Hope for Stroke, Anti-anxiety Genes, and a Unique Environmental Record

Three news items were posted on our site today. The first is on two papers by a group in Spain. Normally we don't publicize papers that are not written by Institute scientists, but these are a special case. They appear to have clinched the claims of a Weizmann scientist that one can treat stroke and head trauma without trying to get drugs into the brain. The treatment would consist of upping the levels of a naturally-occurring enzyme in the blood; one of these papers showed that levels of this enzyme in the blood tests of stroke patients were the best predictor of their chances of recovery. Hopefully, this evidence, together with the second paper, which demonstrates the effects of a similar treatment in mice, will pave the way to prompt clinical trials.

The second explores that fascinating but murky area between genes and personality. It turns out that your stress response -- beating heart, churning stomach, tensed muscles, etc. -- doesn't just disappear on its own. Genes in your brain produce proteins that act on other genes to "reset" your system. Knock-out mice missing three related genes kept up their anxious behavior 24 hours after the stress-inducing threat had passed, with no signs of returning to normal; and gene expression patterns stayed in stress-mode. Apparently this mechanism is open to malfunction -- PTSD, anxiety disorders and anorexia, to name a few -- but it offers a glimmer of hope for treatment, as well.

The third reports on an ongoing project by a researcher in the Environmental Sciences and Energy Research Department -- a unique historical record of atmospheric change. Rather than cut down trees to count rings or spend time in a cold lab peering at ice cores, this scientist went to his nearby library and clipped small bits of paper from the margins of Science, Nature and other magazines going back over 100 years. His chemical/isotopic analysis of the paper revealed the effects of rising fossil fuel burning over the past century. The method can fill in some blanks, reflecting combined data from many trees at once and revealing some regional phenomena -- as well as providing a new technique to authenticate the age of paper samples.

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