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Vol. LIX, No. 17
August 24, 2007

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  An NIA-funded study suggests that obesity spreads within social networks—the closer the connection, the greater the influence.  
  An NIA-funded study suggests that obesity spreads within social networks—the closer the connection, the greater the influence.  
The Brain and ADHD

Much news in attention deficit hyperactivity disorder: In a study from NIMH, researchers found that brain areas controlling attention were thinnest in children with ADHD who carried a variation in a specific version of a gene. But these areas normalized in thickness during these children’s teen years, coinciding with clinical improvement. The results mean that though having this gene version increases risk of ADHD, it can also predict better clinical outcomes and higher IQ than two common versions of the same gene in youth with the disorder. Published in the same issue of Archives of General Psychiatry, a NIDA-led study documented decreased activity of the chemical dopamine in the brains of a group of adults with ADHD. Researchers knew that people with ADHD are more likely than others to smoke and to abuse alcohol, cocaine and other drugs; the new finding fits well with such data. Decreased dopamine activity is associated with systems in the brain involved with reward, which can lead individuals to have a greater risk of substance abuse. The study also offers a better understanding of how drugs used to treat ADHD, such as Ritalin, do their jobs: they may work by amplifying dopamine in the brain. All of this follows research announced last month by NIMH and published in the Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry showing that most children treated in a variety of ways for ADHD showed sustained improvement after 3 years, though an increased risk for behavioral problems in these children remained higher than normal.

Early Childhood Program Gets Results

According to a study funded in part by NICHD, intensive early education programs can benefit kids well into their adult lives. Researchers, following the Child-Parent Centers program for poor children in Chicago, found that program graduates showed higher education attainment, lower rates of serious crime and incarceration and lower rates of depressive symptoms by the time they reached adulthood than non-participants did. Founded in 1967, the program provides reading and math instruction from pre-kindergarten through third grade combined with frequent field trips; the kids’ parents receive job-skills training, educational classes and social services. Members of the research team, whose work was published in the Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine, said children who participated in the program had a greater recognition that having more education can be a way out of poverty.

Two Studies, Two MS Discoveries

For the first time in more than 20 years, scientists have identified new genetic risk factors for multiple sclerosis. A pair of large-scale studies, supported in part by NINDS and published simultaneously in the New England Journal of Medicine and Nature Genetics, revealed two genes that influence the risk of getting MS. These findings, sought since the discovery decades ago of the only other known MS-susceptibility gene, could shed new light on the cause of MS and lead to potential treatments. The autoimmune disease typically causes limb weakness, vision loss and problems with coordination and is the most common disabling neurological disorder in young adults.

Bad Influences

Finally, all those reports you’ve been hearing about how obesity can travel from friend to friend? The news comes from a study funded by NIA, using data from the Framingham Heart Study, which is supported by NHLBI. Published in the New England Journal of Medicine, the study found obesity spreads within social networks and that the closer the social connection, the greater the influence. Some of the findings: a key study participant’s chances of becoming obese increased by 57 percent if he or she had a close friend who became obese; when two people identified each other as close friends, the key participant’s risk of becoming obese if the friend did increased by 171 percent; and social distance was a much bigger factor than how far away people were geographically. In fact, researchers found that if an immediate neighbor became obese, it did not affect a person’s risk. Which also may say something about how close people generally feel to their neighbors. —

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