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Low Levels of Vasopressin Hormone in Cerebrospinal Fluid Possible Biomarker for Low Sociability Seen in Autism Spectrum Disorder

One of the characteristics of children with autism spectrum disorder is reduced social ability. It's difficult to study the possible causes of social impairment in children, but a new study shows that rhesus macaques with low sociability also had low levels of the peptide vasopressin in cerebrospinal fluid, as did children with autism spectrum disorder. The study, by researchers at the California National Primate Research Center (CNPRC) at the University of California (UC), Davis and Stanford University, was published online on May 2, 2018 in the journal Science Translational Medicine. The article is titled “Arginine Vasopressin in Cerebrospinal Fluid Is a Marker of Sociality in Nonhuman Primates.” "At this point, we consider vasopressin concentrations to be a biomarker for low sociability," said John Capitanio, PhD, Professor of Psychology at UC Davis and a research scientist at the CNPRC. Dr. Capitanio studies the interplay between social behavior and health. Over several years, his team has assessed rhesus macaque monkeys born at the Center for sociability. The Center maintains large field corrals where the macaques live in extended large family groups with the same hierarchies and social behavior that they show in the wild.nAbout fifteen percent of the animals are classed as "low social": they spend less time interacting with others than most macaques. Dr. Capitanio has previously studied how this natural variation affects the course of infectious disease. Professor Karen Parker at the Stanford Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences, principal investigator on the project, is interested in why children with autism spectrum disorder have deficits in social ability.

Designer Peptoids Mimic Surfactant Proteins & Reduce Surface Tension in the Lungs, Restoring Breathing Capacity in Injured Lungs in Rat Model—Results “Open Up New Frontiers”

A Stanford University researcher has bioengineered an effective protein mimic that restored breathing capacity to the injured lungs of rats, according to a new study. This synthetic product could lead to better, cheaper treatments for acute lung injury in humans. When used in the rats, it equaled or outperformed a costly animal-derived counterpart in several physiological measures, the study said. A paper describing the research was published online May 1 in Scientific Reports. The open-access article is titled “Effective in vivo treatment of acute lung injury with helical, amphipathic peptoid mimics of pulmonary surfactant proteins. Imagine the force you'd need to blow up a balloon whose surface area nearly matched that of a tennis court. Imagine further that the balloon has a pocked, moist inner surface and is made of exquisitely delicate material. That balloon is your lungs, and every breath you take is a miracle. What makes it possible is a thin coating of a soap-like film, or surfactant, that lowers the tension of the lung's inner surface, radically reducing the amount of force required to inhale. Without this surfactant, you couldn't breathe. "Lung surfactant is endowed with amazing biological properties," said Annelise Barron (photo), PhD, Associate Professor of Bioengineering at Stanford. "The key to this is the presence, in the surfactant, of two special proteins whose structures uniquely enable them to cut surface tension." But those same amazing structural properties, she said, also make these proteins difficult to synthesize and purify, and relatively unstable in solution, limiting shelf-life and increasing price. "One of them contains the most hydrophobic, or fat-resembling, stretch of chemical constituents of all known human proteins," Dr. Barron said.

New Technique for Detecting AMPK Levels Could Help Improve Treatment for Diabetes & Obesity

San Francisco State University researchers have discovered a new method for testing levels of a tiny, but hugely important, protein -- "AMPK" -- in human muscle cells. "AMPK (5' AMP-activated protein kinase) is the gas gauge that tells each cell in your body if your fuel is too low. We call it the energy sensor of the cell," said Assistant Professor of Kinesiology Jimmy Bagley. Muscles make up 30 to 40 percent of our bodies and are the largest users of sugar and fat for energy. But if people have too much stored fuel -- if they are obese or not exercising, for example -- AMPK is not activated and the body doesn't regulate blood sugar the way it should. Dr. Bagley and his colleagues at the Center for Sport Performance at California State University (CSU) at Fullerton are the first to test the new method on human muscle cells. Their innovative technique was was published online on April 12, 2018 in the Journal of Applied Physiology. The article Is titled “Fiber Type-Specific Analysis of AMPK Isoforms in Human Skeletal Muscle: Advancement in Methods Via Capillary Nanoimmunoassay.” Using human muscle fiber samples provided by Stanford University and CSU Fullerton, researchers in Dr. Bagley's Muscle Physiology Laboratory at San Francisco State manually isolate single muscle fibers, each about half the size of a human hair. With custom microscopes, tweezers, and chemical solutions, they determine fiber type and prepare each cell for protein analysis. They then deliver the cells to CSU Fullerton, where the protein is analyzed using a new machine called Protein Simple. "We can tell what's happening with the AMPK protein in individual muscle cells with a high level of precision," said Dr. Bagley. The new method allows researchers to isolate and examine muscle fibers in much greater detail than was possible before.

Horses Can Read and Remember People’s Emotional Expressions, and Can Adapt Their Behavior Accordingly

A study by the Universities of Sussex and Portsmouth in the UK reveals that horses can read and then remember people's emotional expressions, enabling them to use this information to identify people who could pose a potential threat. Published on April 26, 2018, in Current Biology, the paper “Animals Remember Previous Facial Expressions That Specific Humans Have Exhibited” is authored by a team of psychologists, co-led by Professor Karen McComb, from the University of Sussex, and Dr. Leanne Proops, from the University of Portsmouth - both specialists in animal behavior. The research team conducted controlled experiments in which domestic horses were presented with a photograph of an angry or happy human face and several hours later saw the actual person who had exhibited the expression, now in an emotionally neutral state. This short-term exposure to the photograph of a person's facial expression was enough to generate clear differences in subsequent responses upon meeting that individual in the flesh later the same day. The study found that despite the humans being in a neutral state during the live meeting, the horses' gaze direction revealed that they perceived the person more negatively if they had previously seen them looking angry in the photograph rather than happy. Previous research, including at University of Sussex, has shown that animals tend to view negative events with their left eye due to the right brain hemisphere's specialization for processing threatening stimuli (information from the left eye is processed in the right hemisphere). Importantly, in the current experiment, the humans did not know which photographs the horses had previously seen, to avoid any risk of behaving differently themselves.

Increasing Number of Added NK Cells Boosts Effectiveness of Combined Cell Therapy & Virotherapy for Treating Cancer

Doctors could be a step closer to finding the most effective way to treat cancer with a double whammy of a virus combined with boosting the natural immune system, according to a pioneering study by researchers at The University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston (UTHealth) and The Ohio State University. "The findings of this research are very exciting because it helps unravel the complex yin and yang relationship between the natural cancer-fighting power intrinsic to our immune system and externally added cancer-killing cells that are given as a therapy. It's very significant because it shows, contrary to recent scientific claims, that virotherapy can be combined with cell therapy for a positive effect," said the study's corresponding author Balveen Kaur, PhD, Professor and Vice Chair of Research in the Vivian L. Smith Department of Neurosurgery at McGovern Medical School at UTHealth. Previous scientific wisdom has discredited combining virotherapy and externally added natural killer (NK) cell therapy to the body's NK cells, but there could be clear cancer-fighting benefits – if sufficient external NK cells are deployed to destroy the tumor and stop its spread, as revealed in the paper that was published online on April 23, 2018 in PNAS. The article is titled “Complex Role of NK Cells in Regulation of Oncolytic Virus–Bortezomib Therapy.” To reach this conclusion, physicians devised a mathematical formula unlocking the complex interactive relationship between externally introduced viruses and NK cells in addition to the immune system's existing NK cells to calculate cancer cell-killing potency. The mathematical modeling was able to predict how a virus-treated tumor would respond to NK cell therapy, depending on the number of NK cells introduced to the tumor.

Tolerance Mechanisms May Be Key to Virus Resistance in Bats

Scientists examining the genome of Egyptian fruit bats, a natural reservoir for the deadly Marburg virus, have identified several immune-related genes that suggest bats deal with viral infections in a substantially different way than primates. Their research, published online on April 26, 2016 Cell, demonstrates that bats may be able to host viruses that are pathogenic in humans by tolerating--rather than overcoming--the infection. The article is titled “The Egyptian Rousette Genome Reveals Unexpected Features of Bat Antiviral Immunity.” Bats are known to harbor many viruses, including several that cause disease in humans, without demonstrating symptoms. To identify differences between antiviral mechanisms in humans and bats, the research team sequenced, assembled, and analyzed the genome of Rousettus aegyptiacus, the Egyptian fruit bat--a natural reservoir of Marburg virus and the only known reservoir for any filovirus. Jonathan Towner, PhD, of the Viral Special Pathogens Branch at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), provided the bats from which the DNA was extracted. Dr. Towner had traveled to Uganda to investigate the colony of Egyptian fruit bats implicated in a Marburg fatality there. "Using that DNA, we generated the most contiguous bat genome to date and used it to understand the evolution of immune genes and gene families in bats. This is classical comparative immunology and a good example of the link between basic and applied sciences," explained co-senior author Gustavo Palacios, PhD, who heads the Center for Genome Sciences at the U.S. Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases (USAMRIID). In the process, Dr. Palacios and colleagues at the CDC and Boston University made some striking findings.

44 Genetic Risk Factors Identified for Major Depression

A global research project has mapped out the genetic basis of major depression, identifying 44 genetic variants which are risk factors for depression, 30 of which are newly discovered. The study, by the Psychiatric Genomics Consortium, and co-led in the UK by King's College London, is the largest study to-date of genetic risk factors for major depression. Published online on April 26, 2018 in Nature Genetics, the research finds that the genetic basis for major depression is shared with other psychiatric disorders such as schizophrenia, and that all humans carry at least some of the 44 genetic risk factors identified in the study. The article is titled “Genome-Wide Association Analyses Identify 44 Risk Variants and Refine the Genetic Architecture of Major Depression.” A significant number of the genetic variants identified in the study are directly linked to the targets of current antidepressant medications. Analysis of the data also suggests that having a higher body mass index (BMI) is linked to an increased risk of major depression. Previous studies have struggled to identify more than a handful of genetic variants associated with depression. By combining seven separate datasets, the research team included data on more than 135,000 people with major depression and more than 344,000 controls. The study was an unprecedented global effort by over 200 scientists who work with the Psychiatric Genomics Consortium, and was led by the University of North Carolina School of Medicine and the University of Queensland in Australia. Professor Cathryn Lewis and Dr. Gerome Breen of King's College London led the UK contribution, along with scientists and psychiatrists from the Universities of Edinburgh, Cardiff, and University College London (UCL).

Mystery Deepens—Organism’s Apparent Lack of Sex Not Related to Dessication-Based DNA Repair As Previously Thought; Organism Does Undergo Unusual Amount of Horizontal Gene Transfer; Sexual Reproduction Cannot Yet Be Ruled Out

A new study has cast doubt on leading theory for how tiny creatures have evolved for tens of millions of years - without ever having sex. Most animals reproduce sexually, a process which shuffles genes from parent to offspring. This makes natural selection more efficient and allows animals to evolve defenses against changing environmental conditions more rapidly, especially new diseases. Bdelloid rotifers however appear to be an exception to this rule: they are all female, and their offspring are clones of their mothers. Bdelloids are microscopic animals that live in freshwater and damp habitats across the world. Despite their apparent lack of sex, we know they have evolved for tens of millions of years into more than 500 species. By studying their genomes - the set of all the genes that define an animal's characteristics - researchers thought they had identified an explanation for how bdelloids had 'gotten away' with no sex for millions of years. However, a new study, published online on April 24, 2018 in PLOS Biology and led by Imperial College London researchers, reveals this mechanism may not be the main explanation for the bdelloids' success. The article is titled “Comparative Genomics of Bdelloid Rotifers: Insights from Desiccating and Nondesiccating Species.” Many species of bdelloid endure periods of drying out, called desiccation. Although they survive desiccation, the process damages their DNA, which they need to repair when rehydrated. Based on results of a previous study of the genome of a species that survives desiccation, researchers had proposed that the repair of DNA might remove some of the problems of being asexual, for example by removing harmful mutations and possibly allowing occasional recombination of genes to occur.

Dark Chocolate Has Positive Effects on Stress, Inflammation, Mood, Memory, & Immunity, New Studies Show

New research shows there might be health benefits to eating certain types of dark chocolate. Findings from two studies being presented at the Experimental Biology 2018 annual meeting in San Diego (April 21-25) show that consuming dark chocolate that has a high concentration of cacao (minimally 70% cacao, 30% organic cane sugar) has positive effects on stress levels, inflammation, mood, memory, and immunity. While it is well known that cacao is a major source of flavonoids, this is the first time the effect has been studied in human subjects to determine how it can support cognitive, endocrine, and cardiovascular health. Lee S. Berk, DrPH, Associate Dean of Research Affairs, School of Allied Health Professions and a researcher in psychoneuroimmunology and food science from Loma Linda University, served as principal investigator on both studies. "For years, we have looked at the influence of dark chocolate on neurological functions from the standpoint of sugar content - the more sugar, the happier we are," Dr. Berk said. "This is the first time that we have looked at the impact of large amounts of cacao in doses as small as a regular-sized chocolate bar in humans over short or long periods of time, and are encouraged by the findings. These studies show us that the higher the concentration of cacao, the more positive the impact on cognition, memory, mood, immunity, and other beneficial effects." The flavonoids found in cacao are extremely potent antioxidants and anti-inflammatory agents, with known mechanisms beneficial for brain and cardiovascular health.

World First--New Structure of “Twisted Knot” DNA Revealed in Living Cells; Antibody Fragment Used to Identify I-Motif DNA; May Play Role in Gene Expression

It's DNA, but not as we know it. In a world first, Australian researchers have identified a new DNA structure - called the “i-motif” - inside cells. A twisted “knot” of DNA, the i-motif has never before been directly seen inside living cells. The new findings, from the Garvan Institute of Medical Research, were published online on April 23, 2018 in Nature Chemistry. The article is titled “I-Motif DNA Structures Are Formed in the Nuclei of Human Cells.” Deep inside the cells in our body lies our DNA. The information in the DNA code - all 6 billion A, C, G, and T letters - provides precise instructions for how our bodies are built, and how they work. The iconic “double helix” shape of DNA has captured the public imagination since 1953, when James Watson and Francis Crick famously uncovered the structure of DNA. However, it's now known that short stretches of DNA can exist in other shapes, in the laboratory at least - and scientists suspect that these different shapes might play an important role in how and when the DNA code is “read.” The new shape looks entirely different from the double-stranded DNA double helix. "When most of us think of DNA, we think of the double helix," says Associate Professor Daniel Christ (Head, Antibody Therapeutics Lab, Garvan) who co-led the research. "This new research reminds us that totally different DNA structures exist - and could well be important for our cells." "The i-motif is a four-stranded 'knot' of DNA," says Associate Professor Marcel Dinger (Head, Kinghorn Centre for Clinical Genomics, Garvan), who co-led the research with Assistant Professor Christ.

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