Molecule Derived from Thyroid Hormone May Be New Neurotransmitter

UC San Francisco, May 19 – Researchers have synthesized and then discovered in animals what appears to be a previously unknown neurotransmitter.

The compound, derived from the thyroid hormone, acts within minutes to slow heart rate and metabolism, and reduce core body temperature by as much as 10 degrees Celsius – the opposite effects of thyroid hormone.

Thomas Scanlan, UCSF professor of pharmaceutical chemistry and cellular and molecular pharmacology, and co-author of a paper reporting the research, said the hormone may prove useful in helping protect surgery and trauma patients. The scientists suggest the compound, called T-1 amine, may normally function to balance the slower-acting thyroid hormone.

The study was published this week by the journal Nature Medicine. The molecule’s structure, its potency and speed of action suggest it is a previously undiscovered neurotransmitter, Scanlan said.

“While changes in hormone levels may take a day to have their effect, neurotransmitters can act within an hour or less,” Scanlan said. “T-1 amine acts this quickly, and part of its core chemical structure is identical to parts of dopamine and serotonin. If it looks like a neurotransmitter and acts like a neurotransmitter, we hypothesize that it is a neurotransmitter.”

The structural similarities between the thyroid hormone and the neurotransmitter-like T-1 amine suggest to Scanlan that nature employs “exquisite chemical regulation,” essentially doing little more than reducing the number of iodine atoms to transform the thyroid hormone into T-1 amine, a compound with opposite and more rapid effects.

UCSD Professor Re-examines Theory of Relativity
The UCSD Guardian

UC San Diego, May 17 – UCSD astrophysics Professor Thomas Murphy is conducting an experiment which might rewrite the theory of relativity, or at least re-examine the workings of gravity.

Murphy’s experiment will send a laser pulse out to the moon to test fundamental gravity. The process is estimated to take approximately 2.5 seconds. By timing this to a trillionth of a second and dividing by the speed of light, an exact measurement of the distance to the moon should be found.

When a scientist comes up with a theory of gravity, specific predictions can be made about how the solar system works and moves, Murphy said.

“If you define the initial positions and velocity of all the planets, you should be able to run the clockwork according to that theory and see how things should move from there on,” he said.

The experiment’s concept dates back to 1999, when Harvard Professor Christopher Stubbs, who was then at the University of Washington, told Murphy he was thinking of doing a project in lunar rearranging. Murphy said he was immediately captivated.

Although some in his field think this experiment has the potential to rewrite relativity, Murphy said he has his doubts.

“I think that we probably only have a 5 or 10 percent chance of seeing some violation of general relativity,” he said. “My guess is, at this level of precision, general relativity will still hold up.”

However, if the result of the experiment is that the moon’s orbit does not hold to the general theory of relativity, Murphy said either the experiment or the theory is wrong.

“If we found some violation, I personally wouldn’t believe it at first, and I would look to what we did wrong in our experiment,” Murphy said. “Other people would follow on with experiments of similar or complementary natures, so we’d ultimately get to the bottom of the story.”

Researchers Aim to Find Quick Fix for Disorder
The Daily Bruin

UC Los Angeles, May 17 – According to a recent UCLA study, individuals with obsessive-compulsive disorder can change their brain activity through cognitive behavioral therapy over the course of a year.

Researchers from UCLA’s Neuropsychiatric Institute and Dept. of Psychiatric and Biobehavioral Sciences are furthering their study to determine whether the changes can be made in as little as three weeks.

A common anxiety disorder, OCD affects 2 to 3 percent of the population and is characterized by irrational fears and compulsive rituals. The illness may have a genetic component, based on studies of identical twins that were found to share the disorder 60 percent of the time.

“Our study has shown that biology is not destiny – human will can overcome it. It’s very empowering,” said Eda Gorbis, an assistant clinical professor at the institute.

The study includes exposure treatment therapy, where the subject is placed in a stressful situation but is not allowed to react compulsively. One subject who has a fear of germs said he was asked to touch dirty objects and then not allowed to wash his hands.

The cognitive approach of the therapy consists of examining why these fears exist and helping the subject to see that they are unfounded and irrational.

If the researchers find in the current study that brain patterns can be changed in as little as three weeks, the results may impact treatments of other psychiatric disorders as well, Gorbis said.

“If we find what we’re looking for, short-term therapy could be the answer to psychiatric disorders,” Gorbis said. “It eliminates the dangers of drug therapy.”