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New and Exciting in PLoS ONE

There are 10 new articles in PLoS ONE today. As always, you should rate the articles, post notes and comments and send trackbacks when you blog about the papers. You can now also easily place articles on various social services (CiteULike, Connotea, Stumbleupon, Facebook and Digg) with just one click. Here are my own picks for the week – you go and look for your own favourites:

Rhythmicity in Mice Selected for Extremes in Stress Reactivity: Behavioural, Endocrine and Sleep Changes Resembling Endophenotypes of Major Depression:

Dysregulation of the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis, including hyper- or hypo-activity of the stress hormone system, plays a critical role in the pathophysiology of mood disorders such as major depression (MD). Further biological hallmarks of MD are disturbances in circadian rhythms and sleep architecture. Applying a translational approach, an animal model has recently been developed, focusing on the deviation in sensitivity to stressful encounters. This so-called ‘stress reactivity’ (SR) mouse model consists of three separate breeding lines selected for either high (HR), intermediate (IR), or low (LR) corticosterone increase in response to stressors. In order to contribute to the validation of the SR mouse model, our study combined the analysis of behavioural and HPA axis rhythmicity with sleep-EEG recordings in the HR/IR/LR mouse lines. We found that hyper-responsiveness to stressors was associated with psychomotor alterations (increased locomotor activity and exploration towards the end of the resting period), resembling symptoms like restlessness, sleep continuity disturbances and early awakenings that are commonly observed in melancholic depression. Additionally, HR mice also showed neuroendocrine abnormalities similar to symptoms of MD patients such as reduced amplitude of the circadian glucocorticoid rhythm and elevated trough levels. The sleep-EEG analyses, furthermore, revealed changes in rapid eye movement (REM) and non-REM sleep as well as slow wave activity, indicative of reduced sleep efficacy and REM sleep disinhibition in HR mice. Thus, we could show that by selectively breeding mice for extremes in stress reactivity, clinically relevant endophenotypes of MD can be modelled. Given the importance of rhythmicity and sleep disturbances as biomarkers of MD, both animal and clinical studies on the interaction of behavioural, neuroendocrine and sleep parameters may reveal molecular pathways that ultimately lead to the discovery of new targets for antidepressant drugs tailored to match specific pathologies within MD.

Opposite Effects of Early Maternal Deprivation on Neurogenesis in Male versus Female Rats:

Major depression is more prevalent in women than in men. The underlying neurobiological mechanisms are not well understood, but recent data shows that hippocampal volume reductions in depressed women occur only when depression is preceded by an early life stressor. This underlines the potential importance of early life stress, at least in women, for the vulnerability to develop depression. Perinatal stress exposure in rodents affects critical periods of brain development that persistently alter structural, emotional and neuroendocrine parameters in adult offspring. Moreover, stress inhibits adult hippocampal neurogenesis, a form of structural plasticity that has been implicated a.o. in antidepressant action and is highly abundant early postnatally. We here tested the hypothesis that early life stress differentially affects hippocampal structural plasticity in female versus male offspring. We show that 24 h of maternal deprivation (MD) at PND3 affects hippocampal structural plasticity at PND21 in a sex-dependent manner. Neurogenesis was significantly increased in male but decreased in female offspring after MD. Since no other structural changes were found in granule cell layer volume, newborn cell survival or proliferation rate, astrocyte number or gliogenesis, this indicates that MD elicits specific changes in subsets of differentiating cells and differentially affects immature neurons. The MD induced sex-specific effects on neurogenesis cannot be explained by differences in maternal care. Our data shows that early environment has a critical influence on establishing sex differences in neural plasticity and supports the concept that the setpoint for neurogenesis may be determined during perinatal life. It is tempting to speculate that a reduced level of neurogenesis, secondary to early stress exposure, may contribute to maladaptation of the HPA axis and possibly to the increased vulnerability of women to stress-related disorders.

Crohn’s Disease and Early Exposure to Domestic Refrigeration:

Environmental risk factors playing a causative role in Crohn’s Disease (CD) remain largely unknown. Recently, it has been suggested that refrigerated food could be involved in disease development. We thus conducted a pilot case control study to explore the association of CD with the exposure to domestic refrigeration in childhood. Using a standard questionnaire we interviewed 199 CD cases and 207 age-matched patients with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) as controls. Cases and controls were followed by the same gastroenterologists of tertiary referral clinics in Tehran, Iran. The questionnaire focused on the date of the first acquisition of home refrigerator and freezer. Data were analysed by a multivariate logistic model. The current age was in average 34 years in CD cases and the percentage of females in the case and control groups were respectively 48.3% and 63.7%. Patients were exposed earlier than controls to the refrigerator (X2 = 9.9, df = 3, P = 0.04) and refrigerator exposure at birth was found to be a risk factor for CD (OR = 2.08 (95% CI: 1.01-4.29), P = 0.05). Comparable results were obtained looking for the exposure to freezer at home. Finally, among the other recorded items reflecting the hygiene and comfort at home, we also found personal television, car and washing machine associated with CD. This study supports the opinion that CD is associated with exposure to domestic refrigeration, among other household factors, during childhood.