Migraines are not typical headaches; they are extremely painful events and are often accompanied by nausea, blurred vision, or ultrasensitivity to smells, light, or sounds. These episodes can be debilitating and highly disruptive to day-to-day life. More women than men tend to experience them, and researchers ask why.

Ny Maria Cohut

Scientists at the Universitas Miguel Hernández in Elche, Spain, believe that the answer as to why migraines are more common among women may lie with the activity of sex hormones.

“We can observe significant differences in our experimental migraine model between males and females and are trying to understand the molecular correlates responsible for these differences,” says Prof. Antonio Ferrer-Montiel.

The trigeminovascular system is made up of neurons that are found in a cranial nerve known as the trigeminovascular nerve. Researchers have suggested that this system is involved in migraine mechanisms.

In the new study, Prof. Ferrer-Montiel and his team argue that the activity of sex-specific hormones interact with the trigeminal system in a way that renders its nerve cells more sensitive to migraine triggers.

These findings now appear in the journal Frontiers in Molecular Biosciences, as part of a special issue focusing on the importance of targeting proteins in cell membranes as an effective therapeutic approach in medicine.

In the future, Prof. Ferrer-Montiel and colleagues hope that their findings may lead to a better, more personalized approach to migraine management.

The researchers conducted a review of existing studies about sex hormones, what drives migraine sensitivity, and how nerves react to migraine triggers. In doing so, they were looking to understand how specific sex hormones might facilitate the development of migraines.

Soon enough, they found that certain sex hormones — such as testosterone — actually appear to play a protective role. However, other hormones — such as prolactin — seem to intensify the severity of migraines, according to the scientists.

Yhese hormones, the authors say, either boost cells’ sensitivity to migraine triggers or desensitize them, by interacting with the cells’ ion channels. These are a type of membrane protein that allow ions (charged particles) to pass through and influence the cells’ sensitivity to various stimuli.

Through their research, Prof. Ferrer-Montiel and team identified the hormone estrogen as a key player in the development of migraines.

At first, the team saw that estrogen was tied to higher migraine prevalence in women experiencing menstruation. Moreover, they also found that certain types of migraine were linked to changes in hormone levels around menstruation.

Specifically, Prof. Ferrer-Montiel and colleagues noticed that changes in estrogen levels means that trigeminal nerve cells may become more sensitive to external stimuli, which can lead to a migraine episode.

At the same time, the researchers warn that nobody should jump to any conclusions based on the evidence gathered so far. This study, they say, is preliminary, and much more research is needed to determine the exact roles that hormones play in the development and prevention of migraine.

Also, the new study has focused on findings from research conducted in vitro, or on animal models, so Prof. Ferrer-Montiel and colleagues advise that in the future, it will be important to conduct longitudinal studies with human participants.

If their findings are confirmed and consolidated, the scientists believe they could lead to improved strategies for the management of migraines.

“If successful, we will contribute to better personalized medicine for migraine therapy,” concludes Prof. Ferrer-Montiel.

https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/322767.php

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As our early ancestors began to walk on two legs, they would also have hung about in trees, using their feet to grasp branches. They walked differently on the ground, but were still able to move around quite efficiently. The rigid big toe that eventually evolved gives efficient push-off power during walking and running.

The findings have been published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

In this new study, scientists made 3D scans of the toe bone joints from living and fossil human relatives, including primates such as apes and monkeys, and then compared them to modern day humans.

They overlaid this information onto an evolutionary tree, revealing the timing and sequence of events that produced the human forefoot.

The main finding is that the current shape of the bones in the big toe, or “hallux” in anatomical language, must have evolved quite late in comparison with the rest of the bones that they investigated.

In an interview with the BBC, lead author of the study Dr Peter Fernandez, from Marquette University in Milwaukee, said: “Our ability to efficiently walk and run on two feet, or be ‘bipedal’, is a crucial feature that enabled humans to become what they are today. For everything to work together, the foot bones first had to evolve to accommodate the unique biomechanical demands of bipedalism”.

He then said: “The big toe is mechanically very important for walking. In our study, we showed that it did not reach its modern form until considerably later than the other toes.”

When asked whether the rigid big toe evolved last because it is most or least important, Dr Fernandez commented: “It might have been last because it was the hardest to change. We also think there was a compromise. The big toe could still be used for grasping, as our ancestors spent a fair amount of their time in the trees, before becoming fully committed to walking on the ground.”

He added: “Modern humans have increased the stability of the joint to put the toe in an orientation that is useful for walking, but the foot is no longer dextrous like an ape.”vvvv

The reason that our ancestors stood upright and then walked on two feet is still a mystery, but there are plenty of ideas. Scientists think that walking may have evolved, either because it freed our hands to carry tools, or because climate change led to a loss of forests, or that overhead arms can be used to support walking on two legs along thin branches.

Studies such as this new one show that early human ancestors must have able been to walk upright for millions of years, since the 4.4 million year old fossil Ardipithecus ramidus, but that they did not fully transition to a modern walk until much later, perhaps in closer relatives within our own group, Homo.

This new study, alongside other work, now confirms that early walking humans, or “hominins” still used their feet to grasp objects.

Dr William Harcourt-Smith from City University of New York, who was not involved in this study, said: “They are suggesting that one of the earliest hominins, Ardipithecus, was already adapting in a direction away from the predicted morphology of the last common ancestor of chimps and modern humans, but not ‘towards’ modern humans. To me this implies that there were several lineages within hominins that were likely experimenting with bipedalism in different ways to each other.”

Professor Fred Spoor, an expert in human anatomy at the Natural History Museum, London said: “It was a bit of shock when hominins were found that have a grasping, or opposable, big toe, as this was thought to be incompatible with effective bipedalism. This work shows that different parts of the foot can have different functions. When a big toe is opposable, you can still function properly as a biped.”

The scientists involved say that this work shows that early hominin feet had a mixed and versatile set of functions. Becoming human was not a giant step, but a series of gradual changes, with some of the last and arguably most important changes being made to big toes. Peter Fernandez said that they would like to conduct similar analyses on the remaining bones of the forefoot, in order to fully characterise the changes involved in the evolution of bipedal walking.

https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-45183651

We may go to sleep at night, but our brains don’t. Instead, they spend those quiet hours tidying up, and one of their chores is to lug memories into long-term storage boxes.

Now, a group of scientists may have found a way to give that memory-storing process a boost, by delivering precisely timed electric zaps to the brain at the exact right moments of sleep. These zaps, the researchers found, can improve memory.

And to make matters even more interesting, the team of researchers was funded by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), the U.S. agency tasked with developing technology for the military. They reported their findings July 23 in The Journal of Neuroscience.

DARPA Wants to Zap Your Brain to Boost Your Memory
Credit: Shutterstock
We may go to sleep at night, but our brains don’t. Instead, they spend those quiet hours tidying up, and one of their chores is to lug memories into long-term storage boxes.

Now, a group of scientists may have found a way to give that memory-storing process a boost, by delivering precisely timed electric zaps to the brain at the exact right moments of sleep. These zaps, the researchers found, can improve memory.

And to make matters even more interesting, the team of researchers was funded by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), the U.S. agency tasked with developing technology for the military. They reported their findings July 23 in The Journal of Neuroscience.

If the findings are confirmed with additional research, the brain zaps could one day be used to help students study for a big exam, assist people at work or even treat patients with memory impairments, including those who experienced a traumatic brain injury in the military, said senior study author Praveen Pilly, a senior scientist at HRL Laboratories, a research facility focused on advancing technology.

The study involved 16 healthy adults from the Albuquerque, New Mexico, area. The first night, no experiments were run; instead, it was simply an opportunity for the participants to get accustomed to spending the night in the sleep lab while wearing the lumpy stimulation cap designed to deliver the tiny zaps to their brains. Indeed, when the researchers started the experiment, “our biggest worry [was] whether our subjects [could] sleep with all those wires,” Pilly told Live Science.

The next night, the experiment began: Before the participants fell asleep, they were shown war-like scenes and were asked to spot the location of certain targets, such as hidden bombs or snipers.

Then, the participants went to sleep, wearing the stimulation cap that not only delivered zaps but also measured brain activity using a device called an electroencephalogram (EEG). On the first night of the experiment, half of the participants received brain zaps, and half did not.

Using measurements from the EEG, the researchers aimed their electric zaps at a specific type of brain activity called “slow-wave oscillations.” These oscillations — which can be thought of as bursts of neuron activity that come and go with regularity — are known to be important for memory consolidation. They take place during two sleep stages: stage 2 (still a “light” sleep, when the heart rate slows down and body temperature drops) and stage 3 (deep sleep).

So, shortly after the participants in the zapping group fell into slow-wave oscillations, the stimulation cap would deliver slight zaps to the brain, in tune with the oscillations. The next morning, all of the participants were shown similar war-zone scenes, and the researchers measured how well they detected targets.

Five days later, the groups were switched for the second night of experiments.

The researchers found that, the mornings after, the participants who received the brain zaps weren’t any better at detecting targets in the same scene they saw the night before, compared with those who slept without zaps. But those who received the zapping were much better at detecting the same targets in novel scenes. For example, if the original scene showed a target under a rock, the “novel” scene might show the same target-rock image, but from a different angle, according to a press release from HRL Laboratories.

Researchers call this “generalization.” Pilly explained it as follows: “If you’re [studying] for a test, you learn a fact, and then, when you’re tested the following morning on the same fact … our intervention may not help you. On the other hand, if you’re tested on some questions related to that fact [but] which require you to generalize or integrate previous information,” the intervention would help you perform better.

This is because people rarely recall events exactly as they happen, Pilly said, referring to what’s known as episodic memory. Rather, people generalize what they learn and access that knowledge when faced with various situations. (For example, we know to stay away from a snake in the city, even if the first time we saw it, it was in the countryside.)

Previous studies have also investigated the effects of brain stimulation on memory. But although they delivered the zaps during the same sleep stage as the new study, the researchers in the previous studies didn’t attempt to match the zaps with the natural oscillations of the brain, Pilly said.

Jan Born, a professor of behavioral neuroscience at the University of Tübingen in Germany who was not part of the study, said the new research showed that, “at least in terms of behavior, [such a] procedure is effective.”

The approaches examined in the study have “huge potential, but we are still in the beginning [of this type of research], so we have to be cautious,” Born told Live Science.

One potential problem is that the stimulation typically hits the whole surface of the brain, Born said. Because the brain is wrinkled, and some neurons hide deep in the folds and others sit atop ridges, the stimulations aren’t very effective at targeting all of the neurons necessary, he said. This may make it difficult to reproduce the results every time, he added.

Pilly said that because the zaps aren’t specialized, they could also, in theory, lead to side effects. But he thinks, if anything, the side effect might simply be better-quality sleep.

https://www.livescience.com/63329-darpa-brain-zapping-memory.html

San Francisco will launch a “poop patrol” in September in an effort to proactively remove the masses of homeless excrement currently turning the city’s streets brown.

The $750,000 operation is the brainchild of Mayor London Breed and Public Works director Mohammed Nuru, both of whom hope the patrol’s six dedicated staff members and two trucks will be able to locate and remove human feces from the streets before pedestrians call in complaints.

The “poop patrol” will have its work cut out — since the start of 2018, San Francisco’s 311 services received 14,597 calls complaining about piles of human and dog feces on the street, according to KGO-TV. That’s roughly 65 complaints per day.

The patrol will utilize data-driven strategies to proactively get ahead of the mess in particularly sticky areas of the city.

“We have data that shows where most of the complaints are for poop cleanup. So, the goal is to make sure we have a dedicated team and they are focusing on those particular areas where we know it’s most problematic,” Breed told KTVU.

There are about 7,500 homeless people living in San Francisco according to the city, which will spend nearly $280 million this year on housing services for the homeless.

The operation will serve as a compliment to the city’s Pit Stop public toilet program. The city allotted $1.05 million in its most recent budget to construct five additional public toilets, bringing the total Pit Stops in the city to 22. But many of the public toilets are only in operation until the late afternoon, leaving the homeless with few decent options overnight.

Breed, a Democrat who was inaugurated as the San Francisco’s mayor in July, has made frequent unannounced tours of the city’s streets to monitor their condition first-hand.

She praised the city following a tour Monday for making “important investments” in public trash cans, public toilets and expanded street cleaning teams.

But Breed acknowledged there is still much work to be done.

“I just want the city to be clean, and I want to make sure we’re providing the resources so that it can be,” she told the San Francisco Chronicle.

http://dailycaller.com/2018/08/15/san-francisco-poop-patrol/

Elephants’ secret to their low rates of cancer might be explained in part by a so-called zombie gene—one that was revived during evolution from a defunct duplicate of another gene. In the face of DNA damage, elephant cells fire up the activity of the zombie gene LIF6 to kill cells, thereby destroying any cancer-causing genetic defects, researchers reported in Cell Reports.

“From an evolutionary biology perspective, it’s completely fascinating,” Joshua Schiffman, a pediatric oncologist at the University of Utah who was not involved in the work, tells National Geographic.

The better-known LIF gene has a number of functions in mammals, including as an extracellular cytokine. In elephants, LIF is duplicated numerous times as pseudogenes, which don’t have the proper sequence to produce functioning transcripts. For the latest study, the researchers wanted to see whether the duplications might have anything to do with elephant cells’ unusual response to DNA damage: indiscriminant destruction.

The team found that one of the pseudogenes, LIF6, evolved after LIF was duplicated in a way that produces a transcript, and that the gene product is controlled by TP53, a tumor suppressor. When the researchers overexpressed LIF6 in elephant cells, the cells underwent apoptosis. The same thing happened with they introduced the gene to Chinese hamster ovary cells, indicating that LIF6 has a role in elephants’ defense against DNA damage.

More work needs to be done to determine whether the LIF6 revival is responsible for elephants’ low cancer rates. There are likely to be other contributors, says coauthor Vincent Lynch, an evolutionary biologist at the University of Chicago, in an interview with The New York Times. “There are lots of stories like LIF6 in the elephant genome, and I want to know them all.”

https://www.the-scientist.com/news-opinion/elephants-revived-a-zombie-gene-that-perhaps-fends-off-cancer-64643

Near-death experiences, or NDEs, are significant psychological events that occur close to actual or perceived impending death. Commonly reported aspects of NDEs include out of body experiences, feelings of transitioning to another world and of inner peace, many of which are also reported by users taking DMT.

DMT is a potent psychedelic found in certain plants and animals, and is the major psychoactive compound in ayahuasca, the psychedelic brew prepared from vines and used in ceremonies in south and central America.

Researchers from Imperial College London set out to look at the similarities between the DMT experience and reports of NDEs. Their findings, published today in the journal Frontiers in Psychology, reveal a large overlap between those who have had NDEs and healthy volunteers administered DMT.

As part of the trial, the team looked at 13 healthy volunteers over two sessions, who were given intravenous DMT and placebo, receiving one of four doses of the compound. The research was carried out at the NIHR Imperial Clinical Research Facility. All volunteers were screened and overseen by medical staff throughout.

Researchers compared the participants’ experiences against a sample of 67 people who had previously reported actual NDEs and who had completed a standardised questionnaire to try and quantify their experiences. The group were asked a total of 16 questions including ‘Did scenes from your past come back to you?’ and ‘Did you see, or feel surrounded by, a brilliant light?’.

Following each dosing session, the 13 healthy volunteers filled out exactly the same questionnaire to find out what sort of experiences they had whilst on DMT and how this compared to the NDE group.

The team found that all volunteers scored above a given threshold for determining an NDE, showing that DMT could indeed mimic actual near death experiences and to a comparable intensity as those who have actually had an NDE.

Dr Robin Carhart-Harris, who leads the Psychedelic Research Group at Imperial and supervised the study, said: “These findings are important as they remind us that NDE occur because of significant changes in the way the brain is working, not because of something beyond the brain. DMT is a remarkable tool that can enable us to study and thus better understand the psychology and biology of dying.”

Professor David Nutt, Edmond J Safra Chair in Neuropsychopharmacology at Imperial, said: “These data suggest that the well-recognised life-changing effects of both DMT and NDE might have the same neuroscientific basis.”

PhD candidate Chris Timmermann, a member of the Psychedelic Research Group at Imperial and first author of the study, said: “Our findings show a striking similarity between the types of experiences people are having when they take DMT and people who have reported a near-death experience.”

The researchers note some subtle, but important differences between DMT and NDE responses, however. DMT was more likely to be associated with feelings of ‘entering an unearthly realm’, whereas actual NDEs brought stronger feelings of ‘coming to a point of no return’. The team explain that this may be down to context, with volunteers being screened, undergoing psychological preparation beforehand and being monitored through in a ‘safe’ environment.

“Emotions and context are particularly important in near-death experiences and with psychedelic substances,” explains Timmermann. “While there may be some overlap between NDE and DMT-induced experiences, the contexts in which they occur are very different.”

“DMT is a potent psychedelic and it may be that it is able to alter brain activity in a similar fashion as when NDEs occur.”

“We hope to conduct further studies to measure the changes in brain activity that occur when people have taken the compound. This, together with other work, will help us to explore not only the effects on the brain, but whether they might possibly be of medicinal benefit in future.”

https://www.technologynetworks.com/neuroscience/news/powerful-psychedelic-compound-models-near-death-experiences-in-the-brain-307638?utm_campaign=NEWSLETTER_TN_Neuroscience_2017&utm_source=hs_email&utm_medium=email&utm_content=65211042&_hsenc=p2ANqtz-_szeHBJKSgWgl_SDBvWrV8ncLN5bzJ6mkDQpNXKHOwtLpcxo_Vp3gC6mytMbuTKLxvvbahYFeA9RFa28pxLHQs18Nimg&_hsmi=65211042

Good Grip, Good Health

Posted: August 15, 2018 in Uncategorized
Tags: , , , ,

Measuring hand grip can help identify youths who could benefit from lifestyle changes, Baylor University researcher says. While other studies have shown that muscle weakness as measured by grip strength is a predictor of unhealthy outcomes — including cardiovascular and metabolic diseases, disability and even early mortality — this is the first to do so for adolescent health over time, a Baylor University researcher said.

“What we know about today’s kids is that because of the prevalence of obesity, they are more at risk for developing pre-diabetes and cardiovascular disease than previous generations,” said senior author Paul M. Gordon, Ph.D., professor and chair of health, human performance and recreation in Baylor’s Robbins College of Health and Human Sciences.

“This study gives multiple snapshots over time that provide more insight about grip strength and future risks for developing diabetes and cardiovascular disease,” he said. “Low grip strength could be used to predict cardiometabolic risk and to identify adolescents who would benefit from lifestyle changes to improve muscular fitness.”

Students tracked in the study were assessed in the fall of their fourth-grade year and at the end of the fifth grade. Using the norms for grip strengths in boys and girls, researchers measured the students’ grips in their dominant and non-dominant hands with an instrument called a handgrip dynamometer.

Researchers found that initially, 27.9 percent of the boys and 20.1 percent of the girls were classified as weak. Over the course of the study, boys and girls with weak grips were more than three times as likely to decline in health or maintain poor health as those who were strong.

Researchers also screened for and analyzed other metabolic risk factor indicators, including physical activity, cardiorespiratory fitness, body composition (the proportion of fat and fat-free mass), blood pressure, family history, fasting blood lipids and glucose levels.

“Even after taking into account other factors like cardiorespiratory fitness, physical activity and lean body mass, we continue to see an independent association between grip strength and both cardiometabolic health maintenance and health improvements,” Gordon said.

While much emphasis has been placed on the benefits of a nutritious diet and aerobic activity, this study suggests that greater emphasis needs to be placed on improving and maintaining muscular strength during adolescence.

If someone with a strong grip develops an even stronger grip, “we don’t necessarily see a drastic improvement in that individual’s health,” Gordon noted. “It’s the low strength that puts you at risk.

“Given that grip strength is a simple indicator for all-cause death, cardiovascular death and cardiovascular disease in adults, future research is certainly warranted to better understand how weakness during childhood tracks into and throughout adulthood,” he said. “Testing grip strength is simple, non-invasive and can easily be done in a health care professional’s office. It has value for adults and children.”

An estimated 17.2 percent of U.S. children and adolescents aged 2 to 19 years are obese and another 16.2 percent are overweight, according to the National Center for Health Statistics. Excess weight carries a greater lifetime risk of diabetes and premature heart disease. While the World Health Organization and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services recommend that youths perform at least 60 minutes of moderate to vigorous physical activity daily — including vigorous activity at least three days a week — fewer than a quarter of U.S. children do so, according to a report by the nonprofit National Physical Activity Plan Alliance.

Reference: Peterson, M. D., Gordon, P. M., Smeding, S., & Visich, P. (2018). Grip Strength Is Associated with Longitudinal Health Maintenance and Improvement in Adolescents. The Journal of Pediatrics. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jpeds.2018.07.020

https://www.technologynetworks.com/proteomics/news/good-grip-good-health-307585?utm_campaign=Newsletter_TN_BreakingScienceNews&utm_source=hs_email&utm_medium=email&utm_content=65175478&_hsenc=p2ANqtz-887HvGM-iiCBXuYuQ-OC_o-JSzmK_HOnCxRga2M8gAVZDF4SejOFma20Bb04GZ9F3uhKOjczHVcuNF-Htnak8rN-Hfow&_hsmi=65175479