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  • May 17, 2015
  • 11:03 PM

A Look Into The Viruses That Control Your Stomach Bacterial Infections (Including Probiotics)

by Geoffrey Hannigan in Prophage

Biofilms continue to be hugely significant problems when treating bacterial infections. Biofilms are groups of bacteria that stick together and to a surface while surrounding themselves in a thick extracellular matrix. You can think of this as the collective bacteria sticking to a surface like a slimy ball of goo. These are very serious infections because...... Read more »

Rossmann, F., Racek, T., Wobser, D., Puchalka, J., Rabener, E., Reiger, M., Hendrickx, A., Diederich, A., Jung, K., Klein, C.... (2015) Phage-mediated Dispersal of Biofilm and Distribution of Bacterial Virulence Genes Is Induced by Quorum Sensing. PLOS Pathogens, 11(2). DOI: 10.1371/journal.ppat.1004653  

  • May 17, 2015
  • 02:48 PM

Which is most valuable: Gold, cocaine or rhino horn?

by Dr. Jekyll in Lunatic Laboratories

Many of the world’s largest herbivores — including several species of elephants, rhinoceroses, hippopotamuses and gorillas — are in danger of becoming extinct. And if current trends continue, the loss of these animals would have drastic implications not only for the species themselves, but also for other animals and the environments and ecosystems in which they live, according to a new report by an international team of scientists.... Read more »

Ripple, W., Newsome, T., Wolf, C., Dirzo, R., Everatt, K., Galetti, M., Hayward, M., Kerley, G., Levi, T., Lindsey, P.... (2015) Collapse of the world's largest herbivores. Science Advances, 1(4). DOI: 10.1126/sciadv.1400103  

  • May 16, 2015
  • 03:57 AM

Poverty affects autism ADHD?

by Paul Whiteley in Questioning Answers

A brief post for you today to bring to your attention the paper by Eirini Flouri and colleagues [1] who suggested that although socio-economic disadvantage (SED) was probably not a risk factor for autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) when comorbid, "it was associated with elevated emotional problems among children with ASD + ADHD."Based on data derived from "209 children with ASD who took part in the UK's Millennium Cohort Study", an initiative that has appeared on this blog before (see here), researchers examined developmental trajectories across ages 3, 5 and 7 years. Aside from observing a possible detrimental effect from SED on aspects of ASD + ADHD, they also reported that ASD + ADHD seemed to be associated with a consistently 'high trajectory' when it came to conduct issues compared with those with ASD only.Continuing the ideas that (a) autism appearing alongside ADHD (or should that be the other way around) is not an uncommon situation (see here), and (b) said association potentially increases the risk of various other issues coming about (see here), the suggestion that SED might impact on the presentation of autism + ADHD is an important one. Other work from this group [2] had hinted that family poverty may be one factor "associated with broad and specific (emotional and conduct problems) psychopathology" in the context of autism. I say this acknowledging that poverty has a range of effects when it comes to autism including the potential timing of diagnosis [3].Other, independent work, has not been so quick to drop the idea that poverty and deprivation may be a risk factor for autism [4] or at least, referral rates for autism (and on more than one occasion [5]) so I'd perhaps be a little guarded about removing this aspect from the autism + ADHD grouping altogether at the present time. The next question then needs to be how, in these times of continued austerity, can society deliver something that might mitigate the impact of autism + ADHD?Music: Morrissey - Everyday Is Like Sunday.----------[1] Flouri E. et al. Poverty and the Growth of Emotional and Conduct Problems in Children with Autism With and Without Comorbid ADHD. J Autism Dev Disord. 2015 Apr 25.[2] Midouhas E. et al. Psychopathology trajectories of children with autism spectrum disorder: the role of family poverty and parenting. J Am Acad Child Adolesc Psychiatry. 2013 Oct;52(10):1057-1065.e1.[3] Mandell DS. et al. Age of diagnosis among Medicaid-enrolled children with autism, 2001-2004. Psychiatr Serv. 2010 Aug;61(8):822-9.[4] Campbell M. et al. Autism in Glasgow: cumulative incidence and the effects of referral age, deprivation and geographical location. Child Care Health Dev. 2013 Sep;39(5):688-94.[5] Li X. et al. Neighborhood deprivation and childhood autism: a nationwide study from Sweden. J Psychiatr Res. 2014 Jun;53:187-92.----------Flouri E, Midouhas E, Charman T, & Sarmadi Z (2015). Poverty and the Growth of Emotional and Conduct Problems in Children with Autism With and Without Comorbid ADHD. Journal of autism and developmental disorders PMID: 25911306... Read more »

  • May 15, 2015
  • 03:13 PM

The fingerprint drug test

by Dr. Jekyll in Lunatic Laboratories

Researchers have demonstrated a new, noninvasive test that can detect cocaine use through a simple fingerprint. For the first time, this new fingerprint method can determine whether cocaine has been ingested, rather than just touched.... Read more »

  • May 15, 2015
  • 11:36 AM

Which Baby Animals Look Cute? It May Be No Accident

by Elizabeth Preston in Inkfish

Sure, there are faces only a mother could love. And then there are faces no mother loves, because they belong to animals that fend for themselves from birth. The babies we find cutest—no matter what species they are—may have evolved to look that way because they need a parent's attention. That means even a crocodile can tug on our heartstrings.

Konrad Lorenz, an Austrian zoologist, proposed in the mid-20th century that human infants are cute for a reason. He said evolution has created ado... Read more »

  • May 15, 2015
  • 05:42 AM

Autism's environmental exposome (part 2)

by Paul Whiteley in Questioning Answers

Back in June 2012, I posted an entry on this blog titled: 'Autism's environmental exposome: fish and pharmaceuticals' covering some work by Michael Thomas & Rebecca Klaper [1] (open-access). In it, authors suggested that unmetabolized psychoactive pharmaceuticals (UPPs) - residues from certain medicines - present in drinking (or in the case of this work, swimming) water may "induce autism-like gene expression patterns in fish."The UPPs in question were "FLX [fluoxetine], VNX [venlafaxine], and CBZ [carbamazepine] in a 3-component mixture" and the lucky fish volunteers were fathead minnows who got to swim with those UPPs. The data were interesting insofar as the potential "ability to induce ASD-like gene expression patterns in developing brains" as a function of exposure to those UPPs, albeit with concentrations used in the Thomas/Klaper study "higher than observed environmental concentrations". The idea being that drug residues are present in the environment around us and some, either alone or in combination, may potentially host some important biological effects.Enter then further work from this group in the form of the paper by Gaurav Kaushik and colleagues [2] (open-access) who undertook some rather interesting network analysis among other things and concluded that: "protein products from gene sets with enriched expression in fish brains and human neuronal cells, due to an exposure of psychoactive pharmaceuticals, were comparatively more inter-connected to other neighboring proteins than protein products of non-enriched gene sets." Further: "these genes are more likely to experience altered expression upon exposure to PPCPs [pharmaceuticals and personal care products], causing further dysregulation of the whole interactome due to a ripple effect."I'll be honest with you and say that I'm not altogether au fait with all the goings-on reported by Kaushik et al and their bioinformatics approach adopted so you'll have to take my interpretation with a pinch of salt.  What they appear to be suggesting is that the effects of UPP exposure may not be just centred on the gene expression patterns they previously reported but rather having something of a wider knock-on effect on how gene products are expressed and how this might map onto something like autism. Interestingly, this time around researchers also introduced valproate (VPA) into their investigations given the growing evidence base that "VPA is known to induce ASD [autism spectrum disorder]-like phenotypes in mice" (see here for more information) as it might in people [3]. They reported some potentially important connections - "enrichment effects of clinical doses of VPA are similar to those for environmental concentrations of pharmaceutical mixtures."Accepting how the word 'chemical' has been very wrongly demonised over the years, the idea that environmental 'exposures' either singularly or as combinations, might have important effects on development and behaviour is something that requires quite a bit more investigation when it comes to something like autism. The idea that gene expression for example, can be modified by said exposures adds an extra layer of complexity to the rather too simplistic idea of 'genes vs. environment' when it comes to autism risk. One might also be minded to take into account gender/sex (see here) too particularly in light of some of the findings reported by Werling & Geschwind [4] recently...Oh, and UPPs might not be the only pharmaceuticals requiring further research attention with wastewater and minnows in mind...Music: Dinosaur Jr. - Freak Scene.----------[1] Thomas MA. & Klaper RD. Psychoactive pharmaceuticals induce fish gene expression profiles associated with human idiopathic autism. PLoS One. 2012;7(6):e32917.[2] Kaushik G. et al. Psychoactive pharmaceuticals as environmental contaminants may disrupt highly inter-connected nodes in an Autism-associated protein-protein interaction network. BMC Bioinformatics 2015, 16(Suppl 7): S3.[3] Wood AG. et al. Prospective assessment of autism traits in children exposed to antiepileptic drugs during pregnancy. Epilepsia. 2015. 11 May.[4] Werling DM. & Geschwind DH. Recurrence rates provide evidence for sex-differential, familial genetic liability for autism spectrum disorders in multiplex families and twins. Molecular Autism 2015, 6:27.----------Gaurav Kaushik, Michael A Thomas, & Ken A Aho (2015). Psychoactive pharmaceuticals as environmental contaminants may disrupt highly inter-connected nodes in an Autism-associated protein-protein interaction network BMC Bioinformatics... Read more »

Gaurav Kaushik, Michael A Thomas, & Ken A Aho. (2015) Psychoactive pharmaceuticals as environmental contaminants may disrupt highly inter-connected nodes in an Autism-associated protein-protein interaction network. BMC Bioinformatics. info:other/

  • May 15, 2015
  • 04:12 AM

A role for Matrix Metalloproteinases in BHD?

by Danielle Stevenson in BHD Research Blog

The BHD protein folliculin (FLCN) plays a role in numerous signalling pathways and cellular processes. Although mutations in FLCN are only firmly linked to the development of fibrofolliculomas, pulmonary cysts and renal tumours it is possible that disruption of these pathways also plays a role in other phenotypes. Recently Kapoor et al., (2015) reported three cases studies of women with BHD who presented with intracranial vascular pathologies. There are few other reports of vascular pathologies in BHD and further studies would be required to determine any causative link. Kapoor et al. proposed two hypotheses to link BHD to aneurysms and vascular malformations: aberrant HIF-1α signalling and increased matrix metalloproteinase 9 (MMP-9) activity.... Read more »

Kapoor R, Evins AI, Steitieh D, Bernardo A, & Stieg PE. (2015) Birt-Hogg-Dubé syndrome and intracranial vascular pathologies. Familial cancer. PMID: 25952757  

  • May 14, 2015
  • 02:52 PM

Educating the immune system: A vaccine for allergies

by Dr. Jekyll in Lunatic Laboratories

With the arrival of spring, millions of people have begun their annual ritual of sneezing and wheezing due to seasonal allergies. However, a Canadian research team is bringing them hope with a potential vaccine that nudges the immune response away from developing allergies. The findings have major clinical implications since allergies and asthma are lifelong conditions that often start in childhood and for which there is presently no cure.... Read more »

  • May 14, 2015
  • 01:15 PM

Mary-Claire King on Inherited Breast/Ovarian Cancer

by Daniel Koboldt in Massgenomics

It is a rare but delightful opportunity to learn about something from an acknowledged world expert. Such was the case last month when I heard Mary-Claire King give the Stanley J. Korsmeyer Memorial lecture, hands-down one of the best talks I’ve ever heard. She was a wonderful public speaker: funny, charming, and straight-shooting. Her topic, of […]... Read more »

Hall JM, Lee MK, Newman B, Morrow JE, Anderson LA, Huey B, & King MC. (1990) Linkage of early-onset familial breast cancer to chromosome 17q21. Science (New York, N.Y.), 250(4988), 1684-9. PMID: 2270482  

King MC. (2014) "The race" to clone BRCA1. Science (New York, N.Y.), 343(6178), 1462-5. PMID: 24675952  

  • May 14, 2015
  • 09:39 AM

What’s The Answer? (brain connectome)

by Mary in OpenHelix

This week’s highlighted item lets you find answers in brains. What do the brain connections look like in 3D? I love 3D brain maps–not in a zombie manner, just in an astonishing complexity manner. And although this is a different type of computational resource than we usually explore, I thought it was interesting. Biostars is […]... Read more »

Szalkai, B., Kerepesi, C., Varga, B., & Grolmusz, V. (2015) The Budapest Reference Connectome Server v2.0. Neuroscience Letters, 60-62. DOI: 10.1016/j.neulet.2015.03.071  

  • May 14, 2015
  • 09:30 AM

Darwin Can Dance! The Evolution Of Pop Music

by Bill Sullivan in The 'Scope

Just like biological organisms, music evolves - and where there is evolution, there is science. Researchers analyzing pop music charts have identified the greatest musical revolution in recent times. What do you think it was? Elvis, British Invasion, Disco, Synth-pop, Heavy Metal, Hip-hop, Grunge, or Punk?... Read more »

  • May 14, 2015
  • 04:49 AM

Anxiety and depression linked to functional bowel issues: lessons for [some] autism?

by Paul Whiteley in Questioning Answers

Pablo Picasso (1905) @ WikipediaIMFAR (International Meeting For Autism Research) 2015 kicks off in earnest today (see here) so in order to keep tabs on the various discussions over the web (#IMFAR2015) alongside the usual workload I'm offering a relatively short blog entry.The paper served up today is by Maria Ines Pinto-Sánchez and colleagues [1] who reported that: "The prevalence of both anxiety and depression is influenced by gender, presence of organic diseases, and FGIDs [functional gastrointestinal disorders], and it increases with the number of coexistent FGIDs and frequency and severity of GI [gastrointestinal] symptoms."Based on a participant number in the thousands, outpatients completed "questionnaires evaluating FGIDs and anxiety and depression (Hospital Anxiety and Depression scale)." Responses were analysed focused on those actually meeting "Rome III criteria for FGIDs" and authors came to a few conclusions. "Compared with patients not meeting the criteria, prevalence of anxiety... or depression... was increased in patients with FGIDs." Further: "The prevalence of anxiety and depression increased in a stepwise manner with the number of co-existing FGIDs and frequency and/or severity of gastrointestinal (GI) symptoms."It's probably not a startlingly new idea that suffering with a FGID can in itself bring about certain psychological/behavioural symptoms. The pain and discomfort that such GI issues can entail is probably a big factor in that relationship although I say that mindful that anxiety and depression are complicated states with lots of potential 'pathways' behind them. More than that however, I'm interested in how these findings might overlay with other labels in mind. Say for example, one looks at the pretty extensive research literature talking about functional bowel disorders being present and over-represented in cases of autism (see here and see here) and all that 'gut-brain' axis chatter that you see these days?Perhaps also relevant to the autism spectrum disorders (ASDs) is the growing recognition that psychiatric comorbidity/presentation such as anxiety and depression can also be a significant 'disabling' feature for many people on the spectrum (see here and see here respectively). Put these findings together with those described by Pinto-Sánchez et al and I'm hopefully not getting too ahead of myself saying that there may be a possible connection to be had.Indeed, the possibility of a link between bowel issues and psychological issues such as anxiety with autism in mind is something that has already cropped up in the peer-reviewed literature as per the work from Micah Mazurek and colleagues [2] previously covered on this blog (see here and see here). Without trying to simplify any relationship and again keeping in mind that there may be many reasons for the presentation of anxiety in autism [3], the idea that functional bowel issues might be a key part of anxiety for at least some on the autism spectrum, offers some potentially important lessons including about how one might be able to 'intervene' to improve both physical and psychological health. The focus being on tackling GI symptoms in cases of autism. Y'know, the kinda thing that Tim Buie et al [4] talked about quite a few years back...Music to close: Florence + The Machine - Ship To Wreck.----------[1] Pinto-Sánchez MI. et al. Anxiety and Depression Increase in a Stepwise Manner in Parallel With Multiple FGIDs and Symptom Severity and Frequency. The American Journal of Gastroenterology. 2015. May 12.[2] Mazurek MO. et al. One-year course and predictors of abdominal pain in children with autism spectrum disorders: The role of anxiety and sensory over-responsivity. Research in Autism Spectrum Disorders. 2014; 8: 1508-1515.[3] Weiss JA. et al. Bullying Victimization, Parenting Stress, and Anxiety among Adolescents and Young Adults with Autism Spectrum Disorder. Autism Res. 2015 May 11.[4] Buie T. et al. Evaluation, Diagnosis, and Treatment of Gastrointestinal Disorders in Individuals With ASDs: A Consensus Report. Pediatrics. 2010; 125: S1-S18.----------Pinto-Sanchez, M., Ford, A., Avila, C., Verdu, E., Collins, S., Morgan, D., Moayyedi, P., & Bercik, P. (2015). Anxiety and Depression Increase in a Stepwise Manner in Parallel With Multiple FGIDs and Symptom Severity and Frequency The American Journal of Gastroenterology DOI: 10.1038/ajg.2015.128... Read more »

  • May 14, 2015
  • 12:55 AM

Cell motion associated with stemness

by Daisuke Nanba in the Node

Stem cells play crucial roles in development as well as tissue homeostasis, repair, and regeneration, and their dysregulation is involved in diseases and aging of the tissues. The stem cell is defined as a cell that has the ability to self-renew and also to produce differentiated progeny for a long-term. Yet, stem cells require other […]... Read more »

Nanba, D., Toki, F., Matsushita, N., Matsushita, S., Higashiyama, S., & Barrandon, Y. (2013) Actin filament dynamics impacts keratinocyte stem cell maintenance. EMBO Molecular Medicine, 5(4), 640-653. DOI: 10.1002/emmm.201201839  

Nanba, D., Toki, F., Tate, S., Imai, M., Matsushita, N., Shiraishi, K., Sayama, K., Toki, H., Higashiyama, S., & Barrandon, Y. (2015) Cell motion predicts human epidermal stemness. The Journal of Cell Biology, 209(2), 305-315. DOI: 10.1083/jcb.201409024  

  • May 13, 2015
  • 04:07 PM

Can drinking alcohol harm the child before the mother knows she is pregnant?

by Dr. Jekyll in Lunatic Laboratories

These days pregnant “moms to be” have lots of things to worry about, from second hand smoke to the chemicals in their make-up. Well they can unfortunately add one more thing to that list, a new study finds that alcohol drunk by a mouse in early pregnancy changes the way genes function in the brains of the offspring. The early exposure was also later apparent in the brain structure of the adult offspring. The timing of the exposure corresponds to the human gestational weeks 3-6 in terms of fetal development.... Read more »

Heidi Marjonen, Alejandra Sierra, Anna Nyman, Vladimir Rogojin, Olli Gröhn, Anni-Maija Linden, Sampsa Hautaniemi, & Nina Kaminen-Ahola. (2015) Early Maternal Alcohol Consumption Alters Hippocampal DNA Methylation, Gene Expression and Volume in a Mouse Model. PLOS ONE. info:/10.1371/journal.pone.0124931

  • May 13, 2015
  • 09:43 AM

Video Tip of the Week: PhenogramViz for evaluating phenotypes and CNVs

by Mary in OpenHelix

As I’ve mentioned before, once I start looking over some new tools I’m often led to others in the same arena that offer related but different features. That’s what happened when I looked at the Proband iPad app for human pedigrees. I noted that they are using important community standards, and I decided to follow […]... Read more »

Kohler, S., Doelken, S., Mungall, C., Bauer, S., Firth, H., Bailleul-Forestier, I., Black, G., Brown, D., Brudno, M., Campbell, J.... (2013) The Human Phenotype Ontology project: linking molecular biology and disease through phenotype data. Nucleic Acids Research, 42(D1). DOI: 10.1093/nar/gkt1026  

Köhler Sebastian, Doelken Sandra C, Ruef Barbara J, Bauer Sebastian, Washington Nicole, Westerfield Monte, Gkoutos George, Schofield Paul, Smedley Damian, & Lewis Suzanna E. (2013) Construction and accessibility of a cross-species phenotype ontology along with gene annotations for biomedical research. F1000Research. PMID: 24358873  

Kohler, S., Schoeneberg, U., Czeschik, J., Doelken, S., Hehir-Kwa, J., Ibn-Salem, J., Mungall, C., Smedley, D., Haendel, M., & Robinson, P. (2014) Clinical interpretation of CNVs with cross-species phenotype data. Journal of Medical Genetics, 51(11), 766-772. DOI: 10.1136/jmedgenet-2014-102633  

  • May 13, 2015
  • 08:00 AM

Half Male, Half Female, Completely Weird

by Mark Lasbury in As Many Exceptions As Rules

It’s tough being a guy. I imagine it’s just as tough being a girl. What if you were exactly half of each? Bilateral gynandromrophs are rare animals that are exactly one half of each sex. They have occurred in insects, crustaceans, spiders, and birds. We know how some come about, but the birds are giving scientists a heck of a time.... Read more »

Renfree, M., Chew, K., & Shaw, G. (2014) Hormone-Independent Pathways of Sexual Differentiation. Sexual Development, 8(5), 327-336. DOI: 10.1159/000358447  

Dumanski, J., Rasi, C., Lonn, M., Davies, H., Ingelsson, M., Giedraitis, V., Lannfelt, L., Magnusson, P., Lindgren, C., Morris, A.... (2014) Smoking is associated with mosaic loss of chromosome Y. Science, 347(6217), 81-83. DOI: 10.1126/science.1262092  

Zhao, D., McBride, D., Nandi, S., McQueen, H., McGrew, M., Hocking, P., Lewis, P., Sang, H., & Clinton, M. (2010) Somatic sex identity is cell autonomous in the chicken. Nature, 464(7286), 237-242. DOI: 10.1038/nature08852  

  • May 13, 2015
  • 05:01 AM

Childhood inattention and later academic outcome

by Paul Whiteley in Questioning Answers

"Across the full range of scores at a population level, each 1-point increase in inattention at age 7 years is associated with worse academic outcomes at age 16."That was one of the conclusions reached in the study by Kapil Sayal and colleagues [1] (open-access) drawing on data derived from the Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children or ALSPAC to those in the know. This initiative has also recently produced some other intriguing results on the potential long-term effects of bullying for example (see here)."Matching of the ALSPAC database with the administrative National Pupil Database (NPD, the central repository in England for pupil-level educational data) provided details of the children's results in the General Certificate of Secondary Education (GCSE) examinations at age 16 years." For those resident in England, Wales and Northern Ireland, GCSEs are probably a familiar concept (they were the starting point for my own academic achievement record). For everyone else, GCSEs are normally sat at the end of the school journey (16 years) and form the start of the typical educational achievement hierarchy leading into A-levels, university degree and beyond. "In total, GCSE attainment data were available for 11,640 children (83% of the core ALSPAC sample)."The Development and Well-Being Assessment (DAWBA) was completed by parents and teachers of participating children when aged 7 years old. Similar to other discussions on this blog mentioning the DAWBA (see here) it relates "closely to DSM-IV items and focus on current problems and associated impairment." For the purposes of the Sayal study "the key variables of interest relate to inattention, hyperactivity/impulsivity, and oppositional/defiant behaviors." Various other potential confounders such as child cognitive abilities and parental social class were also measured and taken into account when it came to the final analyses.Following some number-crunching the authors concluded that their results potentially "highlights the adverse effects of early childhood behavioral difficulties on educational outcomes in adolescence" specifically based on inattention symptoms: "inattention, particularly if noticeable to a parent or teacher, is a stronger predictor than hyperactivity/impulsivity of later academic difficulties." Disruptive behaviour disorder (DBD) and oppositional/defiant symptoms were also independently linked to worse academic outcomes in boys.I know that such findings are probably not totally unexpected in terms of issues such as inattention potentially impacting on learning ability/capacity/enthusiasm subsequently also being reflected in exam results, but the results do put a peer-reviewed, evidence-based perspective on things. Authors also note that: "teachers and parents should be aware of the academic impact of early behavioral difficulties, and, in particular, the risk associated with subthreshold difficulties." I might add that such results do not rule out other factors as playing a role in academic outcome as per other recent data [2].Insofar as what can be potentially done to mitigate such symptoms and their potential impact on academic performance, the authors offer a few suggestions including: "strategies that might help to optimize examination performance during teenage years include time management and organization skills (throughout the course of study), prioritization of key work, minimizing distractions, examination revision, and within-examination strategy." All well and good (and discussed by other authors [3]) I say but perhaps one might also look to 'tackling' issues such as inattention in other ways too. Take for example the recent paper from Bos and colleagues [4] (see this post) discussing their results based on supplementation with omega-3 fatty acids specifically on inattention symptoms. Probably not suitable or useful for every child with attentional issues, but certainly worth quite a bit more investigation looking for potential best responders based on the idea that good nutrition might be an important part of good mental health. Oh, and how about looking at sleep and even chess? [5]Music: Cannonball - The Breeders.----------[1] Sayal K. et al. Childhood behavior problems and academic outcomes in adolescence: longitudinal population-based study. J Am Acad Child Adolesc Psychiatry. 2015 May;54(5):360-368.e2.[2] Peyrot WJ. et al. The association between lower educational attainment and depression owing to shared genetic effects? Results in ~25 000 subjects. Molecular Psychiatry. 2015. April 28.[3] Ciesielski HA. et al. Academic Skills Groups for Middle School Children With ADHD in the Outpatient Mental Health Setting: An Open Trial. J Atten Disord. 2015 Apr 29. pii: 1087054715584055.[4] Bos DJ. et al. Reduced Symptoms of Inattention after Dietary Omega-3 Fatty Acid Supplementation in Boys with and without Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder. Neuropsychopharmacology. 2015 Mar 19.[5] Blasco-Fontecilla H. et al. Efficacy of chess training for the treatment of ADHD: A prospective, open label study. Rev Psiquiatr Salud Ment. 2015 Apr 21. pii: S1888-9891(15)00048-8.----------Sayal K, Washbrook E, & Propper C (2015). Childhood behavior problems and academic outcomes in adolescence: longitudinal population-based study. Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, 54 (5), 360-36800 PMID: 25901772... Read more »

Sayal K, Washbrook E, & Propper C. (2015) Childhood behavior problems and academic outcomes in adolescence: longitudinal population-based study. Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, 54(5), 360-36800. PMID: 25901772  

  • May 12, 2015
  • 01:07 PM

Rabbit roulette: Atropinesterase and the ability to handle deadly nightshade

by Rosin Cerate in Rosin Cerate

All mammals possess an armament of enzymes capable of breaking apart various groups of molecules. These enzymes are typically named after their target. Peptidases act on peptides, lactase hones in on lactose, and so on. The enzyme-driven breakdown of molecules serves a wide variety of functions, including acquisition of nutrients from food and broken down cell parts, regulation of communication processes between and within cells, and detoxification of potentially harmful plant-derived substances.Esterases are good at taking apart esters. They accomplish this by using a water molecule to split the carbon-oxygen bond that lies at the core of an ester, resulting in the production of an acid and an alcohol. An important ester in the human body is acetylcholine, which functions as a neurotransmitter and thus enables communication throughout the nervous system. To turn off the signal created by the presence of acetylcholine, we produce an enzyme called acetylcholinesterase, which cleaves off an acetyl group (essentially acetate, an acid), leaving behind inactive choline (an alcohol). We can then re-attach the two to produce more acetylcholine elsewhere or at a later point in time.Deadly nightshade, potential bunny food (Source)Unlike other mammals, rabbits have been observed to be capable of munching on the leaves of a plant called deadly nightshade (Atropa belladonna) without becoming dead. The plant contains a number of tropane alkaloids (tropane = a ring of seven carbon atoms fused to a second ring formed by a nitrogen atom) including atropine and scopolamine. These alkaloids, which we use as drugs in low doses, can cause a variety of nasty and deadly effects. They also happen to be esters.Further investigation of nightshade-resistant bunnies revealed the presence of relatively high concentrations of atropinesterase in their blood. This enzyme is capable of breaking apart nightshade-derived tropane alkaloid esters, resulting in their detoxification. It has been estimated that atropinesterase-producing rabbits have enough of the enzyme coursing through their veins to inactivate doses of atropine sufficient to cause effects in substantially larger human beings.Interestingly, appreciable production of this enzyme is only found in rabbits (vs. people, pigs, goats, and dogs), and even then, only in some of them and seemingly at random. For example, two different studies reported that 59% and 33% of New Zealand Whites made the enzyme, so within a single strain the proportion of rabbits that can handle deadly nightshade can vary widely. Very generally though, it appears that rabbits that have a fair amount of black fur tend to make lots of atropinesterase, likely reflecting a linkage between the genes encoding these traits.Atropinesterase can pose a bit of a problem for researchers using rabbits as an animal model to investigate the effects of certain drugs. In cases where rabbits are being given atropine or scopolamine (which are used to block certain actions of acetylcholine, and so are fairly widely used), results can obviously be skewed by whether or not they quickly rid themselves of these drugs. In particular, studies looking to investigate potential treatments for organophosphate poisoning can potentially be disrupted, since these poisons inhibit acetylcholinesterase and atropine is typically used to control the toxic effects of the resulting build up of acetylcholine.Incidentally, rabbits also produce an enzyme called cocainesterase, for which the scientific literature is rather scarce. Cocaine is also a tropane alkaloid. Perhaps South American bunnies eat coca plants?ReferencesCauthen SE, Ellis RD, Larrison SB, Kidd MR. 1976. Resolution, purification and characterization of rabbit serum atropinesterase and cocainesterase. Biochemical Pharmacology 25(2):181-185.Harrison PK, Tattersall JE, Gosden E. 2006. The presence of atropinesterase activity in animal plasma. Naunyn-Schmiedeberg's Archives of Pharmacology 373(3):230-236.Liebenberg SP, Linn JM. 1980. Seasonal and sexual influences on rabbit atropinesterase. Laboratory Animals 14(4):297-300. [Full text]... Read more »

Harrison, P., Tattersall, J., & Gosden, E. (2006) The presence of atropinesterase activity in animal plasma. Naunyn-Schmiedeberg's Archives of Pharmacology, 373(3), 230-236. DOI: 10.1007/s00210-006-0054-5  

  • May 12, 2015
  • 11:50 AM

Why female house finches prefer redheads over blonds

by Betty Zou in Eat, Read, Science

Red male house finches are better at surviving disease epidemics and clearing pathogen infections. Researchers at Auburn University use a gene expression approach to try and identify genes that might play a role in the link between plumage colour and disease response.... Read more »

Balenger, S., Bonneaud, C., Sefick, S., Edwards, S., & Hill, G. (2015) Plumage color and pathogen-induced gene expression in a wild bird. Behavioral Ecology. DOI: 10.1093/beheco/arv055  

  • May 12, 2015
  • 05:13 AM

Consider congenital cytomegalovirus infection when it comes to autism

by Paul Whiteley in Questioning Answers

"The finding lends some further support for congenital CMV [cytomegalovirus] being one of the many aetiologies underlying autism spectrum disorder with intellectual disability."That was the conclusion reached by Mona-Lisa Engman and colleagues [1] from Sweden following their study looking to "evaluate the prevalence of congenital cytomegalovirus infection (CMV) in a representative sample of children with autism spectrum disorder." Carrying some rather distinguished company as part of the authorship list (see here and see here for example), researchers analysed that most important (and under-rated in my opinion) of resources, the newborn dried blood spot (see here), to screen for "CMV DNA using TaqMan-polymerase chain reaction.""One of the 33 children with autism spectrum disorder and intellectual disability - 3% of that group - had congenital CMV infection." Allowing for the small group included for study and the isolated case of congenital CMV infection detected, the corresponding general population estimate for congenital CMV in Sweden (0.2%) was surpassed leading to the call for "similar studies with much larger samples."I've talked about congenital CMV infection and autism before on this blog (see here) and how some studies [2] have talked about infection rates quite a bit in excess of that seen in the general population when examining children diagnosed with autism. I've got little more to say on this topic aside from the idea that screening for congenital CMV should perhaps be expanded as and when autism is diagnosed. As per other research from Engman [3] congenital CMV might also carry some specific morphological changes to the brain which could also be included for further inspection, particularly in light of the findings from Erbetta and colleagues [4] covered in a recent post (see here).And then to mechanisms of effect...Music: Kate Bush and Army Dreamers. And if you're really interested (as I was), The Kate Bush Story: Running Up That Hill.----------[1] Engman ML. et al. Prenatal acquired cytomegalovirus infection should be considered in children with autism. Acta Paediatr. 2015 Apr 21.[2] Sakamoto A. et al. Retrospective diagnosis of congenital cytomegalovirus infection in children with autism spectrum disorder but no other major neurologic deficit. Brain Dev. 2015 Feb;37(2):200-5.[3] Engman ML. et al. Congenital cytomegalovirus infection: the impact of cerebral cortical malformations. Acta Paediatr. 2010 Sep;99(9):1344-9.[4] Erbetta A. et al. Low-Functioning Autism and Nonsyndromic Intellectual Disability: Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) Findings. J Child Neurol. 2015 Apr 20.----------Engman ML, Sundin M, Miniscalco C, Westerlund J, Lewensohn-Fuchs I, Gillberg C, & Fernell E (2015). Prenatal acquired cytomegalovirus infection should be considered in children with autism. Acta paediatrica (Oslo, Norway : 1992) PMID: 25900322... Read more »

Engman ML, Sundin M, Miniscalco C, Westerlund J, Lewensohn-Fuchs I, Gillberg C, & Fernell E. (2015) Prenatal acquired cytomegalovirus infection should be considered in children with autism. Acta paediatrica (Oslo, Norway : 1992). PMID: 25900322  

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