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Archive - Jul 3, 2009

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Gene Region Linked to Perfect Pitch

Researchers at the University of California-San Francisco (UCSF) have found evidence that a particular gene region on chromosome 8 is linked to the phenomenon of perfect pitch (also known as absolute pitch), at least in people of European ancestry. The finding, part of a larger examination of families of various ancestries (Europeans, Ashkenazi Jews, Indians, and East Asians) is said to be the first significant genetic evidence for a role of genes in perfect pitch. Perfect pitch is the rare ability to instantaneously recognize and label tones with their musical note names without using a reference pitch for comparison. It is likely, the researchers said, that multiple genes are involved in all cases of perfect pitch and that different genes could be associated with perfect pitch in those from different ethnic backgrounds. "Perfect pitch is a window into the way in which multiple genes and environmental factors influence cognitive or behavioral traits," said Dr. Jane Gitschier, the senior author of the study. The UCSF research team has learned over the last decade that both influences contribute to perfect pitch. "What's exciting now," Dr. Gitschier said, "is that we now have made the first foray into teasing out the genes that may be involved." This work was published online on July 2 in the American Journal of Human Genetics. [Press release] [AJHG abstract]

Comas in Locusts Offer Clues to Human Migraine and Stroke

Neural spreading depression (SD), a phenomenon in which neurons shut down, is associated with important human CNS pathologies, including migraine and stroke. Locusts undergo SD-like events when exposed to extremer conditions such as high temperature or lack of oxygen. The insects essentially go into a coma and emerge from it after the stress is removed. Now, a Queen’s University-Canada research team has shown that the ability of the locusts to resist entering the coma, and the speed of their recovery, can be manipulated using drugs that target one of the cellular signaling pathways in the brain, i.e., the nitric oxide/cyclic guanosine monophosphate/protein kinase G (NO/cGMP/PKG) pathway. "This suggests that similar treatments in humans might be able to modify the thresholds or severity of migraine and stroke," said Gary Armstrong, lead author of the report. "What particularly excites me is that in one of our locust models, inhibition of the targeted pathway completely suppresses the brain disturbance in 70 percent of animals," added Dr. Mel Robertson, senior author of the study. Noting that it is hard to drown an insect, due to its ability to remain safely in a coma under water for several hours, Mr. Armstrong said, "It's intriguing that human neural problems may share their mechanistic roots with the process insects use to survive flash floods." This research was reported in the June issue of the Journal of Neuroscience. [Press release] [Journal of Neuroscience abstract]