Fast Friday Four

So, partly due to laziness and partly due to the fact that Big Ten schools just pump out way too much cool science to cover – I’ve got a stockpile of aging press releases and research papers to write about. In the interest of getting all of it out there, I introduce the Fast Friday Four. I haven’t taken the time to read the papers themselves, or to do any research whatsoever. I’m just regurgitating the press releases with a bit of my own insight, questions and knowledge in my own style. Enjoy!

Leaving Your TV On At Night Could Cause Depression

Well, at least for Siberian hamsters. A new study from Ohio State (Tracy Bedrosian, co-author of the study and doctoral student in neuroscience) presented back in November at the annual meeting of the Society for Neuroscience showed depressive symptoms in hamsters and physical changes in their brain when exposed to low levels of light at night.

While some hamsters were housed in 16 hours of light and 8 hours of darkness, the others got treated to 8 hours of 5 lux, about the amount of light caused by a television in a darkened room. After eight weeks, the researchers used standard tests for depressive behavior used by pharmacology companies to test drugs.

They gave the hamsters a pint of Haagen-Daaz and waited to see which would eat the entire carton.

Well, not exactly. One of the tests did involve sugar water. However, not drinking as much is associated with depressive hamsters rather than too much. The assumption is that they don’t get as much pleasure from it.

Of course, the hamsters could have been depressed because their ovaries were removed. The scientists wanted to control for the production of certain hormones. Or it could have been their impending doom. After the trial, their heads were sliced open and their brains examined.

Surprisingly, physical changes had been caused to the hippocampus; it didn’t have as many signal-transmitting hairs.

So turn off Conan and get some shuteye in the dark, just in case.

Potential Biomarker for Schizophrenia

Giulio Tononi at the University of Wisconsin may have found the first biomarker for schizophrenia, which would be one hell of an important step in determining whether or not someone has it or not. After all, symptoms range from the feeling that someone is out to get you to killing imaginary whores with a rubber dildo.

The secret is in the sleep. During normal, dreamless sleep (non-REM), people make a pattern of brainwaves called spindles that eminate from the thalamus. This is the area responsible for coordinating incoming simuli and sending it along to the cerebral cortex for processing.

However, of the 69 total people tested, 90% of the schizophrenics were lacking in this brain behavior, while 100% of healthy and other, non-schizophrenic mental pages were not.

Seeing what the thalamus does, an irregularity there would definitely make sense given the typical symptoms of the disease.

New Area of Brain Tied to Healthy Sleep Patterns

Aside from spindles (see previous story), the other type of brain waves emanated during deep sleep are called slow waves. A new study – also published by the University of Wisconsin – shows that brain trauma in a particular region can disrupt the propagation of these waves causing moderate to severe insomnia.

The exact part of the brain is called the left dorsomedial prefrontal cortex, or dmPPFC for short (yeah, right… short.) The study was conducted with 192 patients by Michael Koenigs, assistant professor of psychology.

Of course, the patients could have had trouble sleeping because their injuries were caused by shrapnel or other penetrating injuries caused by battle in Vietnam. I’m guessing there’s a pretty high percentage of sleep problems in injured veterans in general…

So THAT’s What the Structure of an Envelope Protein Looks Like!

Researchers at Purdue University and the Pasteur Institute have used some fancy-pants technology to determine the exact structure of the proteins that allows a particular class of viruses to latch onto its host cell before infecting it.

There are two “protein envelopes” called E1 and E2 that, when exposed to an acidic environment, alter the shape to allow the virus – specifically alphaviruses that included equine encephalitis and chikungunya viruses – to latch onto a cell.

The Purdue team determined the structure of the E2 protein in an acidic environment while the folks from the Pasteur Institute handled the structure of a normal E2 protein. Between the two, they could determine how the virus’ latching mechanism works. And since the E1 protein had already been studied, scientists have taken another step towards developing ways to inhibit the virus’ latching mechanism.

Does this research apply to all viruses? What the heck is cryoelectron microscopy? Where is the Pasteur Institute? What the hell are the equine encephalitis and chikungunya viruses?

I have no clue, but that’s what you get for zero research on Fast Fridays!

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About bigkingken

A science writer dedicated to proving that the Big Ten - or the Committee on Institutional Cooperation, if you will - is more than athletics.
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