Neuroscience

Astrocytes, the cells that make the background of the brain and support neurons, might be behind mental disorders such as depression and schizophrenia, according to new research by a Portuguese team from the ICVS at the University of Minho.  The study, in this month Molecular Psychiatry, shows how a simple reduction of astrocytes in the prefrontal cortex (which is linked to cognition) can kill its neurons and lead to the cognitive deficits that characterise several mental diseases.

Researchers have helped identify over 100 locations in the human genome associated with the risk of developing schizophrenia, in what is the largest genomic study published on any psychiatric disorder to date. The findings point to biological mechanisms and pathways that may underlie schizophrenia, and could lead to new approaches to treating the disorder, which hasn't made much scientific progress in the last 60 years. 


"She'll grow out of it," used to be a common phrase about raising kids, meaning it wasn't anything that was wrong physically or in upbringing, it is just the diversity of human existence. Some kids develop later. But in today's hyper-diagnosis culture, researchers have wanted to figure out if that old saying was true, or just wishful thinking.

A  study of 473 sets of twins followed since birth has found that, compared to single-born children, 47 percent of 24-month-old identical twins had language delay compared to 31 percent of non-identical twins. Overall, twins had twice the rate of late language emergence of single-born children. None of the children had disabilities affecting language acquisition. 


A new paper in Nature Genetics finds that nearly 60 percent of the risk of developing autism is genetic and most of that risk is caused by inherited variant genes that are common in the population and present in individuals without the disorder.

Although autism is thought to be caused by an interplay of genetic and other factors, there has been no consensus on their relative contributions and the nature of its genetic architecture. Recently, evidence has been mounting that genomes of people with autism are prone to harboring de novo mutations - rare, spontaneous mutations that exert strong effects and can largely account for particular cases of the disorder.


In the last few months, pop star Selena Gomez and actress Kristen Johnston have said they struggle with lupus, bringing new attention to the autoimmune disease.

They join a list of celebrities such as R&B singer Toni Braxton, Nick Cannon, host of “America’s Got Talent” and Seal, who has a form of the disease that caused the infamous scars on his face. Even Lady Gaga claimed she tested “borderline positive” for lupus.

But while people may be familiar with who has it, many do not know what it actually is.


Selena Gomez. Credit: North Shore LIJ

A new image-based strategy helps identify and measure placebo effects in randomized clinical trials for brain disorders. 


A study out today says has confirmed a link between antipsychotic medication and a measurable, decrease in brain volume in patients with schizophrenia.

The research say this is the first time research has been able to examine whether this decrease is harmful for patients' cognitive function and symptoms, and noted that over a nine year follow-up, this decrease did not appear to have any effect.

As we age, our brains naturally lose some of their volume – in other words, brain cells and connections. This process, known as atrophy, typically begins in our thirties and continues into old age. Researchers have known for some time that patients with schizophrenia lose brain volume at a faster rate than healthy individuals, though the reason why is unclear.


A new paper has found that drug paraphernalia triggers the reward areas of the brain differently in dependent and non-dependent marijuana users.

The 2012 National Survey on Drug Use and Health shows marijuana is the most widely used illicit drug in the United States. According to a 2013 survey from the Pew Research Center, 48 percent of Americans ages 18 and older have tried marijuana. The National Institute on Drug Abuse states that 9 percent of daily users will become dependent on marijuana.


Taking B vitamins doesn't slow mental decline nor will it prevent Alzheimer's disease, according to clinical trial data involving 22,000 people.

High levels in the blood of a compound called homocysteine have been found in people with Alzheimer's disease, and people with higher levels of homocysteine have been shown to be at increased risk of Alzheimer's disease.

Taking folic acid and vitamin B-12 are known to lower levels of homocysteine in the body, so this gave rise to the 'homocysteine hypothesis' that taking B vitamins could reduce the risk of Alzheimer's disease.


A decreased ability to identify odors might indicate the development of cognitive impairment and Alzheimer's disease, according to results of research reported at the Alzheimer's Association International Conference 2014 in Copenhagen. 

Examinations of the eye could also indicate the build-up of beta-amyloid, a protein associated with Alzheimer's, in the brain.