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Medical Research

We as a country have recently begun the difficult and important conversation about social mobility and intergenerational wealth. A related—though less discussed—problem is that of intergenerational health. It is increasingly clear that our health is powerfully shaped by our own early childhood experiences, as well as by the struggles and triumphs of our parents and grandparents.

This process begins in the womb—and oftentimes before.

In a report published today in Nature Communications, an Ottawa-led team of researchers describe the role of a specific gene, called Snf2h, in the development of the cerebellum. Snf2h is required for the proper development of a healthy cerebellum, a master control centre in the brain for balance, fine motor control and complex physical movements.

Athletes and artists perform their extraordinary feats relying on the cerebellum. As well, the cerebellum is critical for the everyday tasks and activities that we perform, such as walking, eating and driving a car. By removing Snf2h, researchers found that the cerebellum was smaller than normal, and balance and refined movements were compromised.

Physical activity (PA) has been hypothesized to spare gray matter volume in late adulthood, but longitudinal data testing an association has been lacking. Here we tested whether PA would be associated with greater gray matter volume after a 9-year follow-up, a threshold could be identified for the amount of walking necessary to spare gray matter volume, and greater gray matter volume associated with PA would be associated with a reduced risk for cognitive impairment 13 years after the PA evaluation.

Brain tissue deteriorates in late adulthood, but greater amounts of PA have been hypothesized to spare brain tissue.2,3,19 In support of this hypothesis, we report that walking greater distances was associated with greater GM volume 9 years later.

Women in their 40s and 50s who suffer from depression are almost twice as likely to have a stroke as women who aren't depressed, according to a large, long-running Australian study. Exactly how depression is associated with stroke is unclear, as is whether treating it reduces the risk, experts say. "Although the absolute risk of stroke is low in mid-aged women, depression does appear to have a large adverse effect on stroke risk in this age group," said lead researcher Caroline Jackson, an epidemiologist in the School of Population Health at the University of Queensland.

Multiple sclerosis (MS) is a chronic disease of unknown etiology that involves the central nervous system and affects an estimated 2.0 million to 2.5 million people worldwide.1 The majority of—but not all—patients with MS develop severe disability 10 to 20 years after diagnosis.