Toxic metals and BPA in babies and copper as culprit in Alzheimer’s brain

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Bacterial Clues in Baby’s Dirty Diapers Helps Predict Cognitive Development

Bacterial Clues in Baby’s Dirty Diapers Helps Predict Cognitive Development

Summary: A new study in Biological Psychiatry reports a toddler’s cognitive development may be predicted by the types of microbes colonizing the gut when they are a year old. Researchers found infants with high levels of Bacteriodes had better scores in cognitive tests at age 2 than those with lower levels of the bacterial genus.

Source: UNC Chapel Hill.

Can the kinds of microbes colonizing the gut at age 1 predict later cognitive development? Findings from the UNC School of Medicine shed light on the surprising role of bacteria in how our brains develop during the first years of life.

If you’re the parent of an infant, diaper duty probably isn’t your favorite part of the day. But you dutifully check the contents of each one because your pediatrician told you that color and consistency of what they leave behind can tell you a lot about their health. But what does a dirty diaper have to do with your baby’s brain?

According to first-of-their-kind findings from the UNC School of Medicine, the answer may be a lot.

Using fecal samples taken from dozens of one-year-olds and cognitive assessments of the same children a year later, researchers in the lab of Rebecca Knickmeyer, PhD, associate professor of psychiatry, found an association between certain kinds of microbial communities and higher levels of cognitive development later on. The results were published in Biological Psychiatry.

“The big story here is that we’ve got one group of kids with a particular community of bacteria that’s performing better on these cognitive tests,” said Knickmeyer. “This is the first time an association between microbial communities and cognitive development has been demonstrated in humans.”

The gut is home to trillions of microbes that can have an enormous impact on the health of individuals, affecting everything from our ability to metabolize the nutrients in our food to our risk for developing gastrointestinal disorders like colitis. This community of microbes, also known as the microbiome, can be characterized in several ways, but one of the most common is to estimate the relative abundance of different kinds of bacteria using the combined genetic material of all microorganisms in a particular environment, in this case the gut.

Knickmeyer and her colleagues sought to determine whether there might be a relationship between the gut microbiome and brain development

To establish this relationship, they collected fecal samples from 89 typically developing one-year-olds. These samples were then analyzed and clustered into three different groups, based on similarities in their microbial communities.

At age 2, the cognitive performance of these children was assessed using the Mullen Scales of Early Learning, a series of tests that examine fine and gross motor skills, perceptual abilities, and language development.

Infants in the cluster with relatively high levels of the bacterial genus Bacteroides had better cognitive scores compared to the other two clusters. In addition, babies with highly diverse gut microbiomes didn’t perform as well as those with less diverse microbiomes.

“The latter result was quite surprising,” said Knickmeyer. “We had originally predicted that children with highly diverse microbiomes would perform better – since other studies have shown that low diversity in infancy is associated with negative health outcomes, including type 1 diabetes and asthma. Our work suggests that an ‘optimal’ microbiome for cognitive and psychiatric outcomes may be different than an ‘optimal’ microbiome for other outcomes.”

Identifying optimal communities and learning how to shape them is a question for future research. For the moment, Knickmeyer and her colleagues are still trying to understand the mechanism linking gut bacteria communities to brain development.

“Are the bacteria actually ‘communicating’ with the developing brain?” asks Knickmeyer. “That’s something that we are working on now, so we’re looking at some signaling pathways that might be involved. Another possibility is that the bacterial community is acting as a proxy for some other process that influences brain development – for example, variation in certain dietary nutrients.”

Though the findings are preliminary, they suggest that early intervention may hold the key to optimizing cognitive development.

Image shows a baby.

“This is the first study to show that cognitive development is associated with the microbiome, and so it’s the very first step,” said Alexander Carlson, an MD/PhD student in Knickmeyer’s lab and first author of the paper. “We’re not really at the point where we can say, ‘Let’s give everyone a certain probiotic.’ But we did have a few big takeaways from what we found. One was that when measuring the microbiome at age one, we already see the emergence of adult-like gut microbiome communities — which means that the ideal time for intervention would be before age 1.”

Several avenues of further investigation have been opened by these initial results, including relating the infant gut microbiome to other aspects of child development – including the emergence of social skills and anxiety.

“Big picture: these results suggest you may be able to guide the development of the microbiome to optimize cognitive development or reduce the risk for disorders like autism which can include problems with cognition and language,” said Knickmeyer. “How you guide that development is an open question because we have to understand what the individual’s microbiome is and how to shift it. And this is something the scientific community is just beginning to work on.”

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Other UNC contributors to the findings include Kai Xia, PhD, Andrea Azcarate-Peril, PhD, Barbara Goldman, PhD, Martin Styner, PhD, Amanda L. Thompson, PhD, and John H. Gilmore, MD.

Funding: The study was funded by the National Institutes of Health and the Foundation of Hope for Research and Treatment of Mental Illness.

Source: Matt Englund – UNC Chapel Hill
Image Source: NeuroscienceNews.com image is in the public domain.
Original Research: Abstract for “Infant Gut Microbiome Associated with Cognitive Development” by Alexander L. Carlson, Kai Xia, M. Andrea Azcarate-Peril, Barbara D. Goldman, Mihye Ahn, Martin A. Styner, Amanda L. Thompson, Xiujuan Geng, John H. Gilmore, Rebecca C. Knickmeyer in Biological Psychiatry. Published online June 26 2017 doi:10.1016/j.biopsych.2017.06.021

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UNC Chapel Hill “Bacterial Clues in Baby’s Dirty Diapers Helps Predict Cognitive Development.” NeuroscienceNews. NeuroscienceNews, 17 July 2017.
<http://neurosciencenews.com/bacteria-baby-cognitive-development-7103/&gt;.

Abstract

Infant Gut Microbiome Associated with Cognitive Development

Background
Studies in rodents provide compelling evidence that microorganisms inhabiting the gut influence neurodevelopment. In particular, experimental manipulations that alter intestinal microbiota impact exploratory and communicative behaviors and cognitive performance. In humans, the first years of life are a dynamic time in gut colonization and brain development, but little is known about the relationship between these two processes.

Methods
We tested whether microbial composition at 1 year of age is associated with cognitive outcomes using the Mullen Scales of Early Learning and with global and regional brain volumes using structural MRI at 1 and 2 years of age. Fecal samples were collected from 89 typically developing one-year-old infants. 16S rRNA amplicon sequencing was used for identification and relative quantification of bacterial taxa.

Results
Cluster analysis identified 3 groups of infants defined by their bacterial composition. Mullen scores at age 2 differed significantly between clusters. In addition, higher alpha diversity was associated with lower scores on the overall composite score, visual reception scale, and expressive language scale at age 2. Exploratory analyses of neuroimaging data suggest the gut microbiome has minimal effects on regional brain volumes 1 and 2 years of age.

Conclusions
This is the first study to demonstrate associations between the gut microbiota and cognition in human infants. As such, it represents an essential first step in translating animal data into the clinic.

“Infant Gut Microbiome Associated with Cognitive Development” by Alexander L. Carlson, Kai Xia, M. Andrea Azcarate-Peril, Barbara D. Goldman, Mihye Ahn, Martin A. Styner, Amanda L. Thompson, Xiujuan Geng, John H. Gilmore, Rebecca C. Knickmeyer in Biological Psychiatry. Published online June 26 2017 doi:10.1016/j.biopsych.2017.06.021

Heartburn Drugs in Pregnancy Tied to Asthma in Babies

By

Taking heartburn medicines during pregnancy may increase the risk for asthma in the baby, a review of studies has found.

The analysis, in the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology, combined data from eight studies that included more than 1.6 million patients. Follow-up ranged from five to 14 years.

Researchers found that H2 blockers, such as Pepcid or Tagamet, were associated with a 46 percent increased risk for childhood asthma. Taking proton pump inhibitors, such as Prilosec or Nexium, was linked to a 30 percent increase in risk. There was also some data suggesting an increased risk for skin allergies.

The reason for the connection is unclear, but animal studies suggest the drugs may interfere with digestion, leaving undigested food allergens that are then passed on to the fetus.

None of the studies accounted for all of the many factors that may influence asthma onset, and the authors acknowledge that no causal connection can be proven.

“Gastric reflux is common in pregnancy,” said the lead author, Dr. Aziz Sheikh, a professor of primary care at the University of Edinburgh, “and in the majority of women, it can be managed with lifestyle or diet changes.”

Where medicine is required, he said, “Milder treatments like chewable antacid tablets are the preferred option.”


  1. Taking Fish Oil During Pregnancy Is Found to Lower Child’s Asthma Risk

  2. Heartburn Drugs Tied to Dementia Risk

    Heartburn Drugs Tied to Kidney Problems

Babies Exposed to Stimulation Get a Brain Boost

Summary: Contrary to popular belief, exposing children to stimuli early can help to boost their development, researchers report.

Source: NTNU.

Many new parents still think that babies should develop at their own pace, and that they shouldn’t be challenged to do things that they’re not yet ready for. Infants should learn to roll around under their own power, without any “helpful” nudges, and they shouldn’t support their weight before they can stand or walk on their own. They mustn’t be potty trained before they are ready for it.

According to neuroscientist Audrey van der Meer, a professor at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU) this mindset can be traced back to the early 1900s, when professionals were convinced that our genes determine who we are, and that child development occurred independently of the stimulation that a baby is exposed to. They believed it was harmful to hasten development, because development would and should happen naturally.

Early stimulation in the form of baby gym activities and early potty training play a central role in Asia and Africa. The old development theory also contrasts with modern brain research that shows that early stimulation contributes to brain development gains even in the wee ones among us.

Using the body and senses

Van der Meer is a professor of neuropsychology and has used advanced EEG technology for many years to study the brain activity of hundreds of babies.

The results show that the neurons in the brains of young children quickly increase in both number and specialization as the baby learns new skills and becomes more mobile. Neurons in very young children form up to a thousand new connections per second.

Van der Meer’s research also shows that the development of our brain, sensory perception and motor skills happen in sync. She believes that even the smallest babies must be challenged and stimulated at their level from birth onward. They need to engage their entire body and senses by exploring their world and different materials, both indoors and out and in all types of weather. She emphasizes that the experiences must be self-produced; it is not enough for children merely to be carried or pushed in a stroller.

Unused brain synapses disappear

“Many people believe that children up to three years old only need cuddles and nappy changes, but studies show that rats raised in cages have less dendritic branching in the brain than rats raised in an environment with climbing and hiding places and tunnels. Research also shows that children born into cultures where early stimulation is considered important, develop earlier than Western children do,” van der Meer says.

She adds that the brains of young children are very malleable, and can therefore adapt to what is happening around them. If the new synapses that are formed in the brain are not being used, they disappear as the child grows up and the brain loses some of its plasticity.

Van der Meer mentions the fact that Chinese babies hear a difference between the R and L sounds when they are four months old, but not when they get older. Since Chinese children do not need to distinguish between these sounds to learn their mother tongue, the brain synapses that carry this knowledge disappear when they are not used.

Loses the ability to distinguish between sounds

Babies actually manage to distinguish between the sounds of any language in the world when they are four months old, but by the time they are eight months old they have lost this ability, according to van der Meer.

In the 1970s, it was believed that children could only learn one language properly. Foreign parents were advised not to speak their native language to their children, because it could impede the child’s language development. Today we think completely differently, and there are examples of children who speak three, four or five languages fluently without suffering language confusion or delays.

Brain research suggests that in these cases the native language area in the brain is activated when children speak the languages. If we study a foreign language after the age of seven, other areas of the brain are used when we speak the language, explains Van der Meer.

She adds that it is important that children learn languages by interacting with real people.

“Research shows that children don’t learn language by watching someone talk on a screen, it has to be real people who expose them to the language,” says van der Meer.

Early intervention with the very young

Since a lot is happening in the brain during the first years of life, van der Meer says that it is easier to promote learning and prevent problems when children are very young.

The term “early intervention” keeps popping up in discussions of kindergartens and schools, teaching and learning. Early intervention is about helping children as early as possible to ensure that as many children as possible succeed in their education and on into adulthood – precisely because the brain has the greatest ability to change under the influence of the ambient conditions early in life.

“When I talk about early intervention, I’m not thinking of six-year-olds, but even younger children from newborns to age three. Today, 98 per cent of Norwegian children attend kindergarten, so the quality of the time that children spend there is especially important. I believe that kindergarten should be more than just a holding place – it should be a learning arena – and by that I mean that play is learning,” says van der Meer.

Too many untrained staff

She adds that a two-year old can easily learn to read or swim, as long as the child has access to letters or water. However, she does not want kindergarten to be a preschool, but rather a place where children can have varied experiences through play.

“This applies to both healthy children and those with different challenges. When it comes to children with motor challenges or children with impaired vision and hearing, we have to really work to bring the world to them,” says van der Meer.

“One-year-olds can’t be responsible for their own learning, so it’s up to the adults to see to it. Today untrained temporary staff tend to be assigned to the infant and toddler rooms, because it’s ‘less dangerous’ with the youngest ones since they only need cuddles and nappy changes. I believe that all children deserve teachers who understand how the brains of young children work. Today, Norway is the only one of 25 surveyed OECD countries where kindergarten teachers do not constitute 50 per cent of kindergarten staffing,” she said.

More children with special needs

Lars Adde is a specialist in paediatric physical therapy at St. Olavs Hospital and a researcher at NTNU’s Department of Laboratory Medicine, Children’s and Women’s Health. He works with young children who have special needs, in both his clinical practice and research.

Image shows a baby playing.

He believes it is important that all children are stimulated and get to explore the world, but this is especially important for children who have special challenges. He points out that a greater proportion of children that are now coming into the world in Norway have special needs.

“This is due to the rapid development in medical technology, which enables us to save many more children – like extremely premature babies and infants who get cancer. These children would have died 50 years ago, and today they survive – but often with a number of subsequent difficulties,” says Adde.

New knowledge offers better treatment

Adde says that the new understanding of brain development that has been established since the 1970s has given these children far better treatment and care options.

For example, the knowledge that some synapses in the brain are strengthened while others disappear has led to the understanding that we have to work at what we want to be good at – like walking. According to the old mindset, any general movement would provide good general motor function.

Babies who are born very prematurely at St. Olavs Hospital receive follow-up by an interdisciplinary team at the hospital and a municipal physiotherapist in their early years. Kindergarten staff where the child attends receive training in exactly how this child should be stimulated and challenged at the appropriate level. The follow-up enables a child with developmental delays to catch up quickly, so that measures can be implemented early – while the child’s brain is still very plastic.

A child may, for example, have a small brain injury that causes him to use his arms differently. Now we know that the brain connections that govern this arm become weaker when it is used less, which reinforces the reduced function.

“Parents may then be asked to put a sock on the “good” hand when their child uses his hands to play. Then the child is stimulated and the brain is challenged to start using the other arm,” says Adde.

Shouldn’t always rush development

Adde stresses that it is not always advisable to speed up the development of children with special needs who initially struggle with their motor skills.

A one–year old learning to walk first has to learn to find her balance. If the child is helped to standing position, she will eventually learn to stand – but before she has learned how to sit down again. If the child loses her balance, she’ll fall like a stiff cane, which can be both scary and counterproductive.

In that situation, “we might then ask the parents to instead help their child up to kneeling position while it holds onto something. Then the child will learn to stand up on its own. If the child falls, it will bend in the legs and tumble on its bum. Healthy children figure this out on their own, but children with special challenges don’t necessarily do this,” says Adde.

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Source: NTNU
Image Source: NeuroscienceNews.com image is in the public domain.
Original Research: Full open access research for “Development of Visual Motion Perception for Prospective Control: Brain and Behavioral Studies in Infants” by Seth B. Agyei, F. R. (Ruud) van der Weel and Audrey L. H. van der Meer in Frontiers in Psychology. Published online February 9 2016 doi:10.3389/fpsyg.2016.00100

Abstract for “Longitudinal study of preterm and full-term infants: High-density EEG analyses of cortical activity in response to visual motion” bySeth B. Agyei, F.R. (Ruud) van der Weel, Audrey L.H. van der Meer in Neuropsychologia. Published online April 2016 doi:10.1016/j.neuropsychologia.2016.02.001

CITE THIS NEUROSCIENCENEWS.COM ARTICLE
NTNU “Babies Exposed to Stimulation Get a Brain Boost.” NeuroscienceNews. NeuroscienceNews, 30 January 2017.
<http://neurosciencenews.com/baby-stimulation-neurodevelopment-5844/&gt;.

Abstract

Development of Visual Motion Perception for Prospective Control: Brain and Behavioral Studies in Infants

During infancy, smart perceptual mechanisms develop allowing infants to judge time-space motion dynamics more efficiently with age and locomotor experience. This emerging capacity may be vital to enable preparedness for upcoming events and to be able to navigate in a changing environment. Little is known about brain changes that support the development of prospective control and about processes, such as preterm birth, that may compromise it. As a function of perception of visual motion, this paper will describe behavioral and brain studies with young infants investigating the development of visual perception for prospective control. By means of the three visual motion paradigms of occlusion, looming, and optic flow, our research shows the importance of including behavioral data when studying the neural correlates of prospective control.

“Development of Visual Motion Perception for Prospective Control: Brain and Behavioral Studies in Infants” by Seth B. Agyei, F. R. (Ruud) van der Weel and Audrey L. H. van der Meer in Frontiers in Psychology. Published online February 9 2016 doi:10.3389/fpsyg.2016.00100


Abstract

Longitudinal study of preterm and full-term infants: High-density EEG analyses of cortical activity in response to visual motion

Electroencephalogram (EEG) was used to investigate brain electrical activity of full-term and preterm infants at 4 and 12 months of age as a functional response mechanism to structured optic flow and random visual motion. EEG data were recorded with an array of 128-channel sensors. Visual evoked potentials (VEPs) and temporal spectral evolution (TSE, time-dependent amplitude changes) were analysed. VEP results showed a significant improvement in full-term infants’ latencies with age for forwards and reversed optic flow but not random visual motion. Full-term infants at 12 months significantly differentiated between the motion conditions, with the shortest latency observed for forwards optic flow and the longest latency for random visual motion, while preterm infants did not improve their latencies with age, nor were they able to differentiate between the motion conditions at 12 months. Differences in induced activities were also observed where comparisons between TSEs of the motion conditions and a static non-flow pattern showed desynchronised theta-band activity in both full-term and preterm infants, with synchronised alpha-beta band activity observed only in the full-term infants at 12 months. Full-term infants at 12 months with a substantial amount of self-produced locomotor experience and neural maturation coupled with faster oscillating cell assemblies, rely on the perception of structured optic flow to move around efficiently in the environment. The poorer responses in the preterm infants could be related to impairment of the dorsal visual stream specialized in the processing of visual motion.

“Longitudinal study of preterm and full-term infants: High-density EEG analyses of cortical activity in response to visual motion” bySeth B. Agyei, F.R. (Ruud) van der Weel, Audrey L.H. van der Meer in Neuropsychologia. Published online April 2016 doi:10.1016/j.neuropsychologia.2016.02.001