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Vol. LXIII, No. 16
August 5, 2011
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Digest

Global Research Initiative Launched to Improve Mental Health

Mental health experts are calling for a greater world focus on improving access to care and treatment for mental, neurological
Mental health experts are calling for a greater world focus on improving access to care and treatment for mental, neurological and substance use disorders.

Global Research Initiative Launched to Improve Mental Health Mental health experts are calling for a greater world focus on improving access to care and treatment for mental, neurological and substance use (MNS) disorders, as well as increasing discoveries in research that will enable this goal to be met.

The Grand Challenges in Global Mental Health Initiative, led by NIMH and the Global Alliance for Chronic Diseases, has identified the top 40 barriers to better mental health around the world. Similar to past grand challenges, which focused on infectious diseases and chronic, noncommunicable diseases, this initiative seeks to build a community of funders dedicated to supporting research that will significantly improve the lives of people living with MNS disorders within the next 10 years.

Twenty-five of the specific challenges were described in an article published July 7 in Nature.

Investigators Discover Mechanism That May Be Important for Learning, Memory

New findings in mice suggest that the timing when the neurotransmitter acetylcholine is released in the brain’s hippocampus may play a key role in regulating the strength of nerve cell connections, called synapses. Understanding the complex nature of neuronal signaling at synapses could lead to better understanding of learning and memory and novel treatments for disorders such as Alzheimer’s disease and schizophrenia.

Neurons in the hippocampus, one of the parts of the brain that is thought to have a critical function in learning and memory, communicate with each other at synapses by releasing various neurotransmitters, including acetylcholine and glutamate, which stimulate electrical signals in the adjacent neurons.

For years, neuroscientists have been working to determine which cellular processes allow humans to learn from experience and store memories and how these processes are compromised by conditions such as schizophrenia and Alzheimer’s disease. Now, NIEHS researchers believe they have found one such mechanism for synchronizing changes in the strength of synapses. The results of the study were published online July 13 in Neuron.

Receptor Limits Rewarding Effects of Food, Cocaine

Researchers have long known that dopamine, a brain chemical that plays important roles in controlling normal movement, and in pleasure, reward and motivation, also plays a central role in substance abuse and addiction. In a new study conducted in animals, scientists found that a specific dopamine receptor, called D2, on dopamine-containing neurons controls an organism’s activity level and contributes to motivation for reward-seeking as well as the rewarding effects of cocaine.

A report of the findings, by researchers at NIAAA and colleagues at the Institute for Research on Genetic Engineering and Molecular Biology in Argentina and the University of Michigan Medical School, appeared online July 10 in Nature Neuroscience.

“Research in humans and other species has shown that increased vulnerability to drug addiction correlates with reduced availability of D2 dopamine receptors in a brain region called the striatum,” explained study coauthor Dr. David Lovinger of NIAAA. “Furthermore, healthy non-drug-abusing humans who have low levels of the D2 dopamine receptor report more pleasant experiences when taking drugs of abuse.”

Study Shows Reduction in Death for Men with Prostate Cancer

Short-term hormone therapy given in combination with radiation therapy to men with early-stage prostate cancer increased their chances of living longer compared to treatment with radiation therapy alone, according to a clinical trial supported by NCI.

Benefits of the combined treatment were limited mainly to patients with intermediate-risk disease and were not seen for men with low-risk prostate cancer. The results appeared July 14 in the New England Journal of Medicine. The trial was conducted by the Radiation Therapy Oncology Group.

The study, the largest randomized trial of its kind, enrolled nearly 2,000 men with low-and intermediate-risk prostate cancer and followed their health status for more than 9 years at 212 centers in the United States and Canada.—compiled by Carla Garnett


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