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News Bytes of the Week—Genetics of Childhood Trauma

Goats relieved of the bends, Rodent rampage and more…



Mikael Damkier/iStockphoto.

Can genes protect abused children from future emotional turmoil?
Have you ever wondered why some people are so much more resilient than others? Why some can bounce back from trauma, whereas others are doomed to a lifetime of depression and other mental angst? A new study indicates that genes may have something (read: a lot) to do with it. Researchers report in the Archives of General Psychiatry that children who are physically and emotionally abused but have the most protective variant of CRHR1, a gene that controls the body's response to stress hormones, are less likely to suffer depression as adults. The finding could pave the way for new antidepression therapies, says lead study author Kerry Ressler, assistant professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Emory University School of Medicine's Center for Behavioral Neuroscience. "We know that childhood abuse and early-life stress are among the strongest contributors to adult depression, and this study again brings to light the importance of preventing them," Ressler said. "But when these tragic events do occur, studies like this one ultimately can help us learn how we might be able to better intervene against the pathology that often follows." (Archives of General Psychiatry)

Under pressure: Royal Navy to stop giving goats the bends
Just in time for Lent, the U.K. Ministry of Defense announced this week that the Royal Navy would stop conducting experiments designed to induce decompression sickness, better known as the "bends," by subjecting goats to pressure changes in a hyperbaric chamber. The painful, life-threatening illness occurs when divers or submarine crews surface too quickly, leading to nitrogen bubbles in the blood that interfere with balance and breathing. (Goats were chosen for their humanlike respiratory system.) The navy performed more than 400 of the tests since 2000 before suspending them last March to review whether they were still necessary. Its conclusion: Not really. (Ministry of Defense; BBC)

Bush's 2009 science budget: déjà vu all over again?
The White House released its fiscal year 2009 science budget proposal this week, vowing to beef up spending for the physical sciences as well as on Earth-observing satellites to monitor global warming, but asks for no new funds for the National Institutes of Health or the overburdened Food and Drug Administration. Sound familiar? Not surprising: the administration pledged boosts to physics research last year and the year before, which not only failed to materialize but this year became a cut after Congress hammered out a budget package the president would sign. "Let's face it," Sen. Judd Gregg of New Hampshire, the ranking Republican on the Senate Budget Committee, told the Associated Press, "this budget is done with the understanding that nobody's going to be taking a long, hard look at it." Did we mention it's an election year? ("Fiscal Year 2009 Budget"; Associated Press)

Terrifying tale: armies of rapacious rodents rip through Bangladesh
If a mouse in your house makes you queasy, imagine how the poor denizens of Bangladesh feel: BBC News reports that hordes of ravenous rats have been swarming the area like, well, rats, devouring every crumb in sight. Local legend has it that the wretched little beasts come out in force every 50 years when the bamboo flowers. But it's not only bamboo they crave. Throngs of rats have also been tearing through crops, leaving some 150,000 people in the Chittagong Hills Tracts (along the country's southeastern border with India) in a "near famine situation," a United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) official told the BBC. He said that fields are filled with rat holes and that people are surviving on roots. It doesn't help that the bamboo blossoms are apparently such a rich source of nutrition for the voracious critters that they're multiplying at alarming rates—nearly four times as fast as usual—and growing bigger than ever.

Platoons of rodents have also reportedly overrun neighboring Mizoram State in northeastern India, which has been declared a disaster area in the wake of the destruction they’ve wrought since arriving late last year. In an effort to help locals in Mizoram deal with the mautam, as they call the rat attacks, government officials doubled daily wages, increased the weekly allotment of rice, and offered a bounty for every rogue rodent killed; an official told the BBC that 1.2 million rats have been executed there since October and that the ante has been upped from one to two rupees (2.5¢ to 5¢) per rat tail produced as proof of death. This is reportedly the first mautam since 1958. (BBC)

Obesity lightens health care load
Next time you decide to supersize your meal, you could be doing everyone's pocketbook a favor. A study published online this week in the journal PLoS Medicine indicates that obesity prevention may be an important and cost-effective way of improving public health, but it is "not a cure for increasing health expenditures." Overweight and obese individuals (one third of all U.S. adults fall into this category) have an increased risk of developing diabetes, coronary heart disease and stroke, and tend to die younger. There's no question that slimming down trims costs associated with treating those diseases. But it seems the savings are offset by the tab incurred for treating disorders that occur during the extra years gained. [So, if you want to do your bit for society, chow down and die.](PLoS Medicine)

Video game addiction spotted in men's brain wiring
It's no secret that guys generally take to video games (read: become obsessed with them) much more readily than women, but now we have a better idea which part of the brain to blame. Stanford University School of Medicine researchers used functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to scan the brains of men and women as they played a video game. The men's gray matter showed much greater activation in the mesocorticolimbic center, the region typically associated with reward and addiction. In particular, men had stronger links between three structures within the reward circuit: the nucleus accumbens, amygdala and orbitofrontal cortex. And the more territory they grabbed in the game, the more active their brains were. The test did not measure how many of the video game cowboys still lived in their parents' basements and were without corporeal girlfriends. (Journal of Psychiatric Research)

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