Researchers get to the roots of chronic stress and depression

A study in mice provides clues about the common molecular origins of chronic stress and depression. The discovery could inform new treatments for mood disorders.

Millions of years ago, our ancestors evolved the physiological responses needed to survive in the face of sudden threats from rivals and predators.

The release of hormones, including epinephrine (adrenaline), noradrenaline (norepinephrine), and the steroid hormone cortisol, trigger these “fight-or-flight” stress responses.

However, sustained or chronic stress that does not resolve when the immediate threat passes is a major risk factor for the development of mood disorders such as anxiety and depression.

Traumatic experiences, for example, in military combat, can also damage the body’s ability to regulate its stress responses, causing post-traumatic stress disorder.

People with these mood disorders have abnormally high and sustained stress hormone levels, which puts them at an increased risk of developing cardiovascular disease.

Researchers at the Karolinska Institutet in Stockholm, Sweden, suspected that a protein called p11 plays a pivotal role in damping down stress responses in healthy brains after an acute threat has passed.

Their previous research found that p11 enhances the effect of the hormone serotonin, which regulates mood and has a calming effect.

Unusually low levels of p11 have been found in the brains of people with depression and in individuals who died by suicide.

Mice with reduced p11 levels also show depression and anxiety-like behaviors. In addition, three different classes of antidepressants that are effective in humans increase levels of this protein in the animals’ brains.

Now the Karolinska researchers have discovered that reduced p11 levels in the brains of mice make the animals more sensitive to stressful experiences.

The scientists also demonstrated that the protein controls activity in two distinct stress signaling pathways in the brain. It reduces not only the release of cortisol via one pathway but also adrenaline and noradrenaline via the other.

“We know that an abnormal stress response can precipitate or worsen depression and cause anxiety disorder and cardiovascular disease,” says first author Vasco Sousa. “Therefore, it is important to find out whether the link between p11 deficiency and stress response that we see in mice can also be seen in patients.”

The study, which appears in the journal Molecular Psychiatry, was a collaboration between the Karolinska Institutet and researchers at VU University in Amsterdam, The Netherlands.

To investigate the role of p11 in stress responses, the scientists bred “knockout” mice that lack the gene that makes this protein.

They compared their behavior with normal mice using a variety of standard tests. These suggested that those without p11 experienced heightened stress and anxiety.

For example, in one test, mice pups were separated from their mothers for 3 hours a day. The researchers found that pups lacking p11 produced more high-pitched distress calls, known as ultrasonic vocalizations, compared with normal pups.

In another test of anxiety-like behavior, the team gave the adult mice a choice of spending time in a brightly lit area or a dark space. Mice that were deficient

Radiation elevated at fracking sites, researchers find

Researchers at Harvard released a new study Tuesday showing elevated radiation levels at fracking sites, citing the concerning levels could pose health risks to residents in the adjacent area.

The study was published in the journal Nature and details how the controversial hydraulic fracturing drilling sites are registering radiation levels above normal background levels, Reuters reported.

Sites within 12 miles downwind of 100 fracking wells were found to have radiation levels that are about 7 percent above normal background levels, according to the study.

Harvard researchers analyzed thousands of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s radiation monitor readings nationwide from 2011 to 2017 for its data.

The study added that readings could ascend much higher in areas closer to drilling sites or locations with higher concentrations of fracking wells.

“The increases are not extremely dangerous, but could raise certain health risks to people living nearby,” said the study’s lead author, Petros Koutrakis.

Koutrakis said the source of radiation is likely naturally occurring radioactive material brought to the surface by the high-pressure water pumps used to break down shale formations.

According to the study, the most significant increases in radiation levels occurred in Pennsylvania and Ohio, which have higher concentrations of naturally occurring radioactive material, compared to Texas and New Mexico, which registered lower readings.

Near conventional drilling operations, the study saw fewer increases in particle radiation levels.

Koutrakis said the study was conducted to determine whether radiation was released during the drilling process, adding, “Our hope is that once we understand the source more clearly, there will be engineering methods to control this.

President TrumpDonald John TrumpTwo ethics groups call on House to begin impeachment inquiry against Barr Trump relishes return to large rallies following COVID-19 diagnosis McGrath: McConnell ‘can’t get it done’ on COVID-19 relief MORE has lauded fracking for its economic benefits, allowing the U.S. to grow as one of the most significant oil and gas producers globally.

Still, the method of fracking is concerning to many environmental advocacy organizations and has been the subject of a proposed national fracking ban by Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-CortezAlexandria Ocasio-CortezOVERNIGHT ENERGY: Federal officials press concerns about proposed mine near Georgia swamp, documents show | Trump falsely claims Green New Deal calls for ‘tiny little windows’ | Interior appeals migratory bird ruling Trump falsely claims Green New Deal calls for ‘tiny little windows’ Ocasio-Cortez claps back at Pence calling her ‘AOC’ during debate MORE (D-N.Y.) and Rep. Darren SotoDarren Michael SotoHopes for DC, Puerto Rico statehood rise Florida Democrat introduces bill to recognize Puerto Rico statehood referendum Ocasio-Cortez, Velázquez call for convention to decide Puerto Rico status MORE (D-Fla.).

Democratic presidential candidate Biden has vowed to continue allowing fracking if elected, though runs a stiff battle between appeasing his base on environmental issues and allowing the industry to remain.

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Researchers Identify Bacteria Responsible for Key Crohn’s Complication | Health News

By Robert Preidt, HealthDay Reporter

(HealthDay)

TUESDAY, Oct. 6, 2020 (HealthDay News) — Leaking bacteria from the intestine triggers “creeping fat” that often occurs in people with Crohn’s disease, according to a new study.

Creeping fat is abdominal fat that wraps around the intestines of patients with this type of inflammatory bowel disease (IBD). It was unknown what triggered the fat to do this.

“Creeping fat is often a landmark for surgeons performing resections on an IBD patient’s bowels because they know when they see it, that’s likely where the lesions are located,” said study author Suzanne Devkota, an assistant professor of gastroenterology at Cedars-Sinai in Los Angeles.

“But we don’t know whether the presence of the fat is making the disease worse or trying to protect the intestines from something,” she added in a hospital news release.

Devkota’s team analyzed small intestine and fat tissue samples from 11 Crohn’s patients who had gone through surgery. Along with storing energy, fat (adipose tissue) contains immune cells that appear to be triggered in certain cases of IBD.

“We found that the adipose tissue is actually responding to bacteria that have migrated out of the patient’s damaged intestines and directly into the fat,” Devkota said. “We believe the ‘creeping’ migration of the fat around the intestines is intended to try and plug leaks in the diseased organ to prevent the gut bacteria from getting into the bloodstream.”

But creeping fat may contribute to severe intestinal scarring (fibrosis) that occurs in 40% of Crohn’s patients, according to the researchers. In many of these cases, surgical removal of parts of the small intestine is the only option.

Patients with ulcerative colitis, the other most common IBD, don’t develop creeping fat, the authors said. Their study was recently published in the journal Cell.

Researchers also pinpointed a specific type of bacteria (Clostridium innocuum) that prompts fat to travel to the small intestine and encase it, imperiling its function. The finding could lead to new treatments.

“We’ve identified a specific infectious agent that can trigger a process that makes Crohn’s worse. This is a critical step toward the development of therapies that target C. innocuum, allowing us to prevent or minimize the damaging effect of creeping fat,” said Dr. Stephan Targan, director of Cedar-Sinai’s Inflammatory Bowel and Immunobiology Research Institute.

The U.S. National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases has more on Crohn’s disease.

Copyright © 2020 HealthDay. All rights reserved.

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U.S., British hepatitis C researchers win Nobel Prize in Medicine

Oct. 5 (UPI) — Three scientists who each played a role in finding a cure for hepatitis C have won this year’s Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine, the Nobel Foundation announced Monday.

Americans Harvey J. Alter and Charles M. Rice and Briton Michael Houghton won the 2020 prize for their separate work in battling hepatitis C, a blood-borne disease that causes cirrhosis of the liver and liver cancer.

The disease is associated with significant morbidity and mortality and causes more than 1 million deaths per year worldwide, making it a global health threat on a scale comparable to HIV infection and tuberculosis.

The prize was announced during a ceremony at the Nobel Assembly at the Karolinska Institute in Sweden, which awards the honor each year.

Two other types of hepatitis — A and B — had been identified earlier, but a still-unknown form had continued to affect blood transfusion patients.

In the 1970s, Alter, working at the U.S. National Institutes of Health, first showed that the condition was caused by a previously unknown, distinct virus, later named the hepatitis C virus.

Identifying the virus, however, eluded researchers for more than a decade. Houghton, then working for the Chiron Corp. in California, was able to isolate the genetic sequence of the virus in 1989, providing a key breakthrough.

With the virus identified, researchers still needed to prove that it alone was capable of causing hepatitis. Rice, a scientist at Washington University in St. Louis, provided the link in 2005 after eight years of research.

The scientists’ contributions have “essentially eliminated post-transfusion hepatitis in many parts of the world, greatly improving global health,” the Nobel Committee for Physiology or Medicine said.

“Their discovery also allowed the rapid development of antiviral drugs directed at hepatitis C,” it added. “For the first time in history, the disease can now be cured, raising hopes of eradicating hepatitis C virus from the world population.”

The Nobel Institute’s two other scientific prizes — for physics and chemistry — will be announced Tuesday and Wednesday. They will be followed by the literature prize on Thursday, the peace prize on Friday and economic sciences on Oct. 12.

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American, British Hepatitis C researchers win Nobel Prize in Medicine

Oct. 5 (UPI) — Three scientists who each played a role in finding a cure for Hepatitis C have won this year’s Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine, the Nobel Foundation announced Monday.

Americans Harvey J. Alter and Charles M. Rice and Briton Michael Houghton won the 2020 prize for their separate work in battling Hepatitis C, a blood-borne disease which causes cirrhosis of the liver and liver cancer.

The disease is associated with significant morbidity and mortality and causes more than 1 million deaths per year worldwide, making it a global health threat on a scale comparable to HIV-infection and tuberculosis.

The prize was announced during a ceremony at the Nobel Assembly at the Karolinska Institute in Sweden, which awards the honor each year.

Two other types of hepatitis — A and B — had been identified earlier, but a still-unknown form had continued to affect blood transfusion patients.

In the 1970s, Alter, working at the U.S. National Institutes of Health, first showed that the condition was caused by a previously unknown, distinct virus, later named the Hepatitis C virus.

Identifying the virus, however, eluded researchers for more than a decade. Houghton, then working for the Chiron Corp. in California, was able to isolate the genetic sequence of the virus in 1989, providing a key breakthrough.

With the virus now identified, researchers still needed to prove that it alone was capable of causing hepatitis. Rice, a scientist at Washington University in St. Louis, provided the link in 2005 after eight years of research.

The scientists’ contributions have “essentially eliminated post-transfusion hepatitis in many parts of the world, greatly improving global health,” the Nobel Committee for Physiology or Medicine said.

“Their discovery also allowed the rapid development of antiviral drugs directed at hepatitis C,” it added. “For the first time in history, the disease can now be cured, raising hopes of eradicating Hepatitis C virus from the world population.”

The Nobel Institute’s two other scientific prizes — for physics and chemistry — will be announced Tuesday and Wednesday. They will be followed by the literature prize on Thursday, the peace prize on Friday and for economic sciences next Monday.

Sign up for our daily Top News Newsletter

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Penn Medicine researchers discover a rare genetic form of dementia

IMAGE

IMAGE: Abnormal neurofibrillary tangles (NFTs) — a buildup of tau protein in parts of the brain — helped Edward Lee, MD, PhD, an assistant professor of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine, and…
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Credit: Edward Lee

PHILADELPHIA — A new, rare genetic form of dementia has been discovered by a team of Penn Medicine researchers. This discovery also sheds light on a new pathway that leads to protein build up in the brain — which causes this newly discovered disease, as well as related neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s Disease — that could be targeted for new therapies. The study was published today in Science.

Alzheimer’s disease (AD) is a neurodegenerative disease characterized by a buildup of proteins, called tau proteins, in certain parts of the brain. Following an examination of human brain tissue samples from a deceased donor with an unknown neurodegenerative disease, researchers discovered a novel mutation in the Valosin-containing protein (VCP) gene in the brain, a buildup of tau proteins in areas that were degenerating, and neurons with empty holes in them, called vacuoles. The team named the newly discovered disease Vacuolar Tauopathy (VT)–a neurodegenerative disease now characterized by the accumulation of neuronal vacuoles and tau protein aggregates.

“Within a cell, you have proteins coming together, and you need a process to also be able to pull them apart, because otherwise everything kind of gets gummed up and doesn’t work. VCP is often involved in those cases where it finds proteins in an aggregate and pulls them apart,” Edward Lee, MD, PhD, an assistant professor of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine in the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania. “We think that the mutation impairs the proteins’ normal ability to break aggregates apart.”

The researchers noted that the tau protein they observed building up looked very similar to the tau protein aggregates seen in Alzheimer’s disease. With these similarities, they aimed to uncover how this VCP mutation is causing this new disease — to aid in finding treatments for this disease and others. Rare genetic causes of diseases can very often offer insight into more prevalent ones.

The researchers first examined the proteins themselves, in addition to studying cells and an animal model, and found that the tau protein buildup is, in fact, due to the VCP mutation.

“What we found in this study is a pattern we’ve never seen before, together with a mutation that’s never been described before,” Lee said. “Given that this mutation inhibits VCP activity, that suggest the converse might be true — that if you’re able to boost VCP activity, that could help break up the protein aggregates. And if that’s true, we may be able to break up tau aggregates not only for this extremely rare disease, but for Alzheimer’s disease and other diseases associated with tau protein aggregation.”

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Lee led this work with first author, Nabil Darwich, MD/PhD student in the Neuroscience Graduate Group at Penn.

These findings describe a new biologic function of VCP, define a

Traces of coronavirus found in Lake Superior water, researchers say

Traces of the novel coronavirus were found in water samples taken from Lake Superior beaches in Duluth, Minn., according to researchers with the University of Minnesota Medical School, Duluth campus.

Since July, researchers have collected water samples from eight different beaches in Duluth in an effort to better understand how the novel virus “acts in the water and whether it can spread there,” the Star Tribune reported. (The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says there is “no evidence that SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, can spread to people through water” at oceans, lakes and other natural bodies of water, as well as pools, water playgrounds and hot tubs.)

"The research team describes the detection level at 100 to 1,000 copies per liter, or 10,000 times lower than levels observed in wastewater," the researchers said.

“The research team describes the detection level at 100 to 1,000 copies per liter, or 10,000 times lower than levels observed in wastewater,” the researchers said.
(iStock)

In September, the researchers found traces of SARS-Cov-2 for the first time in water samples from Park Point, the beach at E. 42nd Avenue, and Brighton Beach.

“The research team describes the detection level at 100 to 1,000 copies per liter or 10,000 times lower than levels observed in wastewater,” the researchers said, according to the Star Tribune.

CORONAVIRUS CAUSED SPIKE IN GOOGLE SEARCH FOR THIS SYMPTOM 

The source of the virus is unknown, per the newspaper. But lead study author Richard Melvin, an assistant professor in the department of biomedical sciences at the University of Minnesota Medical School’s Duluth campus, told local news outlet KARE11 that swimmers could be responsible, as those infected can shed the virus for up to a month even after their symptoms have bettered, he said.

“Understanding where to look for the virus is really key in how to deal with these types of infections in the future,” he said, echoing the CDC in saying there is currently no evidence that people can contract the virus through water. “Now knowing that we can find it in the lake water, it could be another indicator of the prevalence of the virus in the population that lives in that location.”

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Researchers will continue to test water samples through additional funding from the Minnesota Sea Grant, which initially provided $10,000 for the study, according to the Star Tribune, which noted that officials with the Minnesota Department of Health, as well as other experts, will assist in identifying the source of the virus found in the water samples.

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Why Japanese researchers say there’s “no reason” to keep doing painful COVID nasal swab tests

Tokyo — Researchers in Japan announced “game changing” research this week that found simple saliva tests for COVID-19 are just as reliable as the widely used, but more complicated and uncomfortable, swab tests. The study involved testing almost 2,000 people who were showing no symptoms of the coronavirus using both saliva and the familiar nasal swab. 

The results have already upended conventional wisdom about mass screening in Japan.

“Now it’s clear by our data that sensitivity and specificity are the same” for saliva and swab tests, research team leader Takanori Teshima of Hokkaido University told CBS News. Given the importance public health experts put on mass-screening for asymptomatic carriers of the virus, Teshima said the strong evidence that simple, non-invasive saliva tests are just as effective as the far more common “PCR” tests is “game changing.”


Trump rolls out COVID-19 testing expansion

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“We have no reason to continue to collect samples by swab,” Teshima said. “It’s costly, requires health care workers, and is painful.”

Teshima presented the results of the research on 1,924 asymptomatic individuals this week. It was one of the largest studies to date directly comparing saliva tests and the nasal swab tests for reliability. Subjects were asked to spit into a cup, and undergo the established nasal swab procedure at local health clinics and at Tokyo’s Haneda airport and Kansai International airport in Osaka.

Unlike swabbing, which requires trained medical staff in protective gear to collect each sample and risk infection themselves, giving a saliva sample is no more complicated than walking into a booth and drooling in a cup.

The dual analyses were carried out using the standard polymerase chain reaction (PCR) method, and the RT-LAMP procedure that detects the virus in saliva. The simple viral diagnostic tool has been used for years to test for MERS, SARS and Ebola.

The Hokkaido study concluded that saliva testing was about 90% accurate in identifying positive cases, with nearly no false positives, a performance rate almost exactly on par with nasal swab sampling. Both tests, Teshima said, accurately identified negatives in nearly all cases.

saliva-vs-pcr-covid-tests.jpg
Graphs comparing the sensitivity and specificity of two different types of COVID-19 test (“NPS” or nasal swab for PCR testing and saliva) from data gathered during a study by Japan’s Hokkaido University, published in September 2020 in the medical journal Clinical Infectious Diseases. 

Clinical Infectious Diseases/Hokkaido University


But while both methods were found to be highly accurate, “saliva testing has significant logistic advantages over the commonly used nasopharyngeal swab testing,” Teshima said.

The RT-LAMP machines used for the saliva tests are compact, require no special training to operate, and yield results in just 30 minutes. Japanese regulators approved the use of saliva testing over the summer, and in doing so helped eliminated long lines for passengers at airport screening points.

Teshima said mass screening of asymptomatic people at large venues like airports will ultimately shift to a third method, antigen testing, which yields results more quickly. But to compensate for that method’s lower