NIH Awards Funding for Early Autism Screening

The National Institutes of Health (NIH) has awarded more than four million dollars in FY 2019 to support seven research projects aimed at developing and validating screening tools to detect signs of autism spectrum disorder in the first year of life. Approximately 19 million dollars is projected to be awarded to these projects by NIH over the duration of the funded projects.

“Early detection and treatment of children with autism spectrum disorder are two of the most important factors for optimizing children’s outcomes,” said Dr. Joshua Gordon, director of the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH). “It is critical that we develop screening tools that can pick up on early emerging signs of autism risk so that doctors can be vigilant in tracking children’s development and ensure they get intervention services as early as possible.”

Full story at National Institute of Mental Health

Study examines depression in the last year of life

Depression impacts quality of life at all life stages, but little is known about the factors related to depression in the last year of life. A recent study published in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society found that 59.3% of individuals had depression in the last month before death.

In the interview-based study that included 3,274 individuals who died by the end of the study, depression symptoms increased gradually from 12 to 4 months before death and then escalated from 4 to 1 months before death. Women, younger adults, and non-white adults all had higher rates of depressive symptoms. Individuals with cancer reported escalating rates of depressive symptoms at the very end of life, while individuals with lung disease and impairments in activities of daily living demonstrated persistently high rates throughout the year before death.

Full story at Science Daily

Health care, mass shootings, 2020 election causing Americans significant stress

A year before the 2020 presidential election, Americans report various issues in the news as significant sources of stress, including health care, mass shootings and the upcoming election, according to this year’s Stress in America™ survey by the American Psychological Association (APA). More than half of U.S. adults (56%) identify the 2020 presidential election as a significant stressor, an increase from the 52% of adults who reported the presidential election as a significant source of stress when asked in the months leading up to the 2016 contest.

The Stress in America™ survey was conducted between Aug. 1 and Sept. 3, 2019, by The Harris Poll among 3,617 adults living in the U.S.

According to this year’s survey, around 7 in 10 adults (69%) say that health care is a significant source of stress — nearly equal to the 71% who say mass shootings are a significant source of stress. Among adults who experience stress about health care at least sometimes (47%), the cost of health care is the most commonly cited source of that stress (64%). Adults with private insurance (71%) are more likely than those with public insurance (53%) to say the cost of health care causes them stress. More than half of adults overall (55%) worry that they will not be able to pay for health care services they may need in the future.

Full story at Science Daily

Reading the Brain’s Map: Coordinated Brain Activation Supports Spatial Learning and Decision-Making

Specialized brain activation “replays” the possible routes that rats can take as they navigate a space, helping them keep track of the paths they’ve already taken and choose among the routes that they can take next, according to a National Institutes of Health-funded study published in the journal Neuron.

“These findings reveal an internal ‘replay’ process in the brain that allows animals to learn from past experiences to form memories of paths leading toward goals, and subsequently to recall these paths for planning future decisions,” said Shantanu Jadhav, Ph.D., assistant professor at Brandeis University, Waltham, Massachusetts, and senior author of the study. “These results help us better understand how coordinated activation at the level of neurons can contribute to the complex processes involved in learning and decision-making.”

The hippocampus, a structure located in the middle of the brain, is critical to learning and memory and contains specialized “place” cells that relay information about location and orientation in space. These place cells show specific patterns of activity during navigation that can be “replayed” later in forward or reverse order, almost as if the brain were fast-forwarding or rewinding through routes the rats have taken.

Full story at National Institute of Mental Health

Meth Trip Or Mental Illness? Police Who Need To Know Often Can’t Tell

The dispatch call from the Concord, N.H., police department was brief. A woman returning to her truck spotted a man underneath. She confronted him. The man fled. Now the woman wanted a police officer to make sure her truck was OK.

“Here we go,” muttered Officer Brian Cregg as he stepped on the gas. In less than three minutes, he was driving across the back of a Walmart parking lot, looking for a man on the run.

“There he is,” said Cregg. The officer pulled to a stop and approached a man who fit the caller’s description. Cregg frisked the man, whose name was Kerry. NPR has agreed to use only Kerry’s first name because he may have serious mental health and substance use problems.

Full story at Kaiser Health News

What is trichotillomania?

Trichotillomania, or pathological hair pulling, is a common but underdiagnosed psychological disorder. People with trichotillomania experience an overwhelming urge to pull out their hair.

Many people who have trichotillomania may not know that they have a diagnosable condition. They may simply view their hair pulling as a bad habit. Others may experience severe physical and psychological symptoms.

This article outlines the symptoms and causes of trichotillomania, as well as the different treatment options available.

Full story at Medical News Today

Schizophrenia Risk Gene Linked to Cognitive Deficits in Mice

Researchers have discovered in mice how one of the few genes definitively linked to schizophrenia, called SETD1A, likely confers risk for the illness. Mice genetically engineered to lack a functioning version of the enzyme-coding gene showed abnormalities in working memory, mimicking those commonly seen in schizophrenia patients. Restoring the gene’s function corrected the working memory deficit. Counteracting the gene’s deficiencies also repaired neuronal circuit deficits in adult mice — suggesting clues for potential treatment strategies. A team of scientists led by Joseph Gogos, M.D., Ph.D., of Columbia University, New York City, reported on their research — supported by the National Institutes of Health — in Neuron.

“You could call SETD1A a master regulator,” explained David Panchision Ph.D., of the NIH’s National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), which co-funded the study. “This schizophrenia risk gene codes for an enzyme that influences the expression of many other genes. In mice, a hobbled version of SETD1A disrupted gene expression in a network harboring other genomic suspects in schizophrenia. Remarkably, the resulting abnormalities were reversible.”

Full story at NIMH

Gut instincts: Researchers discover first clues on how gut health influences brain health

New cellular and molecular processes underlying communication between gut microbes and brain cells have been described for the first time by scientists at Weill Cornell Medicine and Cornell’s Ithaca campus.

Over the last two decades, scientists have observed a clear link between autoimmune disorders and a variety of psychiatric conditions. For example, people with autoimmune disorders such as inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), psoriasis and multiple sclerosis may also have depleted gut microbiota and experience anxiety, depression and mood disorders. Genetic risks for autoimmune disorders and psychiatric disorders also appear to be closely related. But precisely how gut health affects brain health has been unknown.

“Our study provides new insight into the mechanisms of how the gut and brain communicate at the molecular level,” said co-senior author Dr. David Artis, director of the Jill Roberts Institute for Research in Inflammatory Bowel Disease, director of the Friedman Center for Nutrition and Inflammation and the Michael Kors Professor of Immunology at Weill Cornell Medicine. “No one yet has understood how IBD and other chronic gastrointestinal conditions influence behavior and mental health. Our study is the beginning of a new way to understand the whole picture.”

Full story at Science Daily

Overall time on social media is not related to teen anxiety and depression

The amount of time teenagers spend on social networking sites has risen 62.5 percent since 2012 and continues to grow. Just last year, the average time teenagers spent on social media was estimated as 2.6 hours per day. Critics have claimed that more screen time is increasing depression and anxiety in teenagers.

However, new research led by Sarah Coyne, a professor of family life at Brigham Young University, found that the amount of time spent on social media is not directly increasing anxiety or depression in teenagers.

“We spent eight years trying to really understand the relationship between time spent on social media and depression for developing teenagers,” Coyne said about her study published in Computers in Human Behavior. “If they increased their social media time, would it make them more depressed? Also, if they decreased their social media time, were they less depressed? The answer is no. We found that time spent on social media was not what was impacting anxiety or depression.”

Full story at Science Daily

DNA Tests For Psychiatric Drugs Are Controversial But Some Insurers Are Covering Them

As a teenager, Katie Gruman was prescribed one mental health drug after another. None seemed to help her manage symptoms of anxiety and bipolar disorder, so she self-medicated with alcohol and illicit drugs.

It would take five years, and trying more than 15 different medications, before she found meds that actually helped.

Now 28 and in recovery, Gruman has been on the same drugs for years. But when a clinician recommended a genetic test to see which drugs work best for her, she took it.

Reading the test results “was definitely vindicating,” she says. Medications that hadn’t worked for her as a teenager were the same ones the results marked as bad fits.

Full story at NPR