Home' Trinidad and Tobago Guardian : July 5th 2017 Contents A22 body & soul
guardian.co.tt Wednesday, July 5, 2017
Controlling a single brain chemical may help
expand the window for learning language and
Learning language or music is usually a breeze for
children, but as even young adults know, that capacity
declines dramatically with age. St Jude Children's Re-
search Hospital scientists have evidence from mice that
restricting a key chemical messenger in the brain helps
extend efficient auditory learning much later in life.
Researchers showed that limiting the supply or the
function of the neuromodulator adenosine in a brain
structure called the auditory thalamus preserved the
ability of adult mice to learn from passive exposure to
sound, much as young children learn from the sound-
scape of their world. The study appears June 30 in the
"By disrupting adenosine signalling in the auditory
thalamus, we have extended the window for auditory
learning for the longest period yet reported, well into
adulthood and far beyond the usual critical period in
mice," said corresponding author Stanislav Zakharen-
ko, MD, PhD, a member of the St Jude Department
of Developmental Neurobiology. "These results of-
fer a promising strategy to extend the same window
in humans to acquire language or musical ability by
restoring plasticity in critical regions of the brain,
possibly by developing drugs that selectively block
The auditory thalamus is the brain's relay station
where sound is collected and sent to the auditory cortex
for processing. The auditory thalamus and cortex rely
on the neurotransmitter glutamate to communicate.
Adenosine was known to reduce glutamate levels by
inhibiting this neurotransmitter's release. This study
also linked adenosine inhibition to reduced brain plas-
ticity and the end of efficient auditory learning.
Much as young children pick up language simply
by hearing it spoken, researchers showed that when
adenosine was reduced or the A1 receptor blocked in
the auditory thalamus, adult mice passively exposed
to a tone responded to the same tone stronger when
it was played weeks or months later. These adult mice
also gained an ability to distinguish between very close
tones. Mice usually lack this "perfect pitch" ability.
Researchers also showed that the experimental mice
retained the improved tone discrimination for weeks.
(St Jude Children's Research Hospital)
Too old to learn a new language? Maybe not
Girls as young as nine are seeking surgery on
their genitals because they are distressed by its
appearance, the Victoria Derbyshire show in the
UK has been told.
Dr Naomi Crouch, a leading adolescent gynaecol-
ogist, said she was concerned UK GPs were referring
rising numbers of young girls who wanted an oper-
ation. Labiaplasty, as the surgery is known, involves
the lips of the vagina being shortened or reshaped.
The UK's National Health Service (NHS) says it
should not be carried out on girls before they turn 18. In
2015-16, more than 200 girls under 18 had labiaplasty
on the NHS. More than 150 of the girls were under 15.
Some experts fear that pornography and images
viewed through social media are leading young girls
to have unrealistic perceptions of how their genitals
should look. Dr Crouch, who chairs the British Society
for Paediatric and Adolescent Gynaecology, said in
her work for the NHS she was yet to see a girl who
needed the operation.
"Girls will sometimes come out with comments like,
'I just hate it, I just want it removed,' and for a girl to
feel that way about any part of her body, especially
a part that's intimate, is very upsetting."
Anna, not her real name, considered having la-
biaplasty from the age of 14.
"I just picked up from somewhere that it wasn't
neat enough or tidy enough and I think I wanted it to
be smaller. People around me were watching porn and
I just had this idea that it should be symmetrical and
not sticking out. I thought that was what everyone
else looked like, because I hadn't seen any normal
everyday [images] before then. I remember thinking,
'If there's surgery for it, then clearly I'm not the only
one who wants this done, and maybe it won't be that
big a deal.'
Paquita de Zulueta, a GP for more than 30 years, said
it was only in the past few years that girls had started
coming to her with concerns over the appearance of
their labia. She blames the unrealistic images girls
are being exposed to through pornography and social
'sought by girls
as young as nine'
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