Posts tagged with "Scientific Reports"

Alive and kicking: When fetuses feel like kicking up their heels, it may be a sign of brain development

January 9, 2019

Nothing attracts a crowd like a baby kicking in utero. When a pregnant woman’s ever-expanding bump suddenly starts perambulating, it’s hard to avoid an all-hands-on experience with anyone nearby. But why is that infant thrashing around in there?

A recent study  conducted by the Department of Neuroscience, Physiology, and Pharmacology at the UK’s University College London—and published in  Scientific Reports—has found that kicking can help the fetus to “map” his or her body and explore the surrounding womb.

Author Kimberley Whitehead, along with co-authors Judith Meek and Lorenzo Fabrizi, examined the sleep patterns of 19 newborns between the ages of 31 weeks and 42 weeks. Some of the infants studied had been born prematurely—the accurate age of a baby from conception, regardless of when he or she actually is born. For instance, an infant who was one week old but born at 35 weeks would be 36 weeks old. Infants are considered full term anywhere from 37 to 42 weeks.

According to a report by Healthline, the three researchers looked at the brainwaves that fetuses produce when they kick during rapid eye movement (REM) sleep. When the fetus moves its right hand, for example, it produces brainwaves immediately afterwards in the part of the left-brain hemisphere that processes touch for the right hand.

The brainwaves are extremely fast in premature babies. (In the case of premature babies, they would still be in the womb when these fast brainwaves occur.) By the time the babies are a few weeks old, the fast brainwaves naturally disappear.

Fetal kicks in the third trimester help the infant develop brain areas linked to sensory input. They also help the baby to form a sense of his or her own body, the scientists say.

“Spontaneous movement and consequent feedback from the environment during the early developmental period are known to be necessary for proper brain mapping in animals, such as rats. Here we showed that this may be true in humans too,” Lorenzo Fabrizi said in a statement.

“For example, it is already routine for infants to be ‘nested’ in their cots. This allows them to ‘feel’ a surface when their limbs kick, as if they were still inside the womb,” she said. The study supports the notion that sleep should be protected and interruptions minimized, as the findings show how important movement is during fetal and premature newborn sleep.

For her part, Whitehead believes that the findings could help hospitals to provide an optimal environment for infants born prematurely. “We were surprised that although the movement-evoked fast brainwaves disappear a few weeks after the average time of birth, movement continues to trigger slow brainwaves,” she said.

This draws on her team’s previous earlier research, which showed that different types of brainwaves can perform different functions in unborn children. That research showed that a big change happens at full-term age because different types of sleep start to be associated with particular brainwave patterns.

Whitehead said they plan to continue studying movement in babies, but they are also focused on how aspects of brain development are processed, such as touch and painful stimuli (as with a blood test, for example).

The medical community already knows a good deal about the quality, frequency, and perceptibility of fetal movements, Dr. Amber Samuel, medical director, Maternal-Fetal Medicine at the Obstetrix Medical Group of Houston, told Heathline. Sporadic movements at about nine or ten weeks become more organized in the second trimester. Mothers can feel a fetus kick as early as 15 weeks.

As the brain develops, the fetus kicks and responds to his or her own brain activity, as well as to changes in maternal movement, sound, temperature, and other stimuli.

“The perception of fetal movement changes in the third trimester to body rolling more often than distinctive kicks but all fetal movement is reassuring even if the quality evolves,” Samuel said.

Fetal kicking serves several purposes, added Sullivan. The first is that it gives muscles and limbs exercise. It also shows response to stimuli and, as the current study suggests, helps the brain make connections for spatial sense.

And for the pregnant mother the kicking is also a learning experience. She gets chance to see how big and active her baby has become—and maybe even to hold a hand or a foot.

Research contact: @uclnpp

‘Sensational’ study: Coffee’s bitter taste gives drinkers a ‘buzz’

November 19, 2018

While the aroma of coffee is enticing and pleasurable, most people find the taste to be bitter. However, a study published in Scientific Reports this month—and covered in a report by NPR—has found that, the more sensitive you are to the bitter taste of coffee, the more of it you tend to drink.

A team of researchers from the Australia, the United Kingdom, and the United States conducted the investigation using data stored in the UK Biobank, a major global health resource established over a decade ago by the Wellcome Trust medical charity, Medical Research Council, Department of Health, and the Scottish Government—and supported by the National Health Service..

More than 500,000 residents of England , Scotland, and Wales between the ages of 37 and 73 contributed blood, urine, and saliva samples to the Biobank between 2006 and 2010—and agreed to have their health status tracked, in order to determine which diseases and health conditions they would develop during the remainder of their lives.

The same volunteers also filled out questionnaires asking a variety of health-related questions—including how much coffee, tea, and alcohol they drank on a daily basis.

Since most of us inherit our taste preferences from our parents, the researchers used genetic analysis of samples from the Biobank to find people who were more or less sensitive to three bitter substances: caffeine, quinine (think tonic water) and a chemical called propylthiouracil that is frequently used in genetic tests of people’s ability to taste bitter compounds.

The objective was to determine whether people sensitive to one or more of these three substances drank more or less coffee than other drinkers. Surprising, NPR reports, people who exhibited greater sensitivity to caffeine reported higher coffee consumption, compared with people who did not strongly perceive the bitter taste. Strangely enough, the researchers said, “opposite relationships were observed for tea consumption.”

Conversely, those who were sensitive to quinine and propylthiouracil—neither of which is in coffee—tended to drink less coffee on a daily basis. For alcohol, a higher perceived intensity of propylthiouracil (bitterness) was associated with lower overall consumption.

How to explain these results? NPR reports that Marilyn Cornelis, assistant professor of Preventative Medicine at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine and one of the study authors, says people may “learn to associate that bitter taste with the stimulation that coffee can provide.” In other words, they get hooked on the buzz.

And it turns out those who drink two or three cups a day just might live longer, too.

Research contact: @joesbigidea