The late effects of stress: New insights into how the brain responds to trauma

December 28, 2016

Science Daily/National Centre for Biological Sciences

A new study has shown how a single instance of severe stress can lead to delayed trauma. A stressful incident can lead to increased electrical activity in a brain region known as the amygdala. This activity is delayed and is dependent on a molecule known as the N-Methyl-D-Aspartate Receptor (NMDA-R), a protein on nerve cells known to be crucial for memory functions.

Mrs. M would never forget that day. She was walking along a busy road next to the vegetable market when two goons zipped past on a bike. One man's hand shot out and grabbed the chain around her neck. The next instant, she had stumbled to her knees, and was dragged along in the wake of the bike. Thankfully, the chain snapped, and she got away with a mildly bruised neck. Though dazed by the incident, Mrs. M was fine until a week after the incident.

 

Then, the nightmares began.

She would struggle and yell and fight in her sleep every night with phantom chain snatchers. Every bout left her charged with anger and often left her depressed. The episodes continued for several months until they finally stopped. How could a single stressful event have such extended consequences?

 

A new study by Indian scientists has gained insights into how a single instance of severe stress can lead to delayed and long-term psychological trauma. The work pinpoints key molecular and physiological processes that could be driving changes in brain architecture.

 

The team, led by Sumantra Chattarji from the National Centre for Biological Sciences (NCBS) and the Institute for Stem Cell Biology and Regenerative Medicine (inStem), Bangalore, have shown that a single stressful incident can lead to increased electrical activity in a brain region known as the amygdala. This activity sets in late, occurring ten days after a single stressful episode, and is dependent on a molecule known as the N-Methyl-D-Aspartate Receptor (NMDA-R), an ion channel protein on nerve cells known to be crucial for memory functions.

 

The amygdala is a small, almond-shaped groups of nerve cells that is located deep within the temporal lobe of the brain. This region of the brain is known to play key roles in emotional reactions, memory and making decisions. Changes in the amygdala are linked to the development of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), a mental condition that develops in a delayed fashion after a harrowing experience.

 

Previously, Chattarji's group had shown that a single instance of acute stress had no immediate effects on the amygdala of rats. But ten days later, these animals began to show increased anxiety, and delayed changes in the architecture of their brains, especially the amygdala. "We showed that our study system is applicable to PTSD. This delayed effect after a single episode of stress was reminiscent of what happens in PTSD patients," says Chattarji. "We know that the amygdala is hyperactive in PTSD patients. But no one knows as of now, what is going on in there," he adds.

 

Investigations revealed major changes in the microscopic structure of the nerve cells in the amygdala. Stress seems to have caused the formation of new nerve connections called synapses in this region of the brain. However, until now, the physiological effects of these new connections were unknown.

 

In their recent study, Chattarji's team has established that the new nerve connections in the amygdala lead to heightened electrical activity in this region of the brain.

 

"Most studies on stress are done on a chronic stress paradigm with repeated stress, or with a single stress episode where changes are looked at immediately afterwards -- like a day after the stress," says Farhana Yasmin, one of the Chattarji's students. "So, our work is unique in that we show a reaction to a single instance of stress, but at a delayed time point," she adds.

 

Furthermore, a well-known protein involved in memory and learning, called NMDA-R has been recognised as one of the agents that bring about these changes. Blocking the NMDA-R during the stressful period not only stopped the formation of new synapses, it also blocked the increase in electrical activity at these synapses. "So we have for the first time, a molecular mechanism that shows what is required for the culmination of events ten days after a single stress," says Chattarji. "In this study, we have blocked the NMDA Receptor during stress. But we would like to know if blocking the molecule after stress can also block the delayed effects of the stress. And if so, how long after the stress can we block the receptor to define a window for therapy," he adds.

 

Chattarji's group first began their investigations into how stress affects the amygdala and other regions of the brain around ten years ago. The work has required the team to employ an array of highly specialised and diverse procedures that range from observing behaviour to recording electrical signals from single brain cells and using an assortment of microscopy techniques. "To do this, we have needed to use a variety of techniques, for which we required collaborations with people who have expertise in such techniques," says Chattarji. "And the glue for such collaborations especially in terms of training is vital. We are very grateful to the Wadhwani Foundation that supports our collaborative efforts and to the DBT and DAE for funding this work," he adds.

https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2016/12/161228102418.htm

Recovery from brain injury, better sleep go hand in hand

December 22, 2016

Science Daily/American Academy of Neurology (AAN)

After a traumatic brain injury (TBI), people also experience major sleep problems, including changes in their sleep-wake cycle. A new study shows that recovering from these two conditions occurs in parallel.

 

"These results suggest that monitoring a person's sleep-wake cycle may be a useful tool for assessing their recovery after TBI," said study author Nadia Gosselin, PhD, of the University of Montréal in Québec, Canada. "We found that when someone sustained a brain injury and had not recovered a certain level of consciousness to keep them awake and aware of their surroundings, they were not able to generate a good sleep-wake cycle. But as they recovered, their quality of sleep improved."

 

A good sleep-wake cycle was defined as being alert and active during the day and getting uninterrupted sleep at night.

 

The study involved 30 people, ages 17 to 58, who had been hospitalized for moderate to severe TBI. Most of the patients were in a coma when they were admitted to the hospital and all initially received care in an intensive care unit. The injuries were caused by motor vehicle accidents for 20 people, falls for seven people, recreational or sports injuries for two people and a blow to the head for one person. They were hospitalized for an average of 45 days with monitoring for the study beginning an average of 21 days into a person's stay.

 

Each person was monitored daily for an average of 11 days for level of consciousness and thinking abilities using the Rancho Los Amigos scale, which ranges from 1 to 8. Each person also wore an activity monitor on their wrist so researchers could measure their sleep.

 

Researchers found that consciousness and thinking abilities improved hand-in-hand with measures of quality of sleep, showing a linear relationship.

 

One measure, the daytime activity ratio, shows percentage of activity that occurs during the day. Immediately after the injury, activity occurs throughout the day and night. The study showed that participants reached an acceptable sleep-wake cycle, with a daytime activity ratio of at least 80 percent, at the same point when they emerged from a minimally conscious state.

 

The participants still had inadequate sleep-wake cycles at a score of 5 on the Rancho Los Amigos scale, where people are confused and give inappropriate responses to stimuli but are able to follow simple commands. Sleep-wake cycles reached adequate levels at the same time that people reached a score of 6 on the Rancho Los Amigos scale, which is when people can give appropriate responses while still depending on outside input for direction. At that level, they can remember relearned tasks, but cannot remember new tasks.

 

The results were the same when researchers adjusted for the amount of time that had passed since the injury and the amount of medications they had received while they were in the ICU.

 

"It's possible that there are common underlying brain mechanisms involved in both recovery from TBI and improvement in sleep," said Gosselin. "Still, more study needs to be done and future research may want to examine how hospital lighting and noise also affect quality of sleep for those with TBI."

https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2016/12/161222095319.htm

Doctors' burnout should be treated as organization-wide problem

December 5, 2016

Manchester University

Current approaches to dealing with burnouts in doctors on an individual case-by-case basis is not effective and the issue should instead be tackled with organization-wide initiatives, according to researchers.

 

A meta-analysis study, which brought together the results of previously conducted research, was carried out to explore the effectiveness of interventions in reducing burnout in doctors. It explored the comparison between doctor-directed interventions that target the individual and organisation-directed interventions that target the working environment. The strength of the doctor's experience and the particular healthcare setting they worked in was also assessed.

 

The research concluded that while doctor-focused tactics such as mindfulness and cognitive behavioural are important, the greatest success at preventing and reducing burnout in doctors can be achieved through the adoption of organisation-directed approaches such as improved working environment and organisational culture.

 

Burnout is a major problem in the healthcare industry and is often driven by excessive workload, imbalance between job demands and skills, a lack of job control and prolonged stress. It is a syndrome consisting of emotional exhaustion, depersonalisation, and a diminished sense of personal accomplishment. Importantly, burnout can result in an increase in medical errors, reduced quality of patient care, and lower patient satisfaction.

 

It was found that organisations that combined several elements such as structural changes, fostering communications between members of the health care team, and cultivating a sense of teamwork and job control tended to be the most effective in reducing burnout. However, such intense organisation-directed interventions were rare and had not been evaluated sufficiently.

 

What's more, the evidence indicated that young doctors starting out in their career, are at higher risk of burnout compared to those with more experience, and interventions focused on enhancing teamwork, mentoring, and leadership skills might be particularly suitable for this group.

 

Dr Maria Panagioti, Research fellow in Primary Care at the University of Manchester who led this study said: 'Our findings clearly show that we need more effective intervention models to prevent burnout in doctors. Such models could be organization-directed interventions which promote healthy individual-organization relationships and view burnout a problem of the whole healthcare systems.'

 

George Lewith, Professor of Health Research at the University of Southampton who supervised the research, said: "This work suggests that if we want to retain safe and professionally competent NHS clinicians working in very demanding front line jobs we need to support their mental and physical health and creating appropriate and enabling working environments for them. Efforts need to be focused on finding appropriate ways of reaching doctors who work in stressful environments to ensure their wellbeing is taken care of. If we don't patient safety could be at risk."

https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2016/12/161205120500.htm

Heading a soccer ball causes instant changes to the brain

October 23, 2016

Science Daily/University of Stirling

Researchers have explored the true impact of heading a soccer ball, identifying small but significant changes in brain function immediately after routine heading practice.

The study from Scotland's University for Sporting Excellence published in EBioMedicine is the first to detect direct changes in the brain after players are exposed to everyday head impacts, as opposed to clinical brain injuries like concussion.

 

A group of soccer ball players headed a ball 20 times, fired from a machine designed to simulate the pace and power of a corner kick. Before and after the heading sessions, scientists tested players' brain function and memory.

 

Increased inhibition in the brain was detected after just a single session of heading. Memory test performance was also reduced by between 41 and 67 per cent, with effects normalising within 24 hours.

 

Whether the changes to the brain remain temporary after repeated exposure to a soccer ball and the long-term consequences of heading on brain health, are yet to be investigated.

 

Played by more than 250 million people worldwide, the 'beautiful game' often involves intentional and repeated bursts of heading a ball. In recent years the possible link between brain injury in sport and increased risk of dementia has focussed attention on whether soccer ball heading might lead to long term consequences for brain health.

 

Cognitive neuroscientist Dr Magdalena Ietswaart from Psychology at the University of Stirling, said: "In light of growing concern about the effects of contact sport on brain health, we wanted to see if our brain reacts instantly to heading a soccer ball. Using a drill most amateur and professional teams would be familiar with, we found there was infact increased inhibition in the brain immediately after heading and that performance on memory tests was reduced significantly.

 

"Although the changes were temporary, we believe they are significant to brain health, particularly if they happen over and over again as they do in soccer ball heading. With large numbers of people around the world participating in this sport, it is important that they are aware of what is happening inside the brain and the lasting effect this may have."

 

Dr Angus Hunter, Reader in Exercise Physiology in the Faculty of Health Sciences and Sport, added: "For the first time, sporting bodies and members of the public can see clear evidence of the risks associated with repetitive impact caused by heading a soccer ball.

 

"We hope these findings will open up new approaches for detecting, monitoring and preventing cumulative brain injuries in sport. We need to safeguard the long term health of soccer ball players at all levels, as well as individuals involved in other contact sports."

 

Dr Ietswaart and Dr Hunter were supported in the research by Stirling neuropsychologist Professor Lindsay Wilson and PhD student Tom Di Virgilio, consulting with leading Glasgow University Medical School Neuropathologist Dr Willie Stewart and a wider multi-disciplinary team.

 

In the study, scientists measured levels of brain function using a basic neuroscience technique called Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation (TMS). The findings from this study, funded by the NIHR Brain Injury Healthcare Technology Cooperative (HTC) are the first to show the TMS technique can be used to detect changes to brain function after small, routine impacts.

https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2016/10/161023154804.htm

What's really going on in PTSD brains? Experts suggest new theory

October 7, 2016

Science Daily/University of Michigan Health System

PTSD experts agree that the condition has its roots in very real, physical processes within the brain – and not some sort of psychological “weakness”. But no clear consensus has emerged about what exactly has gone “wrong” in the brain. A new theory that integrates decades of research focuses on a key function called context processing.

 

For decades, neuroscientists and physicians have tried to get to the bottom of the age-old mystery of post-traumatic stress disorder, to explain why only some people are vulnerable and why they experience so many symptoms and so much disability.

 

All experts in the field now agree that PTSD indeed has its roots in very real, physical processes within the brain -- and not in some sort of psychological "weakness." But no clear consensus has emerged about what exactly has gone "wrong" in the brain.

 

In a Perspective article published this week in Neuron, a pair of University of Michigan Medical School professors -- who have studied PTSD from many angles for many years -- put forth a theory of PTSD that draws from and integrates decades of prior research. They hope to stimulate interest in the theory and invite others in the field to test it.

 

The bottom line, they say, is that people with PTSD appear to suffer from disrupted context processing. That's a core brain function that allows people and animals to recognize that a particular stimulus may require different responses depending on the context in which it is encountered. It's what allows us to call upon the "right" emotional or physical response to the current encounter.

 

A simple example, they write, is recognizing that a mountain lion seen in the zoo does not require a fear or "flight" response, while the same lion unexpectedly encountered in the backyard probably does.

 

For someone with PTSD, a stimulus associated with the trauma they previously experienced -- such as a loud noise or a particular smell -- triggers a fear response even when the context is very safe. That's why they react even if the noise came from the front door being slammed, or the smell comes from dinner being accidentally burned on the stove.

 

Context processing involves a brain region called the hippocampus, and its connections to two other regions called the prefrontal cortex and the amygdala. Research has shown that activity in these brain areas is disrupted in PTSD patients. The U-M team thinks their theory can unify wide-ranging evidence by showing how a disruption in this circuit can interfere with context processing and can explain most of the symptoms and much of the biology of PTSD.

 

"We hope to put some order to all the information that's been gathered about PTSD from studies of human patients, and of animal models of the condition," says Israel Liberzon, M.D., a professor of psychiatry at U-M and a researcher at the VA Ann Arbor Healthcare System who also treats veterans with PTSD. "We hope to create a testable hypothesis, which isn't as common in mental health research as it should be. If this hypothesis proves true, maybe we can unravel some of the underlying pathophysiological processes, and offer better treatments."

 

Liberzon and his colleague, James Abelson, M.D., Ph.D., describe in their piece models of PTSD that have emerged in recent years, and lay out the evidence for each. The problem, they say, is that none of these models sufficiently explains the various symptoms seen in patients, nor all of the complex neurobiological changes seen in PTSD and in animal models of this disorder.

 

The first model, abnormal fear learning, is rooted in the amygdala -- the brain's 'fight or flight' center that focuses on response to threats or safe environments. This model emerged from work on fear conditioning, fear extinction and fear generalization.

 

The second, exaggerated threat detection, is rooted in the brain regions that figure out what signals from the environment are "salient," or important to take note of and react to. This model focuses on vigilance and disproportionate responses to perceived threats.

 

The third, involving executive function and regulation of emotions, is mainly rooted in the prefrontal cortex -- the brain's center for keeping emotions in check and planning or switching between tasks.

 

By focusing only on the evidence bolstering one of these theories, researchers may be "searching under the streetlight," says Liberzon. "But if we look at all of it in the light of context processing disruption, we can explain why different teams have seen different things. They're not mutually exclusive."

 

The main thing, says Liberzon, is that "context is not only information about your surroundings -- it's pulling out the correct emotion and memories for the context you are in."

 

A deficit in context processing would lead PTSD patients to feel "unmoored" from the world around them, unable to shape their responses to fit their current contexts. Instead, their brains would impose an "internalized context" -- one that always expects danger -- on every situation.

 

This type of deficit, arising in the brain from a combination of genetics and life experiences, may create vulnerability to PTSD in the first place, they say. After trauma, this would generate symptoms of hypervigilance, sleeplessness, intrusive thoughts and dreams, and inappropriate emotional and physical outbursts.

 

Liberzon and Abelson think that testing the context processing theory will enhance understanding of PTSD, even if all of its details are not verified. They hope the PTSD community will help them pursue the needed research, in PTSD patients and in animal models. They put forth specific ideas in the Neuron paper to encourage that, and are embarking on such research themselves.

 

The U-M/VA team is currently recruiting people with PTSD -- whether veterans or not -- for studies involving brain imaging and other tests.

 

In the meantime, they note that there is a growing set of therapeutic tools that can help patients with PTSD, such as cognitive behavioral therapy mindfulness training and pharmacological approaches. These may work by helping to anchor PTSD patients in their current environment, and may prove more effective as researchers learn how to specifically strengthen context processing capacities in the brain.

https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2016/10/161007123407.htm

Fish oil may help improve mood in veterans

September 22, 2016

Science Daily/Texas A&M University

Low concentration of fish oil in the blood and lack of physical activity may contribute to the high levels of depressed mood among soldiers returning from combat, according to researchers.

 

In a study titled "Fatty Acid Blood Levels, Vitamin D Status, Physical Performance, Activity and Resiliency: A Novel Potential Screening Tool for Depressed Mood in Active Duty Soldiers," researchers worked with 100 soldiers at Fort Hood to identify which factors affected moods in returning soldiers.

 

The research was conducted by Major Nicholas Barringer when he was a Texas A&M doctoral student under the direction of Health & Kinesiology Professor and Department Head Richard Kreider, in collaboration with several current and former members of the U.S. Army, and colleagues at Texas A&M.

 

"We looked at how physical activity levels and performance measures were related to mood state and resiliency," Kreider says. "What we found was the decrease in physical activity and the concentration of fish oil and Omega-3s in the blood were all associated with resiliency and mood."

 

Kreider says fish oil contains Omega-3 fatty acids that help to boost brain function. He says studies also show that fish oil acts as an anti-inflammatory within the body -- helping athletes and soldiers manage intense training better. Fish oil content is especially important for soldiers due to the consistent training and physical regiments performed in and out of combat and risk to traumatic brain injury.

 

The study originated from research conducted by Colonel Mike Lewis, M.D. who examined Omega-3 fatty acid levels of soldiers who committed suicide compared to non-suicide control and found lower Omega-3 levels in the blood were associated with increased risk of being in the suicide group.

 

Barringer says he believes these findings to be significant toward addressing some of the issues many soldiers face.

 

"The mental health of our service members is a serious concern and it is exciting to consider that appropriate diet and exercise might have a direct impact on improving resiliency," Barringer notes.

 

In order to properly measure soldiers physically, Kreider and Barringer developed a formula they say has the potential to assist in effectively screening soldiers with potential PTSD ahead of time. The formula measures a number of factors including: fitness and psychometric assessments, physical activity, and additional analysis.

 

"By improving resiliency in service members, we can potentially decrease the risk of mental health issues," Barringer says. "Early identification can potentially decrease the risk of negative outcomes for our active service members as well as our separated and retired military veterans."

 

"The military is using some of our exercise, nutrition, and performance-related work and the findings may help identify soldiers at risk for depression when they return from combat tours," Kreider notes. He says that by working to identify such high-risk issues faced by soldiers, it can set a precedent that will benefit not only military leadership, but also the general public.

 

"The public must realize that our soldiers need support before, during, and after their service," Kreider explains. "There needs to be a time for soldiers to transition, become re-engaged within a community, and stay engaged in that community."

https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2016/09/160922104406.htm

Employees of medical centers report high stress, negative health behaviors

September 8, 2016

Science Daily/Mayo Clinic

Approximately 15 to 20 percent of adults in the U.S. will report high levels of stress, several American surveys have found. A new study has identified stress and burnout as a major problem employees face within the medical industry, leading to negative health behaviors. With rising stress levels in the workplace for employees, many companies are looking to integrate, engage and enroll employees into wellness programs.

 

"It's important to teach individuals to monitor their stress levels over time and practice effective, ongoing stress-reduction strategies, such as getting involved in wellness programs, this will in-turn help health care employees live a happy and health life," says Matthew Clark, Ph.D., lead author of the study and resiliency expert at the Mayo Clinic Healthy Living Program.

 

The study, which is published in the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine, measured stress and health behaviors (exercise, nutrition, sleep, etc.) by a series of five annual surveys administered to 676 participants who are employees at Mayo Clinic and have access to a wellness center. A significant relationship was found between the stress levels of an employee and four domains of quality of life: poor physical health, low mental health, poor nutritional habits and lower perceived overall health. Unfortunately, according to the study, employees who reported high stress levels and perceived poor quality of life also reported the lowest usage of wellness programs.

 

According to Dr. Clark, "Increasing the awareness of wellness centers and programs in academic medical environments will increase the quality of life of employees and lead to less physician and staff burnout."

 

Many companies are taking note of burnout and job strain in their staff and have created wellness centers, offer stress reduction programs, provide wellness coaching and healthy sleep programs for their employees in an effort to reduce stress, job strain and burnout. Muscular strength, cardiovascular fitness and flexibility exercises are also beneficial to overall quality of life, Dr. Clark writes.

 

He adds, "We are beginning to encourage employees to monitor their stress levels and to engage in daily resiliency practices, such as exercise, time with family and friends, meditation or gratitude journaling, to help reduce their stress levels and improve their quality of life."

 

Given the significance of stress in the workplace, the researchers note that exploring ways to effectively engage employees who have high levels of stress into wellness programs warrants further investigation.

https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2016/09/160908165052.htm

Using light to image and potentially to treat PTSD

September 6, 2016

Science Daily/University of Texas at Arlington

After years of studying the effects of near-infrared light on veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder or traumatic brain injuries, a team of bioengineers has published research that could result in an effective, long-term treatment for brain disorders.

 

Professor Hanli Liu was the primary investigator on the project. Her team of graduate students and a research associate, Fenghua Tian, worked with co-investigators Alexa Smith-Osborne, a UTA social work associate professor; Francisco Gonzalez-Lima, a psychology professor at UT Austin; and Fu Lye Martin Woon, a former assistant professor of psychiatry at UT Southwestern; to show potential intervention using light in brain disorders including post-traumatic stress disorder.

 

Their research is funded in part by a UT System BRAIN or Brain Research through Advancing Innovative Neurotechnologies seed grant titled, "Transcranial light therapy and imaging of prefrontal cognition in PTSD."

 

With the UT System's support, Liu's interdisciplinary collaborative team has not only investigated the brain imaging capability of light but also revealed the therapeutic rationale for potentially improving cognitive functions of patients with PTSD. The first paper resulting from the seed funding is published online and titled, "Interplay between up-regulation of cytochrome-c-oxidase and hemoglobin oxygenation induced by near-infrared laser."

 

As in the first study, the team used a human forearm as a biological model instead of the human brain to avoid confounding factors due to such anatomical structures as the scalp and skull. The paper outlines their discovery that shining near-infrared light on the subject's forearm increases production of cytochrome-c-oxydase, a protein inside the neurons that stimulates blood flow. This discovery shows great potential that NIR or infrared light also will work within the brain.

 

"This is the first time that effects of light stimulation have been quantified on living human tissue," Liu said. "The next challenge is to apply what was learned in a simpler system to the brain, where the light must pass through the scalp and the skull, as well as the brain. In the past several years, we have used the knowledge gained in the NIR field to detect, monitor and understand certain brain disorders, such as PTSD. But we have never utilized NIR light for treatment."

 

Now the team is moving to report and publish its findings of transcranial NIR stimulation on the human brain by quantifying production of cytochrome-c-oxydase and increase of blood flow. It would support a novel, non-invasive treatment with imaging ability, especially for memory, which could really help veterans who suffer from PTSD.

 

The UT BRAIN initiative was approved by the UT System Board of Regents in 2014 and supports a virtual UT System Neuroscience and Neurotechnology Research Institute that promotes trans-disciplinary, multi-institutional research projects focused on neuroscience and neurotechnology. It has provided a total of $5 million with a $100,000 per grant in a 2-year period of Sept.1, 2015 to Aug. 31, 2017.

 

Eight days prior to that paper, Liu and her team published another paper in Scientific Reports, titled, "Prefrontal responses to Stroop tasks in subjects with post-traumatic stress disorder assessed by functional near infrared spectroscopy." That paper outlined Liu's work to understand how the brains of people suffering from PTSD are different from a healthy group of non-PTSD sufferers using a Stroop test.

 

Stroop tests are attention tests that are commonly used in psychology.

 

Liu measured blood flow in the left side of the dorsal lateral prefrontal cortex of subjects' brains and found that those suffering from PTSD don't have the ability to pay attention and also have insufficient blood flow in that area of the brain. Michael Cho, chair of UTA's Bioengineering Department, says that Liu's continuing focus on using NIR light to detect, monitor and potentially treat brain injuries underscores the UTA's focus on health and the human condition contained within the Strategic Plan 2020: Bold Solutions | Global Impact.

 

"Dr. Liu and her collaborators have made incredible strides in identifying how the brain is affected by trauma, as well as how to treat disorders such as PTSD noninvasively with light," Cho said. "This is truly innovative, groundbreaking research, and the results are a testament to Hanli and the input of her collaborators."

 

Liu, a Fellow of the American Institute for Medical and Biological Engineering and a member of the UTA Academy of Distinguished Scholars, joined UTA's College of Engineering in 1996 and has secured more than $11 million as principal investigator or co-PI in research funding during her career. Her work is focused on medical instrumentation and imaging, minimally invasive and noninvasive spectroscopy and imaging of tissue, optical diffuse imaging for cancer prognosis, and brain activities.

 

She has studied PTSD extensively with Smith-Osborne and Tian, and they have applied a portable brain-mapping device that allows them to "see" where memory fails student veterans with PTSD. That research led the team to connect with Gonzalez-Limam and further discovered that shining low-level light on the brain by placing the light source on the forehead can stimulate and energize neurons to function more effectively. When cells are stimulated with light, they remain stimulated for a lengthy period of time even after the light is removed. The approach differs from other therapies that use magnets or electric shocks and has the potential to yield effective, longer-lasting treatments.

https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2016/09/160906213622.htm

Concussions and brain injury: Can omega-3 intake aid in brain health recovery?

August 24, 2016

Science Daily/Taylor & Francis

The treatment of concussions and traumatic brain injury (TBI) is a clinical challenge. Clinical studies thus far have failed to identify an effective treatment strategy when a combination of targets controlling aspects of neuroprotection, neuroinflammation, and neuroregeneration is needed. According to emerging science and clinical experience, aggressive intake of omega-3 fatty acids (n-3FA) seems to be beneficial to TBI, concussion, and post-concussion syndrome patients.

 

Research suggests that early and optimal doses of omega-3 fatty acids (n-3FA) have the potential to improve outcomes from traumatic brain injury. The article reviews preclinical research and cites three brain injury case studies that resulted from a mining accident, a motor vehicle accident, and a drowning accident. Each instance showcased evidence of safety and tolerability, wherein the patients who sustained life-threatening brain injuries recovered brain health with the aid of omega-3 fatty acids (n-3FA).

 

Growing clinical experience by numerous providers is that the brain needs to be saturated with high doses of n-3FA in order for the brain to have the opportunity to heal. Without an optimal supply of omegas, healing is less likely to happen. It is well recognized that n-3FAs are not a drug and not a cure and every situation is different. Clinically, some patients respond better than others. However, there is no downside to providing optimal levels of nutrition in order to give a patient the best opportunity to regain as much function as possible following a TBI.

https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2016/08/160824140113.htm

Combat exposure may jeopardize the behavioral health of women in the military

August 2, 2016

Wiley

In a recent study, combat exposure among Army enlisted women was associated with an increased likelihood of developing behavioral health problems post-deployment, including post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), depression, and at-risk drinking.

 

In the study, which was funded by the National Institute on Drug Abuse, 42,397 Army enlisted women who returned from Afghanistan or Iraq were assigned combat exposure scores of 0, 1, 2, or 3+ based on their self-reported experiences. Importantly, any report of combat exposure among Army women was associated with an increased likelihood of each post-deployment behavioral health problem (PTSD, depression, and at-risk drinking), suggesting that the impact of even one exposure event should not be overlooked.

 

The magnitude of the association between combat exposure and PTSD was most striking. Active duty and National Guard/Reserve women with combat exposure scores of 3+ had at least a 20 times higher likelihood of screening positive for PTSD compared with women with no combat exposure.

 

"Our findings suggest that injuries, assaults, and combat exposures experienced by women during deployment may have an additive, negative effect on their post-deployment behavioral health," said Dr. Rachel Sayko Adams, lead author of the Journal of Traumatic Stress study. "Ongoing force-wide screening for behavioral health problems should be coupled with development and evaluation of programs to improve the psychological wellbeing of the Armed Forces."

https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2016/08/160802130109.htm

Diet shown to reduce stroke risk may also reduce risk of depression

February 25, 2018

Science Daily/American Academy of Neurology

People who eat vegetables, fruit and whole grains may have lower rates of depression over time, according to a preliminary study.

 

The study found that people whose diets adhered more closely to the Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH) diet were less likely to develop depression than people who did not closely follow the diet. In addition to fruit and vegetables, the DASH diet recommends fat-free or low-fat dairy products and limits foods that are high in saturated fats and sugar. Studies have shown health benefits such as lowering high blood pressure and bad cholesterol (LDL), along with lowering body weight.

 

"Depression is common in older adults and more frequent in people with memory problems, vascular risk factors such as high blood pressure or high cholesterol, or people who have had a stroke," said study author Laurel Cherian, MD, of Rush University Medical Center in Chicago and a member of the American Academy of Neurology. "Making a lifestyle change such as changing your diet is often preferred over taking medications, so we wanted to see if diet could be an effective way to reduce the risk of depression."

 

For the study, 964 participants with an average age of 81 were evaluated yearly for an average of six-and-a-half years. They were monitored for symptoms of depression such as being bothered by things that usually didn't affect them and feeling hopeless about the future. They also filled out questionnaires about how often they ate various foods, and the researchers looked at how closely the participants' diets followed diets such as the DASH diet, Mediterranean diet and the traditional Western diet.

 

Participants were divided into three groups based on how closely they adhered to the diets. People in the two groups that followed the DASH diet most closely were less likely to develop depression than people in the group that did not follow the diet closely. The odds of becoming depressed over time was 11 percent lower among the top group of DASH adherers versus the lowest group. On the other hand, the more closely people followed a Western diet -- a diet that is high in saturated fats and red meats and low in fruits and vegetables -- the more likely they were to develop depression.

 

Cherian noted that the study does not prove that the DASH diet leads to a reduced risk of depression; it only shows an association.

 

"Future studies are now needed to confirm these results and to determine the best nutritional components of the DASH diet to prevent depression later in life and to best help people keep their brains healthy," said Cherian.

https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2018/02/180225191804.htm

Getting sleepy? Fruit flies constantly tune into environmental temperature to time sleep

February 21, 2018

Science Daily/University of Michigan

Humans and fruit flies may have not shared a common ancestor for hundreds of millions of years, but the neurons that govern our circadian clocks are strikingly similar.

 

Now, University of Michigan researchers have made a discovery in fruit flies that may teach us a little more about our own sleep cycles. Using the fruit flies, they showed how circadian clock neurons use thermoreceptors to constantly monitor the temperature of their environment. They found even mild changes in temperature have physiological effects on clock neurons that control sleep timing.

 

This discovery will help researchers understand how neurons are using environmental temperature in addition to light to regulate sleep timing in mammals, including humans. Their study will be published Feb. 21 in Nature.

 

"Decades of work from recent Nobel Prize winners and many other labs have have actually worked out the details of how light is able to adjust the clock, but the details of how temperature was able to adjust the circadian clock were not well understood," said Swathi Yadlapalli, first author of the study and a postdoctoral researcher in the U-M Department of Molecular, Cellular and Developmental Biology.

 

"Going forward, we can ask questions of how these two stimuli are processed and integrated into the clock system, and how this has effects on our sleep behavior and other physiological processes."

 

Circadian clocks are biochemical mechanisms that allow living things to organize their sleep and waking across the 24-hour cycle of a day. Researchers know that circadian clocks in mammals control the internal body temperature to drive sleep patterns, says Orie Shafer, principal investigator of the study. For example, we think of the human body temperature as a steady 98.6 degrees, Shafer said, but actually, our body temperature changes throughout the day.

 

"In fact, it's fluctuating," Shafer said. "The circadian system produces a daily rhythm in temperature which is an important cue for when it's time to go to sleep."

 

As we're coasting toward bedtime, these circadian clocks cool our internal body temperature. As we're gliding toward wakefulness, these clocks turn up the heat. This is regardless of the temperature of the room we're sleeping in. But showing that circadian clock neurons in fruit flies use external temperature to trigger sleep suggests that some clock neurons in humans could be similarly sensitive.

 

To study how the fruit fly neurons responded to external temperature, Yadlapalli worked with Chang Jiang, a postdoctoral researcher in the labs of Pramod Reddy and Edgar Meyhofer of the U-M Department of Mechanical Engineering. Together, they developed an optical imaging and temperature control system that enabled them to take a snapshot of neural activity in the circadian clock network of fruit flies when the flies are exposed to heat or cold stimulus.

 

"It looks like clock neurons are able to get the temperature information from external thermoreceptors, and that information is being used to time sleep in the fly in a way that's fundamentally the same as it is in humans," Shafer said. "As temperature drops, these neurons that promote sleep become excited, and that really entrains the sleep activity cycle to external temperature cycles. It's precisely what happens to sleep in mammals when internal temperature drops."

https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2018/02/180221131853.htm

Depression linked to reduced arginine levels

February 21, 2018

Science Daily/University of Eastern Finland

People suffering from major depressive disorder, MDD, have reduced arginine levels, a new study from the University of Eastern Finland shows. Arginine is an amino acid which the body uses to produce, e.g., nitric oxide. Nitric oxide, in turn, is a nervous system and immune defence mediator, and it also plays a role in vascular regulation. The global arginine bioavailability ratio, GABR, is an indicator of the body's arginine levels, and the ratio has previously been used to measure the body's capacity to produce nitric oxide. Reduced arginine bioavailability is also known to be an independent risk factor of cardiovascular diseases.

 

Published in Journal of Affective Disorders, the study shows that people suffering from MDD have reduced arginine bioavailability.

 

"It is possible that depression-induced inflammatory responses lead to reduced arginine levels. This may result in insufficient production of nitric oxide for the needs of the nervous system and circulation. However, we don't know yet what exactly causes reduced arginine bioavailability in people with depression," says Doctoral Student Toni Ali-Sisto, the lead author of the study.

 

The study carried out by the University of Eastern Finland and Kuopio University Hospital involved 99 adults with diagnosed major depressive disorder and 253 non-depressed controls. The concentrations of three amino acids, namely arginine, citrulline and ornithine, were analysed from their fasting glucose samples, and this data was used to calculate their GABRs. Symmetric and asymmetric dimethylarginine concentrations were also measured, as they both play a role in the production of nitric oxide. The findings were then compared between the depressed and the non-depressed controls. The study also analysed whether these concentrations changed in people with depression during a follow-up of eight months, and whether remission of depression had an effect on the concentrations.

 

"Although our study shows that people with depression have reduced arginine bioavailability, this doesn't mean that taking an arginine supplement would protect against depression. That's an area for further research," Ali-Sisto says.

 

People with depression had weaker arginine bioavailability than their non-depressed controls. The study did not find significant differences in the symmetric and asymmetric dimethylarginine concentrations. The use of anti-depressants or anti-psychotics did not affect the concentrations, either.

 

Contrary to the researchers' expectations, there were no clear differences in the concentrations measured from people who had recovered from depression and people who remained depressed.

 

"Arginine bioavailability was slightly higher in people who had recovered from depression than in people who remained depressed. However, a more extensive set of data and a longer follow-up period are necessary for estimating arginine's role in depression recovery."

https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2018/02/180221122850.htm

How people cope with difficult life events fuels development of wisdom

February 20, 2018

Science Daily/Oregon State University

How a person responds to a difficult life event such as a death or divorce helps shape the development of their wisdom over time, a new study suggests.

 

For many, the difficult life event also served to disrupt their sense of personal meaning, raising questions about their understanding of their world. These disruptions ultimately lead to the development of new wisdom, said Carolyn Aldwin, director of the Center for Healthy Aging Research in the College of Public Health and Human Sciences at OSU. "The adage used to be 'with age comes wisdom,' but that's not really true," said Aldwin, an expert on psychosocial factors that influence aging. "Generally, the people who had to work to sort things out after a difficult life event are the ones who arrived at new meaning."

 

The findings were just published in the Journals of Gerontology: Series B. The paper's lead author is Heidi Igarashi, who worked on the research as part of the dissertation for her doctorate at OSU; co-author is Michael R. Levenson of OSU.

 

The goal of the study was to better understand how wisdom develops in the context of adversity such as death of a loved one, divorce, health crisis, or loss of job. Understanding how people cope with adversity and develop wisdom provides insight into healthy aging, Aldwin said. "What we're really looking at is 'when bad things happen, what happens?'" Aldwin said. "The event can become a catalyst for changes that come afterward."

 

Igarashi reviewed interviews with 50 adults ages 56 to 91 who had experienced one or more significant difficult life events. The participants were asked to identify a specific difficult or challenging life event, describe how they coped, and describe whether the experience changed their outlook or actions in life.

 

"One thing that stood out right away is that, when asked to think about a difficult life event or challenge, people had an answer right away," Aldwin said. "Difficult times are a way people define themselves." The researchers found that people responded to the difficult life situations in three ways. For one group of respondents, 13 in all, the difficult life event led to little or no questioning of meaning in their life. Part of the people in this group simply accepted the event as something that could not be changed, while the remainder described using their intelligence, self-control and planning to solve problems related to the event.

 

The smallest group, five participants, indicated that the difficult life event helped them clarify a specific value or belief that had not previously been articulated.

 

The majority of the participants -- 32 -- indicated that the difficult life event disrupted their personal meaning and prompted the person to reflect on themselves, their fundamental beliefs and their understanding of the world.

 

"For these folks, the event really rocked their boat and challenged how they saw life and themselves," Aldwin said.

 

Further analysis showed that a person's social environment helped to shape their responses to the difficult life event. These social interactions included: enlisting help from others during the difficult time; unsolicited emotional support from family, friends or strangers; being held or holding, particularly among people sharing a difficult life event such as a loss; receiving unwanted support; comparing one's reaction to the event with the reactions of others; seeking expert advice; seeking out others with similar experiences; making new connections; and learning from society at large.

 

The researchers found that some of these social supports and interactions influenced a person's development of wisdom. Those who received unsolicited emotional support, for example, developed wisdom around compassion and humility. Seeking others with similar experiences exposed some participants to new ideas and interactions, supporting deeper exploration of their new sense of self.

 

"It mattered whether a participant was expected to adjust to the event quickly and 'get back to life,' or whether they were encouraged to grow and change as a result of the event," Igarashi said. "The quality of the social interactions really make a difference."

 

The findings provide new insight into the role of social support and interaction in developing wisdom, she said. The challenge for now is to determine how best to ensure that people are accessing the social supports they need to cope and grow from significant life challenges.

 

"Typically, the type of social support you get is the kind you ask for and allow, and there is no 'one size fits all' approach," Igarashi said. "But being open to the resources in your social network, or seeking out things like grief support groups may be worth exploring."

https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2018/02/180220170348.htm

Pilot study in Kenya shows link between chronic pain and glutamate consumption

Researchers test theory that diet change can alleviate pain

February 16, 2018

Science Daily/American University

Preliminary research from a small pilot study carried out in Meru, in eastern Kenya, shows a link between chronic pain and consumption of glutamate, a common flavor enhancer found in Western and non-Western diets worldwide.

 

Chronic pain is among the most vexing health problems, including in the developing world, where most research suggests that the prevalence of pain is similar to the United States and other developed nations.

 

Preliminary research from a small pilot study carried out in Meru, in eastern Kenya, shows a link between chronic pain and consumption of glutamate, a common flavor enhancer found in Western and non-Western diets worldwide. Results demonstrated that when study participants cut monosodium glutamate from their diets, their symptoms improved. The findings are published in the journal Nutrition.

 

"This preliminary research in Kenya is consistent with what I am observing in my chronic pain research here in the United States," said Kathleen Holton, lead author of the study and assistant professor of health studies at American University. "We don't know what exposure is leading to this susceptibility to dietary glutamate, but this pilot study suggests the need for a large-scale clinical trial, since dietary change could be an effective low-cost treatment option for developing countries."

 

As researchers study glutamate, they're gaining insights into how the chemical works in the human brain and body. In the brain, glutamate is a common neurotransmitter. It also can act as an excitotoxin, over-stimulating and damaging or killing nerve cells. Some research has found that increased consumption of glutamate may enhance chronic pain symptoms, so there is biological cause for scientists to examine the chemical in relation to pain.

 

Glutamate is also a naturally occurring chemical in some foods, like soy sauce and parmesan cheese, but is more commonly found as a food additive. In the U.S., glutamate is added to many food products and found under many names including 'monosodium glutamate,' 'hydrolyzed protein,' 'protein isolate,' 'protein extract' and 'autolyzed yeast extract,' just to name a few. In Kenya, people's exposure to glutamate is only from a few foods which contain MSG, with the largest exposure being from a mixed seasoning spice called Mchuzi Mix, which is typically used in cooking daily.

 

In the Kenya study, the goal was to test whether a dietary intervention could perform as well as or better than over-the-counter medication in relieving pain. With a sample size of 30 participants, the researchers tested the effects of removing MSG, increasing water intake, or a combination of both, relative to acetaminophen (the main treatment option available in Meru). Study participants experienced chronic pain for at least three months or more and in at least three quadrants of the body. Similar to what is seen with widespread chronic pain patients in the U.S., most also suffered from other neurological symptoms, including headaches or migraines, chronic fatigue, cognitive dysfunction, and sleep issues.

 

Holton's collaborators in the research were University of Michigan Professor Dr. Daniel J. Clauw, M.D., and Dr. Peter K. Ndege, M.D., of Meru University of Science and Technology in Kenya. This research came about after Clauw learned about Meru villagers' plight with chronic pain. When the team initially surveyed residents in the area, an estimated 60 percent reported chronic pain, twice the amount typically observed.

 

The participants were broken into four groups. Because dehydration is associated with headache pain, the researchers factored that into the study design. The groups consisted of the following: If subjects commonly consumed Mchuzi Mix, they were given a similar mixed seasoning substitute that contained no MSG. Those reporting low water intake and no MSG were given bottled water and instructed to increase water consumption to eight cups a day.

 

Those with low water consumption who also consumed MSG were given water and the substitute spices. The control group had neither exposure and was given acetaminophen. The group that removed MSG from its diet and consumed more water reported significant improvements in their symptoms, as did the group receiving acetaminophen.

 

In the future, Holton, Clauw and Ndege plan a larger, epidemiological survey to further understand the prevalence of widespread chronic pain in the region and to train Kenyan research staff how to conduct a large-scale clinical trial to test if dietary change could be an effective, low-cost treatment option for pain in countries like Kenya.

 

"This would be incredible if we could impact chronic pain simply by making slight modifications to diet," said Clauw, a leading expert on chronic pain.

https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2018/02/180216142702.htm

Sleepless in Japan: How insomnia kills

February 9, 2018

De Gruyter

Lay people tend to think that insomnia is usually a symptom of something else, like stress, a bad diet or a sedentary lifestyle, but this may not be true at all. It is possible that insomnia itself causes many of the conditions that it is seen as a symptom of. Using previous research that shows that insomnia causes a decrease in blood flow in the front dorsal lobe of the brain, which correlates with depression, the authors seek to establish a link between insomnia and depression.

 

Depression is a hidden killer. It is a condition that affects people all around the world. Suicide is one of the leading causes of death in Japan. The yearly financial cost to the Japanese economy of depression and suicide is estimated by UPI to be USD 4.1 billion. Middle-aged males, one of the groups that was found to suffer the highest rates of insomnia are also the likeliest to commit suicide.

 

In March of 2011, over 7000 hospital staff in ten hospitals in the district of Rosai were given a self-administered anonymous questionnaire. The questions included information about the respondent's gender, age, and medical profession, as well as questions about their sleeping history two weeks prior to responding to the survey, as well as detailing their overtime work, and their history of disease and chronic pain. It also asked them to assess their own feelings of depression and fatigue.

 

The results were alarming. Thirteen percent of men, and nineteen percent of women suffered from insomnia, and the medical profession with the highest rate of insomnia were nurses at twenty percent. For comparison, about ten percent of Americans suffer from chronic insomnia.

 

Chronic insomnia can lead to depression, and a better understanding of the link between the two conditions could be used to improve treatment, and prevent the condition from worsening while strengthening the world economy. The hope is a survey will be developed for healthcare professionals (and other high-stress professions) that can identify insomnia before it becomes a problem.

https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2018/02/180209114224.htm

Want to help your partner stress less? Listen from the heart

February 6, 2018

Science Daily/Wake Forest University

When we feel supported, we feel less stress. But sometimes we think we are being supportive of a romantic partner and we're not. Who hasn't experienced the self-satisfaction of feeling like we're 'helping' only to find we've only made the situation worse.

 

Wake Forest communication professor Jennifer Priem studies dating relationships and explores the connection between supportive conversations and physiological signs of stress reduction.

 

Using saliva samples, Priem can measure changes in stress by determining when cortisol levels rise and when they fall as a result of support conversations between dating partners. Cortisol is a stress hormone that, when over active can cause heart disease as well as other health problems such as headaches, sleep problems, and concentration impairment.

 

A supportive partner has the power to reduce the levels of cortisol by taking specific actions that help calm tension and reduce stress. Supportive communication can alleviate distress and improve a partner's emotional state.

 

"The fastest stress recovery comes from explicit messages," says Priem. "When a partner is stressed they are unable to focus on interpreting messages well. Clarity and eye contact help."

 

Other features of supportive communication that have been shown to reduce stress include:

 

·      Acknowledging the person is under stress and experiencing a problem. We are generally most willing to give high quality comforting when we can interpret the stress at the same level as the person needing support. Even if, and maybe especially when, you don't think the other person should be stressed, he or she still needs support. "If your partner is feeling stressed, telling him or her 'don't worry about it' or trying to distract the person from the stress by changing the subject is generally not going to help," Priem says.

·      Using verbal and nonverbal forms of communication, such as listening and asking questions, making eye contact, nodding and touching, can cause cortisol levels go down, and there is often a reappraisal of the problem by the person who is upset.

·      Listening and understanding is support validation and turns off strong emotional responses by legitimizing feelings. We often feel the need to say the right thing or fix the problem, but most often when people are stressed they want emotional support, which mainly consists of listening intently and asking questions. Unless someone specifically asks for advice, do not offer it. Once you validate their feelings, people may ask for advice, but they have to be ready to hear it.

·      Adjusting your approach as needed. It's possible that as a support provider you may think you are providing good support. But good support isn't good unless the person receiving the support perceives it as helpful.

 

"Cookie cutter support messages don't really work," says Priem. "Stress creates a frame through which messages are interpreted. Support that is clear and explicit in validating feelings and showing interest and concern is most likely to lower cortisol levels and increase feelings of wellbeing and safety. If you aren't seeing improvement in your partner's anxiety, you may need to change your approach."

 

The benefit both partners will receive from engaging in effective support goes beyond the immediate stress recovery after the conversation. The result of prolonged exposure to stress hormones, such as cortisol, is wear and tear on the body. Because the rate of physiological recovery after exposure to everyday stressors and hassles results in more or less cortisol exposure over the course of a lifetime, supportive communication that accelerates cortisol recovery, even slightly, may have longer health benefits. Thus, individuals who are able to facilitate faster stress recovery for their partner create immediate and long term relational and health benefits, strengthening the relationship and the individual.

https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2018/02/180206115534.htm

Grape-derived compounds may promote resilience against depression

New study used DNA epigenetic mapping to analyze novel inflammatory mechanisms influencing brain circuitry associated with depression

February 2, 2018

Science Daily/The Mount Sinai Hospital / Mount Sinai School of Medicine

Researchers have analyzed novel grape-derived compounds, dihydrocaffeic acid (DHCA) and malvidin-3'-O-glucoside (Mal-gluc), which might be developed as therapeutic agents for the treatment of depression. Their study results indicate that these natural compounds may attenuate depression by targeting newly discovered underlying mechanisms of the disease.

 

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, each year approximately 16 million individuals in the United States have a major depressive episode. Conventional pharmacological treatments are estimated to produce temporary remission in less than 50 percent of patients, and they are often associated with severe adverse effects. Thus, there is an urgent need for a wider spectrum of novel therapeutics.

 

Depression is associated with a multitude of pathological processes, including inflammation of the peripheral immune system, a set of biological structures and processes in the lymph nodes and other tissues that protect against disease and abnormalities involving synapses, the structures that permit neurons to pass an electrical or chemical signal to other neurons. However, currently available antidepressants are largely restricted to targeting the systems that regulate serotonin, dopamine, and other related neurotransmitters, and these treatments do not specifically address inflammation and synaptic maladaptations that are now known to be associated with MDD.

 

Previous research has found that grape-derived polyphenols have some efficacy in modulating aspects of depression, yet the mechanisms of action had largely remained unknown until now. The new study, led by Giulio Maria Pasinetti, PhD, Saunders Professor of Neurology, and a team of investigators from the Center for Integrative Molecular Neuroresilience at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, found that a bioactive dietary polyphenol preparation -- a combination of three grape-derived polyphenol products, including a select Concord grape juice, a select grape seed extract, and trans-resveratrol -- was effective in promoting resilience against stress-induced depression in mice.

 

Specifically, researchers found that DHCA and Mal-gluc can promote resilience in mouse models of depression by modulating inflammation and synaptic plasticity, respectively. DHCA reduces interleukin 6 (IL-6), a pro-inflammatory substance secreted by T cells and macrophages to stimulate immune response, by epigenetically modulating the non-coding sequence of the IL-6 gene. Mal-gluc modulates histone acetylation of the Rac1 gene and allows transcription activators to access the DNA for increased transcription in the brain, which influences the expression of genes responsible for synaptic plasticity. Researchers also demonstrated that DHCA/Mal-gluc treatment was effective in attenuating depression-like phenotypes in a mouse model of increased systemic inflammation induced by transplantation of cells from the bone marrow of stress-susceptible mice.

 

"Our research shows that combination treatment with the two compounds can promote resilience against stress-mediated depression-like phenotypes by modulating systemic inflammatory responses and brain synaptic plasticity in a mouse model of depression," says Jun Wang, PhD, Associate Professor of the Department of Neurology and first author on the paper.

 

The Mount Sinai study provides, for the first time, novel preclinical evidence supporting the targeting of multiple key disease mechanisms through DNA epigenetic modification for the treatment of depression. This study strongly supports the need to test and identify novel compounds that target alternative pathologic mechanisms, such as inflammation and synaptic maladaptation, for individuals who are resistant to currently available treatment.

 

"Our approach to use a combination treatment of DHCA and Mal-gluc to simultaneously inhibit peripheral inflammation and modulate synaptic plasticity in the brain works synergistically to optimize resilience against chronic stress-induced depression-like phenotypes," said Dr. Pasinetti. "The discovery of these new, natural grape-derived polyphenol compounds targeting cellular and molecular pathways associated with inflammation may provide an effective way to treat a subset of people with depression and anxiety, a condition that affects so many people."

https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2018/02/180202153207.htm

This is your brain: This is your brain outdoors

Neuroscientists find differences in brain activity depending whether people are outdoors or in a lab

January 30, 2018

Science Daily/University of Alberta

The brain acts much differently when we're outdoors compared to when we're inside the lab, a new study has found.

 

"It happens when we're doing normal, everyday activities, like riding a bike," explained Kyle Mathewson, a neuroscientist in UAlberta's Department of Psychology.

 

Mathewson and his research team put EEG equipment into backpacks and had subjects perform a standard neuroscience task while riding a bike outside. The task involved identifying changes in an otherwise consistent set of stimuli, such as a higher pitch in a series of beep sounds. They had previously performed the same experiment on stationary bikes inside their lab but in the but in the new study, the scientists were able to record laboratory quality measurements of brain activity outdoors, using portable equipment.

 

"Something about being outdoors changes brain activity," said Joanna Scanlon, graduate student and lead author on the study. "In addition to dividing attention between the task and riding a bike, we noticed that brain activity associated with sensing and perceiving information was different when outdoors, which may indicate that the brain is compensating for environmental distractions."

 

The great outdoors

The study showed that our brains process stimuli, like sounds and sights, differently when we perform the same task outdoors compared to inside a lab.

 

"If we can understand how and what humans are paying attention to in the real world, we can learn more about how our minds work," said Scanlon. "We can use that information to make places more safe, like roadways."

 

"If we want to apply these findings to solve issues in our society, we need to ensure that we understand how the brain works out in the world where humans actually live, work, and play," said Mathewson, who added that almost everything we know about the human brain is learned from studies in very tightly controlled environments.

 

Next, the researchers will explore how this effect differs in outdoor environments with varying degrees of distraction, such as quiet path or a busy roadway.

https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2018/01/180130123732.htm

Americans are getting more ZZZZs

Decline in reading and watching TV before bed and increasing opportunities to perform tasks online and from home could be why

January 18, 2018

University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine

Although more than one in three Americans still don't get enough sleep, a new analysis shows first signs of success in the fight for more shut eye. According to data from 181,335 respondents aged 15 and older who participated in the American Time Use Survey (ATUS) between 2003 and 2016, most Americans averaged an extra 7.5 hours of sleep each year over the 14-year period. The study, by researchers at the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania, was published online this month in the journal Sleep.

 

The findings reveal that daily sleep duration increased by 1.4 minutes on weekdays and 0.8 minutes on weekends per year. At first glance, this may not seem like substantial progress. However, over the 14-year period it translates to 17.3 minutes more sleep each night, or 4.4 full days more sleep each year. This is the first study to show that sleep duration has increased among broad segments of the United States population (students 15 and older, people who are employed, and retirees) over this period. The increase in sleep duration was mostly explained by respondents turning in earlier at night, and to a lesser degree by getting up later in the morning.

 

In addition to sleep, the ATUS covers all waking activities over a 24-hour period and thus allowed Penn researchers to investigate behaviors that could be responsible for the increase in sleep duration. For example, over the 14-year period, fewer respondents decided to read or watch TV prior to bed in the evening, two prominent activities that compete with sleep for time.

 

"This shows an increased willingness in parts of the population to give up pre-bed leisure activities to obtain more sleep," said the study's lead author, Mathias Basner, MD, PhD, an associate professor of Sleep and Chronobiology in Psychiatry. "Also, the data suggest that increasing opportunities to work, learn, bank, shop, and perform administrative tasks online and from home freed up extra time, and some of it was likely used to get more sleep."

 

No significant sleep time trend was found for unemployed respondents or those not in the labor force, thus bringing attention to the difficulty of work/family balance and the finding that sometimes people sacrifice sleep to make the other two work. In earlier work, the Penn team identified time spent working as the #1 waking activity competing with sleep for time. Changes in time spent working were not found to play a substantial role in the increasing sleep time trend in this study, though.

 

The study also showed that the number of Google searches on the topic "sleep" has more than doubled and scientific publications on "short sleep" and its consequences has grown more than 10 fold from 2003 to 2016, and was highly correlated with the observed increase in sleep duration. Although the team says this does not prove causality, it gives hope that increasing awareness through reports of insufficient sleep and its consequences as well as campaigns to encourage healthy sleep -- such as the 2013 National Healthy Sleep Awareness Project -- may be working.

 

The dangers of short sleep are well documented. Earlier research by senior author David F. Dinges, PhD, chief of the division of Sleep and Chronobiology, showed that cognitive performance and vigilant attention decline quickly after being awake past 16 hours or if sleep is chronically curtailed, which increases the risk for errors and accidents. Also, additional studies have found associations between chronic short sleep and obesity, hypertension, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and declines in cognitive function.

 

In 2015, the American Academy of Sleep Medicine and Sleep Research Society published a consensus statement that adults should sleep 7 or more hours per night on a regular basis to promote optimal health.

 

"As researchers, increasing awareness of short sleep and its consequences remains a critically important task to improve public health," said Basner. "At the same time, this data provides new hope that these efforts may be effective in motivating many Americans to sleep more."

 

The researchers caution that the findings need to be replicated and that there is still a long way to go in the fight against chronic, widespread sleep loss. Since the ATUS is a survey, more population research with objective measures of sleep is needed. The authors also add that an increase in reported "long sleep," i.e. for more than nine hours each night, of 0.48 percent/year over this 14-year period, calls for further research into the health effects of "long sleep."

https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2018/01/180118175315.htm

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