Daily Archives: October 17, 2013

Bringing brain disorders back into balance with Brain’s thermostat?

Bringing a new path of hope to people with brain development disorders is Dr. Gina Turrigiano and her team at Brandeis University. They demonstrated for the first time in a live animal that the brain has a “thermostat” that maintains a balance of excitement. When it gets too excited a system exists to tone down the firing rate of the neurons or vice versa. This discovery has implications in brain disorder conditions in which the balance is lost in psychiatric conditions like autism where the brain does not get excited enough, or epilepsy in which the brain gets too excited. The brain’s “thermostat” keeps the neurons on an even keel even as they change in response to learning, development or environment factors. This thermostat worked even when the animal was awake or asleep. Read the original article published in the journal Neuron as the cover article on October 16, 2013 by clicking here.

Dr. Turrigiano says that if scientists can figure out how these set points are built, then researchers may be able to adjust them and bring the brains of people suffering from such disorders back into balance.

Dr. Gina Turrigiano, Brandeis University, pioneered "synaptic scaling" where neurons and neural circuits maintain both stability and flexibility

Dr. Gina Turrigiano, Brandeis University, pioneered “synaptic scaling” where neurons and neural circuits maintain both stability and flexibility

Dr. Gina Turrig1ano, was conferred the 2012 HFSP Nakasone award, McArthur Foundation award and the NIH Director’s Pioneering award for her pioneering work and introduction of the term “synaptic scaling”. The concept is that the developing and fully developed brain has inbuilt mechanisms that allow balancing the need for plasticity. It allows the brain to enable learning and development while maintaining the stability and integrity of the circuits that drive behavior.

Work in her lab has shown that neurons can “tune” themselves and scale down excitement or vice versa. However, this concept of “synaptic scaling” or thermostat control had never been observed in a life animal until now.

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The happiness gene – is there one?

In recent decades many have observed that certain people are always optimistic. ¬†Naturally, researchers who requested funding to study if “optimism” could be inherited did get some money. Any major answer? The 5-HTT gene family: The feeling of satisfaction is apparently controlled by the 5-HTT gene family. It probably may not be the only gene family that controls the feeling of satisfaction but it has been the one most studied. There are many members in the 5-HTT gene family with various functions. One member controls satisfaction levels while another member controls marital bliss.

Satisfaction level controlled by a gene?
We found that this single, collaborative article published in the Journal of Neuroscience answered our question the best, given today’s technological knowledge and funding set aside for the pursuit of a happy society. The article, “Genes, Economics and Happiness” studied the feeling of subjective well being in twins in a genetic association study. Studying twins makes sense because scientific studies require a “control”, with which they can compare any differences, such as environment and economics, all other factors being equal. Who can be a better control than a person’s own twin? Let’s find what these scientists collaborating between four universities in three countries summarized. Subjects were asked questions like, “How satisfied are you with your life as a whole?”

1. About 33% of life’s satisfaction can be explained by genetic variation – you inherit your family’s feelings of satisfaction.
2. There are molecular genetic associations with subjective well being – meaning that although previous studies have shown that there is a baseline happiness that is inherited from family, certain experiences can interfere with that baseline. An indirect molecular effect of life’s stressful events?
3. As an example, they studied in detail the Serotonin Transporter gene (5-HTTLPR, also named SLC6A4), or SERT a key brain protein it encodes. Serotonin is a chemical released by one neuron and received by another neuron. The protein has a longer form and a shorter form. Initial findings suggested that families that inherited the longer form were more satisfied. But this study produced mixed results, implying that certain experiences can interfere with the length of this gene. The 5-HTT gene has been studied for over 20 years. This gene encodes a protein (located on the cell surface membrane) that absorbs serotonin into the neuron in parts of the brain that influences mental states.
4. Heritability of happiness rises as people age. At different points in life’s course genes and environment play a different role.
5. In particular, gender does not systematically effect happiness.
6. There are other genes with functions involved in gene-environment interactions and satisfaction.

This study encourages economists to consider biological differences in their studies. Economists are interested in the impact of income or unemployment on feelings of satisfaction. Psychologists describe a “set point” or “happiness levels” that exist in families. Since, optimism is linked in families carrying a more efficient version of the 5-HTT gene, all of us are interested.

Wedded bliss gene?

Dr Claudia Haase, Northwestern University

Dr Claudia Haase, Northwestern University says couples with the 5-HTTLPR gene were most happy in their marriages

There is recent evidence for a wedded bliss gene. Scientists have long observed that married people are generally happier than divorced people. Couples with the 5-HTTLPR gene were most happy in their marriages. Couples with two shorter forms of this gene are likelier to be happier in a compatible relationship rather than suffer in a bad one. Emotion is an important element in marital bliss. The marriage thrives under certain emotional levels. People who inherit the two longer forms of this gene respond less to emotional levels in marriage. Read, “Claudia Haase’s New Study links DNA Marital Happiness“.

Can we be re-engineered biologically to be happier?
If we do have this satisfaction gene and we find that some of us do not have this happiness gene, then what? Will it be allowed by FDA to walk into a clinic to get diagnosed “for a happiness gene” and then get a bioengineered happiness gene if the doc says we lack one? Will insurance pay for such a happiness – gene – bioengineering therapy? What will it’s medical code termininology read like? Will insurance pay for “diagnosing a SNP or marker” that causes change in the “happiness gene” in an unhappy individual?

Pursue Natural felt it could begin by searching for any peer Рreviewed published work on happiness genes. Peer Рreviewed would indicate that fellow scientists respect the methodology or scientific thoroughness with which this scientist approached the issue of discovering the happiness gene.  We discussed above our findings. What are your opinions on the happiness gene? Laugh a Lot. Can you imagine the impact of an eternally happy society?

Other Authors who have recently discussed the Happiness factor
Happiness from having a purpose in life linked with gene activity
Your happiness type matters
Happiness can affect your genes
Looking to genes for the secret to happiness
Wedded bliss or blues? Scientists link DNA to marital satisfaction

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