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The relevance of GABA for diabetes -- ScienceDaily

The two current studies, now published in EBioMedicine, reinforce the image of GABA's importance, for both types of diabetes. The scientists used ion channels that GABA opens, the GABAA receptors, as a biological sensor for GABA, and were able to determine the effective, physiological GABA concentration levels in human pancreatic islets. They also showed that these ion channels became more sensitive to GABA in type 2 diabetes and that GABA helps regulate insulin secretion. The scientists then isolated immune cells from human blood and studied the effects GABA had on these cells. They show that GABA inhibited the cells and reduced the secretion of a large number of inflammatory molecules. The anti-inflammatory effect of GABA may be vital in the pancreatic islets since as long as GABA is present, toxic white blood cells can be inhibited, thus increasing the survival of the insulin-secreting beta cells. When the beta cells decrease in number and disappear from the islets as happens in Type 1 diabetes, then GABA consequently is also decreased and, thereby, the GABA protective shielding of the beta cells. When inflammatory molecules increase in strength, it may weaken and even kill the remaining beta cells.

Attention deficit disorders could stem from impaired brain coordination: Researchers uncover link absent between brain regions in attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, schizophrenia -- ScienceDaily

When the researchers attached probes to the mice to measure brain activity, they found mice without ErbB4 had brain regions that were acting independently, rather than together in synchrony. In particular, the researchers studied the prefrontal cortex -- normally associated with decision-making -- and the hippocampus -- a region that supports memory. These two regions coordinate for a variety of brain tasks, including memory and attention. "We found top-down attention, previously thought to be controlled by the prefrontal cortex, also involves the hippocampus in a manner where the two regions are highly synchronized when attention is high," says Mei. "Our findings give importance to synchrony between the prefrontal cortex and hippocampus in top-down attention and open up the possibility that attention deficit disorders, like ADHD, might involve impairments in the synchrony between these two regions." According to the new study, ErbB4 coordinates a cascade of brain signals that "bridge" the two regions. ErbB4 itself encodes a receptor found on the surface of brain cells. The study found that when a protein (neuregulin-1) attaches to the ErbB4 receptor, it triggers a chain reaction that ultimately determines neurotransmitter levels in the prefrontal cortex and hippocampus. Without ErbB4, neurotransmitter levels go awry. The researchers discovered mice lacking ErbB4 have low levels of a particular neurotransmitter -- GABA, or gamma-aminobutyric acid -- in their brain. Low GABA levels can lead to impaired top-down attention in the prefrontal cortex, and impairs how the prefrontal cortex can efficiently coordinate with the hippocampus. The researchers concluded that ErbB4 helps link the two brain regions to maintain attention.

Ritalin Use in Childhood Has Long-Term Effects on the Brain

The initial scans revealed that the brains of subjects who began taking Ritalin before the age of 16 (the “early treatment” group) had lower levels of GABA — a neurotransmitter linked to inhibition control and often implicated in the neurological makeup of ADHD — than did those who started stimulants later or never took them all. After Ritalin was administered, however, and the patients re-scanned, only the early treatment group saw any increase in GABA levels.

This is your brain on exercise: Vigorous exercise boosts critical neurotransmitters, may help restore mental health -- ScienceDaily

The researchers measured GABA and glutamate levels in two different parts of the brain immediately before and after three vigorous exercise sessions lasting between eight and 20 minutes, and made similar measurements for a control group that did not exercise. Glutamate or GABA levels increased in the participants who exercised, but not among the non-exercisers. Significant increases were found in the visual cortex, which processes visual information, and the anterior cingulate cortex, which helps regulate heart rate, some cognitive functions and emotion. While these gains trailed off over time, there was some evidence of longer-lasting effects. "There was a correlation between the resting levels of glutamate in the brain and how much people exercised during the preceding week," Maddock said. "It's preliminary information, but it's very encouraging." These findings point to the possibility that exercise could be used as an alternative therapy for depression. This could be especially important for patients under age 25, who sometimes have more side effects from selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), anti-depressant medications that adjust neurotransmitter levels.