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Science News from 2011

NDAR Federation Creates Largest Source of Autism Research Data to Date

Press Release

NDAR thumbnail

A data partnership between the National Database for Autism Research (NDAR), and the Autism Genetic Resource Exchange (AGRE) positions NDAR as possibly the largest repository to date of genetic, phenotypic, clinical, and medical imaging data related to research on autism spectrum disorders (ASD).

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Suspect Gene Variants Boost PTSD Risk after Mass Shooting

Science Update

SERT and PTSD symptoms

College students exposed to a mass shooting were 20-30 percent more likely to later develop post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) symptoms if they harbored a risk version of a gene, NIMH-funded researchers have discovered.

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HIV Variants in Spinal Fluid May Hold Clues in Development of HIV-related Dementia

Science Update

illustration of brain and spinal cord

NIMH-funded researchers found two variants of HIV in the cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) of infected study participants that were genetically distinct from the viral variants found in the participants’ blood. The study, published October 6, 2011, in the journal PLoS Pathogens, suggests these CSF variants may help to inform research on the development and treatment of cognitive problems related to HIV infection.

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Training Peers Improves Social Outcomes for Some Kids with ASD

Press Release

young children play outside

Children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) who attend regular education classes may be more likely to improve their social skills if their typically developing peers are taught how to interact with them than if only the children with ASD are taught such skills. According to a study funded by the National Institutes of Health, a shift away from more commonly used interventions that focus on training children with ASD directly may provide greater social benefits for children with ASD.

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Neurons Grown from Skin Cells May Hold Clues to Autism

Press Release

catecholamine producing neurons

Potential clues to how autism miswires the brain are emerging from a study of a rare, purely genetic form of the disorders that affects fewer than 20 people worldwide. Using cutting-edge “disease-in a-dish” technology, researchers funded by the National Institutes of Health have grown patients’ skin cells into neurons to discover what goes wrong in the brain in Timothy Syndrome. Affected children often show symptoms of autism spectrum disorders along with a constellation of physical problems.

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Interventions Show Promise in Treating Depression Among Preschoolers

Press Release

young boy looks at adult

A new psychosocial approach shows promise in helping preschoolers with symptoms of depression function better and learn to regulate their emotions, according to an NIMH-funded study published online ahead of print October 31, 2011, in the Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry.

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Widely Used Screening Tool Shown to Successfully Predict Suicide Attempts

Science Update

man and woman in therapy session

A widely used suicide screening tool can help determine who is most at risk for suicide by pinpointing the threshold at which a person’s suicidal thinking is severe enough to warrant professional intervention, according to a recent study published online ahead of print November 8, 2011, in the American Journal of Psychiatry.

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NIH-funded Study Shows Pre-birth Brain Growth Problems Linked to Autism

Press Release

electron micrograph of human neurons

Children with autism have more brain cells and heavier brains compared to typically developing children, according to researchers partly funded by the National Institutes of Health.

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Our Brains Are Made of the Same Stuff, Despite DNA Differences

Press Release

genetic expression change chart

Despite vast differences in the genetic code across individuals and ethnicities, the human brain shows a “consistent molecular architecture.” The finding is from a pair of studies that have created databases revealing when and where genes turn on and off in multiple brain regions through development.

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Perinatal Antidepressant Stunts Brain Development in Rats

Press Release

abnormal axon

Rats exposed to an antidepressant just before and after birth showed substantial brain abnormalities and behaviors, in a study funded by the National Institutes of Health.

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National Survey Dispels Notion that Social Phobia is the Same as Shyness

Science Update

teen waiting to get on the bus

Normal human shyness is not being confused with the psychiatric anxiety disorder known as social phobia, according to an NIMH survey comparing the prevalence rates of the two among U.S. youth.

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Brain Chemical Linked to Joylessness Provides Insight Into Teen Depression

Science Update

teen girl looking at a lake

Depressed teens with anhedonia, or the inability to experience pleasure, have lower levels of the neurotransmitter GABA in a key mood-regulating region of the brain, according to an NIMH-funded study published online October 3, in the Archives of General Psychiatry.

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Prescribed stimulant use for ADHD continues to rise steadily

Press Release

young boy writing in booklet

The prescribed use of stimulant medications to treat attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) rose slowly but steadily from 1996 to 2008, according to a study conducted by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ).

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Adding Psychotherapy to Medication Treatment Improves Outcomes in Pediatric OCD

Science Update

Woman and girl talking about doc thumbnail

Youth with obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) who are already taking antidepressant medication benefit by adding a type of psychotherapy called cognitive behavior therapy (CBT), according to an NIMH-funded study published September 21, 2011, in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

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Survey Assesses Trends in Psychiatric Hospitalization Rates

Science Update

view of hospital room

Short-term inpatient psychiatric stays increased for youth but declined for older adults between 1996 and 2007, according to an analysis published online ahead of print August 1, 2011, in the Archives of General Psychiatry.

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Continued Use of Stimulants for ADHD Likely Does Not Increase Risk for Hypertension, but May Affect Heart Rate

Science Update

High School Students Talking Outside

Chronic use of stimulant medication to treat attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) in children does not appear to increase risk for high blood pressure over the long term, but it may have modest effects on heart rate, according to follow-up data from the NIMH-funded Multimodal Treatment Study of Children with ADHD (MTA).

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White House Names NIMH a “Champion of Change” for its Suicide Prevention Efforts

Science Update

White House logo.

The National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) was named by the White House as a “Champion of Change” on August 25, 2011, for its efforts in supporting research on suicide prevention.

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Autism Risk in Younger Siblings May be Higher Than Previously Thought

Science Update

young girls painting

Parents of a child with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) face about a 19 percent chance that subsequent children will also develop ASD, according to a study partially funded by NIMH.

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Biology, Not Just Society, May Increase Risk of Binge Eating During Puberty

Science Update

Lab rat sniffing cake frosting

Biological changes associated with puberty may influence the development of binge eating and related eating disorders, according to a recent study on female rats conducted by NIMH-funded researchers.

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New Neurons in Adult Brain Buffer Stress

Science Update

Photo of a mouse.

New neurons growing in the adult brain help buffer the effects of stress, according to a new study in mice.

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HIV-Infected Astrocytes Disrupt Blood-Brain Barrier, Contribute to Cognitive Impairment

Science Update

Microscope photo of astrocytes, a type of support cell in the brain.

Astrocytes, a type of support cell in the brain, that are infected with HIV show abnormal connections and functioning that disrupt the blood-brain barrier, according to an NIMH-funded study.

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NIMH RAISE Project Makes Progress as Teams Refine Research Approaches

Science Update

Researchers continue to make progress in the NIMH Recovery After an Initial Schizophrenia Episode (RAISE) Project, which seeks to intervene at the earliest stages of illness in order to prevent long term disability. Recent refinements to the two RAISE studies will ensure that RAISE continues efficiently, and generates results that will be relevant to consumers and health care policy makers.

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For Minor Depression, Study Shows No Benefit Over Placebo from St. John’s Wort, Citalopram

Science Update

yellow flower

An extract of the herb St. Johns Wort and a standard antidepressant medication both failed to outdo a placebo in relieving symptoms of minor depression in a clinical trial comparing the three. The results of this study, consistent with earlier research, do not in support the use of medications for mild depression.

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Switching Antipsychotics May Reduce Metabolic Risks

Science Update

Photo of assorted pills.

Patients experiencing cardiovascular or metabolic side effects while taking an antipsychotic medication may fare better if they switch to a different medication provided they are closely monitored, according to an NIMH-funded study.

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Thinking Globally to Improve Mental Health

Press Release

global images of Earth from the Galileo spacecraft

Mental health experts are calling for a greater world focus on improving access to care and treatment for mental, neurological, and substance use (MNS) disorders, as well as increasing discoveries in research that will enable this goal to be met.

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Balance Tips toward Environment as Heritability Ebbs in Autism?

Press Release

Two toddler boys crawling on a colorful play mat

The largest and most rigorous twin study of its kind to date has found that shared environment influences susceptibility to autism more than previously thought.

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Support Program Can Help Caregivers Cope with Relative’s Mental Illness

Science Update

family hugging

A free, nationally available program can significantly improve a family’s ability to cope with an ill relative’s mental disorder, according to an NIMH-funded study published June 2011 in Psychiatric Services, a journal of the American Psychiatric Association.

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Drug Boosts Growth Factor to Jump-start Rapid Antidepressant Response

Press Release

ketamine mechanism of action

A study in mice has pinpointed a pivotal new player in triggering the rapid antidepressant response produced by ketamine. By deactivating a little-known enzyme, the drug takes the brakes off rapid synthesis of a key growth factor thought to lift depression, say researchers supported by the National Institutes of Health.

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Stress-Defeating Effects of Exercise Traced to Emotional Brain Circuit

Science Update

white and brown mice on a wheel

Evidence in both humans and animals points to emotional benefits from exercise, both physical and mental. Now, in recent experiments with mice, scientists have traced the stress-buffering effect of activity to a brain circuit known to be involved in emotional regulation as well as mood disorders and medication effects. The finding is a clue to understanding the neurological roots of resilience, key to developing new means of prevention and treatment for stress-related illness.

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Autism Blurs Distinctions Between Brain Regions

Press Release

brain with autism

Autism blurs the molecular differences that normally distinguish different brain regions, a new study suggests. Among more than 500 genes that are normally expressed at significantly different levels in the front versus the lower middle part of the brain’s outer mantle, or cortex, only 8 showed such differences in brains of people with autism, say researchers funded in part by the National Institutes of Health.

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Many School-aged Children with ASD in South Korea Go Undiagnosed

Science Update

boy playing with a puzzle

The prevalence of autism spectrum disorder (ASD) among children in South Korea appears to be much higher than the range of estimates reported for other countries, according to a study partly funded by NIMH. Furthermore, two-thirds of ASD cases were found in children attending mainstream schools, had not been previously diagnosed, and had never received treatment for the disorder. The study was published on May 9, 2011, in the American Journal of Psychiatry.

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Combination Antidepressant Therapy May Not Improve Odds of Remission Among Chronically Depressed

Science Update

hands of an adult male and female comforting each other

A combination of two antidepressants may not be any more effective in treating chronic major depression than a single antidepressant, according to an NIMH-funded study published online ahead of print May 2, 2011, in the American Journal of Psychiatry.

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Teen Brain Less Discerning of Threat vs. Safety, More Vulnerable to Stress

Science Update

sample images from the threat learning task

Teen brains rely on early-maturing brain structures that process fear differently than adult brains, according to an NIMH-funded study. As a result, teens may have more difficulty than adults in differentiating between danger and safety, leading to more pervasive stress and anxiety. The study was published online ahead of print on February 23, 2011, in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

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5-minute Screen Identifies Subtle Signs Of Autism in 1-year Olds

Press Release

mother holds baby boy

A five-minute checklist that parents can fill out in pediatrician waiting rooms may someday help in the early diagnosis of autism spectrum disorder (ASD), according to a study funded by the National Institutes of Health. Published today in the Journal of Pediatrics, the study’s design also provides a model for developing a network of pediatricians to adopt such a change to their practice.

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Tired Neurons Caught Nodding Off in Sleep-deprived Rats

Press Release

rats with objects of interest

A new study in rats is shedding light on how sleep-deprived lifestyles might impair functioning without people realizing it. The more rats are sleep-deprived, the more some of their neurons take catnaps – with consequent declines in task performance. Even though the animals are awake and active, brainwave measures reveal that scattered groups of neurons in the thinking part of their brain, or cortex, are briefly falling asleep, scientists funded by the National Institutes of Health have discovered.

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Study Reveals New Clues to How Depression May Develop

Science Update

lateral habenula neuron

Activating neurons in a brain structure linked to disappointment increased depression-like behaviors in rats, while suppressing the neurons’ activity reduced the behaviors, according to an NIMH-funded study. The findings help to explain previous research linking this brain structure to depression in humans and highlight a cellular process that hadn’t been previously explored in mood disorders research. The study was published in the February 24, 2011, issue of Nature.

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Light Switches Brain Pathway On-and-Off to Dissect How Anxiety Works

Science Update

neurons

Scientists, for the first time, have switched anxiety on-and-off in active animals by shining light at a brain pathway. Instinctively reclusive mice suddenly began exploring normally forbidding open spaces when a blue laser activated the pathway – and retreated into a protected area when it dimmed. By contrast, anxiety-like behaviors increased when an amber laser inhibited the same pathway.

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Focusing on School Attendance Reduces HIV Risk Among Orphaned Teens

Science Update

male teens studying

A comprehensive school support program effectively reduced risk factors associated with infection with HIV among teens who had lost one or both parents, according to early results from a pilot study funded by NIMH. The paper was published online ahead of print on February 17, 2011, in the Journal of Adolescent Health.

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Mice with Autism-related Mutations Replicate Autism-like Behaviors

Science Update

mouse synapses

Mice bred to harbor mutations similar to those discovered in people with autism show autism-like repetitive behaviors and social impairments. The behaviors, triggered by deletions in a gene called SHANK3, implicated in some cases of autism, were traced to weak neural connections for functions disturbed in autism.

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Depressed Teens with History of Abuse Less Likely to Respond to Combination Treatment

Science Update

boy with a book

Adolescents with treatment-resistant depression who have a history of abuse—especially physical abuse—are less likely to respond to combination treatment than to medication alone, according to data from the NIMH-funded Treatment of Resistant Depression in Adolescents (TORDIA) study. The new study was published in the March 2011 issue of the Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry

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Nurturing Newborn Neurons Sharpens Minds in Mice

Press Release

Newborn neurons in mouse hippocampus

Adult mice engineered to have more newborn neurons in their brain memory hub excelled at accurately discriminating between similar experiences – an ability that declines with normal aging and in some anxiety disorders. Boosting such neurogenesis in the adult hippocampus also produced antidepressant-like effects when combined with exercise, in the study funded by the National Institutes of Health.

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Recovery Act-funded Jobs Program Helps High School Grads Who Have ASD

Press Release

student working at a computer

JobTIPS, a free, Web-based program unveiled today, aims to help youth with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) or other disabilities develop and maintain skills needed for successful employment. Supported through the Recovery Act with a grant for just under $1 million over two years from the National Institutes of Health, this resource targets a critical transition period as teenagers leave the school system, which is usually their primary source of ASD-related services throughout childhood.

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Army STARRS Preliminary Data Reveal Some Potential Predictive Factors for Suicide

Science Update

Early examination of data from the U.S. Army’s Total Army Injury and Health Outcomes Database (TAIHOD) has revealed potential predictors of risk for suicide among soldiers. Preliminary results were provided by researchers leading the ongoing Army Study to Assess Risk and Resilience in Servicemembers (Army STARRS). Army STARRS, a partnership between NIMH and the U.S. Army, is the largest study of mental health risk and resilience ever conducted among military personnel.

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Most Teens with Eating Disorders Go Without Treatment

Science Update

Teen girl resting head on desk.

About 3 percent of U.S. adolescents are affected by an eating disorder, but most do not receive treatment for their specific eating condition, according to an NIMH-funded study published online ahead of print March 7, 2011, in the Archives of General Psychiatry.

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International Impact of Bipolar Disorder Highlights Need for Recognition and Better Treatment Availability

Science Update

Person sitting next to railroad tracks.

The severity and impact of bipolar disorder and bipolar-like symptoms are similar across international boundaries, according to a study partially funded by NIMH.

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Enzyme Enhances, Erases Long-term Memories in Rats

Press Release

Neuron over-expressing PKMzeta

Even long after it is formed, a memory in rats can be enhanced or erased by increasing or decreasing the activity of a brain enzyme, say researchers supported, in part, by the National Institutes of Health.

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Rare Gene Glitch May Hold Clues for Schizophrenia – NIH-funded Study

Press Release

Pic alt tag: inheritance of VIPR2 mutation

Scientists are eyeing a rare genetic glitch for clues to improved treatments for some people with schizophrenia – even though they found the mutation in only one third of 1 percent of patients.

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Brain Activity Patterns in Anxiety-Prone People Suggest Deficits in Handling Fear

Science Update

stressed man in crowd, lost

Anxiety as a personality trait appears to be linked to the functioning of two key brain regions involved in fear and its suppression, according to an NIMH-funded study. Differences in how these two regions function and interact may help explain the wide range of symptoms seen in people who have anxiety disorders. The study was published February 10, 2011 in the journal, Neuron.

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Same Behavior, Different Brain in Adolescent and Adult Rats

Science Update

low neuron

A study that measured the activity of single cells in the brains of rats found striking differences between adolescents and adults even when both behaved identically on a task motivated by a reward. The finding offers clues to the neurological underpinnings of adolescent behavior and this age group’s vulnerability to mental illness.

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Little-known Growth Factor Enhances Memory, Prevents Forgetting in Rats

Press Release

Profile of head showing gears superimposed on brain outline.

A naturally occurring growth factor significantly boosted retention and prevented forgetting of a fear memory when injected into rats' memory circuitry during time-limited windows when memories become fragile and changeable. In the study funded by the National Institutes of Health, animals treated with insulin-like growth factor (IGF-II) excelled at remembering to avoid a location where they had previously experienced a mild shock.

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NIMH Teams Up to Study ASD Rates in Somali-American Children

Science Update

mother playing with baby

NIMH will be supporting a joint effort with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and Autism Speaks, a private advocacy organization, to investigate reports of elevated prevalence of autism spectrum disorders (ASD) among children born to Somali immigrants living in Minneapolis, Minn.

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Majority of Youth with Mental Disorders May Not Be Receiving Sufficient Services

Science Update

Teens talking in group session.

A substantial proportion of youth with severe mental disorders do not receive mental health care, according to data from an NIMH-funded survey published in the January 2011 issue of the Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry.

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