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Vol. LXI, No. 24
November 27, 2009
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Digest

  Researchers funded by NIDCD have shown that the brain regions that have long been recognized as a center in which spoken or written words are decoded are also important in interpreting wordless gestures.  
  Researchers funded by NIDCD have shown that the brain regions that have long been recognized as a center in which spoken or written words are decoded are also important in interpreting wordless gestures.  
More Clues to How Language Evolved

Your ability to make sense of Groucho’s words and Harpo’s pantomimes in an old Marx Brothers movie takes place in the same regions of your brain, says new research funded by the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders. In a study published in Nov. 9’s early edition of Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, researchers have shown that the brain regions that have long been recognized as a center in which spoken or written words are decoded are also important in interpreting wordless gestures. The findings suggest that these brain regions may play a much broader role in the interpretation of symbols than researchers have thought and, for this reason, could be the evolutionary starting point from which language originated.

Scientists have known that sign language is largely processed in the same regions of the brain as spoken language. These regions include the inferior frontal gyrus, or Broca’s area, in the front left side of the brain, and the posterior temporal region, commonly referred to as Wernicke’s area, toward the back left side of the brain. In this study, NIDCD researchers collaborated with scientists from Hofstra University School of Medicine and San Diego State University.

“In babies, the ability to communicate through gestures precedes spoken language, and you can predict a child’s language skills based on the repertoire of his or her gestures during those early months,” said NIDCD director Dr. James Battey. “These findings not only provide compelling evidence regarding where language may have come from, they help explain the interplay that exists between language and gesture as children develop their language skills.”

One Dose of H1N1 Flu Vac Prompts Strong Response by Pregnant Women

Healthy pregnant women mount a robust immune response following just one dose of 2009 H1N1 influenza vaccine, according to initial results from an ongoing clinical trial sponsored by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. A preliminary analysis of blood samples taken 21 days post-vaccination from a subgroup of 50 pregnant women participating in the trial shows the following:

  • In 25 women who received a single 15-microgram dose of the vaccine, the H1N1 flu vaccine elicited an immune response likely to be protective in 92 percent of these women.
  • In 25 women who received a single 30-microgram dose of the vaccine, the H1N1 flu vaccine elicited an immune response likely to be protective in 96 percent of these women.

The trial began on Sept. 9. Safety is being monitored closely by study investigators and by an independent expert safety monitoring committee. To date, the vaccine appears to be well-tolerated and no safety concerns related to the vaccine have arisen.

Speaking of Flu: New Explanation Offered for Virus ‘Shape-Shifting’

Influenza viruses evade infection-fighting antibodies by constantly changing the shape of their major surface protein. This shape-shifting, called antigenic drift, is why influenza vaccines— which are designed to elicit antibodies matched to each year’s circulating virus strains—must be reformulated annually.

Now, NIAID researchers have proposed a new explanation for the evolutionary forces that drive antigenic drift. The findings in mice, using a strain of seasonal influenza virus first isolated in 1934, also suggest that antigenic drift might be slowed by increasing the number of children vaccinated against influenza. Drs. Scott Hensley, Jonathan Yewdell and Jack Bennink led the research team, whose findings appeared in the Oct. 30 issue of Science.

According to the prevailing theory, drift occurs as the virus is passed from person to person and is exposed to differing antibody attacks at each stop. With varying success, antibodies recognize one or more of the four antigenic regions in hemagglutinin, the major outer coat protein of the flu virus. Antibodies in person A, for example, may mount an attack in which antibodies focus on a single antigenic region. Mutant viruses that arise in person A can escape antibodies by replacing one critical amino acid in this antigen region. These mutant viruses survive, multiply and are passed to person B, where the process is repeated.—

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