Cerebrum Winter 2020

ADVANCES Notable brain science findings

SCREEN TIME has been linked to white matter deficits in preschoolers in a new study led by John S. Hutton, M.D., of Cincinnati Children’s Hospital. The study found that screen time use in 3- to 5-year-olds ranging from 1.5 to 10 hours a day—well beyond the American Academy of Pediatrics recommended limit of one hour per day—were correlated with lower microstructural integrity in the neuronal cables that relay electrical signals across the brain. The cross-sectional design of the study doesn’t prove that screen time caused the deficits, but it points to the need for more research to understand the relationship between digital media use and early brain development. l CYSTIC FIBROSIS is a rare, progressive, life-threatening disease that results in the formation of thick mucus that builds up in the lungs, digestive tract, and other parts of the body. It leads to severe respiratory and digestive problems as well as other complications such as infections and diabetes. Last fall, the US Food and Drug Administration approved Trikafta (elexacaftor/ivacaftor/ tezacaftor), the first triple combination therapy available to treat patients with the most common cystic fibrosis mutation. Trikafta is approved for patients 12 years and older who have at least one mutation in the gene that regulates cystic fibrosis, which is estimated to represent 90 percent of the cystic fibrosis population. l AFM, or acute flaccid myelitis, is a mysterious neurological condition that can cause limb weakness and polio-like symptoms, mostly in young children. A new study, published in the New England Journal of Medicine , points to a group of common viruses—known as enteroviruses— that sometimes cause neurological symptoms. The study found antibodies to enteroviruses in the cerebrospinal fluid of nearly 70 percent of the children with AFM, a sign that their bodies had mobilized to defend against enterovirus infection. l MICROBIOME is a collection of microbes that lives in our intestines and influences our immune system and the way we feel, as well as helps us digest food. An experiment that appeared in Nature Microbiology showed that people’s microbiomes seem to rapidly shift on a diet of raw foods. The study, which had a limited sample size, raises questions about

PROBLEM ADAPTATION THERAPY, or PATH, is a novel approach to treat depression. The therapy, developed at Weill Cornell Medicine in New York City and White Plains, N.Y., focuses on solving tangible problems that fuel feelings of sadness and hopelessness. It incorporates tools, such as checklists, calendars, signs, and videos, to make it accessible for people with memory issues. A caregiver is often involved. l

CRISPR, shorthand for “clustered regularly inter- spaced short palindromic repeats,” allows the cell (or a scientist) to precisely edit DNA or its sister molecule, RNA. A new study, published in Nature

Communications , found that CRISPR-associated enzymes have the potential to kill certain bacteria and develop more effective drugs. About 10 million people (up from the current number of 750,000) could die worldwide by 2050 from viruses that are resistant to antibiotics, based on the findings. Viruses have evolved to the point where they disguise themselves from drugs, often by hiding inside host cells (less than 100 antiviral drugs have successfully made it all the way to the clinic since 1963). l

ALZHEIMER’S DISEASE is a disorder where very little progress has been made in finding a cure. But some good news came from a study in Nature Medicine that was featured on the

front page of the New York Times on November 5. A woman, whose genetic profile showed she would develop Alzheimer’s by the time she was in her 50s, experienced no cognitive decline until her 70s due to a mutated gene that protected her from dementia. That finding suggests that treatments could be developed to give other people that same protective mechanism. l OMEGA-3S—found in fish oils and other foods— is a popular supplement for both heart and brain health. But while the jury is still out on heart health, an analysis that included 32 randomized trials testing 41,467 participants found that the supplements are probably ineffective in treating depression and anxiety. Omega-3s are found in seafoods like salmon, swordfish, and mussels. Neither length of treatment nor size of dosage demonstrated effectiveness. The study was published in the British Journal of Psychiatry . l

whether starting to eat cooked foods, in the distant past, shaped the evolution of the organisms that live inside us, and whether bacteria from those foods have helped us survive times of scarcity. l


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