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  • January 13, 2015
  • 04:58 AM

Autism diagnosis as a predictor of slow colonic transit

by Paul Whiteley in Questioning Answers

Slow colonic transit is all about issues with the speed of gastrointestinal (GI) motility and how as well as deriving nourishment from our food/drink, the other important task which our gut undertakes is the removal of waste, which it generally does pretty well. The paper by Zainab Ridha and colleagues [1] suggested that a diagnosis of autism might be over-represented when it came to their review of children referred for "nuclear transit studies", that is measuring bowel transit by means of using a radiotracer. Indeed the authors note: "Neuropsychiatric disorders, in particular autism, are useful predictors of STC [slow transit constipation] and FFR [functional fecal retention] in children". I think we might have previously seen snippets of these results in another publication too [2].You might feel a sharp scratch...It's not new news that functional bowel disorders such as constipation and diarrhoea tend to be quite frequent issues accompanying quite a few cases of autism. I've covered some of the research on this topic before on this blog (see here). I might in particular, draw your attention to the meta-analysis by Barbara McElhanon and colleagues [3] (open-access) that concluded: "Children with ASD [autism spectrum disorder] experience significantly more general GI symptoms than comparison groups".Although there is now pretty widespread acceptance that bowel issues can and often do accompany autism, there is still a degree of reticence to talk about what might be causing such issues and what *might* be done about them [4], specifically when approached in the context of more serious underlying bowel disorders potentially being linked to said functional bowel issues (see here). I hark back to one of my first ramblings on this topic which was titled: 'Should I mention gastrointestinal symptoms in autism?' as an example of how delicate an area of investigation this was/is.I'd like to think that the paper from Ridha et al might however continue to open this research area up and highlight how the so-called gut-brain axis is growing in both acceptance and understanding. The additionally interesting data from the authors suggesting that: "15.8 % of patients with constipation were obese, compared to 6.4 % in the general Australian paediatric population" whilst not necessarily autism-exclusive might also stimulate further interest in light of the analysis of weight and activity with autism in mind too (see here). Oh, and that nutritional deficiency and a higher body mass index (BMI) might also be another curious combination for some on the autism spectrum [5].I'm going to chance my [speculating] luck and say that among the many factors potentially involved in these combined factors, a role for those trillions of wee beasties that call us home (the gut microbiome) might also show some involvement...Music: Joe Cocker - With A Little Help From My Friends (RIP).----------[1] Ridha Z. et al. Predictors of slow colonic transit in children. Pediatr Surg Int. 2014 Dec 31.[2] Croaker D. et al. PO-0110 Predictors Of Slow Colonic Transit In Children. Arch Dis Child 2014; 99: A285.[3] McElhanon BO. et al. Gastrointestinal symptoms in autism spectrum disorder: a meta-analysis. Pediatrics. 2014 May;133(5):872-83.[4] Coccolrullo P. et al. Lactobacillus reuteri (DSM 17938) in Infants with Functional Chronic Constipation: A Double-Blind, Randomized, Placebo-Controlled Study. J Peds. 2010; 157: 598-602.[5] Shmaya Y. et al. Nutritional deficiencies and overweight prevalence among children with autism spectrum disorder. Res Dev Disabil. 2014 Dec 19;38C:1-6.----------Ridha Z, Quinn R, & Croaker GD (2014). Predictors of slow colonic transit in children. Pediatric surgery international PMID: 25549892... Read more »

Ridha Z, Quinn R, & Croaker GD. (2014) Predictors of slow colonic transit in children. Pediatric surgery international. PMID: 25549892  

  • January 13, 2015
  • 02:46 AM

How do viruses work in making us smart?

by Usman Paracha in SayPeople

Main Point:

Viruses are important in making us smarter by improving the basic functions of the brain, especially the regulation of gene expressions.

Published in:

Cell Reports

Study Further:

Researchers from Lund University in Sweden have found that millions of year’s old inherited viruses can have special impact on the development of complex networks in the brain of human beings.

Previously, it was clear that endogenous retroviruses make nearly 5% of DNA of human beings, but these DNAs were considered as junk DNAs, which are of no value. Now, scientists have found that these retroviruses have an important function in regulating the gene expressions in the brain, thereby taking part in one of the most important aspects of brain functioning. Contribution of viruses in the functioning of brain cells is also helpful in explaining the dynamic as well as multifaceted nature of the cells in the brain. This research is also showing that with evolutionary processes, viruses have taken strong hold of our cellular life.

Rretrovirus (Source: Stanford School of Medicine)
Rretrovirus (Source: Stanford School of Medicine)

Retroviruses have the ability to be activated specifically in the cells of the brain. It is thought that nerve cells have the ability to be protected from the development of tumors, and that is the reason for activation of viruses particularly in the brain.

This research can also help in investigating the brain diseases that are related to hereditary factors. Presently, researchers think that only genes are responsible for such hereditary diseases, but this research has opened up new horizons of research.

Fasching, L., Kapopoulou, A., Sachdeva, R., Petri, R., Jönsson, M., Männe, C., Turelli, P., Jern, P., Cammas, F., Trono, D., & Jakobsson, J. (2015). TRIM28 Represses Transcription of Endogenous Retroviruses in Neural Progenitor Cells Cell Reports, 10 (1), 20-28 DOI: 10.1016/j.celrep.2014.12.004... Read more »

Fasching, L., Kapopoulou, A., Sachdeva, R., Petri, R., Jönsson, M., Männe, C., Turelli, P., Jern, P., Cammas, F., Trono, D.... (2015) TRIM28 Represses Transcription of Endogenous Retroviruses in Neural Progenitor Cells. Cell Reports, 10(1), 20-28. DOI: 10.1016/j.celrep.2014.12.004  

  • January 12, 2015
  • 10:30 PM

Cataloging a year of blogging: the philosophical turn

by Artem Kaznatcheev in Evolutionary Games Group

Passion and motivation are strange and confusing facets of being. Many things about them feel paradoxical. For example, I really enjoy writing, categorizing, and — obviously, if you’ve read many of the introductory paragraphs on TheEGG — blabbing on far too long about myself. So you’d expect that I would have been extremely motivated to […]... Read more »

Kaznatcheev, A., Montrey, M., & Shultz, T.R. (2014) Evolving useful delusions: Subjectively rational selfishness leads to objectively irrational cooperation. Proceedings of the 36th annual conference of the Cognitive Science Society. arXiv: 1405.0041v1

  • January 12, 2015
  • 05:08 PM

Study shows rise in mass die-offs

by Dr. Jekyll in Lunatic Laboratories

You really don’t hear much about mass die-offs from mainstream news outlets; this might make you think they don’t happen that often. However, an analysis of 727 mass die-offs of nearly 2,500 animal species from the past 70 years has found that such events are increasing among birds, fish, and marine invertebrates. At the same time, the number of individuals killed appears to be decreasing for reptiles and amphibians, and is unchanged for mammals.... Read more »

Samuel B. Fey, Adam M. Siepielski, Sébastien Nusslé, Kristina Cervantes-Yoshida, Jason L. Hwan, Eric R. Huber, Maxfield J. Fey, Alessandro Catenazzi, & Stephanie M. Carlson. (2015) Recent shifts in the occurrence, cause, and magnitude of animal mass mortality events. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America. info:/10.1073/pnas.1414894112

  • January 12, 2015
  • 10:24 AM

Collective Personality and Our Environment

by Miss Behavior in The Scorpion and the Frog

We are all familiar with the concept of the personality of an individual. We are less familiar with group- or collective personalities (although most teachers can tell you at length about the personalities of each of their classes). The concept is the same: whereas an individual personality relates to an individual’s consistent behaviors across time and contexts, a collective personality relates to a group’s consistent behaviors across time and contexts. Collective personalities can be strongly influenced by the composition and size of the animal group, but also by the environment. A social spider web by Harvey Barrison at Wikimedia Commons. This week at Accumulating Glitches I talk about how the environment influences group personalities in social spiders. Check it out here. And to learn more, check this out: Modlmeier, A., Forrester, N., & Pruitt, J. (2014). Habitat structure helps guide the emergence of colony-level personality in social spiders Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology, 68 (12), 1965-1972 DOI: 10.1007/s00265-014-1802-z ... Read more »

  • January 12, 2015
  • 08:00 AM

More sex, more UTIs: how timing affects your risk of bladder infection

by Betty Zou in Eat, Read, Science

“Pee after sex” is perhaps one of the most memorable pieces of advice I’ve picked up in conversations with female friends over the years. The theory is that peeing right after sex will help to flush out any bacteria that may have entered your body during sex and prevent them from infecting your urinary tract.... Read more »

  • January 12, 2015
  • 05:14 AM

Why do some people see ghosts?

by Isabel Torres in Science in the clouds

For most people ghosts and spirits are part of the imaginary, but a few are truly convinced they can sometimes feel a strange presence near them. These individuals are not experiencing a paranormal phenomenon—they’re having an illusion. Schizophrenics, for instance, consistently report hearing voices or feeling someone—a ‘shadow’ or a ‘man’—close to them. Scientists have long known that illusions have a neurological cause, but they haven’t managed to pinpoint exactly how they are triggered by the brain.Now, Olaf Blanke and colleagues have not only mapped the brain regions responsible for the ‘feeling of a presence’ illusion in neurological patients, but they have also developed a robot that tricks healthy people into sensing a ‘ghostly’ apparition. This work may shed light into what causes hallucinations in schizophrenia, and help design new therapeutic approaches to treat this psychosis.  Credit: Alain Herzog, EPFLIn 2006, Blanke showed that he could induce the feeling of a presence in an epileptic patient by electrically stimulating a particular brain area—the temporoparietal junction. This region is involved in integrating body-related information from our senses and movements, and is often overactive in schizophrenic patients. But he found something even more interesting: the presence always mirrored the patient’s body position and movements; if the patient was sitting, the presence was also sitting and so on. “The presence was a duplicate of the patient, as if the patient’s body was recognised as another agent”, says Giulio Rognini, a collaborator at the Ecole Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne. “The body sensory information, which is not well integrated by the brain, is attributed to someone else.”The researchers suspected that electrical stimulation of the temporoparietal region somehow disturbed integration of the patient’s sensory and motor information—her brain got confused and misplaced the bodily signals to the presence. To test this hypothesis, the team needed to be creative. “The patient studies show that when there is no appropriate integration of the body sensory signals, then the feeling of a presence can occur, so we tried to do the reverse process: we perturbed the sensory motor system to see whether we could induce the presence”, says Rognini. And what better way to do this than with… a robot. In their new study, Blanke and colleagues asked 12 blindfolded healthy participants to stick their finger into a ‘master’ robot and then move it around. The ‘slave’ robot, which was touching the participants’ back, mimicked the movements of the master robot either simultaneously, or with a slight delay. In the first condition (simultaneous touch), the participants felt as though they were touching their own back. This is already a strange illusion, but what happened when the slave robot poked them with a slight delay relative to the master robot is even weirder. About a third of the participants felt like someone else was touching them. Not the robot, but just ‘someone’, a presence. This illusion was short lived, but according to the participants’ description, it was very vivid and also a bit creepy. “30% [of the participants] reported without asking them that they had a feeling of a presence. This is already very strong because in this field of body illusions, it’s very rare to find somebody that reports the illusion without being asked” says Rognini, who is senior author in the study.The team also mapped the brain regions that trigger the illusions in several neurological patients. As expected, electrical stimulation of the temporoparietal, but especially the frontoparietal brain regions, induced the illusion. And again, most patients reported that the presence mimicked their movements. Lesion overlap analysis revealed three brain regions involved in the feeling of a presence illusion: temporo-parietal, insular and fronto-parietal cortex. @Current BiologyThe feeling of a presence is mostly associated with epilepsy and schizophrenia, but healthy people can also feel ‘ghosts’, especially during periods of extreme stress or physical exhaustion. Many mountaineers report they sometimes feel someone climbing with them, even though there was no one around. “If you’re walking and doing repetitive movements over and over again, your brain loses control over your movements because they’re not informative anymore”, says Rognini. “Your actions and the consequences of your actions can be misinterpreted, and together with low oxygen conditions in high altitude, this could give rise to feeling of a presence. But this is completely speculative.” The researchers are planning to test this hypothesis by trying to exhaust people in treadmills, and then check whether they are more prone to experiencing the illusion. They are also developing an fMRI-compatible robot to induce the illusion while the participants are being scanned.“The next steps are about understanding the brain mechanisms by putting the subjects in the scanner, and then try to investigate how this phenomenon is perceived in schizophrenic patients to try to set out a therapeutic strategy or a way to better understand this psychosis,” says Rognini.Herta Flor, director of the Institute of Cognitive and Clinical Neuroscience of the University of Heidelberg (Germany) says “Disturbed body perception is a core feature in several mental disorde... Read more »

Blanke Olaf, Masayuki Hara, Lukas Heydrich, Andrea Serino, Akio Yamamoto, Toshiro Higuchi, Roy Salomon, Margitta Seeck, Theodor Landis, & Shahar Arzy. (2014) Neurological and Robot-Controlled Induction of an Apparition. Current Biology, 24(22), 2681-2686. DOI:  

  • January 12, 2015
  • 04:35 AM

Ritual circumcision and risk of autism

by Paul Whiteley in Questioning Answers

A quote to begin: "We confirmed our hypothesis that boys who undergo ritual circumcision may run a greater risk of developing ASD [autism spectrum disorder].""Objetos dispersos" de Xulio Formoso 2008That was the rather surprising finding reported by Morten Frisch & Jacob Simonsen [1] (open-access) following their register-based cohort study based in Denmark. Some of the media following this paper can be seen here.I'll be honest with you and say that my brow furrowed somewhat upon first reading about this paper. Of all the correlations associated with 'risk of autism' this has to be one of the more unusual (aside that is from meat consumption perhaps). That brow furrowing however softened as I read the study and realised that (a) the source data for the 'correlation' relied on one of those ever-so interesting Scandinavian population databases that have suggested quite a few important factors might be linked to autism (see here and see here), and (b) the authors make mention of the accumulating data looking at certain types of pain relief - yes, you paracetamol - as potentially being something requiring further investigation with regards to autism and other neurodevelopmental risks (see here).Anyhow, the Frisch/Simonsen paper is open-access but as always, a few pointers...The rationale for the study seems to stem from "recent animal findings linking a single painful injury to lifelong deficits in stress response" and data from the paper by Bauer & Kriebel [2] (open-access) suggesting "that with each 10% increase in a population’s neonatal circumcision rate, the estimated prevalence of ASD increased significantly by 2.01 per 1000 boys."Based on a cohort of over 340,000 boys born and 'tagged' in the Danish healthcare system between 1994 and 2003, the authors located just over 5000 boys "diagnosed with ASD before their 10th birthday". Ritual circumcision - that is circumcision with a specific religious significance - is coded in Denmark, whether carried out in a state hospital or at a private clinic (subsidised by the state healthcare system). Sources of those codings were tracked. Out of a total of 3347 circumcisions (in the entire cohort) the authors found 57 boys with ASD included in that category. Results: after various statistical procedures and correction for confounding variables including cultural background and birth and perinatal characteristics, the authors concluded: "Ritual circumcision among Danish boys is linked to an overall 46–62% increase in ASD risk in the first 10 years of life". Further: "More strikingly, risk was 80–83% increased in the first 0–4 years of life, an increase that was restricted to infantile autism." At the same time, there was no significant link between circumcision and "risk of hyperkinetic disorder" nor risk of asthma.The authors offer some 'significant' discussion about the limitations of their findings including the possibility that circumcision rates were under-estimated: "Muslim authorities in Denmark explained to the National Board of Health that Muslim circumcisions are often made by private practitioners in their clinics or in the boys’ homes." They also go on quite a bit in the paper and in the media reports on the paper about how the early life pain/stress of circumcision somehow might translate into an increased risk for autism. I'd tend to agree however with an external commentator talking about the study who said: "I have some issues with the premise in that their speculations regarding early pain as a cause of autism are, to say the least, highly speculative."These are interesting findings albeit observational. Correlation is not the same as causation is also a term which should be reiterated when it comes to such data but there are some potentially important gems of information included in the Frisch/Bauer study. Capitalising on the idea that modern circumcision (the practice itself being around for quite a while) normally involves the use of pain relief following surgical anaesthetic, I want to emphasise something the authors said about this: "Unfortunately, we had no data available on analgesics or possible local anaesthetics used during ritual circumcisions in our cohort, so we were unable to address the paracetamol hypothesis directly."I'm not necessarily saying that there is a connection between anaesthetics and autism, even though other data has hinted that there may be more to see [3]. On the strength of that study by DiMaggio and colleagues for example, and their suggestion of an increasing risk of "developmental or behavioral disorders" it would be interesting to see how many more times anaesthesia was used in the circumcised autism group vs. other groupings and whether 'the dose [really does] make(s) the poison'.I've already mentioned pain relief as being something already on the autism/neurodevelopmental research radar insofar as the growing interest into how something like prenatal paracetamol (acetaminophen) exposure might 'correlate' with various offspring outcomes. Although stepping onto even more contentious autism research ground, the idea that post-vaccination paracetamol use is potentially linked to cases of autism [4] offers something of a template for further study in this area.I'm a little unsure how to end this post bearing in mind my blogging caveats about not giving anything that looks, sounds or smells like medical or clinical advice. I appreciate that this study might not be particularly well received by religious groups who undertake ritual circumcision, or to others, might just seem like a bit of daft 'correlation is not causation' autism research. I'd however be minded to suggest that there could be more research to see and do in this area when brows are a little less furrowed...----------[1] Frisch M. & Simonsen J. Ritual circumcision and risk of autism spectrum disorder in 0- to 9-year-old boys: national cohort study in Denmark. JRSM. 2015. 8 January.[2] Bauer AZ. & Kriebel D. Prenatal and perinatal analgesic exposure and autism: an ecological link. Environ Health. 2013 May 9;12:41.[3] DiMaggio C. et al. Early childhood exposure to anesthesia and risk of developmental and behavioral disorders in a sibling birth cohort. Anesth Analg. 2011 Nov;113(5):1143-51.[4] Schultz ST. et al. Acetaminophen (paracetamol) use, measles-mumps-rubella vaccination, and autistic disorder: the results of a parent survey. Autism. 2008 May;12(3):293-307.----------... Read more »

  • January 11, 2015
  • 05:56 PM

Epistasis in living colour—mapping an evolutionary trajectory

by Humeandroid in The Art of World-Making

Reconstruction of evolutionary trajectories will be a favourite topic on this blog, since it’s a very interesting area that is currently growing rapidly. I already wrote about nice new work showing how heat stability can evolve in thermophiles (heat-loving organisms). Now there’s a new paper looking at how blue color vision arose in the lineage […]... Read more »

Yokoyama, S., Xing, J., Liu, Y., Faggionato, D., Altun, A., & Starmer, W. (2014) Epistatic Adaptive Evolution of Human Color Vision. PLoS Genetics, 10(12). DOI: 10.1371/journal.pgen.1004884  

  • January 11, 2015
  • 03:10 PM

Being angry might be good for your health

by Dr. Jekyll in Lunatic Laboratories

In the US and many Western countries, people are urged to manage feelings of anger or suffer its ill effects. We are raised to, for a large part, stifle our emotions and to “not be so angry.” However, new research with participants from the US and Japan suggests that anger may actually be linked with better, not worse, health at least in certain cultures.... Read more »

Kitayama S., J. M. Boylan, Y. Miyamoto, C. S. Levine, H. R. Markus, M. Karasawa, C. L. Coe, N. Kawakami, G. D. Love, & C. D. Ryff. (2015) Expression of Anger and Ill Health in Two Cultures: An Examination of Inflammation and Cardiovascular Risk. Psychological Science. DOI:  

  • January 11, 2015
  • 11:00 AM

The viruses inside us: can endogenous retroviruses elicit antibodies?

by EE Giorgi in CHIMERAS

January Moonrise © EEGToday I would like to discuss a couple of papers that I used as premise for my new thriller Immunity, which will be part of the Apocalypse Weird series, created by Nick Cole, Michael Bunker and Tim Grahl. Just like all my other thrillers, Immunity too, finds its roots in some fascinating facts about genetics, virology and of course immunity.The premise of the book has to do with something I discussed a long time ago, in one of my very first posts: human endogenous retroviruses, or HERV's, are small portions of our DNA that we acquired from ancient retroviruses that infected germ line cells of our primate ancestors. Basically, these genes came directly from retroviruses that inserted themselves into cells that then became oocytes or spermatozoa and, once fertilized, passed the viral genes to a new individual. These genomic elements are mostly inactivated in adults (meaning they are in a non-coding part of the DNA), but they have been shown to be transcriptionally active during fetal development. The intriguing bit, however, is that expression levels of these genetic elements have been found to be disrupted in subjects with schizophrenia [1]. I'm sure you are all familiar with the disease, which typically manifests itself through hallucinations (mostly auditory ones), delusions, and the inability to distinguish reality from things that only exists in the patient's mind. It's often characterized also by disorganized thoughts and incoherent speech. Nobel laureate John Nash suffered from schizophrenia, and his disease was portrayed in the movie A Beautiful Mind, though in a very fictionalized way. Another famous case is USC professor Elyn Saks, who wrote an award-winning memoir on her life-long battle against schizophrenia.Retroviruses are sleek little things. They can infect brain cells and integrate their genomes into the host cell's DNA, causing all sorts of damage. For example, some studies have shown that viruses like HIV and HTLV can indeed infect the brain, causing symptoms such as psychosis and depression [2]. The body fights viruses and pathogens by sending its sentinels (natural killer cells, T cells and antibodies) to find them and destroy them. But what happens if the virus is already embedded in our genome, as is the case with HERVs? Those viral elements have been part of our genome for millions of years, so, in theory, our immune system is not supposed to 'see' them. One of the most marvelous and yet most delicate mechanisms that is at the foundation of our immune system is its ability to distinguish self from non-self. T cells and B cells have to undergo strict scrutiny to make sure that they don't mistakenly attack cells of our own body thinking that they are pathogens. This mechanism is tough but not perfect, and failures to recognize self from non-self are at the basis of numerous auto-immune disorders. Autoimmune thyroditis, for example, is an inflammation of the thyroid caused by antibodies attacking the thyroid. One natural hypothesis as to why HERVs expression levels could be disrupted in a disease like schizophrenia could be that the body is producing antibodies against those genetic elements. This hypothesis cannot be tested directly because, as Dickerson et al. explain in [1], there are no available reagents. However, one can look for antibodies that recognize retroviruses like murine leukemia virus (MuLV), Mason-Pfizer monkey virus (MPMV), and feline immunodeficiency virus (FIV) because they have enough similarities with HERVs.Dickerson et al. measured the levels of antibodies against these viruses in a population of 666 study subjects, of which 163 with a recent onset of psychosis, 268 with multi-episode schizophrenia, not of recent onset, and 235 controls without a history of psychiatric disorders. They found a significant increase in antibody levels in the recent onset group compared to controls, but not in the multi-episode group compared to controls. At the same time, these subjects had no traces of the actual viruses in their bodies, indicating that the antibody response had to be elicited by the endogenous elements (instead of an active infection). Another study [2] looked for an enzyme called reverse transcriptase, which is a marker for retroviral activity, and found that it was 4 times higher in the cerebrospinal fluid of patients with recent onset of schizophrenia compared to controls.Many autoimmune disorders are caused by the immune system suddenly attacking its own self. I've used this premise before in my books: Track Presius, the main character in Chimeras, has elevated levels of anti-nuclear antibodies, which are antibodies that, in high concentrations, can cause different immunological disorders as they tend to bind to human antigens.What intrigued me about the HERV-schizophrenia association, though, was: the researchers tested the presence of antibodies against HERV's using viruses that are not commonly found. What if, instead, a common virus like the flu did bear resemblance to the HERV elements in our brain? In order to fight the infection, our body would have to start producing antibodies that could potentially attack those human genes, too. What would then happen to the brain, suddenly under attack by its own antibodies?I don't know the real answer, but I can tell you that I had fun speculating about it in my novel. Immunity will be released in April and it will be part of the Apocalypse Weird series.[1] Dickerson F, Lillehoj E, Stallings C, Wiley M, Origoni A, Vaughan C, Khushalani S, Sabunciyan S, & Yolken R (2012). Antibodies to retroviruses in recent onset psychosis and multi-episode schizophrenia. Schizophrenia research, 138 (2-3), 198-205 PMID: 22542615[2] Yolken R (2004). Viruses and schizophrenia: a focus on herpes simplex virus. Herpes : the journal of the IHMF, 11 Suppl 2 PMID: 15319094 ... Read more »

Dickerson F, Lillehoj E, Stallings C, Wiley M, Origoni A, Vaughan C, Khushalani S, Sabunciyan S, & Yolken R. (2012) Antibodies to retroviruses in recent onset psychosis and multi-episode schizophrenia. Schizophrenia research, 138(2-3), 198-205. PMID: 22542615  

  • January 10, 2015
  • 05:52 AM

Oxytocin: Two New Reasons For Skepticism

by Neuroskeptic in Neuroskeptic_Discover

A new study offers two reasons to be cautious about some of the claims made for the role of the hormone oxytocin in human behavior.

The paper's out now in PLoS ONE from researchers James C. Christensen and colleagues, who are based at the US Air Force Research Laboratory in Ohio. That the military are interested in oxytocin at all is perhaps a testament to the huge amount of interest that this molecule has attracted in recent years. Oxytocin has been called the "hug hormone", and is said to b... Read more »

  • January 9, 2015
  • 04:36 PM

Humans keep the memories accurate by forgetting

by Dr. Jekyll in Lunatic Laboratories

Your brain is a memory powerhouse, constantly recording experiences in long-term memory. Those memories help you find your way through the world: Who works the counter each morning at your favorite coffee shop? How do you turn on the headlights of your car? What color is your best friend’s house? But then your barista leaves for law school, you finally buy a new car and your buddy spends the summer with a paint brush in hand. Suddenly, your memories are out of date. So what do you do, forget about it.... Read more »

Kim G, Lewis-Peacock JA, Norman KA, & Turk-Browne NB. (2014) Pruning of memories by context-based prediction error. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, 111(24), 8997-9002. PMID: 24889631  

  • January 9, 2015
  • 12:06 PM

January 8, 2015

by Erin Campbell in HighMag Blog

If you are lucky in life, there is at least one person who will always be there for you—a parent, your spouse, maybe even your pooch. As we understand more and more of what goes on inside a cell, it has become clear that actin is always there for the cell’s many organelles. Actin is so supportive and encouraging, and without it our cells would just be puddles of fats and proteins. Today’s images are from a paper describing the role of actin in mitochondrial fission. Mitochondria are dynamic organelles that divide by fission. Although a role for the actin cytoskeleton in mitochondrial fission has been suggested, the exact mechanism is unclear. Recent work by Li and colleagues shows a transient association of F-actin (filamentous actin) to mitochondria at the start of fission. Downregulation of the actin regulators cortactin, cofilin, and Arp2/3 caused elongation of mitochondria. Li and colleagues tested the role of Drp1, which is a key player in mitochondrial division, on F-actin assembly during fission. Drp1 inhibition prolonged the localization of F-actin and several actin regulators at mitochondria during fission. In the left group of images above, F-actin (green) and mitochondria (red) are visible in a control mammalian cell (bottom row is at higher magnification). The group of images on the right shows mammalian cells after chemical induction of mitochondrial fission: 2 minutes after drug treatment, many F-actin-rich mitochondria are visible. Li, S., Xu, S., Roelofs, B., Boyman, L., Lederer, W., Sesaki, H., & Karbowski, M. (2014). Transient assembly of F-actin on the outer mitochondrial membrane contributes to mitochondrial fission The Journal of Cell Biology, 208 (1), 109-123 DOI: 10.1083/jcb.201404050... Read more »

  • January 9, 2015
  • 10:09 AM

Memo to Carmakers: This Fish Is a Bad Model

by Elizabeth Preston in Inkfish

In 2005, Mercedes-Benz revealed a concept car with a strange shape. Called the Bionic, the cartoonishly snub-nosed vehicle was modeled after Ostracion cubicus, the yellow boxfish. Car manufacturers aren't the only ones to take inspiration from this weird coral dweller. But researchers now say engineers who mimicked the boxfish might have been misled.

Shaping the car like a boxfish was supposed to make it aerodynamic. And the fish's allegedly low drag underwater wasn't its only interesting... Read more »

Van Wassenbergh S, van Manen K, Marcroft TA, Alfaro ME, & Stamhuis EJ. (2015) Boxfish swimming paradox resolved: forces by the flow of water around the body promote manoeuvrability. Journal of the Royal Society, Interface / the Royal Society, 12(103). PMID: 25505133  

  • January 9, 2015
  • 08:00 AM

Common disease genomics by large-scale sequencing

by Daniel Koboldt in Massgenomics

Understanding the genetic basis of common disease is an important goal for human genetics research. Nothing that we do is easy — the ~25% success rate of exome sequencing in monogenic (Mendelian) disorders is proof enough of that — but the challenges of complex disease genetics are considerable. Cardiovascular and metabolic diseases in particular arise […]... Read more »

Do R, Stitziel NO, Won H, Jørgensen AB, Duga S, Angelica Merlini P, Kiezun A, Farrall M, Goel A, Zuk O.... (2014) Exome sequencing identifies rare LDLR and APOA5 alleles conferring risk for myocardial infarction. Nature. PMID: 25487149  

  • January 9, 2015
  • 04:35 AM

Early mortality in mums of children with autism or intellectual disability

by Paul Whiteley in Questioning Answers

I know the paper by Jenny Fairthorne and colleagues [1] (open-access) is probably not the happiest thing to read with their conclusion that: "During the study period, mothers of children with intellectual disability or ASD [autism spectrum disorder] had more than twice the risk of death" but their message is nonetheless an important one.Based on data derived from "state-wide databases" covering women living in Western Australia who gave birth between 1983 and 2005, researchers detected mums with a child diagnosed with autism and/or intellectual disability (learning disability if you prefer) and cross-referenced findings with "the state mortality registry" providing information on "dates and cause of death by ICD-9 or 10 codes". Various study (case) groups were formed on the basis of offspring diagnosis - intellectual disability (ID) of unknown cause (further separated based on levels of ID), ID of known cause (specifically Down syndrome or other) and a diagnosis of autism spectrum disorder (ASD) with and without ID - and aided analyses.After some correction for various confounders including maternal age and socio-economic status (SES), from a starting population of some 300,000 mothers, approximately 1% had died before 2011 (the longer follow-up period). To quote: "Twenty-five years after the birth of their index child, the survival rates of mothers of children with no intellectual disability and no ASD were about 98%, followed by 96% for mothers of children with ASD and 95% for mothers of children with intellectual disability." These group difference were significant and led researchers to draw the conclusion: "Mothers from all case groups had an increased risk of death during the study period."A few other details are also recorded in the Fairthorne study. "Mothers with both a psychiatric disorder and a child with intellectual disability or ASD had about six and a half times the risk of death" was an important finding reported by the authors. When it came to the cause of death, various factors were over-reported in case group mums including cancers, cardiovascular disease and death by misadventure (death due to an unintentional accident, homicide or suicide according to the authors' criteria).Reiterating that the Fairthorne paper makes for quite uncomfortable reading, there are some potentially important lessons to be learned from the collected data. First and foremost I should stress that the excess percentages of deaths reported during the study period were overall, quite small for the case groups. Whilst there was an excess of deaths over and above that seen in the asymptomatic control group, the data do not suggest that mothers of children with autism or Down syndrome for example, are facing a gigantic excess risk. Risk is risk and influenced by lots of different variables. I say all that with my cold, dispassionate science goggles on, recognising that each death is a mother lost.That being said, one might make a case for further inspection of maternal (and paternal) health and wellbeing as and when a diagnosis of autism and/or ID is received in one or more offspring. I've covered the topic of parental stress and autism before on this blog (see here) and the [evidence-based] ways and means it might be reduced. Stress is mentioned in the Fairthorne paper as potentially being one factor linking parenting and early mortality although I'd also suggest the concepts of resilience and coping might also require investigation.Maternal health issues such as a history of psychiatric issues and/or more somatic diagnoses like diabetes and obesity are also covered in the discussion on possible reasons for the added risk in case groups. As per the research suggesting that some of these factors alone or in combination might increase the risk of offspring autism for example (see here), management of said issues should also rank high on the list of monitoring parental wellbeing. Lifestyle issues such as tobacco smoking and poor exercise regimes can also be mitigated if and when required.Finally, I want to make one further point specifically related to the idea that cancer may feature as one reason for the excess mortality noted in the current study. Late last year (2014) I covered the complicated issue of cancer risk and autism (see here) on the basis of some further 'big data' derived from the Taiwan National Health Insurance database [2]. In amongst the discussions on that post was some mention of a familial history of certain cancers potentially being heightened in cases of autism on the basis of data from Ingudomnukul and colleagues [3]. The Fairthorne data corroborates this view, and further implies screening should perhaps be preferentially extended to mums of children with ID and/or autism. Early detection can save lives.Mortality and autism is never going to be a great topic to discuss whether based on personal experience or the peer-reviewed evidence base. Linked to the suggestion that a diagnosis of autism - or at least some of the comorbidities which it can carry - for example, might also elevate the risk of early mortality (see here), I believe that it is time to start bigger conversations on how science and society can go about reducing such risk and reducing health inequality. Mothers, like their children, are precious things...----------[1] Fairthorne J. et al. Early Mortality and Primary Causes of Death in Mothers of Children with Intellectual Disability or Autism Spectrum Disorder: A Retrospective Cohort Study. PLoS ONE. 2014; 9(12): e113430.[2] Chiang H-L. et al. Risk of Cancer in Children, Adolescents, and Young Adults with Autistic Disorder. J Pediatrics. 2014. 18 November.[3] Ingudomnukul E. et al. Elevated rates of testosterone-related disorders in women with autism spectrum conditions. Horm Behav. 2007 May;51(5):597-604.----------Fairthorne J, Hammond G, Bourke J, Jacoby P, & Leonard H (2014). Early Mortality and Primary Causes of Death in Mothers of Children with Intellectual Disability or Autism Spectrum Disorder: A Retrospective Cohort Study. PloS one, 9 (12) PMID: 25535971... Read more »

  • January 8, 2015
  • 05:33 PM

Music takes the pain away post surgery

by Dr. Jekyll in Lunatic Laboratories

In today’s society, when it is so easy to over medicate children and adults alike it is nice to finally read something that looks for an alternative option. This particular case deals with pain management in children post surgery and the study shows that pediatric patients who listened to 30 minutes of songs by Rihanna, Taylor Swift and other singers of their choosing — or audio books — had a significant reduction in pain after major surgery.... Read more »

  • January 8, 2015
  • 04:43 PM

Subliminal Perception: Just How Fast Is The Brain?

by Neuroskeptic in Neuroskeptic_Discover

Subliminal perception has long been a hot topic. The idea that something (generally an image) could appear and disappear before us so quickly that it escapes conscious perception, and yet affect us subconsciously, is a fascinating (and scary) one.

Psychologists and neuroscientists are fairly skeptical of any grand or sinister claims for the power of subliminal advertising or propaganda, but on the other hand, many of them use the technique as a research tool.

So what's the absolute speed l... Read more »

  • January 8, 2015
  • 05:41 AM

One Protein To Rule Them All?

by jeffrey daniels in United Academics

Just like the One Ring was key to controlling the other rings of J. R. R. Tolkien’s Middle Earth, a protein known as GRP78/Dna K may hold the key to inhibiting the expression of several diseases in at least the human species.... Read more »

Booth, L., Roberts, J., Cash, D., Tavallai, S., Jean, S., Fidanza, A., Cruz-Luna, T., Siembiba, P., Cycon, K., Cornelissen, C.... (2014) GRP78 / BiP / HSPA5 / Dna K is a universal therapeutic target for human disease. Journal of Cellular Physiology. DOI: 10.1002/jcp.24919  

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