A new scientific love potion

lovepotiondrawingWe are social beings and value our relationships to one another.

Especially when there is mating involved.

Scientists that study mating and monogamy get extremely excited about a specific type of rodent called the prairie vole. That’s because different species of voles exhibit drastically different mating behaviors.

One species of vole (Microtus ochrogaster) stays with one partner throughout its entire life as a monogamous pair bond. Let’s call this the faithful vole.

Another species of vole (Microtus montanus) hops around (perhaps literally) from vole to vole to mate with multiple partners. Let’s call this the frisky vole.

While one might think that differences in environmental factors or upbringing within the colony of voles would influence these differences in mating behavior, scientists have discovered a strong scientific component that originates in the brain to account for these differences.

Scientists have identified two neurotransmitters (oxytocin and vasopressin) that induce faithful behavior. Both chemicals are found at increased concentrations (including their receptors) in the faithful vole. And frisky voles, when dosed with oxytocin and vasopressin, adopt faithful behaviors to form a monogamous pair bond.

The link between the brain and faithful mating has been solidified in a recent paper published in Nature, in which researchers were able to induce the same blissful response of lifelong partnership in the frisky vole by activating certain genes in the brain. Specifically, scientists injected a drug in the nucleus accumbens, a brain area that is normally activated during mating and associated with the enforcement of reward and pleasure. The way the drug activates genes – by epigenetic mechanisms to induce changes in gene activity – is remarkable that it can induce a strong behavioral effect. Interestingly the drug alone cannot do the trick – the drug plus 6 hours of cohabitation was needed to effectively induce monogamous bonding.

So why is this important for you?

Well, science is one step closer to potentially creating a real live love potion – perhaps to be used on that special someone.

Detox your brain with sleep

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Why do we sleep? Scientists have been grappling with this question for ages. What we do know is that sleep is a crucial part of life that is conserved amongst animals. And studies have shown that lack of sleep impairs brain function, inhibiting our ability to react quickly to external stimuli and retain important memories. Behold! Now emerges a new biological insight into why we sleep ~ to clean up waste in our brains.

Cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) is a fluid that circulates inside and around the brain and spinal cord. Imaging the brains of awake versus sleeping mice, scientists used a fluorescent dye to capture real-time imaging of this fluid, discovering that CSF clears potentially harmful proteins from the brain. They made this discovery by tracking colored dye through the brains of sleeping mice and found that channels expanded by 60%, allowing the CSF to flow at a quicker rate. The idea is that during wakefulness, neuron (brain cell) metabolism produces waste products that then accumulate during wakefulness and need to be cleared during sleep.

What’s neat about this finding is that it sheds light on why we sleep and introduces a new type of cleaning in the brain ~ specifically by flushing waste through the brain rather than breaking waste down to dispose of inside cells.

The Jax List

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Happy Holidays!

From interesting, quirky, and informative topics within the science & healthcare ecosystem,
Indulge yourself with this week’s JaxList,
Designed to keep you updated on what’s popping in science!

What's in a drug name?

profanityBottom line. Names are important. And you only have one chance to get it right. Unless you get acquired and then someone else is tasked with renaming you … and hopefully they get it right the second time.

Being memorable, indicating the value of the product, and being easy to pronounce for consumers to enjoy rolling off their tongues are all important in the naming process. Seems to fit quite snuggly with common sense right? Then why do biotech and pharmaceutical companies get it oh so wrong with some of the names of their blockbuster drugs? It’s not like biopharma can afford to casually not invest in naming their drugs since these products generate billions in revenues and determine the company’s financial success and development of new therapies. Yet, even with the financial incentives to create a great name, it seems that biopharma is far more comfortable venturing into rocky linguistic territory with overused X’s and Z’s to produce unpronounceable mouthfuls, Zytiga, Kadcyla, Clindett, and Xgeva to name a few.

Betting big on Juno Therapeutics

Juno PostInvestors are betting big on Juno Therapeutics, a joint venture between three dominant cancer centers (Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, and Seattle Children’s), to harness the power of immunotherapies for cancer. Juno received a whopping 120M in Series A Financing, which represents one of the largest investments for a series A biotech company.

What happens inside the brain after a concussion?

Inside the brain post

Scientists asked this question to get insight into the dynamics and kinetics of the brain’s response after acute injury. A recent paper in Nature sheds light on what happens at a molecular level inside the brain after traumatic brain injury (TBI).

Specifically after impact, there is a complex injury response in the brain consisting of cellular and biochemical mediators. Part of this response is protective and consists of inflammatory components that aim to pacify ongoing injury. But these protective responses prove to be too slow for acute responses that promote the spread of injury into critical brain tissue.

The Jax List

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Happy Friday!

From fascinating, quirky, and informative topics within the science & healthcare ecosystem,
Indulge yourself with this week’s JaxList,
Designed to keep you updated on what’s popping in science!

The Jax List