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August 31, 2010, 7:04 AM CT

The neural basis of the depression

The neural basis of the depression
Depression is actually defined by specific clinical symptoms such as sadness, difficulty to experience pleasure, sleep problems etc., present for at least two weeks, with impairment of psychosocial functioning. These symptoms guide the doctor to make a diagnosis and to select antidepressant therapy such as drugs or psychotherapy.

At least 40% of depressed patients actually benefit from antidepressant therapy, whereas 20-30% of patients may suffer from chronic depression that negatively impacts their quality of life. In order to improve the efficiency of therapy and reduce the burden of depressive disorders, depression clearly needs to be defined at the neurobiological level.

Role of neurobiological markers in depression

Current research efforts are devoted to the study of the neural bases of depression and therapy induced changes using modern brain imaging techniques such as functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (fMRI). Since a number of years it has become clear that depression is linked to dysfunction of specific brain regions involved in cognitive control and emotional response.

A recent fMRI-study showed that depressed patients had an abnormal activation of the medial prefrontal cortex (Figure 1; Lemogne et al. 2009). During this study, subjects had to judge whether personality traits described them or not (i.e. 'Am I selfish?'), or whether it described a generally desirable trait or not (i.e. 'Is it good or bad to be greedy?'). The dysfunction of the medial prefrontal region may explain specific complaints of depressed patients such as self-blame, rumination and feeling of guilt.........

Posted by: JoAnn      Read more         Source


August 26, 2010, 11:12 PM CT

Walking boosts brain connectivity

Walking boosts brain connectivity
Psychology professor and Beckman Institute director Art Kramer, doctoral student Michelle Voss and their colleagues found that a year of moderate walking improved the connectivity of specific brain networks in older adults.
A group of "professional couch potatoes," as one researcher described them, has proven that even moderate exercise - in this case walking at one's own pace for 40 minutes three times a week - can enhance the connectivity of important brain circuits, combat declines in brain function linked to aging and increase performance on cognitive tasks.

The study, in Frontiers in Aging Neuroscience, followed 65 adults, aged 59 to 80, who joined a walking group or stretching and toning group for a year. All of the participants were sedentary before the study, reporting less than two episodes of physical activity lasting 30 minutes or more in the prior six months. The scientists also measured brain activity in 32 younger (18- to 35-year-old) adults.

Rather than focusing on specific brain structures, the study looked at activity in brain regions that function together as networks.

"Almost nothing in the brain gets done by one area - it's more of a circuit," said University of Illinois psychology professor and Beckman Institute Director Art Kramer, who led the study with kinesiology and community health professor Edward McAuley and doctoral student Michelle Voss. "These networks can become more or less connected. In general, as we get older, they become less connected, so we were interested in the effects of fitness on connectivity of brain networks that show the most dysfunction with age."........

Posted by: JoAnn      Read more         Source


August 26, 2010, 10:53 PM CT

Our Best and Worst Moments

Our Best and Worst Moments
In the first study of its kind, scientists have found compelling evidence that our best and worst experiences in life are likely to involve not individual accomplishments, but interaction with other people and the fulfillment of an urge for social connection.

The findings, which run contrary to implications of prior research, are reported in "What Makes Us Feel the Best Also Makes Us Feel the Worst: The Emotional Impact of Independent and Interdependent Experiences." The study reports on research conducted at the University at Buffalo and will appear in the forthcoming print issue of Self and Identity.

Co-author Shira Gabriel, PhD, associate professor of psychology at UB, says, "Most of us spend much of our time and effort focused on individual achievements such as work, hobbies and schooling.

"However this research suggests that the events that end up being most important in our lives, the events that bring us the most happiness and also carry the potential for the most pain, are social events -- moments of connecting to others and feeling their connections to us".

Gabriel says that much research in social psychology has explicitly or implicitly implied that events experienced independent of other individuals are central to explaining our most intense emotional experiences.........

Posted by: JoAnn      Read more         Source


August 26, 2010, 7:27 AM CT

Spouses do not grow more alike

Spouses do not grow more alike
Contrary to popular belief, married couples do not become more similar over time, as per a team of scientists led by Michigan State University.

Instead, people tend to pick their spouse based on shared personality traits, the scientists report in the latest issue of the journal Personality and Individual Differences.

"Existing research shows that spouses are more similar than random people," said Mikhila Humbad, lead investigator. "This could reflect spouses' influence on each other over time, or this could be what attracted them to each other in the first place. Our goal in conducting this study was to help resolve this debate".

The scientists analyzed the data of 1,296 married couples, one of the largest such studies to date, said Humbad, MSU doctoral candidate in clinical psychology. The data came from the Minnesota Center for Twin and Family Research.

The scientists wanted to know if husbands and wives become more similar as the marriage progressed. They examined a host of personality characteristics and observed that, in most cases, the couples did not become more alike with more years of marriage.

The conclusion: Spousal similarity is better explained by selection than gradual convergence.

The one exception to this pattern was aggression. "It makes sense if you think about it," Humbad said. "If one person is violent, the other person may respond in a similar fashion and thus become more aggressive over time".........

Posted by: JoAnn      Read more         Source


August 24, 2010, 7:16 AM CT

Media Tool Empowers Children to Skirt Alcohol

Media Tool Empowers Children to Skirt Alcohol
Playing "media detective" allows children to understand the intentions of marketers and the goals of advertising while empowering them to resist messages that encourage alcohol or tobacco use.

A study reported in the current journal Pediatrics shows that teaching children as early as third grade to be more skeptical of media messages can help prevent substance use. The study, based on the research of Erica Weintraub Austin, director of the Murrow Center for Media and Health Promotion at Washington State University, reveals that a brief, two-week course boosted the critical thinking skills of third through fifth graders and reduced their intentions to use alcohol and tobacco while increasing their belief that they will be able to resist them.

"We underestimate the extent to which young children internalize advertising messages," Austin said. "This can affect their consumer decisions later on. For example, children who associate tobacco use with popularity and independence may want to use tobacco when the opportunity arises.

"Message designers put a lot of proprietary research into making their messages appealing to young people, and children need to understand early on that messages are not always developed with their best interests in mind. This means children must and can learn to discount appeals to their emotions." .........

Posted by: Janet      Read more         Source


August 10, 2010, 7:13 AM CT

Stress gets under our skin

Stress gets under our skin
Everyone experiences social stress, whether it is nervousness over a job interview, difficulty meeting people at parties, or angst over giving a speech. In a new report, UCLA scientists have discovered that how your brain responds to social stressors can influence the body's immune system in ways that may negatively affect health.

Main author George Slavich, a postdoctoral fellow at the UCLA Cousins Center for Psychoneuroimmunology, and senior author Shelley Taylor, a UCLA professor of psychology, show that individuals who exhibit greater neural sensitivity to social rejection also exhibit greater increases in inflammatory activity to social stress.

And eventhough such increases can be adaptive, chronic inflammation can increase the risk of a variety of disorders, including asthma, rheumatoid arthritis, cardiovascular disease, certain types of cancer, and depression.

The study appears in the current online edition of the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences

"It turns out, there are important differences in how people interpret and respond to social situations," Slavich said. "For example, some people see giving a speech in front of an audience as a welcome challenge; others see it as threatening and distressing. In this study, we sought to examine the neural bases for these differences in response and to understand how these differences relate to biological processes that can affect human health and well-being." .........

Posted by: JoAnn      Read more         Source


August 10, 2010, 7:03 AM CT

The price of prison for children

The price of prison for children
It comes as no surprise that a number of children suffer when a parent is behind bars. But as rates of incarceration grew over the past 30 years, scientists were slow to focus on the collateral damage to children.

The best estimate says that at any one time, 1.7 million (about 2.3 percent) of all American children have a parent in prison, says Julie Poehlmann, a professor in the School of Human Ecology and investigator at the Waisman Center at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

"By age 14, more than half of black children with a low-education parent, will have an imprisoned parent," she says.

About 10 years ago, the problem finally began to spark interest from social scientists, Poehlmann says.

"School personnel and child welfare personnel are now seeing more and more children who have a current or past incarcerated parent. There is a greater awareness of the volume, and greater need to understand what's going on. What are the risks, what are the outcomes, and how can we better help these children?" Poehlmann says.

Eventhough a definitive cause-and-effect relationship has not been established, children of incarcerated parents tend to have more arrests, and more problems with behavior, relationships, school, and substance abuse. "It's all the things you would expect," says Poehlmann.........

Posted by: JoAnn      Read more         Source


August 9, 2010, 6:56 AM CT

Children's vegetable intake linked to Popeye cartoons

Children's vegetable intake linked to Popeye cartoons
Popeye cartoons, tasting parties and junior cooking classes can help increase vegetable intake in kindergarten children, as per new research reported in the journal Nutrition & Dietetics

Scientists at Mahidol University in Bangkok found the type and amount of vegetables children ate improved after they took part in a program using multimedia and role models to promote healthy food.

Twenty six kindergarten children aged four to five participated in the eight week study. The scientists recorded the kinds and amounts of fruit and vegetables eaten by the children before and after the program.

Lead researcher Professor Chutima Sirikulchayanonta said: "We got the children planting vegetable seeds, taking part in fruit and vegetable tasting parties, cooking vegetable soup, and watching Popeye cartoons. We also sent letters to parents with tips on encouraging their kids to eat fruit and vegetables, and teachers sat with children at lunch to role model healthy eating.' .

Professor Sirikulchayanonta and her colleagues found vegetable intake doubled and the types of vegetables the children consumed increased from two to four. Parents also reported their children talked about vegetables more often and were proud they had eaten them in their school lunch.........

Posted by: JoAnn      Read more         Source


August 6, 2010, 7:32 AM CT

What determines the psychopathic traits?

What determines the psychopathic traits?
Psychology professor Edelyn Verona, right, and graduate student Naomi Sadeh have identified a specific gene associated with psychopathic tendencies.

Photo by
L. Brian Stauffer

Scientists studying the genetic roots of antisocial behavior report that children with one variant of a serotonin transporter gene are more likely to exhibit psychopathic traits if they also grow up poor.

The study, the first to identify a specific gene linked to psychopathic tendencies in youth, appears this month in the Journal of Abnormal Psychology.

People with psychopathic traits generally are more callous and unemotional than their peers, said University of Illinois psychology professor Edelyn Verona, whose graduate student Naomi Sadeh led the study.

"Those with psychopathic traits tend to be less attached to others, even if they have relationships with them," Verona said. "They are less reactive to emotional things in the lab. They are charming and grandiose at times. They're better at conning and manipulating others, and they have low levels of empathy and remorse."

Eventhough psychopathy is considered abnormal, these traits appears to be useful in certain circumstances, Verona said.

"For example, these folks tend to have less anxiety and are less prone to depression," she said, qualities that might be useful in dangerous or unstable environments. In most cases, their cognitive abilities are also intact.

Studies of psychopathy often focus on those in prison for violent crimes, but most people who commit such crimes are not psychopathic, Verona said.........

Posted by: JoAnn      Read more         Source


August 6, 2010, 7:25 AM CT

Large risk schizophrenia marker

Large risk schizophrenia marker
A group of researchers has identified a genetic variant that substantially increases the risk for developing schizophrenia in Ashkenazi Jewish and other populations. The study, published by Cell Press on August 5th in the American Journal of Human Genetics, associates a deletion on chromosome 3 with increased occurence rate of schizophrenia.

Schizophrenia is a psychiatric illness that affects ~1% of the world population. Characterized by delusions, hallucinations, and disorganized thinking, it is a devastating disorder.

A group of scientists led by Stephen Warren, Ph.D., from Emory University studied the genetics of schizophrenia by analyzing the prevalence of copy number variants (CNVs) in schizophrenic patients. CNVs are changes in the number of copies of DNA segments throughout the human genome. The scientists began by looking at Ashkenazi Jewish subjects already under study by collaborating scientist Ann E. Pulver, Sc.D. and her team at Johns Hopkins University. The Emory group found an excess of large, rare CNVs in these schizophrenic cases in comparison to controls.

Combining their analysis with those of prior CNV studies of schizophrenic patients, Warren and colleagues identify a CNV, specifically, a deletion at 3q29, that associates with schizophrenia with an odds ratio (a measure of effect size) of 16.98. "This odds ratio rivals that of any genome-wide association study of schizophrenia and suggests that the 3q29 deletion confers a significant risk for this severe psychiatric phenotype," explains Warren. An odds ratio of 17 means someone with this deletion is 17 times more likely to develop schizophrenia than someone without the deletion.........

Posted by: JoAnn      Read more         Source



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Did you know?
Too little evidence exists to recommend or rule out estrogen as a treatment for schizophrenia in women, a new review of studies finds.People diagnosed with schizophrenia suffer distorted perceptions of reality and hallucinations. Today, estrogen is strictly an experimental therapy for the psychotic symptoms associated with the mental illness.

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