Thursday, November 19, 2015

Think twice about Gene Expression! The human brain Rocks!

Genes continue to spin out 13 months after birth in direct relation to experience. Therefore, a great number of psychobiological disorders can be prevented through quality attuned care giving. The following is an excerpt from the Center for the Developing child at Harvard.

Experiences Affect How Genes Are Expressed

Inside the nucleus of each cell in our bodies, we have chromosomes, which contain the code for characteristics that pass to the next generation. Within these chromosomes, specific segments of genetic code, known as genes, make up long, double-helix strands of DNA.

Experiences leave a chemical “signature” on genes that determines whether and how genes are expressed.
Children inherit approximately 23,000 genes from their parents, but not every gene does what it was designed to do. Experiences leave a chemical “signature” on genes that determines whether and how the genes are expressed. Collectively, those signatures are called the epigenome.

The brain is particularly responsive to experiences and environments during early development. External experiencesspark signals between neurons, which respond by producing proteins. These gene regulatory proteins head to the nucleus of the neural cell, where they either attract or repel enzymes that can attach them to the genes. Positive experiences, such as exposure to rich learning opportunities, and negative influences, such as malnutrition or environmental toxins, can change the chemistry that encodes genes in brain cells — a change that can be temporary or permanent. This process is called epigenetic modification.      ~The Center for the Developing Child at Harvard

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Early life stress and adolescent depression linked to impaired development of reward circuits

October 29, 2015
Early life stress is a major risk factor for later episodes of depression. In fact, adults who are abused or neglected as children are almost twice as likely to experience depression. Scientific research into this link has revealed that the increased risk following such childhood adversity is associated with sensitization of the brain circuits involved with processing threat and driving the stress response. More recently, research has begun to demonstrate that in parallel to this stress sensitization, there may also be diminished processing of reward in the brain and associated reductions in a person's ability to experience positive emotions.

The researchers focused on the ventral striatum, a deep brain region that is important for processing rewarding experiences as well as generating positive emotions, both of which are deficient in depression.
"Our analyses revealed that over a two-year window during early to mid-adolescence, there was an abnormal decrease in the response of the ventral striatum to reward only in adolescents who had been exposed to emotional neglect, a relatively common form of childhood adversity where parents are persistently emotionally unresponsive and unavailable to their children," explained first author Dr. Jamie Hanson.
"Importantly, we further showed that this decrease in ventral striatum activity predicted the emergence of depressive symptoms during this key developmental period," he added. "Our work is consistent with other recent studies finding deficient reward processing in depression, and further underscores the importance of considering such developmental pathways in efforts to protect individuals exposed to childhood adversity from later depression."
This study suggests that, in some people, early life stress compromises the capacity to experience enthusiasm or pleasure. In addition, the effect of early life stress may grow over time so that people who initially appear resilient may develop problems later in life.
"This insight is important because it suggests a neural pathway through which early life stress may contribute to depression," said Dr. John Krystal, Editor of Biological Psychiatry. "This pathway might be targeted by neural stimulation treatments. Further, it suggests that survivors of early life trauma and their families may benefit from learning about the possibility of consequences that might appear later in life. This preparation could help lead to early intervention."

Story Source:
The above post is reprinted from materials provided by ElsevierNote: Materials may be edited for content and length.

Journal Reference:
  1. Jamie L. Hanson, Ahmad R. Hariri, Douglas E. Williamson. Blunted Ventral Striatum Development in Adolescence Reflects Emotional Neglect and Predicts Depressive SymptomsBiological Psychiatry, 2015; 78 (9): 598 DOI: 10.1016/j.biopsych.2015.05.010


Which Countries Consume The Most Antidepressants? 

November 11, 2015 | 

by Tom Hale 

The results showed that Iceland, Australia and Portugal were among the top consumers of antidepressants, while Chile, South Korea and Estonia consumed the least. 

However, it is worth noting that the report only covered the pharmaceutical habits of "developed countries." Also, the United States – the original "Prozac Nation" – did not feature in this particular set of data. Separate data has shown 10% of Americans are prescribed antidepressants, which would put them second on this graph. We should also note that this is per thousand people, not by the total number consumed.

FTD! Mindurbrain! Science Rocks.

Developing a twisted sense of humor could be an earlier sign of dementia, according to new research.

The study, conducted at University College London (UCL), looked at 48 patients suffering from frontotemporal dementia (FTD) – which affects the region behind the forehead – and Alzheimer’s disease. Using a series of questionnaires, they asked friends or relatives of the participants what type of comedy they preferred: slapstick comedy such as Mr Bean, satirical comedy such as Yes Minister (imagine a 1980s British Veep if you're not familiar) or absurd comedy such as Monty Python. They then compared the results with 21 healthy people of a similar age.

The results, which were published in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease, found that all the patients with dementia tended to enjoy slapstick comedy rather than subtle satirical or absurdist humor.

The study also found a highly altered sense of humor in the group of people with a specific form of FTD, called behavioral variant FTD (bvFTD). This is a rarer form of dementia, which is less associated with memory loss and more to do with change in personality and loss of inhibitions.

They also used anecdotal evidence from friends and family of FTD sufferers, which asked them to reflect on the past 15 years and note any peculiar behavior changes. Many reported a shift into “darker humor,” often finding inappropriate and even tragic events funny, such as one man who laughed when his wife badly scalded herself.

They also found that with bvFTD often laughed hysterically at everyday things that others would struggle to find any humor in, such as a badly parked car or barking dog, but the other groups did not.

Dr Camilla Clark, who led the research at the UCL Dementia Research Centre, said in a statement: “As sense of humor defines us and is used to build relationships with those around us, changes in what we find funny has impacts far beyond picking a new favorite TV show.

“As well as providing clues to underlying brain changes, subtle differences in what we find funny could help differentiate between the different diseases that cause dementia. Humor could be a particularly sensitive way of detecting dementia because it puts demands on so many different aspects of brain function, such as puzzle solving, emotion and social awareness.”

Dr Simon Ridley, of Alzheimer’s Research UK, also stressed the importance of this study in helping doctors identify and diagnose dementia earlier: “While memory loss is often the first thing that springs to mind when we hear the word dementia, this study highlights the importance of looking at the myriad different symptoms that impact on daily life and relationships

“A deeper understanding of the full range of dementia symptoms will increase our ability to make a timely and accurate diagnosis.”

Of course, this study looked at changes in sense of humor, so if you’ve always had a rather warped sense of humor, there’s no cause for concern. Other than for your poor friends who have to put up with it.

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Infants are the most valuable assets of any society!

By age 5 children have a sense of self-esteem comparable in strength to that of adults, according to a new study by University of Washington researchers.
Because self-esteem tends to remain relatively stable across one's lifespan, the study suggests that this important personality trait is already in place before children begin kindergarten.
"Our work provides the earliest glimpse to date of how preschoolers sense their selves," said lead author Dario Cvencek, a research scientist at the UW's Institute for Learning & Brain Sciences (I-LABS).
"We found that as young as 5 years of age self-esteem is established strongly enough to be measured," said Cvencek, "and we can measure it using sensitive techniques."
The new findings, published in the January 2016 issue of the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, used a newly developed test to assess implicit self-esteem in more than 200 5-year-old children -- the youngest age yet to be measured.
"Some scientists consider preschoolers too young to have developed a positive or negative sense about themselves. Our findings suggest that self-esteem, feeling good or bad about yourself, is fundamental," said co-author, Andrew Meltzoff, co-director of I-LABS. "It is a social mindset children bring to school with them, not something they develop in school."
Meltzoff continued: "What aspects of parent-child interaction promote and nurture preschool self-esteem? That's the essential question. We hope we can find out by studying even younger children."
Until now no measurement tool has been able to detect self-esteem in preschool-aged children. This is because existing self-esteem tests require the cognitive or verbal sophistication to talk about a concept like "self" when asked probing questions by adult experimenters.
"Preschoolers can give verbal reports of what they're good at as long as it is about a narrow, concrete skill, such as 'I'm good at running' or 'I'm good with letters,' but they have difficulties providing reliable verbal answers to questions about whether they are a good or bad person," Cvencek said.
To try a different approach, Cvencek, Meltzoff and co-author Anthony Greenwald created a self-esteem task for preschoolers. Called the Preschool Implicit Association Test (PSIAT), it measures how strongly children feel positively about themselves.
Adult versions of the IAT, which was first developed by Greenwald, can reveal attitudes and beliefs that people don't know they have, such as biases related to race, gender, age and other topics.
"Previously we understood that preschoolers knew about some of their specific good features. We now understand that, in addition, they have a global, overall knowledge of their goodness as a person," said Greenwald.
The task for adults works by measuring how quickly people respond to words in different categories. For instance, the adult implicit self-esteem task measures associations between words like "self" and "pleasant" or "other" and "unpleasant."
To make the task appropriate for preschoolers who can't read, the researchers replaced words related to the self ("me," "not me") with objects. They used small unfamiliar flags, and the children were told which of the flags were "yours" and "not yours."
The 5-year-olds in the experiment--which included an even mix of 234 boys and girls from the Seattle area--first learned to distinguish their set of flags ("me") from another set of flags ("not me").
Using buttons on a computer, they responded to a series of "me" and "not me" flags and to a series of "good" words from a loudspeaker (fun, happy, good, nice) and "bad" words (bad, mad, mean, yucky). Then, to measure self-esteem, the children had to combine the words and press the buttons to indicate whether the "good" words were associated more with the "me" flags or not.
The results showed that the 5-year-olds associated themselves more with "good" than with "bad," and this was equally pronounced in both girls and boys.
The researchers also did two more implicit tests to probe different aspects of the self. A gender identity task assessed the children's sense of whether they are a boy or a girl, and a gender attitude task measured the children's preference for other children of their own gender, called a "gender in-group preference."
Children who had high self-esteem and strong own-gender identity also showed stronger preferences for members of their own gender.
Taken together, the findings show that self-esteem is not only unexpectedly strong in children this young, but is also systematically related to other fundamental parts of children's personality, such as in-group preferences and gender identity.
"Self-esteem appears to play a critical role in how children form various social identities. Our findings underscore the importance of the first five years as a foundation for life," Cvencek said.
The researchers are following up with the children in the study to examine whether self-esteem measured in preschool can predict outcomes later in childhood, such as health and success in school. They are also interested in the malleability of children's self-esteem and how it changes with experience.

Story Source:
The above post is reprinted from materials provided by University of WashingtonNote: Materials may be edited for content and length.

Journal Reference:
  1. Dario Cvencek, Anthony G. Greenwald, Andrew N. Meltzoff. Implicit measures for preschool children confirm self-esteem's role in maintaining a balanced identityJournal of Experimental Social Psychology, 2016; 62: 50 DOI: 10.1016/j.jesp.2015.09.015
University of Washington. "Children's self-esteem already established by age five." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 2 November 2015. <>.

Healthy children in less than 10 days!Science Rocks!

Reducing consumption of added sugar, even without reducing calories or losing weight, has the power to reverse a cluster of chronic metabolic diseases, including high cholesterol and blood pressure, in children in as little as 10 days, according to a study by researchers at UC San Francisco and Touro University California.
"This study definitively shows that sugar is metabolically harmful not because of its calories or its effects on weight; rather sugar is metabolically harmful because it's sugar," said lead author Robert Lustig, MD, MSL, pediatric endocrinologist at UCSF Benioff Children's Hospital San Francisco. "This internally controlled intervention study is a solid indication that sugar contributes to metabolic syndrome, and is the strongest evidence to date that the negative effects of sugar are not because of calories or obesity."
Jean-Marc Schwarz, PhD of the College of Osteopathic Medicine at Touro University California and senior author of the paper added, "I have never seen results as striking or significant in our human studies; after only nine days of fructose restriction, the results are dramatic and consistent from subject to subject. These findings support the idea that it is essential for parents to evaluate sugar intake and to be mindful of the health effects of what their children are consuming."
The paper will appear online on October 27, and in the February 2016 issue of the Journal Obesity.

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

So much potential! Infants Rock.

Researchers have long known that adults can flexibly find new ways to communicate, for example, using smoke signals or Morse code to communicate at a distance, but a new Northwestern University study is the first to show that this same communicative flexibility is evident even in 6-month-olds.
The researchers set out to discover whether infants could learn that a novel sound was a "communicative signal" and, if so, whether it would confer the same advantages for their learning as does speech.
To do so, they had infants watch a short video in which two people had a conversation -- one speaking in English and the other responding in beep sounds. Infants were then tested on whether these novel beep sounds would facilitate their learning about a novel object category, a fundamental cognitive process known to be influenced by speech. Could the beeps, once communicative, have the same effect? Indeed, the researchers found that after seeing the beeps used to communicate, the infants linked beep sounds to categorization just as if they were speech.
"We reasoned that if infants were able to learn about a new communicative signal, they might now succeed in object categorizing while listening to tones, despite having failed in prior studies while listening to tones without any prior exposure to them," said Brock Ferguson, lead author of the study and a doctoral candidate in cognitive psychology in the Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences at Northwestern. "That is, they might treat this new 'communicative' sound as if it were speech."
In contrast, Ferguson said, if infants couldn't interpret this new signal as communicative, or if their categorization in the subsequent task could only be 'boosted' by speech, then infants should fail to categorize objects while listening to tones as they had in all prior studies.
"We knew that speech could promote infants' learning of object categories. Now we know that for infants, this link to learning is broad enough to encompass many communicative signals -- including ones to which infants had just been introduced," Ferguson said.
Sandra Waxman, senior author of the study, director of the Project on Child Development, faculty fellow in Northwestern's Institute for Policy Research and the Louis W. Menk Chair in Psychology at Northwestern, highlighted the powerful implications of this work for the understanding of infants' intricate coordination of social, language and cognitive development.
"Infants' success in accepting this entirely novel signal as communicative is astounding," Waxman said.
"This shows that infants have the social capacity to recognize an entirely new social communicative signal in their environment. And once recognized, they can use it to support cognition. Babies, like adults, are already on the lookout for new ways that the people around them communicate with one another," Waxman said.

Story Source:
The above post is reprinted from materials provided by Northwestern University. The original item was written by Hilary Hurd Anyaso. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.

Journal Reference:
  1. Brock Ferguson, Sandra R. Waxman. What the [beep]? Six-month-olds link novel communicative signals to meaningCognition, 2016; 146: 185 DOI: 10.1016/j.cognition.2015.09.020