Medical Notes this week…

Scientists have long sought the genetic connections to depression, and a major new study has found several dozen of them. The study in the journal Nature Genetics has identified 44 genomic variants associated with depression…30 of them totally new discoveries. Researchers say the more of these variants a person has, the more likely they are to have depression. Many of the genes are also linked to other disorders such as schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, obesity, and sleep disorders. Scientists call the study a “game changer.”

Every day when the sun sets, about 20 percent of Alzheimer’s patients suffer increased anxiety, disorientation, irritation and aggression. But now scientists have located the brain pathway causing “sundown syndrome,” at least in mice, and have developed a way to shut it down. They say the circadian rhythm disorder in humans is very similar and they hope to use the protein tool they’ve developed to stop the disorder in mice in the same way.

And finally, when someone loses a spouse, they’re more than 40 percent more likely to die in the next six months. And now researchers have figured out at least part of the reason. A study in the journal Psychoneuroendocrinology shows that in the first three months of becoming a widow or widower, levels of pro-inflammatory cytokines rise significantly in the bloodstream while heart rate variability goes down. Both are connected with cardiac events and could help explain why it really is possible to die of a broken heart.

And that’s Medical Notes this week.

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