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Vol. LXI, No. 16
August 7, 2009

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A Child’s IQ Can Be Affected by Mother’s Exposure to Urban Air Pollutants

A mother’s exposure to urban air pollutants known as polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) can adversely affect a child’s intelligence quotient or IQ, an NIH-funded study reports in the August issue of Pediatrics. PAHs are chemicals released into the air from the burning of coal, diesel, oil and gas, or other organic substances such as tobacco. In urban areas, motor vehicles are a major source of PAHs. The study, funded by the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, the Environmental Protection Agency and several private foundations, found that children exposed to high levels of PAHs in New York City had full-scale and verbal IQ scores that were 4.31 and 4.67 points lower than those of less exposed children. “This is the first study to report an association between PAH exposure and IQ,” said NIEHS director Dr. Linda Birnbaum, “and it should serve as a warning bell to us all. We need to do more to prevent environmental exposures from harming our children.”

NIH Launches Human Connectome Project to Map Brain Connections

The NIH Blueprint for Neuroscience Research is launching a $30 million project that will use cutting-edge brain imaging technologies to map the circuitry of the healthy adult human brain. By systematically collecting brain imaging data from hundreds of subjects, the Human Connectome Project (HCP) will yield insight into how brain connections underlie brain function and will open up new lines of inquiry for human neuroscience. Investigators have been invited to submit detailed proposals to carry out the HCP, which will be funded at up to $6 million per year for 5 years. The HCP is the first of three Blueprint Grand Challenges intended to promote major leaps in the understanding of brain function and in approaches for treating brain disorders. The challenges to be launched in 2009 and 2010 address connectivity of the adult human brain, targeted drug development for neurological diseases and the neural basis of chronic pain disorders.

NHGRI researchers are part of a team that identified a retrogene that underlies the short, curved legs of dog breeds, including the dachshund and at least 18 other breeds.

Surprising Truth about Dachshunds, Other Dogs with Short Legs

A single evolutionary event appears to explain the short, curved legs that characterize all of today’s dachshunds, corgis, basset hounds and at least 16 other breeds of dogs, according to a team led by the National Human Genome Research Institute. In addition to what it reveals about short-legged dogs, the unexpected discovery provides new clues about how physical differences may arise within species and suggests new approaches to understanding a form of human dwarfism. In a study published in the advance online edition of the journal Science, researchers led by NHGRI’s Dr. Elaine Ostrander examined DNA samples from 835 dogs, including 95 with short legs. Their survey of more than 40,000 markers of DNA variation uncovered a genetic signature exclusive to certain breeds. Specifically, they found that all short-legged dog breeds have an extra copy of the gene that codes for a growth-promoting protein called fibroblast growth factor 4.

Discovery of New Transmission Patterns May Help Prevent Rotavirus Epidemics

New vaccines have the potential to prevent or temper epidemics of the childhood diarrhea-causing disease rotavirus, protect the unvaccinated and raise the age at which the infection first appears in children, federal researchers reported. The findings were based on changing patterns of rotavirus transmission in the United States, where the disease is rarely fatal. The results have implications for combating epidemics in other countries where the death toll is much higher. Published in the July 17 issue of Science, the research is based on mathematical modeling that takes into account regional birth rates and predicted vaccination levels and effectiveness. The model suggests that when 80 percent or more of children in a given population are vaccinated, annual epidemics may occur on a less regular basis and more unvaccinated children will be protected. Data from 2007-2008, when vaccination first reached appreciable coverage levels in the U.S., validate the model’s predictions. The study showed for the first time that the timing of rotavirus epidemics is dependent on the birth rate in the population because they are driven by infants who have never been infected before. The modeling and analysis were done by a team that included researchers from the Fogarty International Center and CDC.—

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