Home' Trinidad and Tobago Guardian : July 29th 2017 Contents A22 body & soul
guardian.co.tt Saturday, July 29, 2017
'Residual echo' of ancient humans in
scans may hold clues to mental disorders
Researchers at the National Institute of Mental
Health (NIMH) have produced the first direct evi-
dence that parts of our brains implicated in mental
disorders may be shaped by a "residual echo"from
our ancient past. The more a person's genome car-
ries genetic vestiges of Neanderthals,the more cer-
tain parts of his or her brain and skull resemble those
of humans' evolutionary cousins that went extinct
40,000 years ago, says NIMH's Karen Berman,MD.
NIMH is part of the National Institutes of Health.
In particular, the parts of our brains that enable us to
use tools and visualize and locate objects owe some of
their lineage to Neanderthal-derived gene variants that
are part of our genomes and affect the shape of those
structures---to the extent that an individual harbours the
ancient variants. But this may involve trade-offs with our
social brain. The evidence from MRI scans suggests that
such Neanderthal-derived genetic variation may affect
the way our brains work today'---and may hold clues to
understanding deficits seen in schizophrenia and au-
tism-related disorders, say the researchers.
Dr Berman, Michael Gregory, MD, of the NIMH Section
on Integrative Neuroimaging, and colleagues, report on
their magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) study published
online, July 24, 2017 in the journal Scientific Reports.
During their primordial migration out of Africa, ances-
tors of present-day humans are thought to have interbred
with Neanderthals, whose brain characteristics can be
inferred from their fossilized skulls. For example, these
indicate that Neanderthals had more prominent visual
systems than modern humans.
"It's been proposed that Neanderthals depended on
visual-spatial abilities and toolmaking, for survival, more
so than on the social affiliation and group activities that
typify the success of modern humans---and that Nean-
derthal brains evolved to preferentially support these
visuospatial functions," Berman explained. "Now we have
direct neuroimaging evidence that such trade-offs may
still be operative in our brains."
Might some of us, more than others, harbour Nean-
derthal-derived gene variants that may bias our brains
Silver bullet for colon cancer?
In preclinical experiments, researchers at VCU
Massey CancerCenter have uncovered a new way
in which colon cancer develops, as well as a po-
tential"silver bullet"for preventing and treating
it. The findings may extend to ovarian, breast,
lung,prostate and potentially other cancers that
depend on the same mechanism for growth.
Led by Massey's Deputy Director Steven Grossman,
MD, PhD, a team of scientists targeted the gene CtBP
with a drug known as HIPP (2-hydroxy-imino phe-
nylpyruvic acid) and were able to reduce the devel-
opment of pre-cancerous polyps by half and return a
normal lifespan to mice born with a predisposition to
intestinal polyps. In humans, this condition is known
as familial adenomatous polyposis, a devastating in-
herited disease that causes pre-cancerous polyps to
grow in the intestine at a young age, often leading to
the removal of portions of the colon to prevent cancer.
"This work opens up a whole new avenue for an-
ti-cancer therapeutic development, as it shows that
CtBP drives the actions of what are known as cancer
stem cells, which are keys to cancer metastasis and
resistance to chemotherapy," says Grossman, who is
also the Dianne Nunnally Hoppes Endowed Chair in
Cancer Research and co-leader of the Developmental
Therapeutics research programme at Massey as well
as professor and chair of the Division of Hematolo-
gy, Oncology and Palliative Care in the Department
of Internal Medicine at the VCU School of Medicine.
(Virginia Commonwealth University)
MRI data shows areas of the skull preferentially affected by the amount
of Neanderthal-derived DNA. PHOTO: Michael Gregory
toward trading sociability for visuospatial prowess---or vice
versa? The new study adds support to this possibility by
showing how these gene variants influence the structure
of brain regions underlying those abilities.
To test this possibility, Gregory and Berman measured
the impact of Neanderthal variants on MRI measures of
brain structure in a sample of 221 participants of Euro-
pean ancestry, drawn from the NIMH Genetic Study of
Schizophrenia. The new MRI evidence points to a a gene
variant shared by modern-day humans and Neanderthals
that is likely involved in development of the brain's visual
system. (NIH/National Institute of Mental Health)
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