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Vol. LXII, No. 4
February 19, 2010

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SIDS Linked to Low Levels of Serotonin

The brains of infants who die of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) produce low levels of serotonin, a brain chemical that conveys messages between cells and plays a vital role in regulating breathing, heart rate and sleep, reported researchers funded by NIH.

SIDS is the death of an infant before his or her first birthday that cannot be explained after a complete autopsy, an investigation of the scene and circumstances of the death and a review of the medical history of the infant and of his or her family. According to the National Center for Health Statistics, SIDS is the third leading cause of infant death, claiming more than 2,300 lives in 2006.

The researchers theorize that this newly discovered serotonin abnormality may reduce infants’ capacity to respond to breathing challenges, such as low oxygen levels or high levels of carbon dioxide. These high levels may result from re-breathing exhaled carbon dioxide that accumulates in bedding while sleeping face down. The findings appeared in the Feb. 3 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association.

Antibodies Against Abnormal Glycoproteins Identified as Possible Biomarkers for Cancer

Scientists have found that cancer patients produce antibodies that target abnormal glycoproteins (proteins with sugar molecules attached) made by their tumors. The result of this work suggests that antitumor antibodies in the blood may provide a fruitful source of sensitive biomarkers for cancer detection. The study, supported in part by the National Cancer Institute, appeared in the Feb. 15 issue of Cancer Research.

“Thanks to emerging technologies such as the one used in this study, scientists have identified biomarkers based on the carbohydrate (sugar) portion of a glycoprotein that may be novel targets for early detection and diagnosis of certain cancers,” said Dr. Sudhir Srivastava, chief of the cancer biomarkers research group in NCI’s Division of Cancer Prevention.

Research has shown that cancer patients sometimes make autoantibodies against their own malignant cells and tissues, as part of an immune response against their cancers. It is unclear why some cancer cells evade immune defenses. Scientists hope that such antibodies may ultimately have the potential to help doctors detect cancer by a simple blood test.

Vaccine Protects Monkeys from Chikungunya Virus

Indian Health Service director Dr. Yvette Roubideaux (l) recently met with the National Advisory General Medical Sciences Council to discuss the Native American Research Centers for Health Program. This program, a partnership led by the Indian Health Service and NIGMS, develops opportunities for research and research training to meet the needs of American Indian/Alaska Native communities. Also shown are NIGMS director Dr. Jeremy Berg (c) and NIGMS associate director for extramural activities Dr. Ann Hagan.

NIH scientists have created an experimental vaccine that has protected macaques and mice against chikungunya virus, a mosquito-borne pathogen that has infected millions of people in Africa and Asia and causes debilitating pain.

An experimental vaccine developed using non-infectious virus-like particles (VLP) has protected macaques and mice against chikungunya virus, a mosquito-borne pathogen that has infected millions of people in Africa and Asia and causes debilitating pain, researchers at NIH have found.

Scientists at NIAID developed the vaccine because there is no vaccine or treatment for chikungunya virus infection. Details about the vaccine were published Jan. 28 in the online version of Nature Medicine.

“Increases in global travel and trade, and possibly climate change, may be contributing to the spread of disease-carrying mosquitoes into new areas,” said NIAID director Dr. Anthony Fauci. “Finding safe and effective human vaccines for chikungunya virus and other insect-borne pathogens is an important global health priority.”

“This virus-like particle vaccine provides a promising way to protect against an emerging infectious disease threat,” noted Dr. Gary Nabel, director of NIH’s Vaccine Research Center. “This same approach could possibly extend to viruses related to chikungunya that cause fatal diseases such as encephalitis.”

Teaching Teens About Abstinence May Delay Sexual Activity, Reduce Risk Behaviors

Teens who received a behavioral intervention centered on abstinence were more likely to delay first sexual contact than teens who received a control intervention focusing on general health promotion, according to an NIMH-funded study. Though differing from federally funded abstinence-only programs, the abstinence-based intervention may help delay sexual activity among adolescents. The work is described in the February 2010 issue of the Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine.

Sexually active teens face a broad range of potentially negative outcomes related to HIV and other sexually transmitted infections and unplanned pregnancies. In particular, African-American teens experience these outcomes at much higher rates than their peers.

According to the researchers, their study shows that a theory-based, abstinence-only intervention may be an effective method for delaying sexual initiation in middle school students who are not already sexually active.

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