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August 8, 2006, 9:59 PM CT

Social Stresses Overlooked

Social Stresses Overlooked
When thinking about the well-being of elderly adults, most people focus on medical care, but mental health care is a growing, pressing concern for elderly adults and their families. "At least one in five elderly adults suffer from a mental disorder and experts in geriatric mental health anticipate an 'unprecedented explosion' of elderly adults with disabling mental disorder," says Enola K. Proctor, Ph.D., a mental health care expert and professor of social work at Washington University in St. Louis.

"While elderly adults may receive adequate medical and psychiatric care, they rarely receive the care necessary to deal with the general 'problems with living,' or social stresses. These psychosocial problems, such as isolation and family stress, may exacerbate psychiatric problems, depression in particular, and contribute to functional decline."

Just as the quality of medical care has become a major national concern, the quality of mental health care has become a primary focus of the Institute of Medicine and other national policy groups. In a new study reported in the current issue of The Journal of Behavioral Health Services & Research (Vol. 33), Proctor and his colleagues examined the quality of follow-up care for 186 patients discharged from the geropsychiatric unit of a large urban hospital after therapy for depression.........

Posted by: JoAnn      Permalink         Source

August 8, 2006, 9:55 PM CT

Teamwork: Where The Weak Help The Strong

Teamwork: Where The Weak Help The Strong
Group work is the name of the game in a number of companies. The thinking is that workers will learn more and help each other when they are put into groups composed of people with a variety of expertise. But does this always happen? Some recent research suggests that it may not. at least not always.

"In order to understand how things happen in groups, you need to be aware of the group's hierarchy of status and influence," said Stuart Bunderson, associate professor of organizational behavior at the Olin School of Business at Washington University in St. Louis. "Those hierarchies can actually get in the way of some really important group goals like member-to-member helping and knowledge exchange."

In a co-authored study, Bunderson observed that group status hierarchies that form around perceptions of relative expertise can have some dysfunctional side effects. Specifically, he observed that group members felt more committed to and were more likely to help those members who were perceived to have a higher level of expertise - and were therefore higher status. In other words, the less expert members were helping the more expert members instead of the other way around! And this propensity to ingratiate oneself with the more expert members was particularly pronounced for members who were themselves perceived to be more expert.........

Posted by: Janet      Permalink         Source

August 8, 2006, 9:36 PM CT

Exploring Alzheimer's Causes

Exploring Alzheimer's Causes Li-Huei Tsai Photo / Cynthia Henshall, Picower Institute
Some people live to be 100 without falling victim to Alzheimer's disease. Li-Huei Tsai, who joined MIT this spring as Picower Professor of Neuroscience, wants to know why.

Amyloid beta or Abeta (a protein fragment that accumulates in the brains of Alzheimer's patients) is a telltale sign of the disease, which affects 4 million Americans, most over age 65. Normally, the body manages to break down and eliminate these fragments, but in the aging brain, they tend to form insoluble plaques.

To add to the mystery, some people function relatively normally with plaques nestled among their neurons, while others are virtually incapacitated. "There are people with a significant plaque load who can keep up with their daily lives," said Tsai, who has appointments in the Department of Brain and Cognitive Sciences and at the Picower Institute for Learning and Memory. "Obviously, other factors are determining whether they have full-blown Alzheimer's."

Tsai, who as a child in Taipei witnessed her beloved grandmother's descent into dementia, is determined to unravel the thorny questions linked to neurodegenerative and psychiatric disorders.

Tsai uses a combination of molecular, cellular and biochemical approaches to study Alzheimer's disease and psychiatric and developmental disorders. She focuses on a kinase (kinases are enzymes that change proteins) called Cdk5. Cdk5, paired with the protein p35, helps new neurons form and migrate to their correct positions during brain development. But Cdk5, paired with an aberrant form of p35 called p25, also is implicated in age-related neurodegenerative diseases.........

Posted by: Daniel      Permalink         Source

August 8, 2006, 8:48 PM CT

Brain's Visual Area: How Behavior Is Organized

Brain's Visual Area: How Behavior Is Organized
A brain region that focuses on vision also receives signals that may help configure the operation of the brain, neuroresearchers at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis report.

If the brain is thought of as an army, the new signals may give researchers a unique opportunity to trace how messages from the high command reach all the way down to individual soldiers in a particular platoon and affect their activities.

That's because the brain region in question, called V1, has already been the focus of detailed studies at the level of individual brain cell interactions and how they encode and analyze data from the eyes.

"To really understand how a control signal works, you first have to know how the mechanism being controlled works, and we already have a fairly detailed feel for that in V1," says Anthony I. Jack, Ph.D., a postdoctoral fellow and lead author of a study that appeared last month in the journal Neuron. "This provides us with a potential way of understanding a major puzzle: on a minute scale, how do control signals change how neurons process incoming information?".

Much of the human brain's power derives from its ability to take one stimulus and process it in different ways to meet a variety of needs. Different parts of the brain have specialized abilities that can contribute in various ways to completion of different tasks. They just need to be told when to shift from one task to the next.........

Posted by: Daniel      Permalink         Source

August 8, 2006, 8:42 PM CT

Nutrition's Role In Genes And Birth Defects

Nutrition's Role In Genes And Birth Defects
Expectant mothers may someday get a personalized menu of foods to eat during pregnancy to complement their genetic makeup as a result of new research at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis.

Scientists used transparent fish embryos to develop a way to discover how genes and diet interact to cause birth defects.

"By the time most women know they are pregnant, the development of the fetus' organs is essentially complete," said Bryce Mendelsohn, co-author and an M.D./Ph.D. student in the Medical Scientist Training Program at Washington University School of Medicine. "Since we currently do not understand the interaction between genetics and nutrition, the goal of this research was to understand how the lack of a specific nutrient, in this case copper, interacts with an embryo's genetics during early development."

Mendelsohn is doing the research in the laboratory of Jonathan D. Gitlin, M.D., the Helene B. Roberson Professor of Pediatrics at Washington University School of Medicine, director of genetics and genomic medicine at St. Louis Children's Hospital and scientific director of the Children's Discovery Institute.

Mendelsohn and collaborators Stephen L. Johnson, Ph.D., associate professor of genetics at the School of Medicine, and graduate student Chunyue Yin, working with Lila Solnica-Krezel, associate professor of biology at Vanderbilt University, studied the impact of copper metabolism on the development of zebrafish, a vertebrate that develops similarly to humans. Zebrafish have become staples of genetic research because the transparent embryos grow outside of the mother's body, which allows development to be easily observed.........

Posted by: Emily      Permalink         Source

August 8, 2006, 8:37 PM CT

High Blood Pressure Induces Low Fat Metabolism

High Blood Pressure Induces Low Fat Metabolism Echocardiograms show that the thickness of left ventricular (LV) walls in the hypertrophied heart (left) are nearly twice that of the normal heart.
"The heart is the single most energy-consuming organ per weight in the body," says Lisa de las Fuentes, M.D.

Under some conditions this energy-hungry organ is prone to defects in its energy metabolism that contribute to heart disease, as per research published in a recent issue of the Journal of Nuclear Cardiology by de las Fuentes and his colleagues at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis.

Earlier research led by de las Fuentes' colleague Robert J. Gropler, M.D., showed that heart muscle in people with diabetes is overly dependent on fat for energy. Even though fat is an efficient fuel, burning it for energy creates an uncommonly high demand for oxygen, making the diabetic heart more sensitive to the drops in oxygen levels that occur with coronary artery blockage.

Gropler is director of the Cardiovascular Imaging Laboratory at the Mallinckrodt Institute of Radiology at the School of Medicine and professor of radiology, medicine and biomedical engineering.

Now this group of Washington University scientists has shown that hearts of non-diabetics with muscle thickening due to hypertension have an energy metabolism skewed in the opposite direction - away from the use of fat for energy.

"Whereas Dr. Gropler observed that a high level of fatty acid metabolism could be detrimental, we show that a low level may also be harmful," says de las Fuentes, co-director of the Cardiovascular Imaging and Clinical Research Core Laboratory and assistant professor of medicine. "These findings aren't contradictory. The heart has to be able to choose the energy source, either fats or glucose, most appropriate for its current energy needs and the availability of fuel."........

Posted by: Daniel      Permalink         Source

August 8, 2006, 0:18 AM CT

New Learning Strategy

New Learning Strategy In the Thoroughman laboratory, volunteers play games on a computer screeen using a robotic arm so that Thoroughman and his colleagues can study how people learn motor skills.
Central to being human is the ability to adapt: We learn from our mistakes. Prior theories of learning have assumed that the size of learning naturally scales with the size of the mistake. But now biomedical engineers at Washington University in St. Louis have shown that people can use alternative strategies: Learning does not necessarily scale proportionally with error.

In so doing, Kurt Thoroughman, Ph.D., assistant professor of biomedical engineering at Washington University, and his graduate student, Michael Fine, have discovered a new learning strategy they call categorical adaptation in which steps of learning are sensitive to the direction of error, but do not scale proportionally with the size of the error. Eventually, their findings could have an impact in the rehabilitation of people with neurological ailments such as strokes by making use of different learning environments.

If you make a movement error in one direction, in makes sense that your next movement would correct toward the opposite direction, in exact proportion to the error. An example would be a pitcher correcting to the right, after missing home plate to the left with a pitch.

"We show that learning does not necessarily scale with error," said Thoroughman. "I think we have uncovered a part of human adaptation that certainly doesn't do that. We are not claiming that all prior theories are false in the behaviors that were captured. It's just that we have for the first time found a part of human adaptation that clearly does not scale with the size of the error."........

Posted by: Daniel      Permalink         Source

August 8, 2006, 0:11 AM CT

more effective smoking cessation

more effective smoking cessation
Results of a new imaging study, supported in part by the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), National Institutes of Health, show that the nicotine received in just a few puffs of a cigarette can exert a force powerful enough to drive an individual to continue smoking. Scientists observed that the amount of nicotine contained in just one puff of a cigarette can occupy about 30 percent of the brain's most common type of nicotine receptors, while three puffs of a cigarette can occupy about 70 percent of these receptors. When nearly all of the receptors are occupied (as a result of smoking at least 2 and one-half cigarettes), the smoker becomes satiated, or satisfied, for a time. Soon, however, this level of satiation wears off, driving the smoker to continue smoking throughout the day to satisfy cigarette cravings.

"Imaging studies such as this can add immensely to our understanding of addiction and drug abuse," says Elias A. Zerhouni, M.D., Director of the National Institutes of Health. "These findings suggest that drug therapies or vaccines for smoking cessation need to be extremely potent to compete with nicotine, which binds so readily to these receptors."

The study is reported in the August 2006 issue of the Archives of General Psychiatry.

"This study illustrates the powerfully addictive impact of even small amounts of nicotine. Every time a smoker draws a puff from a cigarette, they inhale numerous toxic chemicals that promote the formation of lung cancer, and contribute in a significant way to death and disability worldwide," says NIDA Director Dr. Nora D. Volkow. "Eventhough a number of smokers endorse a desire to quit, very few are able to do so on their own, and fewer than half are able to quit long-term even with comprehensive therapy. This study helps explain why".........

Posted by: Janet      Permalink         Source

August 7, 2006, 11:58 PM CT

Best Memorization Strategies

Best Memorization Strategies
Exploring exactly why some individuals' memory skills are better than others has led researchers at Washington University in St. Louis to study the brain basis of learning strategies that healthy young adults select to help them memorize a series of objects. Using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), the researchers uncovered brain regions specifically correlated with the diverse strategies that subjects adopt.

Brenda Kirchhoff, research associate in psychology in the University's School of Arts and Sciences, conducted this study in the then-Washington University lab of Randy L. Buckner, now a professor of psychology at Harvard University and investigator at the Howard Hughes Medical Institute. Their findings have been published in the July 20, 2006, issue of Neuron. (Kirchhoff is the article's first author and Buckner is senior author.).

"Randy and I were interested in exploring individual differences in memory - why some people are better at learning new information than others," said Kirchhoff. "Our main goal was to determine the learning strategies that people use and their relationship to memory performance. Secondly, we wanted to know if individual differences in learning strategies were associated with individual differences in brain activity".........

Posted by: Daniel      Permalink         Source

August 7, 2006, 11:39 PM CT

Surprise Finding For Stretched DNA

Surprise Finding For Stretched DNA
Most of us are familiar with the winding staircase image of DNA, the repository of a biological cell's genetic information. But few of us realize just how tightly that famous double helix is wound. Stretched to its full length, a single molecule of human DNA extends more than three feet, but, when wound up inside the nucleus of a cell, that same molecule measures about one millionth of an inch across. Biologists have long believed that as a molecule of DNA is stretched, its double helix starts to unwind. As much sense as this makes from an intuitive standpoint, a recent experiment proved it not to be the case.

Scientists with the U.S. Department of Energy's Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab) and the University of California at Berkeley used a combination of microscopic beads and magnetic tweezers to observe that when a DNA molecule is stretched, it actually begins to overwind. This overwinding continues until the force being applied to stretch the DNA exceeds about 30 picoNewtons. (One picoNewton is about a trillionth the force mandatory to hold an apple against Earth's gravity.) Beyond the 30 picoNewton threshold, the DNA double helix did begin to unwind in accordance with predictions.

"DNA's helical structure implies that twisting and stretching should be coupled, hence the prediction that DNA should unwind when stretched," said biophysicist Carlos Bustamante, who led this experiment. "That is why it was such surprise when we directly measured twist-stretch coupling to find instead DNA overwinds when stretched. The DNA molecule, when studied at close range, continues to surprise us!".........

Posted by: Scott      Permalink         Source

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Did you know?
Studies in monkeys and women suggest that unlike traditional estrogen therapy, a diet high in the natural plant estrogens found in soy does not increase the risk of uterine cancer in postmenopausal women, according to Mark Cline, D.V.M., Ph.D., an associate professor of comparative medicine at Wake Forest University Baptist Medical Center. Archives of health news blog

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