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Vol. LXIII, No. 23
November 11, 2011

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Math Disability Linked to Problem Relating Quantities to Numerals

In the study, researchers found that children with a math learning disability had difficulty with a test consisting of symbols and numbers.
In the study, researchers found that children with a math learning disability had difficulty with a test consisting of symbols and numbers.

Children who start elementary school with difficulty associating small exact quantities of items with the printed numerals that represent those quantities are more likely to develop a math-related learning disability than are their peers, according to a study funded by NICHD. Study findings appeared online in the Sept. 12 Journal of Educational Psychology.

The children in the study who appeared to have difficulty grasping the fundamental concept of exact numerical quantities—that the printed numeral 3, for example, represents three dots on a page—went on to be diagnosed with math learning disability by fifth grade.

Other early factors correlated with a math learning disability were difficulty recalling answers to single-digit addition problems, distractibility in class and difficulty understanding that more complex math problems can be broken down into smaller problems that can be solved individually.

Although the math learning disabled children did make limited progress in subsequent grades, by fifth grade they had not caught up to their typically achieving peers in the ability to recall number facts or in their ease of adding sets of dots and numerals together.

Benefits, Limits of Therapy Shown for Rare Inflammatory Syndrome

A study shows that the medication etanercept reduces the frequency and severity of symptoms of TNF receptor-associated periodic syndrome (TRAPS), a rare inherited condition characterized by recurrent fevers, abdominal pain and skin rashes. The study, published in Arthritis & Rheumatism, also points out the need for the development of additional therapies to more thoroughly ease symptoms and prevent long-term complications of the disease. The study was released by researchers at NIAMS.

TRAPS is associated with mutations in the gene coding for tumor necrosis factor receptor 1, a critical molecule in receiving inflammatory signals in the body’s immune system. Etanercept, trade name Enbrel, is one of a class of drugs that block tumor necrosis factor, a protein implicated in the harmful inflammation in TRAPS, as well as a number of common rheumatic diseases, including rheumatoid arthritis. While the drug has been used in the treatment of TRAPS for about 10 years, this is the first formal study to look at its effectiveness long-term, said NIAMS acting clinical director Dr. Richard Siegel, one of the senior authors.

Gene Variant Increases Risk of Kidney Disease in African Americans

African Americans with two copies of the APOL1 gene have about a 4 percent lifetime risk of developing a form of kidney disease, according to scientists at NIH. The finding brings scientists closer to understanding why African Americans are four times more likely to develop kidney failure than whites, according to a report in the Oct. 13 online edition of the Journal of the American Society of Nephrology.

Researchers have begun tracing the effects of having two variants of the APOL1 gene, which occurs in about 12 percent of African Americans.

Researchers earlier linked this gene to susceptibility for kidney disease. The researchers studied a common kidney disease called focal segmental glomerulosclerosis, which often progresses to end-stage kidney disease and the need for dialysis or a kidney transplant.

Perinatal Antidepressant Stunts Brain Development in Rats

Rats exposed to an antidepressant just before and after birth showed substantial brain abnormalities and behaviors, in a study funded by NIMH.

After receiving citalopram, a serotonin-selective reuptake inhibitor, during this critical period, long-distance connections between the two hemispheres of the brain showed stunted growth and degeneration. The animals also became excessively fearful when faced with new situations and failed to play normally with peers—behaviors reminiscent of novelty avoidance and social impairments seen in autism. The abnormalities were more pronounced in male than female rats, just as autism affects 3-4 times more boys than girls.

“Our findings underscore the importance of balanced serotonin levels—not too high or low—for proper brain maturation,” explained NIMH grantee Dr. Rick Lin of the University of Mississippi Medical Center.

Lin and colleagues reported on their discovery Oct. 24 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.— compiled by Carla Garnett

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