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Vol. LXVII, No. 12
June 5, 2015
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Digest

Animals’ Presence May Ease Social Anxiety in Kids with Autism

When animals are present, children with autism spectrum disorders (ASDs) have lower readings on a device that detects anxiety and other forms of social arousal when interacting with their peers.

A new study shows that when animals are present, children with autism spectrum disorders have lower readings on a device that detects anxiety and other forms of social arousal when interacting with their peers.
A new study shows that when animals are present, children with autism spectrum disorders have lower readings on a device that detects anxiety and other forms of social arousal when interacting with their peers.

According to a study funded in part by NICHD, companion animals—such as dogs, cats or the guinea pigs in the study—may prove to be a useful addition to treatment programs designed to help children with ASDs improve their social skills and interactions with other people.

The study, published online in Developmental Psychobiology, was conducted by Dr. Marguerite O’Haire at the Center for the Human-Animal Bond in the College of Veterinary Medicine of Purdue University and colleagues at the University of Queensland in Brisbane, Australia.

“Previous studies suggest that in the presence of companion animals, children with autism spectrum disorders function better socially,” said Dr. James Griffin of NICHD. “This study provides physiological evidence that the proximity of animals eases the stress that children with autism may experience in social situations.”

Scientists Create Mice with a Major Genetic Cause of ALS, FTD

Scientists at Mayo Clinic, Jacksonville, Fla., have created a novel mouse that exhibits the symptoms and neurodegeneration associated with the most common genetic forms of frontotemporal dementia (FTD) and amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS, Lou Gehrig’s disease), both of which are caused by a mutation in the gene called C9ORF72. The study was partially funded by NINDS and published in the journal Science.

“Our mouse model exhibits the pathologies and symptoms of ALS and FTD seen in patients with the C9ORF72 mutation,” said the study’s lead author, Dr. Leonard Petrucelli of Mayo Clinic. “These mice could greatly improve our understanding of ALS and FTD and hasten the development of effective treatments.”

More than 30,000 Americans live with ALS, which destroys nerves that control essential movements, including speaking, walking, breathing and swallowing. After Alzheimer’s disease, FTD is the most common form of early onset dementia. It is characterized by changes in personality, behavior and language due to loss of neurons in the brain’s frontal and temporal lobes. Patients with mutations in the chromosome 9 open reading frame 72 (C9ORF72) gene have all or some symptoms associated with both disorders.

“This is a significant advancement for the field,” said Dr. Margaret Sutherland of NINDS. “Scientists have been trying to create mice that accurately mimic the pathologies associated with these forms of ALS and FTD. This mouse model will be a valuable tool for developing therapies for these devastating disorders.”

New Form of IL-2 Could Be Fine-Tuned to Fight Disease

Scientists report development of a new way to modify interleukin-2 (IL-2)—a substance known as a cytokine that plays key roles in regulating immune system responses—in order to fine-tune its actions. Harnessing the action of IL-2 in a controllable fashion is of clinical interest with potential benefit in a range of situations, including transplantation and autoimmune disease. The modified IL-2 molecules inhibited the actions of endogenous IL-2, potentially more effectively than existing agents, as well as inhibited the actions of another interleukin, IL-15, with additional therapeutic potential.

The research is published in the journal Immunity. The principal research teams include scientists from NHLBI, Stanford University and the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, with contributions from scientists at NCI and NIAID.

The scientists developed altered forms of IL-2 where activity can be tuned to either boost or block immune responses depending on the desired therapeutic application. In laboratory studies, treatment with one type of modified IL-2 prolonged survival in a mouse model of graft-versus-host disease and blocked the growth in vitro of T-cells from a patient with chronic/smoldering adult T-cell leukemia, a rare form of cancer, researchers note. A similar approach could potentially be used to engineer other immune-system cytokines to generate new molecules with therapeutic potential, the scientists say.


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