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  • March 11, 2015
  • 09:42 AM

Video Tip of the Week: Aquaria, streamlined access to protein structures for biologists

by Mary in OpenHelix

This week’s Video Tip of the Week is Aquaria, a new resource for exploring protein structures, mutations, and similarities to other proteins. It’s a very well-designed and interactive experience for end users. It is aimed largely at biologists who could benefit from exploring the structural details of their proteins of interest, but are daunted by […]... Read more »

O'Donoghue Seán I, Maria Kalemanov, Christian Stolte, Benjamin Wellmann, Vivian Ho, Manfred Roos, Nelson Perdigão, Fabian A Buske, Julian Heinrich, & Burkhard Rost. (2015) Aquaria: simplifying discovery and insight from protein structures. Nature Methods, 12(2), 98-99. DOI:  

  • March 11, 2015
  • 08:00 AM

The Eyes Have It

by Mark Lasbury in As Many Exceptions As Rules

The Cyclops had one eye in the middle of his forehead, but can you think of real animal with only one eye? Two eyes (or more) seem to be very important in evolution. This is so true that when flatfish lie down on the ocean floor they move one eye to the other side of their head! Research is showing that it’s more than just their eye that changes and the alterations are important for their survival. And by the way – there is one kind of animal that only has one eye, it’s the ……... Read more »

  • March 11, 2015
  • 07:46 AM

Adapting to arsenic

by Aurelie in Coffee break Science

The dose makes the poison. However, that dose may not be the same for everyone. A recent study shows that a human population of the Argentinean Andes has genetically adapted to a polluted environment and increased its resistance to arsenic … Continue reading →... Read more »

Schlebusch CM, Gattepaille LM, Engström K, Vahter M, Jakobsson M, & Broberg K. (2015) Human Adaptation to Arsenic-Rich Environments. Molecular biology and evolution. PMID: 25739736  

  • March 11, 2015
  • 05:47 AM

Intimate partner abuse and risk of offspring autism

by Paul Whiteley in Questioning Answers

I want to be slightly careful when discussing the conclusion reached in the paper by Andrea Roberts and colleagues [1] that: "autism spectrum disorder risk was increased in children of women who reported fear of partner or sexual, emotional, or physical abuse in the 2 years before the birth year."Careful not only because correlation has an uncanny habit of being translated into causation for some people (they are not one and the same thing) and how this combines when one interprets the concept of 'risk', but also because the results potentially, yet again, increase the likelihood of stigmatising parents of children with autism. Refrigerator mums turning into domestic violence dads is a headline that I don't think anyone wants to see with autism in mind...That being said, I don't want to downplay the findings from Roberts et al particularly given that this is not the first time that this team have reported results in this area [2] (open-access). On that previous occasion as on this, the implication was that past events that produce serious psychological (as well as physical) harm might have an "intergenerational" effect. Indeed, even more research from this group has hinted that maternal posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) might also affect offspring autism risk [3]. That is alongside the uncomfortable fact that having a child with autism seemingly does not protect mothers (or fathers) from being in abusive relationships.The most recent study "calculated risk ratios for autism spectrum disorder associated with abuse in a population-based cohort of women and their children (54,512 controls, 451 cases)". They found that offspring risk of a diagnosis of autism spectrum disorder (ASD) was elevated for those mothers reporting "fear of partner or sexual, emotional, or physical abuse" sometime in the 2 years before the birth of their child, taking into account several other possible confounding variables. Interestingly, the risk of autism was not significantly elevated when it came to descriptions of "Physical harm from abuse during pregnancy" potentially indicating that any effect might be 'active' before conception.This work potentially intersects with other research describing, for example, how parental experiences of trauma might have an intergenerational effect on future offspring. The paper by Duad and colleagues [4] suggesting that: "the children of tortured parents had more symptoms of anxiety, depression, post-traumatic stress, attention deficits and behavioural disorders" is not necessarily a direct comparator to the Roberts results but does provide a template for how parental experiences might have the ability to influence offspring outcomes. You could well suggest that the experiences of torture might have an effect on factors such as parenting style which could subsequently impact on offspring outcomes, but again it's difficult to prove causation. I might add that the Duad results focusing on "immigrant children whose parents have been tortured before coming to Sweden" may well also link in with other findings with an autism research slant (see here).As to the mechanisms and without falling into any psychobabble explanations, I'm tempted to suggest that there may be quite a few areas requiring further investigation. Reiterating that correlation is not the same as causation and accepting that there may be as many different routes to a diagnosis of autism as there are 'autisms' [plural], I'm drawn to parallel these findings with other examples. I've mentioned the Dutch Hongerwinter before on this blog (see here) and how early nutrition might very well have an effect on later life health and wellbeing. Extending such effects to offspring of those subjected to the famine of 1944 (which also coincided with an unusually harsh winter) there is some evidence of a transgenerational effect for offspring in terms of the greater risk for being diagnosed with schizophrenia for example [5]. I'm not necessarily saying that abuse is the same as starvation; merely that there may be similar biological mechanisms at work in terms of their respective effects on stress and also the concept of resilience. This area of work also introduces the idea that epigenetics might play some kind of role in potentially 'programming' offspring development for something like autism. Just in case this might seem a little outlandish, I might refer you to some work coming from Project Ice Storm [6] and how DNA methylation patterns *might* be tied into maternal 'appraisal' [7].In a previous post on this blog, I've also covered some interesting work suggesting that trauma and PTSD *might* elevate the risk of autoimmune disorders (see here). I know that again we have a 'correlation not necessarily being the same as causation' state of affairs in discussing such a possible link, but given the rising tide of research suggesting that there may be something more to see when it comes to autoimmunity and [some] autism (see here) with speculation a-plenty (see here) I wonder whether some additional questioning about autoimmune disorders appearing in medical records or more direct evidence of autoimmune biology might be indicated in further work in this area? I say this accepting that the process of autoimmunity still has the ability to invoke head-scratching (see here).That being said, there are caveats to all this. The variables which did not seem to account for the recent Roberts results - "gestation length, birth weight, maternal smoking or alcohol consumption during pregnancy, gestational diabetes, preeclampsia, or history of induced abortion" - cannot and do not cover the multitude of other confounding variables that might affect risk. Familial predisposition to autism as per the broader autism phenotype (BAP) perhaps also needs some further inspection, accepting my slightly furrowed brow when it comes to the BAP being tied into something like postpartum depression for example (see here). I would however, like to know a little bit more about other potential psychopathology / psychiatric diagnoses of parents and whether this might affect risk of autism outside of the history of exposure to abuse. Again, not to generalise or stigmatise, I'll link to some of the work on schizophrenia and violence [8] with some further analysis (see here) for example, and some suggestion that certain parental psychiatric diagnoses might elevate the risk of offspring autism [9].Finally, I want to end with a line or two about the societal implications to come from the Roberts results. Abuse comes in many forms and is unfortunately an all-too-common occurrence these days (see here). Aside from the suggestion of a link with offspring behavioural and developmental outcomes, I'd be minded to suggest that we really should be doing a lot more to reduce the numbers of those suff... Read more »

  • March 10, 2015
  • 01:26 PM

New understanding of genetics behind the autism spectrum

by Dr. Jekyll in Lunatic Laboratories

Autism is a spectrum, because it isn’t a clear-cut diagnosis — and because the brain is so complex — it has been hard to figure out what causes autism. This uncertainty has led rise to the anti-vaccination movement along with other groups who are at best misinformed and at worst trying to make a quick dollar. However, a new study reveals an important connection between dozens of genes that may contribute to autism, a major step toward understanding how brain development goes awry in some individuals with the disorder.... Read more »

  • March 10, 2015
  • 05:34 AM

Microbes passing traits to host babies?

by Paul Whiteley in Questioning Answers

The paper by Clara Moon and colleagues [1] has garnered a lot of headlines with their findings suggesting that [mouse] mothers pass on bacteria to their [mouse] offspring. Their results reported in Nature, focused on a bacterium not unfamiliar to this blog, Sutterella (see here) and how, through the transmission of Sutterella via their poo(p), a specific trait might also be passed on. In this case, low levels of immunoglobulin A (IgA) (something else that has cropped up on this blog) were noted in offspring. The idea being that Sutterella might have an effect on IgA production and low IgA is a factor in quite a few conditions not least the inflammatory bowel diseases [2] and other autoimmune related conditions.I have to say that I did a bit of double-take when reading this study and some of the accompanying media given the potential implications. "When we study mice, we have to account for the possibility that inherited bacteria and their genes could be influencing the trait we're trying to learn about," is a quote from one of the researchers involved in this work. Certainly this is the most pressing issue to come from the Moon study but the results are potentially much more profound than just where you house mice in a research setting. First though, I'd like to see some independent confirmation of these findings please.Although there is quite a bit of hype around the microbiome these days, and particularly those trillions of beasties which reside in our gastrointestinal (GI) tract, there is something of a greater appreciation that their role(s) appears to extend well beyond just helping us digest food and producing the odd nutrient or two. My coverage of the 'poo transplant [potentially] made me obese' paper (see here) kinda hints at one possible alternative action for our gut bacteria or some other, related component of the gut. I'd also draw your attention back to the paper by Desbonnet and colleagues [3] talked about in this post, which brought the concept of 'psychobacteriomics' (my definition!) to the world and how gut bacteria might also impact on [mouse] social behaviour too.Going back to the the Moon paper, I'm also drawn to the possible implications for a wide range of issues and diagnoses based on their findings. Genetics, more traditional structural genetics, based on investigations of how the structural differences of the genome might confer elevated/reduced risk of good or adverse health issues, is undergoing a bit of a revolution at the moment. Not only are we talking more about the epigenome (see the Nature special on this and a very informative video here) but as per some other comments from the paper authors, science is potentially thinking of an: "expanded model of heredity to produce a more complicated but also much more insightful picture of how human, bacterial and viral genes influence human health." This is all the more important when you consider how many bacterial genes there are vs. 'human' genes alongside the idea that just as viruses have a history of passing genes to humans (think HERVs) so bacteria may also be able to 'transfer' genes to us too. I wonder if the Moon findings might also account for those peculiar 'elevated levels of autoimmune conditions in the spouses of those with coeliac disease' findings [4] too?Given that Sutterella is the starting point for this possible association, and with something of a potential role for this bacteria in some cases of autism [5] replicated even [6], one might entertain the idea that autism should perhaps figure in follow-up work in this area. I'm not suggesting that autism as a label (or labels) is somehow the product of Sutterella but as per the discussions linking Sutterella to potential bowel pathology in some cases of autism, whether the mechanism talked about by Moon and colleagues might also apply to humans too.Then there is the tantalising idea of 'altering' the microbiome to alter specific traits...So then, it missed out on an Oscar but the song is still awesome...----------[1] Moon C. et al. Vertically transmitted faecal IgA levels determine extra-chromosomal phenotypic variation. Nature. 2015 Feb 16.[2] Ludvigsson JF. et al. Association between IgA deficiency & other autoimmune conditions: a population-based matched cohort study. J Clin Immunol. 2014 May;34(4):444-51.[3] Desbonnet L. et al. Microbiota is essential for social development in the mouse. Mol Psychiatry. 2014 Feb;19(2):146-8.[4] Emilsson L. et al. Autoimmune Disease in First-degree Relatives and Spouses of Individuals with Celiac Disease. Clin Gastroenterol Hepatol. 2015 Jan 30. pii: S1542-3565(15)00112-3.[5] Williams BL. et al. Application of novel PCR-based methods for detection, quantitation, and phylogenetic characterization of Sutterella species in intestinal biopsy samples from children with autism and gastrointestinal disturbances. MBio. 2012 Jan 10;3(1).[6] Wang L. et al. Increased abundance of Sutterella spp. and Ruminococcus torques in feces of children with autism spectrum disorder. Mol Autism. 2013 Nov 4;4(1):42.----------Moon C, Baldridge MT, Wallace MA, Burnham CA, Virgin HW, & Stappenbeck TS (2015). Vertically transmitted faecal IgA levels determine extra-chromosomal phenotypic variation. Nature PMID: 25686606... Read more »

  • March 9, 2015
  • 11:15 PM

How dogs get the point: what enables canines to interpret human gestures?

by Cobb & Hecht in Do You Believe In Dog?

Guest post by: Lucia Lazarowski, PhD candidate. Her research is available via free promotional access in the journal Behavioural Processes until February, 2016. Hi Mia and Julie,As a long-time fan of the blog, it is an honor to be a guest contributor! I am especially excited to tell DYBID readers about this research because it was somewhat of a pet project (pun intended). I am now a PhD student at Auburn University, but this study was done while I was working at North Carolina State University’s College of Veterinary Medicine. At NCSU, I worked with a team of veterinarians and animal behaviorists on a several projects aimed at improving selection and training of military working dogs, and I was primarily involved with studies related to explosives detection. Meanwhile in the canine cognition world, a hot topic was that of dogs’ ability to follow human gestures. Several studies have demonstrated that dogs are able to use human gestures, like pointing, to find hidden treats. An interesting finding that fueled a lot of the research in this area is that dogs perform better on these tasks than chimpanzees, our closest relatives, and wolves, dogs’ closest relatives. Is it possible that dogs are able to read and use human gestures because they co-evolved with humans, endowing them with a specialized human-like type of social cognition that their ancestors missed out on? Or, is it that dogs are such an integrated part of our lives that through our daily interactions they learn that paying attention to our body language pays off?These two viewpoints have sparked a heated debate among canine scientists. In order to tease apart the roles of domestication and experience (or the nature/nurture debate, as your high school psychology teacher would call it), researchers have tested canines of different species (domesticated and wild-type) and different life histories (human-reared and feral). The domestication hypothesis, which suggests that point-following is an innate skill that dogs have acquired in a case of convergent evolution with humans, predicts that domestication alone is sufficient for point-following. The learning hypothesis, on the other hand, contends that dogs must learn through experience to follow human gestures, regardless of domestication status.  The fact that chimps and wolves do not appear to utilize human pointing as dogs do seems to support domestication as an explanation. But, (plot twist!) if wolves are raised with humans from an early age and are tested in appropriate conditions, they can perform as well or even better than dogs.  To recap, groups that have succeeded at human pointing tasks include canines that are domesticated and socialized (pet dogs), non-domesticated and un-socialized (wolves), and non-domesticated and socialized (hand-reared wolves).  Hopefully at this point the missing piece of the puzzle is obvious: what about domestic dogs that have not been heavily exposed to humans? This vital yet untested sub-group of canines would help tip the scales in the domestication vs. experience debate.At NCSU, we were gearing up to begin a new study investigating factors related to olfactory learning in canine explosives detection. The dogs acquired for this study were mixed-breed males around 1 year old, and unlike our previous studies which used trained military working dogs, these were laboratory-reared dogs. It occurred to me that this would be the perfect opportunity to test a group of dogs that met all of the proposed criteria for the “missing link”: laboratory dogs lack the same experiences that pet dogs living in human homes have (including the possibly critical opportunity to learn about human gestures), but they are socialized to humans at an early age and thus not fearful like feral dogs may be. Another bonus is that their life histories are known and documented, unlike dogs found in a shelter that at some point may have lived with people. If the opportunity to learn about human gestures is critical for point-following behavior to develop and not just domestication alone, these dogs would be expected to perform worse than pet dogs on point-following tasks.  We tested 11 laboratory dogs and 9 pet dogs using methods established in previous studies in which dogs watched as humans performed two types of point (“easy” and “hard”, for simplicity’s sake).  What we found was that while pet dogs followed the harder point to the correct container significantly higher than chance, the laboratory dogs did not. Both groups of dogs were able to locate the correct container using the easier point, demonstrating that any failures were not due methodological flaws or to an inability to perform the demands of the task (note that success on these easier point trials can be explained by simpler mechanisms like physical proximity to the container).  Our results seem to suggest that exposure to humans and the opportunity to learn about the meanings of gestures plays an important role in dogs’ ability to follow pointing.  Interestingly, a few dogs in the pet group performed just as poorly as the laboratory dogs, which would lend further support to the idea that individual experiences shape these abilities. Further, failures by the laboratory dogs are not likely caused by cognitive deficits due to an impoverished environment; the dogs received environmental enrichment including daily interactions with kennel and research staff, play-time with conspecifics, outdoor exercise, and a variety of toys (and after completing thi... Read more »

  • March 9, 2015
  • 03:47 PM

Alzheimer’s, the autoimmune disease?

by Dr. Jekyll in Lunatic Laboratories

Brain levels of the lipid ceramide are high in Alzheimer’s disease, and now scientists have found increased levels of an antibody to the lipid in their disease model. While some members of this lipid family are a plus in skin cream, inside the brain, ceramide appears to increase beta amyloid production and help the iconic plaque kill brain cells in Alzheimer’s.... Read more »

  • March 9, 2015
  • 11:25 AM

Vole Pee: An Epiphany (A Guest Post)

by Miss Behavior in The Scorpion and the Frog

By Nate Kueffer You’re driving down the road, looking out the window, and you see a large raptor hovering above a field. Have you ever wondered what exactly the raptor could see that you couldn’t? Well, it is thought that raptors may be able to sense ultraviolet light and use it to track voles through urine and feces trails. A hovering kestrel, possibly tracking a vole. Photo by Mark Likner at Flickr. Ultraviolet light is a non-detectable form of radiation by the human eye and is similar to X-rays and gamma rays. However, with the help of a black light human eyes can see different materials that we couldn’t see in visible light. The objects that humans can typically see under a black light are fluorescent. This means that the object has the ability to soak up ultraviolet light and then emit the light it took in and produce a light frequency that humans are able to detect. Jussi Viitala from the University of Jyvaskyla in Finland, and Erkki Korpimäki, Päivi Palokangas (now Lundvall) and Minna Koivula from the University of Turku in Finland set out to find more conclusive evidence on raptors using ultraviolet light to hunt. The four researchers tested the hypothesis that in order to find prey patches, Eurasian kestrels, a species of raptor, look for vole scent marks visible in ultraviolet light. The voles’ scent marks are their urine and feces droppings, which show up under ultraviolet light. The researchers set up experiments in the field and in a laboratory setting. Kestrel with a captured vole after a successful hunt. Photo by Eugene Beckes at Flickr.In the laboratory setting, wild captured kestrels were released into a large area made up of four different arenas. All arenas were different, but did not allow any external visual cues. One arena had vole trails in ultraviolet light, another was clean with ultraviolet light, a third arena had visible light and vole trails, and the final arena was clean with visible light. The kestrels were then measured by their time spent over each arena. The kestrels in the laboratory seemed to prefer the arena with ultraviolet light and vole trails. The clean, ultraviolet-lit arena had the least amount of scans and time spent over that arena compared to the other three arenas. The kestrels had no preference over either arena with visible light. The field setting had 3 experimental groups for 45 kestrel nest boxes: the first had artificial vole trails with urine and feces, the second had artificial vole trails, but no urine or feces, and the last was the control with no vole trails, urine, or feces. The 45 boxes were observed over 24 mornings when the researchers recorded the number of kestrels near each nest and their behavior (hunting, paired, or resting). For the field experiment, 27 of the 45 nest boxes attracted kestrels near them. The most commonly used nest boxes were near artificial trails with urine and feces. The kestrels avoided the other two nest box areas: the one with trails, but no urine, and one with no trails and no urine. This showed that the trails weren’t used as hunting cues. Paired or hunting kestrels preferred to spend time hunting near trails with urine or feces, and resting kestrels were seen evenly in all three areas. Also, four rough-legged hawks were seen hunting near the trails with urine and feces. Both experiments showed kestrels using trails with markings from voles suggesting that the vole markings may be used to select hunting and nest sites. The researchers propose that the kestrels, in fact, use vole scent markings as visual cues. Kestrels and other predatory birds may use the ultraviolet light from vole markings to scan over large areas new to them before deciding to hunt or nest in the area. The next raptor you see out of your car window could be tracking its prey’s markings using ultraviolet light. References Olson, V. (n.d.). Raptor Vision. Retrieved December 10, 2014, from Q & A: Why does a black light make objects glow? (2007, October 22). Retrieved January 21, 2015, from, J., Korplmäki, E., Palokangas, P., & Koivula, M. (1995). Attraction of kestrels to vole scent marks visible in ultraviolet light Nature, 373 (6513), 425-427 DOI: 10.1038/373425a0 ... Read more »

Viitala, J., Korplmäki, E., Palokangas, P., & Koivula, M. (1995) Attraction of kestrels to vole scent marks visible in ultraviolet light. Nature, 373(6513), 425-427. DOI: 10.1038/373425a0  

  • March 9, 2015
  • 03:44 AM

Mercury, autism and mitochondrial dysfunction?

by Paul Whiteley in Questioning Answers

Appreciating that to mention the words 'mercury and autism' in the same sentence can lead to furrowed brows and invoke eye-rolling in some quarters, I don't want to shy away from the results reported by Shannon Rose and colleagues [1] (open-access here) and their suggestion that: "the epidemiological link between environmental mercury exposure and an increased risk of developing autism may be mediated through mitochondrial dysfunction". Further that their result: "support the notion that a subset of individuals with autism may be vulnerable to environmental influences with detrimental effects on development through mitochondrial dysfunction."Having previously talked about research from this group (see here) based on their examinations of lymphoblastoid cell lines (LCLs) from people with autism, their latest paper seems to be something of an extension of this project. Based on investigations on LCLs from 16 autism/control pairings, mitochondrial respiration was examined as and when said cells were exposed to ethylmercury. A subgroup of LCLs from the autism group "exhibited a greater reduction in ATP-linked respiration, maximal respiratory capacity, and reserve capacity when exposed to ethylmercury, compared to control LCLs." Interestingly, the pre-administration of NAC (N-acetlycysteine) "reduced (normalized) baseline respiratory parameters and blunted the exaggerated ethylmercury-induced reserve capacity depletion." That being said: "LCLs derived from children with autism exhibit significant abnormalities in mitochondrial respiration at baseline with these abnormalities worsening following exposure to ethylmercury" so one has to be a little guarded about making too many universal judgements.OK. Wearing the cold, dispassionate and [hopefully] objective blinkers of science, there may be a few important implications from this work. First is the idea that for some on the autism spectrum, the puzzle that is mitochondria and mitochondrial dysfunction may require quite a bit more investigation (see here). In these days of plural autisms (see here) the focus perhaps needs to be on subgroups too. Second, as per their previous efforts in this area [2] is the idea that various factors might have the ability to impact on mitochondrial function for some people on the autism spectrum. Third, although still very much a source of deep division within the autism and wider community, the suggestion that ethylmercury (a metabolite of the preservative thiomersal / thimerosal) might have the ability to impact on mitochondrial function for at least some on the autism spectrum perhaps requires further scrutiny. I say this based on the small participant numbers included in the Rose study and their specific focus on LCLs. The doses of ethylmercury used might also require further investigation in terms of translating results from lab to real world.Finally, the idea that pre-treatment of LCLs with NAC might carry a protective role is rather interesting. Aside from the 'oxidative stress' implications of their findings, I wonder if such an observation might also carry some link to the suggestion that post-vaccination administration of paracetamol (acetaminophen) might be 'implicated' in cases of autism [3]. I say this from a rather non-expert stance in this area but with the knowledge that paracetamol has an effect on glutathione stores under certain circumstances. Glutathione by the way, is one part cysteine and has cropped up in other autism research (see here) as well as subsequently [4]. Separately, given also that glucuronidation is a primary pathway for metabolising paracetamol and with the work from Stein and colleagues [5] in mind (see here), I wonder if there may indeed be more to see here (although accepting that there may be other effects from such antipyretic use).This is not the first time that mitochondrial dysfunction and "impaired oxidative–reduction" have been studied from the point of view of downstream metabolites of thiomersal as per the paper by Geier and colleagues [6]. Again, the focus on that occasion was cell lines and so one has again to be a little cautious about extrapolating results beyond that. That also other research, in studies of mouse models for example [7], have not tended to support a connection between thiomersal exposure and 'neurodevelopmental disorders' is an important point to make, bearing in mind that mice are mice and not people. Similar sentiments apply to the important recent results from Curtis and colleagues [8] too.But... the Rose findings cannot be readily dismissed particularly with their focus being potentially relevant to a subgroup of those on the autism spectrum. Adding the paper from Mady Hornig (a very well-respected researcher) into the mix (again based on mice) [9]: "Host differences in maturation, metabolism, nutrition, sex, and autoimmunity influence outcomes" when it comes to the potential of "thimerosal-related neurotoxicity" and quite a bit more research is perhaps indicated.Music then. Bobby Womack - Across 110th Street.----------[1] Rose S. et al. Increased susceptibility to ethylmercury-induced mitochondrial dysfunction in a subset of autism lymphoblastoid cell lines. J Toxicol. 2015;2015:573701.[2] Rose S. et al. Oxidative stress induces mitochondrial dysfunction in a subset of autistic lymphoblastoid cell lines. Transl Psychiatry. 2014 Apr 1;4:e377.[3] 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.[4] Abdel-Salam OME. et al. Nuclear Factor-Kappa B and Other Oxidative Stress Biomarkers in Serum of Autistic Children. OJMIP. 2015; 5: 1.[5] Stein TP. et al. Bisphenol A Exposure in Children With Autism Spectrum Disorders. Autism Research. 2015. Jan 13.[6] Geier DA. et al. Mitochondrial dysfunction, impaired oxidative-reduction activity, degeneration, and death in human neuronal and fetal cells induced by low-level exposure to thimerosal and other metal compounds. Toxicol Environ Chem. 2009 Jun;91(3-4):735-749.[7] Berman RF. et al. Low-level neonatal thimerosal exposure: further evaluation of altered neurotoxic potential in SJL mice. Toxicol Sci. 2008 Feb;101(2):294-309.[8] Curtis B. et al. Examination of the Safety of Pediatric Vaccine Schedules in a Non-Human Primate Model: Assess... Read more »

  • March 8, 2015
  • 03:05 PM

Trust issues? It may be your brain structure

by Dr. Jekyll in Lunatic Laboratories

Ever feel too trusting, or maybe not trusting at all? Well a recent study shows differences in brain structure according to how trusting people are of others. Teasing out the intricacies of the brain hasn’t been an easy job; if it were we probably wouldn’t be intelligent enough to figure it out. Because of this complexity, we also have higher risk of psychological conditions. Interestingly enough, this research may have implications for future treatments of those conditions, conditions such as autism or other attachment disorders.... Read more »

  • March 8, 2015
  • 07:20 AM

The genetics of monarch butterfly migration and warning colouration

by Lucas Marques Da Cunha in genome ecology evolution etc

The monarch butterfly (Danaus plexippus) has a large distribution worldwide. It occurs in North, Central, and South America, Caribbean, and it has recently dispersed to other locations, such as Oceania and Africa. Two traits of this butterfly are incredibly intriguing: … Continue reading →... Read more »

Zhan, S., Zhang, W., Niitepõld, K., Hsu, J., Haeger, J., Zalucki, M., Altizer, S., de Roode, J., Reppert, S., & Kronforst, M. (2014) The genetics of monarch butterfly migration and warning colouration. Nature, 514(7522), 317-321. DOI: 10.1038/nature13812  

  • March 7, 2015
  • 02:25 PM

New approach to herpes vaccine succeeds where others failed

by Dr. Jekyll in Lunatic Laboratories

Herpes simplex virus infections are an enormous global health problem and there is currently no viable vaccine. For nearly three decades, immunologists’ efforts to develop a herpes vaccine have centered on exploiting a single protein found on the virus’s outer surface that is known to elicit robust production of antibodies. Breaking from this approach, Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI) scientists at Albert Einstein College of Medicine have created a genetic mutant lacking that protein. The result is a powerfully effective vaccine against herpes viruses.... Read more »

William Jacobs Jr,, Betsy Herold,, Christopher Petro,, Pablo A. González,, Natalia Cheshenko,, Thomas Jandl,, Nazanin Khajoueinejad,, Angèle Bénard,, & Mayami Sengupta,. (2015) Herpes simplex type 2 virus deleted in glycoprotein D protects against vaginal, skin and neural disease. eLife. info:/

  • March 7, 2015
  • 03:48 AM

Systemic Integral Disorder: linking autism and schizophrenia?

by Paul Whiteley in Questioning Answers

Martial arts gradings call for my brood today (and well they should) so I'm gonna be fairly brief and introduce the paper by Haoran George Wang and colleagues [1] for your reading pleasure today alongside the concept of 'Systemic Integral Disorder' (SID) as a potential bridge between the diagnoses of autism and schizophrenia.I'm always a bit wary of grand over-arching theories or universal conceptual 'break-throughs' when it comes to autism simply because the inevitable hype which follows such descriptions almost always misses some important points concerning heterogeneity (plurality) and the impact of accompanying comorbidity which seem to occur quite frequently for people on the autism spectrum. Carrying such preconceptions, I was therefore a little guarded in accepting the Wang findings outright.Acknowledging that there is some history when it comes to autism and schizophrenia (see here) and how views and opinions change over time (see here), I am coming around to the idea that autism research might have been a little hasty in burning all the bridges connecting autism and schizophrenia. As per my discussions on the Lugnegård findings [2] (see here), work from the likes of Mildred Creak and colleagues [3] has been an unfortunate casualty of the division between the conditions and the terminology used at the time. The idea that a diagnosis of autism may not be protective against future development of schizophrenia or conditions linked to schizophrenia (see here) is also gaining momentum. This has some potentially very important implications for things like screening for example (see here).The focus on structural genetics potentially also linking the labels autism and schizophrenia by Wang et al is interesting if a little insular in terms of things like the growing evidence base potentially linking shared epigenetic mechanism for example, to the conditions (see here). That also the idea of SID might very well overlap with something like the RDoC initiative is something else to consider.Music: Overload by the Sugababes.----------[1] Wang HG. et al. Genetic and Developmental Perspective of Language Abnormality in Autism and Schizophrenia: One Disease Occurring at Different Ages in Humans? Neuroscientist. 2015 Feb 16. pii: 1073858415572078.[2] Lugnegård T. et al. Asperger syndrome and schizophrenia: Overlap of self-reported autistic traits using the Autism-spectrum Quotient (AQ). Nord J Psychiatry. 2014 Nov 12:1-7.[3] Evans B. How autism became autism: The radical transformation of a central concept of child development in Britain. Hist Human Sci. 2013 Jul;26(3):3-31.----------Wang HG, Jeffries JJ, & Wang TF (2015). Genetic and Developmental Perspective of Language Abnormality in Autism and Schizophrenia: One Disease Occurring at Different Ages in Humans? The Neuroscientist : a review journal bringing neurobiology, neurology and psychiatry PMID: 25686622... Read more »

  • March 6, 2015
  • 05:01 PM

People with anorexia and body dysmorphic disorder have similar brain abnormalities

by Dr. Jekyll in Lunatic Laboratories

Imagine looking in the mirror and not seeing yourself. Imagine losing weight and seeing a lower number on the scale, but when looking in the mirror you are still just as fat. Suffering from anorexia or other body dysmorphic disorders live like that daily. They literally don’t see what you and I might see when we look at them. It’s not their fault and a new study suggests that people suffering from anorexia or body dysmorphic disorder have similar abnormalities in their brains that affect their ability to process visual information.... Read more »

  • March 6, 2015
  • 10:06 AM

The Women Who Stare at Babies

by Elizabeth Preston in Inkfish

A drooling baby face is not equally exciting to everyone around it. A new study says that young women who like the idea of motherhood get more enjoyment than their peers from staring at infants' faces. But they don't love all of those chubby mugs equally. Even more than the baby-neutral, wannabe moms are biased toward the cutest ones.

Amanda Hahn is a researcher at the University of Glasgow's "Face Research Lab," directed by psychologists Lisa DeBruine and Benedict Jones. (On their websit... Read more »

  • March 6, 2015
  • 05:20 AM

Hypovitaminosis D is frequent in Down's syndrome

by Paul Whiteley in Questioning Answers

"Hypovitaminosis D is very frequent in DS [Down's syndrome] subjects, in particular in presence of obesity and autoimmune diseases."That was the conclusion reached in the study by Stefano Stagi and colleagues [1] (open-access here) based on an analysis of their small participant group diagnosed with Down's syndrome looking at vitamin D status among other things. The comment about obesity potentially exacerbating vitamin D deficiency ties in well with another paper independently published around the same time suggesting that obesity may very well impact on vitamin D status [2].The Stagi paper is open-access so no need for too many details from me. Researchers looked at "calcium, phosphate, parathyroid hormone (PTH), 25(OH)D concentrations, and calcium and 25(OH)D dietary intakes" in 31 children and young adults with DS compared with "99 age- and sex-matched" controls. They reported that as a group, those with DS "showed reduced 25(OH)D levels compared to controls" and significantly higher levels of PTH. Daily supplementation with 400 IU [international units] of cholecalciferol (vitamin D3) did bring levels up over the course of about a year in those with DS but again, as a group, levels were still reduced compared to controls.What's more to say? Well, we add these results to the growing number of conditions where vitamin D insufficiency or deficiency has been described (see here). As per the discussions about vitamin D and autism, one cannot rule out the issue of comorbidity as playing a role in the Stagi results, particularly if one assumes that DS might confer something of an elevated risk of something like depression [3]. Indeed, the growing research base talking about an increased expression of autism / autistic traits in those with DS is perhaps deserving of a mention too.In terms of the more typical reasons why one might show issues with the availability of vitamin D - lack of sunshine and/or dietary inadequacy - these are factors that need to be considered. Stagi et al did note that physical activity levels were reported to be lower in the DS group but this needs quite a bit more analysis, based as it was on "questions regarding each child's and adolescent's average number of daily outdoor hours across each season and a prospective daily time-activity diary." Think back to my post on how sitting time might be more objectively measured (see here).The idea that autoimmune conditions might have also impacted on vitamin D levels in DS is intriguing. Not so long ago I addressed the topic of Down Syndrome Disintegrative Disorder (see here) and the more general association of autoimmune issues with DS in mind. That and my recent post on the Skaaby paper [4] (see here) talking about a "statistically significant inverse associations between vitamin D status and development of any autoimmune disease", and one has a recipe for quite a bit more scientific inquiry into this area.And to close: Franz Ferdinand with Darts Of Pleasure.----------[1] Stagi S. et al. Determinants of vitamin d levels in children and adolescents with down syndrome. Int J Endocrinol. 2015;2015:896758.[2] Pereira-Santos M. et al. Obesity and vitamin D deficiency: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Obes Rev. 2015 Feb 17.[3] Walker JC. et al. Depression in Down syndrome: a review of the literature. Res Dev Disabil. 2011 Sep-Oct;32(5):1432-40.[4] Skaaby T. et al. Prospective population-based study of the association between vitamin D status and incidence of autoimmune disease. Endocrine. 2015 Feb 11.----------Stagi S, Lapi E, Romano S, Bargiacchi S, Brambilla A, Giglio S, Seminara S, & de Martino M (2015). Determinants of vitamin d levels in children and adolescents with down syndrome. International journal of endocrinology, 2015 PMID: 25685147... Read more »

Stagi S, Lapi E, Romano S, Bargiacchi S, Brambilla A, Giglio S, Seminara S, & de Martino M. (2015) Determinants of vitamin d levels in children and adolescents with down syndrome. International journal of endocrinology, 896758. PMID: 25685147  

  • March 5, 2015
  • 03:01 PM

Was Neuroscience's Most Famous Amnesiac, "HM", A Victim of Medical Error?

by Neuroskeptic in Neuroskeptic_Discover

According to a new paper, one of neuroscience's most famous case-studies came about as a result of a serious medical blunder.

Henry Molaison (1926 - 2008), better known as HM, was an American man who developed a dramatic form of amnesia after receiving surgery that removed part of the temporal lobes of his brain. The 1953 operation was intended to treat HM's epilepsy, but it had the side effect of leaving him unable to form new memories.

The consequences of HM's surgery are well known ... Read more »

  • March 5, 2015
  • 02:18 PM

Not “just” crazy – Some psychoses caused by autoimmunity

by Dr. Jekyll in Lunatic Laboratories

Antibodies defend the body against bacterial, viral, and other invaders. But sometimes the body makes antibodies that attack healthy cells. In these cases, autoimmune disorders develop. Immune abnormalities in patients with psychosis have been recognized for over a century, but it has been only relatively recently that scientists have identified specific immune mechanisms that seem to directly produce symptoms of psychosis, including hallucinations and delusions. In other words, some forms of psychoses might just be an autoimmune disorder.... Read more »

  • March 5, 2015
  • 08:30 AM

Biting Off More Than You Can Chew: The Science of Competitive Eating

by Bill Sullivan in The 'Scope

Matt Stonie recently consumed 182 slices of bacon in just 5 minutes, breaking a competitive eating record. How is this physiologically possible?... Read more »

Levine MS, Spencer G, Alavi A, & Metz DC. (2007) Competitive speed eating: truth and consequences. AJR. American journal of roentgenology, 189(3), 681-6. PMID: 17715117  

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