1. How dopamine governs ongoing decisions

    March 13, 2017 by Ashley

    From the Salk Institute media release:

    Say you’re reaching for the fruit cup at a buffet, but at the last second you switch gears and grab a cupcake instead. Emotionally, your decision is a complex stew of guilt and mouth-watering anticipation. But physically it’s a simple shift: instead of moving left, your hand went right. Such split-second changes interest neuroscientists because they play a major role in diseases that involve problems with selecting an action, like Parkinson’s and drug addiction.

    In the March 9, 2017 online publication of the journal Neuron, scientists at the Salk Institute report that the concentration of a brain chemical called dopamine governs decisions about actions so precisely that measuring the level right before a decision allows researchers to accurately predict the outcome. Additionally, the scientists found that changing the dopamine level is sufficient to alter upcoming choice. The work may open new avenues for treating disorders both in cases where a person cannot select a movement to initiate, like Parkinson’s disease, as well as those in which someone cannot stop repetitive actions, such as obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) or drug addiction.

    “Because we cannot do more than one thing at a time, the brain is constantly making decisions about what to do next,” says Xin Jin, an assistant professor in Salk’s Molecular Neurobiology Laboratory and the paper’s senior author. “In most cases our brain controls these decisions at a higher level than talking directly to particular muscles, and that is what my lab mostly wants to understand better.”

    When we decide to perform a voluntary action, like tying our shoelaces, the outer part of our brain (the cortex) sends a signal to a deeper structure called the striatum, which receives dopamine to orchestrate the sequence of events: bending down, grabbing the laces, tying the knots. Neurodegenerative diseases like Parkinson’s damage the dopamine-releasing neurons, impairing a person’s ability to execute a series of commands. For example, if you ask Parkinson’s patients to draw a V shape, they might draw the line going down just fine or the line going up just fine. But they have major difficulty making the switch from one direction to the other, and spend much longer at the transition. Before researchers can develop targeted therapies for such diseases, they need to understand exactly what the function of dopamine is at a fundamental neurological level in normal brains.

    Jin’s team designed a study in which mice chose between pressing one of two levers to get a sugary treat. The levers were on the right and left side of a custom-built chamber, with the treat dispenser in the middle. The levers retracted from the chamber at the start of each trial and reappeared after either two seconds or eight seconds. The mice quickly learned that when the levers reappeared after the shorter time, pressing the left lever yielded a treat. When they reappeared after the longer time, pressing the right lever resulted in a treat. Thus, the two sides represented a simplified two-choice situation for the mice — they moved to the left side of the chamber initially, but if the levers didn’t reappear within a certain amount of time, the mice shifted to the right side based on an internal decision.

    “This particular design allows us to ask a unique question about what happens in the brain during this mental and physical switch from one choice to another,” says Hao Li, a Salk research associate and the paper’s co-first author.

    As the mice performed the trials, the researchers used a technique called fast-scan cyclic voltammetry to measure dopamine concentration in the animals’ brains via embedded electrodes much finer than a human hair. The technique allows for very fine-time-scale measurement (in this study, sampling occurred 10 times per second) and therefore can indicate rapid changes in brain chemistry. The voltammetry results showed that fluctuations in brain dopamine level were tightly associated with the animal’s decision. The scientists were actually able to accurately predict the animal’s upcoming choice of lever based on dopamine concentration alone.

    Interestingly, other mice that got a treat by pressing either lever (so removing the element of choice) experienced a dopamine increase as trials got under way, but in contrast their levels remained above baseline (didn’t fluctuate below baseline) the entire time, indicating dopamine’s evolving role when a choice is involved.

    “We are very excited by these findings because they indicate that dopamine could also be involved in ongoing decision, beyond its well-known role in learning,” adds the paper’s co-first author, Christopher Howard, a Salk research collaborator.

    To verify that dopamine level caused the choice change, rather than just being associated with it, the team used genetic engineering and molecular tools — including activating or inhibiting neurons with light in a technique called optogenetics — to manipulate the animals’ brain dopamine levels in real time. They found they were able to bidirectionally switch mice from one choice of lever to the other by increasing or decreasing dopamine levels.

    Jin says these results suggest that dynamically changing dopamine levels are associated with the ongoing selection of actions. “We think that if we could restore the appropriate dopamine dynamics — in Parkinson’s disease, OCD and drug addiction — people might have better control of their behavior. This is an important step in understanding how to accomplish that.”


  2. Benefits of long-term use of ADHD medications questioned

    by Ashley

    From the Wiley press release:

    In a study that followed more than 500 children with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) into adulthood, extended use of stimulant medication was linked with suppressed adult height but not with reduced symptoms of ADHD.

    The findings suggest that short-term treatment of ADHD with stimulant medication is well justified by benefits that outweigh costs, but long-term treatment may be associated with growth-related costs that may not be balanced by symptom-related benefits.

    “The most recently published guidelines (American Academy of Pediatrics, 2011) recommend expanding the diagnosis and treatment beyond school-aged children and using stimulant medication as first-line treatment for adolescents as well as school-aged children,” wrote the authors of The Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry study. “Since this would increase the average duration of treatment and cumulative ME dose of medication in some individuals, the findings suggest growth-related costs may increase.”


  3. Living near major traffic linked to higher risk of dementia

    January 13, 2017 by Ashley

    From the Public Health Ontario media release:

    night trafficPeople who live close to high-traffic roadways face a higher risk of developing dementia than those who live further away, new research from Public Health Ontario (PHO) and the Institute for Clinical Evaluative Sciences (ICES) has found.

    Led by PHO and ICES scientists, the study found that people who lived within 50 metres of high-traffic roads had a seven per cent higher likelihood of developing dementia compared to those who lived more than 300 meters away from busy roads.

    Published in The Lancet, the researchers examined records of more than 6.5 million Ontario residents aged 20-85 to investigate the correlation between living close to major roads and dementia, Parkinson’s disease and multiple sclerosis.

    Scientists identified 243,611 cases of dementia, 31,577 cases of Parkinson’s disease, and 9,247 cases of multiple sclerosis in Ontario between 2001 and 2012. In addition, they mapped individuals’ proximity to major roadways using the postal code of their residence. The findings indicate that living close to major roads increased the risk of developing dementia, but not Parkinson’s disease or multiple sclerosis, two other major neurological disorders.

    “Little is known in current research about how to reduce the risk of dementia. Our findings show the closer you live to roads with heavy day-to-day traffic, the greater the risk of developing dementia. With our widespread exposure to traffic and the greater tendency for people to live in cities these days, this has serious public health implications,” says Dr. Hong Chen, environmental and occupational health scientist at PHO and an adjunct scientist at ICES. Dr. Chen is lead author on the paper titled Living Near Major Roads and the Incidence of Dementia, Parkinson’s Disease, and Multiple Sclerosis: A Population-based Cohort Study.

    Our study is the first in Canada to suggest that pollutants from heavy, day-to-day traffic are linked to dementia. We know from previous research that air pollutants can get into the blood stream and lead to inflammation, which is linked with cardiovascular disease and possibly other conditions such as diabetes. This study suggests air pollutants that can get into the brain via the blood stream can lead to neurological problems,” says Dr. Ray Copes, chief of environmental and occupational health at PHO and an author on the paper.

    As urban centres become more densely populated and more congested with vehicles on major roads, Dr. Copes suggests the findings of this paper could be used to help inform municipal land use decisions as well as building design to take into account air pollution factors and the impact on residents.

    This research was conducted in collaboration with scientists from the University of Toronto, Carleton University, Dalhousie University, Oregon State University, and Health Canada. The study was funded by Health Canada.

    Key findings:

    • Using data held at ICES, the researchers examined records of more than 6.5 million Ontario residents, aged 20-85, and mapped them according to residential postal codes five years before the study started.
    • Between 2001 and 2012, 243,611 cases of dementia, 31,577 cases of Parkinson’s disease, and 9,247 cases of multiple sclerosis were identified in Ontario.
    • People who lived within 50 metres of high-traffic roads had a seven per cent higher likelihood of dementia than those who lived more 300 meters away from busy roads.
    • The increase in the risk of developing dementia went down to four per cent if people lived 50-100 metres from major traffic, and to two per cent if they lived within 101-200 metres. At over 200 metres, there was no elevated risk of dementia.
    • There was no correlation between major traffic proximity and Parkinson’s disease or multiple sclerosis.

     


  4. Moderate exercise improves memory dysfunction caused by type 2 diabetes

    December 14, 2016 by Ashley

    From the University of Tsukuba media release:

    diabetes blood sugarUniversity of Tsukuba-led researchers show that moderate exercise may improve hippocampal memory dysfunction caused by type 2 diabetes and that enhanced transport of lactate to neurons may be the underlying mechanism

    Type 2 diabetes is characterized by impaired glucose metabolism and can cause central nervous system-related complications, such as memory dysfunction. The hippocampus is an essential brain component for normal memory formation. However, the effect of impaired glycometabolism on hippocampal-mediated memory in type 2 diabetes patients is not known.

    In a new study, researchers centered at the University of Tsukaba investigated whether hippocampal glucose metabolism and memory function is altered in a rat model of type 2 diabetes. Based on the idea that exercise normalizes glycometabolism and improves memory function, the research team also investigated the effects of exercise on hippocampal glycometabolism and memory formation.

    Hippocampal function was evaluated by placing the rat in a circular pool and testing its ability to remember the location of a platform that would allow it to escape from the water. “This is a well-established method for measuring spatial learning and memory,” study first author Takeru Shima says.

    Type 2 diabetic rats needed more time to escape the water and find the platform. However, after 4 weeks of moderate exercise, they were able to find the platform much faster. “This indicated that exercise significantly improved spatial memory impairments in type 2 diabetic rats,” Shima explains.

    Glycogen levels are altered in tissues of diabetes patients, leading to a variety of complications. However, glycogen levels have not yet been investigated in the hippocampus. “We showed for the first time that glycogen levels are significantly higher in the hippocampus of diabetic rats,” corresponding author Hideaki Soya says.

    Interestingly, single bout of exercise reduced hippocampal glycogen levels and this correlated with an increase in lactate levels. Lactate is an energy substrate and neuromodulator in the hippocampus, and is known to enhance memory formation. Lactate is transferred to neurons through monocarboxylate transporters (MCTs). “MCT2 expression was significantly lower in the hippocampus of type 2 diabetic rats,” Soya says, “dysregulated MCT2-mediated neuronal uptake of lactate is a possible aetiology of memory dysfunction in type 2 diabetes, and that elevated hippocampal glycogen may be an adaptive change to compensate for the decreased lactate utilization.”

    4 weeks of moderate exercise further enhanced glycogen levels and normalized MCT2 expression in the hippocampus of type 2 diabetic rats.” These findings suggest that disrupted MCT2-mediated uptake of lactate by neurons contributes to memory dysfunction in type 2 diabetic rats.

    The findings indicate that moderate exercise could be used to treat memory impairment in patients with type 2 diabetes by promoting the transfer of glycogen-derived lactate to hippocampal neurons.


  5. How to make a motor neuron

    December 10, 2016 by Ashley

    From the New York University media release:

    lab_testingA team of scientists has uncovered details of the cellular mechanisms that control the direct programming of stem cells into motor neurons.

    The scientists analyzed changes that occur in the cells over the course of the reprogramming process. They discovered a dynamic, multi-step process in which multiple independent changes eventually converge to change the stem cells into motor neurons.

    “There is a lot of interest in generating motor neurons to study basic developmental processes as well as human diseases like ALS and spinal muscular atrophy,” said Shaun Mahony, assistant professor of biochemistry and molecular biology at Penn State and one of the lead authors of the paper. “By detailing the mechanisms underlying the direct programing of motor neurons from stem cells, our study not only informs the study of motor neuron development and its associated diseases, but also informs our understanding of the direct programming process and may help with the development of techniques to generate other cell types.”

    The direct programming technique could eventually be used to regenerate missing or damaged cells by converting other cell types into the missing one. The research findings, which appear online in the journal Cell Stem Cell on December 8, 2016, show the challenges facing current cell-replacement technology, but they also outline a potential pathway to the creation of more viable methods.

    “Despite having a great therapeutic potential, direct programming is generally inefficient and doesn’t fully take into account molecular complexity,” said Esteban Mazzoni, an assistant professor in New York University’s Department of Biology and one of the lead authors of the study. “However, our findings point to possible new avenues for enhanced gene-therapy methods.”

    The researchers had shown previously that they can transform mouse embryonic stem cells into motor neurons by expressing three transcription factors — genes that control the expression of other genes — in the stem cells. The transformation takes about two days. In order to better understand the cellular and genetic mechanisms responsible for the transformation, the researchers analyzed how the transcription factors bound to the genome, changes in gene expression, and modifications to chromatin at 6-hour intervals during the transformation. “We have a very efficient system in which we can transform stem cells into motor neurons with something like a 90 to 95 percent success rate by adding the cocktail of transcription factors,” said Mahony. “Because of that efficiency, we were able to use our system to tease out the details of what actually happens in the cell during this transformation.”

    “A cell in an embryo develops by passing through several intermediate stages,” noted Uwe Ohler, senior researcher at the Max Delbrück Center for Molecular Medicine (MDC) in Berlin and one of the lead authors of the work. “But in direct programming we don’t have that: we replace the gene transcription network of the cell with a completely new one at once, without the progression through intermediate stages. We asked, what are the timing and kinetics of chromatin changes and transcription events that directly lead to the final cell fate?

    The research team found surprising complexity — programming of these stem cells into neurons is the result of two independent transcriptional processes that eventually converge. Early on in the process, two of the transcription factors — Isl1 and Lhx3 — work in tandem, binding to the genome and beginning a cascade of events including changes to chromatin structure and gene expression in the cells. The third transcription factor, Ngn2, acts independently making additional changes to gene expression. Later in the transformation process, Isl1 and Lhx3 rely on changes in the cell initiated by Ngn2 to help complete the transformation. In order for direct programming to successfully achieve cellular conversion, it must coordinate the activity of the two processes.

    Many have found direct programming to be a potentially attractive method as it can be performed either in vitro — outside of a living organism — or in vivo — inside the body and, importantly, at the site of cellular damage,” said Mazzoni. “However, questions remain about its viability to repair cells — especially given the complex nature of the biological process. Looking ahead, we think it’s reasonable to use this newly gained knowledge to, for instance, manipulate cells in the spinal cord to replace the neurons required for voluntary movement that are destroyed by afflictions such as ALS.”


  6. Depression in young people affects the stomach, anxiety the skin

    November 28, 2016 by Ashley

    From the Universität Basel media release:

    DepressedGirlMental disorders and physical diseases frequently go hand in hand. For the first time, psychologists at the University of Basel and Ruhr University Bochum have identified temporal patterns in young people: arthritis and diseases of the digestive system are more common after depression, while anxiety disorders tend to be followed by skin diseases.

    Physical diseases and mental disorders affect a person’s quality of life and present a huge challenge for the healthcare system. If physical and mental disorders systematically co-occur from an early age, there is a risk that the sick child or adolescent will suffer from untoward developments.

    Data from 6,500 teenagers

    In a project financed by the Swiss National Science Foundation, a research group led by PD Dr. Marion Tegethoff in collaboration with Professor Gunther Meinlschmidt from the University of Basel’s Faculty of Psychology has now examined the temporal pattern and relationship between physical diseases and mental disorders in children and young people. In the journal PLOS ONE, they analyzed data from a representative sample of 6,483 teenagers from the US aged between 13 and 18.

    The researchers noted that some physical diseases tend to occur more frequently in children and adolescents if they have previously suffered from certain mental disorders. Likewise, certain mental disorders tend to occur more frequently after the onset of particular physical diseases. Affective disorders such as depression were frequently followed by arthritis and diseases of the digestive system, while the same relationship existed between anxiety disorders and skin diseases. Anxiety disorders were more common if the person had already suffered from heart disease. A close association was also established for the first time between epileptic disorders and subsequent eating disorders.

    Epilepsy and eating disorders

    The results offer important insights into the causal relationship between mental disorders and physical diseases. The newly identified temporal associations draw attention to processes that could be relevant both to the origins of physical diseases and mental disorders and to their treatment. In an earlier study, the same authors had already provided evidence for the relationship between mental disorders and physical diseases in young people.

    For the first time, we have established that epilepsy is followed by an increased risk of eating disorders — a phenomenon, that had previously been described only in single case reports. This suggests that approaches to epilepsy treatment could also have potential in the context of eating disorders,” explains Marion Tegethoff, the study’s lead author. From a health policy perspective, the findings underscore that the treatment of mental disorders and physical diseases should be closely interlinked from an early age on.

     


  7. Stuttering related to brain circuits that control speech production

    November 23, 2016 by Ashley

    From the Children’s Hospital Los Angeles Saban Research Institute media release:

    mind mazeResearchers at Children’s Hospital Los Angeles (CHLA) have conducted the first study of its kind, using proton magnetic resonance spectroscopy (MRS) to look at brain regions in both adults and children who stutter.

    Consistent with past functional MRI studies, their findings demonstrate neuro-metabolite alterations across the brain — linking stuttering to changes in brain circuits that control speech production and circuits that support attention and emotion. The study in now published online in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA).

    The research was led by Bradley S. Peterson, MD, Director of the Institute for the Developing Mind at CHLA, and Professor and Director of the Division of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry at the Keck School of Medicine of the University of Southern California.

    Developmental stuttering is a neuropsychiatric condition; its origins in the brain are only partly known. In order to measure an index of neural density related to stuttering in circuits and brain regions suspected to be affected, the scientists performed proton shift imaging of the brain in 47 children and 47 adults. The study included subjects both with and without stuttering.

    The research team found that affected brain regions included major nodes of the so-called Bohland speech-production network (associated with the regulation of motor activity); the default-mode network, (involved in the regulation of attention); and the emotional-memory network (responsible for regulating emotion.)

    “That stuttering is related to speech and language-based brain circuits seems clear,” says Peterson. “Attention-regulating portions of the brain are related to control circuits that are important in governing behavior. People with changes here are more likely to stutter and have more severe stuttering. And emotions like anxiety and stress also tend to make stuttering worse, likely because this network interacts with language and attention control circuits.”

    This initial, unique MRS study of stuttering confirmed that disturbances in neuronal or membrane metabolism contribute to the development of stuttering. Looking at a combination of children and adults in order to detect the effects of stuttering, independent of life-stage, revealed differences between children and adults within both the stuttering and control samples. This suggests different metabolic profiles in children versus adults who stutter. Few sex-specific effects of stuttering on brain metabolites were observed.


  8. Does your mind jump around, stay on task or get stuck?

    November 4, 2016 by Ashley

    From the University of California – Berkeley media release:

    choosing, contemplatingDuring downtime, some of us daydream while others might focus on a to-do list, or get stuck in a negative loop. Psychology has traditionally defined all these thought patterns as variations of “mind-wandering.”

    But a review of brain imaging studies led by researchers at UC Berkeley and the University of British Columbia offers a new way of looking at spontaneous versus controlled thinking, challenging the adage that a wandering mind is an unhappy mind.

    It suggests that increased awareness of how our thoughts move when our brains are at rest could lead to better diagnoses and targeted treatments for such mental illnesses as depression, anxiety and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).

    It’s important to know not only the difference between free-ranging mind-wandering and sticky, obsessive thoughts, but also to understand, within this framework, how these types of thinking work together,” said review co-author Zachary Irving, a postdoctoral scholar at UC Berkeley.

    Irving and fellow authors of the qualitative review, published in the November issue of Nature Reviews Neuroscience, looked at three different ways in which people think when they’re not directly engaged in tasks: spontaneous thought, ruminative thought and goal-directed thought.

    “We propose that mind-wandering isn’t an odd quirk of the mind,” said the review’s lead author Kalina Christoff, a psychology professor at the University of British Columbia. “Rather, it’s something that the mind does when it enters into a spontaneous mode. Without this spontaneous mode, we couldn’t do things like dream or think creatively.”

    Irving, who has ADHD, said there are upsides to the most stigmatized mental disorders.

    “Everyone’s mind has a natural ebb and flow of thought, but our framework reconceptualizes disorders like ADHD, depression and anxiety as extensions of that normal variation in thinking,” said Irving. “This framework suggests, in a sense, that we all have someone with anxiety and ADHD in our minds. The anxious mind helps us focus on what’s personally important; the ADHD mind allows us to think freely and creatively.”

    Irving and fellow researchers reviewed nearly 200 neuroscience studies, a large number of which used functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to scan brains during resting activities.

    They found that interactions between large-scale neural networks offered insights into how the resting mind moves. For example, their review of brain-imaging studies found that when the brain was focused on a task at hand, its prefrontal “executive” network, which governs planning and impulse control, among other functions, constrains other brain activity.

    When stuck in a negative loop, such as anxious rumination, the brain’s “salience” network, which processes emotions, took control, shutting off most other networks. Not surprisingly, spontaneous thought, such as daydreaming, dreaming during sleep and other forms of free association, were linked to far lower activity in the neural networks responsible for controlled thinking, allowing the imagination to flow freely.

    Overall, researchers hypothesize that the resting mind naturally transitions between spontaneous and constrained thought.

    “Let’s say you’re walking to the grocery store,” Irving said. “At first, your mind wanders to a plethora of ideas: your new shirt, a joke you heard today, an upcoming ski trip to Lake Tahoe. Then your thoughts become automatically constrained when you start to worry about a looming work deadline that needs to be met before the Tahoe trip. Then you realize that your worries are making you miserable, so you deliberately constrain your thoughts, forcing your mind back to grocery shopping.

    Historically, Irving said, the field of psychology has approached mental disorders separately, as though each were in a vacuum rather than being interconnected.

    “Clinicians have studied compulsive rumination in isolation, and ADHD in isolation, but now there’s a huge interest in how we can make sure that the psychology and neuroscience literature is more closely aligned to what is happening in our heads,” Irving said.


  9. Few children born to parents with serious mental illness live with both parents while growing up

    October 31, 2016 by Ashley

    From the Elsevier media release:

    pregnancy coupleSerious mental illness such as depression, bipolar disorder, and schizophrenia has been shown to affect relationships and parenting capabilities. Children of parents with serious mental illness are vulnerable, and therefore comprehensive knowledge about their life circumstances is warranted for public health strategies to provide helpful supportive services.

    A study published in the November 2016 issue of the Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry (JAACAP), found that the living arrangements of children whose parents have a serious mental illness differ from the general population.

    More specifically, the study found that more children of parents with serious mental illness than without lived with a single mother or away from both parents, and more relationships between parents dissolved when parents have a serious mental illness. Among the three disorders of depression, bipolar disorder, and schizophrenia, the latter affected family living arrangements the most.

    “Going through the literature, we were surprised to find that so little research has been conducted about this very important topic. Many studies have examined the children’s risk of developing a mental illness, but the basic question of where and with whom children live while growing up has only been addressed superficially,” said Anne Ranning, psychologist and senior researcher at Mental Health Center Copenhagen and the Lundbeck Foundation Initiative for Integrative Psychiatric Research- iPSYCH.

    Two research groups within iPsych, Mental Health Center Copenhagen and Nordic Center for Register-Based Study in Aarhus, used the Danish national registers to determine whether a child lives with both parents, with a single parent, in a reconstituted family, or with neither of the parents. Using a prospective design, the team looked at changes in living arrangements from children’s birth to age 17. The team looked at data from 1.8 million Danish children and their parents and focused on whether family living arrangements were different for children born to parents with serious mental illness than without. In addition, the researchers linked information from various Danish registers to describe important characteristics of the parents such as educational level, employment status, and substance abuse.

    The researchers found that living arrangements for children born to parents with serious mental illness deviated considerably from the pattern observed in the general population: fewer children born to parents with serious mental illness lived with both parents, and they were more likely to live with a single mother or away from both parents. The pattern was clear already from birth. For example, 20% of children born to a mother with schizophrenia lived with a single mother as opposed to 8% in the general population. The most untraditional living arrangements were found for children born to parents with schizophrenia, where mothers’ illness had somewhat higher impact than fathers’.

    “We found that nuclear families were 2-3 times more likely to dissolve when parents have serious mental illness compared to the general population. In Denmark, we generally see high rates of separation between parents, but in the context of mental illness this pattern is exaggerated: in fact, only 20% of parents stay together until the child’s 17th birthday if a parent has schizophrenia, as opposed to 60% in the general population,” Dr. Ranning explains.

    In addition, the researchers found considerably lower employment rates for parents with serious mental illness, higher rates of substance abuse, and that parents with serious mental illness were more likely to have children with a partner who also had a serious mental illness. A parent’s diagnosis of schizophrenia was found to be most associated with these factors. The risk for family dissolution was dependent on other factors in addition to parents’ serious mental illness, so that, for example, being employed or having an advanced degree was found to be protective against family dissolution.

    The findings are perhaps not surprising, but this is the first study to show these demographic characteristics in this population. As discussed by Dr. Myrna Weissman in her editorial in the same issue of JAACAP, describing living arrangements does not equal measuring the quality of family relations and child care in these families. Family structures are changing in society at large, and the supremacy of the traditional nuclear family as the ideal living arrangement is to be questioned. Yet, consequences of family dissolution and of living with a single parent may be different for children when parents have serious mental illness than not. Also, the results may indicate that close relationships are more difficult to maintain in the context of mental illness.

    Dr. Ranning noted that child psychiatrist Dr. Anne Thorup, a co-author on the study, is about to implement a specialized, integrated supportive intervention for families where a parent has serious mental illness. “It will be interesting to see if such an intervention will strengthen family functioning and perhaps even affect rates of family dissolution,” she said. Also, in a future register-based study, the research team plans to focus on the specific needs of children living alone with parents with serious mental illness and investigate whether this is an underserved population. Using national registers, they aim to investigate the level of support these single-parent-headed families receive from social services, which also would indicate the level of public awareness of these families.


  10. Adverse events affect children’s development, physical health and biology

    by Ashley

    From the American Academy of Pediatrics media release:

    divorce family childrenIt’s known that adverse childhood experiences carry over into adult life, but a new study is focusing on the effect of these experiences in the childhood years.

    For an abstract to be presented at the American Academy of Pediatrics 2016 National Conference & Exhibition in San Francisco, researchers conducted a systematic literature review to identify some of the clinical signs that can be used to recognize children at risk after experiencing trauma. They examined 39 cohort studies to determine the effect adverse childhood experiences has on health and biological outcomes in children.

    The authors found that household dysfunction affects children’s weight early in childhood, and abuse and neglect affect children’s weight later in childhood. Children exposed to early adversity also have increased risk for asthma, infection, somatic complaints, and sleep disruption. Maternal mental health issues are associated with elevated cortisol levels, and maltreatment is associated with a lower cortisol profile.

    “The majority of research on early adversity has looked at long-term adult outcomes,” said Debby Oh, PhD, research associate at the Center for Youth Wellness in San Francisco, California. “While this research has helped identify the problem, we must also deepen our understanding of what is happening in the brains and bodies of our children as they experience adversity.”

    Dr. Oh said that with appropriate intervention, children are able to recover from some of these negative health effects, making early detection a powerful tool to protect the health and well-being of children before long-term adult outcomes occur.