Tuesday, May 8, 2018
Most people experience anxiety at some point in their lives, whether it’s pre-speech jitters or sweaty palms when their plane takes off. While mild feelings of nervousness are completely normal and can even be beneficial, anxiety can also have negative repercussions if it causes somebody to completely avoid situations like social encounters or taking a flight to visit distant family.
In a series of experiments, IRP researchers identified a specific set of neurons that appear to underlie certain fear-related avoidance behaviors in mice, potentially representing a useful target for treating human anxiety disorders.1
Although mice enjoy surveying their surroundings, their position as the lowest link on the food chain makes them averse to brightly lit, open spaces where they might be snatched up by a hungry hawk. The way mice balance the risks and rewards of exploration mirrors many situations that can make humans anxious, says IRP investigator Alexxai V. Kravitz, Ph.D., the study’s senior author.
“If you’re buying a house, you’re going to have a lot of excitement, but once the time to sign the contract comes, you’re going to think about the risks you’re taking and whether this is the right decision,” Dr. Kravitz explains. In other words, if signing makes you too nervous, you might just scrap the whole deal.
Tuesday, April 24, 2018
In the midst of the 1957 Asian flu pandemic, doctors and researchers were understandably focused on treating patients and developing ways to contain the outbreak. It wasn’t until 30 years later that scientists began reporting that women who were pregnant when they caught the virus were more likely to have children who would later be diagnosed with schizophrenia.1 While that relationship remains controversial,2 numerous studies have since linked activation of a pregnant woman’s immune system with an increased risk that her child will develop certain psychiatric disorders, including not just schizophrenia but also autism spectrum disorder and major depressive disorder.3 A new IRP study has now expanded on this work by showing that exposure to higher levels of two immune system molecules in utero can noticeably alter the neurological and cognitive development of young children.4
Factors from infections to stress to genetics all play a role in how active a person’s immune system is, and a more vigorous immune system releases greater amounts of chemicals called cytokines that can ramp up or tamp down inflammation. When a woman is pregnant, these molecules affect not just her own body but also that of her unborn child. Some cytokines can even pass through the blood-brain barrier and exert direct effects on the developing brain, which may explain the link between a mother’s immune response and her child’s future risk of developing a psychiatric illness.
“That link is very concerning because psychiatric disorders can have a substantial impact on functioning as well as longevity,” says IRP investigator Stephen E. Gilman, Sc.D., the study’s senior author. “Therefore, we wanted to know if the activity of a mother’s immune system can also affect cognitive development more generally before a major psychiatric disorder emerges.”
Tuesday, April 10, 2018
Every forty seconds, someone in the United States suffers a stroke, and researchers across the country are hunting for a way to help brain cells survive these traumatic events. A group of IRP researchers recently discovered a promising new tool to aid in this effort. By blocking the action of a brain chemical called monoacylglycerol lipase (MAGL), the scientists markedly reduced stroke-related brain damage and disability in rats.1
Nearly nine in ten strokes are classified as ‘ischemic,’ meaning they occur when blood flow is cut off to part of the brain. Deprived of oxygen and nutrients, the brain cells in the affected area quickly die off, and soon afterwards inflammation destroys additional cells nearby. Previous research has shown that stroke-induced oxygen deprivation activates MAGL in order to kick off the chain of events that triggers inflammation.
“Inflammation exacerbates the way that the tissue reacts to the lack of blood flow, so if you contain it then you can salvage a significant portion of the affected area,” says IRP Senior Investigator Afonso C. Silva, Ph.D., the new study’s senior author.
Thursday, March 29, 2018
Alex Fuksenko, a senior at the University of Maryland in College Park, spent his summer in the lab of NIH IRP Investigator Kevin Briggman, Ph.D.
Fuksenko helped to create a website called Labrainth that “gamifies” the identification and tracing of neurons in 2D images produced by electron microscopes. By visiting the website and completing those activities, members of the public can earn points and move up leaderboards while producing data that machine learning algorithms can use to learn how to trace neurons in these images themselves, a necessary step towards producing an accurate 3D model of the human brain.
Monday, March 5, 2018
Carly Kaplan, a junior at Brown University in Providence, Rhode Island, spent her summer working in the lab of NIH IRP Investigator Dr. Kareem Zaghloul. As a member of Dr. Zaghloul’s team, Carly examined how the human brain creates and recalls memories. An aspiring doctor, she believes that this sort of research is “the backbone of the medical profession” and that “doctors can’t do what they do without the research behind it.” While at NIH, she was particularly intrigued by the opportunity to watch Dr. Zaghloul perform neurosurgery on the epilepsy patients who were part of in his lab’s studies.
Wednesday, January 17, 2018
Joanne Compo, a sophomore at the University of Washington in Seattle, Washington, spent the summer of 2017 working in the lab of NIH IRP Distinguished Investigator Dr. Kenneth Fischbeck. She helped create a quality of life questionnaire for patients with Kennedy’s disease, a neuromuscular disorder that causes muscles to weaken over time due to the death of motor neurons responsible for movement. Such a questionnaire could help affected individuals get diagnosed more quickly and shed light on which interventions improve their lives the most.
Tuesday, December 12, 2017
Jason Mazique, who is currently a freshman at Williams College in Williamstown, Massachusetts, spent his 2017 summer working in the lab of NIH IRP Senior Investigator Dr. Harish Pant. During his time at the NIH, Mazique investigated how a particular protein affects neurons in the brain, with implications for neurological conditions like ALS and Alzheimer’s disease
Tuesday, April 4, 2017
Last month I moderated our annual retreat with the NIH Scientific Directors, those individuals tasked with leading their Institute or Center (IC)-based intramural research program. We were joined by many of the IC Clinical Directors. And this year we decided to do something a little different: listen to a series of talks about exciting, new IRP research.
Friday, June 10, 2016
Are you beginning to think that slide rules look alike? If you could see the types and number of scales, you’d understand that each slide rule model is different. There are specialized scales for cubes, spheres, voltage, etc. Check out a few of the slide rules that made history with IRP investigators.
Friday, April 15, 2016
Have you ever had a PET scan? (That’s short for positron emission tomography.) This computer board, called a discriminator, was one of 64 in the Neuro-PET scanner designed and built at the NIH under the direction of Dr. Giovanni De Chiro.