Risk gene for Alzheimer’s has early effects on the brain

A genetic predisposition to late-onset Alzheimer’s disease affects how the brains of young adults cope with certain memory tasks. Researchers from the German Center for Neurodegenerative Diseases (DZNE) and the Ruhr-Universität Bochum report on this in the scientific journal Current Biology. Their findings are based on studies with magnetic resonance imaging in individuals at the age of about 20 years. The scientists suspect that the observed effects could be related to very early disease processes.

The causes for Alzheimer’s in old age are only poorly understood. It is believed that the disease is caused by an unfavorable interaction of lifestyle, external factors and genetic risks. The greatest genetic risk factor for late-onset Alzheimer’s disease stems from inherited mutations affecting “Apolipoprotein E” (ApoE), a protein relevant for fat metabolism and neurons. Three variants of the ApoE gene are known. The most common form is associated with an average risk for Alzheimer’s. One of the two rarer variants stands for an increased risk, and the other for a reduced risk.

“We were interested in finding out whether and how the different gene variants affect brain function. That is why we examined the brains of young adults in the scanner while they had to solve a task that challenged their memory,” explained Dr. Hweeling Lee, who led the current study at the DZNE in Bonn.

Distinguishing similar events

The group of study participants comprised of 82 young men and women. They were on average 20 years old, and all of them were university students considered to be cognitively healthy. According to their genotype for ApoE, 33 of them had an average, 34 an increased and 15 a reduced risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease at a late age. During the study in the brain scanner, all individuals were presented with more than 150 successive images displayed on a monitor. These were everyday objects such as a hammer, a pineapple or a cat. Some pictures were repeated after a while, but sometimes the position of the displayed objects on the screen had changed. The study participants had to identify whether an object was “new” or had been shown before—and if so, whether its position had shifted.

“We tested the ability to distinguish similar events from one another. This is called pattern separation,” said Hweeling Lee. “In everyday life, for example, it’s a matter of remembering whether a key has been placed in the left or right drawer of a dresser, or where the car was parked in a parking garage. We simulated such situations in a simplified way by changing the position of the depicted objects.”

High-resolution through modern technology

Simultaneously to this experiment, the brain activity of the volunteers was recorded using a technique called “functional magnetic resonance imaging”. Focus was on the hippocampus, an area only a few cubic centimeters in size, which can be found once in each brain hemisphere. The hippocampus is considered the switchboard of memory. It also belongs to those sections of the brain in which first damages occur in Alzheimer’s disease.

When measuring brain activity, the scanner was able to show its full potential: It was an “ultra-high field tomograph” with a magnetic field strength of seven Tesla. Such devices can achieve a better resolution than brain scanners usually used in medical examinations. This enabled the researchers to record brain activity in various sub-fields of the hippocampus with high precision. “Up to now, there were no comparable studies with such level of detail in ApoE genotyped participants. This is a unique feature of our research,” said Hweeling Lee.

No differences in memory performance

There were no differences between the three groups of subjects with regard to their ability for pattern separation. “All study participants performed similarly well in the memory test. It did not matter whether they had an increased, reduced or average risk for Alzheimer’s disease. Such results are certainly to be expected in young healthy people,” said Nikolai Axmacher, Professor of Neuropsychology at the Ruhr-Universität Bochum, who was also involved in the current study. “However, there were differences in brain activity. The different groups of study participants activated the various subfields of the hippocampus in different ways and to varying degrees. Their brains thus reacted differently to the memory task. In fact, we saw differences in brain activation not only between people with average and increased risk, but also between individuals with average and reduced risk.”

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How the hand gesture for talking on the phone has changed

Daniel Alvarado’s TikTok post has done the circuit, making headlines on HuffPost, Fox News, and BuzzFeed. When something hits platforms that diverse, you know something’s up. And that’s because Alvarado’s video (via TikTok), which has racked up more than 307,000 likes to date, encapsulates something we’ve all been whispering about since 2007, when smartphones started taking over our lives (via Science Node).  

There’s a name for humanity’s collective addiction to smartphones. It’s called nomophobia (via HelpGuide). Like other addictions, it’s linked to increased anxiety, stress, sleep problems, and even narcissism. And now there’s a hand gesture, too. It’s there to remind us that the smartphone has permanently changed the world we live in today. Alvarado’s video proved it. 

How do you signal with your hands that you’re talking on the phone? If you raise your hand to your cheek, extending your pinky and your thumb, you’re a Baby Boomer. Or, perhaps you’re Gen X. Maybe you’re even an older Millennial. You grew up in an age where you fought with your siblings for the privilege to use your corded, banana-shaped phone to leave a voice message on your crush’s answering machine. A voice message, imagine. 

How Gen Z makes the hand gesture for talking on the phone

How does Gen Z — a generation so addicted to technology that they risk personal safety — signal that they’re on the phone? They do what Alvarado’s kids did on his TikTok video. They lift a hand, palm flat, to their ears, as if they were talking on a smartphone. But wait, that’s not all. As BuzzFeed observed, kids these days have no idea why you’d need to “hang up” a phone either. “Mind-blowing,” says Alvarado. And really, it is. 

It’s not just about generational shifts in communications that are leaving everyone over 25 years old feeling like they’re in the Paleolithic age. (If a Gen Z tried to signal to a Baby Boomer, “hey, call me,” all they’d likely get in response is, “does your face hurt, darling?”) No, Alvarez’s video signals something much more mind-boggling: a shift to a world where our everyday, physical lives are defined by the applications we’ve installed onto a small, flat rectangle with Wi-Fi and Bluetooth capabilities. Not everybody’s been asked along for the ride. 

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Brazil has record week for virus cases

Brazil had its worst week yet of the coronavirus pandemic in terms of new cases, registering 259,105 infections in the seven days through Sunday, according to health ministry figures.

The country also reported its second-highest weekly death toll, with 7,005 people killed, just below the record of 7,285 set the previous week.

Brazil, the country with the second-highest number of infections and deaths worldwide after the United States, has struggled to set a strategy for dealing with the pandemic.

The latest grim figures came as protesters in various cities across the country and as far away as Stockholm, London and Barcelona held demonstrations against Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro and his handling of the health crisis.

The far-right president has downplayed the new coronavirus as akin to a “little flu,” railed against state authorities’ stay-at-home measures and publicly flouted social distancing guidelines and the face-mask requirement in place in the capital, Brasilia.

At Copacabana beach in Rio de Janeiro, military police clutching riot shields used batons to push back people protesting under the slogan “Stop Bolsonaro,” as well as for Gay Pride day and against racism.

The harsh police reaction against the crowd of around 200 drew more people to protest from their windows, shouting “Get out, Bolsonaro!”

In Brasilia, protesters put up 1,000 crosses on a lawn in front of Congress to pay tribute to COVID-19 victims, with a banner reading “Bolsonaro, stop denying!”

“Brazil is suffering immense pain, a hidden pain that throbs in the face of the incredible numbers of deaths caused by COVID-19,” the organizers said in a statement.

Experts say the real number of infections and deaths in Brazil is probably much higher than the official figures.

The health ministry began this week to test all suspected coronavirus cases in the public health system, but under-testing remains a problem in the country of 212 million people.

And even though the spread of the disease is still not under control, some local authorities are pushing ahead with efforts to reopen their economies.

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Jill Duggar Reveals Son Samuel, 2, Has 'Strong Allergies to Dust'

Better safe than sorry! Jill Dillard (née Duggar) is taking precautions after finding out about her 2-year-old son Samuel’s allergy.

“Stuffies in the freezer! We recently found out Sam has strong allergies to dust!” the Counting On alum, 28, captioned a Wednesday, April 29, Instagram picture of her freezer full of stuffed animals. “ Both of the boys love their stuffies so when the allergist mentioned they could be contributing to collection of dust it made total sense!”

The former reality star, who also shares 5-year-old Israel with her husband, Derick Dillard, went on to write, “In addition to being better at washing bedding and vacuuming at least once a week (I know, we still have carpet), the allergist recommended freezing anything that’s tough to wash at least once a month for 48-72 hours to hopefully kill the dust mites! I usually bag them up to keep moisture off of them and contain them a little.”

The 19 Kids and Counting alum asked her social media followers for advice and received plenty of tips, from “allergy-reducing pillow covers” to “high” dryer settings.

She and Derick, 31, tied the knot in June 2014 in Arkansas and welcomed Israel and Samuel in 2015 and 2017, respectively. Earlier this month, the law student hinted at their future family plans.

“We’ll see,” Derick said on the “First Class Fatherhood” podcast when asked whether he and Jill were planning on adding another baby to their brood. “We’re just kind of enjoying life.”

The Oklahoma State University graduate went on to say that baby No. 3 is “not definite.”

The former TLC personalities starred on the first five seasons of Counting On before the network’s September 2017 announcement that Derick had been cut from the cast following transphobic tweets. “His statements do not reflect the views of the network,” the statement read at the time.

Derick responded via Twitter, writing, “For the record, I was never fired. I just felt it best for my family to cut ties months ago, as we are heading in a different direction.”

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