The hypothalamus couples with the brainstem to cause migraines

This 2016 German human study with one subject found:

“The hypothalamus to be the primary generator of migraine attacks which, due to specific interactions with specific areas in the higher and lower brainstem, could alter the activity levels of the key regions of migraine pathophysiology.”

The subject underwent daily fMRI scans, and procedures to evoke brain activity. She didn’t take any medications, and suffered three migraine attacks during the 31-day experimental period.

Neuroskeptic commented:

“The dorsal pons has previously been found to be hyperactive during migraine. It’s been dubbed the brain’s ‘migraine generator.’ Schulte and May’s data suggest that this is not entirely true – rather, it looks like the hypothalamus may be the true generator of migraine, while the brainstem could be a downstream mediator of the disorder.

A hypothalamic origin of migraines would help to explain some of the symptoms of the disorder, such as changes in appetite, that often accompany the headaches.”


The above graphic looks like the result of feedback mechanisms that either didn’t exist or inadequately handled the triggering event. Other examples of the hypothalamus lacking feedback or being involved in a deviated feedback loop include:

There are many unanswered questions with a one-person study, of course. Addressing the cause of this painful condition would find out when, where, and how a person’s hypothalamus became modified to express migraine tendencies.

I’d guess that migraine tendencies may appear as early as the first trimester of pregnancy, given that a highly functional hypothalamus is needed for survival and development in our earliest lives. Gaining as much familial and historical information as possible from the person would be necessary steps in therapies that address migraine causes.

http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/neuroskeptic/2016/05/22/pinpointing-origins-of-migraine/ “Pinpointing the Origins of Migraine in the Brain”

A one-sided review of stress

The subject of this 2016 Italian/New York review was the stress response:

“The stress response, involving the activation of the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenocortical axis and the consequent release of corticosteroid hormones, is indeed aimed at promoting metabolic, functional, and behavioral adaptations. However, behavioral stress is also associated with fast and long-lasting neurochemical, structural, and behavioral changes, leading to long-term remodeling of glutamate transmission, and increased susceptibility to neuropsychiatric disorders. Of note, early-life events, both in utero and during the early postnatal life, trigger reprogramming of the stress response, which is often associated with loss of stress resilience and ensuing neurobehavioral (mal)adaptations.”


The reviewers’ intentional dismissal of the role of GABA in favor of the role of glutamate was a key point:

“The changes in neuronal excitability and synaptic plasticity induced by stress are the result of an imbalance of excitatory (glutamatergic) and inhibitory (GABAergic) transmission, leading to long-lasting (mal)adaptive functional modifications. Although both glutamate and GABA transmission are critically associated with stress-induced alteration of neuronal excitability, the present review will focus on the modulation of glutamate release and transmission induced by stress and glucocorticoids.”

No particular reason was given for this bias. I inferred from the review’s final sentence that the review’s sponsors and funding prompted this decision:

“In-depth studies of changes in glutamate transmission and dendrite remodeling induced by stress in early and late life will help to elucidate the biological underpinnings of the (mal)adaptive strategies the brain adopts to cope with environmental challenges in one’s life.”

The bias led to ignoring evidence for areas the reviewers posed as needing further research. An example of relevant research the reviewers failed to consider was the 2015 Northwestern University study I curated in A study that provided evidence for basic principles of Primal Therapy that found:

“In response to traumatic stress, some individuals, instead of activating the glutamate system to store memories, activate the extra-synaptic GABA system and form inaccessible traumatic memories.”

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4812483/ “Stress Response and Perinatal Reprogramming: Unraveling (Mal)adaptive Strategies”

Epigenetic contributions to hypertension

This 2016 Australian review subject was epigenetic contributions to hypertension:

“Hypertension (HT) affects more than 1 billion people globally and is a major risk factor for stroke, chronic kidney disease, and myocardial infarction.

Essential hypertension (EH) is a complex, polygenic condition with no single causative agent. There is increasing evidence that epigenetic modifications are as important as genetic predisposition in the development of EH.

Many epigenetic studies are, however, limited by the fact that only blood is studied rather than the effector tissues. The utility of blood methylation status in epigenetic research is yet to be determined. Furthermore, the polygenic complexity of HT and the limited knowledge on some of the non-coding RNAs makes it more challenging to decipher the exact mechanisms involved.”

The review had sections for hypertension studies on DNA methylation, histone modification, and microRNA and other non-coding RNA types. Here’s a sample of the findings:

“HSD11B2-mediated degradation of cortisol to cortisone is disrupted when the promoter region of the HSD11B2 gene is hypermethylated. The resulting imbalance in the active metabolites of cortisol and cortisone, tetrahydrocortisol, and tetrahydocortisone, respectively, promotes the onset of HT.

Histone modification affecting arterial pressure levels has been documented in a variety of human and animal tissues, including vascular smooth muscle. Vascular oxidative stress can contribute to endothelial dysfunction—a hallmark of HT—and the development of HT.

Two miRNAs (has-miR-181a and has-miR-663) with the ability to bind to the 3′ UTR of renin mRNA were found to be under-expressed in EH. These miRNAs were able to regulate the expression of a reporter gene and renin-mRNA itself, which explains over-expression of renin mRNA seen in EH kidney.”


The publisher, International Journal of Molecular Sciences, makes ALL of its articles open access. Another of its requirements is: “the full experimental details must be provided so that the results can be reproduced.” There also aren’t artificial limitations on either the length of the study or the number of supplementary files.

http://www.mdpi.com/1422-0067/17/4/451/htm “Epigenetic Modifications in Essential Hypertension”

Problematic research into epigenetic effects of paternal stress on male offspring

This 2016 Chinese rodent study and its accompanying commentary Don’t stress dad — it’s bad for your kids’ health were caught up in an agenda.

The first problem I noticed was that the hyperglycemic effects found only in the male offspring weren’t consistently labelled as sex-specific. Try to find that fact in the paywalled commentary with its intentionally misleading headline, or in the news coverage with headlines such as “Stressed mouse dads give their offspring high blood sugar.”

That the effects were male-only was briefly noted in the study, yet “male” was absent from the “stress-F1 mice” label used after the initial mention. The male and female symbols in the diagrams were likewise applied to the parents but not the offspring in the study, and its misleading graphic was subsequently used by the news coverage.

The researchers provided no mechanisms that plausibly linked the effects to offspring sex. There was plenty of time between the May 3, 2015 submission and the February 18, 2016 publication to clarify this and other items. I wonder what the reviewer noted.

The second problem was that the highest number of male “stress-F1 mice” tested was 6. I didn’t see any disclosures of what led to the scarcity of subjects, or of the likely impact of using so few.

A related limitation was that the male “stress-F1 mice” were killed as young adults. Whether or not the hyperglycemic effects carried through to old age or to another generation wasn’t determined.


I’m leery of studies like this one that didn’t have a Limitations section, and especially so when the news coverage overlooked obvious limitations. It was difficult to place the findings in a context other than promoting that a male’s stress may also adversely affect their offspring.

One of the problems that research caught up in an agenda create is that non-headline findings are overlooked. Other than sex-specific effects, the study found that the putative preconception cause of hyperglycemia didn’t cause other symptoms:

  • “No significant growth defects were observed in male offspring from stress-F0 fathers (stress-F1 mice) during their early lives.
  • Insulin sensitivity was not changed in stress-F1 mice.
  • Serum glucagon, leptin, and pro-inflammatory cytokines (tumor necrosis factor α [TNFα], interleukin-6 [IL-6]) were unaffected.
  • Body weight, food intake, locomotor activity, CO2 production, O2 consumption, and respiratory exchange ratios also remained unchanged.
  • Liver weight, liver weight/body weight ratios, hepatic triglyceride content, and the histological phenotypes were also comparable.
  • The methylation pattern and expression of microRNAs were not affected in the fetal brains of stress-F1 mice.”

The handling of the study reminded me of Transgenerational epigenetic programming with stress and microRNA where most of the news coverage similarly focused on it being a male’s stress, not a female’s, that affected the developing embryo. The important part lost from news coverage of that study was it demonstrated how a damaging influence can begin immediately after conception, but the symptoms didn’t present until adulthood.

http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1550413116300067 “Paternal Psychological Stress Reprograms Hepatic Gluconeogenesis in Offspring”

The current paradigm of child abuse limits pre-childhood causal research

As an adult, what would be your primary concern if you suspected that your early life had something to do with current problems? Would you be interested in effective treatments of causes of your symptoms?

Such information wasn’t available in this 2016 Miami review of the effects of child abuse. The review laid out the current paradigm mentioned in Grokking an Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACE) score, one that limits research into pre-childhood causes for later-life symptoms.


The review’s goal was to describe:

“How numerous clinical and basic studies have contributed to establish the now widely accepted idea that adverse early life experiences can elicit profound effects on the development and function of the nervous system.”

The hidden assumption of almost all of the cited references was that these distant causes can no longer be addressed. Aren’t such assumptions testable here in 2016?

As an example, the Discussion section posed the top nine “most pressing unanswered questions related to the neurobiological effects of early life trauma.” In line with the current paradigm, the reviewer assigned “Are the biological consequences of ELS [early life stress] reversible?” into the sixth position.

If the current paradigm encouraged research into treatment of causes, there would probably already be plenty of evidence to demonstrate that directly reducing the source of the damage would also reverse the damaging effects. There would have been enough studies done so that the generalized question of reversibility wouldn’t be asked.

Aren’t people interested in human treatments of originating causes so that their various symptoms don’t keep bubbling up? Why wouldn’t research paradigms be aligned accordingly?


The review also demonstrated how the current paradigm of child abuse misrepresents items like telomere length and oxytocin. Researchers on the bandwagon tend to forget about the principle Einstein expressed as:

“No amount of experimentation can ever prove me right; a single experiment can prove me wrong.”

That single experiment for telomere length arrived in 2016 with Using an epigenetic clock to distinguish cellular aging from senescence. The seven references the review cited for telomere length that had “is associated with” or “is linked to” child abuse findings should now be viewed in a different light.

The same light shone on oxytocin with Testing the null hypothesis of oxytocin’s effects in humans and Oxytocin research null findings come out of the file drawer. See their references, and decide for yourself whether or not:

“Claimed research findings may often be simply accurate measures of the prevailing bias.”

http://www.cell.com/neuron/fulltext/S0896-6273%2816%2900020-9 “Paradise Lost: The Neurobiological and Clinical Consequences of Child Abuse and Neglect”

Epigenetic regulation of natural killer cells

This 2016 German review focused on how epigenetic processes affected the natural killer cell part of the immune system:

“Natural killer (NK) cells recognize and eliminate tumor- and virus-infected cells, parasites as well as certain types of bacteria. NK cell activity is related to a complex interaction of activating and inhibiting receptors on the NK cell surface.

During the development of HPCs [hemopoietic progenitor cells] to mature NK cells, the DNA demethylation of KIR [killer cell immunoglobin-like receptors] genes leads to KIR expression. But DNA methylation does not just determine which KIR gene is expressed, it also determines which allele expresses the KIR gene. KIR genes are also regulated by microRNA.

KIR genes exhibit highly similar histone acetylation signatures, which are typically found in expressed genes. This fact puts the KIR genes into a state of readiness for transcription which is depending on the DNA methylation as critical epigenetic modification in the regulation of KIR gene expression.

Epigenetic modifications have been reported to be involved in the expression of NKG2D, which is one the most important activating NK cell receptor.”

The reviewers included a section on NK cell activity and external stimuli. They summarized:

“The significance of the described findings is limited by study designs. Although human NK cells were frequently used, in most cases treatment took place in ex vivo experiments.”

The reviewers also provided a good three-paragraph explanation of general epigenetic mechanisms.

http://www.mdpi.com/1422-0067/17/3/326/htm “Natural Killer Cells—An Epigenetic Perspective of Development and Regulation”

Beneficial epigenetic effects of mild stress with social support during puberty

This 2016 Pennsylvania rodent study found:

“Stress in the context of social support experienced over the pubertal window can promote epigenetic reprogramming in the brain to increase the resilience to age-related cognitive decline in females.

These findings are actually consistent with previous studies showing that some amount of adversity, or adversity under more favorable circumstances such as social support or a protective gene polymorphism, provides a measure of ‘grit’ in coping with later life challenges.

Our findings provide a unique perspective on this relationship, as they highlight the important link between experience during the pubertal window and cognitive health during aging.”

The researchers made efforts to further investigate causes of unexpected results, such as:

“Peripubertal stress alone did not significantly alter Barnes maze performance in aging compared to aged Controls. Mice that had experienced stress with concurrent social support (CVS + SI) actually performed better than Control aged mice, specifically in learning the reversal task faster.

Peripubertal stress had no effect on corticosterone levels in response to an acute restraint stress or in sensorimotor gating and baseline startle reactivity.”

The investigations led to epigenetic findings:

“Consistent with our behavioral findings, stress in the context of social interaction resulted in long-term reprogramming of gene expression in the PFC [prefrontal cortex]. While there were no differentially expressed genes between Control and CVS females, there were 88 genes that were significantly different between Control and CVS + SI groups. Of the genes that were downregulated, a large portion (23 genes; 35%) were microRNAs.

We found that the PFC transcriptome of CVS + SI aged females was significantly enriched for predicted targets of the 23 microRNAs that were downregulated in the PFC in these mice. This suggests that microRNAs represent a mode of regulation capable of enacting far-reaching programmatic effects, and are a critical epigenetic gene expression regulatory mechanism.”

Applicability to humans was suggested by associations such as:

“A single microRNA can target more than a hundred different mRNA targets, and more than 45,000 conserved microRNA binding sites have been annotated in the 3′ UTR of 60% of human genes.”


A few limitations were noted:

“Given that mice at this age (1 year) are commonly compared to ‘late middle aged’ humans, later aging time points may yield differences in this group. Alternatively, it is possible that there was an effect of peripubertal stress that was not long-lasting due to the mild nature of our chronic stress model.

To include early neglect as a part of the stressor experience, CVS females were weaned one week earlier (PN21) than Control and CVS + SI mice. The addition of the stress of this earlier weaning likely poses a significant contribution to the programming of the PFC.”

One of the study coauthors was also a coauthor of:

http://press.endocrine.org/doi/pdf/10.1210/en.2015-1876 “Peripubertal stress with social support promotes resilience in the face of aging”