All posts by Johnathan Flint

Losing even one night’s sleep increases Tau protein in the brain, an Alzheimer’s marker

Losing even one night’s sleep increases levels of Tau, abundant proteins in central nervous system neurons that can be considered a marker of senile dementia, particularly Alzheimer’s disease.
This is the discovery made by a team of researchers at the University of Uppsala who published their study on Neurology.

Tau proteins present in neurons usually form “tangles.” When the formation of these tangles exceeds a certain limit, they accumulate in the brain and lead to Alzheimer’s disease. Before the symptoms of the same disease appear, the accumulation can last for decades. Already in the past, studies had shown that Tau levels in cerebral spinal fluid could increase as a result of sleep deprivation.

According to Jonathan Cedernaes, one of the authors of the study, even a single night’s sleep can cause an increase, albeit slight, in the level of tau in the blood. This, in turn, suggests that repeated sleep interruptions or long-term sleep deprivation can therefore have harmful effects in terms of cognitive function and the risk of Alzheimer’s itself.

The researchers carried out studies on 15 healthy men with an average age of 22 years who had reported, before the start of the experiment, to sleep regularly from seven to nine hours a night.
In the first phase, these people observed a rigorous program of meals and physical activity for two days two nights. After this first phase, blood samples were taken and analyzed.

Then the second phase began, during which the same people were given a normal night’s sleep, followed by a night in which they were kept forcibly awake with lights on and various activities. Subsequent blood tests showed a 17% increase in blood tau levels after just one night of sleep deprivation. The researchers also examined four other Alzheimer’s related biomarkers but these were not characterized by any particular changes or increases.

According to Cedernaes himself, this is explained by the fact that when neurons are active, the release of TAU in the brain is higher than when we sleep. That is why after only one night when awake, the amount is increased the next day.

Now further studies are needed to determine whether these increases cause a general increase in tau levels in the brain over the long term or whether these proteins are eliminated in whole or in part somehow after a sleepless night. Further studies should also be carried out on different populations, e.g. female patients or elderly people.

A new instrument will allow mass measurement of exoplanets with extreme precision

A new instrument just mounted on the 3.5-meter WIYN telescope at Kitt Peak National Observatory in southern Arizona promises to detect mass and other characteristics of exoplanets with unprecedented accuracy. In fact, the new instrument, called NEID, will allow an accuracy three times higher than the previous generation of similar instruments.

A high-precision radial velocity spectrometer will collect light from the stars and measure the sometimes minimal gravitational effect that the planets themselves have on the stars around which they orbit. It is a small “wobble” caused by a periodic shift in the speed of the star. This also happens in our solar system. For example, Jupiter, the largest planet, causes an oscillatory movement of the Sun that can be measured in about 30 miles per hour. The Earth, on the other hand, causes a movement of only 0.2 miles per hour.

Of course, the size of the oscillation is proportional to the mass of the planet and this is why it is possible not only to discover the planets themselves but also to measure their mass with extreme precision. The similar instruments used until now can in fact measure this type of oscillation only up to 2 miles per hour but now the NEID will be able to measure oscillations at even shorter speeds, up to one mile per hour, as explained by Jason Wright, a researcher at the State University of Pennsylvania involved in the project. This means that even exoplanets with a land mass can be more easily discovered.

Such an instrument, in collaboration with others such as the TESS space telescope, will therefore allow a greater number of discoveries of exoplanets so that “things will become really interesting and we will be able to learn what planets are made of,” as the scientist himself explains.

The instrument has already been tested with observations of the brightness of the star 51 Pegasi. The instrument can also be updated and can be used by practically all astronomers, as explained by Sarah Logsdon, another researcher involved in the project.

Supplements with zinc and folic acid do not improve male fertility according to a new study

Supplements based on zinc and folic acid, increasingly propagated as substances to combat male infertility, are not actually responsible for an improvement in pregnancy rates, sperm count and potency. This is the conclusion in a statement published on the University of Utah’s website which refers to a new study published in JAMA.

According to the researchers, this is the most definitive proof obtained to date through a scientific study of the fact that these supplements do not actually meet expectations. “The message for men to take home is that, for the first time, there is high-quality data that zinc and folic acid do not improve live birth outcomes or semen function,” says James M. Hotaling, a urologist at the university and one of the authors of the study.

Among the most popular fertility supplements are those containing zinc, which is actually essential for sperm development. These supplements very often also contain folic acid, another substance that actually helps the DNA formation process of the spermatozoa themselves. However, over-the-counter supplements, also called nutraceuticals, containing these substances do not seem to produce a satisfactory result.

This is the result that the researchers obtained by performing an experiment on 2370 couples who had planned to undergo fertility treatments in various U.S. cities. Some of the men were given a supplement consisting of 5 mg of folic acid and 30 mg of zinc for six months. The remaining men were given a placebo substance.

At the end of the experiment, the researchers found no particular differences in the number of live births between men who had taken the supplement and those who had not. The group of the placebo substance showed 35% of live births compared to 34% of the first group.

In addition, the subjects in the group that had received the supplement, compared to the placebo group, had complained more abdominal pain, vomiting, nausea and other gastrointestinal symptoms.

Sweetened beverages can damage teeth lining and accelerate wear

Sweetened alcoholic drinks are the most common link between obesity and tooth wear, according to a new study published in Clinical Oral Investigations.

The research, carried out by researchers at King’s College London, has in fact focused on the relationship between overweight or obesity and tooth wear. Analyzing a data database of 3541 patients from the United States, data dating back to the years 2003 and 2004, the researchers found that the increase in consumption of sugary drinks is one of the main causes, if not the main one, with regard to erosion of the enamel of teeth and dentin in obese people.

Data regarding the consumption of acidic sugary drinks had been taken during a survey conducted through two interviews in which the participants were asked to provide details regarding the consumption of drinks and food. According to Saoirse O’Toole, one of the researchers working on the study, it is the acid nature of many carbonated and sugary drinks, including fruit juices, that accelerates tooth wear.

This last condition is classified as the third most important dental condition after tooth decay and gum disease. Premature tooth wear is a condition that characterizes up to 30% of adults in Europe and is characterized by slow dissolution of the external enamel of the teeth. This dissolution can then lead to a greater sensitivity of the teeth themselves, especially when taking food or cold drinks.

This is an important discovery for all those obese subjects who continue to consume sugary drinks. As so many other researches have shown, these drinks can lead to many health problems or accelerate the course of various conditions, primarily obesity, and now this research shows that they can also damage the lining of teeth.

New antibody discovered in a patient’s blood that protects against numerous flu strains

A particular antibody that, at least in mice, acts as a barrier to various forms of flu, some of which are lethal, was discovered by a group of researchers from various American institutes. This is an important discovery, especially in regards to the potential of a universal vaccine that can protect from all or most of the influenza virus strains, especially in a pandemic way.

Influenza viruses are a problem especially because new strains are born every year. This means that researchers have to design new vaccines every year, as explained by Ali Ellebedy, assistant professor of pathology and immunology at Washington University and one of the authors of the research that appeared in Science. Precisely for this reason, having a vaccine that protects against all the flu strains would be a historic result.

The researcher discovered a particular antibody two years ago, an immune protein in the blood of a patient admitted for influenza to the Barnes-Jewish Hospital in St. Louis. The blood sample he analyzed was unusual because it contained antibodies against hemagglutinin, the main protein found in the virus, but also other antibodies whose targets seemed unknown.

With the help of Florian Krammer, a professor of microbiology at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, Ellebedy discovered that at least one of the three mysterious antibodies blocked the activity of neuraminidase, another important protein underlying essential influenza viruses for her replication. To find out whether these antibodies could be used to treat influenza, the researchers then tested them on mice with lethal flu viruses. All three antibodies proved to be effective against different influenza strains and one of them, named 1G01, protected mice from all 12 flu strains tested.

“All mice survived, even though they received the antibody 72 hours after infection,” explains Ellebedy. “They certainly got sick and lost weight, but we saved them anyway. It was remarkable. It made us think that it could be possible to use this antibody in an intensive care setting when you have someone with flu and it’s too late to use Tamiflu.”

Now researchers are working intensively to develop new flu vaccines based on the 1G01 antibody, an alternative approach that could be very important for developing a truly universal vaccine.

Gut bacteria can affect brain health

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.