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Science News from 2010

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Case-managed Care Improves Outcomes for Depressed Patients with Multiple Medical Conditions

Science Update

man and woman sitting at a table talking

People with diabetes or heart disease plus depression fare better if their medical care is coordinated by a care manager who also educates patients about their condition and provides motivational support, compared to those who receive care from their primary care physician only, according to an NIMH-funded study published December 30, 2010, in the New England Journal of Medicine.

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Attention woes in kids with Tourette syndrome likely caused by co-occurring ADHD

Science Update

child writing at desk, view of hands only

Co-occurring attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) may be at the root of attention problems in children with Tourette syndrome (TS), according to NIMH-funded researchers. Their findings also support the theory that children with TS develop different patterns of brain activity in order to function at the same level as children without TS. The study was published in the November 2010 issue of the Journal of the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry.

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Transgenic Mouse Offers a Window on Gene/Environment Interplay: Prenatal Infection Alters Behavior in Genetically Vulnerable

Science Update

scientist holding lab mouse.

Experiments in transgenic mice have provided a novel glimpse of how a prenatal infection could interact with a specific gene variant to cause behavioral and neurologic changes in adults that mirror those seen in major psychiatric disease.

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Toddlers with Autism Show Improved Social Skills Following Targeted Intervention, Finds NIH-Supported Study

Press Release

boy painting his shirt

Targeting the core social deficits of autism spectrum disorders (ASD) in early intervention programs yielded sustained improvements in social and communication skills even in very young children who have ASD, according to a study funded by the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), part of the National Institutes of Health. The study was published online July 28, 2010, in the Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry.

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Teens Who Recover from Hard-to-treat Depression Still at Risk for Relapse

Science Update

teen couple embracing

Teens with hard-to-treat depression who reach remission after 24 weeks of treatment are still at a significant risk for relapse, according to long-term, follow-up data from an NIMH-funded study published online ahead of print November 16, 2010, in the Journal of Clinical Psychiatry. The long-term data reiterate the need for aggressive treatment decisions for teens with stubborn depression.

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Most Children with Rapidly Shifting Moods Don’t Have Bipolar Disorder

Science Update

child running in an open field

Relatively few children with rapidly shifting moods and high energy have bipolar disorder, though such symptoms are commonly associated with the disorder. Instead, most of these children have other types of mental disorders, according to an NIMH-funded study published online ahead of print in the Journal of Clinical Psychiatry on October 5, 2010.

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NIMH’s Dr. Mortimer Mishkin to be Awarded National Medal of Science

Press Release

Mishkin National Medal of Science

National Institutes of Health intramural researcher Mortimer Mishkin, Ph.D., will be awarded the National Medal of Science at a White House ceremony later this month. Mishkin is chief of the National Institute of Mental Health’s (NIMH) Section on Cognitive Neuroscience, and acting chief of its Laboratory of Neuropsychology. He is the first NIMH intramural scientist to receive the medal, which the President presents each year for outstanding contributions to science. Mishkin is among 10 recipients this year.

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NIH launches Genotype-Tissue Expression Project

Press Release

each type of tissue in the body expresses a different mix of genes

The National Institutes of Health today announced awards to support an initiative to understand how genetic variation may control gene activity and its relationship to disease. Launched as a pilot phase, the Genotype-Tissue Expression (GTEx) project will create a resource researchers can use to study inherited susceptibility to illness and will establish a tissue bank for future biological studies.

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National Survey Confirms that Youth are Disproportionately Affected by Mental Disorders

Science Update

teenagers making dinner

About 20 percent of U.S. youth during their lifetime are affected by some type of mental disorder to an extent that they have difficulty functioning, according to a new NIMH survey published in the October 2010 issue of the Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry. The data support the observation from surveys of adults that mental disorders most commonly start in early life.

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Preference for Moving Shapes vs. People Linked to Autism in Babies

Science Update

face of a little girl

A 1-minute video showing computer screensavers next to videos of dancing children may prove to be a simple, inexpensive screening tool for autism spectrum disorders (ASD) in toddlers. According to an NIMH-funded study, infants as young as 14 months old who had autism spent more time looking at the moving shapes than social images, in contrast to typically developing children and those who had delays but not autism. The study was published online, September 6, 2010, in the Archives of General Psychiatry.

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$40 Million Awarded to Trace Human Brain’s Connections

Press Release

diffusion spectrum imaging of human brain

The National Institutes of Health today awarded grants totaling $40 million to map the human brain’s connections in high resolution. Better understanding of such connectivity promises improved diagnosis and treatment of brain disorders.

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Rapid Antidepressant Works by Boosting Brain’s Connections

Science Update

neuronal spines on ketamine-treated rat neurons

An experimental drug that lifts depression in hours likely works by rapidly stimulating connections between brain cells, a study in rats has revealed. The drug, called ketamine, quickly generated such synapses in a brain circuit implicated in human depression by triggering a key enzyme.

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Symptoms of Bipolar Disorder May Go Undiagnosed in Some Adults with Major Depression

Science Update

Woman contemplating

Nearly 40 percent of people with major depression may also have subthreshold hypomania, a form of mania that does not fully meet current diagnostic criteria for bipolar disorder, according to a new NIMH-funded study. The study was published online ahead of print August 15, 2010, in the American Journal of Psychiatry.

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Stress Hormone Receptors Less Adaptive in Female Brain

Science Update

molecular dance

A study in rats has revealed striking gender difference in the brain’s stress response that could shed light on women’s proneness to mood and anxiety disorders. Female rat brain cells were more sensitive to a key stress hormone than males’, which could adapt to the hormone in a way female cells couldn’t.

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Experimental Medication Lifts Depression Symptoms in Bipolar Disorder Within an Hour

Science Update

lighted brain with blue glow

People with treatment-resistant bipolar disorder experienced relief from symptoms of depression in as little as 40 minutes after an intravenous dose of the anesthetic medication ketamine in a preliminary study; while the patient group was small, this work adds to evidence that compounds in the class to which ketamine belongs have potential as rapid and effective medications for depression, including bipolar depression.

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Study Shows Possibilities for Predicting How Patients Will Respond to Antidepressants

Science Update

MRI brain image

In a study of an experimental treatment for major depression, pretreatment testing to probe the function of a specific brain center predicted how patients would respond to ketamine, a medication that can lift depression rapidly in some people.

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Effects on Personality May Be Mechanism of Antidepressant Effectiveness

Science Update

Silhouetted woman

Results of a study of antidepressant treatment for major depression suggest that changes in personality traits seen in patients taking the drug paroxetine (Paxil) may not be the result of the medication’s lifting of mood but may instead be a direct effect of this class of drugs and part of the mechanism by which they relieve depression.

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Mental Decline Thwarted in Aging Rats

Press Release

P7C3 compound chemical structure

Scientists have discovered a compound that restores the capacity to form new memories in aging rats, likely by improving the survival of newborn neurons in the brain's memory hub. The research, funded in part by the National Institutes of Health, has turned up clues to a neuroprotective mechanism that could lead to a treatment for Alzheimer's disease.

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Air Force Suicide Prevention Program Reduces Suicide Rate

Science Update

Air Force personnel in foreground, aircraft in background

A U.S. Air Force suicide prevention program is associated with reduced suicide rates among Air Force personnel during times in which the program was rigorously implemented and monitored, according to an NIMH-funded study published online ahead of print May 13, 2010, in the American Journal of Public Health.

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Imaging Reveals Abnormal Brain Growth in Toddlers with Fragile X

Science Update

several chromosomes

Differences in brain growth patterns between preschool-aged boys with Fragile X syndrome (FXS), the most common cause of inherited intellectual disability, and their healthy peers suggest that the disorder may affect brain development both before and after birth, according to NIMH-funded researchers. In addition, their findings indicate ages 1–5 are an important window for better understanding the effects of FXS on brain development. The study was published May 18, 2010, in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

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Drug Substitutes for Training in Rats, Inducing a Memory of Safety

Press Release

mouse

Researchers have found a way to pharmacologically induce a memory of safety in the brain of rats, mimicking the effect of training. The finding suggests possibilities for new treatments for individuals suffering from anxiety disorders.

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Early Treatment Decisions Crucial for Teens with Treatment-resistant Depression

Science Update

two young men sitting on bleachers talking

An early response to second-course treatment is associated with greater likelihood of remission among teens with hard-to-treat depression, according to recent data from an NIMH-funded study published online ahead of print May 17, 2010, in the American Journal of Psychiatry.

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Coordinated Treatment Approach Improves Anxiety Symptoms

Science Update

woman and man conversing

A coordinated, multi-component treatment approach was more effective in treating anxiety disorders than usual care found in primary care settings, according to an NIMH-funded study published May 19, 2010, in a special issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association devoted to mental health.

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Behavioral Intervention Effectively Controls Tics in Many Children with Tourette Syndrome

Science Update

microphone

A comprehensive behavioral therapy is more effective than basic supportive therapy and education in helping children with Tourette syndrome manage their tics, according to a study funded by the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH). The study was published May 19, 2010, in a special issue of the Journal of the American Medication Association dedicated to mental health.

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Resilience Factor Low in Depression, Protects Mice From Stress

Press Release

brain reward circuit

Scientists have discovered a mechanism that helps to explain resilience to stress, vulnerability to depression and how antidepressants work. The new findings, in the reward circuit of mouse and human brains, have spurred a high tech dragnet for compounds that boost the action of a key gene regulator there, called deltaFosB. Triggering deltaFosB, which is depleted in post-mortem brains of depressed patients, protected mice from developing a depression-like syndrome following chronic social stress.

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Effectiveness of Long-term Use of Antipsychotic Medication to Treat Childhood Schizophrenia is Limited

Science Update

child playing hopscotch

Few youths with early-onset schizophrenia who are treated with antipsychotic medications for up to a year appear to benefit from their initial treatment choice over the long term, according to results from an NIMH-funded study. The study was published online ahead of print May 4, 2010, in the Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry.

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Rapid Antidepressant Action of Common Medication Confirmed by Repeat Trial

Science Update

microphone

Confirming results from earlier research, a clinical trial of treatment for major depression showed that the medication scopolamine, commonly used for motion sickness and as a sedative, could lift symptoms of depression within days, far faster than current antidepressants. Though the study was small, the magnitude of scopolamine’s effects in comparison with placebo suggests that this class of medications has potential for rapid treatment of depression.

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Magnetic Stimulation Scores Modest Success as Antidepressant

Press Release

rTMS apparatus

Some depressed patients who don’t respond to or tolerate antidepressant medications may benefit from a non-invasive treatment that stimulates the brain with a pulsing electromagnet, a study suggests. This first industry-independent, multi-site, randomized, tightly controlled trial of repetitive transcranial magnetic stimulation (rTMS) found that it produced significant antidepressant effects in a subgroup of patients, with few side effects.

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Novel Model of Depression from Social Defeat Shows Restorative Power of Exercise

Science Update

laboratory mice

In a study in a mouse model that mimics the contribution of social stress to human depression, an environment that promotes exercise and exploration alleviated depressive behavior in the mice. The beneficial effect of activity depended on the growth of new neurons in the adult brain.

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Imaging Studies Help Pinpoint Child Bipolar Circuitry

Science Update

Amygdala activation

A series of imaging studies are revealing that the brain works differently in youth with bipolar disorder (BD) than in chronically irritable children who are often diagnosed with pediatric BD.

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Family History of Depression Alters Brain’s Response to Reward and Risk

Science Update

woman comforting girl

Girls at high risk for depression but without current or past clinically significant symptoms showed abnormal brain function related to anticipating and receiving either a reward or loss, according to a study funded by the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH).

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Impaired Brain Connections Traced to Schizophrenia Mutation

Press Release

mouse at decision point in T-maze

The strongest known recurrent genetic cause of schizophrenia impairs communications between the brain’s decision-making and memory hubs, resulting in working memory deficits, according to a study in mice.

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ECG Screening for Heart Conditions in ADHD Children is Borderline Cost Effective

Science Update

child throwing paper airplane at teacher’s back

Obtaining an electrocardiogram (ECG) to screen for heart conditions in children prior to prescribing stimulant medication to treat attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) may save some lives but it is borderline cost-effective, according to an NIH study published online ahead of print March 8, 2010, in Circulation: Journal of the American Heart Association.

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Gene’s Impact on Forgetting a Fear-Based Memory Same in Humans and Mice

Science Update

laboratory mice

Both humans and mice carrying a variant of a gene that plays a role in memory were slow to learn to forget a fear-based memory. The parallels in gene effects observed in mice and humans in this work means that investigation using the mouse model can provide insights into effects in humans; results may inform treatment approaches to anxiety disorders such as post-traumatic stress disorder.

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Diabetes and Depression Associated with Higher Risk for Major Complications

Science Update

woman’s face in silhouette

People with type 2 diabetes and coexisting major depression are more likely to experience life-threatening diabetes-related complications, according to a recent NIMH-funded study published in the February 2010 issue of Diabetes Care.

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Children Carry Emotional Burden of AIDS Epidemic in China

Science Update

Researcher interviewing with teen study participant

Having a parent with HIV/AIDS or losing one or both parents to the illness leads to poorer mental health among children in China, according to a recent study funded in part by NIMH. Published in the November–December 2009 issue of the Journal of Pediatric Psychology, the study also emphasizes the need to develop culturally and developmentally appropriate measures and interventions for diverse populations.

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Bundling HIV Prevention with Prenatal Care Reduces Risky Sex Behaviors Among At-risk Mothers

Science Update

Pregnant woman sitting on grass

An HIV-prevention program targeted at women receiving prenatal care may effectively reduce risks for HIV, sexually transmitted infections (STIs), and unplanned future pregnancies, according to NIMH-funded researchers. Bundling such interventions into existing health care models, like prenatal care, also may be more accessible to those who may not have the time, interest, or resources to attend a stand-alone HIV prevention program. Changing the way prenatal care is provided also may create sustainable advantages in reproductive health for all at-risk women. The study was published in the November 2009 issue of the American Journal of Public Health.

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Teaching Teens About Abstinence May Delay Sexual Activity, Reduce Risk Behaviors

Science Update

teens talking next to school bus

Teens who received a behavioral intervention centered on abstinence were more likely to delay first sexual contact than teens who received a control intervention focusing on general health promotion, according to an NIMH-funded study. Though differing from federally funded abstinence-only programs, the researchers describe how an abstinence-based intervention may help delay sexual activity among adolescents in the February 2010 issue of the Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine.

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Genes and Circuitry, Not Just Clinical Observation, to Guide Classification for Research

Science Update

3D MRI model of brain

NIMH is launching a long-term project aimed at ultimately improving treatment and prevention by studying classification of mental illness, based on genetics and neuroscience in addition to clinical observation. The Research Domain Criteria (RDoC) project is not intended to replace psychiatry’s existing diagnostic system for practitioners and will proceed in an independent direction, said Bruce Cuthbert, Ph.D., Director of the NIMH Division of Adult Translational Research, who is directing the effort. By taking a fresh look – without preconceived categories – the project aims to improve the validity of classification for researchers.

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Same Genes Suspected in Both Depression and Bipolar Illness

Science Update

protein made by PBRM1 gene

Researchers, for the first time, have pinpointed a genetic hotspot that confers risk for both bipolar disorder and depression. People with either of these mood disorders were significantly more likely to have risk versions of genes at this site than healthy controls. One of the genes, which codes for part of a cell’s machinery that tells genes when to turn on and off, was also found to be over-expressed in the executive hub of bipolar patients’ brains, making it a prime suspect. The results add to mounting evidence that major mental disorders overlap at the molecular level.

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From Neurons to Thought: Coherent Electrical Patterns Observed Across the Brain

Science Update

Neurons

Amidst the background hum of electrical signaling generated by neurons in the brain, scientists have found that local groups of neurons, firing in coordination, sometimes create a signal that is mirrored instantaneously and precisely by other groups of neurons across the brain.  These transient episodes of coherence across different parts of the brain may be an electrical signature of thought and actions.

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New Grant Aims to Identify and Reduce Suicide Among Emergency Department Patients

Science Update

hospital room scene with patient and doctors

A new NIMH-funded grant aims to increase suicide detection and prevention efforts among patients who present with suicide risk factors in hospital emergency departments.

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Just Over Half of Americans Diagnosed with Major Depression Receive Care

Science Update

man and woman on ground

Overall, only about half of Americans diagnosed with major depression in a given year receive treatment for it, and even fewer—about one fifth—receive treatment consistent with current practice guidelines, according to data from nationally representative surveys supported by NIMH. Among the ethnic/racial groups surveyed, African Americans and Mexican Americans had the lowest rates of use of depression care; all groups reported higher use of past-year psychotherapy vs. medication for depression.

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