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New ideas can change human brain cells

Researchers have identified an important molecular change that occurs in the brain when we learn and remember.

The research shows that learning stimulates our brain cells in a manner that causes a small fatty acid to attach to delta-catenin, a protein
in the brain.

This biochemical modification is essential in producing the changes in brain cell connectivity associated with learning. In animal models, the scientists found almost twice the amount of modified delta-catenin in the brain after learning about new environments. While delta-catenin has previously been linked to learning, this study is the first to describe the protein’s role in the molecular mechanism behind memory formation.

Co-author Shernaz Bamji, an associate professor in UBC’s Life Sciences Institute, said that this discovery gives us a much better understanding of the tools our brains use to learn and remember, and provides insight into how these processes become disrupted in neurological diseases.

ABSI better predictor of mortality than BMI

A new study has found that A Body Shape Index (ABSI), is a more effective predictor of mortality than Body Mass Index (BMI), the most common measure used to define obesity.

In 2012, Dr Nir Krakauer, an assistant professor of civil engineering in CCNY’s Grove School of Engineering, and his father, Dr Jesse Krakauer, MD, developed a new method to quantify the risk specifically associated with abdominal obesity. Now, a follow-up study supports their contention.

The team analysed data for 7,011 adults, 18 plus, who participated in the first Health and Lifestyle Survey (HALS1), conducted in Great Britain in the mid 1980s, and a follow-up survey seven years later (HALS2). The sample was broadly representative of the British population in terms of region, employment status, national origin, and age. They used National Health Service records through 2009 to identify deaths and cancer cases: 2,203 deaths were recorded among the sample population.

The analysis found ABSI to be a strong indicator of mortality hazard among the HALS population. Death rates increased by a factor of 1.13 for each standard deviation increase in ABSI. Persons with ABSI in the top 20 per cent were found to have death rates 61 per cent than those with ABSI in the bottom 20 per cent.

Acupuncture holds promise for treating sepsis

New research has shown relation between acupuncture use and physical processes that could alleviate sepsis.

The researchers already knew that stimulation of one of the body’s major nerves, the vagus nerve, triggers processes in the body that reduce inflammation, so they set out to see whether a form of acupuncture that sends a small electric current through that and other nerves could reduce inflammation and organ injury in septic mice.

Luis Ulloa, an immunologist at Rutgers New Jersey Medical School, said that increasing the current magnifies the effect of needle placement, and notes that electrification is already FDA-approved for treating pain in human patients.

When the electroacupuncture was applied to mice with sepsis, molecules called cytokines that help limit inflammation were stimulated as predicted, and half of those mice survived for at least a week. There was zero survival among mice that did not receive acupuncture. Ulloa and his team found that when they removed adrenal glands the electroacpuncture stopped working.

That discovery presented a big roadblock to use of acupuncture for sepsis in humans, because most human cases of sepsis include sharply reduced adrenal function. In theory, electroacupuncture might still help a minority of patients whose adrenal glands work well, but not many others. On the one hand, the research shows physical evidence of acupuncture’s value beyond any that has been demonstrated before. His results show potential benefits, for treating other inflammatory diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis and Crohn’s disease as well.

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