News Article | May 2, 2017
Studies have suggested a link between fitness and memory, but researchers have struggled to find the mechanism that links them. A new study by University of Illinois researchers found that the key may lie in the microstructure of the hippocampus, a region in the middle of the brain involved in memory processes. Aron Barbey, a professor of psychology, led a group of researchers at the Beckman Institute for Advanced Science and Technology at Illinois that used a specialized MRI technique to measure the structural integrity of the hippocampus in healthy young adults and correlated it with their performances on fitness and memory tests. They found that viscoelasticity, a measure of structural integrity in brain tissue, was correlated with fitness and memory performance - much more so than simply looking at the size of the hippocampus. "Using a new tool to examine the integrity of the hippocampus in healthy young adults could tell us more about how this region functions and how to predict decline for early intervention," Barbey said. "By the time we look at diseases states, it's often too late." Prior research led by Illinois psychology professor Neal Cohen, who is also a co-author on the new paper, demonstrated that the hippocampus is critical for relational memory and that the integrity of this region predicts a host of neurodegenerative diseases. To date, much research on the hippocampus' structure has focused on its size. Studies in developing children and declining older adults have found strong correlations between hippocampal size and memory. However, size does not seem to matter as much in healthy young adults, said postdoctoral researcher Hillary Schwarb. The Illinois group looked instead at the microstructure of the tissue, using an emerging neuroimaging tool called magnetic resonance elastography. The method involves an MRI scan, but with a pillow under the subject's head vibrating at a very low amplitude - as gentle as driving on the interstate, Schwarb said. The vibration is the key to measuring the structural integrity of the hippocampus. "It's a lot like sending ripples through a still pond - if there's some large thing like a boulder under the surface, the ripples are going to displace around it," Schwarb said. "We are sending waves through the brain and reconstructing the displacements into a map we can look at and measure." The study, published in the journal NeuroImage, found that those who performed better on the fitness test tended to also perform better on the memory task, confirming a correlation the group had noticed before. But by adding the information on the structure of the hippocampus, the researchers were able to find a possible pathway for the link. They found that the subjects with higher fitness levels also had more elastic tissue in the hippocampus. The tissue structure, in turn, was associated with memory. "We found that when the hippocampus is more elastic, memory is better. An elastic hippocampus is like a firm foam mattress pad that pops right back up after you get up," said study co-author Curtis Johnson, a former graduate researcher at the Beckman Institute who is now a professor at the University of Delaware. "When the hippocampus is more viscous, memory is worse. A viscous hippocampus is like a memory-foam mattress that holds its shape even after you get up." The results suggest that the viscoelasticity of the hippocampus may be the mediating factor in the relationship between fitness and memory in healthy young adults. "It also shows us that magnetic resonance elastography is a useful tool for understanding tissue microsctructure, and that microstructure is important to cognition," Schwarb said. "This provides us a new level of analysis for studying the human brain."
News Article | April 13, 2017
Detecting cancer early, just as changes are beginning in DNA, could enhance diagnosis and treatment as well as further our understanding of the disease. A new study by University of Illinois researchers describes a method to detect, count and map tiny additions to DNA called methylations, which can be a warning sign of cancer, with unprecedented resolution. The method threads DNA strands through a tiny hole, called a nanopore, in an atomically thin sheet of material with an electrical current running through it. The study was published in the inaugural issue of the journal npj 2D Materials and Applications, a new journal from Nature Press. “One or a few methylations is not a big deal, but if there are many of them and they are packed close together, then it’s bad,” says study leader Jean-Pierre Leburton, a professor of electrical and computer engineering at Illinois. “DNA methylation is actually a starting process for cancer. So we want to detect how many of them there are and how close together they are. That can tell us at which stage the cancer is.” Other attempts at using nanopores to detect methylation have been limited in resolution. Researchers begin by punching a tiny hole in a flat sheet of material only one atom or molecule thick. The pore is submerged in a salt solution and an electrical current is applied to drive the DNA molecule through the pore. Dips in the current alert researchers that a methyl group is passing through. However, when two or three are close together, the pore interprets it as one signal, Leburton says. The Illinois group tried a slightly different approach. They applied a current directly to the conductive sheet surrounding the pore. Working with Klaus Schulten, a professor of physics at Illinois, Leburton’s group at Illinois’ Beckman Institute for Advanced Science and Technology used advanced computer simulations to test applying current to different flat materials, such as graphene and molybdenum disulfide, as methylated DNA was threaded through. “Our simulations indicate that measuring the current through the membrane instead of just the solution around it is much more precise,” Leburton says. “If you have two methylations close together, even only 10 base pairs away, you continue to see two dips and no overlapping. We also can map where they are on the strand, so we can see how many there are and where they are.” Leburton’s group is working with collaborators to improve DNA threading, to cut down on noise in the electrical signal and to perform experiments to verify their simulations. Grants from Oxford Nanopore Technology, the Beckman Institute, the National Institutes of Health, and the National Science Foundation supported this work.
News Article | April 17, 2017
Home > Press > Nanopores could map small changes in DNA that signal big shifts in cancer Abstract: Detecting cancer early, just as changes are beginning in DNA, could enhance diagnosis and treatment as well as further our understanding of the disease. A new study by University of Illinois researchers describes a method to detect, count and map tiny additions to DNA called methylations, which can be a warning sign of cancer, with unprecedented resolution. The method threads DNA strands through a tiny hole, called a nanopore, in an atomically thin sheet of material with an electrical current running through it. The study was published in the inaugural issue of the journal npj 2D Materials and Applications, a new journal from Nature Press. "One or a few methylations is not a big deal, but if there are many of them and they are packed close together, then it's bad," said study leader Jean-Pierre Leburton, a professor of electrical and computer engineering at Illinois. "DNA methylation is actually a starting process for cancer. So we want to detect how many of them there are and how close together they are. That can tell us at which stage the cancer is." Other attempts at using nanopores to detect methylation have been limited in resolution. Researchers begin by punching a tiny hole in a flat sheet of material only one atom or molecule thick. The pore is submerged in a salt solution and an electrical current is applied to drive the DNA molecule through the pore. Dips in the current alert researchers that a methyl group is passing through. However, when two or three are close together, the pore interprets it as one signal, Leburton said. The Illinois group tried a slightly different approach. They applied a current directly to the conductive sheet surrounding the pore. Working with Klaus Schulten, a professor of physics at Illinois, Leburton's group at Illinois' Beckman Institute for Advanced Science and Technology used advanced computer simulations to test applying current to different flat materials, such as graphene and molybdenum disulfide, as methylated DNA was threaded through. See a video of one simulation on YouTube. "Our simulations indicate that measuring the current through the membrane instead of just the solution around it is much more precise," Leburton said. "If you have two methylations close together, even only 10 base pairs away, you continue to see two dips and no overlapping. We also can map where they are on the strand, so we can see how many there are and where they are." Leburton's group is working with collaborators to improve DNA threading, to cut down on noise in the electrical signal and to perform experiments to verify their simulations. ### Grants from Oxford Nanopore Technology, the Beckman Institute, the National Institutes of Health and the National Science Foundation supported this work. For more information, please click If you have a comment, please us. Issuers of news releases, not 7th Wave, Inc. or Nanotechnology Now, are solely responsible for the accuracy of the content.
News Article | December 8, 2016
Crystal structure of the PodA protein complex with three molecules of 1-hydroxyphenazine, the reaction product, bound in the active sites. Credit: Kyle Costa/Caltech Many infectious pathogens are difficult to treat because they develop into biofilms, layers of metabolically active but slowly growing bacteria embedded in a protective layer of slime, which are inherently more resistant to antibiotics. Now, a group of researchers at Caltech and the University of Oxford have made progress in the fight against biofilms. Led by Dianne Newman, the Gordon M. Binder/Amgen Professor of Biology and Geobiology, the group identified a protein that degrades and inhibits biofilms of Pseudomonas aeruginosa, the primary pathogen in cystic fibrosis (CF) infections. The work is described in a paper in the journal Science that will appear online December 8. "Pseudomonas aeruginosa causes chronic infections that are difficult to treat, such as those that inhabit burn wounds, diabetic ulcers, and the lungs of individuals living with cystic fibrosis," Newman says. "In part, the reason these infections are hard to treat is because P. aeruginosa enters a biofilm mode of growth in these contexts; biofilms tolerate conventional antibiotics much better than other modes of bacterial growth. Our research suggests a new approach to inhibiting P. aeruginosa biofilms." The group targeted pyocyanin, a small molecule produced by P. aeruginosa that produces a blue pigment. Pyocyanin has been used in the clinical identification of this strain for over a century, but several years ago the Newman group demonstrated that the molecule also supports biofilm growth, raising the possibility that its degradation might offer a new route to inhibit biofilm development. To identify a factor that would selectively degrade pyocyanin, Kyle Costa, a postdoctoral scholar in biology and biological engineering, turned to a milligram of soil collected in the courtyard of the Beckman Institute on the Caltech campus. From the soil, he isolated another bacterium, Mycobacterium fortuitum, that produces a previously uncharacterized small protein called pyocyanin demethylase (PodA). Adding PodA to growing cultures of P. aeruginosa, the team discovered, inhibits biofilm development. "While there is precedent for the use of enzymes to treat bacterial infections, the novelty of this study lies in our observation that selectively degrading a small pigment that supports the biofilm lifestyle can inhibit biofilm expansion," says Costa, the first author on the study. The work, Costa says, is relevant to anyone interested in manipulating microbial biofilms, which are common in natural, clinical, and industrial settings. "There are many more pigment-producing bacteria out there in a wide variety of contexts, and our results pave the way for future studies to explore whether the targeted manipulation of analogous molecules made by different bacteria will have similar effects on other microbial populations." While it will take several years of experimentation to determine whether the laboratory findings can be translated to a clinical context, the work has promise for the utilization of proteins like PodA to treat antibiotic-resistant biofilm infections, the researchers say. "What is interesting about this result from an ecological perspective is that a potential new therapeutic approach comes from leveraging reactions catalyzed by soil bacteria," says Newman. "These organisms likely co-evolved with the pathogen, and we may simply be harnessing strategies other microbes use to keep it in check in nature. The chemical dynamics between microorganisms are fascinating, and we have so much more to learn before we can best exploit them." The paper is titled "Pyocyanin degradation by a tautomerizing demethylase inhibits Pseudomonas aeruginosa biofilms." Explore further: First probe for bacterial biofilms opens the door for new ways to combat antibacterial resistance
News Article | February 28, 2017
By inhibiting the proteasome -- the cell's garbage disposal -- in a novel way, a new treatment causes cancer cells to fill up with 'trash' and self-destruct The genomes of cancer cells--cells that do not obey signals to stop reproducing--are riddled with genetic mutations, causing them inadvertently to make many dysfunctional proteins. Like all other cells, cancer cells need to be vigilant about cleaning themselves up in order to survive. Now, biologists in the laboratory of Ray Deshaies, Caltech professor of biology and Howard Hughes Medical Institute Investigator, have developed a new way to inhibit the cancer cell cleanup mechanism, causing the cells to fill up with defective proteins and thus self-destruct. The findings appear online in a paper in the February 27 issue of Nature Chemical Biology. The proteasome is a hollow cylindrical structure that serves as a kind of cellular garbage disposal. It lets in proteins through small openings on each end, chops them up, and spits out the remains. When a bad protein is made by a cell, the protein gets tagged with chains composed of at least four copies of a small protein called ubiquitin. The tags signal to the proteasome that the bad protein needs to be destroyed. One part of the proteasome, called Rpn11, cuts off the ubiquitin chain as the defective protein is being stuffed into the garbage disposal. This step is necessary because the ubiquitin chain is too big to fit inside the proteasome. A new compound developed by the Deshaies group, in collaboration with researchers from UC San Diego, inhibits Rpn11 activity, making it impossible for the proteasome to fully destroy bad proteins. Massive accumulation of these bad proteins causes catastrophic stress to the cell that results in cell death. While the compound affects the proteasomes in all cells, normal cells are thought to produce fewer dysfunctional proteins than cancer cells. Some types of cancer cells are therefore more sensitive than normal cells to proteasome inhibition and thus even a small dose of the drug can be fatal to them. "All current cancer drugs that target the proteasome work by inhibiting the protein-chopping enzymes on the inside of the proteasome; therefore they all have similar drawbacks and tend to lose efficacy over time," says Jing Li, a postdoctoral scholar in biology and biological engineering and first author on the paper. "Our research offers an alternative path to disabling proteasome function, including in cells that no longer respond to the existing drugs." The compound was tested in human cancer cells in the laboratory, but more work needs to be done to further improve its potency and to evaluate its potential as a therapeutic drug through testing in animals. The paper is titled "Capzimin is a potent and specific inhibitor of proteasome isopeptidase Rpn11." In addition to Li and Deshaies, other Caltech coauthors are postdoctoral fellow Tanya Yakushi and Sonja Hess, director of the Proteome Exploration Laboratory. The work was funded by grants from the Caltech Gates Grubstake Fund, Amgen, the National Institutes of Health, the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation, the Beckman Institute, and the Howard Hughes Medical Institute.
News Article | February 13, 2017
Molybdenum disulfide (MoS ), which is ubiquitously used as a solid lubricant, has recently been shown to have a two-dimensional (2D) form that is similar to graphene. But, when thinned down to less than a nanometer thick, MoS demonstrates properties with great promise as a functional material for electronic devices and surface coatings. Researchers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign have developed a new approach to dynamically tune the micro- and nano-scale roughness of atomically thin MoS , and consequently the appropriate degree of hydrophobicity for various potential MoS -based applications. “The knowledge of how new materials interact with water is a fundamental,” explains SungWoo Nam, an assistant professor of mechanical science and engineering at Illinois. “Whereas the wettability of its more famous cousin, graphene, has been substantially investigated, that of atomically thin MoS — in particular atomically thin MoS2 with micro- and nano-scale roughness — has remained relatively unexplored despite its strong potential for fundamental research and device applications. Notably, systematic study of how hierarchical microscale and nanoscale roughness of MoS influence its wettability has been lacking in the scientific community.” “This work will provide a new approach to dynamically tune the micro- and nano-scale roughness of atomically thin MoS and consequently the appropriate degree of hydrophobicity for various potential MoS2-based applications,” says Jonghyun Choi, a mechanical engineering graduate student and first author of the article, “Hierarchical, Dual-Scale Structures of Atomically Thin MoS for Tunable Wetting,” appearing in the journal, Nano Letters. “These include waterproof electronic devices with superhydrophobicity with water contact angle greater than 150 degrees. It may also be useful for medical applications with reduced hydrophobicity (WCA less than 100 degrees) for effective contact with biological substances." According to the authors, this study, expands the toolkit to allow tunable wettability of 2D materials, many of which are just beginning to be discovered. “When deformed and patterned to produce micro- and nano-scale structures, MoS shows promise as a functional material for hydrogen evolution catalysis systems, electrodes for alkali metal-ion batteries, and field-emission arrays,” Nam adds. “The results should also contribute to future MoS -based applications, such as tunable wettability coatings for desalination and hydrogen evolution.” In addition to Nam and Choi, co-authors of the paper include graduate students Michael Cai Wang and Ali Ashraf (Illinois), Jihun Mun and Sang-Woo Kang (Korea Research Institute of Standards and Science, Korea). Experiments were carried out in part in the Frederick Seitz Materials Research Laboratory, the Micro + Nano Technology Laboratory, and the Beckman Institute Imaging Technology Group at Illinois.
News Article | February 15, 2017
IRVINE, CA--(Marketwired - Feb 14, 2017) - NuGene International, Inc. ("NuGene") ( : NUGN), a developer, manufacturer, and marketer of advanced skin and hair care lines utilizing human adipose derived stem cell conditioned media, today announced that it has appointed John Ohanesian as Chief Strategic Advisor, Hair. This is a new position at NuGene and Mr. Ohanesian's appointment is effective immediately. Mr. Ohanesian will provide strategic focus for NuGene and its new hair restoration subsidiary, Revellus, Inc., which recently launched its initial hair restoration product under the Revellus Hair™ brand. He will be responsible for the commercial expansion and execution of NuGene's strategic plan for its hair care product line and for leadership of the division's marketing, sales and distribution, and overall strategy. "We are thrilled to welcome John Ohanesian, a highly-regarded leader of the hair restoration industry, to NuGene," said Steve Carlson, CEO of NuGene International. "John's proven leadership and experience in all facets of the business -- from research and development through commercialization and market expansion -- is expected to highly benefit the growth and expansion of our hair restoration business with both Revellus Hair™ and kathy ireland® Worldwide ("kiWW") branded products. The combination of John's expertise, NuGene's new product formulations and kiWW's creative and organizational strength, all of which leverage our proprietary stem cell-based growth factor technology, is powerful, and we look forward to John's contributions to its growth." "The demonstrated effectiveness of NuGene's unique stem cell-based growth factor technology in combatting the effects of aging on the hair and skin attracted me to the company," said John Ohanesian. "I've spent my entire professional life in the hair restoration industry and I believe that the science and commercial opportunities supporting Revellus Hair™ and the kiWW product line is more than compelling. I'm excited to accept this opportunity to lead it to its full potential." Mr. Ohanesian is a true icon in the hair restoration market, having led the transformation of Bosley, Inc. from a small private business into the worldwide leading brand in hair restoration. During his 20 years as CEO of Bosley, Mr. Ohanesian was responsible for growing the brand to over 90 markets, leading expansion into international territories including Canada, Mexico, and Japan. It was also his creative genius which grew the Bosley line of hair care products into 35,000 salons across North America. Never one to rest on past success, Mr. Ohanesian continued to evolve the Bosley business model to adapt to a changing economy, consumer preferences, and new technology. While at Bosley, he established the Aderans Research Institute, Inc., the research and development arm of Bosley. Focusing on follicular regenerative medicine, Aderans deployed a team of scientists, engineers, and administrators to oversee pre-clinical trials (Phase I and Phase II FDA clinical trials) that resulted in two critical approvals. For the last 6 years Mr. Ohanesian has served as CEO of Cosmedica, LLC, which he founded to promote and market products in the direct-to-consumer, advertising-driven, appointment-based retail medicine space with a particular focus on aesthetics, beauty, and wellness industries. Mr. Ohanesian also currently serves as the Chief Strategic Officer of Theradome, Inc., a medical device company located in Silicon Valley, focused on laser-based hair restoration therapies. Its signature product, the LH 80PRO, is the only clinical grade FDA-cleared women's over-the-counter device for individual use. Mr. Ohanesian is a graduate of Sonoma State University; he also earned a Master of Arts, Health Administration, from California State University, Long Beach. As an active member of the philanthropic community, Mr. Ohanesian notably served as the Administrator, Olympic Health Services, for the 1984 Summer Olympics held in Los Angeles, CA. More recently, Mr. Ohanesian has served as a member of the Board of Directors of Beckman Institute; City of Hope; and The Archer School for Girls in Brentwood (Los Angeles), Ca. REVELLUS™ and Nugene's kathy ireland Worldwide™ branded products are all free of fragrances, color additives, parabens, sulfates, propylene glycol, and phthalates, and are not tested on animals. NuGene International, Inc. develops and markets a diverse line of proprietary stem cell based regenerative "cosmeceutical" products, all resulting from well accepted, adult human stem cell derived conditioned media obtained through NuGene's patent pending adipose derived stem cell culture process. All of NuGene's products combine its in-house advancements, proprietary, and patent pending technologies and formulations. Through its licensing relationship with kathy ireland Worldwide, NuGene markets a direct to consumer line branded under the Kathy Ireland name. NuGene also markets a high-end professional line of its products through professional channels such as dermatologists, plastic surgeons, medical offices, and day and resort spas, in addition to a regenerative hair product under the name Revellus™. NuGene's research and formulation for biopharma products for wound healing and burn treatment is ongoing with a view to commercialization. With multiple patents pending and proprietary formulas, processes, and applications, NuGene's goal is to become the industry leader for age defying skincare and hair care products, in addition to pharmaceutical products based on the same regenerative stem cell technology platform. For more information on NuGene and its stem cell based product lines, visit www.NuGene.com. This press release contains forward-looking statements within the meaning of Section 27A of the Securities Act of 1933, as amended, and Section 21E of the Securities Exchange and Exchange Act of 1934, as amended, which are intended to be covered by the "safe harbor" created by those sections. All statements in this release that are not based on historical fact are "forward looking statements." These statements may be identified by words such as "estimates," "anticipates," "projects," "plans," "proposes" or "planned," "seeks," "may," "will," "expects," "intends," "believes," "should," "would," "could" and similar expressions or the negative versions thereof and which also may be identified by their context, such as references to "products under development". All statements that address operating performance or events or developments that NuGene expects or anticipates will occur in the future are forward-looking statements. While management has based any forward looking statements included in this release on its current expectations, we operate in a complex and changing domestic and international competitive environment where new and unanticipated risks may arise, and consequently the information on which such expectations were based, such as expectations of distributor product placements and sales, timing of planned and anticipated product deliveries or product introductions, may change. Forward-looking statements involve inherent risks and uncertainties which could cause actual results to differ materially from those in the forward-looking statements as a result of various factors. More information on potential factors that could affect NuGene's financial results is included from time to time in NuGene's filings and reports with the Securities and Exchange Commission, including the risks identified under the section captioned "Risk Factors" in its quarterly report on Form 10-Q as filed on November 21, 2016. We urge you to consider those risks and uncertainties in evaluating our forward-looking statements. We caution readers not to place undue reliance upon any such forward-looking statements, which speak only as of the date made. Except as otherwise required by the federal securities laws, we disclaim any obligation or undertaking to publicly release any updates or revisions to any forward-looking statement contained herein (or elsewhere) to reflect any change in our expectations with regard thereto or any change in events, conditions or circumstances on which any such statement is based, whether as a result of new information, future events, or otherwise.
News Article | December 7, 2016
In contradicting a theory that's been the standard for over eighty years, researchers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign have made a discovery holding major promise for the petroleum industry. The research has revealed that in the foreseeable future products such as crude oil and gasoline could be transported across country 30 times faster, and the several minutes it takes to fill a tank of gas could be reduced to mere seconds. Over the past year, using high flux neutron sources at the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) and Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL), an Illinois group led by Yang Zhang, assistant professor of nuclear, plasma, and radiological engineering (NPRE) and Beckman Institute at Illinois, has been able to videotape the molecular movement of alkanes, the major component of petroleum and natural gas. The group has learned that the thickness of liquid alkanes can be significantly reduced, allowing for a marked increase in the substance's rate of flow. "Alkane is basically a chain of carbon atoms," Zhang said. "By changing one carbon atom in the backbone of an alkane molecule, we can make it flow 30 times faster." The group's discovery disproves a well-known theory that Princeton University professors Walter Kauzmann and Henry Eyring formed in the late 1940s. They had predicted that all alkanes have a universal viscosity near their melting points. Zhang said the theory had been cited over 3,000 times. However, a rather distinct odd-even effect of the liquid alkane dynamics was discovered. The odd-even effect in solid alkanes is taught in almost every introductory organic chemistry textbook, i.e., the difference in the periodic packing of odd- and even-numbered alkane solids results in odd-even variation of their densities and melting points. However, the same effect was not expected in liquid alkanes because of the lack of periodic structures in liquids. "The classical Kauzmann-Eyring theory of molecular viscous flow is over simplified," Zhang said. "It seems some chemistry textbooks may need revisions." The Illinois scientists had the technological advantage of super high-speed (at the pico-second, 1 trillionth of a second) and super high-resolution (at the nano-meter, 1 billionth of a meter) "video cameras" making use of neutrons to take movies of the molecules. "A neutron 'microscope' is the major breakthrough in materials research and we use it to look at everything. There are things we've never seen before," Zhang said. The research, "Dynamic Odd-Even Effect in Liquid n-Alkanes near Their Melting Points," has been published in the German publication Angewandte Chemie International Edition. The reported research discovery is fundamental to understand and improve a wide spectrum of chemical processes, such as lubrication, diffusion through porous media, and heat transfer. Zhang conducted the research after being selected in fall 2015 for an American Chemical Society Petroleum Research Fund Doctoral New Investigator Award. The first author of the paper, Ke Yang, graduated in summer 2016 and now works at the Dow Chemical Company. Other collaborators include NPRE graduate students Zhikun Cai, and Abhishek Jaiswal, Dr. Madhusudan Tyagi at NIST, and Jeffrey S. Moore, interim director of the Beckman Institute and HHMI Professor of Chemistry at Illinois.
News Article | December 13, 2016
CHAMPAIGN, Ill. -- A study of older adults links consumption of a pigment found in leafy greens to the preservation of "crystallized intelligence," the ability to use the skills and knowledge one has acquired over a lifetime. The study is reported in the journal Frontiers in Aging Neuroscience. Lutein (LOO-teen) is one of several plant pigments that humans acquire through the diet, primarily by eating leafy green vegetables, cruciferous vegetables such as broccoli, or egg yolks, said University of Illinois graduate student Marta Zamroziewicz, who led the study with Illinois psychology professor Aron Barbey. Lutein accumulates in the brain, embedding in cell membranes, where it likely plays "a neuroprotective role," she said. "Previous studies have found that a person's lutein status is linked to cognitive performance across the lifespan," Zamroziewicz said. "Research also shows that lutein accumulates in the gray matter of brain regions known to underlie the preservation of cognitive function in healthy brain aging." The study enrolled 122 healthy participants aged 65 to 75 who solved problems and answered questions on a standard test of crystallized intelligence. Researchers also collected blood samples to determine blood serum levels of lutein and imaged participants' brains using MRI to measure the volume of different brain structures. The team focused on parts of the temporal cortex, a brain region that other studies suggest plays a role in the preservation of crystallized intelligence. The researchers found that participants with higher blood serum levels of lutein tended to do better on tests of crystallized intelligence. Serum lutein levels reflect only recent dietary intakes, Zamroziewicz said, but are associated with brain concentrations of lutein in older adults, which reflect long-term dietary intake. Those with higher serum lutein levels also tended to have thicker gray matter in the parahippocampal cortex, a brain region that, like crystallized intelligence, is preserved in healthy aging, the researchers report. "Our analyses revealed that gray-matter volume of the parahippocampal cortex on the right side of the brain accounts for the relationship between lutein and crystallized intelligence," Barbey said. "This offers the first clue as to which brain regions specifically play a role in the preservation of crystallized intelligence, and how factors such as diet may contribute to that relationship." "Our findings do not demonstrate causality," Zamroziewicz said. "We did find that lutein is linked to crystallized intelligence through the parahippocampal cortex." "We can only hypothesize at this point how lutein in the diet affects brain structure," Barbey said. "It may be that it plays an anti-inflammatory role or aids in cell-to-cell signaling. But our finding adds to the evidence suggesting that particular nutrients slow age-related declines in cognition by influencing specific features of brain aging." Barbey is an affiliate of the Carl R. Woese Institute for Genomic Biology and the Beckman Institute for Advanced Science and Technology at the U. of I. The research team also included Beckman Institute postdoctoral researchers Erick Paul and Chris Zwilling; psychology professor Neal Cohen, also at Beckman; Elizabeth Johnson, of Tufts University; and Matthew Kuchan, of Abbott Nutrition. Abbott Nutrition supported this work through the Center for Nutrition, Learning and Memory at the U. of I. in Urbana-Champaign. The paper "Parahippocampal Cortex Mediates the Relationship Between Lutein and Crystallized Intelligence in Healthy, Older Adults" is available online and from the U. of I. News Bureau.
News Article | March 31, 2016
The human brain needs a large amount of energy to function properly, and researchers at the University of Illinois have reported in a new study that the health of brain metabolism in young adults may predict fluid intelligence – the capacity to solve unusual logic-based problems in novel situations. Study author Ryan Larsen, a research scientist at the Beckman Institute for Advanced Science and Technology, told Bioscience Technology that using magnetic resonance spectroscopy measurements are one of several ways to better understand the complicated relationships between energy production and intelligence. The findings were published online in Cerebral Cortex. For the study, the team, led by Larsen, University of Illinois Ph.D. candidate Aki Nikolaidis, and Beckman Institute director Arthur Kramer, analyzed data from 71 young adults. The researchers measured the amount of N—acetyl aspartate (NAA), a biochemical marker of neural energy production and efficiency, in the brains using MR spectroscopy. The subjects in the study were given computerized standard tests of fluid intelligence that required problem solving, reasoning and spatial visualization, Larsen said. The scientists then looked at the relationship between NAA concentrations in different areas of the brain and the results of the fluid intelligence scores. According to Larsen, the connection between NAA concentration and multiple facets of intelligence has been shown previously, but most of those studies did not use spectroscopic imaging and therefore were limited in the spatial coverage of the brain. “Our approach used spectroscopic imaging techniques to cover several areas of the brain known to be important for intelligence,” Larsen said. The current study also wanted to address other inconsistencies in previous research that may not have accounted for all relevant factors, such as brain size, in their analysis of cognition. This study was able to image the brain’s capacity to produce energy and showed concentrations of NAA in the brain in a more detailed way than previous studies. The team found that distribution of NAA in the frontal and parietal lobes, an area of the brain associated with motor abilities, was specifically linked to fluid intelligence, independent of brain size. Interestingly, it was not linked to other closely related cognitive abilities. Brain metabolism and health, along with brain size, are significant predictors of fluid intelligence, the researchers concluded. According to the researchers, the findings suggest “that the left motor regions play a key role in visualization and planning” that is needed for spatial cognition and reasoning. So while overall, brain size is not changeable, Larsen said he is interested in understanding the potential relationships between NAA levels and health interventions, such as aerobic fitness and nutrition, which are things that can be improved and changed. Larsen said that while literature indicates that NAA is relatively stable over much of the adult lifespan, making it a useful marker of brain health, more research needs to be conducted as to whether or not changes in NAA may occur with lifestyle changes. Establish your company as a technology leader! For more than 50 years, the R&D 100 Awards have showcased new products of technological significance. You can join this exclusive community! Learn more.