Body & Brain

Staving off cartilage damage, a better weapon against sleeping sickness and more in this week's news

Steroids salvage cartilage
A commonly used glucocorticoid steroid drug called dexamethasone can stifle breakdown of cartilage damaged by injury, a new study suggests.  Scientists at MIT and Harvard Medical School obtained cartilage from a human cadaver and from cows and damaged the tissue in a lab to simulate injury. The researchers then added inflammatory proteins called cytokines, which exacerbate cartilage damage in the body. When dexamethasone was applied to this cartilage, further breakdown stopped, the researchers report September 2 in Arthritis Research & Therapy.  The study authors suggest short-term used of glucocorticoids could stabilize cartilage components and possibly prevent osteoarthritis from forming in injured joints. —Nathan Seppa

Improving sleeping sickness meds
By adding another drug to an arsenic-based medicine used against African sleeping sickness, researchers from Britain and France may have found a way to render the cure less toxic. The standard drug, called melarsoprol, is administered by intravenous injection and is effective against the parasite that causes the disease. But it also kills about 5 percent of patients receiving it, by some estimates. Combining melarsoprol with compounds called cyclodextrins allowed mice infected with sleeping sickness to take the drugs orally, getting more gradual release of its toxic cargo. The approach meant melarsoprol was able to reach the parasite in the nervous system without lethal side effects, the researchers reported September 6 in PLoS Neglected Tropical Diseases. —Nathan Seppa

Baby’s fussiness leaves traces in adulthood
How much a baby boy fusses at strange objects predicts brain behavior nearly 20 years later. Four-month-old male babies who screamed bloody murder when confronted with unfamiliar sights, sounds and smells grew up to be adults with strong brain reactions to unfamiliar faces. Brain scans revealed that the amygdala — a brain region important for fear and threat detection — had a bigger response to unfamiliar faces in men who had fussed more two decades before, Carl Schwartz of Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard Medical School and colleagues report online September 6 in Molecular Psychiatry. Women didn’t have this same link between temperament as a baby and amygdala behavior. —Laura Sanders

I see you see that
Scientists now have a better idea of what is happening in the head of a person who is trying to get inside someone else’s. Researchers used scalp electrodes to pick up participants’ brain activity as the volunteers watched an avatar looking at spots on a wall. Participants were asked to imagine what the avatar saw. This shift in perspective was accompanied initially by activity changes in the back of the brain, Joseph McCleery of the University of Birmingham in England and colleagues report September 7 in the Journal of Neuroscience. The study may help scientists figure out how people are able to guess other people’s thoughts, knowledge and emotions. —Laura Sanders

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