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Archive - Jun 16, 2017

Meditation & Yoga Can Reverse Gene Expression Changes That Cause Stress, New Study Suggests

Mind-body interventions (MBIs) such as meditation, yoga, and Tai Chi don't simply relax us; they can 'reverse' the molecular reactions in our DNA which cause ill-health and depression, according to a study by the Universities of Coventry and Radboud. The research, published online on June 16, 2017 in Frontiers in Immunology, reviews over a decade of studies analyzing how the behavior of our genes is affected by different MBIs including mindfulness and yoga. The open-access review article is titled “What Is the Molecular Signature of Mind–Body Interventions? A Systematic Review of Gene Expression Changes Induced by Meditation and Related Practices.” Experts from the universities conclude that, when examined together, the 18 studies -- featuring 846 participants over 11 years -- reveal a pattern in the molecular changes that happen to the body as a result of MBIs, and how those changes benefit our mental and physical health. The researchers focus on how gene expression is affected; in other words, the way that genes activate to produce proteins which influence the biological make-up of the body, the brain, and the immune system. When a person is exposed to a stressful event, their sympathetic nervous system (SNS) -- the system responsible for the “fight-or-flight” response -- is triggered, in turn increasing production of a molecule called nuclear factor kappa B (NF-kB) which regulates how our genes are expressed. NF-kB translates stress by activating genes to produce proteins called cytokines that cause inflammation at cellular level -- a reaction that is useful as a short-lived fight-or-flight reaction, but if persistent leads to a higher risk of cancer, accelerated aging, and psychiatric disorders like depression.

Japan Research Collaboration Reveals Father-Daughter Inheritance of Mosaic Skin Disease As Sperm Cell Mutation Causing Whole-Body Skin Disorder; Relevance to Genetic Counseling

Birthmarks can be caused by an overgrowth of cells in the top layer of skin, as in the case of epidermolytic nevus (EN), which is visible as patches of thickened skin over small areas of the body. Mutations in genes encoding the skin proteins keratin 1 or keratin 10 are responsible for EN, but these mutations only occur in some cell populations of the body so they are known as mosaic. Birthmarks are not usually inherited because the genes of sperm and cells are rarely mutated. However, when inheritance does occur, the children develop skin symptoms identical to their affected parent but covering their entire body. Research at Nagoya University in collaboration with Juntendo University Urayasu Hospital, both in Japan, has led to the identification of one such case of EN in a father that was transmitted to his daughter as a sperm cell (germline) mutation, resulting in the more widespread skin disorder epidermolytic ichthyosis (EI), which affects the whole body. The study was reported online on May 19, 2017 in the Journal of Investigative Dermatology. The article is titled “A Child with Epidermolytic Ichthyosis from a Parent with Epidermolytic Nevus: Risk Evaluation of Transmission from Mosaic to Germline." EI symptoms are obvious from birth as skin redness and blistering that completely covers the body. This worsens over time, with the skin becoming scaly and thickened. Nagoya University researchers clinically diagnosed EI in a 2-year-old Japanese girl, and confirmed her diagnosis with the detection of a mutation in the gene encoding keratin 10. The girl's father had small patches of thickened skin on his hand, abdomen, and groin, affecting just 0.5% of his body surface. "We took a skin sample from one of these areas and identified the identical keratin 10 mutation that we detected in his daughter," co-author Dr. Yasushi Suga says.

Why Those with Autism Often Avoid Direct Eye Contact; MGH Findings Suggest Slow Habituation to Eye Contact May Help Overcome Excitatory Overreaction and Cascading Effects That This Eye-Avoidance May Have on Development of the Social Brain

Individuals with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) often find it difficult to look others in the eyes. This avoidance has typically been interpreted as a sign of social and personal indifference, but reports from people with autism suggest otherwise. Many say that looking others in the eye is uncomfortable or stressful for them - some will even say that "it burns" - all of which points to a neurological cause. Now, a team of investigators based at the Athinoula A. Martinos Center for Biomedical Imaging at Massachusetts General Hospital has shed light on the brain mechanisms involved in this behavior. They reported their findings in a Scientific Reports paper published online on June 9, 2017. The open-access article is titled “Look Me in the Eyes: Constraining Gaze in the Eye-Region Provokes Abnormally High Subcortical Activation in Autism.” "The findings demonstrate that, contrary to what has been thought, the apparent lack of interpersonal interest among people with autism is not due to a lack of concern," says Nouchine Hadjikhani, MD, PhD, Director of Neurolimbic Research in the Martinos Center and corresponding author of the new study. "Rather, our results show that this behavior is a way to decrease an unpleasant excessive arousal stemming from overactivation in a particular part of the brain." The key to this research lies in the brain's subcortical system, which is responsible for the natural orientation toward faces seen in newborns and is important later for emotion perception. The subcortical system can be specifically activated by eye contact, and previous work by Dr. Hadjikhani and colleagues revealed that, among those with autism, it was oversensitive to effects elicited by direct gaze and emotional expression.