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Psychiatry Newsletter - More Research News

Hopkins BrainWise - Fall 2012

More Research News

Date: November 1, 2012


The earliest stages of Huntington’s disease are only vaguely detectable; they likely occur before brain neurons suffer lasting structural blows. For scientists looking to prevent or at least slow HD, having a signpost for that time of possible rescue would be a godsend. You could see if the disease is progressing; you could tell if a new therapy shows promise. Now, Paul Unschuld and Chris Ross’s team may have such a biomarker. Using magnetic resonance spectroscopy, they’ve imaged abnormal levels of N-acetylaspartate and glutamate in a vulnerable brain site of people carrying HD’s mutant gene—levels that seem to mirror cognitive changes. Call: 410-614-0011.

Yes, yes, we all know exercise is good for you. But Nu-Chu Liang’s work suggests a new reason why. She and Timothy Moran suspected that physical activity might alter diet preference—specifically in a more healthful direction. Designing a first study, one to test that in humans, means contending with too many variables at the start. So the researchers showed the exercise-preference tie in rats. Wheel-running animals significantly avoid high-sugar or high-fat diets that their sedentary cousins prefer. The effect may involve increased signaling in reward circuits and the HPA axis. Call: 410-955-2996.

As a stand-alone approach for heroin users wanting to be drug-free, “detox” rarely works; most people relapse almost immediately. One improvement came out of a survey that ranked new housing as a priority for people in recovery—sensible stuff, given an old environment’s power in triggering relapse. Michelle Tuten and Maxine Stitzer tried provisionally providing homes  to opioid abusers finishing a detox program. Staying abstinent was a rule. The result?  Sixty percent of those in recovery housing plus a day-treatment program were opioid-free a month later. Is it a cure? No, says Tuten. But anything that separates chronic abusers from  old haunts help, giving a space to practice healthful behavior. Call: 410-550-7680.

How to tell which patients with mild cognitive impairment (MCI) might progress to Alzheimer’s? One good way is the appearance of neuropsychiatric symptoms, a team with Paul Rosenberg and Kostas Lyketsos affirms. Reviewing a quality database of 1,821 elders with MCI showed those with signpost depression, anxiety or apathy, for example, were 30 to 40 percent more likely to go the dementia route. Fortunately, these early symptoms flag MCI patients as a reasonable target for prevention. Email: Prosenb9@jhmi.edu .

Patients with chronic pain in addition to their cocaine or other substance abuse face a Gordian knot of problems. Good outcomes are hard to come by, says Michael Clark, because the combination ups the likelihood that neither the pain nor the addiction are adequately treated. Key to the problem, Clark says, are patient evaluations that are less than thorough. The Hopkins Perspectives approach that considers the whole person is especially helpful for these patients; it points more clearly to treatment that can work. Call: 410-955-8069.

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