Author Interviews, Global Health, JAMA, Mental Health Research, Pediatrics, UCLA, Zika / 21.01.2019 Interview with: Karin Nielsen-Saines, MD, MPH Professor of Clinical Pediatrics Division of Pediatric Infectious Diseases David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA What is the background for this study? Response: Our study used a very simple evaluation called GMA (General Movement Assessment tool) which checks baby movements at approximately 3 to 5 months of age. We examined 111 babies exposed to maternal illness during the Zika epidemic in Brazil and 333 control babies without this exposure by GMA at 3 months  and then tested them through standard neurodevelopmental tests at the age of 12 months. We found that this simple evaluation, which consists of filming a baby lying down on their back for one minute and studying their movements worked extremely well in predicting which babies would or would not have future problems in their neurodevelopment. The study advances knowledge in the area because a simple one minute video of a baby can predict neurodevelopment, something that is extremely hard to determine in young babies.  This is true even in places where sophisticated brain scans are available. By identifying which babies are at risk of developmental problems early on, professionals can rapidly refer these babies to  stimulation programs when they are very young, which increases their chances of having better outcomes. Because the brains of young children respond much better  to stimulation, the timing of interventions to improve their development is very important, that is why they need to be identified early. (more…)
Author Interviews, JAMA, Mental Health Research, OBGYNE, Pediatrics / 09.04.2018 Interview with: Claudia I. Lugo-Candelas, PhD Postdoctoral Research Fellow Columbia University Medical Center/ New York State Psychiatric Institute What is the background for this study? What are the main findings? Response: We have seen, in the last decade, an increase in the amount of mothers being prescribed SSRIs during pregnancy. While we know that untreated prenatal maternal depression has adverse consequences for both the mother and child, it’s not really clear what, if any, are the consequences of prenatal SSRI exposure on infant’s brain development. There have been some studies finding increased depression and anxiety in children prenatally exposed to SSRIs, but not all studies find these associations. We thus looked at 2-4 week old infants’ brains, using neuroimaging.  We found increased gray matter volume within the amygdala and insula, and increased white matter connectivity between these two structures in infants prenatally exposed to SSRIs. Of note, the statistical significance and the size of the effects we detected are quite large, even greater than the brain changes that we usually observe in our studies of children and adults with psychiatric disorders. Further, because these structures are involved in emotion processing, and alterations in volume and connectivity are sometimes seen in clinical populations, or in people at risk for anxiety, it important to learn more about what these volume and connectivity differences could mean for these infants. (more…)
Author Interviews, Memory, Scripps / 19.09.2016 Interview with: Ron L. Davis, PhD Professor and Chair Department of Neuroscience Florida campus of The Scripps Research Institute What is the background for this study? What are the main findings? Response: While calcium’s importance for our bones and teeth is well known, its role in neurons—in particular, its effects on processes such as learning and memory—has been less well defined. Our new study, published in the journal Cell Reports, offers new insights how calcium in mitochondria—the powerhouse of all cells—can impact the development of the brain and adult cognition. Specifically, we show in fruit flies, a widely used model system, that blocking a channel that brings calcium to the mitochondria called “mitochondrial calcium uniporter” causes memory impairment but does not alter learning capacity. That surprised us – we thought they wouldn’t be able to learn at all. This is important because defects in the same calcium channel function have been shown to be associated with intellectual disability in humans. (more…)