Psilocybin as Antidepressant: Quick Acting, Lasting Benefits

Depression is not simply a mood disorder, a feeling of sadness, or being ill at ease. Depression can completely shut a person down, manifesting as an inability to make decisions, to take action, to think. Even sleep is affected by depression.

Researchers and clinicians who treat depression are learning that the physical manifestations can be mirrored by internal, cellular changes. Some people with depression have decreases in their gray matter volume, particularly in areas like the hippocampus (important to memory, learning, and emotions) and prefrontal cortex (where higher-level thought and planning abilities are based).

Additionally, imaging has shown a decrease in the number of synapses—the structures through which electrical or chemical signals are passed between neurons and other cells—in persons with chronic depression. Without the signals that synapses transmit, brain function is disrupted.

And without intervention in depression, synapse decrease can continue.

While there are drugs and behavioral therapies to treat depression, these therapies can be slow to act and sometimes ineffective. In addition, once synaptic loss has occurred, these therapies are less effective.

In their August 2021 paper, “Psilocybin induces rapid and persistent growth of dendritic spines in frontal cortex in vivo” (1), Shao et al. state,

“It has long been recognized that these compounds (serotonergic psychedelics like psilocybin) may have therapeutic potential for neuropsychiatric disorders, including depression, obsessive-compulsive disorder and addiction”.

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Antibody Response Differ in Adults, Kids and Potential Cross-Reactive Coronavirus Antibodies

B cell and B cell receptor cartoon. The B cell receptors are important for antibody response.
Drawing of a B cell and the B cell receptor. The receptor shows the characteristic Y shape of an immunoglobulin molecule.

B cells are the immune cells that produce antibodies (immunoglobulins or Ig) to detect intruding pathogens. B cells produce a variety of classes of antibodies. Generally during an immune response to a pathogen, whether viral or bacterial, B cells produce immunoglobulins (Ig) IgM and IgD, and later in the response, IgG and IgA, that are specific to the intruding organism. These Igs capture and aid in neutralizing the pathogen.

Ig classes can be studied by sequencing the B cell receptor (BCR), which binds antigen specifically. BCRs are formed via irreversible gene segment rearrangements of variable, diversity and joining (VDJ) genes. Ig classes can be diversified through somatic hypermutation and class-switch recombination of these gene segments (1).

B cell receptors with high sequence similarity can be found in individuals exposed to the same antigen, demonstrating that antigen exposure can result in similar B cell clones and memory B cells between individuals, both adults and children (1).

However, B cell immune responses can differ between adults and children. For example, children use more B cell clones that form neutralizing antibodies to HIV-1. And children infected with SARS-CoV-2 generally have milder illness than infected adults. SARS-CoV-2-infected children have lower antibody titers to the virus and more IgG-specific response to SARS-CoV-2 spike protein than to the nucleocapsid protein (1). These differences can contribute to faster SARS-CoV-2 clearance and lower viral loads in children versus adults.

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NAD: A Renaissance Molecule and its Role in Cell Health

Promega NAD/NADH-Glo system and how to prepare samples for  identification of NAD or NADH.
Promega NAD/NADH-Glo system and how to prepare samples for identification of NAD or NADH.

NAD is a pyridine nucleotide. It provides the oxidation and reduction power for generation of ATP by mitochondria. For many years it was believed that the primary function of NAD/NADH in cells was to harness and transfer energy  from glucose, fatty and amino acids through pathways like glycolysis, beta-oxidation and the citric acid cycle.

Today, however, NAD is recognized as an important cell signaling molecule and substrate. The many regulatory pathways now known to use NAD+ in signaling include multiple aspects of cellular homeostasis, energy metabolism, lifespan regulation, apoptosis, DNA repair and telomere maintenance.

This resurrection of NAD importance is due in no small part to the discovery of NAD-using enzymes, especially the sirtuins. Continue reading “NAD: A Renaissance Molecule and its Role in Cell Health”

Bartonella sp. and Your Cat (or Dog, Horse, Rat): An Emerging Infectious Disease

If we’ve learned nothing else since February or March of 2020, we’ve learned that emerging infectious diseases are a real threat to human health globally. In a bad news/good news kind of way, Bartonellosis is an emerging infectious disease; however, it’s not spread by airborne droplets or respiration.

But if any of your family pets bring a flea or tick into the house, or if you live in proximity to mice, rats, ground squirrels, rabbits, sheep, horses or cattle–you could be at risk.

Bartonella sp. is a Gram negative, rod-shaped bacteria that has been around since ancient times. It’s the bacteria responsible for cat scratch disease (1) and for Trench fever (2), which affected soldiers during WWs I and II, and affects people living in over-crowded, unsanitary conditions around the world today.

Bartonella henselae bacteria, the causative agent of cat-scratch disease or bartonellosis,. 3D illustration
Bartonella henselae bacteria, the causative agent of cat-scratch disease or bartonellosis

Bartonella sp. are known to be spread by vectors such as fleas, which are part of the transmission cycle for cat scratch disease and the human body louse, the vector for transmission of Trench fever (3).

This animal-to-human transmission of Bartonella sp. classifies it as a zoonosis.

Infection due to Bartonella sp. often appear to be self-limiting, such as swelling in regional lymph nodes due to a cat scratch disease. In such cases, symptoms can subside without intervention. But Bartonella sp. have a nasty habit of hiding in red blood cells and in cells lining blood vessels, where they can remain undetected for a substantial period of time. This hiding place affects a host’s ability to mount an immune response, as well as affecting the ability of antibiotics to attack the bacteria.

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Sanitation and World Water Day 2021: What Would You Change about Water in Your Area?

Today, March 22, is World Water Day 2021, recognized by the United Nations and people around the world as a time to focus on the goal of available clean water for all.

United Nations World Water Day 2021 Graphic

Clean water for drinking is essential for our existence. A human can only survive without water for about three days.

While water is essential for life, the need goes beyond simple consumption. As is true of so many things, the COVID-19 pandemic has shown us the need for sanitation—being able to wash our hands, our clothes and ourselves with clean water, being able to rinse foods and a safe means by which to dispose of, or recycle the dirty water afterwards. And, even the need to monitor wastewater to help track infectious disease outbreaks.

World Bank and Sustainable Development Goal #6 (#SDG6)

The World Bank provides an extravagance of data on their sustainable development goal #6, Clean Water and Sanitation, noting the importance of water “for health, the environment and sustainable development”.
To add to the needs surrounding water and its scarcity, the World Bank states that:

Despite gains, more than half the world’s people lack access to safely managed sanitation services.

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Ten Things to Know about Inducible T Cell Co-stimulators (ICOS)

The term ICOS —inducible T cell co-stimulators— has been prominent in my work as a science writer at Promega, recently. Here is a brief look at ICOS, how it works, and how it can be used in therapeutics research and development.

T cells do amazing things, like driving or blocking production of B cells and their related antibodies and antibody maturation, and they are the primary drivers of innate immunity. T cells have a variety of surface molecules, the primary and omnipresent T cell receptor (TCR), as well as CD3.

Schematic diagram of a T cell receptor TCR. The TCR interacts with ICOS in the immune response.

In the past 15 years or so, researchers have identified other, inducible receptors on T cells. These receptors appear when T cells are stimulated, enabling interactions with other cell types. The following information is summarized from a Frontiers in Immunology review by Wikenheiser et al.

What is ICOS (inducible T cell co-stimulators)?

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What Have You Done for Your Bones Lately?

Image of human skeleton, bones.
The many bones in a human. Bone density measurements are typically taken of hip, lower spine and wrist. Photo By Sklmsta, licensed under CC0.

How is your work from home (WFH) exercise routine going? Have you been able to maintain some semblance of a normal exercise routine? Many of us are staying home to avoid potential SARS-CoV-2 infection.

That’s very important. But after six or so months into the pandemic, one starts to consider the impact of not getting more strenuous and varied forms of physical exercise. We frequently think of exercise and it’s effect on muscle tone and heart and lung fitness. But it goes deeper than that. Our bone health is also at risk from lack of exercise.

Bones: Your Newest Tissue
It’s no secret that our bones are tough, made of minerals like calcium and phosphorous. They help us keep upright, supporting a considerable amount of weight against the force of gravity. Bone also protects organs.

Until recently, little attention has been paid to how metabolically active bone is. Research is now revealing that bone is not simply mineralized scaffolding surrounding bone marrow. Bone is actually a tissue, with vasculature and cells with cilia and dendrites that reach through the bony scaffolding, signaling to other cells. This cellular network, influenced by hormones and other compounds produces new bone, and sometimes reabsorbs existing bone, depending on individual needs and state of health.

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Social Distancing: Taking a Lesson from Creatures Big and Small

For many of us, the current SARS-CoV-2 pandemic means working from home. For many, working from home means being away from human companionship that’s normally part of our work lives. While my four-legged office mates are quiet and do not require meetings, they are no substitute for human coworkers.

How about you? In our socially distanced world, do you find strength in the knowledge that others are also self-isolating to stay healthy?

What if I told you that numerous animal species, lobsters to mongoose, ants to mandrills, all practice social distancing to avoid infectious agents? Here are a few examples.

Image of banded mongoose family group.
Banded mongoose family group.
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Neutralizing Antibodies to SARS-CoV-2 Shown to Lessen Infection in Mice

Here in the US, as around the world, we’re beginning to come out of COVID-19 hiding, whether mandated or voluntary. We are slowly starting to leave the confines of home and “safer at home” orders. Many of us are donning masks and venturing out as needed, still under social distancing considerations.

We’re looking forward to a time when social distancing won’t be necessary, when we can see our relatives and friends, and give them a hug without concern for their safety or ours.

When will that time come? Many believe that it won’t be completely safe until there is an effective vaccine to protect us from SARS-CoV-2.

How does a vaccine protect us? Effective vaccines cause our immune system to produce antibodies that are specific for SARS-CoV-2, so that if we come into contact with the virus, it will be neutralized, preventing infection.

At this time, many questions remain about whether SARS-CoV-2 virus causes production of antibodies. And if antibodies are produced, are they protective?

In some exciting news this week, scientists studying SARS-CoV-2 have shown that neutralizing antibodies to this virus are made in humans. Here’s a look at their work.

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Testing for COVID-19: How it Works

Depending on your viewpoint, source of information and tolerance for risk, this can be a frightening time for persons all over the planet. The level of disruption to daily life that we’re all experiencing due to COVID-19 is unprecedented.

We are all either not working, working from home and away from our normal offices, or in some cases working many more hours to cover for sick coworkers and caring for SARS-CoV-2-infected persons.

But there is good news if you find that information is power. We hope that some information about the testing being used in the US for this novel coronavirus might be fuel for you, empowering in terms of information.

What is the Name of the Virus, and the Disease?
Since this is a global pandemic, the World Health Organization was instrumental in naming the virus and disease. From this web page: the disease is called COVID-19.

The coronavirus responsible for this disease is SARS-CoV-2.

Continue reading “Testing for COVID-19: How it Works”