1. Support in childhood makes midlife the prime time of life

    June 28, 2017 by Ashley

    From the University of Jyväskylä press release:

    There is a tendency to highlight the importance of cognitive achievements and the family’s socioeconomic background for people’s success in the future, but this study shows that children’s self-regulation, which comprises children’s social skills and processing of emotions, directs the future development in a profound way in different domains of life. Strong self-regulation promotes success in education and work, the intimate relationship, health behaviour, integration into society and the development of flexible personality, explains Professor Lea Pulkkinen.

    The results of Jyväskylä Longitudinal Study of Personality and Social Development, which has taken place for more than 40 years, have been summarised in the book Human development from middle childhood to middle adulthood: Growing up to be middle-aged (London:Routledge) to be launched on 15 June 2017. The study started in 1968 when the participants were 8 years old and the latest data collection was implemented in 2009 when they were 50. The book is written by the founder and long-time leader of the study, Professor Lea Pulkkinen in collaboration with Research Director Katja Kokko from the Gerontology Research Center of the University of Jyväskylä. Kokko has been the leader of the study since 2013.

    The extensive research summarised in the book demonstrates that constructive ways of coping with problem situations, the consideration of other people’s feelings and a positive way of thinking as a child predict good functioning capacity in adulthood. The development of self-regulation is enhanced by child-oriented mature parenting.

    Child-oriented parents are able to analyse their behaviour from the perspective of the child and create an environment in which children are able to sense warmth and approval from their parents as well as notice continuing dedication and interest towards their lives. Child-oriented parents also pay attention to the child’s opinions and react to the child’s needs in order to provide satisfaction and give support, Pulkkinen explains.

    The study provides a plenty of new information on adulthood development which has been studied sparsely. Important matters in life are not limited to childhood. The transition to adulthood and the different roles of adults in the family and work create new situations in which humans can develop and mature to take responsibility for themselves and others. Harmful effects on adult development are, above all, caused by the excessive use of alcohol which usually is connected to starting alcohol use at an early age.

    The study shows that people in midlife are usually healthy, capable to work and willing to take responsibility. They are active in different domains of life and their physical and mental well-being is good.

    The research was conducted at the Department of Psychology at the University of Jyväskylä and has been supported financially for decades by the Academy of Finland.


  2. More amyloid in the brain, more cognitive decline

    by Ashley

    From the University of Texas at Dallas press release:

    A new study from the Center for Vital Longevity at The University of Texas at Dallas has found that the amount of amyloid plaques in a person’s brain predicts the rate at which his or her cognition will decline in the next four years.

    The study, published in JAMA Neurology, used positron emission tomography (PET) scans to detect amyloid in 184 healthy middle-age and older adults participating in the Dallas Lifespan Brain Study. Amyloid plaques, a sticky buildup that gradually gathers outside of neurons and is a hallmark of Alzheimer’s disease, are believed to start accumulating in the brain 10 to 20 years before the onset of dementia.

    “We think it is critical to examine middle-age adults to detect the earliest possible signs of Alzheimer’s disease, because it is becoming increasingly clear that early intervention is the key to successful prevention of Alzheimer’s disease,” said Michelle Farrell, a PhD student at the center and the lead author of the study.

    The study presents some of the first data on amyloid and its cognitive consequences in adults ages 40 to 59. For these middle-age adults, the study found that higher amyloid amounts were associated with declines in vocabulary, an area of cognition that is generally preserved as people age.

    The results suggest that a new approach might be needed to provide physicians and patients with information about the future for someone with amyloid deposits. Amyloid PET scan results are typically presented as either positive or negative, but the new findings suggest that the amount of amyloid in the brain provides useful prognostic information about how rapidly cognition may decline in the future.

    “Our understanding of the earliest and silent phase of possible Alzheimer’s disease is increasing rapidly. Providing physicians and patients with more information about the magnitude of amyloid deposits will provide valuable information that will permit better planning for the future,” said Dr. Denise Park, director of research at the Center for Vital Longevity, Distinguished University Chair in Behavioral and Brain Sciences and senior author of the study.

    Park heads up the Dallas Lifespan Brain Study, which is a multi-year research project aimed at understanding what a healthy brain looks like and how it functions at every decade of life from age 20 through 90. Each of the nearly 500 volunteers in the study undergo tests every four years.

    While most studies of amyloid and its relationship to Alzheimer’s disease have focused on older adults over age 60, the Dallas Lifespan Brain Study also studies middle-age adults to find the earliest possible signs of Alzheimer’s disease.

    In the JAMA Neurology research, the three middle-age adults who had the highest amyloid amounts and greatest vocabulary decline were also found to have a double dose of the ApoE-4 gene implicated in Alzheimer’s. This means they received a copy of the gene from each of their parents. Only about 4 percent of the population carries this genetic combination, and the finding hints at the possibility that subtle symptoms of cognitive decline related to amyloid may be detectable as early as middle age in this vulnerable population.


  3. Elevated brain amyloid level associated with increased likelihood of cognitive decline

    June 27, 2017 by Ashley

    From the JAMA Network Journals press release:

    Among a group of cognitively normal individuals, those who had elevated levels in the brain of the protein amyloid were more likely to experience cognitive decline in the following years, according to a study published by JAMA.

    Michael C. Donohue, Ph.D., of the University of Southern California’s Alzheimer’s Therapeutic Research Institute, San Diego, and colleagues conducted a study to characterize and quantify the risk for Alzheimer-related cognitive decline among cognitively normal individuals with elevated brain amyloid, as measured by cerebrospinal fluid or positron emission tomography. Analyses were conducted with cognitive and biomarker (amyloid) data from 445 cognitively normal individuals who were observed for a median of 3.1 years (maximum follow-up, 10.3 years) as part of the Alzheimer’s Disease Neuroimaging Initiative (ADNI).

    Among the participants (243 with normal amyloid, 202 with elevated amyloid), the average age was 74 years. The researchers found that compared with the group with normal amyloid, those with elevated amyloid had worse average scores at four years on measures of cognitive function.

    “Even though the interpretation was influenced by the small percentage of participants observed for 10 years, this suggests that preclinical Alzheimer disease [AD], defined as clinically normal individuals with elevated brain amyloid, may represent the pre-symptomatic stage of AD.

    Additional follow-up of the ADNI cohort will be important to confirm these observations. Although this work did not establish a causal role of elevated amyloid in subsequent decline, these results supported other findings (e.g., genetic data) pointing to the critical role of amyloid in the neurobiology of AD,” the authors write.

    Limitations of the study include that the use of anti-dementia medications during follow-up was infrequent but greater in the group with elevated amyloid, which may have slowed the progression of cognitive decline in some patients and mildly reduced the between-group difference in rate of decline.


  4. Study suggests people tend to become more generous as they age

    June 25, 2017 by Ashley

    From the National University of Singapore press release:

    People tend to become more generous as they age. This certainly holds true when it comes to helping strangers, according to a recent study by researchers from the National University of Singapore (NUS). Findings from the study showed that while the older adults treat their kin and friends the same as younger adults do, the elderly donate more to strangers than younger adults, even when their generosity is unlikely to be reciprocated.

    “Greater generosity was observed among senior citizens possibly because as people become older, their values shift away from purely personal interests to more enduring sources of meaning found in their communities,” explained Assistant Professor Yu Rongjun, who led the study. Asst Prof Yu is from the Department of Psychology at the NUS Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences, as well as the Singapore Institute for Neurotechnology at NUS.

    The research results were first reported online in Journals of Gerontology: Psychological Sciences on 5 April 2017.

    Generosity towards strangers is a function of age

    Studies have shown that as people age, they are inclined to volunteer more frequently, are more attentive to ecological concerns, and are less interested in becoming rich. However, there is a lack of understanding of the core motive behind such altruistic behaviour. The team led by Asst Prof Yu sought to address this knowledge gap by looking at how social relationships with others influence how much older adults donate in comparison with younger adults.

    The study, which was conducted from March 2016 to January 2017, involved 78 adults in Singapore. 39 of them were older adults with an average age of 70, while the other 39 were younger adults who were about 23 years old.

    The NUS research team employed a framework known as social discounting to quantify generosity towards people. The framework works on the principle that people treat those they are closer with better than those whom they are more distantly acquainted, and much better than total strangers. The participants had to rate how close they were to people in their social environment, and the amount of money they would give to each respective person. Using a computational model, the NUS research team calculated the amount of money that the participants are willing to give to another person as a function of social distance.

    The results revealed that both younger and older adults are equally generous to people who are close to them, such as family members or close friends. However, senior citizens are more generous to those who are more socially distant, such as total strangers, and the seniors’ level of generosity does not decrease with distance as quickly as that of the younger adults. In addition, older adults are more likely to forgo their resources to strangers even when their generosity is unlikely to be reciprocated.

    Dr Narun Pornpattananangkul, the first author of the research paper, said, “In psychology, the motivation to contribute to the greater good is known as an “ego-transcending” motivation. In our earlier work, we found that there is an enhancement of this motivation after people received oxytocin, a hormone related to maternal love and trust. In this study, we found a similar pattern of an ego-transcending motivation among the older adults, as if the older adults received oxytocin to boost their generosity. We speculate that age-related changes at the neurobiological level may account for this change in generosity.” Dr Pornpattananangkul is a research fellow from the Department of Psychology at the NUS Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences.

    Asst Prof Yu added, “Our findings shed light on the age-related changes among the elderly, and provide an understanding of why they are more inclined to lend a helping hand to strangers. Providing older adults with more opportunities to help others is not only beneficial to our society, but it might also be a boon to the well-being of older adults themselves. Future studies with direct well-being measures should further examine this hypothesis.”

    Future studies to examine neural mechanisms involved in decision making

    To further their understanding on how decision making shifts among the elderly, Asst Prof Yu and his team at NUS are embarking on studies to examine the neural mechanisms underlying the changes in decision making by using brain-imaging technologies. Research findings from these studies have the potential to be translated into effective intervention programmes to promote healthy ageing, and may help tackle age-related conditions such as Parkinson’s disease and Alzheimer’s disease, which are often characterised by deficits in decision making.


  5. Study identifies potential biomarker for Alzheimer’s disease

    June 23, 2017 by Ashley

    From the Boston University Medical Center press release:

    In one of the largest studies to date to use metabolomics, the study of compounds that are created through various chemical reactions in the body, researchers have been able to identify new circulating compounds associated with the risk of developing dementia and Alzheimer’s disease (AD).

    The findings, which appear in the journal Alzheimer and Dementia, point to new biological pathways that may be implicated in AD and could serve as biomarkers for risk of the disease.

    AD is the most common form of dementia responsible for a slow and progressive deterioration of memory and leads to frailty and dependence in elderly people. Despite ongoing research effort and improved knowledge about the disease, there is currently no effective preventive or curative treatment for AD, which could result in a public health crisis given the continuous aging of populations worldwide.

    Using data from the Framingham Heart Study (FHS), researchers from Boston University School of Medicine (BUSM), observed an association specifically between levels of anthranillic acid measured in the plasma and a higher risk of developing dementia and AD after 10 years of follow-up.

    Although the researchers are cautious about their results, they identify several findings they find promising. “First anthranilic acid is produced during the degradation of tryptophan, an essential amino acid. Interestingly, other compounds produced through the same reactions have been reported as protective or deleterious for neurons and could constitute valuable drug targets. Second, this potential marker could also be used to identify groups of persons at higher risk of developing dementia, which could improve the efficiency of clinical trials and in the future, detect persons that would benefit the most from a preventive treatment,” explained co-corresponding author Sudha Seshadri, MD, professor of neurology at BUSM and FHS senior investigator.

    From a methodological point of view, this study is one of the first to use a prospective cohort such as the FHS to search for compounds associated with the risk of developing AD and dementia. “As the field of AD epidemiology is only beginning to integrate the metabolomics approach, it is likely that fruitful collaborations and innovative ways to analyze these data will follow,” said co-corresponding author Vincent Chouraki, MD, PhD, former research fellow from BUSM and now assistant professor in epidemiology at Lille University School of Medicine in France.


  6. Brain development and aging

    by Ashley

    From the University of Miami press release:

    The brain is a complex organ — a network of nerve cells, or neurons, producing thought, memory, action, and feeling. How does this complex system change from childhood to adulthood to late life in order to maintain optimal behavioral responses?

    These questions were put to the test by a group of University of Miami psychologists who studied hundreds of fMRI brain scans, from two separate datasets, to see how the variability of brain signals changes or remains the same during a human lifespan.

    The UM team analyzed hundreds of brain scans of participants, ranging in age from 6 to 86, who were all in a “resting state,” which means they were not engaged in any particular task while in the fMRI scanner. The publicly available data, which is freely available to neuroimaging researchers, was acquired from the Nathan-Kline institute.

    “Resting state is a misnomer because intrinsically your brain is always doing something. There is always something happening in the brain,” said postdoctoral fellow Jason Nomi. “The scans we are looking at represent the baseline variability of ongoing activity in the brain at any given time. No one has really characterized this baseline across the lifespan.”

    Lucina Uddin, an associate professor of psychology in the UM College of Arts and Sciences, explains that studying the brain when it’s in a resting state allows researchers to “basically look at the organization of the brain as it is without any extra stressors or stimuli. What we are looking at is the intrinsic organization of the brain and how it changes across the lifespan.”

    By analyzing the resting-state fMRI data, the researchers were able to see how regions of the brain change from moment to moment and how those changes show a pattern across age and participants. Their results demonstrated that, instead of an overall decrease in variability with aging, as earlier studies showed, the brain displayed regional differences, with some areas of the brain showing increases in variability across age while other areas showed a decrease.

    “As certain areas of the brain become more variable, it seems to compensate in some ways for the other parts of the brain that are decreasing,” said Aaron Heller, an assistant professor in the Psychology Department and senior author of the paper.

    These patterns of variability that we notice in the brain signals are what we think relates to the ability to respond to new challenges in the environment,” added Nomi.

    Heller says that the next step is to test whether these patterns of variability have an impact on behavior in ways that are important to understanding lifespan, aging, emotional regulation, and developmental disorders such as autism.


  7. Study suggests eating in front of a mirror makes food more appealing

    June 20, 2017 by Ashley

    From the Nagoya University press release:

    Researchers at Nagoya University reveal that eating in front of a mirror — or even with a picture of yourself eating — makes food more appealing.

    People rate food as tasting better, and eat more of it, when they eat with company than when they eat alone. This so-called “social facilitation of eating” is a well-established phenomenon; however, exactly what it is about company that produces the effect is not clear.

    Now, researchers at Nagoya University have discovered that the same effect can be achieved in individuals eating alone simply by providing a mirror to reflect them while they eat. The study was published in Physiology & Behavior.

    “We wanted to find out what the minimum requirement is for the social facilitation of eating,” lead author Ryuzaburo Nakata says. “Does another person have to actually be physically present, or is information suggesting the presence of others sufficient?” The researchers found that people eating alone reported food as tasting better, and ate more of it, when they could see themselves reflected in a mirror, compared with when they ate in front of a monitor displaying an image of a wall.

    The research team initially worked with a group of older adult volunteers. Approaches to enhance enjoyment of food in people eating without company are particularly relevant for elderly people, because research has shown that many frequently eat alone. However, when the team repeated the experiment with young adult volunteers, they observed the same “social” facilitation of eating when a mirror was present, suggesting that the effect is not limited to older people.

    In a further experiment, when the researchers replaced the mirror with photos of the volunteers eating, they discovered that the volunteers still experienced an increase in the appeal of food and ate more. Thus, perhaps surprisingly, a static image of a person eating seems sufficient to produce the “social” facilitation of eating.

    “Studies have shown that for older adults, enjoying food is associated with quality of life, and frequently eating alone is associated with depression and loss of appetite,” corresponding author Nobuyuki Kawai says. “Our findings therefore suggest a possible approach to improving the appeal of food, and quality of life, for older people who do not have company when they eat — for example, those who have suffered loss or are far away from their loved ones.”


  8. Study suggests cognitive tests can detect early Alzheimer’s disease in older adults without symptoms

    June 15, 2017 by Ashley

    From the Keck Medicine of USC press release:

    Long before symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease become apparent to patients and their families, biological changes are occurring within the brain. Amyloid plaques, which are clusters of protein fragments, along with tangles of protein known as tau, form in the brain and grow in number, eventually getting in the way of the brain’s ability to function. These biological changes can be detected early in the course of Alzheimer’s disease through positron emission tomography (PET) scan or cerebrospinal fluid analysis. Now, a new study led by Keck Medicine of USC neuropsychologist Duke Han, PhD, associate professor of family medicine (clinical scholar) at the Keck School of Medicine of the University of Southern California suggests that cognitive tests are also able to detect early Alzheimer’s in people without symptoms.

    “In the last decade or so, there has been a lot of work on biomarkers for early Alzheimer’s disease,” Han says. “There are new imaging methods that can identify neuropathological brain changes that happen early on in the course of the disease. The problem is that they are not widely available, can be invasive and are incredibly expensive. I wanted to see whether the cognitive tests I regularly use as a neuropsychologist relate to these biomarkers.”

    Putting neuropsychological measures to the test

    Han and his colleagues conducted a meta-analysis of 61 studies to explore whether neuropsychological tests can identify early Alzheimer’s disease in adults over 50 with normal cognition. The study, which was published in Neuropsychology Review, found that people who had amyloid plaques performed worse on neuropsychological tests of global cognitive function, memory, language, visuospatial ability, processing speed and attention/working memory/executive function than people who did not have amyloid plaques.

    The study also found that people with tau pathology or neurodegeneration performed worse on memory tests than people with amyloid plaques. Amyloid plaques and tau pathology were confirmed by PET scan or cerebrospinal fluid analysis.

    “The presumption has been that there would be no perceivable difference in how people with preclinical Alzheimer’s disease perform on cognitive tests. This study contradicts that presumption,” Han says.

    Routine cognitive screenings: A new normal?

    Han believes that the study results provide a solid argument for incorporating cognitive testing into routine, annual checkups for older people.

    “Having a baseline measure of cognition before noticing any kind of cognitive change or decline could be incredibly helpful because it’s hard to diagnose early Alzheimer’s disease if you don’t have a frame of reference to compare to,” Han said. “If people would consider getting a baseline evaluation by a qualified neuropsychologist at age 50 or 60, then it could be used as a way to track whether someone is experiencing a true decline in cognition in the future.”

    Early detection could be a powerful tool to manage Alzheimer’s, Han says, giving people precious time to try different medications or interventions that may slow the progression of the disease early on.

    “While there’s no cure for Alzheimer’s disease, the earlier you know that you’re at risk for developing it, the more you can potentially do to help stave off that diagnosis in the future,” Han says. “For example, exercise, cognitive activity and social activity have been shown to improve brain health.”

    An estimated 5 million people in the United States have Alzheimer’s, and that number could reach 16 million by 2050, according to the Alzheimer’s Association.


  9. Study of brain proteins could lead to new therapies for dementia

    June 14, 2017 by Ashley

    From the University of Plymouth press release:

    A research team from the University of Plymouth, University of Southampton and the Alexander Fleming Biomedical Sciences Research Center, Vari, Greece, have studied two structurally-similar proteins in the adult brain and have found that they play distinct roles in the development of dementia.

    Their study is published in the journal Neurobiology of Disease.

    The understanding and knowledge gained from this study could lead to effective therapies for dementia and other neurodegenerative diseases.

    Tau proteins stabilise microtubules in the brain and nervous system. Microtubules help form the structure of cells and other functions, such as providing the rail tracks for transport between cells.

    In the brain of dementia patients, the abnormal clumping of Tau proteins have long been linked to changes in nerve cell activation and ultimately cell death. Two structurally different forms of Tau exist. The research team expressed these two forms of human Tau in nerve cells of the Drosophila (fruit fly) brain, examining their effects on nerve cell survival and activation, fly movement and memory formation.

    The results show that these two proteins differ in terms of biology and pathological potential. One leads to poor communication between nerves associated with movement. The other leads to greater neurodegeneration and impairments in learning and memory.

    This is important because defects in the proteins have a bearing on neurodegenerative diseases such as dementia. Designing drugs which target each form specifically should help to improve specific symptoms.

    Involved in the study from the University of Plymouth is Dr Torsten Bossing. He commented: “With each new discovery like this we move one step closer to finding effective drug treatments for debilitating neurodegenerative diseases. This is an important study carried out using nerve cells from fruit flies and it has the potential over the coming years to be developed through more testing and clinical trials. We firmly believe that the answer to the question of how we treat conditions such as dementia lies at this cellular level.”


  10. Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, and Huntington’s diseases share common crucial feature

    June 13, 2017 by Ashley

    From the Loyola University Health System press release:

    A Loyola University Chicago study has found that abnormal proteins found in Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, and Huntington’s disease all share a similar ability to cause damage when they invade brain cells.

    The finding potentially could explain the mechanism by which Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, Huntington’s, and other neurodegenerative diseases spread within the brain and disrupt normal brain functions.

    The finding also suggests that an effective treatment for one neurodegenerative disease might work for other neurodegenerative diseases as well.

    The study by senior author Edward Campbell, PhD, first author William Flavin, PhD, and colleagues is published in the journal Acta Neuropathologica.

    “A possible therapy would involve boosting a brain cell’s ability to degrade a clump of proteins and damaged vesicles,” Campbell said. “If we could do this in one disease, it’s a good bet the therapy would be effective in the other two diseases.”

    Neurodegenerative diseases are caused by the death of neurons and other cells in the brain, with different diseases affecting different regions of the brain. Alzheimer’s destroys memory, while Parkinson’s and Huntington’s affect movement. All three diseases are progressive, debilitating and incurable.

    Previous research has suggested that in all three diseases, proteins that are folded abnormally form clumps inside brain cells. These clumps spread from cell to cell, eventually leading to cell deaths. Different proteins are implicated in each disease: tau in Alzheimer’s, alpha-synuclein in Parkinson’s and huntingtin in Huntington’s disease.

    The Loyola study focused on how these misfolded protein clumps invade a healthy brain cell. The authors observed that once proteins get inside the cell, they enter vesicles (small compartments that are encased in membranes). The proteins damage or rupture the vesicle membranes, allowing the proteins to then invade the cytoplasm and cause additional dysfunction. (The cytoplasm is the part of the cell that’s outside the nucleus).

    The Loyola study also showed how a cell responds when protein clumps invade vesicles: The cell gathers the ruptured vesicles and protein clumps together so the vesicles and proteins can be destroyed. However, the proteins are resistant to degradation. “The cell’s attempt to degrade the proteins is somewhat like a stomach trying to digest a clump of nails,” Campbell said.

    Flavin said the finding that protein clumps associated with the three diseases cause the same type of vesicle damage was unexpected. Loyola researchers initially focused on alpha-synuclein proteins associated with Parkinson’s disease. So they asked collaborator Ronald Melki, PhD, to send them samples of different types of alpha-synuclein. (To do the experiment in a blinded, unbiased manner, the Loyola researchers did not know which types of alpha-synuclein were which.) Melki, a protein researcher at the Paris-Saclay Institute of Neuroscience, is known for his ability to generate distinct types of alpha-synuclein. Without telling the Loyola researchers, Melki sent other types of proteins as well. This led to the surprise finding that tau and huntingtin proteins also can damage vesicles.

    Campbell stressed the study’s findings need to be followed up and confirmed in future studies.

    The Loyola study is titled, “Endocytic vesicle rupture is a conserved mechanism of cellular invasion by amyloid proteins.” It was supported by grants from the Michael J. Fox Foundation, Parkinson’s Disease Foundation, Illinois chapter of the ARCS Foundation, Arthur J. Schmitt Foundation and other sources.

    Campbell is an associate professor in the Department of Microbiology and Immunology at Loyola University Chicago Stritch School of Medicine. Flavin is a Loyola University Chicago MD/PhD student. Other co-authors are Zachary Green, Stratos Skarpathiotis, and Michael Chaney of Loyola University Chicago; Luc Bousset and Ronald Melki of the Paris-Saclay Institute of Neuroscience; and Yaping Chu and Jeffrey Kordower of Rush University Medical Center.