Chapter 11. Emotions, Aggression, and Stress

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By Erin Garcia de Jesús In spring 2022, a handful of red foxes in Wisconsin were behaving oddly. Veterinary pathologist Betsy Elsmo learned that a local wildlife rehabilitation center was caring for foxes with neurological symptoms like seizures, tremors, uncoordinated movements and lethargy. But tests for common pathogens like canine distemper virus and rabies that typically cause the symptoms came back negative. Then a red fox kit tested positive for influenza A. This group of viruses includes seasonal flus that cause respiratory disease in people and many other strains that commonly circulate among animals such as waterfowl and other birds. “I was surprised,” says Elsmo, of the University of Wisconsin–Madison. “And to be honest, at first I kind of wrote it off.” That is, until a veterinary technician at the rehab center sent Elsmo a study describing cases of avian influenza in red foxes in the Netherlands. Examinations of the Wisconsin kit’s tissues under the microscope revealed lesions in the brain, lung and heart that matched what had been seen in the Netherlands animals. “And I thought, I think it is [bird flu],” she recalls. Additional testing confirmed the diagnosis in the kit and the other foxes, Elsmo and colleagues reported in the December 2023 Emerging Infectious Diseases. The animals had contracted a lethal strain of H5N1 avian influenza that emerged in late 2020 in Europe and has since spread around the world. At the time infections were discovered in the Wisconsin red foxes, bird flu was expanding its incursion into North America. Since H5N1 arrived on North American shores in December 2021, it has infected animals as wide-ranging as polar bears, skunks, sea lions, bottlenosed dolphins and cows (SN: 7/8/24). And one unwelcome revelation of the ongoing outbreak is the virus’s propensity to invade the brains of myriad mammals. © Society for Science & the Public 2000–2024.

Keyword: Stress
Link ID: 29392 - Posted: 07.13.2024

By Dana G. Smith In July 2016, a heat wave hit Boston, with daytime temperatures averaging 92 degrees for five days in a row. Some local university students who were staying in town for the summer got lucky and were living in dorms with central air-conditioning. Other students, not so much — they were stuck in older dorms without A.C. Jose Guillermo Cedeño Laurent, a Harvard researcher at the time, decided to take advantage of this natural experiment to see how heat, and especially heat at night, affected the young adults’ cognitive performance. He had 44 students perform math and self-control tests five days before the temperature rose, every day during the heat wave, and two days after. “Many of us think that we are immune to heat,” said Dr. Cedeño, now an assistant professor of environmental and occupational health and justice at Rutgers University. “So something that I wanted to test was whether that was really true.” It turns out even young, healthy college students are affected by high temperatures. During the hottest days, the students in the un-air-conditioned dorms, where nighttime temperatures averaged 79 degrees, performed significantly worse on the tests they took every morning than the students with A.C., whose rooms stayed a pleasant 71 degrees. A heat wave is once again blanketing the Northeast, South and Midwest. High temperatures can have an alarming effect on our bodies, raising the risk for heart attacks, heatstroke and death, particularly among older adults and people with chronic diseases. But heat also takes a toll on our brains, impairing cognition and making us irritable, impulsive and aggressive. Numerous studies in lab settings have produced similar results to Dr. Cedeño’s research, with scores on cognitive tests falling as scientists raised the temperature in the room. One investigation found that just a four-degree increase — which participants described as still feeling comfortable — led to a 10 percent average drop in performance across tests of memory, reaction time and executive functioning. © 2024 The New York Times Company

Keyword: Aggression
Link ID: 29370 - Posted: 06.26.2024

By Esther Landhuis Last month, researchers discovered cells in the brainstem that regulate inflammation throughout the body. In response to an injury, these nerve cells not only sense inflammatory molecules, but also dial their circulating levels up and down to keep infections from harming healthy tissues. The discovery adds control of the immune system to the brainstem’s core functions — a list that also includes monitoring heart rate, breathing and aspects of taste — and suggests new potential targets for treating inflammatory disorders like arthritis and inflammatory bowel disease. During an intense workout or high-stakes exam, your brain can sense the spike in your heart rate and help restore a normal rhythm. Likewise, the brain can help stabilize your blood pressure by triggering chemical signals that widen or constrict blood vessels. Such feats often go unnoticed, but they illustrate a fundamental concept of physiology known as homeostasis — the capacity of organisms to keep their internal systems working smoothly and stably amid shifting circumstances. Now, in a paper published on May 1 in Nature, researchers describe how homeostatic control extends even to the sprawl of cells and tissues that comprise our immune system. The team applied a clever genetic approach in mice to identify cells in the brainstem that adjust immune reactions to pathogens and other outside triggers. These neurons operate like a “volume controller” that keeps the animals’ inflammatory responses within a physiological range, said paper author Hao Jin, a neuroimmunologist at the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. © 2024 Simons Foundation.

Keyword: Miscellaneous
Link ID: 29361 - Posted: 06.15.2024

By Ellen Barry Post-traumatic stress disorder diagnoses among college students more than doubled between 2017 and 2022, climbing most sharply as the coronavirus pandemic shut down campuses and upended young adults’ lives, according to new research published on Thursday. The prevalence of PTSD rose to 7.5 percent from 3.4 percent during that period, according to the findings. Researchers analyzed responses from more than 390,000 participants in the Healthy Minds Study, an annual web-based survey. “The magnitude of this rise is indeed shocking,” said Yusen Zhai, the paper’s lead author, who heads the community counseling clinic at the University of Alabama at Birmingham. His clinic had seen more young people struggling in the aftermath of traumatic events. So he expected an increase, but not such a large one. Dr. Zhai, an assistant professor in the Department of Human Studies, attributed the rise to “broader societal stressors” on college students, such as campus shootings, social unrest and the sudden loss of loved ones from the coronavirus. PTSD is a mental health disorder characterized by intrusive thoughts, flashbacks and heightened sensitivity to reminders of an event, continuing more than a month after it occurs. It is a relatively common disorder, with an estimated 5 percent of adults in the United States experiencing it in any given year, according to the most recent epidemiological survey conducted by the Department of Health and Human Services. Lifetime prevalence is 8 percent in women and 4 percent in men, the survey found. The new research also found a sharp rise in the prevalence of a similar condition, acute stress disorder, which is diagnosed less than a month after a trauma. Diagnoses rose to 0.7 percent among college students in 2022, up from 0.2 percent five years earlier. Use of mental health care increased nationally during the pandemic, as teletherapy made it far easier to see clinicians. Treatment for anxiety disorders increased most steeply, followed by PTSD, bipolar disorder and depression, according to economists who analyzed more than 1.5 million insurance claims for clinician visits between 2020 and 2022. © 2024 The New York Times Company

Keyword: Stress
Link ID: 29350 - Posted: 06.08.2024

By Andrew Jacobs An independent advisory panel of the Food and Drug Administration rejected the use of MDMA-assisted therapy for post-traumatic stress disorder on Tuesday, highlighting the unparalleled regulatory challenges of a novel therapy using the drug commonly known as Ecstasy. Before the vote, members of the panel raised concerns about the designs of the two studies submitted by the drug’s sponsor, Lykos Therapeutics. Many questions focused on the fact that study participants were by and large able to correctly guess whether they had been given MDMA, also known by the names of Ecstasy or molly. The panel voted 9-2 on whether the MDMA-assisted therapy was effective, and voted 10-1 on whether the proposed treatment’s benefits outweighed its risks. Other panelists expressed concerns over the drug’s potential cardiovascular effects, and possible bias among the therapists and facilitators who guided the sessions and may have positively influenced patient outcomes. A case of misconduct involving a patient and therapist in the study also weighed on some panelists’ minds. Many of the committee members said they were especially worried about the failure of Lykos to collect detailed data from participants on the potential for abuse of a drug that generates feelings of bliss and well-being. “I absolutely agree that we need new and better treatments for PTSD,” said Paul Holtzheimer, deputy director for research at the National Center for PTSD, a panelist who voted no on the question of whether the benefits of MDMA-therapy outweighed the risks. “However, I also note that premature introduction of a treatment can actually stifle development, stifle implementation and lead to premature adoption of treatments that are either not completely known to be safe, not fully effective or not being used at their optimal efficacy,” he added. © 2024 The New York Times Company

Keyword: Stress; Drug Abuse
Link ID: 29343 - Posted: 06.06.2024

By Ellen Barry The annual gathering of the American Psychiatric Association is a dignified and collegial affair, full of scholarly exchanges, polite laughter and polite applause. So it was a shock, for those who took their seats in Room 1E08 of the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center in Manhattan, to watch a powerfully built 32-year-old man choke back tears as he described being slammed to the floor and cuffed to a stretcher in a psychiatric unit. Because the man, Matthew Tuleja, had been a Division I football player, he had a certain way of describing the circle of bodies that closed around him, the grabbing and grappling and the sensation of being dominated, pinned and helpless. He was on the ground in a small room filled with pepper spray. Then his wrists and ankles were cuffed to the sides of a stretcher, and his pants were yanked down. They gave him injections of Haldol, an antipsychotic medication he had repeatedly tried to refuse, as he howled in protest. Forcible restraints are routine events in American hospitals. One recent study, using 2017 data from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, estimated the number of restraints per year at more than 44,000. But it is rare to hear a first-person account of the experience, because it tends to happen to people who do not have a platform. Researchers who surveyed patients about restraint and seclusion have found that a large portion, 25 to 47 percent , met criteria for post-traumatic stress disorder. Listening, rapt, to Mr. Tuleja was a roomful of psychiatrists. It was a younger crowd — people who had entered the field at the time of the Black Lives Matter protests. Many of them lined up to speak to him afterward. “I still can’t forget the first time I saw someone restrained,” one doctor told him. “You don’t forget that.” © 2024 The New York Times Company

Keyword: Schizophrenia; Aggression
Link ID: 29317 - Posted: 05.21.2024

By Laura Sanders Everyone knows that the brain influences the heart. Stressful thoughts can set the heart pounding, sometimes with such deep force that we worry people can hear it. Anxiety can trigger the irregular skittering of atrial fibrillation. In more extreme and rarer cases, emotional turmoil from a shock — the death of a loved one, a cancer diagnosis, an intense argument — can trigger a syndrome that mimics a heart attack. But not everyone knows that the heart talks back. Subscribe to Science News Powerful signals travel from the heart to the brain, affecting our perceptions, decisions and mental health. And the heart is not alone in talking back. Other organs also send mysterious signals to the brain in ways that scientists are just beginning to tease apart. A bodywide perspective that seeks to understand our biology and behavior is relatively new, leaving lots of big, basic questions. The complexities of brain-body interactions are “only matched by our ignorance of their organization,” says Peter Strick, a neuroscientist at the University of Pittsburgh. Exploring the relationships between the heart, other organs and the brain isn’t just fascinating anatomy. A deeper understanding of how we sense and use signals from inside our bodies — a growing field called interoception — may point to new treatments for disorders such as anxiety. “We have forgotten that interactions with the internal world are probably as important as interactions with the external world,” says cognitive neuroscientist Catherine Tallon-Baudry of École Normale Supérieure in Paris. © Society for Science & the Public 2000–2024.

Keyword: Emotions; Depression
Link ID: 29313 - Posted: 05.18.2024

By Giorgia Guglielmi A population of neurons in the brain stem, the stalk-like structure that connects the bulk of the brain to the spinal cord, acts as the master dial for the immune system.Credit: Voisin/Phanie/Science Photo Library Scientists have long known that the brain plays a part in the immune system — but how it does so has been a mystery. Now, scientists have identified cells in the brainstem that sense immune cues from the periphery of the body and act as master regulators of the body’s inflammatory response. The results, published on 1 May in Nature1, suggest that the brain maintains a delicate balance between the molecular signals that promote inflammation and those that dampen it — a finding that could lead to treatments for autoimmune diseases and other conditions caused by an excessive immune response. The discovery is akin to a black-swan event — unexpected but making perfect sense once revealed, says Ruslan Medzhitov, an immunologist at Yale University in New Haven, Connecticut. Scientists have known that the brainstem has many functions, such as controlling basic processes such as breathing. However, he adds, the study “shows that there is whole layer of biology that we haven’t even anticipated”. The brain is watching After sensing an intruder, the immune system unleashes a flood of immune cells and compounds that promote inflammation. This inflammatory response must be controlled with exquisite precision: if it’s too weak, the body is at greater risk of becoming infected; if it’s too strong, it can damage the body’s own tissues and organs. Previous work has shown that the vagus nerve, a large network of nerve fibres that links the body with the brain, influences immune responses. However, the specific brain neurons that are activated by immune stimuli remained elusive, says Hao Jin, a neuroimmunologist at the US National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases in Bethesda, Maryland, who led the work. © 2024 Springer Nature Limited

Keyword: Neuroimmunology
Link ID: 29286 - Posted: 05.02.2024

By J. David Creswell Let’s start thinking differently about exercise. Decades of exercise science research show that when people or animals are given a new exercise routine, they get healthier. But when thinking about the benefits of exercise, most people hold a strong body bias; they focus on how regular exercise builds more lean body mass, helps increase their strength and balance, or improves heart health. Exercise matters even more for our brains, it turns out, in ways that are often overlooked. Here’s how we know. Animal exercise studies typically run rats for weeks on running wheels. The animals gleefully run every night, sprinting several miles over the course of an evening. There are wonderful health benefits in these studies of voluntary running—improved muscle tone and cardiovascular health, and many brain benefits too. But in some studies, there’s an additional experimental condition where some rats exercise with one crucial difference: it’s no longer voluntary exercise. Instead of a freestanding running wheel, rats run on a mechanized wheel that spins, forcing the animals to cover the same distance as the voluntary runners. What happens? When the rats are forced to exercise on a daily basis for several weeks, their bodies become more physically fit, but their brains suffer. Animals regularly forced to exercise have the equivalent of an anxiety disorder, behaving on new tasks in highly anxious and avoidant ways. These animals are more anxious not only compared to the voluntary runners, but also to animals that are not given an opportunity to exercise at all. Yes, forced exercise might be worse than no exercise at all. This work suggests something important about the health benefits of exercise: it is not just about making our muscles work, but what exercise does to our brains. When exercise gives us a sense of control, mastery and joy, our brains become less anxious. If we take that away, by forcing exercise, we can shift it from helpful to harmful. © 2024 SCIENTIFIC AMERICAN,

Keyword: Stress; Depression
Link ID: 29284 - Posted: 05.02.2024

By Sabrina Malhi The phrase “anger kills” might have a more literal meaning: New research suggests a possible reason frequent anger has been linked to an increased risk of cardiovascular disease. The study, published Wednesday in the Journal of the American Heart Association, emphasizes the potential health risks associated with intense anger and illuminates the influence of negative emotions on our overall well-being. Funded by the National Institutes of Health, the study involved 280 healthy adults who were randomly assigned to a different eight-minute task, each designed to elicit feelings of anger, anxiety, sadness or neutrality. Before and after these emotional tasks, researchers assessed the participants’ endothelial health. Endothelial cells, which line the insides of blood vessels, are essential for maintaining vessel integrity and are vital for proper circulation and cardiovascular health. The findings revealed that anger had a significant negative impact on endothelial function, limiting the blood vessels’ ability to dilate. The response was not as pronounced with anxiety or sadness. According to Daichi Shimbo, a cardiologist and professor of medicine at Columbia University Irving Medical Center and the lead study author, this research marks a step toward understanding how different negative emotions particularly affect physical health. “It's fascinating that anxiety and sadness did not have the same effect as anger, suggesting that the ways in which negative emotions contribute to heart disease differ,” Shimbo said.

Keyword: Emotions; Stress
Link ID: 29282 - Posted: 05.02.2024

By Shaena Montanari The sympathetic nervous system may have originated in jawless fish—not tens of millions of years later as previously thought, according to a study published today in Nature. Anatomical work dating back to the 19th century suggested that the sympathetic nervous system was present only in jawed vertebrates. Yet the sea lamprey, the new findings reveal, sports clusters of sympathetic neurons along its trunk and expresses several genes involved in the “fight-or-flight” system, the response that kicks into gear when an animal perceives a threat. “Whenever new research causes troves of textbooks to need corrections, that’s always surprising,” says Tyler Square, assistant professor of molecular genetics at the University of Florida, who was not involved in the study. The team behind the new work decided to re-examine conventional wisdom after a postdoctoral researcher in the lab produced microscopy images of lamprey embryos stained for neurons in the animals’ gut. The stain highlighted some “small sort of concentrations of cells” that looked a lot like sympathetic neurons, recalls lead investigator Marianne Bronner, professor of biology at the California Institute of Technology. “I said, ‘Oh, those shouldn’t be there.’ So then we decided to delve deeper into it.” The unexpected neurons express several key genes—specifically ASCL1, PHOX2 and HAND—involved in the sympathoadrenal system, the team discovered using a suite of techniques, including immunohistochemistry, in situ hybridization chain reaction and RNA sequencing. These are “all transcription factors that are known to be important in sympathetic neuron differentiation in mammals,” Bronner says. © 2024 Simons Foundation

Keyword: Stress; Evolution
Link ID: 29270 - Posted: 04.26.2024

By Helen Bradshaw With its hairless silicone skin and blue complexion, Emo the robot looks more like a mechanical re-creation of the Blue Man Group than a regular human. Until it smiles. In a study published March 27 in Science Robotics, researchers detail how they trained Emo to smile in sync with humans. Emo can predict a human smile 839 milliseconds before it happens and smile back. Right now, in most humanoid robots, there’s a noticeable delay before they can smile back at a person, often because the robots are imitating a person’s face in real time. “I think a lot of people actually interacting with a social robot for the first time are disappointed by how limited it is,” says Chaona Chen, a human-robot interaction researcher at the University of Glasgow in Scotland. “Improving robots’ expression in real time is important.” Through synced facial expressions, future iterations of robots could be sources of connection in our loneliness epidemic, says Yuhang Hu, a roboticist at Columbia University who, along with colleagues, created Emo (SN: 11/7/23). Cameras in the robot’s eyes let it detect subtleties in human expressions that it then emulates using 26 actuators underneath its soft, blue face. To train Emo, the researchers first put it in front of a camera for a few hours. Like looking in a mirror would do for humans and their muscles, looking at itself in the camera while researchers ran random motor commands on the actuators helped Emo learn the relationships between activating actuators in its face and the expressions it created. “Then the robot knows, OK, if I want to make a smiley face, I should actuate these ‘muscles,’” Hu says. © Society for Science & the Public 2000–2024.

Keyword: Emotions; Robotics
Link ID: 29258 - Posted: 04.16.2024

By Carl Zimmer In the early 1900s, primatologists noticed a group of apes in central Africa with a distinctly slender build; they called them “pygmy chimpanzees.” But as the years passed, it became clear that those animals, now known as bonobos, were profoundly different from chimpanzees. Chimpanzee societies are dominated by males that kill other males, raid the territory of neighboring troops and defend their own ground with border patrols. Male chimpanzees also attack females to coerce them into mating, and sometimes even kill infants. Among bonobos, in contrast, females are dominant. Males do not go on patrols, form alliances or kill other bonobos. And bonobos usually resolve their disputes with sex — lots of it. Bonobos became famous for showing that nature didn’t always have to be red in tooth and claw. “Bonobos are an icon for peace and love, the world’s ‘hippie chimps,’” Sally Coxe, a conservationist, said in 2006. But these sweeping claims were not based on much data. Because bonobos live in remote, swampy rainforests, it has been much more difficult to observe them in the wild than chimpanzees. More recent research has shown that bonobos live a more aggressive life than their reputation would suggest. In a study based on thousands of hours of observations in the wild published on Friday, for example, researchers found that male bonobos commit acts of aggression nearly three times as often as male chimpanzees do. “There is no ‘hippie ape,’” said Maud Mouginot, a biological anthropologist at Boston University who led the analysis. As our closest living relatives, bonobos and chimpanzees can offer us clues about the roots of human behavior. We and the two species share a common ancestor that lived about 7 million years ago. About 5 million years later, bonobos split off from chimpanzees. © 2024 The New York Times Company

Keyword: Aggression; Evolution
Link ID: 29256 - Posted: 04.13.2024

By Joanne Silberner A hug, a handshake, a therapeutic massage. A newborn lying on a mother’s bare chest. Physical touch can buoy well-being and lessen pain, depression and anxiety, according to a large new analysis of published research released on Monday in the journal Nature Human Behaviour. Researchers from Germany and the Netherlands systematically reviewed years of research on touch, strokes, hugs and rubs. They also combined data from 137 studies, which included nearly 13,000 adults, children and infants. Each study compared individuals who had been physically touched in some way over the course of an experiment — or had touched an object like a fuzzy stuffed toy — to similar individuals who had not. For example, one study showed that daily 20-minute gentle massages for six weeks in older people with dementia decreased aggressiveness and reduced the levels of a stress marker in the blood. Another found that massages boosted the mood of breast cancer patients. One study even showed that healthy young adults who caressed a robotic baby seal were happier, and felt less pain from a mild heat stimulus, than those who read an article about an astronomer. Positive effects were particularly noticeable in premature babies, who “massively improve” with skin-to-skin contact, said Frédéric Michon, a researcher at the Netherlands Institute for Neuroscience and one of the study’s authors. “There have been a lot of claims that touch is good, touch is healthy, touch is something that we all need,” said Rebecca Boehme, a neuroscientist at Linkoping University in Sweden, who reviewed the study for the journal. “But actually, nobody had looked at it from this broad, bird’s eye perspective.” © 2024 The New York Times Company

Keyword: Pain & Touch; Emotions
Link ID: 29252 - Posted: 04.11.2024

By Christina Caron Anxious ahead of a big job interview? Worried about giving a speech? First date nerves? The solution, some digital start-ups suggest, is a beta blocker, a type of medication that can slow heart rate and lower blood pressure — masking some of the physical symptoms of anxiety. Typically a trip to the doctor’s office would be necessary to get a prescription, but a number of companies are now connecting patients with doctors for quick virtual visits and shipping the medication to people’s homes. “No more ‘Shaky and Sweaty,’” one online ad promised. “Easy fast 15 minute intake.” That worries Dr. Yvette I. Sheline, a professor of psychiatry at the University of Pennsylvania Perelman School of Medicine. “The first question is: What is going on with this person?” Dr. Sheline said. Are they depressed in addition to anxious? Do they have chronic anxiety or is it just a temporary case of stage fright? “You don’t want to end up prescribing the wrong thing,” she added. In addition, although beta blockers are generally considered safe, experts say they can carry unpleasant side effects and should be used with caution. What are beta blockers? Beta blockers such as propranolol hydrochloride have been approved by the Food and Drug Administration for chest pain, migraine prevention, involuntary tremors, abnormal heart rhythms and other uses. Some are still prescribed for hypertension, although they’re no longer considered the preferred treatment, mainly because other medications are more effective in preventing stroke and death. © 2024 The New York Times Company

Keyword: Emotions; Stress
Link ID: 29247 - Posted: 04.06.2024

By Saima May Sidik In 2010, Theresa Chaklos was diagnosed with chronic lymphocytic leukaemia — the first in a series of ailments that she has had to deal with since. She’d always been an independent person, living alone and supporting herself as a family-law facilitator in the Washington DC court system. But after illness hit, her independence turned into loneliness. Loneliness, in turn, exacerbated Chaklos’s physical condition. “I dropped 15 pounds in less than a week because I wasn’t eating,” she says. “I was so miserable, I just would not get up.” Fortunately a co-worker convinced her to ask her friends to help out, and her mood began to lift. “It’s a great feeling” to know that other people are willing to show up, she says. Many people can’t break out of a bout of loneliness so easily. And when acute loneliness becomes chronic, the health effects can be far-reaching. Chronic loneliness can be as detrimental as obesity, physical inactivity and smoking according to a report by Vivek Murthy, the US surgeon general. Depression, dementia, cardiovascular disease1 and even early death2 have all been linked to the condition. Worldwide, around one-quarter of adults feel very or fairly lonely, according to a 2023 poll conducted by the social-media firm Meta, the polling company Gallup and a group of academic advisers (see That same year, the World Health Organization launched a campaign to address loneliness, which it called a “pressing health threat”. But why does feeling alone lead to poor health? Over the past few years, scientists have begun to reveal the neural mechanisms that cause the human body to unravel when social needs go unmet. The field “seems to be expanding quite significantly”, says cognitive neuroscientist Nathan Spreng at McGill University in Montreal, Canada. And although the picture is far from complete, early results suggest that loneliness might alter many aspects of the brain, from its volume to the connections between neurons.

Keyword: Stress
Link ID: 29245 - Posted: 04.06.2024

By Esther Landhuis When Angela Tang’s teenage son came down with a baffling illness, few households could have been better equipped to deal with it. The family lives in a wealthy Los Angeles suburb. Both parents are doctors — Tang in internal medicine, her husband in infectious disease — and their son, a straight-A student well-liked at school, had been cared for by the family’s pediatrician since birth. Still, the parents worried as their son’s symptoms appeared, seemingly out of the blue, in September 2018: He’d meticulously line up pencils in groups of five, recite prayers unrelentingly, make homework illegible as he had to erase or cross out every C, D, and F. Eating, too, became a chore. If he had a contaminating thought while taking a bite, he’d have to spit out the food, wash his mouth, and try again, but the new bite couldn’t have touched the old one. It got to the point where he could only eat mushy or semi-liquid foods carefully placed “in little aliquots on his plate, so that if one bite got contaminated,” it wouldn’t touch the others, Tang said. Before long, she and her husband were working around the clock just to get him through the day. In a panic, Tang consulted their pediatrician, and recalls the doctor asking an intriguing question: “Has he had any unusual infections recently — because you know about PANDAS, right?” At the time, Tang knew nothing about PANDAS. She had completed her own medical residency two years before the illness — short for pediatric autoimmune neuropsychiatric disorders associated with streptococcal infections — was first outlined in a 1998 paper. That publication detailed how a child’s behavior could change alarmingly after a strep infection, and may include symptoms of obsessive-compulsive behavior and tics. It has also stirred controversy: Many doctors hesitate to diagnose or treat the condition even today.

Keyword: OCD - Obsessive Compulsive Disorder; Neuroimmunology
Link ID: 29241 - Posted: 04.04.2024

By Lucy Cooke When Frans de Waal was a psychology student at Nijmegen University (renamed in 2004 to Radboud University), in the Netherlands, he was tasked with looking after the department’s resident chimpanzees—Koos and Nozem. De Waal couldn’t help but notice how his charges became sexually aroused in the presence of his fellow female students. So, one day, de Waal decided to don a skirt, a pair of heels, and speak “in a high-pitched voice” to test their response. The chimps remained resolutely unstimulated by de Waal’s drag act, leading the young scientist to conclude there must be more to primate sexual discrimination than previously thought. De Waal died from stomach cancer on March 14 at his home in Georgia. He was 75. One of de Waal’s first forays into scientific experimentation demonstrates the playful curiosity and taboo-busting that underscored his extraordinary career as a primatologist. He was the recipient of numerous high-profile awards from the prestigious E.O. Wilson Literary Science Award to the Ig Nobel Prize—a satirical honor for research that makes people laugh and think. De Waal won the latter, with equal pride, for co-authoring a paper on chimpanzees’ tendency to recognize bums better than faces. It was this combination of humor, compassion, and iconoclastic thinking that drew me to his work. I first met him through his popular writing. The acclaimed primatologist was author of hundreds of peer-reviewed academic papers, but he was also that rare genius who could translate the complexities of his research into a highly digestible form, readily devoured by the masses. He was the author of 16 books, translated into over 20 languages. His public lectures were laced with deadpan humor, and a joy to attend. He saw no tension between being taken seriously as a pioneering scientist and hosting a Facebook page devoted to posting funny animal content. De Waal just loved watching animals. He was, by his own admission, a born naturalist. Growing up in a small town in southern Netherlands, he’d bred stickleback fish and raised jackdaw birds. So, it was only natural he’d wind up scrutinizing animal behavior for a career. What set de Waal’s observations apart was his ability to do so with fresh eyes. Where others could only see what they expected to see, de Waal managed to study primates outside of the accepted paradigms of the time. © 2024 NautilusNext Inc.,

Keyword: Evolution; Emotions
Link ID: 29208 - Posted: 03.23.2024

By Alex Traub Frans de Waal, who used his study of the inner lives of animals to build a powerful case that apes think, feel, strategize, pass down culture and act on moral sentiments — and that humans are not quite as special as many of us like to think — died on Thursday at his home in Stone Mountain, Ga. He was 75. The cause was stomach cancer, his wife, Catherine Marin, said. A psychologist at Emory University in Atlanta and a research scientist at the school’s Yerkes National Primate Research Center, Professor de Waal objected to the common usage of the word “instinct.” He saw the behavior of all sentient creatures, from crows to persons, existing on the same broad continuum of evolutionary adaptation. “Uniquely human emotions don’t exist,” he argued in a 2019 New York Times guest essay. “Like organs, the emotions evolved over millions of years to serve essential functions.” The ambition and clarity of his thought, his skills as a storyteller and his prolific output made him an exceptionally popular figure for a primatologist — or a serious scientist of any kind. Two of his books, “Are We Smart Enough to Know How Smart Animals Are?” (2016) and “Mama’s Last Hug: Animal Emotions and What They Tell Us About Ourselves” (2019), were best sellers. In the mid-1990s, when he was speaker of the House, Newt Gingrich put Professor de Waal’s first book, “Chimpanzee Politics” (1982), on a reading list for Republican House freshmen. The novelists Claire Messud and Sigrid Nunez both told The New York Times that they liked his writing. The actress Isabella Rossellini hosted a talk with him in Brooklyn last year. Major philosophers like Christine Korsgaard and Peter Singer wrote long, considered responses to his ideas. © 2024 The New York Times Company

Keyword: Evolution; Emotions
Link ID: 29200 - Posted: 03.21.2024

By Heidi Ledford Two preliminary studies suggest that next-generation engineered immune cells show promise against one of the most feared forms of cancer. A pair of papers published on 13 March, one in Nature Medicine1 and the other in The New England Journal of Medicine2, describe the design and deployment of immune cells called chimeric antigen receptor T (CAR T) cells against glioblastoma, an aggressive and difficult-to-treat form of brain cancer. The average length of survival for people with this tumour is eight months. Both teams found early hints of progress using CAR T cells that target two proteins made by glioblastoma cells, thereby marking those cells for destruction. CAR T cells are currently approved for treating only blood cancers, such as leukaemia, and are typically engineered to home in on only one target. But these results add to mounting evidence that CAR T cells could be modified to treat a wider range of cancers. “It lends credence to the potential power of CAR T cells to make a difference in solid tumours, especially the brain,” says Bryan Choi, a neurosurgeon at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston, and a lead author of the New England Journal of Medicine study. “It adds to the excitement that we might be able to move the needle.” Glioblastomas offer a formidable challenge. Fast-growing glioblastomas can mix with healthy brain cells, forming diffuse tumours that are difficult to remove surgically. Surgery, chemotherapy and radiation therapy are typically the only treatment options for these tumours, and tend to produce short-lived, partial responses. © 2024 Springer Nature Limited

Keyword: Neuroimmunology
Link ID: 29195 - Posted: 03.19.2024