Melbourne School of Professional and Continuing Education - Research Publications
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Chronic stress induces hypersensitivity of murine gastric vagal afferents
Background Stress exposure is known to trigger and exacerbate functional dyspepsia (FD) symptoms. Increased gastric sensitivity to food‐related stimuli is widely observed in FD patients and is associated with stress and psychological disorders. The mechanisms underlying the hypersensitivity are not clear. Gastric vagal afferents (GVAs) play an important role in sensing meal‐related mechanical stimulation to modulate gastrointestinal function and food intake. This study aimed to determine whether GVAs display hypersensitivity after chronic stress, and whether its interaction with leptin was altered by stress. Methods Eight‐week‐old male C57BL/6 mice were exposed to unpredictable chronic mild stress or no stress (control) for 8 weeks. The metabolic rate, gastric emptying rate, and anxiety‐ and depression‐like behaviors were determined. GVA mechanosensitivity, and its modulation by leptin, was determined using an in vitro single fiber recording technique. QRT‐PCR was used to establish the levels of leptin and leptin receptor mRNA in the stomach and nodose ganglion, respectively. Key Results The stressed mice had lower body weight and food intake, and increased anxiety‐like behavior compared to the control mice. The mechanosensitivity of mucosal and tension‐sensitive GVAs was higher in the stressed mice. Leptin potentiated mucosal GVA mechanosensitivity in control but not stressed mice. The expression of leptin mRNA in the gastric mucosa was lower in the stressed mice. Conclusions and Inferences In conclusion, chronic stress enhances GVA mechanosensitivity, which may contribute to the gastric hypersensitivity in FD. In addition, the modulatory effect of leptin on GVA signaling is lost after chronic stress exposure.
Spatial variation in the ongoing and widespread decline of a keystone plant species
Extensive dieback in dominant plant species in response to climate change is increasingly common. Climatic conditions and related variables, such as evapotranspiration, vary in response to topographical complexity. This complexity plays an important role in the provision of climate refugia. In 2008/2009, an island‐wide dieback event of the keystone cushion plant Azorella macquariensis Orchard (Apiaceae) occurred on sub‐Antarctic Macquarie Island. This signalled the start of a potential regime shift, suggested to be driven by increasing vapour pressure deficit. Eight years later, we quantified cover and dieback across the range of putative microclimates to which the species is exposed, with the aim of explaining dieback patterns. We test for the influence of evapotranspiration using a suite of topographic proxies and other variables as proposed drivers of change. We found higher cover and lower dieback towards the south of the island. The high spatial variation in A. macquariensis populations was best explained by latitude, likely a proxy for macroscale climate gradients and geology. Dieback was best explained by A. macquariensis cover and latitude, increasing with cover and towards the north of the island. The effect sizes of terrain variables that influence evapotranspiration rates were small. Island‐wide dieback remains conspicuous. Comparison between a subset of sites and historical data revealed a reduction of cover in the north and central regions of the island, and a shift south in the most active areas of dieback. Dieback remained comparatively low in the south. The presence of seedlings was independent of dieback. This study provides an empirical baseline for spatial variation in the cover and condition of A. macquariensis, both key variables for monitoring condition and ‘cover‐debt’ in this critically endangered endemic plant species. These findings have broader implications for understanding the responses of fellfield ecosystems and other Azorella species across the sub‐Antarctic under future climates.
Variability of the cortisol awakening response and morning salivary oxytocin in late adolescence
Exogenously administered oxytocin interacts with the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis to modulate endogenous cortisol levels, suggesting a synergistic role for these two hormones in the response to stress, cognitive performance and the development of psycho-behavioural disorders. The cortisol awakening response (CAR) is considered a reliable measure of HPA axis function in humans. However, the CAR appears to vary considerably from day to day and may be strongly influenced by the anticipated demands of the day ahead. The level of variation intrinsic to the CAR is unclear because few studies have examined the CAR in the absence of daily environmental variation. It is not known whether oxytocin has a similar or complementary awakening response. Therefore, over three consecutive days, we examined 12 adolescents (aged 15-17 years) in a highly-controlled sleep laboratory. Saliva was collected on days 4-6 of a 9-day laboratory visit. Cortisol and oxytocin levels were determined by an enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay from saliva sampled at 0, 15, 30 and 45 minutes, and 8 and 12 hours post-awakening. CAR magnitude varied between days and was associated with sleep duration and pre-awakening sleep stage. Conversely, oxytocin levels dropped dramatically in the first 15 minutes post-awakening and were highly consistent across participants and days. Older participants had higher awakening oxytocin concentrations. Although cortisol increases and oxytocin rapidly declines upon awakening, their diurnal variation does not appear to be related at basal, peripheral levels, consistent with a previous finding that exogenously administered oxytocin only modulates cortisol under conditions of stress.
Supplementary Material: More than Just Learning Discipline Skills: Social Interactions in Science Fieldwork Could Enhance Student Well-Being and Cognition
(The University of Sydney Library, 2020-01-01)
Fieldwork is typically used to develop students’ technical skills in a range of scientific domains. Fieldwork may also be particularly conducive for enhancing social learning because of increased opportunities for social interactions. However, few studies have explored the value of students’ social interactions during science fieldwork. This pilot study used a mixed-methods survey to investigate 107 undergraduate students’ perceptions of science fieldwork. Participants had completed science subjects with repeated on-campus fieldwork. The survey questions examined students’ perceptions of the potential influence on their well-being and cognition.
Most respondents reported long-lasting benefits to their well-being (57%; 42 students) and/or cognition (69%; 52 students). Commonly reported benefits related to well-being included enhanced enjoyment, relaxation, increased motivation and engagement, and stress reduction. In examining cognition, commonly reported benefits included gaining a deeper conceptual understanding from ‘hands-on’ activities and improved information retention. Whilst a variable response rate must be considered in interpreting our findings, our preliminary results suggest science fieldwork has a broader value to learning and the student experience. Students recognise that the benefits of fieldwork activities extend beyond the development of technical skills. Future studies could further explore how science educators can generate more effective social interactions during fieldwork-based education in science.
Novel methods of teaching psychiatry to medical and postgraduate students
(LIPPINCOTT WILLIAMS & WILKINS, 2021-09-01)
Purpose of review Global burden of mental illness remains at an all-time high and provision of timely good quality care is a challenge globally. Current methods of medical and post-graduate education in psychiatry worldwide have been inadequate in treating those with mental illness. Enormous gaps exist in provision of high-quality teaching, particularly in poorer countries with many having no access to ongoing teaching and training. Recent findings Technology and changes to curriculum design have transformed student experiences and highlighted the value of online learning. There are many models to consider from and we describe the development process for these, which also highlight why some can be superior to classroom-based learning. New innovations have significantly enhanced engagement and reach thereby bringing students across the globe into an interconnected community and putting them in touch with world experts. Although some of these options may be expensive, many can be made affordable and accessible. Summary It is possible to use innovations in online education to ensure high-quality teaching is available globally. A high touch model may be suitable when resources permit, and otherwise low touch scalable models provide options for increasing reach. Together, these models provide optimism for improving standards of global psychiatric training.
Widespread dieback in a foundation species on a sub-Antarctic World Heritage Island: Fine-scale patterns and likely drivers
Under anthropogenic climate change, emerging diseases and pathogens are increasingly prevalent in high latitude and altitude regions that were previously protected by cold winter temperatures. Ongoing island-wide dieback of a foundation species, the cushion plant Azorella macquariensis, on World Heritage listed Macquarie Island provides the first sub-Antarctic example. To better understand the island-wide progression of cushion dieback and its drivers, we established and quantified plant condition classes and measured microclimate across 62 sites. We then tested whether the drivers of cushion dieback were associated with (i) water stress: represented by vapour pressure deficit, wind exposure and gravel content, (ii) pathogen virulence: using freezing days and extreme humidity as empirically supported surrogates, or (iii) both. There was a strong north-south progression in cushion condition, with dieback most active in the centre of the island and advanced in the north. Dieback was most extensive at sites with fewer freezing days and high humidity. Natural southern refugia were explained by the significantly colder temperatures, associated with a north-south temperature gradient. It is expected that under current climate change trajectories, where Macquarie is likely to continue to become warmer and wetter, cushion dieback will remain pervasive, expanding most slowly in the south and potentially outpacing recovery. We emphasise the need for increased awareness to prevent the establishment of pathogens into and across the landscapes of newly susceptible high latitude and altitude regions. Areas of high conservation significance need to be prioritised for management, to prevent further landscape-scale change under current climate trajectories.
The Recorded Interaction Task: A Validation Study of a New Observational Tool to Assess Mother-Infant Bonding
INTRODUCTION: Mother-infant bonding describes the early emotional connectedness between a mother and her infant. The quality of the mother-infant bond early in life is related to the subsequent quality of the child's attachment, the quality of further mother-infant interactions, and various other social outcomes across the child's life span. The Recorded Interaction Task (RIT) was developed to assess mother-infant bonding using observational methods in a naturalistic but standardized setting, thus addressing shortcomings of previous self-report tools. The RIT focusses on the common interaction between mother and infant (aged 2 to 5 months old), during a diaper (nappy) change. The interaction is video recorded and later assessed. The RIT must be validated before it can be used to assess mother-infant bonding in future research or in clinical practice. METHODS: Face and content validity of the RIT were assessed by a panel of 6 experts in bonding and assessment of maternal and infant behavior. The RIT and self-reported Postpartum Bonding Questionnaire (PBQ) were administered to 15 mother-infant dyads with the correlation between their scores used to assess convergent validity. RESULTS: Acceptable face and content validity of the RIT was demonstrated. A weak correlation between the RIT and PBQ (r = -0.13) and their subscales (r = -0.22) were observed. A strong correlation between the RIT maternal behavior and infant behavior subscales was recorded (r = 0.69). DISCUSSION: The RIT appears to be a viable tool for the observational assessment of mother-infant bonding. Reliability testing and piloting will be required before the RIT can be used in future research or clinical practice.
Challenges in the Australasian neurosurgery training program: who should be trained and where should they train?
(AMER ASSOC NEUROLOGICAL SURGEONS, 2020-03-01)
OBJECTIVE: Neurosurgical training poses particular challenges in Australia and New Zealand, given the large landmass, small population, and widely separated, often small, neurosurgical units. Such factors have necessitated a move away from autonomous, single-institution-based training to the selection of trainees by a centralized binational process. The success of this system is based on rigorous standardized evaluation of candidates' academic achievements, anatomical knowledge, references, and interview performance. Similarly, the accreditation of hospitals to train successful candidates has been standardized. The authors review the evolution of trainee selection and the accreditation of training posts in Australia and New Zealand. METHODS: The records of the Neurosurgical Society of Australasia Surgical Education and Training Board were reviewed for documents pertaining to the selection of neurosurgical trainees and the accreditation of training posts. Application records and referee scores from 2014 to the present were reviewed to encompass process changes, in particular the change from written referee reports to standardized interviews of referees. Surgical logbook case numbers for 23 trainees completing training in 2016, 2017, and 2018 were collated and presented in an aggregated, de-identified form as a measure of adherence to accreditation standards. Written evaluations of the training experience were also sought from two trainees reflecting on the selection process, the quality of training posts, and training limitations. RESULTS: While a time-consuming process, the method of obtaining referee reports by interview has resulted in a wider spread of scores, more able to separate high- and low-scoring applicants than other components of the selection process. Review of the training post accreditation records for the last 2 years showed that adherence to standards has resulted in loss of accreditation for one unit and shortened periods of review for units with more minor deficiencies. Two applications for accreditation have been denied. Examination of caseload data showed that trainees more than fulfill minimum requirements in accredited training posts, confirming the robust nature of this aspect of unit accreditation. CONCLUSIONS: A key factor determining the success of neurosurgical training in Australia and New Zealand has been a willingness to evolve selection and other processes to overcome challenges as they become apparent. According to available analyses, the revised referee process and strict accreditation standards appear effective. The benefits and challenges of the current training system are discussed in the context of a paucity of international literature.
Toll-like receptor 4: innate immune regulator of neuroimmune and neuroendocrine interactions in stress and major depressive disorder
(FRONTIERS MEDIA SA, 2014-09-30)
Major depressive disorder (MDD) poses one of the highest disease burdens worldwide. Yet, current treatments targeting serotonergic and noradrenaline reuptake systems are insufficient to provide long-term relief from depressive symptoms in most patients, indicating the need for new treatment targets. Having the ability to influence behavior similar to depressive symptoms, as well as communicate with neuronal and neuroendocrine systems, the innate immune system is a strong candidate for MDD treatments. Given the complex nature of immune signaling, the main question becomes: What is the role of the innate immune system in MDD? The current review presents evidence that toll-like receptor 4 (TLR4), via driving both peripheral and central immune responses, can interact with serotonergic neurotransmission and cause neuroendocrine disturbances, thus integrating with widely observed hallmarks of MDD. Additionally, through describing the multi-directional communication between immune, neural and endocrine systems in stress, TLR4-related mechanisms can mediate stress-induced adaptations, which are necessary for the development of MDD. Therefore, apart from exogenous pathogenic mechanisms, TLR4 is involved in immune changes as a result of endogenous stress signals, playing an integral part in the pathophysiology, and could be a potential target for pharmacological treatments to improve current interventions for MDD.
Oxytocin as an Indicator of Psychological and Social Well-Being in Domesticated Animals: A Critical Review
(FRONTIERS MEDIA SA, 2017-09-13)
Oxytocin is often portrayed as a hormone specific to social behavior, reflective of positive welfare states, and linked to mental states. Research on oxytocin in domesticated animal species has been few to date but is rapidly increasing (in dog, pig, cattle, sheep), with direct implications for animal welfare. This review evaluates the evidence for the specificity of oxytocin as an indicator of: 1. Social, 2. Positive, and 3. Psychological well-being. Oxytocin has most often been studied in socially relevant paradigms, with a lack of non-social control paradigms. Oxytocin research appears biased toward investigating positive valence, with a lack of control in valence or arousal. Oxytocin actions are modulated by the environmental and social contexts, which are important factors to consider. Limited evidence supports that oxytocin's actions are linked to psychological states; nevertheless whether this is a direct effect of oxytocin per se remains to be demonstrated. Overall, it is premature to judge oxytocin's potential as an animal welfare indicator given the few and discrepant findings and a lack of standardization in methodology. We cover potential causes for discrepancies and suggest solutions through appropriate methodological design, oxytocin sampling or delivery, analysis and reporting. Of particular interest, the oxytocinergic system as a whole remains poorly understood. Appreciation for the differences that social contact and group living pose in domesticated species and the way they interact with humans should be key considerations in using oxytocin as a psychosocial indicator of well-being.
Cortisol-induced increases of plasma oxytocin levels predict decreased immediate free recall of unpleasant words.
(Frontiers Media SA, 2012)
Cortisol and oxytocin have been shown to interact in both the regulation of stress responses and in memory function. In the present study we administered cortisol to 35 healthy female subjects in a within-subject double-blind placebo-controlled design, while measuring oxytocin levels, adrenocorticotropic hormone (ACTH) levels, and free recall of pleasant and of unpleasant words. We found that cortisol administration suppressed ACTH levels and (1) induced a decrease in oxytocin associated with ACTH suppression and (2) an increase in oxytocin that was independent from ACTH suppression. This cortisol-induced increase in plasma oxytocin was associated with a selective decrease in immediate free recall of unpleasant words from primacy positions. The present results add to evidence that cortisol-induced increases in oxytocin could mediate some of the effects of stress and cortisol on memory, and possibly play a role in the regulation of the hypothalamo-pituitary-adrenal stress response. This mechanism could significantly impact affective and social behaviors, in particular during times of stress.