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Gut bacteria can affect brain health

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We have known for a long time that there is a strong connection between the intestine and the brain, so that over the last twenty years several studies have discovered, for example, links between autoimmune disorders and different psychiatric conditions. The strong suspicion is that the intestinal microbiome, ie the set of all bacteria that live in the various parts of our intestine, strongly influences the health of the brain but this relationship is fundamentally unknown.

A new study, conducted by scientists at Weill Cornell Medical College provides new insights into the molecular cellular processes that underlie communication between the same microbes in the gut and brain cells. As David Artis, director of the Jill Roberts Institute for Research in Inflammatory Bowel Disease and professor of immunology, explains, this research represents a sort of initial path to understanding “the whole picture” about the chronic gastrointestinal conditions that affect mental health and even the behavior.

The researchers used experiments carried out on mice to understand the changes that occur in brain cells when the intestinal microbiome begins to run out. The researchers, in fact, reduced the microbial populations in the intestines of the mice through antibiotics. These mice showed very low learning abilities, for example in learning that a danger or threat was no longer present. By analyzing the microglia of the brain of mice, the researchers discovered an altered gene expression in these cells that influenced the connection between brain cells during the learning processes.

Furthermore, in mice with a lower quantity of bacteria in the intestine, changes could be noted in the concentrations of different metabolites linked to various neuropsychiatric disorders that also occur in humans, such as schizophrenia or autism. “Brain chemistry essentially determines how we feel and respond to our environment, and the evidence is showing that chemicals derived from intestinal microbes play an important role,” says Frank Schroeder, a professor at the Boyce Thompson Institute and one of the authors of the study.

This study conforms to the existence of a strong connection between the intestine and the brain and how this same connection influences our life day by day and only now we are beginning to understand how the intestine itself, or rather the bacteria inside it, can influence even diseases like autism, Parkinson’s and depression. Perhaps in the future we will be able to identify new targets for the treatment of these diseases, as Conor Liston suggests, an associate professor of neuroscience in the Feil Family Brain & Mind Research Institute and another author of the study.

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New small crustacean living in the depths of the Pacific discovered by researchers

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A new species of crustacean that frequents the deepest depths of the North Pacific has been discovered by two researchers, Torben Riehl, from the Senckenberg Naturmuseum, a German natural history museum, and Bart De Smet, from the University of Ghent.
The new species has been named Macrostylis metallicola (the second term is due to the rock band Metallica, of which Riehl is a fan).

This crustacean was discovered in the Clipperton fracture zone, a marine area off the coast of Mexico. It lives at great depths, between 4000 and 5000 meters, a marine area where the pressure is over 400 meters higher than we experience on the surface.
It is a small crustacean that does not exceed 6.5 mm in length and lives almost in absolute darkness. This is precisely why it has not developed eyes and its body has no colour.

It lives in an environment where manganese nodules dominate, metal elements often millions of years old that can vary greatly in size and contain precious elements such as copper, cobalt, manganese, nickel and rare earths.
In fact, it is expected that the seabed area of the Clarion-Clipperton fracture zone (CCFZ) in the Eastern Central Pacific Ocean may be exploited in the future because of its wealth of manganese nodules.

It is precisely with regard to the exploitation of environments that until a few decades ago no one would ever have thought to reach to extract minerals that the researcher Riehl intends to carry out a form of awareness raising: “Very few people are aware that the vast and largely unexplored depths of the oceans are home to bizarre and unknown creatures, just like our new crustacean Metallica. These species are part of the Earth’s system on which we all depend. The deep sea plays a role in this system linked to the climate and food networks of the oceans. While we cannot prevent mining, we must ensure that the exploitation of the manganese nodule is carried out in a sustainable manner by implementing appropriate management plans and protected areas designed to preserve biodiversity and ecosystem functioning.

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Bilingualism can counteract dementia because it stimulates the alternation between languages.

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Bilingualism, i.e. the ability to understand and speak two languages at the same time, can act to combat dementia according to a study conducted by researchers at Universitat Pompeu Fabra, Barcelona together with colleagues from other Spanish institutions.
The researchers analysed more than 100 bilingual or monolingual patients with mild cognitive deficits with an average age of 73 years. The subjects spoke both Spanish and Catalan.

According to César Ávila, one of the authors of the study, the alternative use of these two languages simultaneously on a cognitive level is complex precisely because there are many similarities between them and therefore one needs to be more vigilant and more attentive in order not to get confused.
After following the evolution of the patients during seven months, the researchers found that the bilingual ones showed a lower loss of brain volume while maintaining generally better cognitive abilities.

According to the researchers “there is a cognitive reserve of bilingualism” and this mechanism exists thanks to the cognitive stimulation that is fostered by the alternation of use between languages.
These are interesting results, according to the authors themselves, because it is one of the first studies that shows the possibility that there is in fact a kind of protection by bilingualism against dementia and that explains its mechanism.
The possibilities of therapies to stimulate patients suffering from dementia on a cognitive level through practical exercises in the use of different languages are now becoming more concrete.

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Dangerous cigarette compounds “travel” in every environment clinging to smokers’ clothes

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A further study focuses on so-called “third-hand smoke”, i.e. that type of second-hand smoke in which the injured party is in an environment, usually closed, where someone has smoked. The most striking example may be the interior of a car in which someone has smoked and there are still cigarette butts and ashes in the ashtrays.

This new study confirms that the remains of smoked cigarettes can cling to the bodies or clothes of smokers and then be released into non-smoking environments.
The team of researchers, led by Drew Gentner of Yale, shows in this study that these cigarette compounds can literally travel, and even in abundant quantities, in indoor environments frequented by non-smokers transported by smokers themselves.

According to the researchers, a person, even if he or she is in a room where no one has smoked, can still be exposed to many of the chemical compounds found in a cigarette if a person who had previously smoked has entered that room.
As Gentner explains, “People are substantial carriers of third-hand smoke contaminants in other rooms. Therefore, the idea that someone is protected from the potential health effects of cigarette smoke because they are not directly exposed to second-hand smoke is not right”.

To reach these conclusions, the researchers analysed the traces of cigarette compounds in a movie theatre. The researchers found that the amounts of these substances left by smokers, for example through their clothes on armchairs or in the air, increased dramatically after the screening of R-rated films, i.e. films for adults who naturally saw more smokers in the cinema.

The quantities of these dangerous substances, of which nicotine was the largest representative, were not even to be overlooked, according to the researchers: they were comparable to those of exposure to second-hand smoke.
These compounds continue to make their way into enclosed spaces despite strong bans and numerous regulations in many states around the world prohibiting people from smoking not only inside public places but also near entrances or near air vents.

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