Gene duplications associated with autism evolved recently in human history

Human geneticists have discovered that a region of the genome associated with autism contains genetic variation that evolved in the last 250,000 years, after the divergence of humans from ancient hominids, and likely plays an important role in disease.

Researchers at the University of Washington analyzed the genomes of 2,551 humans, 86 apes, one Neanderthal, and one Denisovan. They closely examined a region of human chromosome 16 known as 16p11.2, a region prone to genetic changes in which segments of DNA are deleted or duplicated, one of the most common genetic causes of autism, schizophrenia, and other conditions. The geneticists found that certain segments of DNA in this region are repeated a variable number of times in different people and may also be associated with disease.

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Childhood eating difficulties could be a sign of underlying psychological issues

(Photo: Howard Dickins)

Restrictive behaviors can appear before puberty

Researchers at the University of Montreal and its affiliated CHU Sainte-Justine children’s hospital are warning parents that difficult eaters could have underlying psychological issues, as they have found that restrictive behaviours can appear before puberty. “Many researchers believe that bulimia only appears at adolescence, but our studies indicate that the problem can arises much earlier. It is possible that it is currently under-diagnosed due to a lack of awareness and investigation,” explained clinical psychologist and Professor Dominique Meilleur, who led the study. The findings, presented yesterday evening at the Eating Disorders Association of Canada conference in Vancouver, raise questions about the way eating disorders develop and are diagnosed.

Meilleur and her colleagues Olivier Jamoulle, Danielle Taddeo and Jean-Yves Frappier came to their conclusions by studying the psychological, socio-demographic and physiological characteristics of 215 eight to twelve year olds with eating problems. Kids with physical issues that could cause eating problems, such as diabetes or cystic fibrosis, were excluded from the study. The researchers found that the children often suffered from other problems: in particular, anxiety and mood disorders and attention deficiency. “More than 15.5% of the children in the study made themselves vomit occasionally and 13.3% presented bulimic behaviours. These results are very concerning but they may help clinicians reach a diagnosis earlier by enabling them to investigate these aspects,” Meilleur said. Treatment of these conditions should start as early as possible.

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Sense of invalidation uniquely risky for troubled teens

(Photo: Ursula Le Guin)

Among the negative feelings that can plague a teen’s psyche is a perception of “invalidation,” or a lack of acceptance. A new study by Brown University and Butler Hospital researchers suggests that independent of other known risk factors, measuring teens’ sense of invalidation by family members or peers can help predict whether they will try to harm themselves or even attempt suicide.

In some cases, as with peers, that sense of invalidation could come from being bullied, but it could also be more subtle. In the case of family, for example, a teen who is gay may feel a strong degree of invalidation if he or she perceives that parents would either disapprove or be disappointed upon finding out, said study lead author Shirley Yen, associate professor of psychiatry and human behavior in the Warren Alpert Medical School of Brown University.

For the study, which appears online in the Journal of Child and Adolescent Psychopharmacology, Yen and her colleagues followed a group of 99 teens, each admitted to a psychiatric facility because they had tried to kill themselves or presented a serious risk of doing so, for six months of follow-up. Along the way they assessed the teens’ sense of family and peer invalidation as well as other demographic and psychiatric data. They also tracked whether the teens (or their parents) reported new suicide attempts or related events by the teen, or whether the teen was engaging in cutting or other forms of self-harm.

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Children with autism are more sedentary than their peers, new OSU study shows

(Photo: Casey Fleser)

A new Oregon State University study of children with autism found that they are more sedentary than their typically-developing peers, averaging 50 minutes less a day of moderate physical activity and 70 minutes more each day sitting.

The small study of 29 children, some with autism and some without, showed that children with autism perform as well as their typical peers on fitness assessments such as body mass index, aerobic fitness levels and flexibility. The results warrant expanding the study to a larger group of children, said Megan MacDonald, an assistant professor in OSU’s College of Public Health and Human Sciences.

“These kids, compared to their peers, are similarly fit,” MacDonald said. “That’s really exciting, because it means those underlying fitness abilities are there.”

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For ADHD, supplements hold limited promise – Yale Daily News

(Photo: By Ragesoss (Own work) via Wikimedia Commons)

Nutritional supplements may not be the answer to treating ADHD, according to a new analysis from the Yale Child Study Center.

Michael Bloch, a professor at the Center, recently published a summary of existing studies on the efficacy of various alternate treatments for ADHD, such as omega-3 fatty acids, melatonin, zinc, iron and herbal supplements. Although there are many pharmaceutical medications available to treat ADHD — most commonly, stimulant medications such Ritalin and Adderall — some individuals choose to forego traditional pharmacotherapies because of the side effects or their doubts over these medications’ long-term efficacy. The analysis revealed that polyunsaturated fatty acids such as omega-3 fatty acids seemed to improve ADHD symptoms, and melatonin was effective in treating chronic insomnia, one of the symptoms commonly associated with ADHD. However, many of the other supplement treatments commonly used in the United States do not demonstrate significant benefits, and may even have harmful side effects.

Dickson, who is a practicing physician, said that while he does not discourage the use of nutritional supplements for the treatment of ADHD, in his clinic he has not found them to be as effective as traditional medication.

Some experts are more optimistic regarding the efficacy of nutritional supplements.

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