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General interest items edited by Janice Flahiff

[News release] How your brain reacts to emotional information is influenced by your genes

How your brain reacts to emotional information is influenced by your genes.

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Image shows increased activity in the brains of ADRA2b deletion carriers.

From the 6 May 2015 University of British Columbia  news release

Your genes may influence how sensitive you are to emotional information, according to new research by a UBC neuroscientist. The study, recently published in The Journal of Neuroscience, found that carriers of a certain genetic variation perceived positive and negative images more vividly, and had heightened activity in certain brain regions.

“People really do see the world differently,” says lead author Rebecca Todd, a professor in UBC’s Department of Psychology. “For people with this gene variation, the emotionally relevant things in the world stand out much more.”

The gene in question is ADRA2b, which influences the neurotransmitter norepinephrine. Previous research by Todd found that carriers of a deletion variant of this gene showed greater attention to negative words. Her latest research is the first to use brain imaging to find out how the gene affects how vividly people perceive the world around them, and the results were startling, even to Todd.

Rebecca Todd

“We thought, from our previous research, that people with the deletion variant would probably show this emotionally enhanced vividness, and they did more than we would even have predicted,” says Todd, who scanned the brains of 39 participants, 21 of whom were carriers of the genetic variation.

Carriers of the gene variation showed significantly more activity in a region of the brain responsible for regulating emotions and evaluating both pleasure and threat. Todd believes this may help explain why some people are more susceptible to PTSD and intrusive memories following trauma.

“Emotions are not only about how feel about the world, but how our brains influence our perception of it,” says Adam Anderson, professor of human development at Cornell University and senior author of the study. “As our genes influence how we literally see the positive and negative aspects of our world more clearly, we may come to believe the world has more rewards or threats.”

Todd points out there are also benefits to carrying the gene variant. “People who have the deletion variant are drawing on an additional network in their brains important for calculating the emotional relevance of things in the world,” she says. “In any situation where noticing what’s relevant in the environment is important, this gene variation would be a positive.”

Todd says a prime example of a carrier of this variation was French novelist Marcel Proust: “He bit into the Madeleine cookie and then wrote seven volumes of memoirs,” she says. “He probably was emotionally sensitive too and he was certainly creative. He’s a classic deletion carrier.

 

May 16, 2015 Posted by | Medical and Health Research News | , , , , , | Leave a comment

Scientists find genetic mechanism linking aging to specific diets

Scientists find genetic mechanism linking aging to specific diets.

From the 27 January 2014 ScienceDaily article

“These studies have revealed that single gene mutations can alter the ability of an organism to utilize a specific diet. In humans, small differences in a person’s genetic makeup that change how well these genes function, could explain why certain diets work for some but not others,” said Curran, corresponding author of the study and assistant professor with joint appointments in the USC Davis School of Gerontology, the USC Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences, and the Keck School of Medicine of USC.

Curran and Pang studied Caenorhabditis elegans, a one-milimeter-long worm that scientists have used as a model organism since the ’70s. Decades of tests have shown that genes in C. elegans are likely to be mirrored in humans while its short lifespan allows scientists to do aging studies on it.

In this study, Curran and Pang identified a gene called alh-6, which delayed the effects of aging depending on what type of diet the worm was fed by protecting it against diet-induced mitochondrial defects.

“This gene is remarkably well-conserved from single celled yeast all the way up to mammals, which suggests that what we have learned in the worm could translate to a better understanding of the factors that alter diet success in humans,” Curran said.

Future work will focus on identifying what contributes to dietary success or failure, and whether these factors explain why specific diets don’t work for everyone. This could be the start of personalized dieting based on an individual’s genetic makeup, according to Curran.

“We hope to uncover ways to enhance the use of any dietary program and perhaps even figure out ways of overriding the system(s) that prevent the use of one diet in certain individuals,” he said.

January 30, 2014 Posted by | Medical and Health Research News, Nutrition | , , , | Leave a comment

‘Personality Genes’ May Help Account for Longevity

From the 24 May 2012 article at Science News Daily

It’s in their genes” is a common refrain from scientists when asked about factors that allow centenarians to reach age 100 and beyond. Up until now, research has focused on genetic variations that offer a physiological advantage such as high levels of HDL (“good”) cholesterol. But researchers at Albert Einstein College of Medicine and Ferkauf Graduate School of Psychology of Yeshiva University have found that personality traits like being outgoing, optimistic, easygoing, and enjoying laughter as well as staying engaged in activities may also be part of the longevity genes mix….

“When I started working with centenarians, I thought we’d find that they survived so long in part because they were mean and ornery,” said Nir Barzilai, M.D., the Ingeborg and Ira Leon Rennert Chair of Aging Research, director of Einstein’s Institute for Aging Research and co-corresponding author of the study. “But when we assessed the personalities of these 243 centenarians, we found qualities that clearly reflect a positive attitude towards life. Most were outgoing, optimistic and easygoing. They considered laughter an important part of life and had a large social network. They expressed emotions openly rather than bottling them up.” In addition, the centenarians had lower scores for displaying neurotic personality and higher scores for being conscientious compared with a representative sample of the U.S. population.

“Some evidence indicates that personality can change between the ages of 70 and 100, so we don’t know whether our centenarians have maintained their personality traits across their entire lifespans,” continued Dr. Barzilai. “Nevertheless, our findings suggest that centenarians share particular personality traits and that genetically-based aspects of personality may play an important role in achieving both good health and exceptional longevity.”..

May 25, 2012 Posted by | Medical and Health Research News | , , , , | Leave a comment

   

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