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Study Shows Autism Begins During Pregnancy

FetusEmerging research presents new evidence that autism begins during pregnancy.

Investigators analyzed 25 genes in postmortem brain tissue of children with and without autism. These included genes that serve as biomarkers for brain cell types in different layers of the cortex, genes implicated in autism and several control genes.

Their findings are published in the online edition of the New England Journal of Medicine.

“Building a baby’s brain during pregnancy involves creating a cortex that contains six layers,” said Eric Courchesne, Ph.D., professor of neurosciences and director of the Autism Center of Excellence at University of California, San Diego (UC San Diego).

“We discovered focal patches of disrupted development of these cortical layers in the majority of children with autism.”

The findings confirm the hypothesis that for some children with autism, the brain can sometimes rewire connections and the child can improve abilities — especially with early therapeutic intervention.

Rich Stoner, Ph.D., of the UC San Diego Autism Center of Excellence created a unique three-dimensional model visualizing brain locations where patches of cortex had failed to develop the normal cell-layering pattern.

“The most surprising finding was the similar early developmental pathology across nearly all of the autistic brains, especially given the diversity of symptoms in patients with autism, as well as the extremely complex genetics behind the disorder,” said Ed S. Lein, Ph.D.

During early brain development, each cortical layer develops its own specific types of brain cells, each with specific patterns of brain connectivity that perform unique and important roles in processing information.

As a brain cell develops into a specific type in a specific layer with specific connections, it acquires a distinct genetic signature or “marker” that can be observed.

The study found that in the brains of children with autism, key genetic markers were absent in brain cells in multiple layers.

“This defect,” Courchesne said, “indicates that the crucial early developmental step of creating six distinct layers with specific types of brain cells — something that begins in prenatal life — had been disrupted.”

“Equally important,” said the scientists, “these early developmental defects were present in focal patches of cortex, suggesting the defect is not uniform throughout the cortex.”

The brain regions most affected by focal patches of absent gene markers were the frontal and the temporal cortex, possibly illuminating why different functional systems are impacted across individuals with the disorder.

The frontal cortex is associated with higher-order brain function, such as complex communication and comprehension of social cues. The temporal cortex is associated with language.

The disruptions of frontal and temporal cortical layers seen in the study may underlie symptoms most often displayed in autistic spectrum disorders. The visual cortex — an area of the brain associated with perception that tends to be spared in autism — displayed no abnormalities.

“The fact that we were able to find these patches is remarkable, given that the cortex is roughly the size of the surface of a basketball, and we only examined pieces of tissue the size of a pencil eraser,” said Lein.

“This suggests that these abnormalities are quite pervasive across the surface of the cortex.”

Researching the origins of autism is challenging because it typically relies upon studying adult brains and attempting to extrapolate backwards.

“In this case,” Lein said, “we were able to study autistic and control cases at a young age, giving us a unique insight into how autism presents in the developing brain.”

“The finding that these defects occur in patches rather than across the entirety of cortex gives hope as well as insight about the nature of autism,” added Courchesne.

According to the scientists, such patchy defects, as opposed to uniform cortical pathology, may help explain why many toddlers with autism show clinical improvement with early treatment and over time.

The findings support the idea that in children with autism the brain can sometimes rewire connections to circumvent early focal defects, raising hope that understanding these patches may eventually open new avenues to explore how that improvement occurs.

Source: University of California, San Diego

By Rick Nauert PhD Senior News Editor
Reviewed by John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on April 7, 2014
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Hit the sack to protect your brain

https://i1.wp.com/www.bhssolutions.com/Portals/0/man%20sleeping%20on%20couch_small.jpgA good night’s sleep may be critical for maintaining brain health, says a new study.

“One night of sleep deprivation increases morning blood concentrations of two molecules – a neuronal enzyme (NSE) and calcium-binding protein S-100B – in healthy young men. These molecules are typically found in the brain. Thus, their rise in blood after sleep loss may indicate that a lack of snoozing might be conducive to a loss of brain tissue,” said Christian Benedict, Department of Neuroscience, Uppsala University, Sweden.

To reach the conclusion, the researchers selected 15 normal-weight men. In one condition, they were sleep-deprived for one night, while in the other condition, they slept for approximately eight hours.

“Increased blood concentrations of these two brain molecules in sleep-deprived participants mean brain damage. Thus, our results indicate that a lack of sleep may promote neuro-degenerative processes,” added the study, published in the journal SLEEP.

It’s important to note, however, that levels of NSE and S-100B previously found after acute brain damage (including as a result of a concussion), have been distinctly higher than those found in the Swedish study. “There is no suggestion that a single night of sleep loss is equally harmful to your brain as a head injury,” said Benedict.

Still, the researchers said their findings suggest “a good night’s sleep may possess neuroprotective function in humans, as has also been suggested by others”.

Why consuming Artificial Sweeteners Won’t Help You Lose Weight

The brArtificial Sweetnersain knows when it needs sugar and can’t be fooled by artificial sweeteners, even if it is sweeter than real sugar.

A new study has found that the brain can differentiate between real and artificial sugar. What’s worse? Eating food with artificial sweeteners will only increase cravings for sugary treats later.

The brain’s reward system is highly activated when the body receives a sugary solution rather than artificial sweeteners. Researchers at Yale University School of Medicine USA, believe that the research might explain the reason behind increasing obesity rates despite artificial sweeteners existing for years now.
Food seasoned with artificial sweeteners is extremely popular. In the U.S., about 30 percent of people eat stuff that has sugar substitutes. Previously, Yale Journal of Biology and Medicine, had published an article about artificial sweeteners’ effect on the body. Another recent study had found that drinking a can of diet soda can increase the risk of diabetes.

Researchers in the study argue that eating food containing artificial sweeteners, especially while you are hungry, will make you consume more sugar later.

In the study, researchers looked at specific brain signals that are associated with determining the difference between sugar and artificial sweeteners. These signals regulate the release of dopamine levels.

Dopamine is a chemical messenger and affects processes that control behavior, emotional response and more importantly the ability to feel pleasure. The chemical plays a major role in addiction.

The study was conducted on a group of mice and researchers looked for specific brain circuits while the mice were fed sugar or artificial sweeteners.

“According to the data, when we apply substances that interfere with a critical step of the ‘sugar-to-energy pathway’, the interest of the animals in consuming artificial sweetener decreases significantly, along with important reductions in brain dopamine levels,” said Ivan de Araujo, who led the study at Yale University School of Medicine USA.

“This is verified by the fact that when hungry mice – who thus have low sugar levels – are given a choice between artificial sweeteners and sugars, they are more likely to completely switch their preferences towards sugars even if the artificial sweetener is much sweeter than the sugar solution,” de Araujo said in a news release.

So, can there be a sugar substitute that can help people reduce weight without punishing the taste buds?

“The results suggest that a ‘happy medium’ could be a solution; combining sweeteners with minimal amounts of sugar so that energy metabolism doesn’t drop, while caloric intake is kept to a minimum,” Araujo said.

The study is published in the Journal of Physiology.

Hyperactivity and inner ear defects are linked

A new finEar & Brainding shows that mice with inner ear defects display hyperactive behavior. The defects apparently raise protein levels which lead to increased rate of brain signal. This also explains why children with hearing loss are hyperactive.

Now, scientists have evidence of “a neurobiological basis for hyperactive behaviors,” said Jean Hébert, a geneticist at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York. “That opens new ways to treat these behaviors.”

The researchers found that all the mice with ear defects and hyperactive behavior were missing a gene named Slc12a2 which contributes to normal inner ear development. It also controls neuron activity and body balance.

Despite the study showing a neurobiological basis for hyperactivity, socioenvironmental factors cannot be disregarded completely. “I would guess the combination of socioenvironmental factors and the neurological changes are what together predispose kids to abnormal behaviors,” Jean Hébert said.

Insomniacs’ brains lose focus, scans suggest

InsomniaBrain scans of people who say they have insomnia have shown differences in brain function compared with people who get a full night’s sleep.

Researchers at the University of California, San Diego, said the poor sleepers struggled to focus part of their brain in memory tests.

Other experts said that the brain’s wiring may actually be affecting perceptions of sleep quality.

The findings were published in the journal Sleep.

People with insomnia struggle to sleep at night, but it also has consequences during the day such as delayed reaction times and memory.

The study compared 25 people who said they had insomnia with 25 who described themselves as good sleepers. MRI brain scans were carried out while they performed increasingly challenging memory tests.

One of the researchers, Prof Sean Drummond, said: “We found that insomnia subjects did not properly turn on brain regions critical to a working memory task and did not turn off ‘mind-wandering’ brain regions irrelevant to the task.

“This data helps us understand that people with insomnia not only have trouble sleeping at night, but their brains are not functioning as efficiently during the day.”

A sleep researcher in the UK, Dr Neil Stanley, said that the quality of the sleep each group was having was very similar, even though one set was reporting insomnia.

He said: “What’s the chicken and what’s the egg? Is the brain different and causing them to report worse sleep?

“Maybe they’re perceiving what happened in the night differently; maybe what is affecting their working memory and ability to focus on the task at hand is also causing insomnia.”

Scientists find key to improved memory

MemoryScientists have discovered that better coordination between two regions of the brain can boost memory.

Their findings show that the better the coordination between hippocampus and left perirhinal cortex (LPRC) – two parts of the brain previously linked with memory formation – the less likely we are to forget newly obtained information.

“When memories are supported by greater coordination between different parts of the brain, it’s a sign that they are going to last longer,” said Lila Davachi, an associate professor in New York University’s Department of Psychology and Center for Neural Science.

It is commonly understood that the key to memory consolidation – the cementing of an experience or information in our brain – is signalling from the brain’s hippocampus across different cortical areas, researchers said.

Davachi and Kaia Vilberg, a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Texas, examined how memories are formed at their earliest stages through a series of experiments over a three-day period.

The researchers aimed to encode, or create, new memories among the study’s subjects. They showed participants a series of images – objects and outdoor scenes, both of which were paired with words.

Subjects were asked to form an association between the word and image presented on the screen.

On day two, the subjects returned to the lab and completed another round of encoding tasks using new sets of visuals and words.

This allowed the researchers to compare two types of memory: the more consolidated, long duration (LD) memories encoded on day one with the less consolidated, short duration (SD) memories encoded on day two.

Participants were placed in an MRI machine – in order to monitor neural activity – and viewed the same visual-word pairings they saw on days one and two as well as a new round of visuals paired with words.

They then completed a memory test of approximately half of the visual-word pairings they’d seen thus far. On day three, they returned to the lab for a memory test on the remaining visuals.

By testing over multiple days, the researchers were able to isolate memories that declined or were preserved over time and, with it, better understand the neurological factors that contribute to memory preservation.

Their results showed that memories (ie, the visual-word associations) that were not forgotten were associated with greater coordination between the hippocampus and LPR.

By contrast, there was notably less connectivity between these regions for visual – word associations that the study’s subjects tended to forget. The study was published in the journal Neuron.

18 Health Tricks to Teach Your Body

TricksEating 10 hot dogs in 6 minutes and belching the national anthem may impress your friends, but neither of those feats will do much for your body—at least not much good.

Instead, why not train yourself to do something that may actually pay off?

We’re not talking bench presses and interval training (though those do help). You can teach your body to cure itself from everyday health ailments—side stitches, first-date jitters, even hands that have fallen asleep.

Just study this list, and the next time your friends challenge you to an ice cream eating contest, chow down: You know how to thaw a brain freeze—and 17 other tricks that’ll make everyone think you’re the next David Blaine. But without all that “hold your breath for 17 minutes” mess.

Do Them Right: To mazimize your workout, good form is a must. Men’s Health Personal Trainer features videos demos that you can download and take with you to the gym.

1 – Cure a Tickling Throat

When you were 9, playing your armpit was a cool trick. Now, as an adult, you can still appreciate a good body-based feat, especially if it serves as a health remedy. Take that tickle in your throat: It’s not worth gagging over. Here’s a better way to scratch your itch: Scratch your ear. “When the nerves in the ear are stimulated, it creates a reflex in the throat that can cause a muscle spasm,” says Scott Schaffer, M.D., president of an ear, nose, and throat specialty center in Gibbsboro, New Jersey. “This spasm relieves the tickle.”

2 – Experience Supersonic Hearing

If you’re stuck chatting up a mumbler at a cocktail party, lean in with your right ear. It’s better than your left at following the rapid rhythms of speech, according to researchers at the UCLA David Geffen School of Medicine. If, on the other hand, you’re trying to identify that song playing softly in the elevator, turn your left ear toward the sound. The left ear is better at picking up music tones.

3 – Overcome Your Most Primal Urge

Need to pee? No bathroom nearby? Fantasize about Jessica Simpson. Thinking about sex preoccupies your brain, so you won’t feel as much discomfort, says Larry Lipshultz, M.D., chief of male reproductive medicine at the Baylor College of Medicine. For best results, try Simpson’s “These Boots Are Made for Walking” video.

4 – Feel No Pain

German researchers have discovered that coughing during an injection can lessen the pain of the needle stick. According to Taras Usichenko, author of a study on the phenomenon, the trick causes a sudden, temporary rise in pressure in the chest and spinal canal, inhibiting the pain-conducting structures of the spinal cord.

5 – Clear Your Stuffed Nose

Forget Sudafed. Here’s an easier, quicker, and cheaper remedy to relieve sinus pressure: Alternate thrusting your tongue against the roof of your mouth, then pressing between your eyebrows with one finger. This causes the vomer bone, which runs through the nasal passages to the mouth, to rock back and forth, says Lisa DeStefano, D.O., an assistant professor at the Michigan State University college of osteopathic medicine. The motion loosens congestion; after 20 seconds, you’ll feel your sinuses start to drain.

6 – Fight Fire Without Water

Worried those wings will repeat on you tonight? Try this preventive remedy: “Sleep on your left side,” says Anthony A. Starpoli, M.D., a New York City gastroenterologist and assistant professor of medicine at New York Medical College. Studies have shown that patients who sleep on their left sides are less likely to suffer from acid reflux. The esophagus and stomach connect at an angle. When you sleep on your right, the stomach is higher than the esophagus, allowing food and stomach acid to slide up your throat. When you’re on your left, the stomach is lower than the esophagus, so gravity’s in your favor.

7 – Cure Your Toothache

Just rub ice on the back of your hand, on the V-shaped webbed area between your thumb and index finger. A Canadian study found that this technique reduces toothache pain by as much as 50 percent compared with using no ice. The nerve pathways at the base of that V stimulate an area of the brain that blocks pain signals from the face and hands.

8 – Make Burns Disappear

When you accidentally singe your finger on the stove, clean the skin and apply light pressure with the finger pads of your unmarred hand. Ice will relieve your pain more quickly, Dr. DeStefano says, but since the natual method brings the burned skin back to a normal temperature, the skin is less likely to blister.

9 – Stop the World from Spinning

One too many drinks left you dizzy? Ah, luckily there’s a remedy. Put your hand on something stable. The part of your ear responsible for balance—the cupula—floats in a fluid of the same density as blood. “As alcohol dilutes blood in the cupula, the cupula becomes less dense and rises,” says Dr. Schaffer. This confuses your brain. The tactile input from a stable object gives the brain a second opinion, and you feel more in balance. Because the nerves in the hand are so sensitive, this works better than the conventional foot-on-the-floor wisdom.

10 – Unstitch Your Side

If you’re like most people, when you run, you exhale as your right foot hits the ground. This puts downward pressure on your liver (which lives on your right side), which then tugs at the diaphragm and creates a side stitch, according to The Doctors Book of Home Remedies for Men. The fix: Exhale as your left foot strikes the ground.

11 – Stanch Blood with One Finger

Pinching your nose and leaning back is a great way to stop a nosebleed—if you don’t mind choking on your own O positive. A more civil approach: Put some cotton on your upper gums—just behind that small dent below your nose—and press against it, hard. “Most bleeds come from the front of the septum, the cartilage wall that divides the nose,” says Peter Desmarais, M.D., an ear, nose, and throat specialist at Entabeni Hospital, in Durban, South Africa. “Pressing here helps stop them.”

12 – Make Your Heart Stand Still

Trying to quell first-date jitters? Blow on your thumb. The vagus nerve, which governs heart rate, can be controlled through breathing, says Ben Abo, an emergency medical-services specialist at the University of Pittsburgh. It’ll get your heart rate back to normal.

13 – Thaw Your Brain

Too much Chipwich too fast will freeze the brains of lesser men. As for you, press your tongue flat against the roof of your mouth, covering as much as you can. “Since the nerves in the roof of your mouth get extremely cold, your body thinks your brain is freezing, too,” says Abo. “In compensating, it overheats, causing an ice-cream headache.” The more pressure you apply to the roof of your mouth, the faster your headache will subside.

14 – Prevent Near-Sightedness

Poor distance vision is rarely caused by genetics, says Anne Barber, O.D., an optometrist in Tacoma, Washington. “It’s usually caused by near-point stress.” In other words, staring at your computer screen for too long. So flex your way to 20/20 vision. Every few hours during the day, close your eyes, tense your body, take a deep breath, and, after a few seconds, release your breath and muscles at the same time. Tightening and releasing muscles such as the biceps and glutes can trick involuntary muscles—like the eyes—into relaxing as well.

15 – Wake the Dead

If your hand falls asleep while you’re driving or sitting in an odd position, rock your head from side to side. It’ll painlessly banish your pins and needles in less than a minute, says Dr. DeStefano. A tingly hand or arm is often the result of compression in the bundle of nerves in your neck; loosening your neck muscles releases the pressure. Compressed nerves lower in the body govern the feet, so don’t let your sleeping dogs lie. Stand up and walk around.

16 – Impress Your Friends

Next time you’re at a party, try this trick: Have a person hold one arm straight out to the side, palm down, and instruct him to maintain this position. Then place two fingers on his wrist and push down. He’ll resist. Now have him put one foot on a surface that’s a half inch higher (a few magazines) and repeat. This time his arm will cave like the French. By misaligning his hips, you’ve offset his spine, says Rachel Cosgrove, C.S.C.S., co-owner of Results Fitness, in Santa Clarita, California. Your brain senses that the spine is vulnerable, so it shuts down the body’s ability to resist.

17 – Breathe Underwater

If you’re dying to retrieve that quarter from the bottom of the pool, take several short breaths first—essentially, hyperventilate. When you’re underwater, it’s not a lack of oxygen that makes you desperate for a breath; it’s the buildup of carbon dioxide, which makes your blood acidic, which signals your brain that somethin’ ain’t right. “When you hyperventilate, the influx of oxygen lowers blood acidity,” says Jonathan Armbruster, Ph.D., an associate professor of biology at Auburn University. “This tricks your brain into thinking it has more oxygen.” It’ll buy you up to 10 seconds.

18 – Read Minds

Your own! “If you’re giving a speech the next day, review it before falling asleep,” says Candi Heimgartner, an instructor of biological sciences at the University of Idaho. Since most memory consolidation happens during sleep, anything you read right before bed is more likely to be encoded as long-term memory.

People being ‘right-brained’ or ‘left-brained’ myth debunked

BrainA participant laid in a scanner for 5 to 10 minutes while their resting brain activity was analysed.

Researchers have claimed that there is no evidence within brain imaging that indicates some people are right-brained or left-brained.

The two-year study by the University of Utah has debunked that myth through identifying specific networks in the left and right brain that process lateralized functions.

During the course of the study, researchers analyzed resting brain scans of 1,011 people between the ages of seven and 29. In each person, they studied functional lateralization of the brain measured for thousands of brain regions —finding no relationship that individuals preferentially use their left -brain network or right- brain network more often.

“It’s absolutely true that some brain functions occur in one or the other side of the brain. Language tends to be on the left, attention more on the right. But people don’t tend to have a stronger left- or right-sided brain network. It seems to be determined more connection by connection, ” Jeff Anderson, M.D., Ph.D., lead author of the study said.

A participant laid in a scanner for 5 to 10 minutes while their resting brain activity was analysed.

In the study, researchers broke up the brain into 7,000 regions and examined which regions of the brain were more lateralized. They looked for connections — or all of the possible combinations of brain regions — and added up the number of connections for each brain region that was left- lateralized or right-lateralized.

The study is published in the journal PLOS ONE

‘Shortage of neurologists a cause for concern’

BrainOnly 50 to 60 neurologists graduate every year in India, and the country lacks sufficient number of doctors to provide healthcare to its 1.2 billion population, observed Dr Sanjay Singh from the Association of American Epileptologists of Indian origin.  

“New York City alone produces more neurologists than the whole of India does,” he said, while speaking at a colloquium on drug resistant epilepsy (DRE) here on Friday.

Dr Singh also put forth a proposal for a tie-up with Nimhans (National Institute of Mental Health and Neurosciences) on an educational exchange programme, which involves 10 young neurologists visiting the US.

More than the doctor-patient ratio, what matters is providing the best and affordable healthcare, said Dr VM Katoch, director general, Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) and secretary, Department of Health Research, Government of India.

The density and diversity of demography in the huge country poses a great challenge to the healthcare providers in India, he added. “Even in terms of identifying drug resistance to Epilepsy in India, it is difficult since India has so much diversification with our mixed race. We have found 15 genes which has developed resistance to epilepsy drugs, but we want research to go ahead in the right direction,” he added.

Nimhans director Dr P Satishchandra said there are over 1,000 neurologists and over 1,500 neurosurgeons catering to India’s population which is four times more than that of the USA.

“However, the government is increasing the number of medical seats. Although the number of doctors will increase eventually, we cannot wait. We need to create a parallel setup by training the doctors. We have framed guidelines in treating epileptic patients and perform over 300 epileptic surgeries every year in the country,” he added.

Grandparents and Grandchildren Can Protect Each Other’s Mental Health

Grandparents and GrandchildrenGrandparents and their grown up grandchildren play important roles in each other’s health, a new study finds. The two-decade study found the quality of relationships between the two generations has measurable consequences on the mental well-being of both.

The researchers looked at 376 grandparents and 340 grandchildren, and tracked their mental health from 1985 to 2004. They found that both grandparents and adult grandchildren who felt emotionally close to the other generation had fewer symptoms of depression.

“Extended family members, such as grandparents and grandchildren, serve important functions in one another’s daily lives throughout adulthood,” said study researcher Sara Moorman, professor of sociology at Boston College.

Grandparents and their grown up grandchildren play important roles in each other’s health, a new study finds. The two-decade study found the quality of relationships between the two generations has measurable consequences on the mental well-being of both.

The researchers looked at 376 grandparents and 340 grandchildren, and tracked their mental health from 1985 to 2004. They found that both grandparents and adult grandchildren who felt emotionally close to the other generation had fewer symptoms of depression.

“Extended family members, such as grandparents and grandchildren, serve important functions in one another’s daily lives throughout adulthood,” said study researcher Sara Moorman, professor of sociology at Boston College.

The relationships between extended family members may be more important today than they’ve ever been, the researchers said. As life expectancy is increasing, generations co-exist for unprecedentedly long periods of time, and they can be sources of support, or strain, across people’s lives, the researchers said.

“Now, you can be 40 years old and still have one or more grandparents living, which is historically really new,” Moorman said. [10 Scientific Tips for Raising Happy Kids]

For the study, which was presented today (Aug. 12) in at the 108th Annual Meeting of the American Sociological Association in New York, the participants filled out surveys every few years, answering questions such as how often they helped each other with housework, gave or received rides to the doctor’s office or grocery store, and how well they got along. Participants also reported how often they felt depressive symptoms such as sadness and lack of appetite.

The average grandparent in the study was born in 1917 and the average grandchild in 1963, making them 77 years old and 31 years old, respectively, at the midpoint of the study in 1994.

The results showed that besides the positive mental-health effects of having an emotionally close relationship, it is important for grandparents to be able to reciprocate the help they receive from their grandchildren, according to the researchers.

“Grandparents expect to be able to help their grandchildren, even when their grandchildren are grown,” Moorman said.

Among the participants, grandparents who felt independent, gave their grandchildren advice and bought them an occasional gift or paid for lunch had fewer depressive symptoms, whereas grandparents who only received help, without reciprocating had increased depressive symptoms.

The findings also showed it is important for grandchildren to help their grandparents remain independent, and maintain a two-way, supportive relationship, in order to ward off the detrimental effects of aging on the mental and emotional well-being of the older adults.

“All people benefit from feeling needed, worthwhile, and independent. In other words, let granddad write you a check on your birthday, even if he’s on Social Security and you’ve held a real job for years now,” Moorman said.

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