Nurturing may protect kids from brain changes linked to poverty

Researchers at the School of Medicine have identified changes in the brains of children growing up in poverty. Those changes can lead to lifelong problems like depression, learning difficulties and limitations in the ability to cope with stress. But the study showed that the extent of those changes was influenced strongly by whether parents were attentive and nurturing. Pictured is principal investigator Joan L. Luby, MD.

Mom’s love good for child’s brain

School-age children whose mothers nurtured them early in life have brains with a larger hippocampus, a key structure important to learning, memory and response to stress. The new research, by child psychiatrists and neuroscientists at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, is the first to show that changes in this key region of children’s brain anatomy are linked to a mother’s nurturing.

Memory links to 40 winks

When it comes to executing items on tomorrow’s to-do list, it’s best to think it over, then “sleep on it,” say psychologists at Washington University in St. Louis. The researchers have shown that sleep enhances our ability to remember to do something in the future, a skill known as prospective memory.

Low receptor levels and low mood

Areas of red and yellow show increased uptake of the altanserin tracer due to binding to the serotonin receptors.Most of us feel sad from time to time, even very sad, but during a bout of clinical depression, a person is unable to escape their low mood for several weeks at a time. A popular and effective treatment for depression involves a class of drugs called selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs). Those drugs increase serotonin levels in the brain and help relieve symptoms of depression, and most scientists believe the brain chemical serotonin plays a key role in depression. Now neuroscience researchers at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis have found that in people who are depressed, a key brain structure has an abnormally low number of cellular serotonin receptors.

Brain changes in Alzheimer’s disease

At the time of the first MRI scans, the turquoise color shows areas of the hippocampus in patients with mild Alzheimer’s disease that are shaped differently than in healthy older people. Two years later, even more changes have occurred, represented by the purple color.Even when people have no symptoms, their brains already may be dotted with the plaques and tangles that characterize Alzheimer’s disease. As treatments to halt the progress of Alzheimer’s disease appear on the horizon, scientists are looking for new ways to identify Alzheimer’s-associated changes in the brain before cognitive decline begins. By examining brain images, researchers, led by John G. Csernansky, M.D., the Gregory B. Couch Professor of Psychiatry, and Lei Wang, Ph.D., research associate in psychiatry, both at Washington University’s Silvio Conte Center for Neuroscience Research, found that the volume and shape of certain brain structures change in different patterns during Alzheimer’s disease than in healthy aging. They believe that someday using these imaging techniques may allow for earlier diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease, preferably before the most devastating symptoms appear.