Research Roundup: Sleep Difficulties in Autistic Children, C. Diff Infections and More

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Every week there are numerous scientific studies published. Here’s a look at some of the more interesting ones.

Children with Autism’s Sleep Difficulties are Related to Shallower Brain Waves

Children with autism are known to have more sleep difficulties. Researchers at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev (BGU) published a study in the journal Sleep that found a link between sleep problems and shallower than normal brain waves.

“For the first time, we found that children with more serious sleep issues showed brain activity that indicated more shallow and superficial sleep,” said BGU’s Ilan Dinstein, head of the National Autism Research Center of Israel and a member of BGU’s Department of Psychology. “We also found a clear relationship between the severity of sleep disturbances as reported by the parents and the reduction in sleep depth. It appears that children with autism, and especially those whose parents reported serious sleep issues, do not tire themselves out enough during the day, do not develop enough pressure to sleep and do not sleep as deeply.”

Specifically, looking at the brain activity of 29 children with autism and comparing them to 23 children without autism, they noted that slow-wave activity (SWA) differed between the patient groups. The researchers wrote that autistic children “exhibited significantly weaker SWA power, shallower SWA slopes, and a decreased proportion of slow-wave sleep in comparison to controls. This difference was largest during the first two hours following sleep onset and decreased gradually thereafter.”

They are now planning studies to find ways to generate deeper sleep and larger brain waves, such as increasing physical activity during the day, behavioral therapies and potential drug alternatives like medical cannabis.

New Insight Could Lead to New Drugs for C. Diff Infections

Clostridium difficile (C. diff) is a bacterial infection that can range from diarrhea to life-threatening inflammation of the colon. It is increasingly developing resistance to antibiotics. Researchers with CUNY’s Advanced Science Research Center discovered information about one of the toxins the most dangerous strains of the bacteria release, which may lead to ways to block the toxin. Using cryogenic electronic microscopy, X-ray crystallography, NMR and small-angle X-ray scattering, they found that the toxin is a binary toxin that may use a similar method to anthrax toxin to enter cells. They also found a novel calcium-binding site on one of the toxin’s domains. Both could lead to new drugs to block it.

Do Bile Acids Regulate Gut Immunity and Inflammation?

The bile acids produced by the liver and gallbladder are known for dissolving fat, but new research suggests they play a role in immunity and inflammation. In mice, at least, in two separate studies out of Harvard Medical School, bile acids appear to promote the differentiation and activity of several different T-cells that regulate inflammation. They are also associated with intestinal inflammation. The bile acids appear to interact with immune cells in the gut, which activate regulatory T cells (Tregs) and effector helper T-cells, specifically Th17. Both modulate immune responses by slowing or promoting inflammation.

Early Exposure to Dogs Decreases Risks of Schizophrenia

Researchers at Johns Hopkins Medicine found that early exposure to dogs may decrease the likelihood of developing schizophrenia as an adult. They evaluated the relationship between exposure to a household pet cat or dog during the first 12 years of life and a later diagnosis of schizophrenia or bipolar disorder. They found a statistically significant decrease in people developing schizophrenia if exposed to a dog early in life. There was no apparent similar link to owning a cat or the effects on bipolar disorder.

3D-Printed Bioprosthetic Ovary

There has been a lot of work in developing 3D-printed organs, such as hearts. Now researchers have made a step forward in a possible 3D-printed ovary, by identifying and mapping the location of structural proteins in a pig ovary. This is a step toward developing a bio-ink with these proteins that could be used to “print” an artificial ovary that could be implanted and help a woman to have a child.

New Molecules IDed that Block Master Cancer Regulator

FOXM1 is a transcription factor that regulates the activity of dozens of genes. It is a naturally occurring protein that increases the expression of genes associated with cell proliferation and development. Investigators identified several new compounds that inhibit FOXM1. To date, no successful drugs have been developed to decrease the effects of FOXM1, so these newly developed compounds have the potential, maybe, to be powerful anti-cancer drugs.

New Subset of Immune Cells Discovered that Could Be Key to New Cancer Therapies

Scientists at the University College London (UCL) identified a subset of immune cells that are activated to attack cancer cells. These are CD4+ T-cells, which are dubbed “helper” and “regulator” immune cells. The new research, in mice, found that IL-2, a growth factor for T-cells and the transcription factor Blimp-1, initiate potent killer activity in CD4+ T-cells inside tumors. This leads the researchers to believe that using Blimp-1 could maximize the anti-tumor activity of CDF+ T-cells.

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