Amygdala neurons increase as children become adults — except in autism

In a striking new finding, researchers at the UC Davis MIND Institute found that typically-developing children gain more neurons in a region of the brain that governs social and emotional behavior, the amygdala, as they become adults. This phenomenon does not happen in people with autism spectrum disorder (ASD). Instead, children with ASD have too many neurons early on and then appear to lose those neurons as they become adults. The findings were published today in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS).

The amygdala is a small almond-shaped group of 13 regions (nuclei) that work as a danger detector in the brain to regulate anxiety and social interactions. Amygdala dysfunction has been linked to many psychiatric and neurodevelopmental disorders, including ASD, schizophrenia, bipolar disorder and depression.

“The amygdala is a unique brain structure in that it grows dramatically during adolescence, longer than other brain regions, as we become more socially and emotionally mature,” said Cynthia Schumann, associate professor in the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at the UC Davis MIND Institute and senior author of the paper. “Any deviation from this normal path of development can profoundly influence human behavior.” To understand what cellular factors underlie amygdala development, the team studied 52 postmortem human brains, both neurotypical and ASD, ranging from 2 to 48 years of age.

Full story at Science Daily

Suspect Molecules Overlap in Autism, Schizophrenia, Bipolar Disorder

Evidence has been mounting that some mental disorders share many of the same genetic risk factors. Now, researchers have discovered that this overlap extends to the molecular level – some of these suspect genes also turn on-and-off similarly in the brains of people with autism spectrum disorder (ASD), schizophrenia, and bipolar disorder. These molecular signatures may hold clues to what goes wrong in the brain in these disorders—and potentially ways to better treat or even prevent them.

In search of such clues, Drs. Daniel Geschwind and Michael Gandalof the University of California Los Angeles (UCLA), and colleagues, examined gene expression in postmortem brains of people who had been diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder (ASD), schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, major depressive disorder, or alcoholism. One of the largest such efforts of its kind to date, the study, funded by the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), tapped brain molecular data resources gathered through the NIMH-funded PsychENCODE consortium, a data-sharing collaboration among NIMH grantees.

Full story at NIMH

Molecular secrets revealed: Antipsychotic docked in its receptor

Antipsychotic drugs — which transformed mental health care following their chance discovery in the mid-20th Century — may finally be poised for a long-overdue makeover incorporating structure-based design. Scientists funded by the National Institutes of Health have achieved a landmark of psychiatric neuropharmacology: deciphering the molecular structure of a widely prescribed antipsychotic docked in its key receptor. They are hopeful that this discovery may hold secrets to designing better treatments for schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, and other mental illnesses.

“For the first time, we can understand precisely how atypical antipsychotic drugs bind to their primary molecular target in the human brain,” explained Dr. Laurie Nadler, chief of the neuropharmacology program at the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), which co-funded the study along with the National Institute of General Medical Sciences and the National Cancer Institute. “This discovery opens the way for the rational design of a new generation of antipsychotic drugs, hopefully with more desirable effects and fewer side effects.”

Full story at Science Daily

Can early symptoms predict bipolar disorder? Evidence shows differing patterns of risk factors

Two patterns of antecedent or “prodromal” psychiatric symptoms may help to identify young persons at increased risk of developing bipolar disorder (BD), according to a new analysis in the Harvard Review of Psychiatry.

Early signs of BD can fall into a relatively characteristic “homotypic” pattern, consisting mainly of symptoms or other features associated with mood disorders; or a “heterotypic” pattern of other symptoms including anxiety and disruptive behavior. Environmental risk factors and exposures can also contribute to BD risk, according to the analysis by Ciro Marangoni, MD, at the Department of Mental Health, Mater Salutis Hospital, Legnato, Italy; Gianni L. Faedda, MD, Director of the Mood Disorder Center of New York, NY, and Co-Chairman of a Task Force of the International Society for Bipolar Disorders on this topic; and Professor Ross J. Baldessarini, MD, Director of the International Consortium for Bipolar & Psychotic Disorders Research of the Mailman Research Center at McLean Hospital in Belmont, Mass.

Full story at Science Daily

After searching 12 years for bipolar disorder’s cause, research team concludes it has many

Nearly 6 million Americans have bipolar disorder, and most have probably wondered why. After more than a decade of studying over 1,100 of them in-depth, a University of Michigan team has an answer — or rather, seven answers.

In fact, they say, no one genetic change, or chemical imbalance, or life event, lies at the heart of every case of the mental health condition once known as manic depression.

Rather, every patient’s experience with bipolar disorder varies from that of others with the condition. But all of their experiences include features that fall into seven classes of phenotypes, or characteristics that can be observed, the team reports in a new paper in the International Journal of Epidemiology.

Full story at Science Daily

Psychologist examines methods of classifying mental disorders

Mental illnesses, such as major depression, bipolar disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder, affect nearly 1 in 5 adults in the United States, according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness. Many aspects of these illnesses remain something of a mystery, despite the progress made in understanding them by researchers studying these disorders in the last half century.

Even so, clinicians and researchers, together with patients and their families, have made significant strides identifying and treating mental illnesses. Two major diagnostic manuals — the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM), used primarily in the U.S., and the International Classification of Diseases (ICD), used internationally — provide clinicians, researchers and patients a structured approach to diagnosing mental health. Further, the federal National Institute of Mental Health also uses a new framework for researching mental illness, called the Research Domain Criteria, or R-DoC.

Full story at Science Daily

Increased brain acidity in psychiatric disorders

Your body’s acid/alkaline homeostasis, or maintenance of an adequate pH balance in tissues and organs, is important for good health. An imbalance in pH, particularly a shift toward acidity, is associated with various clinical conditions, such as a decreased cardiovascular output, respiratory distress, and renal failure. But is pH also associated with psychiatric disorders?

Researchers at the Institute for Comprehensive Medical Science at Fujita Health University in Japan, along with colleagues from eight other institutions, have identified decreased pH levels in the brains of five different mouse models of mental disorders, including models of schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, and autism spectrum disorder. This decrease in pH likely reflects an underlying pathophysiology in the brain associated with these mental disorders, according to the study published August 4th in the journal Neuropsychopharmacology.

Full story at Science Daily

People with mental illness reoffend less if on specialty probation

Each year, some 2 million people with schizophrenia, bipolar disorder and other mental illnesses are arrested for various crimes, inadvertently turning the U.S. correctional system into the nation’s primary provider of inpatient psychiatric care.

But an eight-year study led by the University of California, Berkeley, offers a solution.

Researchers studied the supervision and outcomes of 359 offenders with mental illness, comparing those who had been placed on traditional probation against those on “specialty mental health probation,” a program in which probation officers with mental health expertise use a more individualized, treatment-oriented approach.

Full story at Science Daily

Half of adults with anxiety or depression report chronic pain

In a survey of adults with anxiety or a mood disorder like depression or bipolar disorder, about half reported experiencing chronic pain, according to researchers at Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health. The findings are published online in the Journal of Affective Disorders.

“The dual burden of chronic physical conditions and mood and anxiety disorders is a significant and growing problem,” said Silvia Martins, MD, PhD, associate professor of Epidemiology at the Mailman School of Public Health, and senior author.

The research examined survey data to analyze associations between DSM-IV-diagnosed mood and anxiety disorders and self-reported chronic physical conditions among 5,037 adults in São Paulo, Brazil. Participants were also interviewed in person.

Full story of chronic pain related to depression at Science Daily

Parents with bipolar benefit from self-help tool

Online self-management support for parents with Bipolar Disorder leads to improvements in parenting and child behaviour.

That is the finding of researchers from the Spectrum Centre for Mental Health Research at Lancaster University, who recruited 97 parents with Bipolar Disorder who have children aged between 3 and ten years old.

They were split into two groups, with one being offered an Integrated Bipolar Parenting Intervention (IBPI) online.

This includes sixteen modules lasting half an hour each looking at different aspects of parenting, supported by video and audio material.

Full story of parents with bipolar disorder and online-self management tools at Science Daily