Children with autism, co-occurring ADHD symptoms lag in key measures of independence

A pair of new studies has provided new insight into the challenges faced by children on the autism spectrum who exhibit symptoms of attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). According to the findings from researchers at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP), these children have difficulty with adaptive behavior, a key measure of independence.

Additionally, researchers pinpointed weaker functional connections in two large brain networks in children on the autism spectrum who have co-occurring ADHD symptoms.

The first study, published in the Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, analyzed adaptive behavior, a key measure of how a person is able to function independently at home, school and in the community. Communication skills, self-care skills and social skills are examples of adaptive behavior. Many of these skill areas are often impaired in children on the autism spectrum, and the gap between autistic children and typically developing children widens during adolescence. Understanding factors that contribute to adaptive behavior impairments may reveal critical points for intervention.

Full story at Science Daily

Mega Docking Library Poised to Speed Drug Discovery

Researchers have launched an ultra-large virtual docking library expected to grow to more than 1 billion molecules by next year. It will expand by 1000-fold the number of such “make-on-demand” compounds readily available to scientists for chemical biology and drug discovery. The larger the library, the better its odds of weeding out inactive “decoy” molecules that could otherwise lead researchers down blind alleys. The project is funded by the National Institutes of Health.

“To improve medications for mental illnesses, we need to screen huge numbers of potentially therapeutic molecules,” explained Joshua A. Gordon, M.D., Ph.D., director of NIH’s National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), which co-funded the research. “Unbiased computational modeling allows us to do this in a computer, vastly expediting the process of discovering new treatments. It enables researchers to virtually “see” a molecule docking with its receptor protein – like a ship in its harbor berth or a key in its lock – and predict its pharmacological properties, based on how the molecular structures are predicted to interact. Only those relatively few candidate molecules that best match the target profile on the computer need to be physically made and tested in a wet lab.”

Full story at NIMH

The ways of wisdom in schizophrenia

While wisdom is closely linked to improved health and well-being, its role and impact among persons with schizophrenia, possibly the most devastating of mental illnesses, is not known.

In a new paper, publishing February 14, 2019 in Schizophrenia Research, researchers at University of California San Diego School of Medicine report that, on average, persons with schizophrenia (PwS) obtained lower scores on a wisdom assessment than non-psychiatric comparison participants (NPCPs), but that there was considerable variability in levels of wisdom. Nearly one-third of PwS had scores in the “normal” range, and these PwS with higher levels of wisdom displayed fewer psychotic symptoms as well as better cognitive performance and everyday functioning.

“Taken together, our findings argue for the value of assessing wisdom in persons with schizophrenia because increasing wisdom may help improve their social and neuro-cognition, and vice versa,” said senior author Dilip Jeste, MD, Distinguished Professor of Psychiatry and Neurosciences and director of the Stein Institute for Research on Aging at UC San Diego School of Medicine.

Full story at Science Daily

New target to prevent, treat alcoholism identified

New research conducted at OHSU in Portland, Oregon, identifies a gene that could provide a new target for developing medication to prevent and treat alcoholism.

Scientists at the Oregon National Primate Research Center at OHSU discovered a gene that had lower expression in the brains of nonhuman primates that voluntarily consumed heavy amounts of alcohol compared with those that drank less.

Furthermore, the research team unraveled a link between alcohol and how it modulates the levels of activity of this particular gene. Researchers discovered that when they increased the levels of the gene encoded protein in mice, they reduced alcohol consumption by almost 50 percent without affecting the total amount of fluid consumed or their overall well-being.

Full story at Science Daily

Is young people’s mental health getting worse?

Poor mental health among children and young people has been described as an epidemic and an “escalating crisis”.

The number of children seeking help from Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (Camhs) in England, has more than doubled over the past two years.

But establishing how much of this represents an actual rise in young people experiencing problems, and how much is down to better awareness of symptoms and diagnosis, is difficult.

Staying with England for now, our best shot is to look at a representative sample of the whole population, not just those who have come in contact with mental health services.

Full story at BBC.com

Mega Docking Library Poised to Speed Drug Discovery

Researchers have launched an ultra-large virtual docking library expected to grow to more than 1 billion molecules by next year. It will expand by 1000-fold the number of such “make-on-demand” compounds readily available to scientists for chemical biology and drug discovery. The larger the library, the better its odds of weeding out inactive “decoy” molecules that could otherwise lead researchers down blind alleys. The project is funded by the National Institutes of Health.

“To improve medications for mental illnesses, we need to screen huge numbers of potentially therapeutic molecules,” explained Joshua A. Gordon, M.D., Ph.D., director of NIH’s National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), which co-funded the research. “Unbiased computational modeling allows us to do this in a computer, vastly expediting the process of discovering new treatments. It enables researchers to virtually “see” a molecule docking with its receptor protein – like a ship in its harbor berth or a key in its lock – and predict its pharmacological properties, based on how the molecular structures are predicted to interact. Only those relatively few candidate molecules that best match the target profile on the computer need to be physically made and tested in a wet lab.”

Full story at NIMH

Depression increases risk of early death in older adults

A research team designed a study to investigate the role depression symptoms play in an increased risk of death over time. The team also examined the role heart disease and stroke play in the link between depression symptoms and increased risk of death.

As we age, we become more likely to experience symptoms of depression. Research shows that depression’s symptoms can be linked to a higher risk for death. Yet often, older adults’ symptoms of depression may be missed by healthcare professionals.

What’s more, symptoms of depression have been linked to heart disease and stroke in middle-aged and older adults. Researchers suggest that the depression-heart disease link could play a role in the increased risk of death among older adults who have symptoms of depression. There’s also a known link between depression and deaths from cancer and falls in older adults. These connections might contribute to an increased risk of death for older adults, researchers suggest.

Full story at Science Daily

When neurons get the blues

The most commonly prescribed antidepressants, selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), lift the fog of depression for many people. But for around a third of people with major depressive disorder, SSRIs don’t make much of a difference. Now, researchers from the Salk Institute have pinned down a possible reason why — the neurons in at least some of these patients’ brains may become hyperactive in the presence of the drugs. The study appeared in Molecular Psychiatry on January 30, 2019.

“This is a promising step toward understanding why some patients don’t respond to SSRIs and letting us better personalize treatments for depression,” says Salk Professor Rusty Gage, the study’s senior author, president of the Institute, and the Vi and John Adler Chair for Research on Age-Related Neurodegenerative Disease.

Depression affects 300 million people around the world, and more than 6 percent of the US population experiences an episode of major depressive disorder (MDD) in any given year. MDD has been linked to an imbalance in serotonin signaling, although the exact mechanism is not well understood.

Full story at Science Daily

Brain Biomarkers Could Help Identify Those at Risk of Severe PTSD

A study has shed light on the neurocomputational contributions to the development of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) in combat veterans. The findings, published in Nature Neuroscience, revealed distinct patterns for how the brain and body respond to learning danger and safety depending on the severity of PTSD symptoms. These findings could help explain why symptoms of PTSD can be severe for some people but not others. The study was funded in part by the National Institute of Mental Health, part of the National Institutes of Health.

“Researchers have thought that the experience of PTSD, in many ways, is an overlearned response to survive a threatening experience,” said Susan Borja, Ph.D., chief of the NIMH Dimensional Traumatic Stress Research Program. “This study clarifies that those who have the most severe symptoms may appear behaviorally similar to those with less severe symptoms, but are responding to cues in subtly different, but profound, ways.”

Full story at NIMH

Women twice as likely to suffer from severe depression after a stroke

New research today published in the European Journal of Neurology has found that women are twice as likely to suffer from severe depression following a stroke than men.

The team of researchers from King’s College London followed the progress of symptoms over five years after stroke onset in 2,313 people (1,275 men and 1,038 women).

They found that 20% of women suffered from severe depression compared to 10% of men. They also found varying patterns of symptom progression; that long-term increased symptoms of depression are associated with higher mortality rates; and that initially moderate symptoms in men tend to become worse over time.

Full story at Science Daily