Could Treatment for Herpes Virus Reduce Risk of Alzheimer’s Disease?

MedicalResearch.com Interview with:

This photograph depicts a close-up of the lips of a patient with a herpes simplex lesion on the lower lip, due to the herpes simples virus-1 (HSV-1) CDC image

This photograph depicts a close-up of the lips of a patient with a herpes simplex lesion on the lower lip, due to the herpes simples virus-1 (HSV-1)
CDC image

Prof Ruth Itzhaki
Emeritus Professor
Division of Neuroscience & Experimental Psychology
The University of Manchester

MedicalResearch.com: What is the background for this study?

Response: The background arises from the unexpected discovery, made by my lab almost 30 years ago, that the DNA of the common virus, herpes simplex virus type 1 (HSV1), known as the “cold sore” virus, was present in a high proportion of autopsy brains from elderly humans. Subsequently, we found that HSV1, when in brain of people who have a specific genetic factor, APOE-e4, confers a strong risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease. We found also a parallelism with cold sores in that APOE-e4 is a risk for the sores, which occur in about 25-40% of people infected with HSV1.

We then looked for links between the effects of HSV1 infection of cells in culture and AD, and found some major associations between virus and disease.

Firstly, HSV1 causes an increase in the formation of a small protein called beta amyloid, which is the main component of the abnormal “plaques” seen in Alzheimer’s Disease brains.

Secondly, we discovered that in AD brains, the viral DNA is located precisely within amyloid plaques, which suggests that the virus is responsible for the formation of these abnormal structures. Thirdly, we confirmed the finding of another lab that HSV1 causes the increased formation of an abnormal form of the protein known as tau, which is the main component of the other characteristic abnormality of Alzheimer’s Disease brains – “neurofibrillary tangles”.

All these discoveries suggested that the damage caused by HSV1 leads eventually to the development of AD.

Lastly, we showed that treating HSV1-infected cells in culture greatly reduces the formation of beta amyloid and abnormal tau. This suggests that antiviral agents might be used for treating Alzheimer’s Disease patients.

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Young Pregnant Women More Likely To Be Depressed Than Their Mothers

MedicalResearch.com Interview with:

Rebecca Pearson, PhD Lecturer in Psychiatric Epidemiology Centre for Academic Mental Health School of Social & Community Medicine University of Bristol

Dr. Pearson

Rebecca Pearson, PhD
Lecturer in Psychiatric Epidemiology
Centre for Academic Mental Health
School of Social & Community Medicine
University of Bristol

MedicalResearch.com: What is the background for this study? What are the main findings? 

Response: We know depression and anxiety are common in young women and during pregnancy when there are also implications for the developing child.

It is therefore important to investigate whether symptoms are rising given the pressures of modern life.

We found that compared to their mothers generation in the 1990s young pregnancy women today are more likely to be depressed. This was driven largely by symptoms of anxiety and feeling overwhelmed rather than feeling down.  Continue reading

Machine Learning Can Help Identify First Episodes of Schizophrenia, As Well As Treatment Response

MedicalResearch.com Interview with:

Bo Cao, Ph.D. Assistant Professor Department of Psychiatry Faculty of Medicine & Dentistry University of Alberta Edmonton

Dr. Bo Cao

Bo Cao, Ph.D.
Assistant Professor
Department of Psychiatry
Faculty of Medicine & Dentistry
University of Alberta
Edmonton

MedicalResearch.com: What is the background for this study? What are the main findings?

Response: Schizophrenia is a severe psychiatric disorder that comes with delusions, hallucinations, poor motivation, cognitive impairments.

The economic burden of schizophrenia was estimated at $155.7 billion in 2013 alone in the United States. Schizophrenia usually emerges early in life and can potentially become a lifetime burden for some patients. Repeated untreated psychotic episodes may be associated with irreversible alterations of the brain. Thus, it is crucial to identify schizophrenia early and provide effective treatment. However, identifying biomarkers in schizophrenia during the first episode without the confounding effects of treatment has been challenging. Limited progress has been made in leveraging these biomarkers to establish diagnosis and make individualized predictions of future treatment responses to antipsychotics.

In a recent study by Dr. Cao and his colleagues, they successfully identified the first-episode drug-naïve schizophrenia patients (accuracy 78.6%) and predict their responses to antipsychotic treatment (accuracy 82.5%) at an individual level by using a machine learning algorithm and the functional connections of a brain region called the superior temporal cortex.  Continue reading

Structural Brain Changes in Sleep Apnea Linked to Cognitive Decline

MedicalResearch.com Interview with:
“Woman sleeping” by Timothy Krause is licensed under CC BY 2.0Nathan E. Cross PhD, first author
School of Psychology.
Sharon L. Naismith, PhD, senior author
Leonard P Ullman Chair in Psychology
Brain and Mind Centre
Neurosleep, NHMRC Centre of Research Excellence
The University of Sydney, Australia 

MedicalResearch.com: What is the background for this study? What are the main findings? 

Response: Between 30 to 50% of the risk for dementia is due to modifiable risk factors such depression, hypertension, physical inactivity, obesity, diabetes and smoking.

In recent years, multiple longitudinal cohort studies have observed a link between sleep apnoea and a greater risk (1.85 to 2.6 times more likely) of developing cognitive decline and dementia.  Furthermore, one study in over 8000 people also indicated that the presence of obstructive sleep apnoea (OSA) in older adults was associated with an earlier age of cognitive decline, and that treatment of OSA may delay the onset of cognitive impairment.

This study reveals important insights into how sleep disorders such as OSA may impact the brain in older adults, as it is associated with widespread structural alterations in diverse brain regions. We found that reduced blood oxygen levels during sleep are related to reduced thickness of the brain’s cortex in both the left and right temporal areas – regions that are important in memory and are early sites of injury in Alzheimer’s disease. Indeed, reduced thickness in these regions was associated with poorer ability to learn new information, thereby being the first to link this structural change to memory decline. Continue reading

Perinatal Folic Acid May Protect Against Serious Mental Illness in Young People

MedicalResearch.com Interview with:

Joshua L. Roffman, MD Department of Psychiatry Mass General Hospital

Dr. Roffman

Joshua L. Roffman, MD
Department of Psychiatry
Mass General Hospital

MedicalResearch.com: What is the background for this study? What are the main findings?

Response: Autism, schizophrenia, and other serious mental illness affecting young people are chronic, debilitating, and incurable at present.  Recent public health studies have associated prenatal exposure to folic acid, a B-vitamin, with reduced subsequent risk of these illnesses.  However, until this point, biological evidence supporting a causal relationship between prenatal folic acid exposure and reduced psychiatric risk has remained elusive.

We leveraged the rollout of government-mandated folic acid fortification of grain products in the U.S. from 1996-98 as a “natural experiment” to determine whether increased prenatal folic acid exposure influenced subsequent brain development.  This intervention, implemented to reduce risk of spina bifida and other disabling neural tube defects in infants, rapidly doubled blood folate levels among women of childbearing age in surveillance studies.

Across two large, independent cohorts of youths age 8 to 18 who received MRI scans, we observed increased cortical thickness, and a delay in age-related cortical thinning, in brain regions associated with schizophrenia risk among individuals who were born during or after the fortification rollout, compared to those born just before it.  Further, delayed cortical thinning also predicted reduced risk of psychosis spectrum symptoms, a finding that suggests biological plausibility in light of previous work demonstrating early and accelerated cortical thinning among school-aged individuals with autism or psychosis.

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Vision and Cognition Change Together As Older Adults Age

MedicalResearch.com Interview with:
“Old Eyeglasses” by Leyram Odacrem is licensed under CC BY 2.0Diane Zheng MS
NEI F-31 Research Fellow and a Ph.D. candidate in Epidemiology
Department of Public Health Sciences
University of Miami

MedicalResearch.com: What is the background for this study?

Response: Worsening vision and declining cognitive function are common conditions among older people. Understanding the association between them could be beneficial to alleviate age related cognitive decline.

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Study Finds Serotonin Boosts Neural Plasticity By Speeding Up Rate of Learning

MedicalResearch.com Interview with:

Kiyohito Iigaya PhD Gatsby Computational Neuroscience Unit and Max Planck UCL Centre for Computational Psychiatry and Ageing Research University College London

Dr. Iigaya

Kiyohito Iigaya PhD
Gatsby Computational Neuroscience Unit and
Max Planck UCL Centre for Computational Psychiatry and Ageing Research
University College London

MedicalResearch.com: What is the background for this study? What are the main findings?

Response: Serotonin (5-HT) is believed to play many important roles in cognitive processing, and past experiments have not crisply parsed them.

We developed a novel computational model of mice behavior that follows reinforcement learning principles, which are widely used in machine learning and AI research.

By applying this model to experimental data, we found that optogenetic 5-HT stimulation speeds up the learning rate in mice, but the effect was only apparent on select subset of choices.

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Eye Sign of Dementia Risk? Thinning of Retinal Nerve Fiber Layer

MedicalResearch.com Interview with:

Dr. Paul Foster

Dr. Foster

Paul Foster BMedSci(Hons) BMBS PhD FRCS(Ed) FRCOphth FRCS(Eng)
Professor of Glaucoma Studies & Ophthalmic Epidemiology
Research Theme Lead Integrative Epidemiology & Visual Function
UCL Institute of Ophthalmology & Moorfields Eye Hospital
London 

MedicalResearch.com: What is the background for this study? 

Response:  Dementia is the medical challenge of the moment – increasingly common, adversely impacting quality of life for millions, and a great worry for all. Efforts to identify treatments or interventions rely on being able to identify those people at greatest risk. Our motivation was to help identify those people, primarily to aid in the development of treatments through clinical trials.

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No Evidence Probiotics Will Reduce Your Anxiety

MedicalResearch.com Interview with:

Daniel Reis MA Graduate Student Clinical Psychology University of Kansas

Daniel Reis

Daniel Reis MA
Graduate Student
Clinical Psychology
University of Kansas

MedicalResearch.com: What is the background for this study? What are the main findings?

Probiotics have generated considerable interest as a possible treatment for numerous forms of physical and mental illness. Preliminary evidence from both preclinical and clinical studies suggest that probiotics may be able to reduce anxiety. Our goal was to comprehensively review and summarize existing preclinical and clinical studies.

Overall, probiotic administration reduced anxiety-like behaviors in rodents, but only in those with some form of experimentally-induced disease (such as early-life stress or socieal defeat). Probiotics did not reduce anxiety in humans.

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Stress Disorders Linked to Increase Risk of Autoimmune Disease

MedicalResearch.com Interview with:

Huan Song Associated Department of Medical Epidemiology and Biostatistics Karolinska Institutet

Huan Song

Huan Song
Associated
Department of Medical Epidemiology and Biostatistics
Karolinska Institutet

MedicalResearch.com: What is the background for this study?

Response: Earlier findings from our group (e.g. Fang et al., NEJM 2012; Arnberg et al., Lancet Psychiatry 2015; Lu et al., JAMA Oncol 2016; Shen et al., BMJ 2016; Zhu et al., Ann Oncol 2017) have identified pathways through which stressful events contribute to deterioration in human health. With strong animal models and human data supporting a role of stress in immune dysregulation, the hypothesis linking mental distress with autoimmune is indeed plausible. However, the evidence is as yet limited to clinical observations and a few larger observational studies on US veterans, most of them on men only, and some of which have cross-sectional designs and various other methodological shortcomings.

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Study finds Cannabis Use Not Associated With Increased Suicide Risk in Patients with Psychiatric Disorders

MedicalResearch.com Interview with:

“Cannabis sativa” by Manuel is licensed under CC BY 2.0

Leen Naji, BHSc, MD
Family Medicine Resident
McMaster University

MedicalResearch.com: What is the background for this study? What are the main findings?

Response: Cannabis use has consistently been linked to suicide attempt in the general population, but little data exists linking the association between cannabis use and suicide attempt amongst patients with psychiatric disorders. This is important data as we know that patients with psychiatric disorders are both more likely to use cannabis and to attempt suicide. Therefore, our goal was to study the association between cannabis use and suicide attempt amongst patients with psychiatric disorders. Additionally, since we know that women are more likely to suffer from mental health disorders, are more likely to attempt suicide and are more likely to incur the deleterious consequences of drug use at lower doses, we sought to compare the association between cannabis use and suicide attempt in men and women amongst our study population.

We conducted our analysis on a large sample of over 900 adults with psychiatric disorders (465 men, 444 women), of whom 112 men and 158 women had attempted suicide. The average age of our study sample was 40 years.

We found that cannabis use is not associated with an increased risk of suicide in patients with psychiatric disorders, though this association may vary when looking at specific subpopulations and/or amount of cannabis use. For instance, we found that heavier cannabis use is associated with an increased risk of suicide attempt amongst men with psychiatric disorders. Specifically, there was a 3% increased risk of suicide attempt for every day of cannabis use per month in men with psychiatric disorders. We also found that amongst those with psychiatric conditions, women, unemployed individuals and those with a mood disorder were at increased risk of suicide attempt.   Continue reading

Virtual Reality Improves Recall

MedicalResearch.com Interview with:

University of Maryland researchers conducted one of the first in-depth analyses on whether people recall information better through virtual reality, as opposed to desktop computers. Credit: John T. Consoli / University of Maryland

A picture of Eric Krokos, UMIACS graduate student, using the EEG Headset while on the computer.

Eric Krokos
5th-year Ph.D. student in computer science
Augmentarium visualization lab

augmentarium.umiacs.umd.edu
University of Maryland 

MedicalResearch.com: What is the background for this study? What are the main findings?

Response: I am interested in exploring the use of virtual and augmented reality in high-impact areas like education, medicine, and high-proficiency training. For VR and AR to excel as a learning tool, we felt there needed to be a baseline study on whether people would perceive information better, and thus learn better, in an immersive, virtual environment as opposed to viewing information on a two-dimensional desktop monitor or handheld device.

Our comprehensive user-study showed initial results that people are able to recall information using virtual reality—there was an 8.8 percent improvement in recall ability from our study participants using VR. Continue reading

Midlife Hypertension Increases Risk of Dementia

MedicalResearch.com Interview with:

Blood pressure monitor reading 120/80 copyright American Heart Association

Blood pressure monitor reading 120/80
copyright American Heart Association

Professor Archana Singh-Manoux, PhD, HDR Epidemiology
Research Director (DR1), INSERM
Honorary Professor, University College London

MedicalResearch.com: What is the background for this study? What are the main findings?

Response: Although there have been previous studies that have linked raised blood pressure in midlife to an increased risk of dementia in later life, the term ‘midlife’ has been poorly defined and ranged from 35 to 68 years.

New findings from the long-running Whitehall II study of over 10,000 civil servants has found 50-year-olds who had blood pressure that was higher than normal but still below the threshold commonly used when deciding to treat the condition, were at increased risk of developing dementia in later life.  Continue reading

Driving Skills May Be Harder to Master with ASD

MedicalResearch.com Interview with:
“Driving” by Martin Alvarez Espinar is licensed under CC BY 2.0Kristina Elise Patrick, Ph.D

Nationwide Children’s Hospital
Columbus, OH 43205

MedicalResearch.com: What is the background for this study? What are the main findings? 

Response: Many families of young adults with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) are concerned that they may have difficulty acquiring driver’s licenses and driving safely because of symptoms of ASD. However, the ability to drive opens the door to a variety of social, occupational, and educational experiences. We aimed to assess differences in simulated driving behaviors of young adults with ASD and those with typical development and to evaluate whether differences depended on level of driving experience and complexity of the driving task.

On average, young adults with ASD had more difficulty regulating their speed and position within their lane compared with typically developing individuals even on a very basic rural route. After completing the basic route, drivers were required to engage in more complex tasks such as changing the radio or engaging in conversation while driving, driving through a construction zone, and following behind a truck. On complex driving tasks, drivers with ASD who had acquired licensure drove similarly to typically developing drivers who had acquired licensure. However, novice drivers with ASD had more difficulty than typically developing drivers regulating their speed and position within the lane.

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Neurobiology Links Aggressive Behavior and Addiction

MedicalResearch.com Interview with:

Scott J. Russo PhD Fishberg Dept. of Neuroscience Friedman Brain Institute, and Center for Affective Neuroscience Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai New York, NY

Dr. Russo

Scott J. Russo PhD
Fishberg Dept. of Neuroscience
Friedman Brain Institute, and Center for Affective Neuroscience
Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai
New York, NY 

MedicalResearch.com: What is the background for this study? What are the main findings? 

Response: There is increasing evidence that aggressive behavior might share key features with addiction.  For example, aggressive mice develop positive associations with environmental cues associated with previous aggressive encounters (ie. they find aggression rewarding) and aggressive animals will work very hard to obtain access to a subordinate animal in order to attack them.

Some of the same brain regions that are activated in response to addictive drugs, like cocaine and morphine, are also activated by aggressive experience.  Thus we hypothesized that there may be shared neurobiological mechanisms between addiction and aggression.

Our study showed that there is accumulation of the addiction-related transcription factor, ΔFosB, in the nucleus accumbens, a brain region well know to regulate the rewarding and addictive properties of drugs of abuse.

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Highly Empathetic People Perceive Music Differently

MedicalResearch.com Interview with:
“Divine Piano” by François Philipp is licensed under CC BY 2.0Zachary Wallmark, Ph.D
Assistant Professor of Musicology Directo
MuSci Lab SMU Meadows School of the Art
Music Division Dallas, TX 75275

MedicalResearch.com: What is the background for this study? What are the main findings?

Response: Music making and listening is an intensely social behavior. Individual differences in trait empathy are associated with preferential engagement of social cognitive neural circuitry, including regions of the medial prefrontal cortex, cingulate, and insula, during the perception of socially relevant information.

In our study, we used fMRI to explore the degree to which differences in trait empathy modulate music processing in the brain.

We found that higher empathy people experience greater activation of social circuitry as well as the reward system while listening to familiar music, compared to lower empathy people.  Continue reading

Protein Functions of DISC1 Gene Linked to Schizophrenia Identified

MedicalResearch.com Interview with:
Marcelo Pablo Coba PhD
Assistant Professor of Psychiatry
Zilkha Neurogenetic Institute
Keck School of Medicine of USC

MedicalResearch.com: What is the background for this study? What are the main findings?

Response: Psychiatric diseases such as schizophrenia (SCZ) are complex brain disorders where a multitude or risk factors have been implicated in contributing to the disease, with a low number of genes that have been strongly implicated in a very low number of cases.

One of these genes is Disrupted in schizophrenia 1 (DISC1), which was first described in 2000 as a balanced translocation that segregates with schizophrenia and related psychiatric disorders in a large Scottish family. Because DISC1 does not have an identified protein function such as enzymatic, channel, transporter, etc… the field moved to try to understand what proteins are associated (physically connected) to DISC1 and to try to explain DISC1 function through the function of its protein interactors. This means that if DISC1 binds proteins X, Y and Z, then mutations in the DISC1 gene should affect the functions of   these proteins. Therefore, there has been much effort in trying to identify DISC1 protein interactors. However this task has not been straightforward.

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Amyloid PET Scan Useful in Memory Evaluation

MedicalResearch.com Interview with:
Arno de Wilde, MD / PhD candidate

Department of Neurology & Alzheimer Center
Amsterdam Neuroscience
VU University Medical Center
Amsterdam, the Netherlands

MedicalResearch.com: What is the background for this study? What are the main findings?

Response: Previous studies assessing the clinical utility of amyloid imaging used very selected research populations, limiting the translatability to clinical practice. In contrast, we used an unselected memory clinic cohort, offering amyloid PET to ALL patients visiting our memory clinic, and for the purpose of this study, we implemented amyloid PET in our routine diagnostic work-up. Our results demonstrate that amyloid PET has important consequences, in terms of diagnosis and treatment changes, for a significant number of patients within a situation that closely resembles clinical practice. I think that these results are an important step in ‘bridging the gap’ between using amyloid PET in a research setting versus daily clinical practice.

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Food Allergies More Common in Children With ASD

MedicalResearch.com Interview with:

Wei Bao, MD, PhD Assistant Professor, Epidemiology College of Public Health University of Iowa

Dr. Wei Bao

Wei Bao, MD, PhD
Assistant Professor, Epidemiology
College of Public Health
University of Iowa

MedicalResearch.com: What is the background for this study? What are the main findings?

Response: Previous studies indicated a possible link between immunologic dysfunction and autism. The current study, based on nationally representative large-scale surveys, showed that food allergy, respiratory allergy, and skin allergy, all relevant to immunological dysfunction, were associated with autism spectrum disorder among US children.

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Hypertension Disorders in Pregnancy Associated With Increase in ASD and ADHD in Offspring

MedicalResearch.com Interview with:
“Blood Pressure” by Bernard Goldbach is licensed under CC BY 2.0Ali Khashan, PhD
Senior Lecturer in Epidemiology
School of Public Health & INFANT Centre
University College Cork
Cork, Ireland

MedicalResearch.com: What is the background for this study? What are the main findings?

Response: There is some evidence to suggest an increased likelihood of neurodevelopmental disorders in relation to hypertensive disorders in pregnancy, however consensus is lacking. Considering hypertensive disorders in pregnancy are among the most common prenatal complication, we decided to synthesise the published literature on this topic by conducting a comprehensive systematic review and meta-analysis.

Our main findings suggest that hypertensive disorders in pregnancy are associated with about 30% increase in the likelihood of autism spectrum disorders (ASD) and ADHD in the offspring, compared to offspring not exposed to hypertensive disorders in pregnancy. Continue reading