‘Love hormone’ can ease PTSD

Oxytocin, a versatile neurotransmitter in the brain, can help post-traumatic stress disorder.

By JUDY SIEGEL
May 2, 2010 03:56
4 minute read.
human brain mind 248.88

human brain mind 248.88. (photo credit: )

 
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Oxytocin is a versatile and powerful neurotransmitter in the brain that initiates labor and lactation in women and has been found to be involved in the bonding of pairs, healthy mothering, love, increasing trust, altruistic behavior and male sexual pleasure. Now a Ben-Gurion University Health Sciences Faculty researcher has found the hormone can also help post-traumatic stress disorder.

Prof. Hagit Cohen, head of the faculty’s unit for the study of anxiety, says  all these characteristics are compatible with each other. For example, thanks to oxytocin, a mammal that gives birth will not leave her offspring who need nursing even if she is exposed to severe danger. “A female cat that is nursing its kittens will attack a dog much bigger than her to protect them,” Cohen recently told Alef Bet Gimmel, the university’s Hebrew-language newsletter.

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She has studied nursing rats in her lab when exposed to acute danger and the levels of oxytocin in their blood. Cohen compared the reactions and oxytocin levels of such female rodents to rats that had that had never been pregnant. The former reacted with much less fear than the latter.

“Oxytocin could be an excellent solution for anxiety,” she says, stressing that the neurotransmitter has already proven helpful in some cases of autism.

ARE YOU DRUNK?

People who drink and drive are sometimes intercepted outside entertainment spots by policemen equipped with devices to test alcohol levels in the body. In 2009, 356 drivers who drove under the influence of alcohol were involved in road accidents with injuries, while 76 more caused fatal accidents.  

Now the Alcotester company aims to help keep drunk drivers off the road. It is installing such devices in bars and other places that serve alcohol so that drivers themselves can test their breath. Just insert a NIS 5 coin into the device, which looks like a vending machine, and breathe into a disposable piece to get a printout of the alcohol level in your blood. An electrochemical sensor inside provides the same answer as the police device would give, the company says.

Alcotester founder Danny Kreifin says that about a quarter of the people who drink alcohol get behind the wheel nevertheless. It partly results from their lack of awareness of how much alcohol one can drink before losing the ability to drive safely, he said. “That is where the idea for the device came from.” His company both imports the breath analyzers and maintains them.




THE BETTER TO SEE YOU

Staffers at the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology have solved a problem that has kept scientists busy for 120 years. In an article just published in Physical Review Letters, Prof. Erez Reebak of the physics faculty explained how the retina at the back of the eye helps focus vision.

They built an optic model of the retina using a computer and passed light through the model. Reebak and colleagues said the eye is like a digital camera. The lens is in the front and the retina in the back, they wrote. On the back of the retina are photocells covered with transparent layers of neurons, which process the images and send them from light sensors to the brain. However, they also distort them.

Three years ago, it was discovered that glia cells, which “cut” the retina across the layers of neurons, are able to transmit light. Thus the new Technion model of the retina was built with the ability to send light through it. The team found that only light that comes from the center of the pupil of the eye is caught in the glia cells and transferred directly to the light sensors. Light that escapes from nearby cells or reaches the periphery – which can harm our sharpness of vision – is returned and distributed and does not reach the sensors. This condition would be impossible if the sensors were in front of the neuron layers, they explained.


DON’T DEPEND ON TV FOR ADVICE

Watching TV medical shows might not be the best way to learn what to do when someone has a seizure. US researchers who screened the most popular medical dramas found that doctors and nurses on the shows responded inappropriately to seizures almost half the time, according to a study just presented at the American Academy of Neurology’s 62nd Annual Meeting in Toronto.

“Television dramas are a potentially powerful method of educating the public about first aid and seizures,” said study author Andrew Moeller of Dalhousie University in Nova Scotia, Canada. “Our results, showing that TV shows depict   seizure management inaccurately half the time, are a call to action. People with epilepsy should lobby the television industry to adhere to guidelines for first aid management of seizures.”

For the study, Moeller’s team screened for scenes of seizures in all episodes of the highest-rated US medical dramas: Grey’s Anatomy, House, MD and Private Practice and the last five seasons of ER. In the 327 episodes, 59 seizures occurred, 51 in a hospital. Nearly all first aid was performed by actors playing nurses or doctors. Guidelines on seizure management were used by the researchers to determine whether the seizure was handled properly.

The study found that inappropriate practices, including holding the person down, trying to stop involuntary movements or putting something in the person’s mouth occurred nearly 46% of the time. First-aid management was shown appropriately in 17 seizures or about 29% of the time. Appropriateness of first aid could not be determined in 15 incidents of seizures, or 25%.

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