Post List

  • May 31, 2016
  • 05:17 AM

Imaging translation of single mRNAs in live cells

by Gal Haimovich in Green Fluorescent Blog

Translating the information encoded in mRNAs into proteins is one of the most basic processes in biology. The mechanism requires a machinery (i.e. ribosomes) and components (mRNA template, charged tRNAs, regulatory factors, energy) that are shared by all organisms on … Continue reading →... Read more »

  • May 31, 2016
  • 04:18 AM

Cows milk protein intolerance and chronic fatigue syndrome

by Paul Whiteley in Questioning Answers

"Cow's milk protein intolerance is a common problem in young people with chronic fatigue syndrome, and is a treatable contributor to their symptoms."So said the paper by Peter Rowe and colleagues [1] who looked prospectively for signs of cow's milk protein intolerance (CMPI) in "55 adolescents and young adults with chronic fatigue syndrome" over the course of 2 years. Defining CMPI using 4 factors: "(1) no evidence of immediate or anaphylactic reactions to milk, (2) at least 2 of the following 3 chronic symptoms: gastroesophageal reflux, early satiety, and epigastric/abdominal pain, (3) improvement in upper gastrointestinal symptoms on a milk protein elimination diet, and (4) at least 2 recurrences of upper gastrointestinal symptoms > 2 hours following open re-exposure to milk protein" researchers set about on this fairly unusual study course to ascertain some preliminary prevalence data and to see what impact such food issues might have on self-reported quality of life.Nearly a third of their quite small participant group (17/55) hit their thresholds for CMPI and we are told that in comparison to non-CMPI participants, those with milk issues "had significantly worse health-related quality of life at baseline but not at 6 months (after institution of the milk-free diet)." As per that opening quote, prevalence of CMPI might be common in cases of CFS and might play some not insignificant role on quality of life.Wearing my 'diet and behaviour' hat (see here for example) the Rowe results make for interesting reading. The fact that some of the authors have quite a lot of research standing when it comes to chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS) adds to my interest in these results; specifically with another of their papers in mind on orthostatic intolerance and gastrointestinal (GI) symptoms [2] for example (orthostatic intolerance = development of symptoms when standing upright, and is thought to be linked to quite a few cases of CFS).Quality of life (health-related) when applied to CFS is something else that has already been covered on this blog (see here) and the observation that its presentation can be about as bad as it gets for some people in comparison to various other diagnostic labels. Anything therefore that can improve [elements of] such an important measure has to be taken seriously, particularly when it is something as 'treatable' as potentially eliminating milk from ones diet (I say this with no medical or clinical advice given or intended).But just before anyone decides to embark of a milk-free diet solely on the basis of Rowe results, a bit of a research 'to-do' list to think about in this area: (a) The sample size was quite small and we need to know more with larger sample sizes and perhaps more strenuous research methodologies. (b) The measures used to assess CMPI didn't appear to include anything 'biological'. I know this is still a bit of a grey area in terms of 'intolerance vs' allergy' but I'd like to think that more could be attempted during future study including that related to those bowel symptoms [3] given previous discussions in this area (see here). (c) Given that this was a study of CFS I think most people would like to know whether CFS symptoms were impacted by a milk-free diet as well as quality of life measures. Again, measuring CFS is not the easiest of tasks given the number of definitions (see here) but it's not impossible. (d) Acknowledging that not all milk is the same (see here and see here) and that protein is but one element of milk, I have to wonder whether it might be worthwhile doing some further study on this too. Given also that institution of a milk-free diet is not without potential complications, the question is once again: is there more science to be done?But that doesn't mean that the Rowe results are not interesting...----------[1] Rowe PC. et al. Cow's Milk Protein Intolerance in Adolescents and Young Adults with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome. Acta Paediatr. 2016 May 13.[2] Sullivan SD. et al. Gastrointestinal symptoms associated with orthostatic intolerance. J Pediatr Gastroenterol Nutr. 2005 Apr;40(4):425-8.[3] Frissora CL. & Koch KL. Symptom overlap and comorbidity of irritable bowel syndrome with other conditions. Curr Gastroenterol Rep. 2005 Aug;7(4):264-71.----------Rowe, P., Marden, C., Jasion, S., Cranston, E., Flaherty, M., & Kelly, K. (2016). Cow's Milk Protein Intolerance in Adolescents and Young Adults with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome Acta Paediatrica DOI: 10.1111/apa.13476... Read more »

  • May 31, 2016
  • 03:33 AM

Of mice and NREM: In this brain circuit, memories depend on sleep

by neuroamanda in It Ain't Magic

Neuroamanda explains a recent study that showed how top-down signals during NREM sleep affect memory consolidation in mice.... Read more »

Miyamoto, D., Hirai, D., Fung, C., Inutsuka, A., Odagawa, M., Suzuki, T., Boehringer, R., Adaikkan, C., Matsubara, C., Matsuki, N.... (2016) Top-down cortical input during NREM sleep consolidates perceptual memory. Science. DOI: 10.1126/science.aaf0902  

  • May 30, 2016
  • 04:22 PM

Google searches for 'chickenpox' reveal big impact of vaccinations

by Dr. Jekyll in Lunatic Laboratories

Countries that implement government-mandated vaccinations for chickenpox see a sharp drop in the number of Google searches for the common childhood disease afterward, demonstrating that immunization significantly reduces seasonal outbreaks. That's one of the findings from a new study that analyzed thousands of Google searches for "chickenpox."

... Read more »

Bakker, K. M.,, Martinez-Bakker, M., Helm, B., & Stevenson, T. J. (2016) Digital epidemiology reveals global childhood disease seasonality and the effects of immunization . Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America. info:/

  • May 30, 2016
  • 04:21 PM

ZIKV: ATM dependent signalling, VRK1, autophagy and the ER stress response in neuronal cells

by thelonevirologist in Virology Tidbits

Upon the induction of DNA damage, complex signaling pathways are activated that regulate the ability of cells to detect and repair the damage since both single and double strand DNA damage pose significant risk to cell survival and transmission of unrepaired DNA damage to progeny is associated not only with aging and cancer but also with neurodegenerative diseases. During the DNA damage response (DDR) ds and ss DNA breaks are recognised by ATM, ATR and DNA-PK kinases, which in turn activate signaling pathways that converge on p53 and other scaffold proteins such as 53BP1, that upon recruitment are localised at DNA repair foci. Nuclear Vaccinia related kinase-1 (VRK1) is a nuclear Ser/Thr kinase that phosphorylates multiple proteins involved in the DDR –including p53 and 53BP1- as well as promoting the entry of cells into mitosis by phosphorylating Histone H3 at Thr-3 and Ser-10, thus promoting nuclear condensation.Here the influence of ZIKV infection on VATM dependent activation of VKR1 and autophagy is discussed.... Read more »

Kang TH, Park DY, Kim W, & Kim KT. (2008) VRK1 phosphorylates CREB and mediates CCND1 expression. Journal of cell science, 121(Pt 18), 3035-41. PMID: 18713830  

Gonzaga-Jauregui C, Lotze T, Jamal L, Penney S, Campbell IM, Pehlivan D, Hunter JV, Woodbury SL, Raymond G, Adesina AM.... (2013) Mutations in VRK1 associated with complex motor and sensory axonal neuropathy plus microcephaly. JAMA neurology, 70(12), 1491-8. PMID: 24126608  

Kang TH, Park DY, Choi YH, Kim KJ, Yoon HS, & Kim KT. (2007) Mitotic histone H3 phosphorylation by vaccinia-related kinase 1 in mammalian cells. Molecular and cellular biology, 27(24), 8533-46. PMID: 17938195  

Metz P, Chiramel A, Chatel-Chaix L, Alvisi G, Bankhead P, Mora-Rodriguez R, Long G, Hamacher-Brady A, Brady NR, & Bartenschlager R. (2015) Dengue Virus Inhibition of Autophagic Flux and Dependency of Viral Replication on Proteasomal Degradation of the Autophagy Receptor p62. Journal of virology, 89(15), 8026-41. PMID: 26018155  

Joo, J., Wang, B., Frankel, E., Ge, L., Xu, L., Iyengar, R., Li-Harms, X., Wright, C., Shaw, T., Lindsten, T.... (2016) The Noncanonical Role of ULK/ATG1 in ER-to-Golgi Trafficking Is Essential for Cellular Homeostasis. Molecular Cell, 62(4), 491-506. DOI: 10.1016/j.molcel.2016.04.020  

  • May 30, 2016
  • 03:54 PM

The Harm of Verbal Promiscuity

by Miss Behavior in The Scorpion and the Frog

Eastern chimpanzees don't want to be judged. Image by Ikiwaner at they have one true love for life, multiple partners, or are free-loving, animals have many different mating systems. We have different scientific terms for these different mating systems, and most of these terms have very specific meanings. An animal is socially monogamous when it has one exclusive mating relationship, but maybe has sex with others outside of that relationship. It is sexually monogamous when it has one exclusive sexual relationship and is sexually faithful to that partner. Animals are polygamous when they have multiple sexual relationships. Polygamous animals can be polygynous (when one male has a mating relationship with multiple females), polyandrous (when one female has a mating relationship with multiple males) or polygynandrous (when multiple males and multiple females all have a mating relationship). However, one mating system term has been used much more loosely: promiscuous. In some scientific papers, promiscuous is used to describe animals that aren’t choosy about whom they mate with. Others use promiscuous to describe animals that don’t form mating relationships. But promiscuous is also misused by many people, including scientists, to refer to polygamous animals. This loose use of terminology can be damaging to both our scientific understanding and our society.Scientific terms generally come from common language, but are then are given more specific definitions for their scientific use. When we confuse scientific terms for their common-use meanings, society can be harmed. For example, the Merriam-Webster Dictionary includes a dozen different definitions of “theory” that all include strong elements of uncertainty (such as “an unproved assumption” and “an idea that is suggested or presented as possibly true but that is not known or proven to be true”). In contrast, the scientific term theory refers only to scientific explanations that have been substantiated through such a large amount of rigorous scientific testing and evidence that we are almost certain they are true (because scientists are supposed to never be completely certain). When the scientific term theory is confused with the common word “theory”, then concepts regarded essentially as fact among informed scientists are disregarded by politicians and many of the general public as “just a theory”.Promiscuity is one of those scientific terms that was originally borrowed from common language and is now confused with its common-word counterpart. The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines “promiscuous” as “having or involving many sexual partners”, which is almost exactly the scientific definition of polygamous. Thus, “promiscuous” is often misused, even by scientific researchers, when polygamous, polygynous, polyandrous, or polygynandrous are more accurate. Misidentifying the mating system of a species can obscure meaningful connections between behavior and ecology and can negatively impact conservation, captive breeding efforts, and medical and psychological advances.Image from freedigitalphotos.netMark Elgar and Therésa Jones from the University of Melbourne and Kathryn McNamara from The University of Western Australia found that when “promiscuous” is misused in research, scientists are much more likely to use it to refer to polyandrous females than to polygynous males. This biased misuse of the word reflects our moral judgments and causes us additional harm as a society. The common word “promiscuous” has pejorative connotations and evokes negative emotions, especially when applied to women. Our human cultures generally have expectations that women will be faithful to one partner, while we are more understanding of the infidelities of men. When applied to animals, and especially primates, promiscuity has an anthropomorphic nature that places our human expectations and interpretations on other species. It’s bad enough when we judge each other – let’s try not to judge animals too. Want to know more? Check this out:Elgar, M., Jones, T., & McNamara, K. (2013). Promiscuous words Frontiers in Zoology, 10 (1) DOI: 10.1186/1742-9994-10-66 ... Read more »

Elgar, M., Jones, T., & McNamara, K. (2013) Promiscuous words. Frontiers in Zoology, 10(1), 66. DOI: 10.1186/1742-9994-10-66  

  • May 30, 2016
  • 08:17 AM

Identifying infections by their stench?

by Rosin Cerate in Rosin Cerate

Bacteria tend to smell. A classic example is the geosmin-producing Streptomyces species responsible for the nice earthy scent of freshly dug up soil. In general, though, bacteria have unpleasant odours. Just think of cheese, armpits, and poop. Lots of bacteria in or on all of those things. Some of the stinkiest bacteria are ones capable of infecting us. The distinctiveness of their disgusting bouquets may provide a means of identifying them. Hippocrates apparently diagnosed tuberculosis (caused by the bacterium Mycobacterium tuberculosis) based on the particularly nasty odour produced by pouring gunk coughed up by a patient onto hot coals. Yuck.Various strains of smelly Clostridium difficile (Source)Clostridium difficile is the bane of hospitals all over the world. This bacterium tends to infect the intestines of people who have been on certain antibiotics. The antibiotics clear out a large chunk of the bacteria normally inhabiting a person's intestines, allowing C. diff (as it's called) to establish a foothold. The bacterium pumps out toxins which cause damage and disrupt the proper movement of food through the intestines (read: lots of diarrhea). In some cases, the large intestine can become super inflamed, a potentially life-threatening situation. If your guts become filled with C. diff, your poop tends to become watery (snot-like) and smell really bad in a distinctive way. It's commonly described in the scientific literature as an odour similar to horse manure, although a quick search through nursing forum threads such as this one mention, among other things, mouldy bread with a dash of skunk, a hot outhouse, rotting chicken, and a fart mixed with hot decaying roadkill.Although the specific stench of a C. diff poop is reportedly difficult to miss, the one blinded study I found reported a group of 18 nurses were unable to identify poops from patients with C. diff infections based on their odour. That's not a particularly large sample group though, so it might be useful to do another study with more nurses to confirm these results.ReferencesBartlett JG, Gerding DN. 2008. Clinical recognition and diagnosis of Clostridium difficile infection. Clinical Infectious Diseases 46(Supplement 1):S12-S18. [Full text]Rao K, Berland D, Young C, Walk ST, Newton DW. 2013. The nose knows not: Poor predictive value of stool sample odor for detection of Clostridium difficile. Clinical Infectious Diseases 56(4):615-616. [Full text]Sethi S, Nanda R, Chakraborty T. 2013. Clinical application of volatile organic compound analysis for detecting infectious diseases. Clinical Microbiology Reviews 26(3):462-475. [Full text] Read more »

  • May 30, 2016
  • 05:36 AM

Compulsive Foreign Language Syndrome: Man Becomes Obsessed With Speaking Fake French

by The Neurocritic in The Neurocritic

You may have seen headlines such as: Florida Man Woke Up In A Motel Room Speaking Only Swedish. Or: Englishman wakes up speaking Welsh after stroke (“Rare brain disorder left English-speaking Alun Morgan only able to communicate in Welsh”). The first case was likely due to a fugue state, a type of dissociative disorder involving loss of personal identity and aimless wandering (Stengel, 1941). The second seems like an unusual example of bilingual aphasia involving loss of the ability to speak one's native language (rather than the more commonly affected second language). Perhaps you've even seen paranormal claims like:Under Hypnosis or Past Life Regression, A Physician's Wife Starts Speaking Swedish. . .  In sessions conducted from 1955 to 1956, when Tania was under hypnosis, a personality emerged who spoke Swedish, a language that neither Tania nor Ken knew. As such, this represents a case of xenoglossy, where an individual can speak a language that has not been learned through normal means. Tania was born in Philadelphia and as such, English was her native language. Her parents, who were Jewish, were born in Odessa, Russia. No one in the family had ever been to Scandinavia and they knew no one who could speak Swedish. Xenoglossy is “the putative paranormal phenomenon in which a person is able to speak or write a language he or she could not have acquired by natural means.” Of course, there's always a logical explanation for such cases, but magical thinking leads people to believe that such phenomena are proof of past lives and reincarnation. A New Case of False XenoglossyAn amusingly written clinical report describes a 50 year old Italian man who stopped speaking his native Italian and insisted on speaking broken and somewhat fake French after a neurological event (Beschin et al., 2016). An abnormality in his basilar artery blocked the normal flow of cerebrospinal fluid, with hydrocephalus and brainstem vascular encephalopathy as a result. A typical example of the condition (known as megadolicho basilar artery) in another patient is shown below.Fig. 1 (Thiex & Mull, 2006). (A) CSF flow obstruction (arrow). (B) megadolicho basilar artery.The man had no previous psychiatric history and retained the ability to speak perfect Italian. The clinical report includes the only instance of the word “fling” that I recall seeing in a scientific journal, so I'll quote at length:He had superficially learned French at school, used it in his 20's due to a fling with a French girl but he has not spoken it for about 30 years. In his professional life he used English as his second language. Before brain damage he never manifested a particular attachment to French culture or French cuisine. His accent is not due to dysarthria and he speaks polished and correct Italian, his mother tongue. However, he now states that French is his preferred language refusing to speak in Italian spontaneously.. . .JC's French is maladroit and full of inaccuracies, yet he speaks it in a fast pace with exaggerated intonation using a movie-like prosody and posing as a typical caricature of a French man. His French vocabulary is reduced and he commits several grammatical errors but he does not speak grammelot or gibberish and never inserts Italian terms in his French sentences. He uses French to communicate with everybody who is prepared to listen; he speaks French with his bewildered Italian relatives, with his hospital inmates, with the consultants; he spoke French even in front of the befuddled Committee deciding on his pension scheme. He claims that he cannot but speak in French, he believes that he is thinking in French and he longs to watch French movies (which he never watched before), buys French food, reads French magazines and seldom French books, but he writes only in Italian. He shows no irritation if people do not understand him when he speaks in French.He performed well on picture naming and verbal fluency tests in Italian, although he first tried to name the item in French (substituting category names like ‘vegetable’ for the low frequency word ‘asparagus’). His episodic memory was poor and he could not recall autobiographical incidents from the previous few years (but could recall earlier memories). He performed well on most other cognitive tests. But he did show some psychiatric symptoms that were secondary to the brain injury.However, he presents with some delusions of grandeur, sleep disturbances and has some compulsive behaviours: he buys unnecessarily large quantities of objects (e.g., needing two hangers he bought 70) and he makes tons of bread to his wife's chagrin. He also shows unjustified euphoria (which he labels joie de vivre): for example in the morning he opens the windows and shouts bonjour stating that it is a wonderful day. He manifests signs of social disinhibition, for example proposing to organise a singing tour for his daughter's teenage friend or offering French lessons to his neighbours. These symptoms are indicative of secondary mania (Santos, Caeiro, Ferro, & Figueira, 2011) and were drug-resistant.This is certainly a highly usual consequence of megadolicho basilar artery, but note that the subtitle of Beschin et al.'s article is “A clinical observation not a mystery.” There is no true xenoglossy here (or anywhere else, for that matter).Further ReadingMan Wakes Up From Coma Speaking New Language: The media’s love of xenoglossyForeign Language Syndrome – “There actually isn’t a legitimate foreign language syndrome...”ReferencesBeschin, N., de Bruin, A., & Della Sala, S. (2016). Compulsive foreign language syndrome: A clinical observation not a mystery. Cortex DOI: 10.1016/j.cortex.2016.04.020Stengel, E. (1941). On the Aetiology of the Fugue States. British Journal of Psychiatry 87 (369): 572-599.Thiex R, Mull M. (2006). Basilar megadolicho trunk causing obstructive hydrocephalus at the foramina of Monro. Surg Neurol. 65(2):199-201. ... Read more »

  • May 30, 2016
  • 03:04 AM

Organic pollutants and behavioural severity in autism?

by Paul Whiteley in Questioning Answers

"This study supports the hypothesis that environmental exposure to organic pollutants may play a significant role in the behavioral presentation of autism."Accepting that correlation is not the same as causation, the results published by Andrew Boggess and colleagues [1] (open-access here) make for some blogging fodder today and the idea that serum levels of various compounds headed under the description of organic pollutants (persistent or otherwise) might show some important connections to at least some autism.To get a few things straight first, this and other related research does not say that every diagnosis of autism is somehow the product of a 'toxic' exposure. Nor does it belittle the substantial contribution that genetics (whether structural or non-structural issues) confer when it comes to diagnosis. To my mind, it adds another level of complexity to the [various] hows and whys relating to how autism might come about [2]. That, and offering some important biologically-led guidance on what might be done to decrease any body load of such pollutants as and when they are detected and there's quite a bit we can learn from such studies.Anyhow, Boggess et al started from the position of wanting to "evaluate the relationship between organic pollutants and behavioral severity in children with ASD [autism spectrum disorder] and matched controls." Thirty children diagnosed with autism were matched (age and sex) with 30 children without autism. Quite a panel of diagnostic and screening instruments were included as part of the study protocol, including ADOS (Autism Diagnostic Observation Schedule) and interestingly, the ATEC (see here). Each participant provided a blood sample, and the serum portion of the sample was subject to analysis by GC-MS (Gas Chromatography-Mass Spectrometry) for various compounds. Compounds included: "Three volatile organic compounds (VOC), benzene, toluene, and o-xylene; one alkane, hexane; five polychlorinated biphenyls (PCB), IUPAC congeners 28, 52, 101, 138, and 153; two polybrominated diphenylethers (PBDE), IUPAC congeners 47 and 99; two organochlorine pesticides, metolachlor and acetochlor; one dinitroanaline pesticide, pendimethalin; one organophosphate pesticide, chlorpyrifos; one phthalate, bis (2-ethylhexyl) phthalate (DEHP); and the chlorocarbon perchloroethylene."Results: well, looking directly at the metabolites under inspection and comparing the group results (autism group vs control group) in terms of individual quantified levels, there seemed very little see. The only compound that was statistically significant in terms of amounts between the groups was something called metolachlor, a herbicide, which was actually found in higher mean concentrations in the control group than the autism group. When also researchers compared "the pooled mean of all compounds from the ASD cohort to the pooled mean for all compounds in the control cohort" they similarly noted no significant difference. At this point you're probably thinking that this isn't particularly interesting data. Well, just hold it there...Researchers further examined whether there was something to see when comparing the mean xenobiotic body-burden (MXB) and those ADOS scores. Xenobiotic by the way, is another way of saying (foreign) compounds that were being assayed for, and combined with ADOS scores was a way of looking at whether behavioural severity might show some link to the concentrations of those compounds being reported on. In this respect: "Pooled serum-concentration correlated significantly with increasing behavioral severity on the ADOS in the ASD cohort... but not controls." The authors go on to say that such findings and others are "a fundamental expectation from the hypothesis of genetic predisposition for susceptibility to environmental triggers."Some other points are raised in the Boggess paper not least those connected to the various biological mechanisms designed to metabolise such compounds and where they may fit with regards to some autism. Personally, I think this is where the money is eventually going to be; with further work required on processes linked to glutathione (see here) and more specific genetic-biological issues (e.g. PON1 [3]) potentially showing how genetic fragility and non-genetic factors might combine specifically when it comes to getting rid of various pollutants from the body.There are methodological issues with the Boggess paper that do need to be mentioned not least the small participant group and the reliance on one blood sample showing a snapshot of current biology (combined with a snapshot of current behaviour). This last point in particular tells us little about any historical issues and whether there are important time-frames where environmental exposures might exert a more significant effect and the impact of any genetic issues. But, in the context of other research talking about environmental factors potentially being linked to autism (see here for example) it would be unwise to rule anything out just yet...----------[1] Boggess A. et al. Mean serum-level of common organic pollutants is predictive of behavioral severity in children with autism spectrum disorders. Sci Rep. 2016 May 13;6:26185.[2] Vijayakumar NT. & Judy MV. Autism spectrum disorders: Integration of the genome, transcriptome and the environment. Journal of the Neurological Sciences. 2016; 364: 167-176.[3] Gaita L. et al. Decreased serum arylesterase activity in autism spectrum disorders. Psychiatry Res. 2010 Dec 30;180(2-3):105-13.----------Boggess A, Faber S, Kern J, & Kingston HM (2016). Mean serum-level of common organic pollutants is predictive of behavioral severity in children with autism spectrum disorders. Scientific reports, 6 PMID: 27174041... Read more »

  • May 29, 2016
  • 03:30 PM

Why everyone wants to help the sick -- but not the unemployed

by Dr. Jekyll in Lunatic Laboratories

New research explains why healthcare costs are running out of control, while costs to unemployment protection are kept in line. The answer is found deep in our psychology, where powerful intuitions lead us to view illness as the result of bad luck and worthy of help.

... Read more »

  • May 28, 2016
  • 03:45 PM

Schizophrenia: The brain has the ability to rescue itself

by Dr. Jekyll in Lunatic Laboratories

A team of scientists have shown that the brains of patients with schizophrenia have the capacity to reorganize and fight the illness. This is the first time that imaging data has been used to show that our brains may have the ability to reverse the effects of schizophrenia.

... Read more »

  • May 28, 2016
  • 09:34 AM

A Recurring Sickness: Pathological Déjà Vu

by Neuroskeptic in Neuroskeptic_Discover

Have you read this sentence before? Perhaps it feels strangely familiar? The experience of déjà vu is a common one, but in rare cases, it can become a disorder. In a fascinating new Cortex paper, French psychologists Julie Bertrand and colleagues discuss the phenomenon of pathological déjà vu.

Bertrand et al. present an English translation of what is probably the first description of the condition, published in 1896 in French by the psychiatrist Francois-Léon Arnaud (1858-1927).

Ar... Read more »

Bertrand JM, Martinon LM, Souchay C, & Moulin CJ. (2016) History repeating itself: Arnaud's case of pathological déjà vu. Cortex; a journal devoted to the study of the nervous system and behavior. PMID: 27188828  

  • May 28, 2016
  • 04:29 AM

Urban neighbourhood, food and risk of psychosis?

by Paul Whiteley in Questioning Answers

It's another research mash-up today as I bring to your attention two papers talking about potential correlates associated with psychosis and/or psychotic symptoms.First up are the findings reported by Joanne Newbury and colleagues [1] (open-access here) who observed that urban residency and certain factors associated with urban residency might link into a higher risk of childhood psychotic symptoms. A second paper by Tomasz Pawełczyk and colleagues [2] provides some further food for thought and the suggestion that "dietary patterns of PUFA [polyunsaturated fatty acids] consumption may play a role in the conversion to psychosis of HR [ultra high-risk] individuals."Newbury et al report findings from the Environmental Risk (E-Risk) Longitudinal Twin Study and specifically the idea of "whether specific features of urban neighborhoods increase children's risk for psychotic symptoms." Aside from finding a potential association between urban residency at aged 5 and aged 12 and psychotic symptoms at aged 12, researchers also suggested that: "Low social cohesion, together with crime victimization in the neighborhood explained nearly a quarter of the association between urbanicity and childhood psychotic symptoms after considering family-level confounders."Pawełczyk et al continued a research theme suggesting that what we do or do not eat might have implications for some with regards to transition to psychosis (see here). Focusing specifically on a group of HR individuals, they looked at the diet of those who did and did not transition into psychosis. They reported: "C-HR [converted into psychosis] individuals reported significantly higher consumption of n-6 fatty acids (linoleic acid, LA and arachidonic acid, AA) in comparison with individuals who did not develop psychosis (NC-HR)."Although not seemingly covering the same factors when it comes to psychosis/psychotic symptoms, one of the things that I thought might also unite both these findings is food. Yes, Pawełczyk et al already talk about food (albeit based on the warts and all use of "a validated Food-Frequency Questionnaire") but the Newbury paper might also include a food element insofar as what types of food might be more readily available and eaten in urban vs. not-so-urban environments.Bearing in mind that sweeping generalisations about food availability and importantly, what types of food are available depending on where one lives, are not required, I would like to suggest that spatial patterning of say, supermarkets vs. fast food outlets might be something that could potentially unite results. The paper by Lamichhane and colleagues [3] for example found that: "the availability of supermarkets and fast food outlets differed significantly by neighborhood characteristics; neighborhoods with supermarkets and with fast food outlets were significantly higher in socio-economic status." Research looking at the causes and/or drivers of obesity have tended to predominate in the area of how neighbourhood might influence eating patterns [4] but similar modelling could be done with more psychiatric outcomes in mind. Indeed to quote Newbury et al: "Neighborhood-level physical exposures such as noise, light, and air pollution, as well as exposure to viral infections warrant research in relation to early psychotic symptoms." Who says that food should not also be included?I don't want to gloss over just how complicated the factors might be bringing someone to clinically relevant psychotic symptoms nor to say that food is somehow the 'missing' element for all cases. But it's not outside of the realms of possibility that in these days of nutritional psychiatry, food might exert an important effect for some people and food availability (certain food availability) could be one factor contributing to the idea that where you live might affect your risk of psychosis...And if that wasn't enough speculating, how about sweeping generalisations about maternal smoking habits and prenatal nicotine exposure as a risk factor for psychosis+ [5] as something else potentially linked to urban living?----------[1] Newbury J. et al. Why are Children in Urban Neighborhoods at Increased Risk for Psychotic Symptoms? Findings From a UK Longitudinal Cohort Study. Schizophr Bull. 2016 May 6. pii: sbw052.[2] Pawełczyk T. et al. The association between polyunsaturated fatty acid consumption and the transition to psychosis in ultra-high risk individuals. Prostaglandins Leukot Essent Fatty Acids. 2016 May;108:30-7.[3] Lamichhane AP. et al. Spatial patterning of supermarkets and fast food outlets with respect to neighborhood characteristics. Health & place. 2013;23:10.1016/j.healthplace.2013.07.002.[4] Macdonald L. et al. Neighbourhood fast food environment and area deprivation—substitution or concentration? Appetite. 2007; 49: 251-254.[5] Niemelä S. et al. Prenatal Nicotine Exposure and Risk of Schizophrenia Among Offspring in a National Birth Cohort. American Journal of Psychiatry. 2016. May 24.----------Pawełczyk, T., Trafalska, E., Kotlicka-Antczak, M., & Pawełczyk, A. (2016). The association between polyunsaturated fatty acid consumption and the transition to psychosis in ultra-high risk individuals Prostaglandins, Leukotrienes and Essential Fatty Acids (PLEFA), 108, 30-37 DOI: 10.1016/j.plefa.2016.03.010Newbury J, Arseneault L, Caspi A, Moffitt TE, Odgers CL, &am... Read more »

  • May 27, 2016
  • 03:40 PM

How the brain makes -- and breaks -- a habit

by Dr. Jekyll in Lunatic Laboratories

Not all habits are bad. Some are even necessary. It's a good thing, for example, that we can find our way home on "autopilot" or wash our hands without having to ponder every step. But inability to switch from acting habitually to acting in a deliberate way can underlie addiction and obsessive compulsive disorders.

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Christina M. Gremel,, Jessica H. Chancey,, Brady K. Atwood,, Guoxiang Luo,, Rachael Neve,, Charu Ramakrishnan,, Karl Deisseroth,, David M. Lovinger, & Rui M. Costa. (2016) Endocannabinoid Modulation of Orbitostriatal Circuits Gates Habit Formation. Neuron. info:/10.1016/j.neuron.2016.04.043

  • May 27, 2016
  • 12:33 PM

Starvation-induced FLCN association with lysosomes via a Rab34–RILP complex

by Joana Guedes in BHD Research Blog

Dynamic positioning of lysosomes in the cytoplasm plays an important role in their function and is, in part, regulated by cellular nutrient status. The FLCN/FNIP complex is known to be active on the lysosome surface, where it interacts with Rag GTPases, supports the nutrient‐dependent recruitment and activation of mTORC1, and regulates the localisation of lysosome associated transcription factors (Petit et al., 2013; Tsun et al., 2013). New research from Starling et al. (2016) now shows that folliculin (FLCN) also controls the dynamic cytoplasmic position of the lysosome itself.... Read more »

  • May 27, 2016
  • 12:10 PM

Enhance the Salience of Relevant Variables

by Joshua Fisher in Text Savvy

Performing the discrete mode of presentation test strongly enhances the salience of the relevant variable, perimeter, and somewhat decreases that of area. This enhancement supports appropriate solution strategies that lead to improved performance. This effect is robust and transfers to continuous mode of presentation for at least 10 days. In line with this conclusion, a student who performed the continuous test after the discrete one commented that, “It [continuous] was harder this time but I used the previous shapes, because I could do tricks with the matchsticks.”... Read more »

  • May 27, 2016
  • 10:24 AM

Prenatal Smoking and Offspring Schizophrenia

by William Yates, M.D. in Brain Posts

The topic prevention of brain disorders  is commonly neglected. This is despite increasing evidence for evidence-based support for prevention opportunities.This issue is highlighted in a recent study out of Finland that examined prenatal nicotine metabolite levels and offspring diagnosis of schizophrenia.In this study, Solja Niemela and the Finnish research team examined all live births in Finland between 1983 and 1998.What makes this study powerful is the measurement of maternal serum cotinine levels in maternal serum during the early and mid stages of prenancy. Cotinine is a metabolite and the levels of cotinine reflect the level of nicotine consumption.The key findings from this study include the following points:Measuring cotinine levels as a continuous variable yielded an increased odds ratio for schizophrenia of 3.41 (95% CI 1.86-6.24)Mothers in the highest cotinine level group had a 38% increase in offspring schizophrenia ratesThese findings included controlling for potential confounding variables including maternal age and parental history of psychiatric disordersInterestingly a PubMed search found a second study linking maternal smoking with increased risk of offspring diagnosis of bipolar disorder (odds ratio 2.01, 95% CI 1.48-2.53).These two studies in combination support a potential non-specific effect of prenatal nicotine exposure on risk for two of the most impairing psychiatric disorders. These two studies also support aggressive smoking cessation efforts in young women before pregnancy or at the latest very early after conception.You can find more information about these two studies by clicking on the citation links below.Follow the author on Twitter WRY999Photo of pair of pin-tail ducks is from my files.Niemelä, S., Sourander, A., Surcel, H., Hinkka-Yli-Salomäki, S., McKeague, I., Cheslack-Postava, K., & Brown, A. (2016). Prenatal Nicotine Exposure and Risk of Schizophrenia Among Offspring in a National Birth Cohort American Journal of Psychiatry DOI: 10.1176/appi.ajp.2016.15060800 Talati A, Bao Y, Kaufman J, Shen L, Schaefer CA, & Brown AS (2013). Maternal smoking during pregnancy and bipolar disorder in offspring. The American journal of psychiatry, 170 (10), 1178-85 PMID: 24084820... Read more »

Niemelä, S., Sourander, A., Surcel, H., Hinkka-Yli-Salomäki, S., McKeague, I., Cheslack-Postava, K., & Brown, A. (2016) Prenatal Nicotine Exposure and Risk of Schizophrenia Among Offspring in a National Birth Cohort. American Journal of Psychiatry. DOI: 10.1176/appi.ajp.2016.15060800  

Talati A, Bao Y, Kaufman J, Shen L, Schaefer CA, & Brown AS. (2013) Maternal smoking during pregnancy and bipolar disorder in offspring. The American journal of psychiatry, 170(10), 1178-85. PMID: 24084820  

  • May 27, 2016
  • 03:07 AM

Wandering and autism continued... yet again

by Paul Whiteley in Questioning Answers

I know that I'm probably starting to sound like a broken record on the topic of wandering (elopement) and autism on this blog (see here and see here and see here) but I am yet again going to briefly talk about peer-reviewed research in this area simply because it's just too damned important not to.This time around the results from Catherine Rice and colleagues [1] are the source of my musings and the conclusion that: "wandering among children with ASD [autism spectrum disorder], regardless of intellectual disability status, is relatively common." Based on the analysis of data from The Survey of Pathways to Diagnosis and Services (SPDS) initiative, where specific questions about 'wandering and wandering prevention' are asked (see page 29) researchers reported that: "For children with special healthcare needs diagnosed with either ASD, intellectual disability, or both, wandering or becoming lost during the previous year was reported for more than 1 in 4 children." A diagnosis of ASD seemed to be a key factor in the frequency of wandering, where those with additional learning disability were the most likely to wander (37% of the sample) and figures for those without intellectual disability came in at about 32%.As per previous occasions when I've blogged about this topic, the differences (kingdoms) that might divide various groups/people when it comes to autism tend to take second place when it comes to tackling this issue and preventing (yes, preventing) wandering from turning into something rather more ominous. After all, there are a range of measures that can be employed to reduce the frequency of wandering/elopement and, if and when it does happen, reduce the probability of 'adverse outcomes' for the wanderer. First and foremost I would say, is for more people to take note of actual accounts about wandering as per those discussed by Solomon and Lawlor [2] for example. One can learn a lot about the circumstances around why wandering occurs and the different types of wandering (including the issue of bolting) from listening to parent and caregiver accounts. They are the experts on their own children and no doubt some of those accounts might generalise to more than just one child.Next up are the various instruments that could be used to help find wanderers in a timely fashion. I'm thinking specifically about technology such as GPS trackers and the need for science to provide some further insight into the effectiveness of such items and what needs to be done to improve their effectiveness. I appreciate that 'tracking people' might have implications for things like civil liberties but just remember that the mobile (cell) phone you're carrying might not also be bad at telling others where you are. Improving autism awareness among first responders such as police and related agencies may also help them in their efforts if and when wandering becomes an issue.Finally and bearing in mind that 'if you've met one person with autism, you've met one autistic person' (or words to that effect) is the importance of teaching things like road and water safety to those on the autism spectrum. I appreciate that the concept of 'danger' might not be something easily taught to some children and communication issues can be barriers to effective teaching. But, one should not assume that it is impossible to do [2], alongside the strategies for making lessons like swimming classes for example 'fun' as well as potentially lifesaving. And yes, swimming lessons can be particularly fun for many children on the autism spectrum [3].----------[1] Rice CE. et al. Reported Wandering Behavior among Children with Autism Spectrum Disorder and/or Intellectual Disability. J Pediatr. 2016 May 2. pii: S0022-3476(16)00428-5.[2] Call NA. et al. Clinical outcomes of behavioral treatments for elopement in individuals with autism spectrum disorder and other developmental disabilities. Autism. 2016 May 12. pii: 1362361316644732.[3] Eversole M. et al. Leisure Activity Enjoyment of Children with Autism Spectrum Disorders. J Autism Dev Disord. 2016 Jan;46(1):10-20.----------Rice, C., Zablotsky, B., Avila, R., Colpe, L., Schieve, L., Pringle, B., & Blumberg, S. (2016). Reported Wandering Behavior among Children with Autism Spectrum Disorder and/or Intellectual Disability The Journal of Pediatrics DOI: 10.1016/j.jpeds.2016.03.047... Read more »

  • May 26, 2016
  • 04:58 PM

Global Warming and the Lion's Mane

by Emily Makowski in Sextraordinary!

I discuss how global warming may affect the reproductive success of male lions.... Read more »

West PM, & Packer C. (2002) Sexual selection, temperature, and the lion's mane. Science (New York, N.Y.), 297(5585), 1339-43. PMID: 12193785  

  • May 26, 2016
  • 11:54 AM

Male dragonflies are not as violent as thought

by Piter Boll in Earthling Nature

by Piter Kehoma Boll Males and females are defined by their gametes. Males have tiny, usually mobile gametes, while females have very large gametes that usually do not move. This means that females produce less gametes, but put a lot … Continue reading →... Read more »

Chapman, T., Arnqvist, G., Bangham, J., & Rowe, L. (2003) Sexual conflict. Trends in Ecology , 18(1), 41-47. DOI: 10.1016/S0169-5347(02)00004-6  

Córdoba-Aguilar, A., Vrech, D., Rivas, M., Nava-Bolaños, A., González-Tokman, D., & González-Soriano, E. (2014) Allometry of Male Grasping Apparatus in Odonates Does Not Suggest Physical Coercion of Females. Journal of Insect Behavior, 28(1), 15-25. DOI: 10.1007/s10905-014-9477-x  

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