Post List

Medicine posts

(Modify Search »)

  • June 25, 2014
  • 12:00 PM


by Robb Hollis in Antisense Science

Animal testing is an incredibly controversial subject, with strong opinions on both sides. Whilst animal testing for cosmetics has now been banned in the EU, animals continue to be used in science, where they serve a vital role in biomedical research and drug development. Their importance is often overshadowed by the ethical issues surrounding the treatment of animals in research environments, and it’s important that people understand why and how they are used, as well as what measures are taken to ensure that they are treated correctly and replaced where possible.
... Read more »

Hajar, R. (2011) Animal testing and medicine. Heart Views, 12(1), 42. DOI: 10.4103/1995-705X.81548  

  • June 25, 2014
  • 09:37 AM

Video Tip of the Week: Leukemia outcome predictions challenge

by Mary in OpenHelix

Although I had other tips in the pipeline, I’m bumping this one up because it is time sensitive. It’s about a competition (or challenge, as they describe it) to use data from cases of leukemia to model make predictions about the outcomes, which could help drive treatment decisions someday. It is called the Acute Myeloid […]... Read more »

Boutros Paul C, Kyle Ellrott, Thea C Norman, Kristen K Dang, Yin Hu, Michael R Kellen, Christine Suver, J Christopher Bare, Lincoln D Stein, & Paul T Spellman. (2014) Global optimization of somatic variant identification in cancer genomes with a global community challenge. Nature Genetics, 46(4), 318-319. DOI:  

  • June 25, 2014
  • 08:15 AM

They Can See The Blood Running Through You

by Mark Lasbury in As Many Exceptions As Rules

Vampire bats sense heat via pit organs in their nose-leaves, but they find their victims by sight, smell and echolocation. New research shows that an alternatively spliced version of the capsaicin receptor TRPV1 is responsible for the heat sensing, but what do they use it for? Their teeth are so short that they must find blood vessels close to the surface – shallow vessels give off more heat than do deep vessels or skin where there is no large vessel.

Vampire bats occasionally feed on humans, and they will return to the same individual for several nights. How do they find the same individual? Research shows that vampire bats can discriminate between individuals via their breathing sounds. To keep the blood flowing in their nightly buffet, vampire bats have many anticoagulants in their saliva. New research is showing how good these may be as clot buster in stroke victims, and a proteomic survey suggests that dozens more anticoagulants are present and ready for discovery.
... Read more »

Patel R, Ispoglou S, & Apostolakis S. (2014) Desmoteplase as a potential treatment for cerebral ischaemia. Expert opinion on investigational drugs, 23(6), 865-73. PMID: 24766516  

Gracheva EO, Cordero-Morales JF, González-Carcacía JA, Ingolia NT, Manno C, Aranguren CI, Weissman JS, & Julius D. (2011) Ganglion-specific splicing of TRPV1 underlies infrared sensation in vampire bats. Nature, 476(7358), 88-91. PMID: 21814281  

  • June 25, 2014
  • 04:33 AM

Silence ENO2! More epigenetics and autism

by Paul Whiteley in Questioning Answers

The paper by Yu Wang and colleagues [1] (open-access here) concluded that: "reduced ENO2 expression may be a biomarker for a subset of autistic children" following their genome-wide methylation study of autism. For those who've picked up the word 'methylation' in that first sentence, this is yet another sign that epigenetics - the science of changes to gene function not entailing structural genomic changes - is starting to impact on autism research.Silentio! @ Wikipedia Based on an initial analysis of 5 pairs of participants - five diagnosed with autism, the other five being asymptomatic controls - drawn from a larger study population (n=131 pairs), researchers conducted a genome-wide study of venous blood samples for methylation variations in gene promoter regions and CpG islands using a method called MeDIP. Candidate genes (LASS3, PANX2, SLC15A4 and ENO2) which showed differential methylation patterns between the autism vs. control samples were selected for further investigation, after which ENO2 became the target gene for the study. It was then a case of verifying the methylation status of ENO2 (via BSP sequencing) in cases and controls of the larger participant groups followed by some analysis of the expression of ENO2 with regards to RNA levels and protein expression.The results: "hypermethylation of a single gene, ENO2, may be associated with about 15 % ofautistic cases". All of the children with ENO2 hypermethylation had "significant language development disorder" which contrasted with the other children in the autism group who "had more or less spoken language" although I didn't note any specific language measure to be used in this trial. ENO2 RNA levels were "reduced by about 70% relative to that in controls" and ENO2 protein expression in the hypermethylated group "was about half of that of controls".Ergo, "ENO2 expression may be a biomarker for a subset of autistic children".OK first things first, CpG sites and DNA. Imagine if you will, that in amongst the very complicated genetic blueprint which guides things like eye colour or whether you've inherited that magnificent nose from dad or mum, there are islands of DNA which contain a particular sequence separated by phosphate: cytosine - phosphate - guanine (CpG). The cytsosine part of the CpG site can be methylated - the addition of a methyl group - to form 5-methylcytosine; methylation in this respect generally taken to mean gene silencing or at least a reduction in gene function which can then lead to decreased gene transcription and onwards less protein expression.The Wang results basically plotted how from looking at the methylation status of the genome, a specific candidate gene showing something like a distinct methylation pattern in some cases of autism was followed through to see how said methylation affects gene function. It goes without saying that this was a very preliminary study and judging by the participant numbers needed in more traditional studies looking at structural changes to the genome (SNPs, CNVs et al) replication on a much grander scale (and looking at specific tissues) is absolutely implied before anyone gets too carried away. That also it's most probably autisms over autism together with the the principles of RDoC are other issues to be kept in mind.Still, I don't want to take anything away from the Wang results and what they 'could' potentially mean in light of other research in this area. Whether or not ENO2 survives future replicative studies is to some extent secondary to the question of why this gene was hypermethylated in the first place? Does this suggest a role for some of the DNA methyltransferases in relation to autism? What about the mechanisms of methyl donation and the functions of things like S-Adenosyl methionine (SAMe) in that process? Lots of different layers of complexity to be added to our knowledge of the genome.Music to close. Coldplay and Magic...----------[1] Wang Y. et al. Hypermethylation of the enolase gene (ENO2) in autism. Eur J Pediatr. 2014 Apr 17.----------Wang Y, Fang Y, Zhang F, Xu M, Zhang J, Yan J, Ju W, Brown WT, & Zhong N (2014). Hypermethylation of the enolase gene (ENO2) in autism. European journal of pediatrics PMID: 24737292... Read more »

Wang Y, Fang Y, Zhang F, Xu M, Zhang J, Yan J, Ju W, Brown WT, & Zhong N. (2014) Hypermethylation of the enolase gene (ENO2) in autism. European journal of pediatrics. PMID: 24737292  

  • June 24, 2014
  • 01:34 PM

Autism and Pesticides: What, too obvious?

by Gabriel in Lunatic Laboratories

There have been a few different things linked to children who fall under the Autism Spectrum Disorder. A combination of genetic and environmental factors, along with complications during pregnancy have been associated […]... Read more »

Shelton, J., Geraghty, E., Tancredi, D., Delwiche, L., Schmidt, R., Ritz, B., Hansen, R., & Hertz-Picciotto, I. (2014) Neurodevelopmental Disorders and Prenatal Residential Proximity to Agricultural Pesticides: The CHARGE Study. Environmental Health Perspectives. DOI: 10.1289/ehp.1307044  

  • June 24, 2014
  • 12:22 PM

E-cigarettes and Smoking Cessation

by William Yates, M.D. in Brain Posts

Electronic or e-cigarettes are a tobacco cigarette alternative that is growing in popularity.Proponents of e-cigarettes note the product contains no carbon monoxide, tar or other tobacco residue. The inhaled vapor in e-cigarettes is primarily nicotine.Additionally, some proponents of e-cigarettes declare the product is associated with reduction or cessation of tobacco-based cigarette use.Unfortunately, this is an area where public health trends come before scientific research data is collected. Few studies of the safety and effectiveness of e-cigarettes in smoking cessation have been published.One large study of electronic cigarettes and smoking cessation was completed and recently published in the journal Lancet.In this study, 657 smokers who wanted to quit were randomized one of three interventions: 16 mg nicotine e-cigarettes, 21 mg nicotine patches or placebo e-cigarette (nicotine free).  Abstinence from cigarettes was verified by low concentrations of carbon monoxide.At the end of the study the cigarette abstinence rates for the three groups were:E-cigarettes: 7.3%Nicotine patch: 5.8%Placebo e-cigarettes: 4.1%These low rates of abstinence across all interventions were surprising to the researchers conducting the study. The overall low rates of abstinence reduced the statistical power of the study and no statistical difference across the three groups could be proven.Some smokers adopting e-cigarettes do not desire or intent to quit. In this group, a separate research question is what is the natural history of cigarette smoking in high-risk populations who start to use e-cigarettes?One small study looking at this question has been published in a group of 14 smokers with schizophrenia.In this study, smoking subjects were allowed to use ad lib an e-cigarette product. Subjects kept a diary of the number of tobacco cigarettes smoked.The results of this study found 2 of the 14 subjects quit tobacco cigarettes over the year long course of the study. An additional seven subjects reduced the number of cigarettes smoked by  50% or more by the end of the study. No adverse effects on schizophrenia symptoms levels were noted by participation in this study.With such a limited research database, it is really too early to make a recommendation about e-cigarettes as a tool for smoking cessation.There are quite a few studies in the pipeline that should inform smokers and clinicians. A query using the search term e-cigarette at the website produced 27 research study listings. Readers can access this list here.Readers with more interest in the two studies summarized here can access the abstracts and free full-text (schizophrenia study only) in the citations below.Photo of skimmer birds at sunset on South Padre Island, TX is from the author's files.Follow the author on Twitter at:  WRY999Bullen, C., Howe, C., Laugesen, M., McRobbie, H., Parag, V., Williman, J., & Walker, N. (2013). Electronic cigarettes for smoking cessation: a randomised controlled trial The Lancet, 382 (9905), 1629-1637 DOI: 10.1016/S0140-6736(13)61842-5Caponnetto P, Auditore R, Russo C, Cappello GC, & Polosa R (2013). Impact of an electronic cigarette on smoking reduction and cessation in schizophrenic smokers: a prospective 12-month pilot study. International journal of environmental research and public health, 10 (2), 446-61 PMID: 23358230... Read more »

Bullen, C., Howe, C., Laugesen, M., McRobbie, H., Parag, V., Williman, J., & Walker, N. (2013) Electronic cigarettes for smoking cessation: a randomised controlled trial. The Lancet, 382(9905), 1629-1637. DOI: 10.1016/S0140-6736(13)61842-5  

  • June 24, 2014
  • 11:50 AM

Turning Off Inflammation: A Novel Anti-Inflammatory Switch in Macrophages

by Jalees Rehman in The Next Regeneration

Macrophages are important immune cells which regulate inflammation, host defense and also act as a 'clean-up crew'. They recognize, kill and engulf bacteria as well as cellular debris, which is generated during an acute infection or inflammation. As such, they are present in nearly all tissues of the body, engaging in 24/7 surveillance. Some macrophages in a tissue are derived from circulating blood monocytes which migrate into the tissue and become "phagocytic" - acquire to ability to "eat". Other macrophage types permanently reside within a tissue such as peritoneal macrophages in the abdomen or microglia in the brain. Macrophages constitute a highly diverse population of cells. For example, their tissue localization determines what genes are turned on in any given macrophage type and how they will function. One of the most important recent developments in macrophage biology and immunology has been the realization that tissue macrophages can be broadly divided into at least two very distinct subsets: M1 and M2.... Read more »

  • June 24, 2014
  • 06:31 AM

The FDA’s Antidepressant Warning Didn’t Really “Backfire”

by Neuroskeptic in Neuroskeptic_Discover

We read this week that ‘Black Box’ Warning on Antidepressants Raised Suicide Attempts A so-called “black box” warning on antidepressants that the medications increase the risk of suicidal thinking and behavior in kids may have had a horrible side-effect. New research finds the warning backfired, causing an increase in suicide attempts by teens and young […]The post The FDA’s Antidepressant Warning Didn’t Really “Backfire” appeared first on Neuroskeptic.... Read more »

  • June 23, 2014
  • 09:19 PM

More bang for your photonic buck: nano-engineered quantum dots provide avenue for improved solar cell efficiency

by Jonathan Trinastic in Goodnight Earth

New national lab research has found a specific quantum dot structure optimized for multiexciton generation, an exciting new lead for improved solar cell efficiency.... Read more »

Cirloganu CM, Padilha LA, Lin Q, Makarov NS, Velizhanin KA, Luo H, Robel I, Pietryga JM, & Klimov VI. (2014) Enhanced carrier multiplication in engineered quasi-type-II quantum dots. Nature communications, 4148. PMID: 24938462  

  • June 23, 2014
  • 03:53 PM

Pesticides and autism: chapter II

by Paul Whiteley in Questioning Answers

I've labelled this entry a chapter II post reflecting some continued interest in how agricultural pesticide exposure might fit into autism research (see here for the chapter I post). In that previous post, I talked about various issues such as the old correlation-is-not-necessarily-causation mantra and indeed, how use of something like galantamine for cases of autism spectrum disorder (ASD) [1] might present something of a paradox for certain types of pesticides being involved in the condition, as a function of its similar acetylcholinesterase inhibitor activity (albeit reversible).Altogether Now? @ Wikipedia Continuing the pesticide theme, I'm talking today about the paper by Janie Shelton and colleagues [2] (open-access) and their results strengthening "the evidence linking neurodevelopmental disorders with gestational pesticide exposures, and particularly, organophosphates". Some of the press on this study be seen here.Based on data derived from the CHARGE study (beincharge!) authors reported that maternal residence during pregnancy close to locations undertaking "agricultural pesticide application" might elevate the risk of offspring autism; something previously discussed by some of the authors [3]. Results from CHARGE by the way, have already talked about other environmental associations with autism risk such as air pollution (see here). This initiative also recently confirmed what many people already knew in saying the gastrointestinal (GI) symptoms seem to be over-represented in cases of autism (see here).The Shelton paper is open-access but here are a few pointers:With an authorship list of the great and the good associated with CHARGE, commercial pesticide use data was linked to the addresses of mothers when pregnant for groups diagnosed with autism (n=486) or developmental delay (DD) (n=168) compared with asymptomatic controls (n=316) living in California, USA. As alluded to in a post on that most undesirable of jobs - the commercial pesticide applicator - commercial pesticide use tends to be quite tightly regulated as a result of the potential for health effects when mis-used.Various models and algorithms built up a statistical picture of different classes of pesticides, their use and when and where they sprayed. The authors aimed to ascertain whether gestational exposure was linked to autism risk and whether there were "specific windows of vulnerability during gestation". Results: bearing in mind there were quite a few estimates built into this study, a few points are worth mentioning. "Proximity to organophosphates at some time during gestation was associated with a 60% increased risk for ASD". Organophosphate (OP) pesticides were also "the most commonly applied agricultural pesticide near the home during pregnancy" and chlorpyrifos exposure in particular, during the 2nd trimester, seemed to show some association with offspring ASD risk."Children of mothers residing near pyrethroid insecticide applications, just prior to conception or during 3rd trimester were at greater risk for both ASD and DD". Pyrethroids were the "second most commonly applied class of pesticides".A few additional points: males were slightly more likely than females to be exposed to pesticides during gestation, and the effects of multiple exposures (various different classes of pesticides) was generally "not found to be higher that the observations of the individual classes of pesticides".Reiterating that this was a study based on estimation rather than looking at actual individual pesticide exposure during pregnancy or any biological testing for said exposure, this is an interesting study. I say that not to further condemn pesticides, which actually do quite a good job at helping to maintain our food supply and reduce our exposure to various pests. But rather that further study is indicated in this area as a result. The authors note the various strengths of their study based to a large extent on the fairly extensive data held on CHARGE participants. Likewise they note that their study did not for example, take into account "external non-agricultural sources" of pesticides such as those which many of us see sprayed around our homes, gardens and other areas of residence/work which could have affected their data. An 'underestimate' in actual exposure according to some external commentary on the study.The question of pesticide exposure being potentially linked to autism risk carries quite a bit of the same baggage as the air pollution correlation. Yes, to some degree, we're all pretty unfit for consumption (see here) as a function of our 'chemical load' - bearing in mind the mis-representation of that word. Some people use this generality as a stick to beat such hypotheses on environment being potentially linked to conditions like autism (yes, we know the autisms are a complicated set of conditions). But as we've seen with the air pollution work, it may be the sum of the environmental risks combined with some genetic fragility which eventually provides the more important answers (see here); something which Shelton et al conclude: "Further research on gene-by-environment interactions may reveal vulnerable sub-populations". I might at this point also throw in a related post on Reelin and OPs as one area where we might begin searching.In terms of the mechanism of effect, well if other autism research is anything to go by, it's gonna be complicated and probably not just confined to old the grey-pink matter. The obvious place to start looking would be the biological mechanisms which we rely on to metabolise things like OPs. PON1 is a good example, and as I've mentioned in other posts (see here) how PON1 has already seen some autism research action [4]. Indeed the paper by Gaita and colleagues [5] adds to the interest here and their findings of decreased serum arylesterase activity in case of autism. Paşca and colleagues [6] further suggested that a correlation (that word again) between hig... Read more »

Janie F. Shelton, Estella M. Geraghty, Daniel J. Tancredi,, Lora D. Delwiche, Rebecca J. Schmidt, Beate Ritz, Robin L. Hansen, & Irva Hertz-Picciotto. (2014) Neurodevelopmental disorders and prenatal residential proximity to agricultural pesticides: The CHARGE study. Environmental Health Perspectives. info:/10.1289/ehp.1307044

  • June 23, 2014
  • 02:59 PM

Methadone side effects – practising harm reduction on the harm reduction

by DJMac in Recovery Review

Methadone, evidenced in harm reduction outcomes, is not without its potential pitfalls. It looks like one of these is osteoporosis, or thinning of the bones. All men on methadone maintenance programmes should be having bone checkups. That was the conclusion of a past paper in the journal Addiction. Why? It looks like taking methadone long [...]
The post Methadone side effects – practising harm reduction on the harm reduction appeared first on Recovery Review.
... Read more »

Grey, A., Rix-Trott, K., Horne, A., Gamble, G., Bolland, M., & Reid, I. (2011) Decreased bone density in men on methadone maintenance therapy. Addiction, 106(2), 349-354. DOI: 10.1111/j.1360-0443.2010.03159.x  

  • June 23, 2014
  • 01:30 PM

The Iceman Cometh

by Gabriel in Lunatic Laboratories

Are you so fat you can’t see your toes? Have you forgotten what toes even look like? Have you been mistaken for the infamous “Kool-aid man”? Want to shed the […]... Read more »

Lee, P., Smith, S., Linderman, J., Courville, A., Brychta, R., Dieckmann, W., Werner, C., Chen, K., & Celi, F. (2014) Temperature-acclimated brown adipose tissue modulates insulin sensitivity in humans. Diabetes. DOI: 10.2337/db14-0513  

Liu, M., Bai, J., He, S., Villarreal, R., Hu, D., Zhang, C., Yang, X., Liang, H., Slaga, T., Yu, Y.... (2014) Grb10 Promotes Lipolysis and Thermogenesis by Phosphorylation-Dependent Feedback Inhibition of mTORC1. Cell Metabolism, 19(6), 967-980. DOI: 10.1016/j.cmet.2014.03.018  

  • June 23, 2014
  • 10:52 AM

Varenicline for Smoking Cessation

by William Yates, M.D. in Brain Posts

Varenicline is a drug designed to assist smokers in cessation. It is marketed in the U.S. as Chantix.Varenicline is one of the first drugs to target the nicotine receptor. It is classified as a partial agonist, meaning it stimulates the nicotine receptor but to a weaker effect than nicotine itself.The mechanism of action of varenicline differs from that of another smoking cessation drug bupropion marked under trade name Zyban in the U.S.One concern with varenicline is the risk for psychiatric adverse effects including increase in anxiety ratings, increase in depression ratings and increased suicidality.There have been several studies over the last year that have expanded the knowledge base on varenicline. Here are four that I found from a search of PubMed.Clinical trial finds combining varenicline with bupropion improves quit ratesA randomized clinical trial of 506 subjects with nicotine dependence was completed across several setting in the U.S.  At 12 weeks 53% of subjects in the combined varenicline/buproprion were smoking abstinent compared to 43% of those in the varenicline alone group.The was a slight increase in reported anxiety (7.2% vs 3.1%) and depression (3.6% vs 0.8%) in the combined therapy groups.Combined varenicline/bupropion helpful in those failing nicotine patch treatmentA group of 222 smokers who failed to respond to a nicotine patch trial were randomized to varenicline plus bupropion versus varenicline alone. Abstinence rates at 12 weeks were 39.8% for the combined drug group compared to 25.9% for the varenicline plus placebo group. This was a statistically significant advantage. Combined therapy appeared more helpful for male smokers and smokers with higher levels of nicotine dependence.Varenicline effective and safe in a sample of subjects with major depressionThe safety and effectiveness of varenicline in the original trials typically was studied in individuals without a psychiatric history of depression or suicidal ideation. Anthenelli and colleagues recruited a series of smokers with current major depression or a history of major depression for a varenicline study. Varenicline 1 mg twice daily was compared to placebo in a 12 week randomized controlled trial.Subjects with recent major depression had to be on a stable antidepressant treatment regimen for 2 months prior to enrollment.Varenicline treated subjects had higher abstinence rates at 9 to 12 weeks (35.9% vs 15.6%). Importantly, the varencline treated group at risk for depression showed no increase in suicidal ideation, anxiety or depression during active treatment.Belgium study finds predictors for success with vareniclineBoudrez and colleagues examined a cohort of varenicline treated subjects. The time to first cigarette on awakening was found to be related to smoking cessation rates. At week 12, the odds ratio for time to first cigarette and abstinence was 0.69 (95% confidence interval 0.50 to 0.94). This suggests varenicline as more effective in those with shorter duration to first cigarette an indicator of nicotine dependence.This study also found use of behavioural support predicted higher quit rates in smokers.CommentaryThese four studies lend support to the effectiveness and safety of varenicline in smoking cessation drug therapy. Combining varenicline with the antidepressant bupropion may boost quit success rates.These results also support use of varenicline as a treatment option for those with a history or current depression. This group appears to have somewhat lower rates of success compared to non-depressed sample groups.Clinical trials for those with nicotine dependence and a psychiatric diagnosis are important. Several psychiatric disorders have increased rates of smoking and nicotine dependence. It is probably best to consider smoking cessation drug treatment during periods of remission and stability of the primary psychiatric diagnosisReaders with more interest in this topic can access the abstracts by clicking on the links below. The Anthenelli et al citation has a link to a free full text manuscript.Disclosure: The author has no financial association with any pharmaceutical company including the maker of varenicline in the U.S. This post topic was selected and completed by the author alone with no payment.Follow the author on Twitter at WRY999Photo of American bittern in South Padre Island, TX is from the author's files.Ebbert JO, Hatsukami DK, Croghan IT, Schroeder DR, Allen SS, Hays JT, & Hurt RD (2014). Combination varenicline and bupropion SR for tobacco-dependence treatment in cigarette smokers: a randomized trial. JAMA : the journal of the American Medical Association, 311 (2), 155-63 PMID: 24399554Rose JE, & Behm FM (2014). Combination Treatment With Varenicline and Bupropion in an Adaptive Smoking Cessation Paradigm. The American journal of psychiatry PMID: 24934962Anthenelli RM, Morris C, Ramey TS, Dubrava SJ, Tsilkos K, Russ C, & Yunis C (2013). Effects of varenicline on smoking cessation in adults with stably treated current or past major depression: a randomized trial. Annals of internal medicine, 159 (6), 390-400 PMID: 24042367... Read more »

  • June 23, 2014
  • 10:30 AM

The Iceman Cometh

by Gabriel in Lunatic Laboratories

Are you so fat you can't see your toes? Have you forgotten what toes even look like? Have you been mistaken for the infamous "Kool-aid man"? Want to shed the pounds easier than taking off your shirt? Well too bad, that is science fiction and the stuff of horrid marketing ploys and this my friends is a science website. Losing weight is hard, I've written several articles on it in fact. Nothing is going to be more effective at weight loss than a sensible diet, a calorie deficit and maybe some insoluble fiber that I mentioned in the very first article I've written.... Read more »

Lee, P., Smith, S., Linderman, J., Courville, A., Brychta, R., Dieckmann, W., Werner, C., Chen, K., & Celi, F. (2014) Temperature-acclimated brown adipose tissue modulates insulin sensitivity in humans. Diabetes. DOI: 10.2337/db14-0513  

Liu, M., Bai, J., He, S., Villarreal, R., Hu, D., Zhang, C., Yang, X., Liang, H., Slaga, T., Yu, Y.... (2014) Grb10 Promotes Lipolysis and Thermogenesis by Phosphorylation-Dependent Feedback Inhibition of mTORC1. Cell Metabolism, 19(6), 967-980. DOI: 10.1016/j.cmet.2014.03.018  

  • June 23, 2014
  • 06:17 AM

Why Measles, Whooping Cough (And Autism) Are Expanding

by Rebekah Morrow in United Academics

Preventable diseases such as whooping cough and measles are more prevalent now than they have been in many years. Most of these outbreaks occur in places where vaccination levels are low. What does this mean for the global population, both vaccinated and unvaccinated?... Read more »

John TJ, & Samuel R. (2000) Herd immunity and herd effect: new insights and definitions. European journal of epidemiology, 16(7), 601-6. PMID: 11078115  

  • June 23, 2014
  • 04:30 AM

Kata training and autism

by Paul Whiteley in Questioning Answers

The actor and musician Steven Seagal is probably not natural fodder for this blog about autism research but he does nevertheless make an appearance today. More readily known for his action films - my favourite was always 'Under Siege' - one of the appeals of Mr Seagal was his knowledge and use of martial arts in his various roles, as a function of his quite impressive real-life black belt in Aikido.Obi Wan... no Obi knot @ Wikipedia It is with martial arts in mind that today I'm talking about an interesting paper by Ahmadreza Movahedi and colleagues [1] and some observations on the use of kata techniques on social interactive abilities in a small group of children diagnosed with an autism spectrum disorder (ASD). Kata by the way, refer to the various structured patterns of movements practised as part of martial arts like karate. Normally incorporating various blocks and offensive (attacking) movements, kata are an integral part of martial arts training and vary in their complexity and number of moves (see here). Practice makes perfect is the primary tenet of kata training.A few details about the Movahedi paper might be useful:Thirty children diagnosed with ASD formed the participant group. None had any experience or training in kata techniques. They were randomly assigned to an exercise group (n=15) or a control group (n=15). Heian Shodan (see this video for what this encompasses) kata was the chosen "experimental task" (one of the first kata taught in Shotokan karate). Training was delivered to the exercise group as part of a structured schedule; all sessions were videotaped to "control the trainers' teaching method as precisely as possible".Exercise group participants received kata instruction "1 session/day. 4 days/week for 14 weeks (56 sessions)". Sessions involved initially watching a video of someone performing the kata and then receiving personal instruction from trainers onwards to performing the kata. Warm-up and cool-down exercise started and finished each session whilst "Persian music" was playing (this study was completed in Iran).Social interaction was measured at baseline before intervention and post-intervention at 14 weeks based on the use of the Gilliam Autism Rating Scale (GARS-2). Observations were carried out by "caregivers, parents and teachers" and based on the "frequency of occurrence of each social behaviour under ordinary circumstances in a 6-h period".Results: there was no significant differences on the social interaction subscale of the GARS at baseline (before intervention) between the groups. After intervention however "the participants of the exercise group demonstrated a substantial improvement in social interaction" compared to the control participants. This improvement also seemed to last even after 30 days of no training at the conclusion of the kata training for the exercise group. The authors concluded that kata training is an effective avenue for improving social interaction for children with ASD. Perhaps wider that their results may help providers to "decide to establish strategic plans under which martial arts techniques will best be instructed to children with ASD".Bearing in mind the small numbers of participants included in this study, I was impressed by these findings. I'm quite a fan of the martial arts and some of the philosophy behind them and how they might relate to various facets of autism, be it stress (see here and see here), self-confidence (see here) or just getting someone more active (see here). Most people who take part in and/or watch loved ones take part in activities such as karate, whether diagnosed with autism or not, see very quickly how such training offers a multitude of benefits outside of just increased physical activity (and onwards academic performance?). Self-confidence and self-regulation (difficult concepts to measure) tend to be some of the primary psychological benefits of the martial arts. Whether this comes from the actual training or as a result of the knowledge that the training brings is still a question open to some debate. Anger and aggression can also be 'channelled' as a function of certain martial arts training [2]. Given the principles on which something like karate is based, this is perhaps not all that surprising. The social interactive aspect included in martial arts reflects interaction with both Sensei (teacher) and other students, who, in a real-life setting, will generally include various ages and various different grades (see here) and hence incorporates a spirit of partner practising and helping out those less experienced. All these elements can positively combine together to promote a sense of belonging.Other research has also looked at the effects of kata training on other aspects of autism. The paper by Bahrami and colleagues [3] (yes, the same authorship group) talked (I think) about the same participant group also showing "significantly reduced stereotypy" following training. Again, the benefits were seen even after the training period had been completed. A further case study paper by the same authors showed similar things [4].The paper by Torres [5] using martial arts training as a means to assess movement in relation to autism hints at another interesting area of potential study. It's long been discussed in autism research circles that movement and gait seem to be 'affected' in quite a few instances of autism [6]. I've covered some of the peripheral issues on this blog including toe walking (see here) and that curious issue of joint hypermobility (see here) talked about further in a paper by Shetreat-Klein and colleagues [7]. The intriguing question is whether the often very intricate and certainly 'balance-orientated' movements included in kata training might likewise have some positive effects on autism. Indeed if, as is starting to be discussed, motor skills do show a connection with autism characteristics [8], whether the effects of kata training on motor skills may be a route to affecting other core issues associated with autism?So, music to close. I'll forgo the obvious music with a martial arts slant (no, not Kung-Fu fighting) and instead go for some Arctic Monkeys.... I bet that you look good on the dance floor (well, do yer?)----------[1] Movahedi A. et al. Improvement in social dysfunction of children with autism spectrum disorder following long term Kata techniques training. Resear... Read more »

  • June 23, 2014
  • 12:28 AM

The rainbow diet pills: there and back again

by Shelly Fan in Neurorexia

* This post contains spoilers for Requiem for a Dream. Last night I re-watched Requiem for a Dream, a Darren Aronofsky masterpiece that is perhaps...... Read more »

Cohen PA, Goday A, & Swann JP. (2012) The return of rainbow diet pills. American journal of public health, 102(9), 1676-86. PMID: 22813089  

  • June 23, 2014
  • 12:05 AM

How Much is Too Much? Defining Nonprescription Pain Medication Misuse

by Jane McDevitt in Sports Medicine Research (SMR): In the Lab & In the Field

Division II and III athletes use and misuse nonprescription pain medication for sports-related pain less often compared with Division 1-A football athletes.... Read more »

  • June 22, 2014
  • 08:04 PM

Review of Lieberman et al's (2010) paper in Nature on Barefoot Running

by Craig Payne in Running Research Junkie

Review of Lieberman et al's (2010) paper in Nature on Barefoot Running... Read more »

Lieberman DE, Venkadesan M, Werbel WA, Daoud AI, D'Andrea S, Davis IS, Mang'eni RO, & Pitsiladis Y. (2010) Foot strike patterns and collision forces in habitually barefoot versus shod runners. Nature, 463(7280), 531-5. PMID: 20111000  

  • June 21, 2014
  • 10:50 PM

Meta-analysing cytokine involvement in autism

by Paul Whiteley in Questioning Answers

A fairly brief post today to draw your attention to the "systematic review and meta-analysis" paper by Masi and colleagues [1] on all-things cytokine in relation to autism. They concluded that there was "strengthening evidence of an abnormal cytokine profile in ASD [autism spectrum disorder] where inflammatory signals dominate". I should point out that other authors have reached similar conclusions in previous reviews [2] and here also [3]."The herring does not fry here" @ Wikipedia In case you didn't know, cytokines are the chemical messengers of the immune system (see here) and perform various important tasks in relation to processes such as inflammation (see here). Autism research has a growing respect for the role of cytokines in quite a few cases of autism as per the growth in the amount of research literature available in this area (see here). I've covered quite a few papers focused on cytokines and autism on this blog (see here and see here for example) down the years.The Masi paper is an important one because it gathered quite a bit of the peer-reviewed research literature mentioning cytokines and autism together and for want of better words, 'statistically spat' out the sum total of the findings from the various studies. A couple of old friends "were significantly higher in the participants with ASD" compared with control populations including interleukin 1-beta (IL-1β), IL-6, interferon-gamma (IFNγ) and monocyte chemotactic protein-1 (MCP-1) potentially indicative of a more pro-inflammatory state. A general reduction in the levels of more 'anti-inflammatory' molecules such as transforming growth factor-beta 1 (TGF-β1) [4] added to proceedings.It's perhaps slightly unfair to say that these and other cytokines noted to be generally elevated in relation to autism are solely pro-inflammatory cytokines (i.e. inducing or maintaining inflammation) because that's not necessarily the way they always work. IL-6 for example, is now realised as being both a pro-inflammatory and anti-inflammatory molecule [5]. That being said, the growing recognition that inflammation and inflammatory processes may have some bearing on brain and behaviour (see here) ties in well with the Masi findings and where science perhaps needs to start looking with greater vigour if one is going to understand the interplay between immune function and psychiatry. As the authors note: "A better understanding of the inflammatory biology of ASD and possible associations with behavioral impairments and non-diagnostic features warrants further investigation and may have significant therapeutic implications". I can't argue with those sentiments, although as per the recent paper by Careaga and colleagues [6] how science goes about looking at that relationship is going to be important.Oh, and on the topic of MCP-1, the paper by Zerbo and colleagues [7] observing elevations in the levels of this cytokine in newborn blood spots from those subsequently diagnosed with autism is indeed timely... (and again reiterates the potentially usefulness of those drops of blood which many children give in their earliest days welcomed into the big, wide world).Music now. Daft Punk, and before Get Lucky, they were already Around the World.----------[1] Masi A. et al. Cytokine aberrations in autism spectrum disorder: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Molecular Psychiatry. 2014. June 17.[2] Goines PE. & Ashwood P. Cytokine dysregulation in autism spectrum disorders (ASD): possible role of the environment. Neurotoxicol Teratol. 2013 Mar-Apr;36:67-81.[3] Onore C. et al. The role of immune dysfunction in the pathophysiology of autism. Brain Behav Immun. 2012 Mar;26(3):383-92.[4] Qian L. et al. Potent anti-inflammatory and neuroprotective effects of TGF-beta1 are mediated through the inhibition of ERK and p47phox-Ser345 phosphorylation and translocation in microglia. J Immunol. 2008 Jul 1;181(1):660-8.[5] Scheller J. et al. The pro- and anti-inflammatory properties of the cytokine interleukin-6. Biochimica et Biophysica Acta (BBA) - Molecular Cell Research. 2011; 1813: 878-888.[6] Careaga M. et al. Inflammatory profiles in the BTBR mouse: How relevant are they to Autism Spectrum Disorders? Brain Behav Immun. 2014 Jun 14. pii: S0889-1591(14)00171-8.[7] Zerbo O. et al. Neonatal cytokines and chemokines and risk of Autism Spectrum Disorder: the Early Markers for Autism (EMA) study: a case-control study. Journal of Neuroinflammation 2014, 11:113----------Masi, A., Quintana, D., Glozier, N., Lloyd, A., Hickie, I., & Guastella, A. (2014). Cytokine aberrations in autism spectrum disorder: a systematic review and meta-analysis Molecular Psychiatry DOI: 10.1038/mp.2014.59... Read more »

join us!

Do you write about peer-reviewed research in your blog? Use to make it easy for your readers — and others from around the world — to find your serious posts about academic research.

If you don't have a blog, you can still use our site to learn about fascinating developments in cutting-edge research from around the world.

Register Now

Research Blogging is powered by SMG Technology.

To learn more, visit