ANAMIA (« La sociabilité ‘Ana-mia’ : une approche des troubles alimentaires par les réseaux sociaux en ligne et hors-ligne », ANR09-ALIA001) est un projet de recherche fondamentale, commencé en 2010 et financé par l’Agence Nationale de la Recherche (ANR). Il est réalisé par une équipe pluridisciplinaire de chercheurs, en France et au Royaume-Uni.
Dans le jargon d’internet, « Ana » et « Mia » désignent l’anorexie et la boulimie mentale. Il existe des sites web conçus et gérés par les internautes pour parler de ces troubles des conduites alimentaires (TCA). Le ton provocateur de certains d’entre eux, allant jusqu’à affirmer que ces troubles sont un choix de vie plutôt qu’une maladie, a attiré l’attention des médias et des décideurs politiques, et leur a valu la qualification péjorative de « pro-ana » ou « pro-mia ».
A study published recently in the Journal of Neuroscience points, for the first time, to the gene trkC as a factor in susceptibility to the disease. The researchers define the specific mechanism for the formation of fear memories which will help in the development of new pharmacological and cognitive treatments.
Five out of every 100 people* in Spain suffer from panic disorder, one of the diseases included within the anxiety disorders, and they experience frequent and sudden attacks of fear that may influence their everyday lives, sometimes even rendering them incapable of things like going to the shops, driving the car or holding down a job.
It was known that this disease had a neurobiological and genetic basis and for some time the search had been on to discover which genes were involved in its development, with certain genes being implicated without their physiopathological contribution being understood. Now, for the first time, researchers from the Centre for Genomic Regulation (CRG) have revealed that the gene NTRK3, responsible for encoding a protein essential for the formation of the brain, the survival of neurones and establishing connections between them, is a factor in genetic susceptibility to panic disorder.
"We have observed that deregulation of NTRK3 produces changes in brain development that lead to malfunctions in the fear-related memory system", explains Mara Dierssen, head of the Cellular and Systems Neurobiology group at the CRG. “In particular, this system is more efficient at processessing information to do with fear, the thing that makes a person overestimate the risk in a situation and therefore feel more frightened and, also, that stores that information in a more lasting and consistent manner".
Different regions of the human brain are responsible for processing this feeling, although the hippocampus and amygdala play crucial roles. On the one hand, the hippocampus is responsible for forming memories and processing contextual information, which means that the person may be afraid of being in places where they could suffer a panic attack; and on the other, the amygdala is crucial in converting this information into a physiological fear response.
Although these circuits are activated in everyone in warning situations, what the CRG researchers have discovered is that “in those people who suffer from panic disorder there is overactivation of the hippocampus and altered activation in the amygdala circuitry, resulting in exaggerated formation of fear memories”, explains Davide D’Amico, a PhD student at the CRG, co-author of the work and the article published in the Journal of Neuosciences, together with Dierssen and the researcher Mónica Santos.
They have also found that Tiagabine, a drug that modulates the brain’s fear inhibition system, is able to reverse the formation of panic memories. Although it had already been observed to alleviate certain symptoms in some patients, “we have discovered that it specifically helps restore the fear memory system”, points out Dierssen.
Panic attacks are a key symptom of panic disorder. They can last several minutes, be sudden and repeated, and the sufferer has a physical reaction similar to the alarm response to real danger, involving palpitations, cold sweats, dizziness, shortness of breath, tingling in the body, nausea and stomach pain. On top of this, they feel continuously anxious when faced with the prospect of suffering another attack.
This study by the CRG researchers reveals that the way in which the memories resulting from a panic attack are stored is what ultimately ends up producing the disorder, which usually appears between 20 and 30 years of age. Although it has a genetic basis, it is also influenced by other environmental factors, such as accumulated stress. This is why the authors of the paper consider elevated environmental stress in Spanish society to have led to an increase in the occurrence of these disorders.
Currently, there is no cure for this disease, which is treated with medicines that block the more serious symptoms, as well as with cognitive therapy, which aims to help the person learn to survive the attacks better. “The problem is that drugs have many side effects and psychotherapy is not really aimed at specific moments in the process of forming and forgetting fear memories. In our work we have defined a specific creation mechanism for these fear memories that could help in the development of new drugs and, also, in identifying the key moments for applying cognitive therapy”, indicates D’Amico.
Researchers have discovered a gene that regulates alcohol consumption and when faulty can cause excessive drinking. They have also identified the mechanism underlying this phenomenon.
The study showed that normal mice show no interest in alcohol and drink little or no alcohol when offered a free choice between a bottle of water and a bottle of diluted alcohol.
However, mice with a genetic mutation to the gene Gabrb1 overwhelmingly preferred drinking alcohol over water, choosing to consume almost 85% of their daily fluid as drinks containing alcohol - about the strength of wine.
The consortium of researchers from five UK universities – Newcastle University, Imperial College London, Sussex University, University College London and University of Dundee – and the MRC Mammalian Genetics Unit at Harwell, funded by the Medical Research Council (MRC), Wellcome Trust and ERAB, publish their findings today in Nature Communications.
Dr Quentin Anstee, Consultant Hepatologist at Newcastle University, joint lead author said: “It’s amazing to think that a small change in the code for just one gene can have such profound effects on complex behaviours like alcohol consumption.
“We are continuing our work to establish whether the gene has a similar influence in humans, though we know that in people alcoholism is much more complicated as environmental factors come into play. But there is the real potential for this to guide development of better treatments for alcoholism in the future.”
Identifying the gene for alcohol preference
Working at the MRC Mammalian Genetics Unit, a team led by Professor Howard Thomas from Imperial College London introduced subtle mutations into the genetic code at random throughout the genome and tested mice for alcohol preference. This led the researchers to identify the gene Gabrb1 which changes alcohol preference so strongly that mice carrying either of two single base-pair point mutations in this gene preferred drinking alcohol (10% ethanol v/v - about the strength of wine), over water.
The group showed that mice carrying this mutation were willing to work to obtain the alcohol-containing drink by pushing a lever and, unlike normal mice, continued to do so even over long periods. They would voluntarily consume sufficient alcohol in an hour to become intoxicated and even have difficulty in coordinating their movements.
The cause of the excessive drinking was tracked down to single base-pair point mutations in the gene Gabrb1, which codes for the beta 1 subunit, an important component of the GABAA receptor in the brain. This receptor responds to the brain’s most important inhibitory chemical messenger (GABA) to regulate brain activity. The researchers found that the gene mutation caused the receptor to activate spontaneously even when the usual GABA trigger was not present.
These changes were particularly strong in the region of the brain that controls pleasurable emotions and reward, the nucleus accumbens, as Dr Anstee explains: “The mutation of the beta1 containing receptor is altering its structure and creating spontaneous electrical activity in the brain in this pleasure zone, the nucleus accumbens. As the electrical signal from these receptors increases, so does the desire to drink to such an extent that mice will actually work to get the alcohol, for much longer than we would have expected.”
Professor Howard Thomas said: “We know from previous human studies that the GABA system is involved in controlling alcohol intake. Our studies in mice show that a particular subunit of GABAA receptor has a significant effect and most importantly the existence of these mice has allowed our collaborative group to investigate the mechanism involved. This is important when we come to try to modify this process first in mice and then in man.”
Leading to a treatment for alcohol addiction
Initially funded by the MRC, the 10-year project aimed to find genes affecting alcohol consumption. Professor Hugh Perry, Chair of the MRC’s Neurosciences and Mental Health Board, said: “Alcohol addiction places a huge burden on the individual, their family and wider society. There’s still a great deal we don’t understand about how and why consumption progresses into addiction, but the results of this long-running project suggest that, in some individuals, there may be a genetic component. If further research confirms that a similar mechanism is present in humans, it could help us to identify those most at risk of developing an addiction and ensure they receive the most effective treatment.”
Les Bulletins Electroniques des Ambassades de France - un service ADIT
L’apprentissage des dialectes modèle les zones du cerveau qui traitent le langage parlé
En utilisant des techniques d’imagerie avancées pour visualiser les zones du cerveau utilisées pour la compréhension du langage chez des japonophones de naissance, une nouvelle étude de l’institut des sciences du cerveau du RIKEN montre que le cerveau est modelé dans l’enfance par le dialecte appris comme langue maternelle. Dans leur article publié dans le Journal Brain and Language
Kupffer cells are specialized macrophages that patrol tiny vessels in the liver called sinusoids, recycling old red blood cells and ingesting pathogens. The endothelium of these vessels is perforated with large holes, allowing the Kupffer cells to migrate into liver tissue at sites of inflammation and damage.
Plate 81 from The anatomy of the arteries of the human body, with its applications to pathology and operative surgery by Richard Quain.
When I look at this illustration, I am truly impressed with the detail of it all. I also find myself unable to shake the thoughts of compartment syndrome, necrotizing fasciitis, and deep vein thrombosis as I inspect its details, says the medical mind that does not know when to quit.