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Vol. LXIV, No. 9
April 27, 2012
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Digest

Bilinguals Better at Multitasking

Children who grow up learning to speak two languages are better at switching between tasks than are children who learn to speak only one language, according to a study funded in part by NIH.
Children who grow up learning to speak two languages are better at switching between tasks than are children who learn to speak only one language, according to a study funded in part by NIH.

Children who grow up learning to speak two languages are better at switching between tasks than are children who learn to speak only one language, according to a study funded in part by NIH. However, the study also found that bilinguals are slower to acquire vocabulary than are monolinguals, because bilinguals must divide their time between two languages while monolinguals focus on only one. NICHD provided funding for the study, which was published online in Child Development.

In the study, bilingual and monolingual children were asked to press a computer key as they viewed a series of images—either of animals or of depictions of colors. When the responses were limited to either of the two categories, the children responded at the same speed. But when the children were asked to switch, from animals to a color and press a different button for the new category, bilinguals were faster at making the change than were the monolinguals.

Researchers often use this switching task to gauge a set of mental processes known as executive functioning—generally defined as the ability to pay attention, plan, organize and strategize.

Possible Clues Found to Why HIV Vaccine Showed Modest Protection

Insights into how the first vaccine ever reported to modestly prevent HIV infection in people might have worked were published Apr. 4 online in the New England Journal of Medicine. Scientists have found that among adults who received the experimental HIV vaccine during the landmark RV144 clinical trial, those who produced relatively high levels of a specific antibody after vaccination were less likely to get infected with the virus than those who did not. NIAID co-funded the research.

In the trial, which involved more than 16,000 adult volunteers in Thailand, the group that received the vaccine had a 31 percent lower chance of becoming infected with HIV than the group that received a placebo. Ever since the study results were reported in 2009, a consortium of more than 100 scientists from 25 institutions has been searching for molecular clues to explain why the vaccine showed a modest protective effect.

The new report describes the researchers’ analyses of blood samples taken from a representative subset of study participants: 41 who were vaccinated and later became infected with HIV and 205 vaccinated participants who remained uninfected.

Spontaneous Gene Glitches Linked to Autism Risk with Older Dads

Researchers have turned up a new clue to the workings of a possible environmental factor in autism spectrum disorders (ASDs): fathers were four times more likely than mothers to transmit tiny, spontaneous mutations to their children with the disorders. Moreover, the number of such transmitted genetic glitches increased with paternal age. The discovery may help to explain earlier evidence linking autism risk to older fathers.

The results, reported online Apr. 4 in Nature, are among several from a trio of new studies, supported in part by NIH, finding that such sequence changes in parts of genes that code for proteins play a significant role in ASDs. One of the studies determined that having such glitches boosts a child’s risk of developing autism 5- to 20-fold.

Taken together, the three studies represent the largest effort of its kind, drawing upon samples from 549 families to maximize statistical power. They reveal sporadic mutations widely distributed across the genome, sometimes conferring risk and sometimes not. While the changes identified don’t account for most cases of illness, they are providing clues to the biology of what are likely multiple syndromes along the autism spectrum.

New Classification Criteria Released for Research on Sjogren’s Syndrome

An international team of researchers released new classification criteria for the common autoimmune condition Sjogren’s syndrome. Classification criteria are the consensus opinion of a group of experts that researchers use in clinical studies to confirm a previous diagnosis and/or subclassify patients who have the same type of a given condition. The new guidelines appear in the April issue of Arthritis Care & Research.

The criteria are the first for Sjogren’s syndrome to be based solely on objective clinical tests. Other criteria historically have permitted various testing subjectivity to enable the classification of this notoriously complex syndrome that affects multiple parts of the body, typically the eyes, salivary glands and joints.

The new criteria come from the Sjogren’s International Collaborative Clinical Alliance. NIDCR, with support from NEI and the Office of Research on Women’s Health, supported the work.—compiled by Carla Garnett


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