke. But if you suffer from hypertension, you might not need an expensive drug to lower your risk. A new study that included more than 20,000 adults in China with high blood pressure but without a history of stroke or heart attack, the combined use of the hypertension medication enalapril and folic acid, compared with enalapril alone, significantly reduced the risk of first stroke.... Read more »

Yong Huo, MD, Jianping Li, MD, PhD, Xianhui Qin, PhD, Yining Huang, MD, Xiaobin Wang, MD, ScD, Rebecca F. Gottesman, MD, PhD, Genfu Tang, MD, Binyan Wang, MD, PhD, Dafang Chen, PhD, Mingli He, MD.... (2015) Efficacy of Folic Acid Therapy in Primary Prevention of Stroke Among Adults With Hypertension in China. Journal of the American Medical Association . info:/10.1001/jama.2015.2274

  • March 14, 2015
  • 02:27 PM

Antibody therapy offers possible cure for psoriasis

by Dr. Jekyll in Lunatic Laboratories

Sure it’s not sexy, you probably won’t be asked for donations towards a cure, or to run/walk/dive for awareness, and it probably won’t kill you. Psoriasis is an autoimmune disease, but chances are you are not familiar with it. It causes red, scale-like patches, sometimes covering a majority of the body. It’s itchy, painful, and embarrassing (to put it nicely). I know first hand as I suffer from it albeit mildly. I say mildly since I am lucky the patches are fairly small, but not so lucky for me they pop up on my face, often. However, new research is offering hope for anyone suffering from psoriasis and possibly a cure.... Read more »

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