Flu in Pregnancy May Increase Child’s Bi-Polar Risk 4x

Pregnant mothers’ exposure to the flu was associated with a nearly fourfold increased risk that their child would develop bipolar disorder in adulthood, in a study funded by the National Institutes of Health. The findings add to mounting evidence of possible shared underlying causes and illness processes with schizophrenia, which some studies have also linked to prenatal exposure to influenza.

“Prospective mothers should take common sense preventive measures, such as getting flu shots prior to and in the early stages of pregnancy and avoiding contact with people who are symptomatic,” said Alan Brown, M.D., M.P.H, of Columbia University and New York State Psychiatric Institute, a grantee of the NIH’s National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH). “In spite of public health recommendations, only a relatively small fraction of such women get immunized. The weight of evidence now suggests that benefits of the vaccine likely outweigh any possible risk to the mother or newborn.” [Read more…]

Men’s Brains Respond Differently to Hungry Infant’s Crying

Researchers have uncovered firm evidence for what many mothers have long suspected: women’s brains appear to be hard-wired to respond to the cries of a hungry infant.

Researchers asked men and women to let their minds wander, then played a recording of white noise interspersed with the sounds of an infant crying. Brain scans showed that, in the women, patterns of brain activity abruptly switched to an attentive mode when they heard the infant cries, whereas the men’s brains remained in the resting state.

“Previous studies have shown that, on an emotional level, men and women respond differently to the sound of an infant crying,” said study co-author Marc H. Bornstein, Ph.D., head of the Child and Family Research Section of the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD), the institute that conducted the study. “Our findings indicate that men and women show marked differences in terms of attention as well.”

The earlier studies showed that women are more likely than men to feel sympathy when they hear an infant cry, and are more likely to want to care for the infant.

Dr. Bornstein collaborated with Nicola De Pisapia, Ph.D., Paola Rigo, Simona DeFalco, Ph.D., and Paola Venuti, Ph.D., all of the Observation, Diagnosis and Education Lab at the University of Trento, Italy, and Gianluca Esposito, Ph.D., of RIKEN Brain Science Institute, Japan.

Their findings appear in NeuroReport.

Dr. Bornstein says this research not only helps understand the specific wiring of the brain, but helps understand how the brain has developed. (MP3 – 00:01:12, 1,140 KB)

Transcript – Dr. Bornstein says this research not only helps understand the specific wiring of the brain, but helps understand how the brain has developed.

Previous studies have shown differences in patterns of brain activity between when an individual’s attention is focused and when the mind wanders. The pattern of unfocused activity is referred to as default mode, Dr. Bornstein explained. When individuals focus on something in particular, their brains disengage from the default mode and activate other brain networks.

For about 15 minutes, participants listened to white noise interspersed with short periods of silence and with the sounds of a hungry infant crying. The patterns of their brain activity were recorded by a technique known as functional magnetic resonance imaging.

The researchers analyzed brain images from 18 adults, parents and nonparents. The researchers found that when participants listened to the typical infant cries, the brain activity of men and women differed. When hearing a hungry infant cry, women’s brains were more likely to disengage from the default mode, indicating that they focused their attention on the crying. In contrast, the men’s brains tended to remain in default mode during the infant crying sounds. The brain patterns did not vary between parents and nonparents.

Infants cry because they are distressed, hungry, or in need of physical closeness. To determine if adults respond differently to different types of cries, the researchers also played the cries of infants who were later diagnosed with autism. An earlier study of Dr. Bornstein and the same Italian group found that the cries of infants who develop ASD tend to be higher pitched than those of other infants and that the pauses between cries are shorter. In this other study, both men and women tended to interrupt their mind wandering when they heard these cries.

“Adults have many-layered responses to the things infants do,” said Dr. Bornstein. “Determining whether these responses differ between men and women, by age, and by parental status, helps us understand instincts for caring for the very young.”

In an earlier study, Dr. Bornstein and his colleagues found that patterns of brain activity in men and women also changed when they viewed an image of an infant face and that the patterns were indicative of a predisposition to relate to and care for the infant.

Such studies documenting the brain activity patterns of adults represent first stages of research in neuroscience understanding how adults relate to and care for infants, Dr. Bornstein explained. It is possible that not all adults exhibit the brain patterns seen in these studies.

Source: National Institutes of Health (NIH)

Online Sign Up and Nationwide Testing Program Launched for Type 1 Diabetes Network

Type 1 Diabetes NetworkPeople with a family history of type 1 diabetes can now conveniently participate in free screening to help find ways to delay or prevent the disease, even if they live far from a study site. This alternative to site-based initial screening comes as modern technology enables more secure online registration for medical research.

After volunteers consent online to participate in Type 1 Diabetes TrialNet — a study aimed at discovering ways to delay or prevent type 1 diabetes – they receive a screening kit in the mail, as shown, and will be directed to a local lab for a blood test at no cost to the volunteer. Courtesy of University of South Florida. [Read more…]

Mind Can Manipulate Digital Images, Research Shows

A man is shown thinking about pictures of Michael Jackson and Marilyn Monroe in a conceptual rendering of the experiments in the study.

You don’t need a touchpad to manipulate complex visual images on a computer screen. Research shows that it can be done using only the mind.

A recent study, published in Nature found that when research subjects had their brains connected to a computer displaying two merged images, they could force the computer to display one of the images and discard the other. The signals transmitted from each subject’s brain to the computer were derived from just a handful of brain cells. [Read more…]

Key Mutation in Acute Myeloid Leukemia (AML) Found

Scientists have discovered mutations in a particular gene that affects the treatment prognosis for some patients with acute myeloid leukemia (AML), an aggressive blood cancer that kills 9,000 Americans annually.

The Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis team initially discovered a mutation by completely sequencing the genome of a single AML patient. They then used targeted DNA sequencing on nearly 300 additional AML patient samples to confirm that mutations discovered in one gene correlated with the disease. Although genetic changes previously were found in AML, this work shows that newly discovered mutations in a single gene, called DNA methyltransferase 3A or DNMT3A, appear responsible for treatment failure in a significant number of AML patients. The finding should prove rapidly useful in treating patients and may provide a molecular target against which to develop new drugs. [Read more…]

Antimicrobial Resistance Clinical Trials Launched

Four new contracts for large-scale clinical trials that address the problem of antimicrobial resistance have been funded by the National Institutes of Health. Over the next five to six years, these new clinical trials will evaluate treatment alternatives for diseases for which antibiotics are prescribed most often, including acute otitis media (middle ear infections), community-acquired pneumonia and diseases caused by Gram-negative bacteria, which frequently are resistant to first-line antibiotics. Each trial will enroll at least 1,000 participants who have been diagnosed with these illnesses and diseases. [Read more…]

Scientists Discover How Dengue Virus Infects Cells

How does the dengue virus infect cells? To infect a cell, the dengue virus (counterclockwise, from upper left), binds to the cell membrane. The virus is then enveloped in the membrane, which coalesces around the virus, forming a pouch-like structure called an endosome. Deep inside the cell, the endosome membrane acquires a negative charge, which allows the virus to fuse with the endosomal membrane and release genetic material into the cell’s interior.

Researchers have discovered a key step in how the dengue virus infects a cell. The discovery one day may lead to new drugs to prevent or treat the infection.

Researchers from the National Institutes of Health discovered how the dengue virus releases itself from the protective membrane that shields it as it penetrates deep inside the cell. The discovery allows researchers to study the invasion process in the laboratory and provides a means to test potential treatments for the virus.

Dengue, which is transmitted by mosquitoes, infects up to 100 million people each year. People bitten by an infected mosquito first develop a fever, followed by other symptoms such as joint pain, rash and nausea. Without treatment, symptoms may become more severe. Patients with the severe form of the disease, dengue hemorrhagic fever, may develop difficulty breathing, bruising, bleeding from the nose or gums, and breakdown of the circulatory system. Each year, 22,000 people — most of them children — die from dengue, according to the World Health Organization.

To infect a cell, the virus binds to the cell membrane. The cell membrane engulfs the virus, enveloping it in a pouch-like structure known as an endosome. To begin the infection process, the virus delivers its hereditary material into the cytosol, the fluid interior of the cell, where it begins reproducing itself. To do so, however, it must first release itself from the endosome. The virus does this by fusing its membrane with the endosomal membrane. When the two membranes come together, they form a pore through which the virus’ genetic material is released.
Graphic shows how the virus is taken into the cell and releases its DNA in the presence of a negative charge.

To infect a cell, the dengue virus (counterclockwise, from upper left), binds to the cell membrane. The virus is then enveloped in the membrane, which coalesces around the virus, forming a pouch-like structure called an endosome. Deep inside the cell, the endosome membrane acquires a negative charge, which allows the virus to fuse with the endosomal membrane and release genetic material into the cell’s interior.

Scientists have used their understanding of HIV to develop drugs that block the fusion process and infection. To study the fusion stage of viral entry, researchers have typically observed viral fusion at the cell surface and fusion of a virus with an artificial membrane. Researchers working with dengue, however, were unable to get the virus to fuse under either of these conditions. Why dengue, unlike other viruses, would not readily fuse with these membranes had puzzled researchers for years.

The current study was undertaken by Leonid V. Chernomordik, Ph.D., of the Section on Membrane Biology at the NIH’s Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development and his colleagues, Elena Zaitseva, Sung-Tae Yang, Kamran Melikov, and Sergei Pourmal.

The researchers discovered that two conditions are necessary for dengue virus fusion—an acidic environment and the presence of a negatively charged membrane. They also discovered that these conditions are present at only certain points in the endosome’s journey within the cell.

“We spent several years trying to understand how the dengue virus fuses with its target membrane,” said Dr. Chernomordik. “The findings will now enable us to test new ways to disrupt the fusion process and prevent infection.”

Their research was published online in PLoS Pathogens.

To conduct their study, the researchers tagged dengue virus and cell membranes with molecules that would glow when the virus and membranes fused. They also exposed samples of the virus to an artificial membrane under various conditions, to identify factors that would allow fusion to take place.

The researchers first confirmed that a protein controlling fusion is active only under acidic conditions. However, conditions in the endosome are always acidic, and this alone was not enough to guarantee fusion, they found.

In additional experiments using artificial and cell membranes along with fluorescent markers, they discovered that fusion occurred only when the membranes were negatively charged. When the endosome begins its journey, the endosomal membrane has a neutral charge. The negative charge is present only after the endosome has been taken deep within the cell.

“The confluence of acidity and a negative charge deep in the cell’s interior ensures that the virus is safe within the endosome early in its journey, when it is most vulnerable, but can release its genome when it reaches its destination,” Dr. Chernomordik said.

Dr. Chernomordik and his colleagues plan to test various compounds to learn whether they can prevent the virus from fusing with cell and artificial membranes, in order to identify potential new treatments for dengue infection.

Source: NIH, October 12, 2010

NIH Clinical Center Devices Will Automatically Record Radiation Exposure

Radiology and Imaging Sciences at the National Institutes of Health Clinical Center has taken a significant step to further safeguard clinical research patients at the NIH Clinical Center who are exposed to radiation during certain imaging tests. Computed tomography (CT) and positron emission tomography (PET)/CT equipment purchased by the Clinical Center will now be required to routinely record radiation dose exposure in a patient’s hospital-based electronic medical record.

“When a hospital or clinic patient receives a medication or a treatment, it is routinely recorded in the patient’s medical record,” said John I. Gallin, M.D., director of the Clinical Center, NIH’s clinical research hospital in Bethesda, Md. “The Clinical Center’s approach is an important first step in making it possible to more easily document and track information about a patient’s exposure to radiation.”

Today, electronic radiology information systems in hospitals generally do not collect or report radiation exposures. “CT and PET/ CT scanners do not currently forward data on radiation dose to our radiology information systems,” said Dr. David A. Bluemke, M.D., Ph.D. Bluemke is director of Radiology and Imaging Sciences at the Clinical Center.

The risk of exposure to low doses of medical radiation from diagnostic medical-imaging tests isn’t known, but very high radiation doses have the potential to cause cancer. The ability to keep track of an individual’s exposure to radiation through routine imaging tests is needed so that researchers can begin to determine if these exposures pose a health risk.

“The National Council on Radiation Protection and Measurements reported recently that Americans received seven times more radiation exposure from medical tests in 2006 than was the case in the 1980s,” said Ronald Neumann, M.D., chief of nuclear medicine and deputy associate director for imaging sciences at the Clinical Center. “CT and cardiac nuclear medicine studies accounted for much of this increased medical radiation exposure.”

Ultimately, radiation dosage could become a standard element of a universal electronic medical record used to assess radiation risk from life-long medical testing, the Clinical Center radiologists said. “Recording radiation dose is technically possible and an ethical imperative, ” Neumann said.

“The NIH Clinical Center also will require that newly purchased equipment allows patients to record their radiation dose exposure in their own personal health record,” Bluemke added. Online resources to help individuals organize their health information as a personal medical record are becoming more prevalent. Currently, patients can easily receive their diagnostic imaging studies records on CD-ROM, Bluemke said. The NIH Clinical Center’s imaging program will work with vendors who supply Clinical Center imaging equipment to develop software tools to extract the examination type, date, and radiation dose exposure from the CD-ROM, for uploading to a personal health record. As both the American College of Radiology and the Radiological Society of North America have recommended, patients should keep a record of their X-ray history.

About 25,000 CT and 1,250 PET/CT scans are performed at the Clinical Center each year as part of NIH research protocols. The clinical research hospital currently houses five CT scanners, and two PET/CT scanners.

Source: NIH, August 17, 2009