Inherited Variations in Noncoding Sections of DNA Associated with Autism

A new study has identified an association between paternally-inherited rare structural variants in noncoding segments of genes and the development of autism spectrum disorder (ASD). The study, funded in part by the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) and published in Science, adds to a growing body of research describing genetic contributors to ASD.

ASD is a developmental disorder that affects communication and behavior. While the exact causes of ASD are unknown, researchers have identified a number of genes associated with the development of ASD. Many studies have focused on examining the inheritance of, or mutations in, portions of genes that code for the creation of proteins or other molecular products. But these new findings suggest that rare, inherited structural differences in the noncoding portions of genes also contribute to ASD.

“Gene sequences represent only two percent of the genome.” said Jonathan Sebat, Ph.D., of University of California San Diego School of Medicine (UCSD) and the Beyster Center for Genomics of Psychiatric Diseases. “The next challenge is to identify ASD risk variants affecting genetic regulatory elements. Examining these elements will help us understand the genetic components that contribute to the development of ASD, and symptoms seen in people with ASD.”

Full story at NIMH

Cognitive training reduces depression, rebuilds injured brain structure and connectivity after traumatic brain injury

New research from the Center for BrainHealth at The University of Texas at Dallas shows that certain cognitive training exercises can help reduce depression and improve brain health in individuals years after they have suffered a traumatic brain injury (TBI).

The recent study, published in Human Brain Mapping, revealed significant reductions in the severity of depressive symptoms, increased ability to regulate emotions, increases in cortical thickness and recovery from abnormal neural network connectivity after cognitive training.

“To our knowledge, this is the first study to report brain change associated with reduced depression symptoms after cognitive training,” said Dr. Kihwan Han, a research scientist at the Center for BrainHealth who works in the lab of Dr. Daniel Krawczyk. Han is the lead author of the study.

Full story at Science Daily

New models for predicting suicide risk

Combining data from electronic health records with results from standardized depression questionnaires better predicts suicide risk in the 90 days following either mental health specialty or primary care outpatient visits, reports a team from the Mental Health Research Network, led by Kaiser Permanente research scientists.

The study, “Predicting Suicide Attempts and Suicide Death Following Outpatient Visits Using Electronic Health Records,” conducted in five Kaiser Permanente regions (Colorado, Hawaii, Oregon, California and Washington), the Henry Ford Health System in Detroit, and the HealthPartners Institute in Minneapolis, was published today in the American Journal of Psychiatry.

Combining a variety of information from the past five years of people’s electronic health records and answers to questionnaires, the new models predicted suicide risk more accurately than before, according to the authors. The strongest predictors include prior suicide attempts, mental health and substance use diagnoses, medical diagnoses, psychiatric medications dispensed, inpatient or emergency room care, and scores on a standardized depression questionnaire.

Full story at Science Daily

Age-Related Racial Disparity in Suicide Rates Among U.S. Youth

New research suggests the suicide rate is roughly two times higher for black children ages 5-12 compared with white children of the same age group. The study, funded by the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), appears online May 21 in JAMA Pediatrics.

Suicide is a major public health problem and a leading cause of death in the United States. While suicide among young children is quite rare, it can be devastating to families, friends, and communities. Past patterns of national youth suicide rates revealed higher rates for white compared to black youth.

Jeffrey Bridge, Ph.D., of the Research Institute at Nationwide Children’s Hospital, Columbus, Ohio, Lisa Horowitz, Ph.D., of the NIMH Intramural Research Program, and coauthors set out to investigate race-related differences in suicide rates in youth overall. Using data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Web-based Injury Statistics Query and Reporting System (WISQARS), which provides fatal and nonfatal injury, violent death, and cost-of-injury data, the team of researchers analyzed the data from 2001-2015 separately for children ages 5-12 and adolescents ages 13-17.

Full story at NIMH

Brain abnormality indicates general risk for mental illness

A new study by researchers at Duke University reports an abnormality in visual regions of the brain that is associated with a person’s general risk for mental illness. The findings, published in Biological Psychiatry, indicate a signature abnormality shared between common forms of mental illness, which could help clinicians assess a patient’s general risk for developing a mental illness. The signature abnormality was present in participants involved in the study who already had a higher risk of mental illness. This was characterized by a reduced efficiency between visual areas and brain networks important for integrating sensory information and suppressing distracting information.

Researchers have long thought that some aspects of the biology of the risk for psychiatric disorders were specific to particular disorders, and by studying specific groups of patients, may have mistaken general risk factors as specific risk factors. Newer research suggests that a person’s risk for developing mental illness is not specific to one form of disorder, but is instead shared across many different disorders. “In other words, there may be a single risk factor that predicts whether an individual develops any form of psychiatric disorder, be it depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, addiction, or even schizophrenia,” said first author Maxwell Elliott, a doctoral student in the laboratory of Ahmad Hariri, PhD.

Full story at Science Daily

Washington Politics Adding To Mental Health Crisis Among Farmers

Suicide rates among farmers are higher than any other profession in the United States and now some experts and Senators worry Washington politics could be making farmland stresses even worse.

The House is set to vote by Friday on a controversial farm bill that includes major changes to work requirements for people on food stamps. The issue is dividing Republicans and Democrats and threatens to undermine support for the bill in Washington. Now farmers fear the bill, which includes safety net programs to keep farmers in business in bad economic times, is at risk because of the unrelated fight.

Bob Worth, a soybean farmer in Minnesota, said the frustration is growing in rural America.

Full story at npr.org

New hope for patients with depression and anxiety

There is a strong link between depression and anxiety disorders and autoimmune thyroiditis (AIT), a chronic thyroid condition affecting approximately 10 percent of the population. Scientists at Friedrich-Alexander-Universität Erlangen-Nürnberg (FAU) have now proven that special treatment could help many sufferers, especially women.

Depression and anxiety are among the most common psychiatric disorders across the globe. In 2016 more than 260,000 patients were admitted to hospital for treatment in Germany alone, according to statistics from the Federal Statistics Office.

Together with Prof. Dr. Johannes Kornhuber, Chair of Psychiatry and Psychotherapy at FAU, and scientists from the Psychiatric Clinic at the University of Bonn, Dr. Teja Wolfgang Grömer, medical practitioner in Bamberg and lecturer at the Chair of Psychiatry and Psychotherapy, has now proven a strong link between depression and anxiety disorders and autoimmune thyroiditis. ‘Over the years, I must have been consulted by several hundred people suffering from depression and anxiety,’ reports the psychiatrist and former Max-Planck researcher. ‘At the end of 2015 I noticed a marked connection between AIT and the other two conditions, especially in patients suffering from both. After realising that more than one in two people diagnosed with anxiety and depression — and only in these cases, not other conditions — also tested positive for antibodies I decided to investigate the issue in more detail.’ With the help of the co-authors and a student of psychology at the University of Bamberg, Eva-Maria Siegmann, Dr. Grömer drew up a systematic overview of the current state of research and calculated the strength of the connection on the basis of statistics. For his metastudy, Dr. Grömer combined 21 independent studies based on a total of 36,174 participants. 35,168 of the participants suffered from depression and 34,094 from anxiety.

Full story at Science Daily

How do you know if you’re having a panic or anxiety attack?

The terms panic attack and anxiety attack are used interchangeably, but they are not the same. Key characteristics distinguish one from the other, though they have several symptoms in common.

These types of attack have different intensities and durations.

Panic attacks are generally more intense than anxiety attacks. They also come on out of the blue, while anxiety attacks are often associated with a trigger.

Symptoms of anxiety are linked to numerous mental health conditions, including obsessive-compulsive disorder and trauma, while panic attacks mainly affect those with panic disorder.

Full story at Medical News Today

 

Depression linked to memory problems and brain aging

Depression in older adults may be linked to memory problems, according to a study published in the May 9, 2018, online issue of Neurology®, the medical journal of the American Academy of Neurology. The study also showed that older people with greater symptoms of depression may have structural differences in the brain compared to people without symptoms.

“Since symptoms of depression can be treated, it may be possible that treatment may also reduce thinking and memory problems,” said study author Adina Zeki Al Hazzouri, PhD, MS, of the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine in Florida. “With as many as 25 percent of older adults experiencing symptoms of depression, it’s important to better understand the relationship between depression and memory problems.”

The study involved 1,111 people who were all stroke-free with an average age of 71. The majority were Caribbean Hispanic. At the beginning of the study, all had brain scans, a psychological exam and assessments for memory and thinking skills. Their memory and thinking skills were tested again an average of five years later.

Full story at Science Daily

New Processing Technique Helps Researchers Use Electronic Health Records to Study Biological Contributors to Mental Illnesses

Researchers have found a way to scan electronic health records (EHRs) that helps identify associations between broad dimensions of behavioral function and genes relevant to mental disorders. Use of the technique opens an enormous source of data to researchers who are interested in taking a dimensional approach to the study of mental illnesses instead of using traditional diagnostic categories. The study, funded in part by the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), was published online February 26, 2018 in the journal Biological Psychiatry.

As medicine has entered the digital age, the use of electronic systems for managing health data has skyrocketed. These electronic health records provide a trove of information for researchers who want to understand factors that contribute to health and illness.

Full story at NIMH