In The News
Similar to people, a lot can be learned about a gene by looking at the company it keeps and watching how it behaves. In an effort to uncover more clues about the development of schizophrenia, researchers at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine explored how the proteins produced by schizophrenia-related genes interacted with one another.
“We can infer what the protein might do by checking out the company it keeps,” said senior investigator Madhavi Ganapathiraju, Ph.D., assistant professor of biomedical informatics, Pitt School of Medicine.
“For example, if I know you have many friends who play hockey, it could mean that you are involved in hockey, too. Similarly, if we see that an unknown protein interacts with multiple proteins involved in neural signaling, for example, there is a high likelihood that the unknown entity also is involved in the same.”
In recent history, scientists have conducted many genome-wide association studies (GWAS) that have successfully identified gene variants tied to an increased risk for schizophrenia. However, relatively little is known about the proteins that these genes make, what they do and how they interact, say the researchers.
“GWAS studies and other research efforts have shown us what genes might be relevant in schizophrenia,” said Ganapathiraju. “What we have done is the next step. We are trying to understand how these genes relate to each other, which could show us the biological pathways that are important in the disease.”
In a nutshell, each gene makes proteins, and these proteins typically interact with each other in a biological process. Studying how these proteins behave with one another can shed light on the role of a gene that has not yet been studied, revealing pathways and biological processes associated with schizophrenia as well as its relation to other complex diseases.
After developing and using a new computational model, called High-Precision Protein Interaction Prediction (HiPPIP), the researchers discovered more than 500 new protein-protein interactions (PPIs) associated with genes linked to schizophrenia.
The researchers add that while schizophrenia-linked genes identified historically and through GWAS had little overlap, the model showed they shared more than 100 common interactors. The findings could lead to greater understanding of the biological underpinnings of this mental illness, as well as point the way to treatments.
The findings are published online in npj Schizophrenia, a Nature Publishing Group journal.
A new study finds that when parents spend a considerable amount of time next to their baby recovering from Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome (NAS) (opioid withdrawal symptoms), the outcomes are greatly improved.
The findings were presented at the Pediatric Academic Societies (PAS) 2016 Meeting.
“Encouraging and supporting mothers with substance abuse disorders to be involved in their infant’s care while they are being treated for withdrawal symptoms should be a priority of providers caring for opioid-exposed newborns,” said said lead author Mary Beth Howard, M.D., M.Sc., at the Boston Children’s Hospital/Boston Medical Center Combined Residency Program.
NAS is becoming an increasingly common condition as more infants are being exposed to opioid use in the womb. Symptoms include tremors, intense irritability, poor feeding, vomiting, diarrhea, and poor sleep. Treatment often requires weeks of hospitalization and pharmacologic treatment.
The study found that newborns whose parents spent more time at their bedside had less severe withdrawal symptoms and shorter hospital stays during treatment for NAS.
Howard notes that previous studies have already established strong evidence that non-pharmacologic interventions such as breastfeeding can ease NAS symptoms. But the underlying mechanisms as to why breastfeeding helps, she said, are still unclear.
Researchers hypothesize that the skin-to-skin contact during breastfeeding may be a key factor. Some research has even shown that having parents “room-in” or share a hospital room with babies undergoing NAS treatment decreases the need for pharmacologic therapy. She said this study supports the idea that a parent’s physical closeness has therapeutic effects on babies with NAS.
“Our results show that non-pharmacologic interventions play a key role in treating opioid-exposed infants and lessening the severity of NAS,” said Howard. She adds that healthcare providers should continue to encourage parental engagement in care during the NAS infant’s inpatient stay in order to improve outcomes.
“Rooming-in may provide opportunities for bonding and normalize the postpartum process for women who may feel vulnerable and stigmatized because of their opioid dependence history,” she said. “Creating a more secure, compassionate, and comfortable environment for mothers and infants will likely lead to improved outcomes for both mother and infant.”
The research is part of a larger quality improvement project at Boston Medical Center designed to increase parental presence at the bedside for infants with NAS through prenatal counseling.
For this project, health care providers work with the parents to educate them on the benefits of parental presence to reduce NAS symptoms and to identify potential barriers to being at the infant’s bedside, such as transportation and childcare, and help them to brainstorm solutions.
A new study suggests that stress and depression play a significant role in whether the human papillomavirus (HPV) will clear up or remain persistent. Although a woman’s immune system often clears up the virus on its own, HPV that lingers in the body may eventually lead to cervical cancer.
For the study, researchers followed a group of 333 women (average age 19 at the beginning) since 2000. During this time, the participants came into the lab every six months so researchers could take a sample to test for HPV.
Eleven years into the study, when the women were about 28 years old, they were asked to complete a questionnaire that asked about how much stress they had experienced, how they coped with stress, and if they were depressed.
Their answers were compared to HPV persistence (continuing to test positive for the virus) or whether the infection had cleared. The body’s immune system typically fights off the virus within a couple years of exposure, the researchers said.
“Women who reported self-destructive coping strategies, like drinking, smoking cigarettes, or taking drugs when stressed, were more likely to develop an active HPV infection,” said principal investigator Anna-Barbara Moscicki, M.D., FAAP, chief of the Division of Adolescent and Young Adult Medicine and professor of pediatrics at the University of California, Los Angeles School of Medicine.
“We also found that women who were depressed or perceived themselves to have lots of stress were more likely to have HPV persistence,” she said, adding that this study is the first to show these connections between stress and HPV persistence.
Research has long linked psychosocial stress with poor health, Moscicki said. Earlier studies have shown that stress can lead to greater numbers of herpes virus outbreaks in those infected, for example, and worse medical outcomes among people with cancer.
One reason for this may be that that stress is associated with an abnormal immune response, which these new findings may support. Further studies will take place to determine whether cervical inflammatory markers are linked to stress.
Moscicki says that women with the infection should be aware that stress reduction may help their bodies eliminate HPV, and that drinking alcohol or smoking cigarettes may interfere with their ability to clear the infection.
“HPV infections are the cause of cervical cancers. But HPV infections are extremely common, and only the few infections that continue years beyond initial infection are at risk of developing cervical cancer,” she said. “This is alarming since many of these women acquired their persistent infection as adolescents.”
The new findings were presented at the Pediatric Academic Societies 2016 Meeting.
Source: American Academy of Pediatrics
Adolescents who are bullied both in person and online are twice as likely to exhibit aggressive behaviors themselves, such as verbal hostility, physical fighting, and damaging property, than teens who experience only one form of bullying, according to a new study presented at the Pediatric Academic Societies 2016 Meeting in Baltimore.
Previous research has shown that victims of peer aggression are more likely to act out by becoming an aggressor themselves. In the new study, the researchers compared how likely a national sample of adolescents between ages 10 and 17 were to display hostile behaviors based on whether they themselves experienced face-to-face bullying, cyber-bullying, or both.
According to the findings, 43 percent of the teens in the study reported having been the victim of face-to-face bullying, while seven percent reported that they experienced some form of cyber-bullying. Those who had been bullied either in person or online were more likely to engage in aggressive behaviors such as physical fighting, damaging property, verbal hostility, and coercing peers.
Even more concerning, however, is that teens who were victims of both face-to-face and cyber-bullying — approximately three percent — are more than twice as likely as those experiencing just one form of bullying to engage in aggressive behaviors.
Of all the participants who suffered from both forms of bullying, 38 percent showed aggressive behavior toward others, compared with 15 percent of those who were cyber-bullied and four percent of those were victims of in-person bullying.
“Students who are victimized are more likely to exhibit aggressive behaviors towards others. This phenomenon may lead to a vicious cycle whereby bullies create bullies out of those they victimize,” said principal investigator Alexandra Hua.
She adds that with the growing use of cell phones and the Internet among young people, there should be a greater focus on cyber-bullying and these negative “downstream” effects, especially when combined with face-to-face bullying.
The researchers note that it is concerning, though not surprising, that young people who had been victimized by multiple forms of peer bullying were at increasingly higher risk of showing aggressive behaviors themselves.
“These behaviors may involve retaliatory measures against their aggressors, acting aggressive in order to fend off future bullying attempts, or worse, learning by example and engaging in bullying of previously uninvolved peers,” said senior investigator Andrew Adesman, M.D., FAAP, chief of developmental and behavioral pediatrics at the Cohen Children’s Medical Center of New York.
Source: American Academy of Pediatrics
The stereotypes we hold can influence our brain’s visual system, prompting us to see others’ faces in ways that conform to these stereotypes, according to new research.
“Our findings provide evidence that the stereotypes we hold can systematically alter the brain’s visual representation of a face, distorting what we see to be more in line with our biased expectations,” said Jonathan Freeman, senior author and an assistant professor in the Department of Psychology at New York University.
“For example, many individuals have ingrained stereotypes that associate men as being more aggressive, women as being more appeasing, or black individuals as being more hostile — though they may not endorse these stereotypes personally,” he said.
“Our results suggest that these sorts of stereotypical associations can shape the basic visual processing of other people, predictably warping how the brain ‘sees’ a person’s face.”
The neuroscientist notes that previous research has shown that stereotypes seep into the ways we think about and interact with other people, shaping many aspects of our behavior, despite our better intentions.
But the new findings show that stereotypes may also have a more insidious impact, shaping even our initial visual processing of a person in a way that conforms to our existing biases, according to the researchers.
“Previous studies have shown that how we perceive a face may, in turn, influence our behavior,” said Ryan Stolier, an NYU doctoral student and lead author of the research. “Our findings therefore shed light upon an important and perhaps unanticipated route through which unintended bias may influence interpersonal behavior.”
The research relies on a mouse-tracking technique that uses an individual’s hand movements to reveal unconscious cognitive processes and, specifically, the stereotypes they hold.
Unlike surveys, in which individuals can consciously alter their responses, this technique requires subjects to make split-second decisions about others, uncovering a less conscious preference through their hand-motion trajectory, the researchers explain.
Using this mouse-tracking software Freeman developed, the millimeters of movement of a test subject’s mouse cursor can be linked with brain-imaging data to discover otherwise hidden impacts on specific brain processes.
In the first of two studies, Freeman and Stolier monitored subjects’ brain activity using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) while the subjects viewed different faces: Male and female, as well as those of various races and depicting a range of emotions.
Outside the brain scanner, the subjects were asked to quickly categorize the gender, race, and emotion of the faces using the mouse-tracking technique.
Despite their conscious responses, the subjects’ hand movements revealed the presence of several stereotypical biases.
According to the findings, men, and particularly black men, were initially perceived “angry,” even when their faces were not objectively angry. Women were initially perceived “happy,” even when their faces were not objectively happy. In addition, Asian faces were initially perceived “female” and black faces were initially perceived “male,” regardless of the faces’ actual gender.
The researchers said they confirmed, using a separate group of subjects, that the specific pattern of visual biases observed matched prevalent stereotypical associations in the U.S. to a significant degree.
According to the researchers, the fMRI findings backed these assessments, demonstrating that such stereotypical biases may be entrenched in the brain’s visual system, specifically in the fusiform cortex, a region involved in the visual processing of faces.
For instance, the neural-activation patterns elicited by black male faces in this region were more similar to those elicited by objectively angry faces, even when the faces did not display any actual angry features.
Moreover, the extent of this stereotypical similarity in neural-activation patterns was correlated with the extent of bias observed in a subject’s hand movements, the researchers noted.
For example, the extent to which a subject’s hand initially veered toward the “angry” response when categorizing a non-angry black male face predicted the extent to which neural-activation patterns for black male faces and angry faces were more strongly correlated in the subject’s fusiform cortex, they explained.
Numerous other biases were also observed in the brain-imaging results. As another example, the neural-activation patterns elicited by white female faces were more similar to those elicited by objectively happy faces, even when such faces did not display any actual happy features. In addition, neural-activation patterns elicited by Asian faces were more similar to those elicited by female faces, regardless of the actual gender.
In the second study, the researchers replicated the overall findings in a larger group of subjects and ruled out alternative explanations, such as whether inherent physical resemblance or visual similarities in certain faces may explain the results.
They also measured each subject’s own stereotypical associations using an additional task and demonstrated that it was a subject’s own unique associations that specifically predicted the visual biases and neural-activation patterns observed.
These findings cemented the evidence that one’s own learned stereotypes can change the way that an individual sees another person’s face and also demonstrated that this form of visual stereotyping is not limited to particular association, the researchers said.
Rather, whatever associations an individual has learned over his or her lifetime are likely to be expressed in the form of this visual stereotyping, the findings suggest.
“If stereotypes we have learned can change how we visually process another person, this kind of visual stereotyping may only serve to reinforce and possibly exacerbate the biases that exist in the first place,” Freeman said.
“Ultimately, this research could be used to develop better interventions to reduce or possibly eliminate unconscious biases,” he continued.
“The findings highlight the need to address these biases at the visual level as well, which may be more entrenched and require specific forms of intervention. This visual bias occurs the moment we glimpse at another person, well before we have a chance to correct ourselves or regulate our behavior.”
The study was published in the journal Nature Neuroscience.
Two new studies, published in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society, highlight the risks of frailty among older couples and individuals.
The researchers found that frailty and depression may be intertwined in older couples and that frail older women who also have several other health problems tend to have a lower quality of life.
Frailty is a condition associated with aging that boosts the risk of poor health, falls, disability, and earlier death. It affects approximately 10 percent of people aged 65 and older. Signs of frailty include weakness, weight loss, slower walking speed, exhaustion, and low activity levels.
In the first study, researchers examined the relationship between frailty and depression in married couples.
They analyzed data from 1,260 married couples, aged 65 and older, that had been collected during the Cardiovascular Health Study. Although there has been sufficient research on the effects of frailty and depression on individuals, up until now, little has been known about how these two conditions may be connected within couples.
The researchers found that frailty and depression tend to affect one another in a perpetual cycle. The more frail an older person is, for example, the more likely it is that he or she will become depressed. Conversely, the more depressed an older person is, the more likely he or she is to become frail.
The findings also showed that people who were married to a frail spouse were likely to become frail themselves, and that people married to a depressed spouse were more likely to become depressed as well. The researchers also found that older husbands tend to be more depressed and frail than younger husbands and that older wives are more frail, but not more depressed, than younger wives.
The researchers concluded that frailty and depression symptoms may be intertwined for spouses. They suggest that senior living facilities might consider ways to increase couples’ engagement in physical activities, social activities, and mutual support.
In the second study, a research team examined data from 11,070 frail women, aged 65 to 84, who were enrolled in the Women’s Health Initiative Observational Study.
They found that older women who were frail, and who also had six or more chronic health conditions, were twice as likely to have a lower quality of life compared to women with less than three risk factors.
The risk factors that can worsen a frail woman’s quality of life and raise the risk for death are as follows: heart disease, diabetes, lower weight, believing oneself to be in poor or fair health, high blood pressure, smoking, older age.
In conclusion, the researchers suggest that managing chronic health problems well may help older, frail women enjoy a better quality of life.
The brain tissue of alcoholics experiences a variety of changes compared to non-alcoholics, according to a new study at the University of Eastern Finland. And while all alcoholics’ brains share some of the same characteristics, the researchers discovered that some changes are exclusive to the brains of anxiety-prone (type I) alcoholics or impulsive (type II) alcoholics.
For the study, the researchers evaluated post-mortem brain tissue from alcoholic persons and non-alcoholic controls. Alcoholics were divided into two groups on the basis of Cloninger’s typology: type I and type II alcoholics.
Type I alcoholics typically develop alcohol dependence later in life and are more prone to anxiety. Type II alcoholics, on the other hand, develop alcohol dependence at a young age and tend to exhibit antisocial behavior and impulsivity.
“From the viewpoint of the study setting, this division was made in order to highlight the wide spectrum of people suffering from alcohol dependence. The reality, of course, is far more diverse, and not every alcoholic fits into one of these categories,” said Olli Kärkkäinen, M.Sc. (Pharm), who presented the results in his doctoral thesis.
One of the changes found in all brains of alcoholics were increased levels of dehydroepiandrosterone, a steroid hormone that affects the central nervous system. These increased levels can, for the most part, explain alcohol tolerance, which develops as a result of long-term use and in which alcohol no longer results in a feeling of pleasure as it once did.
Furthermore, all alcoholics showed decreased levels of serotonin transporters in posterior insula and posterior cingulate cortex, brain regions related to the recognition of feelings and social cognitive processes. This finding could be related to the social anxiety often seen in alcohol-dependent individuals.
The researchers also discovered changes specific to each type of alcoholic. For example, in type I alcoholics, changes were seen in the endocannabinoid system, which modulates stress responses, among other things. Docosahexaenoylethanolamide levels were increased in the amygdala, possibly associated with the anxiety prone nature of type I alcoholics.
On the other hand, brain samples of impulsive, type II alcoholics had increased levels of AMPA receptors in the anterior cingulate cortex. AMPA receptors play a role in the learning and regulation of behavior. This may be associated with the impulsive nature of type II alcoholics.
“These findings enhance our understanding of changes in the brain that make people prone to alcoholism and that are caused by long-term use. Such information is useful for developing new drug therapies for alcoholism, and for targeting existing treatments at patients who will benefit the most,” said Kärkkäinen.
Worldwide, the harm caused by alcohol is estimated to be about as great as the harm caused by the use of all illegal substances combined. In Western countries, approximately 10-15 percent of the population are alcohol-dependent.
The findings are published in the journal Alcohol and Alcoholism, Psychiatry Research: Neuroimaging, and Alcohol.
A new study shows that “retweeting” or sharing other information online creates a cognitive overload that interferes with learning and retaining what you’ve just seen.
Even worse, that cognitive overload can spill over and diminish performance in the real world, according to researchers at Cornell University and Beijing University.
“Most people don’t post original ideas any more. You just share what you read with your friends,” said Dr. Qi Wang, a professor of human development in the College of Human Ecology at Cornell University. “But they don’t realize that sharing has a downside. It may interfere with other things we do.”
For the study, Wang and her colleagues in China conducted experiments at Beijing University, with a group of Chinese college students.
At computers in a laboratory setting, two groups were presented with a series of messages from Weibo, the Chinese equivalent of Twitter. After reading each message, members of one group had options either to repost or go on to the next message. The other group was given only the “next” option.
After finishing a series of messages, the students were given an online test on the content of those messages. Those in the repost group offered almost twice as many wrong answers and often demonstrated poor comprehension. What they did remember they often remembered poorly, Wang reported.
“For things that they reposted, they remembered especially worse,” she added.
The researchers theorize that reposters were suffering from “cognitive overload.” When there is a choice to share or not share, the decision itself consumes cognitive resources, Wang explained.
This led to a second experiment: After viewing a series of Weibo messages, the students were given an unrelated paper test on their comprehension of a New Scientist article. Again, participants in the no-feedback group outperformed the reposters.
Subjects also completed a Workload Profile Index, in which they were asked to rate the cognitive demands of the message-viewing task. The results confirmed a higher cognitive drain for the repost group.
“The sharing leads to cognitive overload, and that interferes with the subsequent task,” Wang said. “In real life when students are surfing online and exchanging information and right after that they go to take a test, they may perform worse.”
Noting that other research has shown people often pay more attention to elements of a web design such as “repost” or “like” than to the content, the researchers suggest that web interfaces should be designed to promote, rather than interfere, with cognitive processing.
“Online design should be simple and task-relevant,” Wang concluded.
Source: Cornell University
Salt levels in the brain appear to play a critical role in whether we fall asleep or stay awake, according to a new mouse study by researchers at the University of Copenhagen. The findings are highly relevant to research on psychiatric conditions such as schizophrenia, post-anaesthesia confusion, as well as convulsions or seizures due to sleep deprivation.
For the first time, researchers have shown that the levels of salts in our body and brain differ depending on whether we are asleep or awake. The findings show that by influencing the level of salts, it is possible to control the sleep-wake cycle in mouse models.
“These salts play a much larger and much more decisive role than hitherto imagined. The discovery reveals a completely new layer of understanding of how the brain functions,” says Professor Maiken Nedergaard from the Center for Basic and Translational Neuroscience at the University of Copenhagen.
“First and foremost, we learn more about how sleep is controlled. It may, however, also open up for a better future understanding of why some people suffer convulsive fits when staying awake all through the night.”
For the study, the researchers injected salt into the brains of mice to determine whether the salt levels could affect their sleep-wake cycle. They found that it is the neuromodulators (compounds, such as adrenalin, which play a key role in waking up every morning) that change the level of salts surrounding the neurons. This salt balance then decides whether the neurons are sensitive to stimulation in the shape of a touch.
When we are awake, for example, the salt balance makes neurons highly sensitive to stimulation. In contrast, when we are asleep, the salt balance makes it harder to activate the neurons.
“It’s much simpler than previously believed in brain research. The research conducted used to focus only on the brain’s neural activity as a means of mapping and analyzing complicated processes such as being asleep or awake,” says Nedergaard.
The fact that the brain needs seven to eight hours of sleep to function well on a daily basis reveals that there’s much more we need to understand, says Nedergaard. He adds that it’s time we think of the brain as much more than just a group of neurons acting like a computer.
“Our study shows that the brain uses something as simple as changing the level of salts to control whether we are asleep or awake. This discovery reveals that studying only neurons in order to understand brain activity is not enough.”
The findings are published in the scientific journal SCIENCE.
Source: University of Copenhagen
Feeding premature babies mostly breast milk during the first month of life appears to spur more robust brain growth, according to a new study.
Studying preterm infants in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) at St. Louis Children’s Hospital, the researchers found that babies whose daily diets were at least 50 percent breast milk had more brain tissue and cortical-surface area by their due dates than premature babies who consumed significantly less breast milk.
“The brains of babies born before their due dates usually are not fully developed,” said senior investigator Cynthia Rogers, M.D., an assistant professor of child psychiatry who treats patients at St. Louis Children’s Hospital. “But breast milk has been shown to be helpful in other areas of development, so we looked to see what effect it might have on the brain. With MRI scans, we found that babies fed more breast milk had larger brain volumes. This is important because several other studies have shown a correlation between brain volume and cognitive development.”
The study included 77 preterm infants. The researchers examined how much breast milk the babies received while being cared for in the NICU.
Then, the researchers conducted brain scans on the infants at about the time each would have been born had they not arrived early.
All of the babies were born at least 10 weeks early, with an average gestation of 26 weeks, or about 14 weeks premature, according to the researchers. Because they are still developing, preemies typically have smaller brains than full-term infants, they explain.
First author Erin Reynolds, a research technician in Rogers’ laboratory, said in gauging the effects of breast milk on the babies’ brains, the researchers didn’t distinguish between milk that came from the babies’ own mothers and breast milk donated by other women. Rather, they focused on the influence of breast milk in general.
“As the amount of breast milk increased, so did a baby’s chances of having a larger cortical surface area,” Reynolds said. “The cortex is the part of the brain associated with cognition, so we assume that more cortex will help improve cognition as the babies grow and develop.”
Preterm birth is a leading cause of neurologic problems in children and has been linked to psychiatric disorders later in childhood. Rogers and her team plan to follow the babies in the study through their first years of life to see how they grow, focusing on their motor, cognitive, and social development. As the babies get older, the researchers said they believe they will be able to determine the effects of early exposure to breast milk on later developmental outcomes.
“We want to see whether this difference in brain size has an effect on any of those developmental milestones,” Rogers said. “Neonatologists already believe breast milk is the best nutrition for preterm infants. We wanted to see whether it was possible to detect the impact of breast milk on the brain this early in life and whether the benefits appeared quickly or developed over time.”
Rogers noted further investigation is needed to determine how breast milk affects the brain and what is present in the milk that seems to promote brain development. She added that because all of the babies in the study were born early it isn’t clear whether breast milk would provide similar benefits for babies born at full term.
While rest has long been the standard for treating concussions, new research shows that children who exercise within a week of injury recover faster.
Current guidelines say children who sustain sports-related head injuries should avoid returning to play — as well as all other physical activity — until all symptoms, such as headaches, are gone.
But the new study shows that children who exercise within a week of injury, regardless of symptoms, have nearly half the rate of concussion symptoms that linger more than a month.
For the study, researchers had 3,063 children between ages of five and 18 who visited hospital emergency departments in Canada answer survey questions about their level of physical activity and severity of symptoms seven, 14, and 28 days after injury.
Contrary to recommendations, most of the children — 58 percent — still experiencing concussion symptoms resumed exercising a week after being injured, according to the researchers.
More than three-quarters — 76 percent — were physically active two weeks later, the study found.
Ordinarily, discovering so many patients weren’t following strict medical guidelines might be cause for alarm, the researchers said.
But in this case, the non-compliance was associated with faster recovery, according to the study’s findings.
“Exercise within seven days of injury was associated with nearly half the rate of persistent post-concussive symptoms, or those that last beyond a month,” said principal investigator Roger Zemek, M.D., FRCPC, who directs the clinical research unit at Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario and serves as an associate professor in the departments of pediatrics and Emergency Medicine and Clinical Research Chair in Pediatric Concussion at the University of Ottawa.
He noted the findings echo some previous, smaller studies calling into question the benefit of prolonged physical rest following a concussion, particularly exceeding three days.
“This is the first large-scale study to provide support for the benefits of early exercise on symptom recovery following acute pediatric concussion, shifting away from conservative rest towards more active physical rehabilitation recommendations,” he said.
And while he said “we definitely don’t want patients resuming any activity that could put them at risk of re-injury, like contact sports drills or games, until they are cleared by a doctor,” he added that light aerobic activity like walking, swimming, or stationary cycling might emerge as a beneficial recommendation after further study.
More research is needed to confirm the study’s findings and to determine the best timing for return-to-play following youth concussions, according to Zemek.
In addition to lessening long-term concussion symptoms, re-introducing exercise sooner after injury could help reduce the undesired effects of physical and mental deconditioning, he added.
“If earlier re-introduction of physical activities is, in fact, confirmed to be beneficial to recovery, this would have a significant impact on the well-being of millions of children and families worldwide and cause a major shift in concussion management,” he concluded.
A change in guidelines on when children should be screened for autism means earlier diagnoses, which leads to earlier intervention.
That’s the takeaway from a new study presented at the Pediatric Academic Societies 2016 Meeting.
According to researchers, children with autism who were born before the 2007 recommendation by the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) that all children be screened for the disorder at the 18- and 24-month well child visits were diagnosed significantly later than they are today.
For the study, the researchers compared two groups of children initially diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) between 2003 and 2012 at a university-affiliated developmental center in the Bronx. The first group were those born before 2005, a pivotal year because children born then would have been 24 months old when the AAP recommendation was issued, while the second group was born in 2005 or later.
What the researchers discovered is that the average age of diagnosis for those born before 2005 was just under four years old. For children born during or after 2005, it was roughly two and-a-half years old.
“Our research shows that children evaluated before the AAP recommended universal pediatric screening were more likely to be diagnosed at an older age and with more severe autistic symptoms and more impaired adaptive functioning,” said lead author Maria Valicenti-McDermott, M.D., M.S., an assistant professor of pediatrics at Albert Einstein College of Medicine.
“This shift has been critical in light of research showing the significant impact early intervention can have for children with ASD.”
Valicenti-McDermott, also an attending physician at the Children’s Evaluation and Rehabilitation Center at Montefiore Health System, noted the significant drop in the age of diagnoses affected all ethnic groups, including Latino and African-American children. This is important, she said, because demographic factors such as race and ethnicity are linked with later diagnoses, fewer concerns about possible symptoms of autism being expressed by families or asked about by providers, and possible worse overall outcomes.
“Despite data supporting the benefit of earlier therapy for children with autism and ongoing efforts to overcome obstacles to delays in diagnosis, children who are Latino or African-American are still diagnosed later than white children,” she said.
She noted that additional research is needed to confirm the effectiveness of universal autism screening. Earlier this year, the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force concluded there wasn’t enough evidence to recommend universal autism screening of young children when no concerns of autism spectrum disorder have been raised by their parents or clinical provider.
“It remains unclear at this point whether the significant drop in average age of diagnosis we found was entirely the result of pediatrician universal screening or the effect of the national campaign to increase awareness of ASD in general and the importance of an early diagnosis in particular,” Valicenti-McDermott said.
“But given the undisputed benefit of early identification of autism, sorting out the contribution of universal screening to this pattern will be an important next step to address the concerns of the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force regarding the benefits of early screening.”
A new study at Cornell University finds that junk food junkies are more likely to buy healthy food when it comes with a long-term reward incentive. In fact, receiving a future reward appears even more effective than an immediate price reduction of equal value.
Now that obesity is one of our nation’s biggest health concerns, nutrition advocates are calling for fast-food restaurants, schools, and food providers to promote the sale of salads and vegetables as alternatives to burgers and fries.
According to the researchers, the most effective strategy for influencing such healthy food choices is not calorie counts and reduced prices, but rather more subtle incentives that reward healthy eating behavior.
The researchers observed the effects of two types of reward-based programs: one group of customers earned reward points redeemable for later purchases and the other group received price discounts effective immediately.
In one experiment, a reward-point group of customers was told they would receive 50 reward points equivalent to 50 cents on a points-collection card redeemable for future purchases if they chose the targeted food item; the price-discount group of customers was told they would receive 50 cents off the price of a specified meal.
The findings show that overweight consumers with poor eating habits benefited the most from long-term reward incentives than when they were offered price reductions of an equal value. On the other hand, healthy eaters were more likely to splurge on less healthy food when the price was right.
“The findings are significant because they reveal a positive path — behavioral rewards for making good food choices — to healthy eating, as opposed to the punitive path (e.g., calorie counting or food restrictions),” said study leader Robert Kwortnik, Ph.D., associate professor at Cornell’s School of Hotel Administration.
“We find that offering rewards, such as points that can be redeemed later, encourage healthy food choices, especially for consumers with bad eating habits. So restaurants can encourage repeat patronage with reward programs and encourage healthy eating by rewarding consumers for making better choices. It’s a win-win.”
For food service providers, healthy eating incentives help build a better brand at a lower cost. For consumers, behavioral reward programs introduce much greater variety, especially among healthy food choices, and consumers are rewarded for making healthier choices.
The researchers note that even though fast-food restaurants spend millions on marketing healthy menu options, these efforts have little effect on consumers’ choices.
“Rather than overtly telling consumers to eat better, we propose and show through the empirical results that behavioral reward programs trigger a longer-term view that coincides with longer-term goals to eat healthy versus more immediate goals to indulge in typically less healthy foods such as fries, salty snacks or sweets,” said Kwortnik.
Source: Cornell University
New research shows that certain family, social, and community supports may boost a child’s chances of thriving in the face of adversity.
According to researchers, people who experience four or more adverse childhood experiences (ACEs), such as economic hardship, exposure to violence, or the death of a loved one, are more likely to have lasting physical and mental health problems.
But a new research abstract presented at the Pediatric Academic Societies 2016 Meeting identifies several protective factors to help children avoid those problems.
For the study, researchers analyzed data from the 2011-2012 National Survey of Children’s Health, conducted by the National Center for Health Statistics, in an attempt to gauge children’s health and well-being, physical, emotional and behavioral health indicators, family context and neighborhood environment.
“We focused on questions about ACEs exposure, but also family, social, and community assets that could serve to moderate that risk or enhance resilience,” said lead author Iman Sharif, M.D., M.P.H., chief of the division of general pediatrics at Nemours/Alfred I. duPont Hospital for Children in Wilmington, Del., and co-director of the Nemours Primary Care Research Collaborative.
She reports that her research team found that even when children were exposed to adverse childhood experiences, certain family and community strengths appeared to have a protective effect on health, social, and behavioral outcomes.
Among the most influential of these were having access to patient-centered, coordinated medical care, mothers who were in excellent mental health, and community supports. That support was gauged by responses to statements such as “I have adults I can trust, people to count on.”
Additional protective factors identified in the study included fathers in excellent mental health, mothers and fathers who had completed at least some college, living in a neighborhood with amenities such as sidewalks, a library, a park and a recreation center, and mothers in good physical health.
“The research for the past 20 years has clearly demonstrated the relationship between ACEs exposure and adult physical and mental health outcomes,” Sharif said. “This study adds to the emerging literature on the impact of ACEs on child health outcomes, and goes further to identify the factors that can help children thrive even when exposed to ACEs.”
The findings support earlier research showing that ACEs exposure does not render health systems and communities “helpless,” she added.
“This shows there are things we can do,” she said. “With appropriate screening to identify children at risk, we can support children and families through the patient-centered medical home, linking parents to mental health services, and building community social supports to help children succeed.”
Teaching kids that they need to be a life-long learners is not an easy task. Even more difficult may be instilling an appreciation in children that failure is often a way we learn.
New research suggests parents’ beliefs about whether failure is a good or a bad thing can guide how their children think about their own intelligence.
Investigators found that it’s parents’ responses to failure, and their beliefs about intelligence, that are ultimately absorbed by their kids.
“Mindsets — children’s belief about whether their intelligence is just fixed or can grow — can have a large impact on their achievement and motivation,” explains psychological scientist Kyla Haimovitz of Stanford University, first author on the study.
“Our findings show that parents can endorse a growth mindset but they might not pass it on to their children unless they have a positive and constructive reaction to their children’s struggles.”
Despite considerable research on mindsets, scientists have found little evidence to suggest that intelligence mindsets are handed down to children from their parents and teachers.
Haimovitz and psychology researcher Carol Dweck, hypothesized that parents’ intelligence mindsets might not transfer to their kids because they aren’t readily observable.
What kids might see and be sensitive to, the researchers speculated, is their how parents feel about failure.
Haimovitz and Dweck surmised that parents convey their views about whether failure is positive or negative through their responses to their children’s setbacks.
For example, parents who typically show anxiety and concern when their kids come home with a poor quiz grade may convey the belief that intelligence is mostly fixed. Parents who focus instead on learning from the poor grade signal to their kids that intelligence can be built through learning and improvement.
In one study, the researchers asked 73 parent-child pairs to answer a series of questions designed to tap into their individual mindsets.
The parents rated their agreement with six statements related to failure (e.g., “Experiencing failure facilitates learning and growth”) and four statements related to intelligence (e.g., “You can learn new things but you can’t really change how intelligent you are”).
The children, all fourth and fifth grade students, responded to similar statements about intelligence.
As expected, there was no association between parents’ beliefs about intelligence and their children’s beliefs about intelligence.
However, parents’ attitudes toward failure were linked with how their kids thought about intelligence.
Parents who tended to view failure as a negative, harmful event had children who were more likely to believe that intelligence is fixed. And the more negative parents’ attitudes were, the more likely their children were to see them as being concerned with performance as opposed to learning.
Investigators also discovered that parents’ beliefs about failure seemed to translate into their reactions to failure.
Results from two online studies with a total of almost 300 participants showed that parents who adopted a more negative stance toward failure were more likely to react to their child’s hypothetical failing grade with concerns about their child’s lack of ability.
At the same time, these parents were less likely to show support for the child’s learning and improvement. Their reactions to the failing grade were not linked, however, with their beliefs about intelligence.
Most importantly, additional data indicated that children were very much attuned to their parents’ feelings about failure.
“It is important for parents, educators, and coaches to know that the growth mindset that sits in their heads may not get through to children unless they use learning-focused practices, like discussing what their children could learn from a failure and how they might improve in the future,” says Haimovitz.
According to Haimovitz and Dweck, these findings could be harnessed to develop interventions that teach parents about the potential upsides of failure, showing parents how they can respond to their children’s setbacks in ways that are motivating rather than discouraging.
In a new report, experts assert that electronic cigarettes are able to significantly lower the chances of death and illness caused by Britain’s biggest killer — tobacco. Professor John Britton at the University of Nottingham and his colleagues point out that nicotine causes little if any harm on its own and that it is the carcinogens, carbon monoxide, and thousands of other toxins in tobacco smoke that kill. Their findings are published in the journal The BMJ.
Reviewing a new report by the Royal College of Physicians (RCP) on the role of e-cigarettes in tobacco harm reduction, the authors write that e-cigs and other non-tobacco nicotine products “offer the potential to radically reduce harm from smoking in our society. This is an opportunity that should be managed, and taken.”
The authors explain that, although cigarette smoking has declined in recent decades, there are still nearly nine million smokers in the UK, a high percentage of whom are among the most disadvantaged in society. Smoking remains the largest avoidable cause of premature death, disability, and social inequalities in health in the UK.
The emergence of e-cigarettes has revolutionized the choice of nicotine products available to smokers, say the authors. Currently, an estimated 2.6 million people use e-cigarettes in the UK, almost all of whom are or have been smokers. And most importantly, one-third of these no longer smoke cigarettes.
The RCP report states that, while not absolutely safe, the harm arising from long term vapor inhalation from the e-cigarettes available today is unlikely to exceed 5 percent of the harm from smoking tobacco.
The report also lays to rest many of the concerns about the use of e-cigarettes, for example that e-cigs will attract young people to become new smokers or that they will re-establish the act of inhaling nicotine as something that is acceptable in public. On the contrary, the paper states that e-cigarette use is almost entirely limited to those who are or have been smokers, in most cases as a means to cut back or quit smoking entirely.
It also finds no evidence to support the idea that e-cigarette use re-normalizes smoking, or that using e-cigs in places where smoking is prohibited poses a hazard to health. It also finds that the availability of e-cigarettes is unlikely to account for the recent decline in the numbers of smokers using smoking cessation services.
One cause for concern, however, is that the tobacco industry might acquire many formerly independent e-cigarette producers and importers, but the report says that advertising restrictions due to be implemented in May 2016 “go some way towards alleviating these concerns.”
In conclusion, the report finds that e-cigarettes have so far been beneficial to UK public health, both at individual and population level, by providing smokers with a good alternative to tobacco smoking, write the authors.
“E-cigarettes represent an important means to reduce the harm to individuals and society from tobacco use,” they conclude. “They should continue to be supported by government and promoted as a tobacco harm reduction strategy.”
Motor vehicle accidents are the leading cause of death and injury among people under the age of 35 accounting for around five million casualties every year. Sadly, repeat offenders are common and are often minimally responsive to education and prevention efforts.
As such, McGill University researchers believe a better understanding of the subconscious and emotional processes of high-risk drivers could make a difference.
In a study focusing on repeat drunk driving and speeding offenders, researchers discovered each of these forms of risky drivers have a distinct behavioral, personality, and neurobiological profiles.
“Surprisingly, these drivers usually don’t consider themselves as risk takers,” says lead author Thomas G. Brown, an assistant professor of psychiatry at McGill and researcher at the Douglas Mental Health University Institute in Montreal.
“If drivers don’t believe they are risky, they will not accept the need to change. On the other hand, if we and they don’t understand their behavior, how can they be expected to change it effectively?”
The study, published in the journal PLOS ONE, looked at four groups of men in Quebec aged between 19 and 39. The groups included those with a history of two or more convictions for drunk driving; those who had been caught speeding or committing another moving traffic violation three or more times in the past two years; those with a driving history that included both these types of offence; and a control group of low-risk drivers.
The researchers gathered background information on the participants’ propensity for drug or alcohol abuse, and on their levels of inhibition and impulsivity. Personal characteristics such as their tendency to seek rewards or thrills in their decision-making, and their capacity to learn from past experience and make better decisions in the future were also assessed.
The study also involved observing participants’ driving on a simulator and measuring their levels of the stress hormone cortisol before and after they completed a stressful task.
The results revealed each group had a distinct emotional and behavioral profiles, leading the research team to speculate that high-risk drivers are more likely to respond to prevention strategies that take their particular characteristics into account.
A technique for thrill- and reward-seeking speeding offenders, for instance, might be to have them spend more time engaging in stimulating activities in a safe environment.
Drunk drivers, because of their greater sensitivity to the effects of alcohol as a cause of their risk taking, might be more responsive to exercises aimed at improving their ability to recall the negative consequences of any amount of drinking whenever they plan to drive.
“This might involve a strategy in which the driver mentally rehearses his plan for a night out when drinking is likely, specifically targeting how to avoid any decision-making about driving once under the influence of alcohol,” Professor. Brown said.
Meanwhile, the group engaging in both forms of dangerous driving was characterized by a lack of concern for others, extending to criminal behavior in some cases.
Past research has shown techniques focusing on a person’s individual motivations — rather than external authoritarian or moral principles — are more likely to succeed in changing behavior in these offenders.
Maybe owning some ocean-front property is not such a bad idea. Actually, property with a view of the ocean will suffice as new research suggests an ocean view relieves stress.
The Michigan State study is the first to find a link between health and the visibility of water, which the researchers call blue space.
“Increased views of blue space is significantly associated with lower levels of psychological distress,” said Amber L. Pearson, assistant professor of health geography. “However, we did not find that with green space.”
Using various topography data, the researchers studied the visibility of blue and green spaces from residential locations in Wellington, New Zealand, an urban capital city surrounded by the Tasman Sea on the north and the Pacific Ocean on the south.
Green space includes forests and grassy parks.
To gauge psychological distress, the researchers analyzed data from the New Zealand Health Survey. The national survey used the Kessler Psychological Distress Scale, or K10, which has proven to be an accurate predictor of anxiety and mood disorders.
The research is important as mental health disorders are the leading cause of disability worldwide, according to the World Health Organization.
Even after taking into account residents’ wealth, age, sex, and other neighborhood factors, the study found that having a view of the ocean was associated with improved mental health.
Interestingly, the visibility of green space did not show the same calming effect. That could be because the study did not distinguish between types of green space, says Pearson.
“It could be because the blue space was all natural, while the green space included human-made areas, such as sports fields and playgrounds, as well as natural areas such as native forests. Perhaps if we only looked at native forests we might find something different.”
Like most wealthy countries, New Zealand is highly urbanized, meaning effective city planning is increasingly important, Pearson said.
Therefore, environment design is important for public health. Designating a proportion of high-rise buildings or affordable homes in locations with ocean views could potentially promote mental health, suggests the research.
Pearson said future research could also investigate whether the findings hold true for large fresh bodies of water such as the Great Lakes.
The study appears in the academic journal Health & Place.
Source: Michigan State University
PHOTO: Ocean sunrise Credit: Dawn Carter
A new UK investigation of online troublemakers discovers the perpetrators are often socially well connected. As a result, some Facebook users remain friends online with troublemakers because they are worried about the repercussions if they “unfriend” them.
Sarah Buglass, a Ph.D. student in the School of Social Sciences at Nottingham Trent University will presented her research this week at the British Psychological Society’s Annual Conference in Nottingham.
The issue of online troublemaking is a growing concern as more people use online social networks as a focal point for social relationships.
“People are spending more and more time online making them more vulnerable to potentially damaging social tension and disagreements. Our study explored the characteristics of people who might be more likely to cause this sort of trouble in an online social network,” explains Buglass.
The researchers analyzed the online relationship characteristics of 5,113 network contacts from 52 Facebook users (13 to 45 years).
The participants were asked to rate 100 randomly sampled Facebook “friends” from their networks in terms of online disagreement (with self and others), relational closeness, and communication frequency (online and offline).
Analysis of the results revealed that online troublemakers tended to be socially popular contacts who were known and in regular communication with the participants offline but not online (i.e. the participants were Facebook friends with the troublemakers but had very limited online contact).
This implied that Facebook users might be keeping an eye on provocative friends in a bid to avoid confrontation themselves. Online disagreements could be attributed to immaturity as they were more frequent in the 19 to 21 year old group.
“Facebook users appear to be harboring known online troublemakers on their Facebook networks. While some were not averse to reporting the online indiscretions of others to the service provider, many more choose to merely ignore them. It appears that they don’t want to communicate with the troublemakers online for risk of damaging their own reputation, but at the same time they don’t appear to want to unfriend them either,” explains Buglass.
Therefore, the social risk and emotional toil of unfriending may be greater than accepting the inappropriateness.
Buglass summarizes, “The social repercussions of unfriending someone reach far beyond the boundaries of the online network. People don’t want to risk causing offline tension with their friends, family members, or colleagues by disconnecting them from their online lives. Remaining online friends with troublemakers appears to be a social necessity for some.”
New research finds significant benefit in the use of mindfulness-based cognitive therapy to reduce the risk of depression relapse.
The mindfulness-based cognitive therapy approach was compared to usual care with the results comparable to other active treatments, as measured over a five month period.
Recurrent depression is a serious issues as it causes significant disability. Interventions that prevent depressive relapse could help reduce the burden of this disease.
A growing body of research suggests mindfulness-based cognitive therapy (MBCT) is efficacious.
In the study, researchers reviewed the results of analyses of individual patient data from nine published randomized trials of MBCT. The analyses included 1,258 patients with available data on relapse and examined the efficacy of MBCT compared with usual care and other active treatments, including antidepressants.
From the review, Willem Kuyken, Ph.D., of the University of Oxford, England, and coauthors report MBCT was associated with reduced risk of depressive relapse/recurrence over 60 weeks compared with those who did not receive MBCT.
Investigators also discovered that the technique is robust as it is equally effective for a variety of groups regardless of sex, age, education, or relationship status.
The treatment effect of MBCT on the risk of depressive relapse/recurrence also may be larger in patients with higher levels of depression symptoms at baseline compared with non-MBCT treatments. This finding suggests that MBCT may be especially helpful to those patients who still have significant depressive symptoms.
Nevertheless, the authors acknowledge study limitations related to the availability of the data within the studies.
“We recommend that future trials consider an active control group, use comparable primary and secondary outcomes, use longer follow-ups, report treatment fidelity, collect key background variables (e.g., race/ethnicity and employment), take care to ensure generalizability, conduct cost-effectiveness analyses, put in place ethical and data management procedures that enable data sharing, consider mechanisms of action, and systematically record and report adverse events,” the authors conclude.
The study and accompanying editorial appear in JAMA Psychiatry.
Editorial: Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy, Prevention of Depressive Relapse
“Mindfulness practices were not originally developed as therapeutic treatments. They emerged originally in contemplative traditions for the purposes of cultivating well-being and virtue. The questions of whether and how they might be helpful in alleviating symptoms of depression and other related psychopathologies are quite new, and the evidence base is in its embryonic stage.
“To my knowledge, the article by Kuyken et al is the most comprehensive meta-analysis to date to provide evidence for the effectiveness of MBCT in the prevention of depressive relapse.
“However, the article also raises many questions, and the limited nature of the extant evidence underscores the critical need for additional research,” writes Richard J. Davidson, Ph.D., of the University of Wisconsin-Madison.