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Science News from 2012

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Guide Offers a Blueprint for End-of-Life Conversation With Youth

Science Update

Voicing My CHOICES publication cover excerpt

A new guide can help young people with serious illness express how they would like to be cared for and supported.

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Stress-Resilience/Susceptibility Traced to Neurons in Reward Circuit

Press Release

Optogenetic stimulation of reward circuit

Researchers, for the first time, have instantly switched depression-like states on-and-off in mice by tweaking the firing pattern of neurons in the brain’s reward circuit.

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Experimental Agent Briefly Eases Depression Rapidly in Test

Press Release

brain matrix

Ketamine-like agent lifts depression briefly in treatment-resistant patients, with few side effects.

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Psychotropic Medications Are Prescribed Appropriately Among U.S. Teens, National Study Finds

Science Update

young girl talking to therapist

A national study suggests that psychotropic medications are, in general, being prescribed appropriately among U.S. teens.

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Switching Off a Specific Brain Region Can Alter Ingrained Habits in Rats

Science Update

rat in a maze

Old habits may die hard, but we might be able to turn them off by targeting a specific brain region. Such a discovery could help us find better ways of controlling addiction or certain mental disorders like obsessive compulsive disorder.

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In-sync Brain Waves Hold Memory of Objects Just Seen

Press Release

blue teddy bear

The brain holds in mind what has just been seen by synchronizing brain waves in a working memory circuit, an animal study suggests. The more in-sync such electrical signals of neurons were in two key hubs of the circuit, the more those cells held the short-term memory of a just-seen object. The new findings may upturn prevailing theories about how working memory works.

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NIH Common Fund Announces Awards for Single Cell Analysis

Press Release

illustration of lighted neurons

NIH plans to invest more than $90 million over five years to accelerate the development and application of single cell analysis across a variety of fields. The goal is to understand what makes individual cells unique and to pave the way for medical treatments.

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Gene Variants Implicated in Extreme Weight Gain Associated with Antipsychotics

Science Update

doctor writing prescription

A small study suggests that people with certain genetic variants may be more susceptible to extreme weight gain if they take certain antipsychotic medications.

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Many Teens Considering Suicide Do Not Receive Specialized Mental Health Care

Science Update

teen girl sitting alone outside

Many teens who are thinking about or who have attempted suicide often do not see a mental health professional.

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Former NIMH Grantee Wins Nobel Prize for Chemistry

Science Update

Brian K. Kobilka, MD, of Stanford University

Former NIMH grantee Brian K. Kobilka, MD, of Stanford University has won this year’s Nobel Prize in Chemistry. He shares the award with Robert J. Lefkowitz of Duke University for explaining the communication system that the human body uses to send messages to cells.

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Genetic Switch Involved in Depression

Science Update

regular neuron, depressed neuron

Researchers have discovered a gene regulator that is over-expressed in brains of both depressed patients and rats that show depression-like behaviors. Boosting expression of the regulator, Gata1, decreased expression of genes that code for the connections between neurons in rats’ thinking and feeling circuitry, as well as the number of such synapses.

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NIH Awards $100 Million for Autism Centers of Excellence Program

Science Update

puzzle piece

NIMH, along with NICHD, NINDS, NIDCD, and NIEHS, have awarded nine new grants aimed at advancing research on the causes of autism spectrum disorder and finding new treatments.

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President Obama Signs Executive Order to Improve Access to Mental Health Services for Veterans, Service Members, and Military Families

Science Update

White House logo.

President Obama signed an Executive Order directing key federal departments to expand suicide prevention strategies and take steps to meet the current and future demand for mental health and substance abuse treatment services for veterans, service members, and their families.

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Daily or Severe Tantrums May Point to Mental Health Issues

Science Update

young boy holds hands to head, angry, frustrated

Most young children lose their temper sometimes, but daily tantrums or tantrums with severe behaviors, such as aggressive or destructive tantrums, are unusual and could signal a larger problem, according to an NIMH-funded study.

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Couple’s Therapy Appears to Decrease PTSD Symptoms, Improve Relationship

Science Update

adult couple sitting on a bench

Among couples in which one partner was diagnosed as having posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), participation in disorder-specific couple therapy resulted in decreased PTSD symptom severity and increased patient relationship satisfaction, compared with couples who were placed on a wait list for the therapy, according to a study in the August 15 issue of JAMA, a theme issue on violence and human rights.

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Brain Hubs Boil When Hoarders Face Pitching Their Own Stuff

Press Release

anterior cingulate cortex in hoarders

In patients with hoarding disorder, parts of a decision-making brain circuit under-activated when dealing with others’ possessions, but over-activated when deciding whether to keep or discard their own things.

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Targeted Behavioral Therapy Can Effectively Control Tics in Adults with Tourette Syndrome

Science Update

man talking to woman

New research finds that a modified cognitive behavioral therapy can successfully control the tics in adults who have Tourette Syndrome.

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Brain Signal ID’s Responders to Fast-Acting Antidepressant

Press Release

MEG scan

Biomarkers identified in research on a fast-acting antidepressant can signal who will respond to the medication and are providing clues to how it works to lift depression.

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NIH Researchers Use Brain Imaging to Understand Genetic Link between Parkinson’s and a Rare Disease

Science Update

PET scans of Gaucher disease and Parkinson's disease

A rare metabolic disorder is helping researchers at the National Human Genome Research Institute (NHGRI) and the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) uncover new clues about the biology underlying Parkinson’s disease.

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Many Youths with Autism Not Employed or In College 2 Years After High School

Science Update

application form

Data from a nationally representative survey show that teens with autism appear to face additional challenges after graduating high school than peers with similar disabilities. NIMH-funded researchers highlight the need to improve transition planning and for further studies on the effectiveness of services for adults with autism.

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Social Brain Circuits Disrupted in Autism

Science Update

brain regions

Brain areas involved in social behavior are active but out of sync with each other in young people with autism, according to recent findings from functional brain imaging.

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Survey Finds More Evidence That Mental Disorders Often Begin in Youth

Science Update

students talking outside

National survey data confirms the widely held belief that mental disorders often begin in youth.

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Rate of Bipolar Symptoms Among Teens Approaches That of Adults

Science Update

teen girl talking to therapist

National survey data finds that the rate of bipolar symptoms in teens is similar to that found in adults, indicating that bipolar disorder often begins in adolescence.

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Most Children with ASD Diagnosed After Age 5, Use Multiple Services and Medications

Science Update

Teacher in classroom with students

New data detail the experiences of young children with autism spectrum disorder, describing when they are first identified as having ASD, who is making those identifications, and the services and medications the children use to meet their developmental needs.

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Awake Mental Replay of Past Experiences Critical for Learning

Press Release

Awake Mental Replay

Awake mental replay of past experiences is essential for making informed choices, suggests a study in rats. Without it, the animals’ memory-based decision-making faltered, say scientists funded by the National Institutes of Health.

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Agent Reduces Autism-like Behaviors in Mice

Press Release

cuddling mice

Autism-like behaviors in mice have been reduced, using an experimental agent being tested in patients for a related disorder.

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Spontaneous Gene Glitches Linked to Autism Risk with Older Dads

Press Release

Autism genetics

A trio of new studies have found that sequence changes in parts of genes that code for proteins play a significant role in autism spectrum disorders (ASDs).

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Pattern Recognition Technology May Help Predict Future Mental Illness in Teens

Science Update

MRI machine

Computer programs that automatically spot patterns in data may help predict a person’s risk for future mental disorders.

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Brain Wiring a No-Brainer?

Press Release

DSI scan of human brain

Researcher Van Wedeen MD and colleagues report new evidence of the brain’s elegant simplicity March 30, 2012 in the journal Science. New high resolution scans reveal an astonishingly simple 3D grid structure.

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Friendly-to-a-Fault, Yet Tense: Personality Traits Traced in Brain

Press Release

Williams syndrome MRI

NIH scientists have used three different types of brain imaging to pinpoint a circuit hub buried deep in the front center of the brain in people with Williams syndrome, a rare genetic disorder characterized by overly gregarious yet anxious behavior.

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Possible Causes of Sudden Onset OCD in Kids Broadened

Press Release

PANS PANDAS sudden onset OCD in children

The syndrome, Pediatric Acute-onset Neuropsychiatric Syndrome (PANS), includes children and teens that suddenly develop on-again/off-again OCD symptoms or abnormal eating behaviors, along with other psychiatric symptoms – without any known cause. An immune-based treatment study is underway at NIH.

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Computer-Based Treatment Eases Anxiety Symptoms in Children

Science Update

girl_uses_laptop.jpg

Results from a small clinical trial suggest that it might be possible, using computer-based training, to help children with anxiety shift their attention away from threat.

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Linked Brain Centers Mature in Sync

Science Update

MRI image of brain

Brain imaging is providing a new picture of how functionally connected parts of the brain develop in sync.

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NIH-funded Study Defines Treatment Window for HIV-positive Children Infected at Birth

Press Release

mother holds baby boy

HIV-positive children older than 1 year who were treated after showing moderate HIV-related symptoms did not experience greater cognitive or behavior problems compared to peers treated when signs of their infection were still mild, according to a study funded by the National Institutes of Health.

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Gene Regulator in Brain’s Executive Hub Tracked Across Lifespan – NIH study

Press Release

PFC methylation

For the first time, scientists have tracked the activity, across the lifespan, of an environmentally responsive regulatory mechanism that turns genes on and off in the brain’s executive hub. Among key findings of the study by National Institutes of Health scientists: genes implicated in schizophrenia and autism turn out to be members of a select club of genes in which regulatory activity peaks during an environmentally-sensitive critical period in development.

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Ethnic Disparities Persist in Depression Diagnosis and Treatment Among Older Americans

Science Update

older African American male looking out to sea

Older racial and ethnic minorities living in the community are less likely to be diagnosed with depression than their white counterparts, but are also less likely to get treated, according to a recent NIMH-funded analysis published online ahead of print December 15, 2011, in the American Journal of Public Health.

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Atypical Antipsychotic More Effective than Older Drugs in Treating Childhood Mania, but Side Effects Can Be Serious

Science Update

young children feeling frustrated

The antipsychotic medication risperidone is more effective for initial treatment of mania in children diagnosed with bipolar disorder compared to other mood stabilizing medications, but it carries the potential for serious metabolic side effects, according to an NIMH-funded study published online ahead of print January 2, 2012, in the Archives of General Psychiatry.

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Turning on Dormant Gene May Hold Key for Correcting a Neurodevelopmental Defect

Science Update

Angelman syndrome

Scientists working in cell culture and in mice have been able to correct the loss of gene activity underlying a rare but severe developmental disorder by turning on a gene that is normally silenced in brain cells.

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