In 2013, Brian Dias (at Yerkes) and Kerry Ressler (now at Harvard) describedÂ a surprising example of epigenetic inheritance.
They found that a mouse, exposed to a smell in combination with stress, could transmit the resulting sensitivity to that smell to its offspring. At the time, there wasn’t a lot of information about mechanism.
Now other scientistsÂ haveÂ substantiatedÂ a proposal that micro RNA in playing a role in sperm. See this story (“Sperm RNAs transmit stress”) from Kate Yandell in The ScientistÂ or this one from Rachel Zamzow at Spectrum, the Simons Foundation’s autism news site, for more. An added wrinkle is that thisÂ research showsÂ that descendantsÂ of stress-exposed mice show a muted response to stress.
Note for Emory readers: Dias is scheduled to give a Frontiers in Neuroscience talk on Friday.
This grant announcement from the American Heart Association caught Lab Land’s eye.Â All three of the scientists involved in this project, examining the connections between hypertension, inflammation and the sympathetic nervous system in PTSD, have Emory connections:
*Kerry Ressler, previously Emory Psychiatry/HHMI-supported/Yerkes-based lab/Grady Trauma Project, who moved this summer to Harvard’s McLean Hospital
Related findingÂ that emerged from the Grady Trauma Project: Blood pressure drugs linked with lower PTSD symptoms
*Paul Marvar, who worked with both David Harrison and Kerry Ressler at Emory, and is now at George Washington University
Related item on Marvar’s work: Immune cells required for stress-induced rise in blood pressure in animals
*Jeanie Park, kidney specialist who is here now! The grant is exploring the relationship between the sympathetic nervous system, regulation of blood pressure and PTSD.
2015Â TV interview with Park on her chronic kidney disease research
These days, it sounds a bit old-fashioned to ask the question: â€œWhere is consciousness located in the brain?â€ The prevailing thinking is that consciousness lives in the network, rather than in one particular place. Still, neuroscientists sometimes get an intriguing glimpse of a critical link in the network.
A recent paper in the journal Epilepsy & Behavior describes an epilepsy patient who had electrodes implanted within her brain at Emory University Hospital, because neurologists wanted to understand where her seizures were coming from and plan possible surgery. Medication had not controlled her seizures and previous surgery elsewhere hadÂ not either.
MRI showing electrode placement. Yellow outline indicates the location of the caudate and thalamus. Image from Leeman-Markowsi et al, Epilepsy & Behavior (2015).
During intracranial EEG monitoring, implanted electrodes detected a pattern of signals coming from one part of the thalamus, a central region of the brain. The pattern was present when the patient was conscious, and then stopped as soon as seizure activity made her lose awareness.
The pattern of signals had a characteristic frequency â€“ around 35 times per second â€“ so it helps to think of the signal as an auditory tone. Lead author Beth Leeman-Markowski, director of EUHâ€™s Epilepsy Monitoring Unit at the time when the patient was evaluated, describes the signal as a â€œbuzz.â€
â€œThat buzz has something to do with maintenance of consciousness,â€ she says. Read more
Last week on Friday, Lab Land attended the annual Regenerative Engineering & Medicine center get-together to hear about progress in this exciting area.
During his talk, Tony Kim of Georgia Tech mentioned a topic that Rose Eveleth recently explored in The Atlantic: why arenâ€™t doctors using amazing â€œnanorobotsâ€ yet? Or as Kim put it, citing a recent review, â€œSo many papers and so few drugs.â€
[A summary: scaling up is difficult, testing pharmacokinetics, toxicity and efficacy is difficult, and so is satisfying the FDA.]
TheÂ talks Friday emerged from REM seed grants; manyÂ paired an Emory medical researcher with a Georgia Tech biomedical engineer. All of these projects take on challenges in delivering regenerative therapies: getting cells or engineered particles to the right place in the body.
For example, cardiologist W. Robert Taylor discussed the hurdles his team had encountered in scaling up his cells-in-capsules therapies for cardiovascular diseases to pigs, in collaboration with Luke Brewster. The pre-pig phase of this research is discussed in more detail here and here. Read more
A visitor might not realize this was a meeting devoted to people who experience excessive daytime sleepiness. The 2015 Hypersomnia Foundation Conference on Saturday was full of energy, with:
*more than 245 attendees, about twice as many people as last year’s conference
*medical experts from France, Wisconsin and Louisiana — in addition to Emory
*data from several recent clinical trials
*some signs of industry interest in hypersomnia
Hypersomnia is a sleep disorder in which individuals feel frequent or constant sleepiness and need to sleep for long portions of the day (more than 70 hours per week). It is distinct from other sleep disorders such as narcolepsy and sleep apnea, but its prevalence is still unclear. Conventional stimulants such as amphetamine or modafinil often can be used to treat the sleepiness, but some with hypersomnia find these drugs ineffective or hard to tolerate.
Previous research at Emory has shown that many individuals with hypersomnia have a substance in their spinal fluid that acts like a sleeping pill, enhancing the action of the neurotransmitter GABA. The identity of this mysterious substance is unknown, but Emory researchers report that they are close to identifying it. That could give hypersomnia a “molecular handle” similar to what narcolepsy has, with loss of hypocretin-producing neurons.
The terminology is still up in the air — keynote speaker Isabelle Arnulf from Paris said, “The term ‘idiopathic hypersomnia’ does not mean that you are an idiot.” Rather, she said, it means that even specialists can have trouble distinguishing hypersomnia from other sleep disorders, and “idiopathic” signifies that the detailed cause is still under investigation.
At what point did the human microbiome become such a hot topic?
When it was shown that babies born by Cesarean section are colonized with different bacteria than those born vaginally? With the cardiovascular studies of microbial byproducts of meat digestion? With the advent of fecal transplant as a proposed treatment for Clostricium difficile infection?
The bacteria and other microbes that live within the human body are thought to influence not only digestive health, but metabolic and autoimmune diseases as well, possibly even psychiatric and neurodevelopmental disorders. The field is being propelled by next-generation sequencing technology, and Nature had to publish an editorial guarding against hype (a major theme: correlation is not causation).
At Emory, investigators from several departments are involved in microbiome-related work, and the number is expanding, and assembling a comprehensive list is becoming more difficult. Researchers interested in the topic are planning Emory’s first microbiome symposium in November, organized by Jennifer Mulle (read her intriguing review on autism spectrum disorders and the microbiome).
Microbial genomics expert Tim Read, infectious diseases specialist Colleen Kraft and intestinal pathologist Andrew Neish have formed an Emory microbiome interest group with a listserv and seminars.
Microbiome symposium sponsors: ACTSI, Hercules Exposome Center, Emory University School of Medicine, Omega Biotek, CFDE, Ubiome. Read more
From Emory Medicine, Spring 2013
A small clinical study of clarithromycin for the sleep disorder hypersomnia shows that the antibiotic can combat patients’ subjective experience of sleepiness, but it does not seem to improve reaction time measured in a video-game-type vigilance task.
The effects of clarithromycin in hypersomnia were first observed by Emory doctors when a pioneering patient (Anna Sumner, whose story is told in this Emory Medicine article) unexpectedly experienced sleeplessness when taking it for a respiratory infection.
The results of the study were published online by Annals of Neurology on June 10.
Lynn Marie Trotti, MD, David Rye, MD, PhD and colleagues from the Department of Neurology and Emory Sleep Center conducted the study, which involved 23 patients.
Advantages of clarithromycin:
- It’s inexpensive and widely available.
- It’s an option for people dealing with hypersomnia for whom other medications, such as modafinil, are not helpful or tolerable.
- It represents an alternative to flumazenil, the benzodiazepine antidote that has been shown to help some hypersomnia patients. Flumazenil used to be very scarce, and shortages occur (Hypersomnia Foundation/American Society of Health System Pharmacists).
Disadvantages of clarithromycin:
- It’s an antibiotic, so it probably changes intestinal bacteria.
- Chronic use could promote the growth of antibiotic-resistant bacteria.
- Most patients reported an altered sense of taste or smell. Some describe this as a metallic mouth sensation.
Neuroscientists at Emory have refined a map showing which parts of the brain are activated during head rotation, resolving a decades-old puzzle. Their findings may help in the study of movement disorders affecting the head and neck, such as cervical dystonia and head tremor.
The results were published inÂ Journal of Neuroscience.
In landmark experiments published in the 1940s and 50s, Canadian neurosurgeon Wilder Penfield and colleagues determined which parts of the motor cortex controlled the movements of which parts of the body.
Penfield stimulated the brain with electricity in patients undergoing epilepsy surgery, and used the results to draw a â€œmotor homunculusâ€: a distorted representation of the human body within the brain. Penfield assigned control of the neck muscles to a region between those that control the fingers and face, a finding inconsistent with some studies that came later.
Using modern functional MRI (magnetic resonance imaging), researchers at Emory University School of Medicine have shown that the neckâ€™s motor control region in the brain is actually between the shoulders and trunk, a location that more closely matches the arrangement of the body itself.
â€œWe canâ€™t be that hard on Penfield, because the number of cases where he was able to study head movement was quite limited, and studying head motion as he did, by applying an electrode directly to the brain, creates some challenges,â€ says lead author Buz Jinnah, MD, professor of neurology, human genetics and pediatrics at Emory University School of Medicine. Read more
If youâ€™ve come anywhere near Alzheimerâ€™s research, youâ€™ve come across the â€œamyloid hypothesisâ€ or â€œamyloid cascade hypothesis.â€
This is the proposal that deposition of amyloid-beta, a major protein ingredient of the plaques that accumulate in the brains of Alzheimerâ€™s patients, is a central event in the pathology of the disease. Lots of supporting evidence exists, but several therapies that target beta-amyloid, such as antibodies, have failed in large clinical trials.
Lary Walker and Matthias Jucker in TÃ¼bingen, 2014
In a recent Nature News article, Boer Deng highlights an emerging idea in the Alzheimerâ€™s field that may partly explain why: not all forms of aggregated amyloid-beta areÂ the same. Moreover, some â€œstrainsâ€ of amyloid-beta may resemble spooky prions in their ability to spread within the brain, even if they can’tÂ infect other people (important!).
Prions are the “infectious proteins” behind diseases such as bovine spongiform encephalopathy. TheyÂ fold into a particular structure, aggregate and then propagate by attracting moreÂ proteins into that structure.
Lary Walker at Yerkes National Primate Research Center has been a key proponent of this provocative idea as it applies to Alzheimer’s. To conduct key experiments supporting the prion-like properties of amyloid-beta, Walker has been collaborating with Matthias Jucker in TÃ¼bingen, Germany and spent four months there on a sabbatical last year. Their paper, describing how aggregated amyloid-beta is â€œseededâ€ and spreads through the brain in mice, was recently published in Brain Pathology.