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Scientist demystifies neurobiology of sleep

A new worm research, led by an Indian-origin scientist, may help explain the neurobiology of sleep in a wide variety of creatures, including humans. Komudi Singh, a postdoctoral fellow in the Department of Neuroscience at Brown University and colleagues from several other institutions have found that ‘Notch’, a fundamental signaling pathway found in all animals, is directly involved in sleep in the nematode C elegans.

“This pathway is a major player in development across all animal species,” said Anne Hart, associate professor of neuroscience at Brown. “The fact that this highly conserved pathway regulates how much these little animals sleep strongly suggests that it’s going to play a critical role in other animals, including humans. The genes in this pathway are expressed in the human brain,” she said.

The findings, Hart added, could help to develop more precise and safer sleep aids. Hart found that adult nematodes in which Notch pathway genes (like osm-11) were overexpressed were doing something quite bizarre. “Normally, adult nematodes spend all of their time moving. But, these animals suddenly start taking spontaneous ‘naps.’ It was the oddest thing I'd seen in my career,” she said.

New tool to assess asthma-related anxiety

It has been observed that when children or adolescents with asthma and their parents become overly anxious, it may weaken their ability to cope up with the disease effectively. Researchers at the New York University School of Medicine and LaSalle University have developed a tool to assess asthma-related anxiety among pediatric patients and their parents. Jean-Marie Bruzzese, Lynne Unikel, Patrick Shrout and Rachel Klein tested their Youth Asthma-related Anxiety Scale (YAAS) and Parent Asthma-related Anxiety Scale (PAAS) on a population of adolescents and their parents.

The results highlighted two key factors, anxiety about asthma severity and about disease-related restrictions that are good indicators of overall asthma-related anxiety. A high level of disease-related anxiety among adults with asthma has been associated with an overreaction to asthma symptoms and overuse of medication.

Key gene for childhood cancer identified

Albert Einstein College of Medicine of Yeshiva University have identified a key gene in the malignant rhabdoid tumor that strikes children under three years.

The gene, ‘Aorora A’ will help in finding an effective treatment for the highly fatal disease, which affects the brain or kidney.  Rhabdoid tumor is an extremely rare disease affecting kids.

The ‘Aurora A’ gene is known to be expressed at higher-than-normal levels in many cancers, and its expression is associated with poor prognosis.  Scientists have also known that mutations in a tumor suppressor gene called INI1/hSNF5 can lead to rhabdoid tumors. Einstein researchers have found that in rhabdoid tumors, loss of the tumor suppressor gene INI1/hSNF5 leads to changes in Aurora A's expression that are crucial for tumor growth.

"Our findings indicate that targeting Aurora A could be an effective strategy for halting rhabdoid tumor growth," said Dr. Ganjam Kalpana, professor of genetics and of microbiology & immunology, the Mark Trauner Faculty Scholar in Neuro-oncology at Einstein.

Kalpana notes that many Aurora A inhibitors are now being tested against several types of cancers, including melanoma and non-Hodgkin's lymphoma. And other researchers have now expressed interest in using Aurora A inhibitors in trials for children with rhabdoid brain tumors.

The findings appeared in the April 26 online issue of Cancer Research.

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