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We're a little crazy, about science!

Archive for September, 2015

Scientists identify key receptor as potential target for treatment of autism

Scientists identify key receptor as potential target for treatment of autism

Scientists from the Florida campus of The Scripps Research Institute (TSRI) have uncovered a significant–and potentially treatable–relationship between a chemical that helps transmit signals in the brain and genetic mutations present in a subset of individuals with autism spectrum disorder. The new research findings focus on the role that the neurotransmitter serotonin plays in the development of social behavior.

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Scientists to bypass brain damage by re-encoding memories

Scientists to bypass brain damage by re-encoding memories

Researchers at USC and Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center have developed a brain prosthesis that is designed to help individuals suffering from memory loss. The prosthesis, which includes a small array of electrodes implanted into the brain, has performed well in laboratory testing in animals and is currently being evaluated in human patients.

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Connecting Alzheimer’s disease and the immune system

Connecting Alzheimer's disease and the immune system

The role of the immune system in Alzheimer’s disease is a hot topic, but exactly how the two are connected and what interventions could help lower risk remain a mystery. In a new study, researchers in the Ann Romney Center for Neurologic Diseases at Brigham and Women’s Hospital (BWH) investigate how genetic risk factors for Alzheimer’s disease may influence a key type of immune cell. Their results lay the groundwork for designing better therapeutic strategies and better prediction tools for risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease.

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Breaking the anxiety cycle

Breaking the anxiety cycle

A woman who won’t drive long distances because she has panic attacks in the car. A man who has contamination fears so intense he cannot bring himself to use public bathrooms. A woman who can’t go to church because she fears enclosed spaces. All of these people have two things in common: they have an anxiety disorder. They’re also parents.

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Scientists discover new system for human genome editing

Bacteriophages attacking bacteria, TEM

CRISPR systems help bacteria defend against viral attack (shown here).
These systems have been adapted for use as genome editing tools in
human cells.
Image credit goes to: Ami Images/Science Photo Library.

A team including the scientist who first harnessed the revolutionary CRISPR-Cas9 system for mammalian genome editing has now identified a different CRISPR system with the potential for even simpler and more precise genome engineering. In the study researchers describe the unexpected biological features of this new system and demonstrate that it can be engineered to edit the genomes of human cells.

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It’s alive!! Study adds to evidence that viruses are alive

Study adds to evidence that viruses are alive

The diverse physical attributes, genome sizes and lifestyles of viruses make them difficult to classify. A new study uses protein folds as evidence that viruses are living entities that belong on their own branch of the tree of life.
Image credit goes to: Julie McMahon

Classifying something as living isn’t as easy as it sounds, after all we are all atoms, so when do atoms go from nonliving to living? Despite the complexities of viruses, we have historically deemed them nonliving. However, a new analysis supports the hypothesis that viruses are living entities that share a long evolutionary history with cells. The study offers the first reliable method for tracing viral evolution back to a time when neither viruses nor cells existed in the forms recognized today.

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Mexico City’s air pollution has detrimental impact on Alzheimer’s disease gene

Mexico City's air pollution has detrimental impact on Alzheimer's disease gene

A new study by researchers heightens concerns over the detrimental impact of air pollution on hippocampal metabolites as early markers of neurodegeneration in young urbanites carrying an allele 4 of the apolipoprotein E gene (APOE). This is associated with the risk for Alzheimer disease (AD) and a susceptibility marker for poor outcome in traumatic brain injury (TBI) recovery.

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What motivates ‘Facebook stalking’ after a romantic breakup?

What motivates 'Facebook stalking' after a romantic breakup?

Social networking makes it easy to monitor the status and activities of a former romantic partner, an often unhealthy use of social media known as interpersonal electronic surveillance (IES) or, more commonly, “Facebook stalking.” Psychological and relationship factors and how individuals cope with the termination of a romantic relationship can help predict their use of online surveillance, according to a new study.

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Genetic analysis supports prediction that spontaneous rare mutations cause half of autism

Genetic analysis supports prediction that spontaneous rare mutations cause half of autism

A team led by researchers at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory (CSHL) has published a new analysis of data on the genetics of autism spectrum disorder (ASD). One commonly held theory is that autism results from the chance combinations of commonly occurring gene mutations, which are otherwise harmless. But the authors’ work provides support for a different theory.

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‘Delayed remembering’: Kids can remember tomorrow what they forgot today

'Delayed remembering': Kids can remember tomorrow what they forgot today

For adults, memories tend to fade with time. But a new study has shown that there are circumstances under which the opposite is true for small children: they can remember a piece of information better days later than they can on the day they first learned it. While playing a video game that asked them to remember associations between objects, 4- and 5-year-olds who re-played the game after a two-day delay scored more than 20 percent higher than kids who re-played it later the same day.

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A barrier against brain stem cell aging

A barrier against brain stem cell aging

Neural stem cells generate new neurons throughout life in the mammalian brain. However, with advancing age the potential for regeneration in the brain dramatically declines. Scientists now identified a novel mechanism of how neural stem cells stay relatively free of aging-induced damage. A diffusion barrier regulates the sorting of damaged proteins during cell division.

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Schizophrenia: Repairing the brain

Repairing the brain

Research led by scientists from Duke-NUS Graduate Medical School Singapore (Duke-NUS) has linked the abnormal behaviour of two genes (BDNF and DTNBP1) to the underlying cause of schizophrenia. These findings have provided a new target for schizophrenia treatment.

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Types of athletic training affect how brain communicates with muscles

Types of athletic training affect how brain communicates with muscles

Using endurance training or strength and resistance training not only prepares an athlete for different types of sports, they can also change the way the brain and muscles communicate with each other.

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Vaccine clears some precancerous cervical lesions in clinical trial

Vaccine clears some precancerous cervical lesions in clinical trial

Scientists have used a genetically engineered vaccine to successfully eradicate high-grade precancerous cervical lesions in nearly one-half of women who received the vaccine in a clinical trial. The goal, say the scientists, was to find nonsurgical ways to treat precancerous lesions caused by HPV.

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Immune system may be pathway between nature and good health

Immune system may be pathway between nature and good health

Research has found evidence that spending time in nature provides protections against a startling range of diseases, including depression, diabetes, obesity, ADHD, cardiovascular disease, cancer, and many more. How this exposure to green space leads to better health has remained a mystery. After reviewing hundreds of studies examining nature’s effects on health, researchers believe the answer lies in nature’s ability to enhance the functioning of the body’s immune system.

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Students in credit crisis

Students in credit crisis

New research from the USA suggests that college students are well aware that they should be personally responsible for their finances, including their card obligations, but this awareness rarely correlates with limiting the debts they accrue during their time in higher education.

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Viruses flourish in guts of healthy babies

Viruses flourish in guts of healthy babies

Bacteria aren’t the only nonhuman invaders to colonize the gut shortly after a baby’s birth. Viruses also set up house there, according to new research at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis. All together, these invisible residents are thought to play important roles in human health.

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Diet beverage drinkers compensate by eating unhealthy food

Diet beverage drinkers compensate by eating unhealthy food, study finds

Alcoholic drinks and sugar-sweetened beverages are associated with higher overall daily intakes, although people who drink diet beverages consume a greater percentage of non-nutritious food.
Image credit goes to: Julie McMahon

Want fries with that diet soda? You aren’t alone, and you may not be “saving” as many calories as you think by consuming diet drinks. A new study that examined the dietary habits of more than 22,000 U.S. adults found that diet-beverage consumers may compensate for the absence of calories in their drinks by noshing on extra food that is loaded with sugar, sodium, fat and cholesterol.

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Female mice sing for sex

Female mice sing for sex Researcher finds female mice sing during courtship

Using a sophisticated array of microphones and a sound chamber he developed, a University of Delaware researcher discovered the world is full of tiny furry Beyoncés. Studying all the Single Ladies’ communication provides insight into brain mechanics.
Image credit goes to: Jeff Chase, University of Delaware

They don’t use gondolas or croon like Sinatra. But scientists have known for a long time that male mice belt out something like love songs to females when the time seems right to them. What they didn’t know – until a University of Delaware researcher developed a sophisticated array of microphones and a sound analysis chamber – was that female mice were singing back.

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Smart cells teach neurons damaged by Parkinson’s to heal themselves

UNC smart cells teach neurons damaged by Parkinson's to heal themselves

These are white blood cells reengineered by scientists at UNC-Chapel Hill deliver exosomes (red) loaded proteins that stimulate the growth of damaged nerve fibers (green and yellow). Researchers at the UNC Eshelman School of Pharmacy this technique can be developing into a potential treatment for Parkinson’s disease.
Image credit goes to: Elena Batrakova/UNC Eshelman School Of Pharmacy

As a potential treatment for Parkinson’s disease, scientists at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill have created smarter immune cells that produce and deliver a healing protein to the brain while also teaching neurons to begin making the protein for themselves.

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An antibody that can attack HIV in new ways

An antibody that can attack HIV in new ways

Broadly neutralizing antibodies to HIV-1 envelope glycoprotein are being evaluated as therapeutics to prevent or treat HIV-1 infection. Structural analysis of one such antibody, 8ANC195, revealed a new conformation of the envelope protein. The image shows the X-ray crystal structure of 8ANC195 in complex with the gp120 subunit of the envelope protein. The background shows schematic representations of HIV-1 virus particles studded with envelope proteins being recognized by 8ANC195 antibodies.
Image credit goes to: Louise Scharf/Caltech

Proteins called broadly neutralizing antibodies (bNAbs) are a promising key to the prevention of infection by HIV, the virus that causes AIDS. bNAbs have been found in blood samples from some HIV patients whose immune systems can naturally control the infection. These antibodies may protect a patient’s healthy cells by recognizing a protein called the envelope spike, present on the surface of all HIV strains and inhibiting, or neutralizing, the effects of the virus. Now Caltech researchers have discovered that one particular bNAb may be able to recognize this signature protein, even as it takes on different conformations during infection–making it easier to detect and neutralize the viruses in an infected patient.

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Physicists show ‘molecules’ made of light may be possible

Physicists show 'molecules' made of light may be possible

It’s not lightsaber time… at least not yet. But a team including theoretical physicists from the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) has taken another step toward building objects out of photons, and the findings* hint that weightless particles of light can be joined into a sort of “molecule” with its own peculiar force.

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Cells from human umbilical cord blood improve cognition in Alzheimer’s disease model mice

Cells from human umbilical cord blood improve cognition in Alzheimer's disease model mice

Alzheimer’s disease (AD), which affects an estimated 26 million people worldwide, is the fourth leading cause of death among the elderly and the leading cause of dementia. Predictions are that the number of AD cases will quadruple by 2050. Although pharmacological methods for treating AD have been discovered, none significantly delay the progression of the disease.

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Artificial ‘plants’ could fuel the future

Artificial 'plants' could fuel the future

This schematic image of Chang’s artificial photosynthesis systems shows its four general components: (1) harvesting solar energy, (2) generating reducing equivalents, (3) reducing CO2 to biosynthetic intermediates and (4) producing value-added chemicals.
Image credit goes to: Berkeley Lab

Imagine creating artificial plants that make gasoline and natural gas using only sunlight. And imagine using those fuels to heat our homes or run our cars without adding any greenhouse gases to the atmosphere. By combining nanoscience and biology, researchers led by scientists at University of California, Berkeley, have taken a big step in that direction.

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Tree of life study unveils inner workings of a cell

Tree of life study unveils inner workings of a cell

Scientists have uncovered tens of thousands of new protein interactions, accounting for about a quarter of all estimated protein contacts in a cell.
Image credit goes to: Jovana Drinkjakovic

A multinational team of scientists have sifted through cells of vastly different organisms, from amoebae to worms to mice to humans, to reveal how proteins fit together to build different cells and bodies. This tour de force of protein science, a result of a collaboration between seven research groups from three countries, led by Professor Andrew Emili from the University of Toronto’s Donnelly Centre, uncovered tens of thousands of new protein interactions, accounting for about a quarter of all estimated protein contacts in a cell.

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Guilting teens into exercise won’t increase activity

'Guilting' teens into exercise won't increase activity

Just like attempts at influencing hairstyles or clothing can backfire, adults who try to guilt middle-schoolers into exercising won’t get them to be any more active. The study found students who don’t feel in control of their exercise choices or who feel pressured by adults to be more active typically aren’t.

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The science of stereotyping: Challenging the validity of ‘gaydar’

The science of stereotyping: Challenging the validity of 'gaydar'

“Gaydar” — the purported ability to infer whether people are gay or straight based on their appearance — seemed to get a scientific boost from a 2008 study that concluded people could accurately guess someone’s sexual orientation based on photographs of their faces. In a new paper researchers at the University of Wisconsin-Madison challenge what they call “the gaydar myth.” William Cox, an assistant scientist in the Department of Psychology and the lead author, says gaydar isn’t accurate and is actually a harmful form of stereotyping.

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Common antidepressant may change brain

Common antidepressant may change brain

A commonly prescribed antidepressant may alter brain structures in depressed and non-depressed individuals in very different ways, according to new research. The study – conducted in nonhuman primates with brain structures and functions similar to those of humans – found that the antidepressant sertraline, a selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor (SSRI) marketed as Zoloft, significantly increased the volume of one brain region in depressed subjects but decreased the volume of two brain areas in non-depressed subjects.

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Do antipsychotic medications affect cortical thinning?

Do antipsychotic medications affect cortical thinning?

People diagnosed with schizophrenia critically rely upon treatment with antipsychotic medications to manage their symptoms and help them function at home and in the workplace. But despite their benefits, antipsychotic medications might also have some negative effects on brain structure or function when taken for long periods of time.

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Feeling blue and seeing blue: Sadness may impair color perception

Feeling blue and seeing blue: Sadness may impair color perception

The world might seem a little grayer than usual when we’re down in the dumps and we often talk about “feeling blue” — new research suggests that the associations we make between emotion and color go beyond mere metaphor. The results of two studies indicate that feeling sadness may actually change how we perceive color. Specifically, researchers found that participants who were induced to feel sad were less accurate in identifying colors on the blue-yellow axis than those who were led to feel amused or emotionally neutral.

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Researchers help identify neural basis of multitasking

Dynamic reconfiguration of frontal brain networks during executive cognition in humans

What makes someone better at switching between different tasks? Looking for the mechanisms behind cognitive flexibility, researchers have used brain scans to shed new light on this question. By studying networks of activity in the brain’s frontal cortex, a region associated with control over thoughts and actions, the researchers have shown that the degree to which these networks reconfigure themselves while switching from task to task predicts people’s cognitive flexibility.

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