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by Helen Thompson Barn owl ears age well. Unlike other animals, the birds don’t suffer from hearing loss as a hallmark of aging, a new study suggests. Beyond people, age-related hearing loss has been documented in mice, gerbils and chinchillas. Those deficits are linked to deterioration of the tiny hair cells that line the sensory layer of the eardrum. But some evidence hints that birds may not suffer from dips in hearing. Bianca Krumm and her colleagues at the University of Oldenburg in Germany tested the ear sensitivity of seven barn owls (Tyto alba) grouped by age. There weren’t significant differences in what 2-year-old owls could hear versus those age 13 or older, suggesting the birds’ ears remain intact despite age, the researchers conclude September 20 in Proceedings of the Royal Society B. While the exact mechanism for this apparent ear agelessness remains elusive, the researchers suspect that the birds must continuously regenerate sensory ear tissue — a process that wanes with age in other species. © Society for Science & the Public 2000 - 2017

Keyword: Hearing; Regeneration
Link ID: 24078 - Posted: 09.20.2017

Ian Sample Science editor World-leading neuroscientists have launched an ambitious project to answer one of the greatest mysteries of all time: how the brain decides what to do. The international effort will draw on expertise from 21 labs in the US and Europe to uncover for the first time where, when, and how neurons in the brain take information from the outside world, make sense of it, and work out how to respond. If the researchers can unravel what happens in detail, it would mark a dramatic leap forward in scientists’ understanding of a process that lies at the heart of life, and which ultimately has implications for intelligence and free will. “Life is about making decisions,” said Alexandre Pouget, a neuroscientist involved in the project at the University of Geneva. “It’s one decision after another, on every time scale, from the most mundane thing to the most fundamental in your life. It is the essence of what the brain is about.” Backed with an initial £10m ($14m) from the US-based Simons Foundation and the Wellcome Trust, the endeavour will bring neuroscientists together into a virtual research group called the International Brain Laboratory (IBL). Half of the IBL researchers will perform experiments and the other half will focus on theoretical models of how the brain makes up its mind. The IBL was born largely out the realisation that many problems in modern neuroscience are too hard for a single lab to crack. But the founding scientists are also frustrated at how research is done today. While many neuroscientists work on the same problems, labs differ in the experiments and data analyses they run, often making it impossible to compare results across labs and build up a confident picture of what is really happening in the brain. © 2017 Guardian News and Media Limited

Keyword: Brain imaging
Link ID: 24077 - Posted: 09.19.2017

By Jessica Hamzelou Aggression and sexual behaviour are controlled by the same brain cells in male mice – but not in females. The finding suggests that males are more likely to become aggressive when they see a potential mate than females. The brain regions that contain these cells look similar in mice and humans, say the researchers behind the study, but they don’t yet know if their finding has relevance to human behaviour. Similar to humans, male mice are, on the whole, more aggressive than females. Because of this, most research into aggression has overlooked females, says Dayu Lin at New York University. “I would say 90 per cent of aggression studies have been done in males,” she says. “We know very little about aggression in females.” But females can be aggressive too. For instance, female mice can be aggressive when protecting their newborn pups. In 2011, Lin and her colleagues studied a region of the brain called the hypothalamus, responsible for regulating many different behaviours. They discovered a set of cells within this region in male mice that controlled both aggressive and sexual behaviours. When the cells were shut off, the mice didn’t mate or show aggression, but both behaviours could be triggered when the cells were stimulated. © Copyright New Scientist Ltd.

Keyword: Aggression; Sexual Behavior
Link ID: 24076 - Posted: 09.19.2017

By Jessica Hamzelou People who are blind use parts of their brain that normally handle for vision to process language, as well as sounds – highlighting the brain’s extraordinary ability to requisition unused real estate for new functions. Neurons in the part of the brain normally responsible for vision synchronise their activity to the sounds of speech in blind people, says Olivier Collignon at the Catholic University of Louvain (UCL) in Belgium. “It’s a strong argument that the organisation of the language system… is not constrained by our genetic blueprint alone,” he says. The finding builds on previous research showing that the parts of the brain responsible for vision can learn to process other kinds of information, including touch and sound, in people who are blind. Collignon and his colleagues made the discovery using magnetoencephalography (MEG), which measures electrical activity in the brain. Read more: How some blind people are able to echolocate like bats While they were being scanned, groups of sighted and blind volunteers were played three clips from an audio book. One recording was clear and easy to understand; another was distorted but still intelligible; and the third was modified so as to be completely incomprehensible. Both groups showed activity in the brain’s auditory cortex, a region that processes sounds, while listening to the clips. But the volunteers who were blind showed activity in the visual cortex, too. © Copyright New Scientist Ltd.

Keyword: Vision; Language
Link ID: 24075 - Posted: 09.19.2017

By Emily Chung, CBC News If you were blind and walked into a coffee shop, how would you find the counter so you could order? That's easy for Susan Vaile at 9 Bars Coffee in Toronto — she just needs to listen to her smartphone: "Walk forward six metres to carpet. Service counter at 9 o' clock." Sure enough, there it is, and within minutes, Vaile has ordered and received a small coffee with double cream and double sugar. Similar verbal directions are already available to customers like Vaile at several other businesses in the Yonge and St. Clair neighbourhood, thanks to a pilot project called ShopTalk launched by the CNIB, a charity that provides community-based support for people who are blind or partially sighted. The project installs and programs palm-sized Apple iBeacons that use Bluetooth wireless signals to connect with nearby users' phones via an iPhone app called BlindSquare. It provides directions to help them navigate through doors and vestibules, to service counters, washrooms, and other important parts of buildings such as stores and restaurants. Vaile says the beacons make it possible for customers like herself to find their way independently. ©2017 CBC/Radio-Canada.

Keyword: Vision
Link ID: 24074 - Posted: 09.19.2017

By Marissa Fessenden, A new technique classifies neurons by surveying chemical tags that turn genes on or off on the neurons’ DNA1. The approach represents a new way to chart the brain’s cellular diversity. It could reveal how patterns of chemical tags known as methyl groups are altered in autism. Methyl groups bind to the DNA base cytosine. Patterns of methylation can be inherited, but they can also change in response to environmental factors, such as exposure in the womb to stress hormones or to the mother’s diet. Studies have reported altered methylation patterns in postmortem brains of people with autism. Methylation patterns also vary by cell type. In a new study, published 11 August in Science, researchers classified neurons from mouse and human brain tissue by their methylation patterns. The researchers looked at cells from specific layers of the brain’s outer shell, the cerebral cortex. They used a chemical cocktail to isolate the cells’ nuclei, and placed a single nucleus in each well of a 384-well plate. They then treated the nuclei with a chemical that converts cytosines without methyl groups to the RNA base uracil. They sequenced the DNA to pinpoint the remaining cytosines, yielding a map of every methyl group. © 2017 Scientific American,

Keyword: Epigenetics; Development of the Brain
Link ID: 24073 - Posted: 09.19.2017

By JANE E. BRODY If you’ve never had a migraine, I have two things to say to you: 1) You’re damn lucky. 2) You can’t begin to imagine how awful they are. I had migraines – three times a month, each lasting three days — starting from age 11 and finally ending at menopause. Although my migraines were not nearly as bad as those that afflict many other people, they took a toll on my work, family life and recreation. Atypically, they were not accompanied by nausea or neck pain, nor did I always have to retreat to a dark, soundless room and lie motionless until they abated. But they were not just “bad headaches” — the pain was life-disrupting, forcing me to remain as still as possible. Despite being the seventh leading cause of time spent disabled worldwide, migraine “has received relatively little attention as a major public health issue,” Dr. Andrew Charles, a California neurologist, wrote recently in The New England Journal of Medicine. It can begin in childhood, becoming more common in adolescence and peaking in prevalence at ages 35 to 39. It afflicts two to three times more women than men, and one woman in 25 has chronic migraines on more than 15 days a month. But while the focus has long been on head pain, migraines are not just pains in the head. They are a body-wide disorder that recent research has shown results from “an abnormal state of the nervous system involving multiple parts of the brain,” said Dr. Charles, of the U.C.L.A. Goldberg Migraine Program at the David Geffen School of Medicine in Los Angeles. He told me he hoped the journal article would educate practicing physicians, who learn little about migraines in medical school. Before it was possible to study brain function through a functional M.R.I. or PET scan, migraines were thought to be caused by swollen, throbbing blood vessels in the scalp, usually – though not always — affecting one side of the head. This classic migraine symptom prompted the use of medications that narrow blood vessels, drugs that help only some patients and are not safe for people with underlying heart disease. © 2017 The New York Times Company

Keyword: Pain & Touch
Link ID: 24072 - Posted: 09.18.2017

By Nathaniel Morris If you were at risk for developing depression, would you take a pill to prevent it? For years, physicians have prescribed antidepressants to treat people grappling with depression. Some people can benefit from taking these medications during an acute episode. Others with a history of recurrent depression may take antidepressants to help prevent relapses. But researchers are studying a new use for these medications: to prevent depression in people who may have never had it before. It has long been known that people with head and neck cancer are vulnerable to becoming depressed. These types of cancers can impair functionality at the most basic levels, like speaking or swallowing. Treatments, such as surgery and radiation, for these diseases can be debilitating. Some studies have estimated that up to half of patients with head and neck cancers may experience depression. A group of researchers in Nebraska examined what would happen if non-depressed patients were given antidepressants before receiving treatment for head and neck cancer. Published in 2013, the results of the randomized, placebo-controlled trial were startling: Patients taking an antidepressant were 60 percent less likely to experience depression compared with peers who were given a placebo. In medicine, this approach is often referred to as prophylaxis, or a treatment used to prevent disease. © 1996-2017 The Washington Post

Keyword: Depression
Link ID: 24071 - Posted: 09.18.2017

Allison Aubrey Earlier this year, when Emily Chodos was about 25 weeks into her pregnancy, she woke up one night feeling horrible. "My hands were tremoring, my heart racing, " recalls Chodos, who lives near New Haven, Conn. She couldn't take a deep breath. "I'd never felt so out of control of my body." She ended up paging her obstetrician's office at 4 a.m., and one of the midwives in the practice, after listening to her symptoms, said, "It sounds like you're having a panic attack." Chodos was advised to take an antianxiety medication — Xanax. "I was afraid to take it, as a pregnant woman," Chodos says. But she was miserable, so eventually decided to take the medicine that night. Chodos, who is a nurse, knew that there are concerns about drugs like Xanax and other medications its class— benzodiazepines. Studies completed decades ago suggested a risk of birth defects from these drugs, but data from more recent studies have shown no clear evidence of an increase. There are remaining questions, researchers say, about whether prenatal exposure to the drugs can influence behavior. "I felt very trapped," Chodos says. It felt as if there was probably no safe medication — "that I'd probably just have to suffer and feel awful." At her doctor's suggestion, Chodos went to see Dr. Kimberly Yonkers, a psychiatrist and professor at Yale University. Yonkers has been studying the effects of benzodiazepines and SSRI antidepressants on the pregnancies of women who have anxiety, depression or panic disorders. Yonkers told us she understands why women can feel torn about using these drugs when they're expecting.

Keyword: Depression; Development of the Brain
Link ID: 24070 - Posted: 09.18.2017

By Consumer Reports Fasting every other day doesn’t lead to bigger weight loss than daily calorie-cutting and is more difficult to maintain, suggests a University of Illinois at Chicago study published recently in JAMA Internal Medicine. The researchers followed 100 obese people for a year, making this the largest and longest study so far to examine ­alternate-day fasting. The alternate-day diet in this study called for participants to take in 25 percent of their needed calories on fast days and 125 percent on feast days. It’s a type of intermittent fasting that involves drastically reducing your calorie intake on some days or during certain hours and eating whatever you like on others. The theory is that it is easier to focus on reducing calorie intake only some of the time and that the eating pattern improves cardiovascular risk factors — such as blood pressure, cholesterol and insulin levels — more than daily calorie-cutting does. In this study, those who took the intermittent-fasting approach lost the same amount of weight, on average, as those who cut back on calories — to 75 percent of their needs — every day. Both groups dropped about 7 percent of their body weight after six months and regained about 1 percent of their weight during the six-month weight-maintenance phase. “We can say that alternate-day fasting does produce clinically significant weight loss after a year, but it’s not better than a typical calorie-restricted diet,” says study researcher Krista A. Varady, an associate professor of nutrition at the University of Illinois at Chicago. © 1996-2017 The Washington Post

Keyword: Obesity
Link ID: 24069 - Posted: 09.18.2017

Mariah Quintanilla Kenneth Catania knows just how much it hurts to be zapped by an electric eel. For the first time, the biologist at Vanderbilt University in Nashville has measured the strength of a defensive electrical attack on a real-life potential predator — himself. Catania placed his arm in a tank with a 40-centimeter-long electric eel (relatively small as eels go) and determined, in amperes, the electrical current that flowed into him when the eel struck. At its peak, the current reached 40 to 50 milliamperes in his arm, he reports online September 14 in Current Biology. This zap was painful enough to cause him to jerk his hand from the tank during each trial. “If you’ve ever been on a farm and touched an electric fence, it’s pretty similar to that,” he says. This is Catania’s latest study in a body of research analyzing the intricacies of an electric eel’s behavior. The way electric eels have been described by biologists in the past has been fairly primitive, says Jason Gallant, a biologist who heads the Michigan State University Electric Fish Lab in East Lansing who was not involved in the study. Catania’s work reveals that “what the electric eel is doing is taking the electric ability that it has and using that to its absolute advantage in a very sophisticated, deliberate way,” he says. Electric eels use electric current to navigate, communicate and hunt for small prey. But when faced with a large land-based predator, eels will launch themselves from the water and electrify the animal with a touch of the head. |© Society for Science & the Public 2000 - 2017.

Keyword: Aggression
Link ID: 24068 - Posted: 09.15.2017

By Anil Ananthaswamy Artificial intelligence can identify changes in the brains of people likely to get Alzheimer’s disease almost a decade before doctors can diagnose the disease from symptoms alone. The technique uses non-invasive MRI scans to identify alterations in how regions of the brain are connected. Alzheimer’s is a neurodegenerative disease that is the leading cause of dementia for the elderly, eventually leading to loss of memory and cognitive functions. The race is on to diagnose the disease as early as possible. Although there is no cure, drugs in development are likely to work better the earlier they are given. An early diagnosis can also allow people to start making lifestyle changes to help slow the progression of the disease. When will we cure Alzheimer’s? Learn more at New Scientist Live In an effort to enable earlier diagnosis, Nicola Amoroso and Marianna La Rocca at the University of Bari in Italy and their colleagues developed a machine-learning algorithm to discern structural changes in the brain caused by Alzheimer’s disease. First, they trained the algorithm using 67 MRI scans, 38 of which were from people who had Alzheimer’s and 29 from healthy controls. The scans came from the Alzheimer’s Disease Neuroimaging Initiative database at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles. © Copyright New Scientist Ltd.

Keyword: Alzheimers
Link ID: 24067 - Posted: 09.15.2017

Paula Span In the summer, Henry Wrenn-Meleck likes to sit on the stoop of his building on the Upper West Side of Manhattan, observing the passing urban parade. One day in late July, “one of my neighbors could see something was wrong,” he recently recalled. “I was sort of rolling around, obviously in a lot of pain. He said, ‘I have to call 911,’ and he did.” Mr. Wrenn-Meleck, 63, an independent music publisher and dealer in rare guitars, spent three weeks in a hospital, being treated for trauma from a fall he does not recall. But the underlying problem was “40 years of being a very serious alcoholic,” he said. “My body finally said no more.” Discharged from the hospital after detoxing, Mr. Wrenn-Meleck went to the New Jewish Home in Manhattan for physical therapy. He also entered its geriatric substance abuse recovery program where, he found, he was one of the younger participants. Epidemiologists at the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism last month reported a jarring trend: Problem drinking is rising fast among older Americans. Their study, published in JAMA Psychiatry, compared data from a national survey taken in 2001 and 2002 and again in 2012 and 2013, each time with about 40,000 adults. Drinking had increased in every age group, the researchers found. Those over 65 remained far less likely to drink than younger people — about 55 percent of older participants told interviewers they’d imbibed in the past year. Still, that was a 22 percent increase over the two periods, the greatest rise in any age group. More troublingly, the proportion of older adults engaged in “high-risk drinking” jumped 65 percent, to 3.8 percent. The researchers’ definition: for a man, downing five or more standard drinks in a day (each containing 14 grams of alcohol) at least weekly during the past year; for a woman, four such drinks in a day.

Keyword: Drug Abuse
Link ID: 24066 - Posted: 09.15.2017

By Nathaniel P. Morris A growing trend in medicine has doctors prescribing visits to parks for their patients. A pediatrician named Robert Zarr at Unity Health Care in Washington, D.C., has worked with the National Park Service and other institutions to create DC Park Rx, an initiative that helps health care providers prescribe activity in outdoor spaces to patients. And National Geographic recently highlighted the rise of this practice in Vermont, where doctors are now prescribing thousands of visits to state parks. In the last several years park prescription programs have spread nationwide, from Maine to California, South Dakota to New Mexico. Proponents of these programs promote outdoor activity as a means of tackling chronic medical conditions like obesity, high blood pressure and type 2 diabetes. But park prescriptions also hold considerable promise for patients suffering from mental health issues. A large body of evidence suggests that exposure to nature may promote mental well-being. A 2010 meta-analysis of 10 studies including over 1,200 participants found people who exercised in green environments demonstrated significant improvements in mood and self-esteem. A 2011 systematic review looked at 11 trials that compared indoor and outdoor activity, finding that exercise in natural settings was “associated with greater feelings of revitalization and positive engagement, decreases in tension, confusion, anger and depression, and increased energy.” Another recent review of studies found activity in natural environments correlated with reductions in negative emotions like sadness, anger and fatigue. © 2017 Scientific American,

Keyword: Depression
Link ID: 24065 - Posted: 09.15.2017

By Diana Kwon Lying in a room at Imperial College London, surrounded by low lighting and music, Kirk experienced a vivid recollection of visiting his sick mother before she passed away. “I used to go and see my mum in the hospital quite a lot,” recalls Kirk, a middle-aged computer technician who lives in London (he requested we use only his first name). “And a lot of the time she’d be asleep . . . [but] she’d always sense I was there, and after about five minutes she’d wake up, and we’d interact. I kind of went through that again—but it was a kind of letting go.” Kirk choked up slightly while retelling his experience. “It’s still a little bit emotional,” he says. “The thing I realized [was that] I didn’t want to let go. I wanted to hold on to the grief, because that was the only connection I had with my mum.” While this may sound like an ordinary therapy session, it was not what you would typically expect. Kirk was experiencing the effects of a 25-mg dose of psilocybin—the active ingredient in psychedelic “magic” mushrooms—which he had ingested as part of a 2015 clinical trial investigating the drug’s therapeutic potential. After his mother died, Kirk says, he fell into a “deep, dark pit of grief.” Despite antidepressants and regular sessions with a therapist, his condition was not improving. “I was stuck in it for years,” he recalls. So when he heard Imperial College London was recruiting participants for an upcoming trial studying the impact of psilocybin on depression, Kirk decided to sign up. © 1986-2017 The Scientist

Keyword: Depression; Drug Abuse
Link ID: 24064 - Posted: 09.14.2017

Laura Sanders Words can’t describe the pandemonium that follows a child’s birth, but I’ll try anyway. After my first daughter was born, I felt like a giant had picked up my life, shaken it hard, martini-style, and returned it to the ground. The familiar objects in my life were all still there, but nothing seemed to be the same. The day we came home from the hospital as a family of three, my husband and I plunged headfirst into profound elation and profound exhaustion, often changing by the minute. We worried. We snipped at each other. We marveled at this new, beautiful person. The experience, as new parents the world over know, was intense. The first week home, my body took a bruising. I was recovering from the wildness that is childbirth. I was insanely thirsty and hungry. I was struggling to both breastfeed and pump every two hours, in an effort to boost my milk supply. And against this backdrop, my levels of estrogen and progesterone, after climbing to great heights during pregnancy, had fallen off a cliff. Massive reconfigurations were taking place, both in life and in my body. And at times, I felt like the whole thing could go south at any point. After talking to other new mothers, I now realize that almost everyone has a version of this same story. Childbirth and caring for a newborn is really, really hard, in many different ways. © Society for Science and the Public

Keyword: Depression
Link ID: 24063 - Posted: 09.14.2017

Grant Tomkinson and Makailah Dyer Examine your fingers. Which is longer? Is it the index finger (the finger you use to point with — technically the second digit, or 2D, counting the thumb), or the ring finger (the fourth digit, or 4D)? The relative length of the index and ring fingers is known as the digit ratio or the 2D:4D. For example, if your index finger is 2.9 inches (or 7.4 cm) long, and your ring finger is 3.1 inches (or 7.9 cm) long, your digit ratio is 0.935 (i.e., 2.9/3.1 or 7.4/7.9). Males typically have lower digit ratios (the ring finger in males is typically longer than the index finger) than females (the fingers are about the same length in females). The ratio does not change much with age. There is some indirect evidence that the digit ratio is determined during early fetal development — as early as the second trimester of pregnancy — by the balance between the steroid hormones testosterone and estrogen. The developing ring finger has a high number of receptors for testosterone: the more testosterone the fetus produces, the longer the ring finger, and so the lower the digit ratio. Our research team wanted to take this finger research a step further: could the differences predict athletic ability, and, if so, how?

Keyword: Sexual Behavior; Hormones & Behavior
Link ID: 24062 - Posted: 09.14.2017

Reza Ziai In recent years, many individuals on the political left have been earnestly conveying the message that what a person is attracted to (i.e. mate preference) is entirely constructed by the environment. Their reasons for doing so seem sincere. Take for example, the oft-cited connection between the media’s portrayal of female standards of beauty and eating disorders like anorexia and bulimia. To postmodernists, since standards of attraction are seen as being environmentally produced, the media’s “stereotypical” portrayal of female beauty is also seen as being environmentally produced, sexist, and therefore, unjustifiable. Postmodernism (see also Critical Theory and The Frankfurt School) combats this perceived bigotry by attempting to justify the need to enforce changes in the status quo. Most notably in recent news, many liberal arts students have attempted to deplatform speakers like Charles Murray, Christina Hoff Sommers, and Ayaan Hirsi Ali from speaking on their campuses. Limiting free speech has been just one way that postmodernism and people on the far-left have tried to control the environment. Reforms (sometimes mandatory ones) have been seen in pronoun usage, soft drink sizes, the media, children’s toys, social attitudes, etc. Their idea is that since the environment (and not biology) affects our attitude, if you change the environment, you change the person, and thus, society is improved. By minimizing or ignoring the role that biology has on human nature, postmodernists can effectively blame all of the ills of the modern world on poorly designed laws, U.S. foreign policy, or Western cultural attitudes. Those who dissent from their view can be denounced as bigots and cast aside.

Keyword: Sexual Behavior
Link ID: 24061 - Posted: 09.14.2017

Aaron E. Carroll Many high-school-aged children across the United States now find themselves waking up much earlier than they’d prefer as they return to school. They set their alarms, and their parents force them out of bed in the morning, convinced that this is a necessary part of youth and good preparation for the rest of their lives. It’s not. It’s arbitrary, forced on them against their nature, and a poor economic decision as well. The National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute recommends that teenagers get between nine and 10 hours of sleep. Most in the United States don’t. It’s not their fault. My oldest child, Jacob, is in 10th grade. He plays on the junior varsity tennis team, but his life isn’t consumed by too many extracurricular activities. He’s a hard worker, and he spends a fair amount of time each evening doing homework. I think most nights he’s probably asleep by 10 or 10:30. His school bus picks him up at 6:40 a.m. To catch it, he needs to wake up not long after 6. Nine hours of sleep is a pipe dream, let alone 10. There’s an argument to be made that we should cut back on his activities or make him go to bed earlier so that he gets more sleep. Teens aren’t wired for that, though. They want to go to bed later and sleep later. It’s not the activities that prevent them from getting enough sleep — it’s the school start times that require them to wake up so early. More than 90 percent of high schools and more than 80 percent of middle schools start before 8:30 a.m. Some argue that delaying school start times would just cause teenagers to stay up later. Research doesn’t support that idea. A systematic review published a year ago examined how school start delays affect students’ sleep and other outcomes. Six studies, two of which were randomized controlled trials, showed that delaying the start of school from 25 to 60 minutes corresponded with increased sleep time of 25 to 77 minutes per week night. In other words, when students were allowed to sleep later in the morning, they still went to bed at the same time, and got more sleep. © 2017 The New York Times Company

Keyword: Biological Rhythms; Development of the Brain
Link ID: 24060 - Posted: 09.13.2017

By Giorgia Guglielmi The trillions of bacteria that live in our intestines, known collectively as the gut microbiome, have been linked to maladies from eye disease to rheumatoid arthritis. Now, two new studies have added another disease: multiple sclerosis (MS), an autoimmune disorder that strips away nerve cells’ protective covers, leading to muscle weakness, blindness, and even death. What’s more, the studies suggest how our gut microbes make the immune system turn against nerve cells—a finding that could lead to treatments, like drugs based on microbial byproducts, that might improve the course of the disease. MS affects 2.5 million people worldwide, but little is known about what causes the disease, which progressively disrupts information flow from and within the brain. Most researchers think it starts when genetically predisposed people encounter an as-yet-unknown environmental trigger. Previous studies have identified particular bacteria present in increased amounts in the guts of MS patients. But the new papers “took it to the next level” in trying to understand how these bacteria affect the immune system, says Francisco Quintana, a neuroimmunologist at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston not involved with the work. “These are going to be landmark studies.” In the first paper, a team of researchers led by Sergio Baranzini, a human geneticist at the University of California, San Francisco, analyzed the microbiomes of 71 people with MS and 71 healthy individuals, aged 19 to 71. They found that two bacterial groups, Acinetobacter and Akkermansia, were four times more abundant in MS patients than in individuals with no disease. Another group, Parabacteroides, was four times as abundant in healthy people. © 2017 American Association for the Advancement of Science

Keyword: Multiple Sclerosis
Link ID: 24059 - Posted: 09.13.2017