This Week on NeuroScientistNews: 16 February – 20 February
News Feb 21, 2015
Genetics of alcoholism; the science of anti-depresesants; saliva test for autism, and more.
Alcoholism is far from a so-called “one gene, one disease” disease. It is a complex one, where many genes each make a small contribution. And while identifying genetic risk factors is critical to improving prevention of alcohol dependence, there is no way to know how mutations cause the gene expression changes that lead to alcoholism unless functional studies are also done. This article dives into some of the complexities behind the genetics of alcoholism and discusses how genome-wide association studies and gene expression studies can move together toward the clinic and better therapies.
The science behind many anti-depressant medications appears to be backwards, say the authors of a paper that challenges the prevailing ideas about the nature of depression and some of the world's most commonly prescribed medications. The authors of the paper combed existing research for evidence to support the theory that has dominated nearly 50 years of depression research: that depression is related to low levels of serotonin in the gaps between cells in the brain.
For 150 years, the iconic Broca's area of the brain has been recognized as the command center for human speech, including vocalization. Now, scientists are challenging this long-held assumption with new evidence that Broca's area actually switches off when we talk out loud.
Schizophrenia is not only associated with positive symptoms such as hallucinations and delusions, but also with negative symptoms e.g. cognitive deficits and impairments of the emotional drive. Until now, the underlying mechanisms for these negative symptoms have not been well characterized. In the new work, a team of researchers reports that a selective dopamine midbrain population that is crucial for emotional and cognitive processing shows reduced electrical in vivo activity in a disease mouse model.
A spit test may one day be able to diagnose autism according to new research. The scientists have published the first study showing that children with autism spectrum disorder have differences in protein levels in their saliva when compared to typically developing children. The study appears in the journal Autism Research.
Neurons in the human brain receive electrical signals from thousands of other cells, and long neural extensions called dendrites play a critical role in incorporating all of that information. Using hard-to-obtain samples of human brain tissue, MIT neuroscientists have now discovered that human dendrites have different electrical properties from those of other species.