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Vol. LX, No. 12
June 13, 2008

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  Researchers say people in your social network—family, friends and other close associates—can influence whether you quit smoking and other behavior associated with health and disease.  
  Researchers say people in your social network—family, friends and other close associates—can influence whether you quit smoking and other behavior associated with health and disease.  

Family, Friends Influence Smokers to Quit

Smokers who kick the habit are probably influenced to quit by family and friends. A new study examined changes in smoking behavior within a large social network over 30 years. Researchers found people stopped smoking in groups, not as individuals. Those who continued to smoke also formed clusters that gradually moved away socially from the larger group. The May 22 New England Journal of Medicine report, funded mainly by NIA, could help develop ways to reduce and prevent smoking. The analysis was based on a network of 12,067 people in the Framingham Heart Study, a community-based trial sponsored for 60 years by NHLBI. Framingham collects information on heart health and risk factors among participants who are connected as family, friends and coworkers. Researchers analyzed the network’s smoking behaviors between 1971 and 2003. The group ranged in age from 21 to 70. Persons who smoked one or more cigarettes a day were deemed smokers.

New Study Tallies Cost of Mental Disorders

The burden of mental illness is a lot higher when you add up indirect costs. That’s according to a new study in the May issue of the American Journal of Psychiatry. Major mental disorders cost the nation at least $193 billion annually in lost income alone. “Lost earning potential, costs associated with treating coexisting conditions, Social Security payments, homelessness and incarceration are just some of the indirect costs associated with mental illnesses that have been difficult to quantify,” said Dr. Thomas Insel, director of NIMH, which funded the study. Factors such as medication, clinic visits and hospitalization are relatively easy to measure, but reveal only part of the economic impact mental disorders have on society. Indirect costs probably account for huge expenses, but are hard to estimate. In the new study, researchers examined data from a representative study of Americans ages 18 to 64. Data from 4,982 respondents was used to calculate the amount of earnings lost in the year before the survey.

NIAID Advances B-Cell Approach to HIV Vaccines

NIAID recently launched a program to study B cells, immune cells that can produce antibodies with the capacity to neutralize HIV. In order to promote less-traveled approaches to preventive HIV vaccine design, NIAID created a $15.6 million, 5-year program incorporating a network of 10 research teams across the U.S. that will share resources. B cells recognize key parts of microbes, called antigens. Then, in cooperation with T cells—which kill cells infected by pathogens—a reaction is triggered that leads B cells to produce antibodies that can lock onto antigens and sweep them out of the body. But HIV is smart enough to trick B cells, and change itself so antibodies can rarely rid the body of the virus. In recent years, grants funded by NIAID have focused more on T-cell approaches to preventive HIV vaccines than on B-cell avenues. Many experts believe a successful vaccine will need to activate both types.

More Info from WHI on Hormone Therapy

New analysis of data in the Women’s Health Initiative hormone therapy clinical trials suggests healthy postmenopausal women whose blood cholesterol levels are normal or lower are not at increased short-term risk for heart attack when taking hormone therapy. In particular, postmenopausal women who had no history of heart disease but whose ratio of low-density lipoprotein (LDL or “bad”) cholesterol to high-density lipoprotein (HDL, or “good”) cholesterol was less than 2.5 were at no increased risk of heart attack or death due to heart attack from taking estrogen plus progestin or estrogen alone, compared to their peers who did not take hormone therapy, after 4 years of follow up. The study was published in the June 1 issue of the American Journal of Cardiology.

Scientists Show Why Some Cocaine Cravings Come Back

Researchers have identified a brain mechanism that helps explain why craving for cocaine—and the risk of relapse—seems to increase in the weeks and months after drug use stops. The NIDA-supported study was published in the May 25 Nature. Exposure to environmental cues (e.g., people, places, things) previously associated with drug use can trigger drug craving, often leading to relapse. Previous research in rats showed that sensitivity to these cues follows a defined time course progressively increasing (or incubating) during a 60-day withdrawal period. In the current study, also in rats, researchers demonstrate that after prolonged withdrawal from cocaine use, there is an increase in the number of proteins called AMPA glutamate receptors in a brain region known as the nucleus accumbens (an area involved in motivation and reward). These new AMPA receptors are atypical and appear to be responsible for the “incubation” of cocaine craving. The finding suggests new avenues for development of medications to decrease risk of relapse in abstinent cocaine abusers.—

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