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Judith Loseff Lavin
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In The News

A distinctive triad of malformations of the central nervous system in the Meckel-Gruber syndrome.
December, 2003. Department of Pathology (Neuropathology), University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine, PA. reports:

A distinct triad of central nervous system (CNS) malformations (prosencephalic dysgenesis, occipital exencephalocele and rhombic roof dysgenesis) was present in seven cases of the Meckel-Gruber syndrome examined at autopsy. We compared our findings with those previously described. Microcephaly, sloping forehead, posterior occipital exencephalocele, cerebellar hypoplasia, Chiari malformation, hydrocephalus, polymicrogyria, arhinencephaly, holoprosencephaly and anencephaly constituted a broad spectrum of the reported CNS anomalies. Few reports contained a comprehensive description of the observed CNS malformations. In those reports, and in our cases, features of prosencephalic dysgenesis included agenesis of olfactory bulbs and tracts (arhinencephaly), hypoplasia of optic nerves and chiasm, agenesis of corpus callosum, fused thalami or complete holoprosencephaly. The occipital encephalocele has consisted of a displacement of rhombic roof elements, including caudal third ventricle, cerebellar vermis and fourth ventricle, extruded through an enlarged posterior fontanelle rather than through an occipital cranium bifidum and is thus more precisely labeled an exencephalocele. Different degrees of dysgenesis of posterior fossa structures, described by some as a variant of Dandy-Walker cyst with features of a Chiari malformation, were often associated with this occipital exencephalocele. This pattern of CNS anomalies represents a triad of malformations probably associated with defective ventral induction of the developing CNS by the prechordal mesoderm.

Perceptions of Anger
The May, 2003 edition of the Harvard Mental Health Letter also reports that an experiment at the University of Wisconsin showed that children who’ve been abused are especially sensitive to signs of angry facial expressions.

While observing faces on a screen, the psychologists, watched reactions of abuse victims as well as controls. In this study, children were asked to compare standard facial expressions such as happiness, fear, sadness and anger. “As a face gradually ‘morphed’ from one expression to another, the children were asked to say which expression it most closely resembled,” the Health Letter says. The abuse victims were quicker to see fear and sadness change into anger. In fact, they could see it, when others did not. The study noted that while quickly seeing such expressions could have been, and in some cases, may have still been a way to protect themselves, it also increased their risk that they might respond aggressively to nonexistent threats.

Pollak, SD, et al. “Early Experience Is Associated with the Development of Categorial Representations for Facial Expressions of Emotion,” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (June 25, 2002): Vol. 99, No. 13, pp. 9072-76.

Suicide Statistical Evidence
According to the Harvard Mental Health Letter (Vol. 19, number 11, May 2003), the child of a person who attempts or has committed suicide has six times the average risk of committing suicide. In addition, 13 per of those with an identical twin who commits suicide, also take their own lives, compared to less than one percent of fraternal twins in that situation.

The apparent hereditary vulnerability, might be due to genes that regulate the synthesis, release and breakdown of mood-and impulse-regulating neurotransmitter serotonin. “Low serotonin is associated with a tendency toward rage and impulsive behavior,” reports the Harvard Mental Health Letter. “One study found that among people hospitalized for suicide attempts, those with low levels of the breakdown product of serotonin in their spinal fluid were 10 times more likely to kill themselves within a year.” What’s more, the Letter states that those who have one type of variation of the gene that encodes the production of a type of receptor for serotonin can have twice the average suicide rate. There is also another gene that has been associated with suicide which regulates the production of the enzyme that degrades serotonin levels in the brain.

Interestingly, the Harvard Mental Health Letter also states that there is evidence that the most deadly suicide attempts are made by people who don’t have much serotonin activity in the prefrontal cortex of their brains, which is the area responsible for planning, judgment and inhibition.

Serotonin levels can vary with a person’s state of mind. As research continues in this area, the evidence shows that there are biological origins to suicide.

News From the Peanut Gallery:
There’s news from the peanut gallery. The March 18 issue of the New England Journal of Medicine, suggests that women who avoid peanuts during pregnancy and lactation, reduce their child’s chance of getting a peanut allergy. The study also showed that in addition to the peanut antigen being transferred in utero and in breast milk, it may also be absorbed through the skin. Consisting of 165 patients at 7 centers across the U.S., this study took more than two years to complete. It not only linked the use of creams that had peanut oil in them to children who developed the allergy, but also tested the use of a new drug, TNX-901, to reduce a patient’s reactivity to peanuts that were accidentally ingested.

Approximately 1.5 million people in the United States suffer from peanut allergy, with 50 to 100 of them dying annually from unintended ingestion, The New England Journal of Medicine reports. The study showed that a 450-mg. dose of the drug, increased the patient’s sensitivity to peanuts, which experts say translates into protection against most unintended ingestions of peanuts and perhaps other foods.

New findings on B vitamins:
According to Consumer Reports onhealth magazine new evidence shows that B-vitamins may protect against birth defects, cardiovascular disease, cancer, depression and mental decline. Some foods that are rich in the vitamin include: 3 oz of chicken livers, one avocado, _ cup of spinach, which, if eaten 3 times a week helps eyesight, 3 oz. of Atlantic Salmon, 1 tbsp. Of Nutritional yeast, 1 tbsp. of Brewer’s yeast, _ cup of lima, navy, pinto, garbanzo beans.

Breastmilk Reduces Pain in Newborns
A new French study reports in Pediatrics 2002 and Journal Watch, Jan 15, 2003, that babies who are breast fed suffer less pain from invasive procedures. The study included 180 full-term infants and their moms. Using a reliable and validated neonatal pain scale, Journal Watch reported, that the median pain scores on a 1 to 10 point scale were significantly lower in the breast fed infant group than in other groups. The study also found that the 1 in 3 infants who were fed oral glucose instead of breast milk had an almost as effective result in pain reduction as those who were breast fed. This study suggests that the breast is still best.