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  • October 25, 2014
  • 02:59 PM

The Oceans Link to Climate Change

by Gabriel in Lunatic Laboratories

Hold on to your hats folks, we can all agree that most of the concerns about climate change have focused on the amount of greenhouse gases that have been released into the atmosphere. But in a new study a group of researchers have found that circulation of the ocean plays an equally important role in regulating the earth’s climate. Keep in mind this doesn’t mean global warming isn’t a man-made problem, please.... Read more »

Woodard SC, Rosenthal Y, Miller KG, Wright JD, Chiu BK, & Lawrence KT. (2014) Antarctic role in Northern Hemisphere glaciation. Science . PMID: 25342658  

  • October 25, 2014
  • 03:47 AM

Autism and intolerance of uncertainty

by Paul Whiteley in Questioning Answers

Good morning, gentlemen, the temperature is 110 degrees'Change' is often mentioned as something potentially problematic for many on the autism spectrum, and how unexpected change can sometimes have profound effects in terms of those so-called 'challenging behaviours' or when it comes to the presentation of important comorbidity such as anxiety. Like many others from the outside looking in, I was always taught that change as a more general concept was the important issue in autism, but recently the word 'uncertainty' has been creeping into various discussions that I've seen and in particular, the concept of an 'intolerance of uncertainty' noted in cases of autism.As far as I can ascertain, intolerance of uncertainty with autism in mind was first described in the peer-reviewed literature by Christina Boulter and colleagues [1] and subsequently by Sarah Wigham and colleagues [2]; both papers originating from the University of Newcastle, here in the bracing North East of England. The Boulter paper initially looked at how intolerance of uncertainty (IU) tied into the expression of anxiety in paediatric autism noting results "consistent with a causal model". The Wigham paper extended these findings, drawing on how the IU-anxiety relationship may also stretch to the presentation (interplay) of sensory issues among other things.Focusing specifically on the Boulter paper, a few details might be in order (unfortunately the paper is not open-access)IU - defined as "a broad dispositional risk factor for the development and maintenance of clinically significant anxiety" - was assessed as part of a larger research platform looking at anxiety and autism.Derived from various sources (including the Daslne initiative), participants (N=224) including children/young adults diagnosed with an autism spectrum disorder (ASD) (n=114) and asymptomatic controls (n=110) were assessed for IU via the Intolerance of Uncertainty Scales (child and parent report versions). "The scale assesses IU by asking respondents to rate the extent to which statements relating to emotional, cognitive and behavioural responses to uncertainty are like them, or... like their child". Various other measures including the SRS and the Spence Children's Anxiety Scales (SCAS) were also delivered to participants.Results: well as if we needed telling "children with ASD showed higher levels of anxiety than TD [typically developing] children". As per previous discussion on quality of life and autism, the question of who reports anxiety (first person vs. second person reports) featured in the Boulter findings, although "disagreement appears to have been more pronounced in the TD group than in the ASD group". Children with ASD were also reported to have "significantly higher levels of IU" and such elevations in IU "accounted for the increased levels of anxiety in the children with autism" hence the previous chatter about causal models et al. Perhaps also importantly, the relationship between IU and anxiety "was the same in both children with ASD and those without" so "similar processes may be at work within both populations".There are some obvious caveats to these results. The authors point out that their focus on ability "within the normal range" as a function of their questioning is a limitation, and the 'caution' that goes with "generalising conclusions to all children with ASD". I might add that the introduction of a non-ASD anxiety-only control group would probably not have gone amiss either. Drawing on the more general literature on IU, the findings from Yook and colleagues [3] might also suggest that additional measures of worry and rumination (another important concept [4]) might have been useful to investigate too. This may be particularly important given the reports of overlap in depressive-type symptoms/syndromes occurring alongside cases of autism. Me being me, I would also have liked to seen some physiological measure(s) included too...Still, I am rather intrigued by these initial findings on IU and how they may potentially fit into the often very disabling anxiety which can accompany a diagnosis of autism. If anything else, they may present a further target for intervention - bearing in mind the need for further research on the use of something like CBT for anxiety in autism - with the aim of improving quality of life.Music to close, and continuing a recent theme on this blog: The Smiths and Ask (yes, I have been listening to their greatest hits, and yes, they probably were one of the best bands ever).----------[1] Boulter C. et al. Intolerance of uncertainty as a framework for understanding anxiety in children and adolescents with autism spectrum disorders. J Autism Dev Disord. 2014 Jun;44(6):1391-402.[2] Wigham S. et al. The Interplay Between Sensory Processing Abnormalities, Intolerance of Uncertainty, Anxiety and Restricted and Repetitive Behaviours in Autism Spectrum Disorder. J Autism Dev Disord. 2014 Sep 27.[3] Yook K. et al. Intolerance of uncertainty, worry, and rumination in major depressive disorder and generalized anxiety disorder. J Anxiety Disord. 2010 Aug;24(6):623-8.[4] Hare DJ. et al. Anxiety in Asperger's syndrome: Assessment in real time. Autism. 2014 May 8.----------Boulter C, Freeston M, South M, & Rodgers J (2014). Intolerance of uncertainty as a framework for understanding anxiety in children and adolescents with autism spectrum disorders. Journal of autism and developmental disorders, 44 (6), 1391-402 PMID: 24272526... Read more »

  • October 24, 2014
  • 05:20 PM

The Genetics of Congenital Heart Defects Slowly Emerge from Down Syndrome Study

by Gabriel in Lunatic Laboratories

Down syndrome, of all the genetic defects people are born with, is the most common (as far as chromosomal abnormalities go). Down syndrome involves having a third copy of all or part of chromosome 21 (for those who do not recall we are typically born with 23 pairs of chromosomes). In addition to intellectual disability, individuals with Down syndrome have a high risk of congenital heart defects. However, not all people with Down syndrome have them – about half have structurally normal hearts.... Read more »

Ramachandran D, Mulle JG, Locke AE, Bean LJ, Rosser TC, Bose P, Dooley KJ, Cua CL, Capone GT, Reeves RH.... (2014) Contribution of copy-number variation to Down syndrome-associated atrioventricular septal defects. Genetics in medicine : official journal of the American College of Medical Genetics. PMID: 25341113  

  • October 24, 2014
  • 01:14 PM

Fish Want to Play Too

by Elizabeth Preston in Inkfish

Yes, fish. These aquarium lap-swimmers and pursuers of flaked food aren’t known for their joie de vivre. Yet in one hobbyist’s tanks, scientists say they’ve captured a rare instance of fish playing around. James Murphy is a herpetologist at the Smithsonian National Zoological Park. Although he professionally studies reptiles and amphibians, he keeps fish as […]The post Fish Want to Play Too appeared first on Inkfish.... Read more »

  • October 24, 2014
  • 12:50 PM

The Pig-like Aardvark

by beredim in Strange Animals

Adult and juvenile AardvarksCredit: By Scotto Bear from North Beach, MD, USA (aardvarks) [CC-BY-SA-2.], via Wikimedia CommonsKingdom: AnimaliaPhylum: ChordataClass: MammaliaSuperorder: AfrotheriaOrder: TubulidentataFamily: OrycteropodidaeGenus: OrycteropusSpecies: Orycteropus aferConservation Status: Least Concern (Not Threatened)Common Name(s): Aardvark, African antbear, Cape anteaterMeet the Aardvark, a medium-sized, burrowing, nocturnal mammal from Africa and the sole living representative of the order Tubulidentata. "Aardvark" derives from South Africa's Afrikaans language and translates to "earth pigs".As suggest by their common name, they look a bit like pigs, and also have rabbit-like ears and a kangaroo-like tail. Yet, they are not related to any of these animals. Recent genetic studies have placed aardvarks in a taxon called Afrotheria. Their closest surviving relatives are elephants, hyraxes, elephant-shrews, golden moles, and tenrecs.Distribution & HabitatAardvarks live in Africa, in places with a suitable habitat, including savannas, grasslands, woodlands and bushland, and available prey items like ants and termites. The only type of habitat that they can't be found is swamp forest, as the high water table interferes with their digging. They also tend to avoid rocky terrain for the same reason. The species has been recorded in altitudes as high as 3,200 meters (~10,500 ft) in Ethiopia.Aardvarks occur throughout sub-Saharan Africa all the way to South Africa with few exceptions, the coastal areas of Namibia, Ivory Coast, Ghana and Madagascar. In short, they inhabit about 2/3 of Africa.They often inhabit temporary holes that are a few meters in length, but are also found in complex and intricate burrows, which can have eight or more entrances and extend as much as 6 meters underground. The entrances are often plugged with a vent left at the top.Aardvark Distribution MapDescriptionThe aardvark has a pig-like appearance although the two are not closely related. The body is stout with a prominently arched back and is sparsely covered with coarse hairs. Adults usually have a weight ranging from 60 to 80 kilograms (132 to 176 lb) and are 105 to 130 cm (3.44–4.27 ft) long. Maximum length is about 2.2 m, when the thick tail (which can be up to 70 cm (28 in) long) is taken into consideration. Aardvarks stand 60 cm (24 in) tall at the shoulder, and have a girth of about 100 cm (40 in.). They have a pale yellowish-gray color that is often stained reddish-brown by the soil as they dig.They have thin coat, tough skin and no fat layer. The hair is short on the head and tail but a bit longer on the legs. The hair on the most part of the body is grouped in clusters of 3-4 hairs. The hairs surrounding the nostrils are dense and help filter particulate matter out as these strange animals dig the soil.The species has medium-sized legs, with the rear being longer than the front legs. The front feet have lost the pollex (the first digit of the forelimb), resulting in four toes, while the rear feet retain all five toes. Each toe comes with a large, robust nail which is somewhat flattened and shovel-like. Each nail ends up in a spade-like claw that helps them to dig with great speed and force.An aardvark at Detroit ZooPhoto By MontageMan [CC-BY-2.5], via Wikimedia CommonsAs you can see on the photos and videos, aardavarks have a greatly elongated head that is set on a short, thick neck. The snout resembles an elongated pig snout, and bears a disc, which houses the nostrils.The tongue is long, thin and snakelike and can protrude as much as 30 cm (12 in) out of the mouth.The rabbit-like ears are disproportionately large, about 20–25 cm (7.9–9.8 in) long. The species has a very keen sense of hearing. The eyes are relatively small and contain only rod cells; cells in the retina that can function in less intense light than the other type of visual photoreceptor, cone cells. The species has relatively poor eyesight.Aarvarks resting in the London ZooThe mouth is small and tubular, something expected by an animal that primarily feeds on ants and termites. One of the most distinctive and unique traits of this creature is its dentition. Instead of having a pulp cavity, each tooth has a cluster of thin, hexagonal, upright, parallel tubes of vasodentin (a modified form of dentine), with individual pulp canals, held together by cementum. The number of columns is dependent on the size of the tooth, with the largest having about 1,500. The teeth have no enamel coating and are worn away and regrow continuously. Aardvarks are born with conventional incisors and canines at the front of the jaw, which fall out soon later, never to be renewed again.The aardvark usually moves slowly, however, it can attain speeds of up to 40 km/h when running and dig 1 yard of tunnel in about 5 minutes. It is also an excellent swimmer, capable of swimming even in strong currents.In the wild, aardvarks are known to live for up to 18 years, and up to 23 years in captivity. They reach sexually maturity approximately at the age of two years old.Aardvark out in the sunPhoto By Louise Joubert (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0], via Wikimedia CommonsVocalizationAardvarks are rather quiet animals making very few sounds. The species makes soft grunting sounds while foraging and loud grunts as it moves towards the tunnel entrance. It also makes a bleating sound when frightened or threatened by predators. DietO. afer feeds almost exclusively on ants and termites (myrmecophagous). The only fruit eaten by aardvarks is the aardvark cucumber(Cucumis humofructus), Aardvarks eat the fruit for its water content and propagate the seeds through their feces, which are then buried by the animals. Due to the depth of the fruit, the seeds are unable to germinate without assistance, and rely on aardvarks for prepagation. Aardvarks eat the subterranean fruit, then defecate the seeds near the burrows, which then grow rapidly due to the loose soil and fertile nature of the area. The time spent in the intestine of the aardvark helps the fertility of the seed.Individuals usually emerge from their burrows in the late afternoon or shortly after sunset, and forage over a considerable... Read more »

Taylor, W., Lindsey, P., & Skinner, J. (2002) The feeding ecology of the aardvark Orycteropus afer. Journal of Arid Environments, 50(1), 135-152. DOI: 10.1006/jare.2001.0854  

Mutlow AG, & Mutlow H. (2008) Caesarian section and neonatal care in the aardvark (Orycteropus afer). Journal of zoo and wildlife medicine : official publication of the American Association of Zoo Veterinarians, 39(2), 260-2. PMID: 18634220  

Tabuce, R., Asher, R., & Lehmann, T. (2008) Afrotherian mammals: a review of current data. mammalia, 72(1). DOI: 10.1515/MAMM.2008.004  

White, J., Williams, G., Samour, J., Drury, P., & Cheeseman, P. (1985) The composition of milk from captive aardvark (Orycteropus afer). Zoo Biology, 4(3), 245-251. DOI: 10.1002/zoo.1430040305  

  • October 24, 2014
  • 11:29 AM

Breaking Research: WIDE AWAKE is a newly identified gene that explains how we become sleepy at night

by Bethany Christmann in Fly on the Wall

The body’s biological clock is responsible for keeping track of time and synchronizing behavior with the environment, so that you feel alert during daylight hours and sleepy at night. This biological clock (also called the circadian clock or circadian rhythms) consists of three major parts: The central pacemaker, which oscillates with a period of about […]... Read more »

Liu Sha, Qili Liu, Masashi Tabuchi, Yong Yang, Melissa Fowler, Rajnish Bharadwaj, Julia Zhang, Joseph Bedont, Seth Blackshaw, & Thomas E. Lloyd. (2014) WIDE AWAKE Mediates the Circadian Timing of Sleep Onset. Neuron, 82(1), 151-166. DOI:  

  • October 24, 2014
  • 11:23 AM

Publication bias afflicts the whole of psychology

by BPS Research Digest in BPS Research Digest

In the last few years the social sciences, including psychology, have been taking a good look at themselves. While incidences of fraud hit the headlines, pervasive issues are just as important to address, such as publication bias, the phenomenon where non-significant results never see the light of day thanks to editors rejecting them or savvy researchers recasting their experiments around unexpected results and not reporting the disappointments. Statistical research has shown the extent of this misrepresentation in pockets of social science, such as specific journals, but a new meta-analysis suggests that the problem may infect the entire discipline of psychology.A team of psychologists based in Salzburg looked at “effect sizes”, which provide a measure of how much experimental variables actually change an outcome. The researchers randomly sampled the PsycINFO database to collect 1000 psychology articles across the discipline published in 2007, and then winnowed the list down to 395 by focusing only on those that used quantitative data to test hypotheses. For each main finding, the researchers extracted or calculated the effect size.Studies with lots of participants (500 or more) had an average effect size in the moderate range r=.25. But studies with a smaller sample tended to have formidable effect sizes, as high as .48 for studies with under 50 participants. This resulted in a strong negative relationship between number of participants and size of effect, when statistically the two should be unrelated. As studies with more participants make more precise measurements, .25 is the better estimate of a typical psychology effect size, so the higher estimates suggest some sort of inflation.The authors, led by Anton Kühberger, argue that the literature is thin on modest effect sizes thanks to the non-publication of non-significant findings (rejection by journals would be especially plausible for non-significant smaller studies), and the over-representation of spurious large effects, due to researchers retrospectively constructing their papers around surprising effects that were only stumbled across thanks to inventive statistical methods.The analysts rejected one alternative explanation. To detect powerful effects a small sample is sufficient, so researchers who anticipate a big effect thanks to an initial "power analysis" might deliberately plan on small samples. But only 13 per cent of the papers in this report mentioned power, and the pattern of correlation in these specific papers appears no different to that found in the ones who never mention power. Moreover, the original 1000 authors were surveyed as to what they expected the relationship between effect size and sample size to be. Many respondents expected no effect, and even more expected that studies with more participants would have larger effects. This suggests that an up-front principled power analysis decision is unlikely to have been driving the main result.Kühberger and his co-analysts recommend that in future we give more weight to how precise study findings are likely to be, by considering their sample size. One way of doing this is by reporting a statistic that takes sample size into account, the “confidence interval”, which describes effect size not as a single value but as a range that we can be confident the true effect size falls within. As we all want to maintain confidence in psychological science, it’s a recommendation worth considering (but see here for an alternative view)._________________________________ Kühberger, A., Fritz, A., & Scherndl, T. (2014). Publication Bias in Psychology: A Diagnosis Based on the Correlation between Effect Size and Sample Size PLoS ONE, 9 (9) DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0105825 --further reading--Questionable research practices are rife in psychology, survey suggestsSerious power failure threatens the entire field of neuroscienceMade it! An uncanny number of psychology findings manage to scrape into statistical significanceFake data or scientific mistake?Post written by Alex Fradera (@alexfradera) for the BPS Research Digest.
... Read more »

  • October 24, 2014
  • 11:22 AM

October 24, 2014

by Erin Campbell in HighMag Blog

There is a party going on at the ends of microtubules, but I wasn’t invited. That won’t stop me, or countless cell biologists out there, from peeping in the window to check out all of the microtubule shenanigans. Today’s image is from a paper describing how Doublecortin binds to microtubule ends.The plus end of a microtubule is the primary site for growth and shrinkage, and interaction with several microtubule-associate proteins. Different microtubule end-binding proteins may interact with microtubules using different mechanisms: the end-binding protein EB1 relies on the nucleotide state of the tubulin at the microtubule end, while a recent paper shows how another protein, Doublecortin (DCX), relies on the curvature of microtubule ends for binding. DCX is a neuronal microtubule-associate protein that plays an important role throughout development, yet how it interacted with microtubule ends was previously unclear. Bechstedt and colleagues used single-molecule microscopy to show that DCX (images above, green in merged) binds with higher affinity to curved microtubules (magenta) than to straight microtubules. DCX mutations, which are found in patients with double cortex syndrome, prevent the protein from binding to curved regions of microtubules.Bechstedt, S., Lu, K., & Brouhard, G. (2014). Doublecortin Recognizes the Longitudinal Curvature of the Microtubule End and Lattice Current Biology, 24 (20), 2366-2375 DOI: 10.1016/j.cub.2014.08.039Copyright ©2014 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved. ... Read more »

  • October 24, 2014
  • 09:15 AM

The Friday Five for 10/24/14

by Bill Sullivan in The 'Scope

A fun look at cool science news: making the blind see, the paralyzed walk, the first copulation sex, and fun with dry ice!... Read more »

  • October 24, 2014
  • 06:49 AM

Blocking Key Gene To Stop Malaria Transmission

by Pieter Carrière in United Academics

Earlier this week Pieter wrote about a key gene in the transmission of Malaria. Now he explains more about blocking this gene to prevent spreading.... Read more »

Kafsack BF, Rovira-Graells N, Clark TG, Bancells C, Crowley VM, Campino SG, Williams AE, Drought LG, Kwiatkowski DP, Baker DA.... (2014) A transcriptional switch underlies commitment to sexual development in malaria parasites. Nature, 507(7491), 248-52. PMID: 24572369  

Kåhrström CT. (2014) Parasite development: master regulator of sex. Nature reviews. Microbiology, 12(4), 233. PMID: 24608336  

Rovira-Graells N, Gupta AP, Planet E, Crowley VM, Mok S, Ribas de Pouplana L, Preiser PR, Bozdech Z, & Cortés A. (2012) Transcriptional variation in the malaria parasite Plasmodium falciparum. Genome research, 22(5), 925-38. PMID: 22415456  

Gardner, M., Hall, N., Fung, E., White, O., Berriman, M., Hyman, R., Carlton, J., Pain, A., Nelson, K., Bowman, S.... (2002) Genome sequence of the human malaria parasite Plasmodium falciparum. Nature, 419(6906), 498-511. DOI: 10.1038/nature01097  

  • October 24, 2014
  • 04:27 AM

Collective Structures in Software Projects

by Jörg Friedrich in Software Engineering Economics

To understand the social dynamics of complex software development processes, it is necessary to analyze in which structures the persons involved and how this involvement affected their work. Damian Tamburri has in recent years identified the relevant social structures in a number of publications, analyzed and graded on their effect. He first distinguishes four basic […]... Read more »

Tamburri, D., Lago, P., & Vliet, H. (2013) Organizational social structures for software engineering. ACM Computing Surveys, 46(1), 1-35. DOI: 10.1145/2522968.2522971  

  • October 24, 2014
  • 03:00 AM

Somatic mutations in FLCN can cause cancer

by Lizzie Perdeaux in BHD Research Blog

The majority of research on FLCN is within the context of BHD syndrome, which is caused by heterozygous germline mutations in the FLCN gene. However, two recent papers have reported that somatic FLCN mutations may be a factor in the … Continue reading →... Read more »

Wagle N, Grabiner BC, Van Allen EM, Amin-Mansour A, Taylor-Weiner A, Rosenberg M, Gray N, Barletta JA, Guo Y, Swanson SJ.... (2014) Response and acquired resistance to everolimus in anaplastic thyroid cancer. The New England journal of medicine, 371(15), 1426-33. PMID: 25295501  

  • October 24, 2014
  • 02:51 AM

Autism, siblings and DSM-5 Social Communication Disorder

by Paul Whiteley in Questioning Answers

A quick post to bring to your attention the paper by Meghan Miller and colleagues [1] who concluded that: "Pragmatic language problems are present in some siblings of children with ASD [autism spectrum disorder] as early as 36 months of age". Further: "As the new DSM-5 diagnosis of Social (Pragmatic) Communication Disorder (SCD) is thought to occur more frequently in family members of individuals with ASD, it is possible that some of these siblings will meet criteria for SCD as they get older".Isn't this a school day?The DSM-5, as many in the autism community will already know, has been the source of quite a bit of discussion/argument as to how it has started to re-define what we label as autism or autism spectrum disorder. The initial signs have been that use of the DSM-5 criteria does indeed impact on the numbers of cases of autism (see here) and in particular, that the category termed 'Social Communication Disorder' (SCD) is filling up with those who might present with social communication issues without the repetitive or restricted behaviours required to fulfil the ASD label. Whether this implies the same levels of services and resources will be available to those with SCD as it is supposed to for those with ASD remains to be seen.I did wonder whether the Miller findings were an important indication (although not the first [2]) that science might also be putting a bit more flesh on to the bones of the concept of a broader autism phenotype (BAP). Describing the subtle speech and language and social interactive issues described on the diagnostic borderlands of autism [3], it strikes me that there is more than a smidgen of overlap between SCD and the BAP (at least with more strength of data than the suggestion of a link between the BAP and postnatal depression). With cautions down the years about assuming "all children with pragmatic difficulties have autism" [4], does the advent of the SCD diagnostic category offer a viable alternative?Music to close, and the sheer brilliance of Morrissey (live). And for those who might want to know a little more about the man behind the music: The Importance Of Being Morrissey.----------[1] Miller M. et al. Early pragmatic language difficulties in siblings of children with autism: implications for DSM-5 social communication disorder? J Child Psychol Psychiatry. 2014 Oct 15.[2] Botting N. & Conti-Ramsden G. Pragmatic Language Impairment without Autism. Autism. 1999; 3: 371-396[3] Dawson G. et al. Defining the broader phenotype of autism: genetic, brain, and behavioral perspectives. Dev Psychopathol. 2002 Summer;14(3):581-611.----------Miller M, Young GS, Hutman T, Johnson S, Schwichtenberg AJ, & Ozonoff S (2014). Early pragmatic language difficulties in siblings of children with autism: implications for DSM-5 social communication disorder? Journal of child psychology and psychiatry, and allied disciplines PMID: 25315782... Read more »

  • October 24, 2014
  • 12:05 AM

Who is at Risk for Medial Tibial Stress Syndrome?

by Hallie Labrador MD, MS in Sports Medicine Research (SMR): In the Lab & In the Field

Risk of medial tibial stress syndrome (MTSS) is associated with increased body mass index, navicular drop, ankle plantarflexion range of motion (ROM) and hip external rotation ROM.... Read more »

  • October 23, 2014
  • 05:58 PM

The Genes Responsible for Immune System Reset after Infection

by Gabriel in Lunatic Laboratories

We’ve all been sick before, the aches and pains that come with it– most of the time including a fever — are all responses to our immune system kicking into high gear. But what if your body didn’t reverse course and go back to a, let’s call it” relaxed state.” Once the battle is won, the body’s efforts would be wasted on energy costing defense. A bad thing when the body really should be focusing on repairing the damage done by the foreign invaders.... Read more »

Brian Head,, & Alejandro Aballay. (2014) Recovery from an Acute Infection in C. elegans Requires the GATA Transcription Factor ELT-2. PLoS Genetics. info:/10.1371/journal.pgen.1004609

  • October 23, 2014
  • 10:20 AM

Smartphone App Boosts Alcoholism Treatment Outcome

by William Yates, M.D. in Brain Posts

Smartphone apps and other mobile technology are emerging as promising tools in medical treatment.A recent randomized study published in JAMA Psychiatry found evidence that a smartphone app improves alcoholism treatment outcomes.David Gustafson and colleagues conducted a study funded by the National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism.A series of 349 adults with DSM-IV alcohol dependence were enrolled as they entered a alcoholism residential treatment program.Approximately half of the subjects were provided with a smartphone that had an app known as Addiction-Comprehensive Health Enhancement Support System (A-CHESS).The smartphone with A-CHESS app provided the following support:An audio-guided relaxation programA GPS alert system when users neared a high-risk drinking location (i.e. a bar previously used by the participant)A two-way message system between treatment team and participantA panic button that allowed users to notify two support contactsA log function that allowed the research team to monitor smartphone services usedThe key findings from the study included the following for the A-CHESS assigned group:Statistically significant reductions in number of risky drinking days compared to controls (1.39 days per month versus 2.75 days per month)Higher rates of abstinence at 4-, 8- and 12-month follow-up periodsReduction in number of risky drinking days was correlated with number of A-CHESS pages viewed and number of days the service was accessedThe authors noted that some outcome measures were not improved in the A-CHESS group compared to controls including frequency of negative consequences related to drinking.The cost of the smartphone and A-CHESS app was estimated at $597 per patient during the study.This study does demonstrated the feasibility and potential utility of using smartphones and treatment augmentation apps for those with alcohol dependence.The specific components promoting improved outcomes in this study are unable to be identified.However, the results are encouraging and support further research efforts and evolution of smartphone app design for enhancing the treatment of alcohol dependence and other addictions.Readers with more interest in this research can access the free full-text manuscript by clicking on the PMID link in the citation below.Photo of grosbeak is from the author's files.Follow the author on Twitter WRY999Gustafson DH, McTavish FM, Chih MY, Atwood AK, Johnson RA, Boyle MG, Levy MS, Driscoll H, Chisholm SM, Dillenburg L, Isham A, & Shah D (2014). A smartphone application to support recovery from alcoholism: a randomized clinical trial. JAMA psychiatry, 71 (5), 566-72 PMID: 24671165... Read more »

Gustafson DH, McTavish FM, Chih MY, Atwood AK, Johnson RA, Boyle MG, Levy MS, Driscoll H, Chisholm SM, Dillenburg L.... (2014) A smartphone application to support recovery from alcoholism: a randomized clinical trial. JAMA psychiatry, 71(5), 566-72. PMID: 24671165  

  • October 23, 2014
  • 09:05 AM

The Monster Mash – Diseases That May Have Spawned Monster Legends

by Bill Sullivan in The 'Scope

Creepy diseases that produce symptoms that mimic characteristics associated with legendary monsters!... Read more »

Schulenburg-Brand D, Katugampola R, Anstey AV, & Badminton MN. (2014) The cutaneous porphyrias. Dermatologic clinics, 32(3), 369. PMID: 24891059  

Deshmukh S, & Prashanth S. (2012) Ectodermal dysplasia: a genetic review. International journal of clinical pediatric dentistry, 5(3), 197-202. PMID: 25206167  

Ramirez-Bermudez J, Aguilar-Venegas LC, Crail-Melendez D, Espinola-Nadurille M, Nente F, & Mendez MF. (2010) Cotard syndrome in neurological and psychiatric patients. The Journal of neuropsychiatry and clinical neurosciences, 22(4), 409-16. PMID: 21037126  

  • October 23, 2014
  • 07:38 AM

Four Solar-Powered Animals

by beredim in Strange Animals

Photosynthesis, a process used by plants and some bacteria to convert light from the sun into chemical energy which can be later released to fuel their activities. Animals on the other hand, have to consume other organisms in order to cover their energy needs. But every rule has an exception.In recent years, researchers have discovered a small number of animals that much like plants have found a way to directly harness and feed off the Sun’s energy.1# Oriental Hornet (Vespa orientalis)Typically, wasps and hornets are most active during the early morning when they do the majority of their daily activities. However, this is not the case with the oriental hornet that is most active during the middle of the day. This social insect nests underground and the workers correlate their digging activity with the intensity of sunlight. It turns out there is actually a good reason why these insects love intense sunlight.Oriental HornetPhoto By MattiPaavola (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0], via Wikimedia CommonsThe species has an outer layer (cuticle) that allows it to harvest solar energy. The yellow parts of the body (in the head and abdomen) contain a pigment called Xanthopterin. Xanthopterin works as a light harvesting molecule, transforming light into electrical energy. Currently, it is assumed that part of this energy is transformed in a photo-biochemical process which aids the species with energy demanding activities, like flying and digging. The harvested energy appears to also provide enough energy to carry out some metabolic functions, as researchers have found that most of the metabolic activity occurs in the yellow pigment layer.As for the brown tissues, although incapable of directly harnessing the sun's energy, they still play an important role in the whole process. Structural analysis has found that they are full of grooves that capture light by channeling rays into the tissues and breaking them apart into smaller rays. Essentially, the brown areas act as a light trap, only 1% of the light that strikes is reflected away.2# Eastern Emerald Elysia (Elysia chlorotica)Elysia chlorotica is a medium-sized green sea slug of the Plakobranchidae family. Elysia chlorotica is a partially solar-powered slug that sequesters and retains active chloroplasts from the Vaucheria litorea algae it eats. During the feeding process, it first punctures the algal cell wall with its radula. The slug then holds the algae firmly in its mouth and,sucks out the contents. Instead of digesting the entire cell it retains the algal chloroplasts, by storing them within its own cells throughout its digestive system.Elysia chloroticaPhoto By EOL Learning and Education Group[CC-BY-2.0] via Wikimedia CommonsThe incorporation of chloroplasts within the cells of the slug allows it to capture energy directly from light, like most plants do, through photosynthesis. In periods where algae is not readily available as a food supply, the species may be able to survive for months on the sugars produced through the photosynthesis done by the incorporated chloroplasts.Although E. chlorotica slugs are unable to synthesize their own chloroplasts, the ability to maintain the chloroplasts acquired from Vaucheria litorea in a functional state indicates that Elysia chlorotica must possess photosynthesis-supporting genes within its own nuclear genome, most likely acquired through horizontal gene transfer*.3# Pea Aphid (Acyrthosiphon pisum)Pea aphids are notable for being the only so-far known animals to synthesize a carotenoid, Torulene. Carotenoids are pigments produced by plants, fungi and other microorganisms and play an important role in photosynthesis. A 2010 study on pea aphids found that they have gained the ability to synthesize torulene through horizontal gene transfer from fungi. Two years later, new research revealed that this carotenoid may be behind a photosynthetic-like ability.The authors of the latest study examined three different types of the species: green aphids, which have the highest levels of carotenoids, orange aphids which produce intermediate levels of carotenoids and white aphids, which have little to no carotenoids. When researchers measured their ATP* levels, they found that the green aphids produced significantly more ATP than white aphids. What's more interesting is that the orange ones produced more ATP when exposed to sunlight than when moved into the dark. The researchers also crushed the orange aphids and purified their carotenoids to show that these extracts could absorb light and create energy.The findings strongly suggest that the little critters can trap light and convert it into cellular energy. According to Maria Capovilla, co-author of the study, this ability could function as an emergency energy source that helps aphids survive their treks from plant to plant.4# Spotted Salamander (Ambystoma maculatum)Finally we have the Spotted Salamander, an animal that has long been suspected to be in a symbiotic relationship with photosynthetic algae. Back in the distant 1888, biologist Henry Orr first reported that the species' eggs often contain a single-celled green algae called Oophila amblystomatis.Spotted Salamander egg-mass with algae visible inside the eggsPhoto By Fredlyfish4 (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0], via Wikimedia CommonsToday we know that the eggs are routinely colonized within a matter of hours. During this stage, the embryos release waste material, which the algae uses for food. In return the algae photosynthesizes and release oxygen for the developing embryos. In general, embryos that have more algae have a higher survival ratio and develop faster than the ones with few or none. But all this is old news..In 2011, a study examining the species' eggs found that some of the algae was present within the embryos themselves, and in some cases invaded embryonic cells and tissues. This suggested that the embryos weren't just receiving oxygen but glucose too. In simple words, the algae inside their body generates fuel for the salamanders during the embryonic stage.... Read more »

Rumpho ME, Worful JM, Lee J, Kannan K, Tyler MS, Bhattacharya D, Moustafa A, & Manhart JR. (2008) Horizontal gene transfer of the algal nuclear gene psbO to the photosynthetic sea slug Elysia chlorotica. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, 105(46), 17867-71. PMID: 19004808  

Plotkin M, Hod I, Zaban A, Boden SA, Bagnall DM, Galushko D, & Bergman DJ. (2010) Solar energy harvesting in the epicuticle of the oriental hornet (Vespa orientalis). Die Naturwissenschaften, 97(12), 1067-76. PMID: 21052618  

Valmalette, J., Dombrovsky, A., Brat, P., Mertz, C., Capovilla, M., & Robichon, A. (2012) Light- induced electron transfer and ATP synthesis in a carotene synthesizing insect. Scientific Reports. DOI: 10.1038/srep00579  

Kerney, R., Kim, E., Hangarter, R., Heiss, A., Bishop, C., & Hall, B. (2011) Intracellular invasion of green algae in a salamander host. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 108(16), 6497-6502. DOI: 10.1073/pnas.1018259108  

  • October 23, 2014
  • 07:02 AM

How reminders of money affect people's expression and perception of emotion

by BPS Research Digest in BPS Research Digest

Bank robbers and gamblers will tell you what people are prepared to do for the sake of money. But money also has more subtle influences. Back in 2006, researchers showed that mere reminders of money made people more selfish (although note a later attempt failed to replicate this result).In the latest research in this field, a team led by Yuwei Jiang have shown that exposing people to pictures of money, or to money-related words, reduces their emotional expressivity and makes them more sensitive to other people's expressions of emotion. The researchers think the effect occurs because money primes a business mindset, and in business the cultural norm is to conceal emotion.There were six studies in all, involving a mixture of dozens of undergrads in Hong Kong, and dozens of US adults recruited via the Amazon Mechanical Turk website. In every case some participants were exposed to money and some weren't. The money exposure was either via looking at pictures of cash and coins, ostensibly to judge the clarity and lighting of the pictures (control participants saw pictures of sea shells, furniture or green leaves), or through rearranging words into sentences, many of which pertained to money (control participants only dealt with neutral sentences).Being exposed to pictures of money or money-related words led participants to say they were less keen on sharing their emotions; to actually convey less negative emotion when asked to write a negative review about a product they were unhappy with; to convey less positive emotion when asked to write a description of a funny movie clip; to perceive other people's facial expressions of emotion as more intense; and to have less desire to interact with a smiley or angry person. In each case these effects were shown in comparison with control participants who were not exposed to money.A couple of details to consider. Jiang and his colleagues said these effects weren't simply related to motivation. For example, on the writing tasks, the money condition participants wrote just as many words and for just as long as the control participants; the specific difference was that they included less emotion in their writing. Also, there were ways to reduce the effects of money. For example, when money-exposed people were told that other people's emotions were being displayed in private, they no longer rated those people's emotions as more intense - this is consistent with the idea that money primes a business mindset that has implications for the public, but not private, expression of emotion.The researchers said their findings have several practical implications. "... if a consideration of money increases individuals' perception that the public expression of emotion is inappropriate," they explained, "it may decrease the desirability of using money as a medium of exchange when strong feelings are being conveyed." They also added that more research is needed to see if the effects they reported will apply in nations or cultures that are less commercialised than the US and Hong Kong._________________________________ Jiang, Y., Chen, Z., & Wyer, R. (2014). Impact of money on emotional expression Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 55, 228-233 DOI: 10.1016/j.jesp.2014.07.013 Post written by Christian Jarrett (@psych_writer) for the BPS Research Digest.

... Read more »

Jiang, Y., Chen, Z., & Wyer, R. (2014) Impact of money on emotional expression. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 228-233. DOI: 10.1016/j.jesp.2014.07.013  

  • October 23, 2014
  • 04:46 AM

Postpartum depression and the broader autism phenotype?

by Paul Whiteley in Questioning Answers

"The findings suggest that pregnant women with BAP [broader autism phenotype] have an elevated risk for PPD [postpartum depression]".That was the conclusion reached by Ryosuke Asano and colleagues [1] based on their analysis of data derived from the Hamamatsu Birth Cohort (HBC) Study [2]. The idea being that the more subtle presentation of issues linked to a diagnosis of autism spectrum disorder (the BAP) might predispose to a great likelihood of other behavioural or psychiatric symptoms [3] to be present. We'll see about that.What're you lookin' at, ya hockey puck?The Asano paper is open-access but just in case...As part of the HBC study looking at pregnant women to ascertain "an early diagnostic algorithm for [offspring] ASD" [2] researchers garnered various snippets of information from over 800 pregnant women in mainland Japan.Covering mid-pregnancy to approximately 3 months after childbirth, women were asked to complete the Edinburgh Postnatal Depression Scale (EPDS) (a tool fairly routinely used here in the UK) to "measure their depressive symptoms after childbirth". The EPDS was completed 3 times after childbirth (between 2-4 weeks, 5-7 weeks and 8-12 weeks).The BAP was assessed using the Broader Phenotype Autism Symptoms Scale (BPASS) [4] and administered via interview "mainly during the 2nd trimester of the pregnancy". Authors also did some additional work to "check whether our use of the BPASS is reliable and valid". Potential confounders such as a history of depression or anxiety and the level of emotional support provided by partners during pregnancy were also examined in participants; indeed, some 11% of the research cohort "had a history of depression and/or anxiety disorders".Results: "The overall cumulative incidence of PPD was 15.2%". This figure is not a million miles away from other estimates of PPD [4] based on the use of the EPDS (albeit with a slightly different cut-off point). Indeed, the HBC study had already hinted at something around this figure previously [5].Scores on the BAP were "weakly but positively associated with depressive symptoms after childbirth at all measurement periods". I have to say that despite these various correlations being significant, I was not particularly impressed with the correlation (r) values reported (ranging from 0.14 to 0.16 assuming 0 is no correlation and 1 is a perfect correlation). Indeed, when looking at the mean (average) composite score of the BPASS (see Table 1) between the PPD and non-PPD groups you can see there is very little difference in measured BAP (13.77 vs. 13.14).Again, based on the data provided in Table 1, of more interest is the effect of a history of depression/anxiety on PPD status, where 30/128 (23%) and 65/713 (9%) of the PPD and non-PPD groups respectively reported. The authors note that a: "history of depression and/or anxiety disorders was associated with a more than 3-fold increase in the risk of PPD".With all due respect to the authors, I have to say that I'm not convinced that scoring high on the BAP is truly a major risk factor for postpartum depression. I'm not totally ruling out any relationship as per the Ingersoll findings on the BAP and depressed mood [3] or based on the increasing body of work looking at autism and subsequent mood disorders (see here for example). It's just that there are far more likely predictors/predisposers to PPD than subclinical autistic traits. Indeed, yet another paper from the HBC study [6] further hinted at some of those other factors based on that history of depression/anxiety among other things.Music then... You've got the love (Florence + The Machine version).----------[1] Asano R. et al. Broader autism phenotype as a risk factor for postpartum depression: Hamamatsu Birth Cohort (HBC) Study. Research in Autism Spectrum Disorders. 2014; 8: 1672–1678.[2] Tsuchiya KJ. et al. Searching for very early precursors of autism spectrum disorders: the Hamamatsu Birth Cohort for Mothers and Children (HBC). Journal of Developmental Origins of Health and Disease. 2010; 1: 158-173.[3] Ingersoll B. et al. Increased rates of depressed mood in mothers of children with ASD associated with the presence of the broader autism phenotype. Autism Res. 2011 Apr;4(2):143-8.[4] Verreault N. et al. Rates and risk factors associated with depressive symptoms during pregnancy and with postpartum onset. J Psychosom Obstet Gynaecol. 2014 Sep;35(3):84-91.[5] Matsumoto K. et al. Age-specific 3-month cumulative incidence of postpartum depression: the Hamamatsu Birth Cohort (HBC) Study. J Affect Disord. 2011 Oct;133(3):607-10.[6] Mori T. et al. Psychosocial risk factors for postpartum depression and their relation to timing of onset: the Hamamatsu Birth Cohort (HBC) Study. J Affect Disord. 2011 Dec;135(1-3):341-6.----------Asano, R., Tsuchiya, K., Takei, N., Harada, T., Kugizaki, Y., Nakahara, R., Nakayasu, C., Okumura, A., Suzuki, Y., Takagai, S., & Mori, N. (2014). Broader autism phenotype as a risk factor for postpartum depression: Hamamatsu Birth Cohort (HBC) Study Research in Autism Spectrum Disorders, 8 (12), 1672-1678 DOI: 10.1016/j.rasd.2014.08.010... Read more »

Asano, R., Tsuchiya, K., Takei, N., Harada, T., Kugizaki, Y., Nakahara, R., Nakayasu, C., Okumura, A., Suzuki, Y., Takagai, S.... (2014) Broader autism phenotype as a risk factor for postpartum depression: Hamamatsu Birth Cohort (HBC) Study. Research in Autism Spectrum Disorders, 8(12), 1672-1678. DOI: 10.1016/j.rasd.2014.08.010  

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