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Vol. LX, No. 19
September 19, 2008
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Digest

The Brain and Obesity

According to a new study, a brain chemical that plays a role in long-term memory also appears to be involved in regulating how much people eat and their likelihood of becoming obese. Researchers from NICHD, NHGRI and NIDA found that some children and adults with a rare genetic condition called WAGR syndrome lack a gene for BDNF (brain derived neurotrophic factor), a brain chemical proven to help control appetite and weight in animal studies. These people also have low blood levels of BDNF, unusually large appetites and a strong tendency toward obesity. Previous research had shown that animals missing a working copy of the BDNF gene were prone to excessive eating and obesity, but the geneís importance in people had not been proven. The new work, published in the New England Journal of Medicine on Aug. 28, provides the first strong evidence that BDNF is important for body weight in human beings. Researchers said itís a promising new lead in the search for biological pathways that contribute to obesity and could lead to the development of new treatments to regulate appetite.

An NIH study revealed that preterm infants born to mothers receiving a common treatment to delay labor are less likely to develop cerebral palsy than are preterm infants whose mothers don’t receive the treatment.
An NIH study revealed that preterm infants born to mothers receiving a common treatment to delay labor are less likely to develop cerebral palsy than are preterm infants whose mothers donít receive the treatment.

Decreasing Risk for Cerebral Palsy in Preterm Infants

In the same issue of the New England Journal of Medicine, a study conducted by NICHD and funded by NINDS revealed that preterm infants born to mothers receiving a common treatment to delay labor are less likely to develop cerebral palsy than are preterm infants whose mothers donít receive the treatment. Itís an especially important finding because a third of all cases of cerebral palsy are associated with preterm birth. The researchers believe that the treatment, intravenous magnesium sulfate, protects against the disease because it can stabilize blood vessels, protect against damage from oxygen depletion and help prevent injury from swelling and inflammation. The causes of cerebral palsy, a group of neurological disorders affecting control of movement and posture and limiting activity, are not well understood. The new study is the largest effort of its kind to look at using this treatment to reduce the occurrence of cerebral palsy after preterm birth.

Gene Abnormalities and Bipolar Disorder

In the largest genetic analysis of its kind to date for bipolar disorder, researchers supported in part by NIMH have implicated in the illness the machinery involved in the balance of sodium and calcium in brain cells. According to the study, published Aug. 17 in Nature Genetics, there is an association between bipolar disorder and the variation in two genes that make components of channels that manage the flow of the elements in and out of cells, including neurons. Though itís not yet known in what way the genetic variation could affect this balance machinery, the studyís results point to the chance that bipolar disorder might stem in part from the malfunction of ion channels. Greater understanding of these kinds of gene abnormalities could provide hope to the millions of people with the disorder, researchers said.

History Offers Pointers for Future Pandemic Planning

It wasnít just the fluís fault. According to a new study by NIAID researchers, the majority of deaths during the influenza pandemic of 1918 and 1919 were not caused by the influenza virus by itself, but by bacterial pneumonia following infection from the virus. Victims developed pneumonia when bacteria that normally inhabit the nose and throat entered the lungs along a pathway created by the virus. These conclusions, published in the Oct. 1 issue of the Journal of Infectious Diseases and available online now, mean that a future pandemic could unfold in a similar manner, the researchers said. They therefore suggest that preparation for pandemics should include stockpiling antibiotics and bacterial vaccines along with producing new or improved influenza vaccines and antiviral drugs.ó

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