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December 1, 2009, 8:23 AM CT

Dangers of childhood lead exposure

Dangers of childhood lead exposure
A study using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to evaluate brain function revealed that adults who were exposed to lead as children incur permanent brain injury. The results were presented today at the annual meeting of the Radiological Society of North America (RSNA).

"What we have found is that no region of the brain is spared from lead exposure," said the study's main author, Kim Cecil, Ph.D., imaging scientist at Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center and professor of radiology, pediatrics and neuroscience at the University of Cincinnati College of Medicine. "Distinct areas of the brain are affected differently".

The study is part of a large research project called the Cincinnati Lead Study, a long-term lead exposure study conducted through the Cincinnati Children's Environmental Health Center, a collaborative research group funded by the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences and U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. The Cincinnati Lead Study followed prenatal and early childhood lead exposure of 376 infants from high-risk areas of Cincinnati between 1979 and 1987. Over the course of the project, the children underwent behavioral testing and 23 blood analyses that yielded a mean blood lead level.

Lead, a common and potent poison found in water, soil and lead-based paint, is particularly toxic to children's rapidly developing nervous systems. Homes built before 1950 are most likely to contain lead-based paint, which can chip and be ingested by children.........

Posted by: JoAnn      Read more         Source


November 29, 2009, 11:09 PM CT

New brain connections during motor learning

New brain connections during motor learning
New connections begin to form between brain cells almost immediately as animals learn a new task, as per a research studypublished this week in Nature Led by scientists at the University of California, Santa Cruz, the study involved detailed observations of the rewiring processes that take place in the brain during motor learning.

The scientists studied mice as they were trained to reach through a slot to get a seed. They observed rapid growth of structures that form connections (called synapses) between nerve cells in the motor cortex, the brain layer that controls muscle movements.

"We found very quick and robust synapse formation almost immediately, within one hour of the start of training," said Yi Zuo, assistant professor of molecular, cell and developmental biology at UCSC.

Zuo's team observed the formation of structures called "dendritic spines" that grow on pyramidal neurons in the motor cortex. The dendritic spines form synapses with other nerve cells. At those synapses, the pyramidal neurons receive input from other brain regions involved in motor memories and muscle movements. The scientists observed that growth of new dendritic spines was followed by selective elimination of pre-existing spines, so that the overall density of spines returned to the original level.........

Posted by: Daniel      Read more         Source


November 25, 2009, 7:54 AM CT

Remove that salt shaker from the dining table

Remove that salt shaker from the dining table
Eating high amounts of salt is associated with a significantly higher risk of strokes and cardiovascular disease, states a paper published recently in the British Medical Journal

The research was carried out jointly by the World Health Organization's Collaborating Centre for Nutrition, based at the University of Warwick and University Hospital in Coventry, UK, and the European Society of High blood pressure Excellence Centre in High blood pressure based at the Department of Clinical and Experimental Medicine, Federico II University Medical School in Naples, Italy.

The study looked at the relationship between the level of habitual dietary salt intake and the occurrence of stroke and cardiovascular disease by reviewing 13 prospective studies from the UK, Japan, USA, The Netherlands, Finland and China, including more than 170,000 participants, followed up for 3.5 to 19 years, who experienced nearly 11,000 vascular events.

The study provides unequivocal evidence of the direct link between high dietary salt intake and increased risk of stroke and cardiovascular disease. A 5 g lower daily salt intake would reduce stroke by 23% and total cardiovascular disease by 17%, thus averting 1.25 million fatal and non-fatal strokes, and almost 3 million vascular events worldwide each year. The effect is greater, the larger the difference in salt intake and increases with time.........

Posted by: Daniel      Read more         Source


November 18, 2009, 11:58 PM CT

Smoking and seizure

Smoking and seizure
A recent study determined there is a significant risk of seizure for individuals who currently smoke cigarettes. Boston-based scientists from Brigham and Women's Hospital and Harvard Medical School also observed that long-term, moderate intake of caffeine or alcohol does not increase the chance of having a seizure or developing epilepsy. This is the first prospective study to examine the potential risks linked to cigarette smoking, caffeine intake, and alcohol consumption as they independently relate to epilepsy. Full findings of this study are currently available online and will appear in the February 2010 issue of Epilepsia, a journal published by Wiley-Blackwell on behalf of the International League Against Epilepsy.

Epilepsy is a neurological condition characterized by repeated unprovoked seizures where electrical disturbances in the brain cause sudden, involuntary changes in body movements (convulsions and muscle spasms) and sensory awareness. Approximately 2.5 million Americans are affected by epilepsy with 150,000 new cases diagnosed this year alone, as per the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The CDC further estimates that epilepsy accounts for $15.5 billion in medical costs and lost earnings. Single seizures or those provoked by alcohol withdrawal or other cause are even more common, occurring in up to 10% of the population.........

Posted by: Daniel      Read more         Source


November 18, 2009, 11:14 PM CT

Brain's ability to reorganize

Brain's ability to reorganize
Visually impaired people appear to be fearless, navigating busy sidewalks and crosswalks, safely finding their way using nothing more than a cane as a guide. The reason they can do this, scientists suggest, is that in at least some circumstances, blindness can heighten other senses, helping individuals adapt.

Now researchers from the UCLA Department of Neurology have confirmed that blindness causes structural changes in the brain, indicating that the brain may reorganize itself functionally in order to adapt to a loss in sensory input.

Reporting in the recent issue of the journal NeuroImage (currently online), Natasha Lepor, a postgraduate researcher at UCLA's Laboratory of Neuro Imaging, and his colleagues observed that visual regions of the brain were smaller in volume in blind individuals than in sighted ones. However, for non-visual areas, the trend was reversed they grew larger in the blind. This, the scientists say, suggests that the brains of blind individuals are compensating for the reduced volume in areas normally devoted to vision.

"This study shows the exceptional plasticity of the brain and its ability to reorganize itself after a major input in this case, vision is lost," said Lepor. "In other words, it appears the brain will attempt to compensate for the fact that a person can no longer see, and this is especially true for those who are blind since early infancy, a developmental period in which the brain is much more plastic and modifiable than it is in adulthood." .........

Posted by: Daniel      Read more         Source


November 17, 2009, 7:59 AM CT

Structural brain changes in Alzheimer's disease

Structural brain changes in Alzheimer's disease
Serial MRI brain scans, taken six months apart, show progression from mild cognitive impairment to Alzheimer's disease, with significant atrophy (blue) and ventricle enlargement (orange/red).

Credit: University of California, San Diego, UCSD

In a study that promises to improve diagnosis and monitoring of Alzheimer's disease, researchers at the University of California, San Diego have developed a fast and accurate method for quantifying subtle, sub-regional brain volume loss using magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). The study will be published the week of November 16 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS).

By applying the techniques to the newly completed dataset of the multi-institution Alzheimer's Disease Neuroimaging Initiative (ADNI), the researchers demonstrated that such sub-regional brain volume measurements outperform available measures for tracking severity of Alzheimer's disease, including widely used cognitive testing and measures of global brain-volume loss.

The general pattern of brain atrophy resulting from Alzheimer's disease has long been known through autopsy studies, but exploiting this knowledge toward accurate diagnosis and monitoring of the disease has only recently been made possible by improvements in computational algorithms that automate identification of brain structures with MRI. The new methods described in the study provide rapid identification of brain sub-regions combined with measures of change in these regions across time. The methods require at least two brain scans to be performed on the same MRI scanner over a period of several months. The new research shows that changes in the brain's memory regions, in particular a region of the temporal lobe called the entorhinal cortex, offer sensitive measures of the early stages of the disease.........

Posted by: Daniel      Read more         Source


November 16, 2009, 7:55 AM CT

Potential treatment for Huntington's disease

Potential treatment for Huntington's disease
Dr. Stuart Lipton describes his Nov. 15, 2009, paper in Nature Medicine, in which he and colleagues show how synaptic activity protects the brain from the misfolded proteins that characterize Huntington's disease.

Credit: Burnham Institute for Medical Research
Investigators at Burnham Institute for Medical Research (Burnham), the University of British Columbia's Centre for Molecular Medicine and Therapeutics and the University of California, San Diego have observed that normal synaptic activity in nerve cells (the electrical activity in the brain that allows nerve cells to communicate with one another) protects the brain from the misfolded proteins linked to Huntington's disease. In contrast, excessive extrasynaptic activity (aberrant electrical activity in the brain, commonly not linked to communication between nerve cells) enhances the misfolded proteins' deadly effects. Scientists also observed that the drug Memantine, which is approved to treat Alzheimer's disease, successfully treated Huntington's disease in a mouse model by preserving normal synaptic electrical activity and suppressing excessive extrasynaptic electrical activity. The research was reported in the journal Nature Medicine on November 15.

Huntington's disease is a hereditary condition caused by a mutated huntingtin gene that creates a misfolded, and therefore dysfunctional, protein. The new research shows that normal synaptic receptor activity makes nerve cells more resistant to the mutant proteins. However, excessive extrasynaptic activity contributed to increased nerve cell death. The research team observed that low doses of Memantine reduce extrasynaptic activity without impairing protective synaptic activity. The work was led by Stuart A. Lipton, M.D., Ph.D., director of the Del E. Webb Center for Neuroscience, Aging and Stem Cell Research at Burnham and professor in the department of Neurosciences and attending neurologist at the University of California, San Diego and Michael R. Hayden, M.D., Ph.D., University Killam professor in the department of Medical Genetics at UBC and director of the Centre for Molecular Medicine and Therapeutics at the Child & Family Research Institute.........

Posted by: Daniel      Read more         Source


November 10, 2009, 8:52 AM CT

Stem cells help paralyzed rats to walk

Stem cells help paralyzed rats to walk
Hans Keirstead, Jason Sharp and colleagues have found that human embryonic stem cells restore limb function in rats with neck spinal cord injuries.
Photo by Kerrin Piche Serna / University Communications
The first human embryonic stem cell therapy approved by the FDA for human testing has been shown to restore limb function in rats with neck spinal cord injuries - a finding that could expand the clinical trial to include people with cervical damage.

In January, the U.S. Food & Drug Administration gave Geron Corp. of Menlo Park, Calif., permission to test the UC Irvine therapy in individuals with thoracic spinal cord injuries, which occur below the neck. However, trying it in those with cervical damage wasn't approved because preclinical testing with rats hadn't been completed.

Results of the cervical study currently appear online in the journal Stem Cells. UCI scientist Hans Keirstead hopes the data will prompt the FDA to authorize clinical testing of the therapy in people with both types of spinal cord damage. About 52 percent of spinal cord injuries are cervical and 48 percent thoracic.

"People with cervical damage often have lost or impaired limb movement and bowel, bladder or sexual function, and currently there's no effective therapy. It's a challenging existence," said Keirstead, a primary author of the study. "What our treatment did to injured rodents is phenomenal. If we see even a fraction of that benefit in humans, it will be nothing short of a home run".........

Posted by: Scott      Read more         Source


November 10, 2009, 8:27 AM CT

Not enough amyloid beta protein?

Not enough amyloid beta protein?
John Morley, M.D., led a team of Saint Louis University researchers who found not enough amyloid beta protein in healthy brains causes forgetfulness. Dr. Morley is director of the division of geriatric medicine at Saint Louis University.

Credit: Saint Louis University

While too much amyloid beta protein in the brain is associated with the development of Alzheimer's disease, not enough of the protein in healthy brains can cause learning problems and forgetfulness, Saint Louis University researchers have found.

The finding could lead to better medications to treat Alzheimer's disease, said John Morley, M.D., director of the division of geriatrics at Saint Louis University and the lead researcher on the study.

"This research is very exciting because it causes us to look at amyloid beta protein in a different way," Morley said.

"After 20 years of research, what we found goes totally against long-standing beliefs about amyloid beta protein. Our results indicate that amyloid beta protein itself isn't the bad guy. The right amount of amyloid beta protein happens to be very important for memory and learning in those who are healthy".

Scientists observed that young, healthy mice that received low doses of amyloid beta protein showed improvement in recognizing objects and successfully navigating through a maze. On the other hand, mice that received a drug that blocked amyloid beta protein had learning impairment.

"You can't totally wipe out amyloid beta protein. If you do this, you are going to create dementia," Morley said. "In treating Alzheimer's disease, we have to be careful not to lower amyloid beta too much because it will cause as a number of problems as if you had an excess of amyloid beta protein".........

Posted by: Daniel      Read more         Source


November 9, 2009, 8:16 AM CT

Nanomedicine may help spinal cord injuries

Nanomedicine may help spinal cord injuries
Scientists at Purdue University have discovered a new approach for repairing damaged nerve fibers in spinal cord injuries using nano-spheres that could be injected into the blood shortly after an accident.

The synthetic "copolymer micelles" are drug-delivery spheres about 60 nanometers in diameter, or roughly 100 times smaller than the diameter of a red blood cell.

Scientists have been studying how to deliver drugs for cancer therapy and other therapies using these spheres. Medications might be harbored in the cores and ferried to diseased or damaged tissue.

Purdue scientists have now shown that the micelles themselves repair damaged axons, fibers that transmit electrical impulses in the spinal cord.

"That was a very surprising discovery," said Ji-Xin Cheng, an associate professor in the Weldon School of Biomedical Engineering and Department of Chemistry. "Micelles have been used for 30 years as drug-delivery vehicles in research, but no one has ever used them directly as a medicine".

Findings are detailed in a research paper appearing Sunday (Nov. 8) in the journal Nature Nanotechnology.

A critical feature of micelles is that they combine two types of polymers, one being hydrophobic and the other hydrophilic, meaning they are either unable or able to mix with water. The hydrophobic core can be loaded with drugs to treat disease.........

Posted by: Daniel      Read more         Source



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Did you know?
The drug Ativan is better than Valium or Dilantin for controlling severe epileptic seizures, according to a new review of studies.Ativan, or lorazepam, and Valium, or diazepam, are both benzodiazepines, the currently preferred class of drugs for treating severe epileptic seizures. Dilantin, or phenytoin, is an anticonvulsant long used for the treatment of epileptic seizures.

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