Shirah Vollmer MD

The Musings of Dr. Vollmer

Archive for the ‘genetics’ Category

A Gene For Depression?

Posted by Dr. Vollmer on January 20, 2016


Jonathan Flint MD presented his work today in which he gave a compelling talk demonstrating that he has found possible two genetic links to depression. He is a recent UCLA hire in which he joins the UCLA Grand Depression Challenge in which there is a multidisciplinary team working on understanding depression. He began with the familiar statistic that women are twice as likely to get depressed as men, and within that, women have a 20 percent chance of having a depression during their lifetime. He did not quite define depression but in the Q and A, he said that he was using the PHQ-9 which are nine questions to determine the diagnosis, which, of course, makes me suspect. Then he said it causes tremendous disability throughout the world and as such costs the world a lot of money in terms of lost labor. So, he summarizes that depression is common, causes disability and is costly and yet research on depression is minimally funded compared to diseases such as cancer or heart disease. He proceeds to show a negative  study by  his colleague Ken Kendler which did not demonstrate a gene for depression and so from that he concluded that depression is a heterogeneous disease. Well, that cannot be new information, I think to myself. He went to China where he studied only women, who apparently do not smoke or drink, and through looking at their DNA in their saliva, he could demonstrate that the women with depression had a different genetic makeup than did the controls. At this point I was beginning to be interested. The gene, he continues, impacts the mitochondrial DNA, which is the engine of the cell. He was a wonderful speaker and he did fascinating work, all as a result of new technology that makes sequencing DNA cheap and easy. Like the internet, UCLA could lead the world in this work. I am proud to be a Bruin today!



Posted in depression, genetics | 5 Comments »

Brain Plasticity

Posted by Dr. Vollmer on September 25, 2012

Schizophrenia is a problem with brain mapping, so says Sophia Vinogradov MD, a psychiatrist from UC San Francisco. As such, cognitive enhancing programs might, and she said might at least twenty times during this one hour Grand Rounds, improve the outcome of this dreaded disease. She reminded the audience, filled with psychiatrists, that it was only twenty years ago that we were all taught that the brain stopped changing somewhere around age fifteen. Now, we know that the brain changes throughout one’s lifetime, albeit at different rates of change as we age. Learning, she reminded us takes place with repetition. I think we all know that! More specifically, she taught us that the first time we learn a new skill, we are tentative, but with intensive repetition, that skill, like playing scales on a piano, becomes automatic. I think we all know that too. This automatic quality to a new skill is evidence that we have created a new “brain map”. As such, we can train our brain, if we apply intense repetition, to form new neural connections, and hence new skill sets. Little children, it seems to me, need less repetition to develop new brain maps, and hence their brains are more plastic. Aging, in other words, demands from us that we have to work harder to acquire new ways of thinking, but the good news, is that we can expand our brain, literally. Phew!

Posted in Brain and Behavior, genetics, Neurobiology of Behavior, Schizophrenia | Tagged: | 4 Comments »

Genes and Politics: We Knew That

Posted by Dr. Vollmer on August 28, 2012

As the Republican National Convention gets under way in Tampa, Fla., researchers take a look at how genes influence political beliefs and behavior.,0,6578432.story


The nature/nurture argument never ends, but as we come upon a presidential election, there is support for the notion that our poltics are genetic. Interesting that the article mentions that children tend to think like their parents until they leave the nest. Of course, as with all nature/nurture arguments, most kids are biological children, so one would assume they share genes which make them think in similar ways. The most interesting part of the article is the following:

“‘Modern questions about immigration are similar to the primal need to recognize and deal with out-groups,’ they wrote. Attitudes about welfare reflect age-old questions about               sharing  resources, while views on foreign policy are the modern-day equivalent of concerns about protecting one’s tribe.”

Once again, aspects of personality, generosity versus frugality, for instance, are largely genetically determined. Does this mean we can’t get mad at our spouse for genetic differences? Hmmm…

Posted in genetics, Media Coverage, Neurobiology of Behavior | 4 Comments »

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