Study Identifies Gene Mechanism Linked to Fear and Aggression

MedicalResearch.com Interview with:

Prof. Carmen Sandi Director, Brain Mind Institute Laboratory of Behavioral Genetics Brain Mind Institute Ecole Polytechnique Federale de Lausanne Lausanne, Switzerland 

Prof. Sandi

Prof. Carmen Sandi
Director, Brain Mind Institute
Laboratory of Behavioral Genetics
Brain Mind Institute
Ecole Polytechnique Federale de Lausanne
Lausanne, Switzerland 

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

Response: We are interested in understanding how the brain regulates social behaviors and aggression, both in healthy individuals and individuals with psychiatric disorders. In our recent publication in Molecular Psychiatry, we investigated the impact of an alteration in a gene, St8sia2, that plays important roles during early brain development. Alterations in this gene have been linked with schizophrenia, autism and bipolar disorder, and individuals with these disorders frequently present high aggressiveness. In addition, expression of this gene in the brain can be altered by stressful insults during very early life and development.

Our study shows that genetic and environmental conditions linked to a reduction in the expression of this neuroplasticity gene during early life can lead to impaired fear learning and associated pathological aggression. We could further reveal that deficits in St8sia2 expression lead to a dysfunction in a receptor in the amygdala (a brain region critically involved in emotionality and fear learning), the GluN2B subunit of NMDA Receptors.

This allowed us to target this receptor with D-cycloserine, a drug that facilitates NMDA receptor function. This treatment, when given acutely, ameliorated the capacity to learn from adversity and reduced individuals’ aggressiveness.  Continue reading

Obesity Links PTSD and Diabetes Risk

MedicalResearch.com Interview with:

Jeff Scherrer, Ph.D. Associate professor; Research director Department of Family and Community Medicine Saint Louis University Center for Health Outcomes Research

Dr. Scherrer

Jeff Scherrer, Ph.D.
Associate professor; Research director
Department of Family and Community Medicine
Saint Louis University Center for Health Outcomes Research 

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

Response: The rationale for this study comes from evidence that patients with PTSD are more likely to be obese than persons without PTSD and have more difficulty losing weight.

Given the obesity epidemic and substantial role of obesity in risk of type 2 diabetes, we sought to determine if obesity accounted for the existing evidence that PTSD is a risk factor for incident type 2 diabetes.  Other studies have adjusted for obesity or BMI in models that control for obesity/BMI and other confounders simultaneously which prohibits measuring the independent role of obesity on the ass Continue reading

Parents’ Religiosity May Influence Suicidal Risk in Children

MedicalResearch.com Interview with:

Priya Wickramaratne PhD Associate Professor of Clinical Biostatistics (in Psychiatry) Department of Psychiatry, College of Physicians and Surgeons Columbia University New York State Psychiatric Institute New York

Dr. Wickramaratne

Priya Wickramaratne PhD
Associate Professor of Clinical
Biostatistics (in Psychiatry)
Department of Psychiatry, College of Physicians and Surgeons
Columbia University
New York State Psychiatric Institute
New York

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

Response: Approximately 12% of adolescents in the United States report having thoughts about attempting suicide. Moreover, suicide is a primary cause of death among females 15 to 19 years of age. Religious and spiritual beliefs have received little attention in previous research examining risk and protective factors of child and adolescent suicide. This study used data from a three-generation study of 214 children and adolescents from 112 nuclear families whose parents were at high or low risk for major depressive disorder to study the association of children and parent’s religious beliefs with risk of suicidal behavior in the children.

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 Four Brain-Guided Dimensions of Psychopathology: Mood, Psychosis, Fear, and Disruptive Behavior

MedicalResearch.com Interview with:
MedicalResearch.com Interview with: Dr. Theodore Satterthwaite MD Assistant professor in the department of Psychiatry, and Cedric Xia, a MD-PhD candidate Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania MedicalResearch.com: What is the background for this study? What are the main findings? Response: Unlike other branches of modern medicine, psychiatry still solely replies on patient reports and physician observations for clinical decision-making. Without biologically-based tests, the diagnostic categories for mental health do not carve nature at its joint. This is evident in the high levels of co-morbidity across disorders and heterogeneity within disorders. Through this research, we studied a large sample of adolescents who completed MRI-based functional imaging, and used recently-developed machine learning techniques to uncover specific abnormalities that are highly predictive of a wide variety of psychiatric symptoms. Essentially, we tried to find brain patterns that were predictive of different types of psychiatric symptoms. We discovered four such brain-guided dimensions of psychopathology: mood, psychosis, fear, and disruptive behavior. While each of these dimensions exhibits a unique pattern of brain connectivity, a common feature of brain anomaly is shared across the dimensions. Notably, in all linked dimensions, the default mode network and fronto-parietal network, two brain regions that usually become increasingly distinct as the brain matures, were abnormally connected. This loss of normal brain network segregation supports the hypothesis that many psychiatric illnesses may be disorders of brain development. MedicalResearch.com: What should readers take away from your report? Response: This study shows that we can start to use the brain to guide our understanding of psychiatric disorders in a way that’s fundamentally different than grouping symptoms into clinical diagnostic categories. By moving away from clinical labels developed decades ago, we can begin to let the biology speak for itself. Our ultimate hope is that understanding the biology of mental illnesses will allow us to develop better treatments for our patients. MedicalResearch.com: What recommendations do you have for future research as a result of this work? Response: This study demonstrates the importance of incorporating vast amounts of biological data to study mental illness across clinical diagnostic boundaries. Moving forward, we hope to integrate genomic data in order to describe pathways from genes to brain to symptoms, which could ultimately be the basis for novel treatments for mental illness. MedicalResearch.com: Is there anything else you would like to add? Response: Future breakthroughs in brain science to understand mental illness requires large amount of data. While the current study takes advantage of one of the largest samples of youth, the size (n=999) remains dwarfed by the complexity of the brain. The neuroscience community is actively working towards collecting higher quality data in even larger samples, so we can validate and build upon the findings. Citation: Cedric Huchuan Xia, Zongming Ma, Rastko Ciric, Shi Gu, Richard F. Betzel, Antonia N. Kaczkurkin, Monica E. Calkins, Philip A. Cook, Angel García de la Garza, Simon N. Vandekar, Zaixu Cui, Tyler M. Moore, David R. Roalf, Kosha Ruparel, Daniel H. Wolf, Christos Davatzikos, Ruben C. Gur, Raquel E. Gur, Russell T. Shinohara, Danielle S. Bassett, Theodore D. Satterthwaite. Linked dimensions of psychopathology and connectivity in functional brain networks. Nature Communications, 2018; 9 (1) DOI: 10.1038/s41467-018-05317-y  <span class="last-modified-timestamp">Aug 8, 2018 @ 1:10 am</span> The information on MedicalResearch.com is provided for educational purposes only, and is in no way intended to diagnose, cure, or treat any medical or other condition. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health and ask your doctor any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. In addition to all other limitations and disclaimers in this agreement, service provider and its third party providers disclaim any liability or loss in connection with the content provided on this website.
Dr. Theodore Satterthwaite MD
Assistant professor in the department of Psychiatry, and
Cedric Xia, a MD-PhD candidate
Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania

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

Response: Unlike other branches of modern medicine, psychiatry still solely replies on patient reports and physician observations for clinical decision-making. Without biologically-based tests, the diagnostic categories for mental health do not carve nature at its joint. This is evident in the high levels of co-morbidity across disorders and heterogeneity within disorders.

Through this research, we studied a large sample of adolescents who completed MRI-based functional imaging, and used recently-developed machine learning techniques to uncover specific abnormalities that are highly predictive of a wide variety of psychiatric symptoms. Essentially, we tried to find brain patterns that were predictive of different types of psychiatric symptoms. We discovered four such brain-guided dimensions of psychopathology: mood, psychosis, fear, and disruptive behavior.

While each of these dimensions exhibits a unique pattern of brain connectivity, a common feature of brain anomaly is shared across the dimensions. Notably, in all linked dimensions, the default mode network and fronto-parietal network, two brain regions that usually become increasingly distinct as the brain matures, were abnormally connected. This loss of normal brain network segregation supports the hypothesis that many psychiatric illnesses may be disorders of brain development. Continue reading

Testosterone May Be Link Between PCOS and Autism

MedicalResearch.com Interview with:

Adriana Cherskov Autism Research Centre Department of Psychiatry University of Cambridge Cambridge

Ms. Cherskov

Adriana Cherskov
Autism Research Centre
Department of Psychiatry
University of Cambridge
Cambridge

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

Response: Autism is a condition that affects social interaction, communication, and may be accompanied by unusually narrow interests or difficulties adjusting to unexpected change. Signs of autism are usually present in childhood and the condition affects about 1-2% of the population. At the Autism Research Centre at the University of Cambridge, our research team is interested in understanding some of the environmental triggers of autism. Previously, our research group has shown that autistic children have elevated levels of “sex steroid” hormones (including testosterone) before they are born.

Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) is a relatively common condition, affecting about one in ten women, which is primarily characterized by increased levels of the sex-steroid hormone testosterone and its precursors. These mothers may also have higher testosterone levels than usual during pregnancy, which may exposure their unborn baby to more of this hormone. Additionally, they may have genetic factors increasing sex steroid hormones that can be passed down to their children. Our research team sought to examine whether women with PCOS therefore may have an increased chance of having a child with autism.

We used anonymized health records from a large database of GP records in the UK and included 8,588 women with PCOS and their first-born children in the study as well as 41,127 women without PCOS as controls. We found that after adjusting for factors such as maternal mental health conditions or metabolic conditions, women with PCOS had a 2.3% change of having an autistic child, compared with 1.7% change for mothers without PCOS. We would like to stress, however, that the increased risk for women with PCOS is still very small, and the likelihood of having an autistic child is still very low.

As part of this research, we have also conducted two other studies, where we found that women with PCOS themselves were twice as likely to have autism and that women with autism were also twice as likely to have PCOS. These findings suggest a common pathway between autism and PCOS which will be important to explore in future research.

MedicalResearch.com: What should readers take away from your report?

Response: As mentioned earlier, our findings indicate women with PCOS have an increased chance of having a child with autism, but this increase is still very small, and the chance of having a child with autism is still very low even in this population (2.3% compared with 1.7%). As a result, the main take-away from our research is that we have found further evidence for the role of prenatal testosterone as one of many players in the development of autism and a potentially common pathway between autism and PCOS.

MedicalResearch.com: What recommendations do you have for future research as a result of this work?

Response: This link will help us in the future to understand the cause of both conditions. In this study we were not able to measure testosterone or sex steroid levels in women or their children, and this will be an important step in determining whether it is the sex-steroid hormones themselves, another downstream factor (such as insulin levels which are affected in PCOS), or genetics at the root of this association. Ultimately, both autism and PCOS are very complex conditions with many causative factors. The association we find here is likely just one of these players for both conditions, but it paves the path for future research.

In the future, this research may also help doctors and patients make decisions about treatment, as women with autism at high risk of developing PCOS may be able to start treatment or lifestyle changes early, which can improve PCOS management and quality of life. Alternatively, we underline again that the small increased likelihood of women with PCOS having a child with autism should not cause additional stress or worry in this population, since there are many factors involved in developing autism which will require further research to understand fully. 

Citation: Adriana Cherskov, Alexa Pohl, Carrie Allison, Heping Zhang, Rupert A. Payne, Simon Baron-Cohen. Polycystic ovary syndrome and autism: A test of the prenatal sex steroid theory. Translational Psychiatry, 2018; 8 (1) DOI: 10.1038/s41398-018-0186-7

Aug 5, 2018 @ 10:24 pm 

The information on MedicalResearch.com is provided for educational purposes only, and is in no way intended to diagnose, cure, or treat any medical or other condition. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health and ask your doctor any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. In addition to all other limitations and disclaimers in this agreement, service provider and its third party providers disclaim any liability or loss in connection with the content provided on this website.

 

Forgetting To Do Things? Try Acting in Advance

MedicalResearch.com Interview with:

Dr Antonina Pereira - CPsychol, PhD, FHEA, AFBPsS Head of Department of Psychology & Counselling University of Chichester Chichester, West Sussex UK

Dr. Pereira

Dr Antonina Pereira – CPsychol, PhD, FHEA, AFBPsS
Head of Department of Psychology & Counselling
University of Chichester
Chichester, West Sussex UK

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

Response: Prospective memory (PM) is the ability to remember to perform future activities, such as remembering to take medication or remembering to attend an appointment. Prospective memory tasks pervade our daily lives, and PM failures, although sometimes merely annoying (e.g., forgetting an umbrella at home on a rainy day), can have serious and even life-threatening consequences (e.g., forgetting to turn off the stove).

The fulfilment of such delayed intended actions can indeed be an early indicator of Alzheimer’s disease, with prospective memory failures representing one of the most prominent memory concerns in older adulthood and a fundamental requirement for independent living across the lifespan.

We aimed to address this issue by exploring the potential benefits of a purposefully designed technique, encoded enactment, where participants were encouraged to act through the activity they must remember to do.

This particular study was the fruit of an international research collaboration led by the University of Chichester and including members from Radboud University Nijmegen, Sussex Partnership NHS Foundation Trust and the Faculty of Medicine of the University of Lisbon.

Our team has explored the potential benefits of this specific encoding strategy for healthy younger adults, healthy older adults as well as for patients with mild cognitive impairment.

Results were very encouraging: All age groups reported improvement in prospective memory, but this was particularly evident in older patients with mild cognitive impairment, that is, potentially in the early stages of Alzheimer’s disease.

The study suggests that encouraging people in this category to adopt enactment as a means to enhance prospective memory could result in them leading independent, autonomous lives for longer.

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Women in Tipping Professions Susceptible to Depression

MedicalResearch.com Interview with:
“Professional waitress” by Shih-Chi Chiang is licensed under CC BY 2.0Sarah Andrea, MPH
School of Public Health
OHSU-PSU

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

Response: We spend one-third of our adult lives at work, and our work-related experiences and exposures affect our health. 14 million people work in the leisure and hospitality industry, a subset of the service industry that includes food service and personal care workers. This industry is simultaneously one of the fastest growing and lowest paid. In addition, work in this industry is frequently characterized by lack of control over hours and shifts worked, as well as insufficient access to health care and other benefits.

Studies have previously found the highest burden of depression and sleep problems for workers in this industry compared to others.

Individuals working in the service industry who earn the bulk for their income from tips from customers face additional vulnerabilities. In many states, tipped workers are paid as little as $2.13 an hour and rely on customers to make up the difference in tips, which are inequitable and unpredictable. Prior to this study, the potential health implications of tipped work were minimally assessed.

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Alzheimer’s Disease: Genes Modify Effect of High Fat Diet

MedicalResearch.com Interview with:
The Jackson LaboratoryCatherine Kaczorowski, Ph.D.

Associate Professor and Evnin Family Chair in Alzheimer’s Research
Kristen O’Connell, Ph.D., Assistant Professor
Amy Dunn, Ph.D., Postdoctoral Associate
The Jackson Laboratory


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

Dr. Amy Dunn: “Alzheimer’s disease is complex, with both genetic and environmental factors determining symptom onset and disease progression, though our current understanding of how genetic and environmental factors interact to influence disease risk is incomplete. We recently developed a panel of genetically diverse mice carrying human familial AD mutations (AD-BXDs) that better model human AD in order to determine how genetics and diet interact to modify disease onset and severity.

We fed a high fat diet to AD-BXDs and monitored metabolic and cognitive function over the duration of the HFD feeding.  We observed accelerated working memory decline in most of the AD-BXD mouse strains, however, the impact of high fat diet on memory was dependent on individual genetic differences across the panel, with some AD-BXD strains maintaining cognitive function on high fat diet (resilient strains).

Our data suggest that diet and genetic background interact to mediate vulnerability to AD pathogenesis, and that metabolic factors (e.g. obesity, body composition) that may contribute to cognitive decline differentially in normal aging versus AD. “

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Plasma Component Investigated To Reverse Age-Related Cognitive Disorders

MedicalResearch.com Interview with:
alkahestIan Gallager, MS
Scientist at Alkahest Inc.
San Francisco Bay Area 

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

Response: Our research is aimed to develop novel therapeutics for age-related disorders from fundamental understandings of blood plasma. This expands upon work initially performed in the Wyss-Coray lab at Stanford utilizing a model of parabiosis. By surgically conjoining the blood supplies between a young and aged mouse, they established that beneficial effects were observed in the aged mouse brain, suggesting that there are proteins in young blood which have enhancing properties.

The research presented at AAIC was the culmination of several years of model and dosing paradigm development utilizing both human plasma and a proprietary fractionated plasma product leading to advances for clinical application.

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Novel Models of Late-Onset Alzheimer’s Disease Based on GWAS

MedicalResearch.com Interview with:

Gregory Carter

Dr. Carter

Gregory Carter, PhD
Associate Professor at The Jackson Laboratory

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

Response: Animal models for late-onset Alzheimer’s disease (LOAD) will be of significant benefit for the discovery and characterization of links between specific genetic factors and the molecular pathways associated with the disease. To date, most animal models have been based on rare, early-onset Alzheimer’s disease genes that incompletely capture the complexity of LOAD and have not translated well to therapies. Therefore, developing and utilizing animal models based on genes hypothesized to play a role in LOAD will provide new insights into its basic biological mechanisms.  Continue reading

Cognitive Changes Mapped Over Time in Young Persons at Risk for Psychosis

MedicalResearch.com Interview with:

Richard Keefe PhD Professor in Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences Duke Institute for Brains Sciences

Dr. Keefe

Richard Keefe PhD
Professor in Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences
Duke Institute for Brains Sciences

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

Response: A lot of studies have shown that cognitive deficits are present in young people at risk for psychosis. There have been calls for investigations of the idea that cognition declines over time in the young people who are at highest risk, but longitudinal studies are hard to conduct so not much work has been done to address this question.

The main finding from our study is that the cognitive architecture – the way the various aspects of cognitive functioning appear to be organized in each individual’s brain based upon their pattern of performance – changes over time in those young people who are in the midst of developing psychosis. Interestingly, cognitive architecture also becomes more disorganized in those whose high-risk symptoms do not remit over a two year period, and is related to the functional difficulties they may be having. The young people whose high risk symptoms were present at the beginning of the study but remitted later actually improved cognitively over the two year period of the study. Continue reading

Metabolic Risk Factors Leading Up to Onset of Dementia

MedicalResearch.com Interview with:

Maude Wagner, PhD Student Biostatistics Team Lifelong Exposures, Health and Aging Team Bordeaux Population Health Research Center Inserm Univ. Bordeaux

Maude Wagner

Maude Wagner, PhD Student
Biostatistics Team
Lifelong Exposures, Health and Aging Team
Bordeaux Population Health Research Center
Inserm
Univ. Bordeaux

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

Response: Many studies haves shown associations between cardiometabolic health and dementia in midlife, but associations later in life remain inconclusive.

This study aimed to model concurrently and to compare the trajectories of major cardiometabolic risk factors in the 14 years before diagnosis among cases of dementia and controls.

This study showed that demented persons presented a BMI decline and lower blood pressure (specifically systolic blood pressure) several years before dementia diagnosis that might be a consequence of underlying disease. In contrast, cases presented consistently higher blood glucose levels up to 14 years before dementia suggesting that high glycemia is a strong risk factor for dementia.

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Whole-Exome Analysis of Late-Onset Alzheimer’s Disease Reveals Novel Candidate Genes Involved in Cognitive Function

MedicalResearch.com Interview with:

Dr. Carter

Gregory Carter, PhD
Associate Professor at The Jackson Laboratory

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

Response: Late-onset Alzheimer’s disease (LOAD) is the most common form of the disease and the major cause of dementia in the aging population. To date, the complex genetic architecture of LOAD has hampered both our ability to predict disease outcome and to establish research models that effectively replicate human disease pathology.

Therefore, most basic research into Alzheimer’s disease has focused on early-onset forms caused by mutations in specific genes, which has provided key biological insights but to date has not translated to effective disease preventatives or cures.

Our study analyzes both common and rare human genetic variants to identify those significantly associated with .late-onset Alzheimer’s disease, beginning with a large data set from the Alzheimer’s Disease Sequencing Project. We also analyzed RNA sequencing data from post-mortem human and mouse model samples to prioritize candidate genes.

We found a new common coding variant significantly associated with disease, in addition to those in genes previously associated with late-onset Alzheimer’s disease. We also found five candidate genes conferring a significant rare variant burden.  Continue reading

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