Archive for August 5th, 2012

Fragile X, Down Syndrome Involve Similar Pathways


Mental disabilities stemming from Fragile X and Down syndrome involve similar molecular pathways, according to a new study published in The EMBO Journal.

Both disorders are characterized by problems with the processes that regulate the way nerve cells develop dendritic spines—the small protrusions on the surface of nerve cells that are vital for communication in the brain.

“We have shown for the first time that some of the proteins altered in Fragile X and Down syndromes are common molecular triggers of intellectual disability in both disorders,” said Kyung-Tai Min, a professor at Indiana University and the Ulsan National Institute of Science and Technology in Korea.

“Specifically, two proteins interact with each other in a way that limits the formation of spines or protrusions on the surface of dendrites.”

“These outgrowths of the cell are essential for the formation of new contacts with other nerve cells and for the successful transmission of nerve signals. When the spines are impaired, information transfer is impeded and mental retardation takes hold,” he said.

Two of the most common genetic causes of intellectual disability are Fragile X and Down syndromes.

Fragile X syndrome is triggered by a single gene mutation that prevents the production of a protein needed for proper neural development (Fragile X mental retardation protein). For Down syndrome to occur, all or a part of a third copy of chromosome 21 must be present.

Although each syndrome is due to a separate genetic difference, the researchers identified a shared molecular pathway in mice that triggers intellectual disability in both disorders.

Down syndrome mice models have difficulties with memory and brain function, and the development of the heart is often compromised, symptoms that are also observed in humans with Down syndrome.

“We believe these experiments provide an important step forward in understanding the multiple roles of DSCR1 in neurons and in identifying a molecular interaction that is closely linked to intellectual disability for both syndromes,” said Min.

Source:  The EMBO Journal

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Playfulness Plays Role in Attracting a Mate


Playfulness Plays Role in Attracting a Mate  New research finds that playfulness and a sense of humor are important traits sought in romantic partners.

Researchers at Penn State University liken playful behavior and a sense of humor to bright plumage on birds to attract a mate.

“Humans and other animals exhibit a variety of signals as to their value as mates,” said professor Garry Chick.

“Just as birds display bright plumage or coloration, men may attract women by showing off expensive cars or clothing. In the same vein, playfulness in a male may signal to females that he is nonaggressive and less likely to harm them or their offspring. A woman’s playfulness, on the other hand, may signal her youth and fertility.”

Chick and his colleagues expanded on a previous survey that included a list of 13 possible characteristics that individuals seek in prospective mates. To the original list, they added three new traits: “playful,” “sense of humor” and “fun-loving.” The authors gave the survey to 164 male and 89 female undergraduate students, ages 18 to 26.

Of the 16 items, “sense of humor,” “fun-loving” and “playful” ranked second, third and fourth, respectively, among traits that females sought in males. Males rated three traits — “physically attractive,” “healthy,” and “good heredity,” all characteristics of female fertility — significantly higher than women.

“The fact that the subjects tended to rank ‘sense of humor,’ ‘fun-loving’ and ‘playful’ at or near the top of the list of 16 characteristics does not mean that the mates they have selected or will select will actually exhibit these traits,” said Chick.

“In addition, the results may be skewed by the fact that most of the study subjects were college students from a Western culture. Despite these caveats, it seems to us that signaling one’s virtues as a potential long-term mate through playfulness is not far-fetched. Our results suggest that adult playfulness may result from sexual selection and signal positive qualities to potential long-term mates.”

Source: Penn State

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Sleep Problems A Global Epidemic?


Sleep Problems A Global Epidemic?Can’t sleep? You’re not alone. New research shows that the levels of sleep-related problems in the developing world are approaching those seen in developed nations, linked to an increase in depression and anxiety.

According to an analysis of sleep problems in African and Asian countries by researchers at the Warwick Medical School at the University of Warwick, an estimated 150 million adults are suffering from sleep-related problems across the developing world.

Researchers said 16.6 percent of the population report insomnia and other severe sleep disturbances in the countries surveyed, which is quite close to the 20 percent found in Canada and the U.S.

The researchers looked at the sleep quality of 24,434 women and 19,501 men aged 50 years and over in eight rural areas in Ghana, Tanzania, South Africa, India, Bangladesh, Vietnam, and Indonesia, as well as an urban area in Kenya.

They examined potential links between sleep problems and social demographics, quality of life, physical health, and psychiatric conditions.

The strongest link was found between psychiatric conditions such as depression and anxiety and sleep problems, mirroring trends seen in the developed world, the researchers note.

The researchers also point out that there was a “striking variation” across the countries surveyed. For example, Bangladesh had the highest prevalence of sleep problems, with a 43.9 percent rate for women — more than twice the rate of developed countries and far higher than the 23.6 percent seen in men. Bangladesh also saw very high patterns of anxiety and depression, according to the researchers.

In Vietnam, 37.6 percent of the women and 28.5 percent of the men reported sleep problems. Meanwhile, Tanzania, Kenya and Ghana saw rates of between 8.3 percent and 12.7 percent.

The researchers also pointed out that South Africa had double the rate of other African countries — 31.3 percent for women and 27.2 percent for men.

People in India and Indonesia had very little sleep issues — 6.5 percent for Indian women and 4.3 percent for Indian men, while Indonesian men reported rates of sleep problems of 3.9 percent and women had rates of 4.6 percent.

The research also found a higher prevalence of sleep problems in women and older age groups, consistent with patterns found in higher-income countries.

“Our research shows the levels of sleep problems in the developing world are far higher than previously thought,” said Dr. Saverio Stranges, who was the lead author of the study, published in the journal Sleep.

“This is particularly concerning as many low-income countries are facing a double burden of disease with pressure on scarce financial resources coming from infectious diseases like HIV, but also from a growing rate of chronic diseases like cardiovascular diseases and cancer. This new study suggests sleep disturbances might also represent a significant and unrecognized public health issue among older people, especially women, in low-income settings.”

The research also found that sleep problems are not linked to living in big cities, as most of the people surveyed lived in rural settings, he said, noting, “We might expect even higher figures for people living in urban areas.”

Source: The University of Warwick

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