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Neuroscience News Flash

Fri, 14th Dec 2012

Hannah Critchlow

Part of the show The Genetics of Brain and Behaviour

Are you Gleefully Gargantuan?

If so, it may be in your genes. The stereotype of rotund, jolly people full of mirth may have biological rational!

Researchers at McMaster University analysed 17,200 DNA samples from people in 21 countries. They found a gene called FTO that is associated with a significant eight per cent reduction in the risk of depression. This gene is also linked with obesity. 

Published in Molecular Psychiatry the gene appears to protect against major depression, independent of its effect on body mass index.

The protective effect of the obesity-associated rs9939609 A variant in fat mass- and obesity-associated gene on depression

Turning addiction treatment on its head

People with addiction are significantly less receptive to processing negative messages than controls with lower brain activity whilst assessing risk. One particular region of the brain showing altered patterns to messages is the anterior cingulate cortex. That’s according to a new study published in Psychology of Addictive Behaviours by researchers from Indiana and Wayne State Universities.

So instead of trying to convert addicts by highlighting the dangers of drugs, due to their brain biology it might be better to emphasie the benefits of staying clean.

Neuroimaging study: Negative messages less effective on those who are substance dependent DOI: 10.1037/a0030633

Unraveling what it means to be human

Published in PLoS Biology, short DNA strands, previously thought to be ‘junk DNA’ may be key to understanding how human evolved their higher cognitive functions, like reasoning, flexibility in thinking and planning. It may also explain why human specific brain diseases like autism and alzheimers, appeared according to researchers from Mount Sinai School of Medicine,

Possible structures of chromatin in epigeneticsHundreds of regions throughout the human genome show different 3D helical looping structure in the DNA of nerve cells in the prefrontal cortex,, compared to non-human primates. These regions do not code for proteins, which is why they were thought to be junk DNA, but instead determine how the DNA helix packages up intro a loop structure, and this may affect how other genes are regulated and expressed, plu play a critical role for human brain development.

Human-Specific Histone Methylation Signatures at Transcription Start Sites in Prefrontal Neurons. doi:10.1371/journal.pbio.1001427

Boosting brain power with a diabetic drug already on the market

An FDA-approved drug initially used to treat insulin resistance in diabetics could be used to treat cognition in Alzheimer's disease, according to a multi-disciplinary study by researchers at University of Texas Medical Branch.

Published in Journal of Neuroscience Professor Larry Denner and colleges found the anti-insulin-resistance drug rosiglitazone also enhances learning and memory by reducing extracellular signal-regulated kinase (ERK), a protein involved in communication between nerve cells. Well, that’s according to a study in mice anyway.

Cognitive Enhancement with Rosiglitazone Links the Hippocampal PPARγ and ERK MAPK Signaling Pathways. doi:10.1523/JNEUROSCI.2153-12.2012


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