Scientists at the University of Montreal’s Quebec Research Group in Animal Pharmacology have found a way to recognize and treat osteoarthritis in cats – a condition that the owner might not notice and that can make even petting painful. “Osteoarthritis frequently affects cats’ elbows, backs and hips and joints in the hind limbs, and its prevalence increases dramatically with age. More than 80 % of cats older than 11 years old have it,” explained lead author Eric Troncy of the university’s Faculty of Veterinary Medicine. “Despite the fact that cats are the most popular pet in North America, nobody had found a way to easily diagnose and treat cat osteoarthritis. We used our knowledge of cat behaviour and worked with experts in human osteoarthritis to develop a diagnosis tool and test an effective medication: meloxicam.” Osteoarthritis induces chronic pain that results in a decrease in cat’s daily activity, a reluctance to jump and other behaviours that owners may notice.

The researchers examined 120 cats and found that 39 were suffering from osteoarthritis. They established an evaluation chart for measuring the cats’ pain by looking at their kinetic gait analysis, which reveals impairment in their limbs, their daily activity as recorded by an accelerometer, and how sensitive the cat is to touch by testing what level of force will cause the cat to withdraw its paw.

Once the researchers had standardized their evaluation tools, they proceeded to the treatment part of the study. For 74 days, a control group was fed a placebo while the others were fed different dosages of meloxicam. Meloxicam is an anti-inflammatory drug that is already used in the treatment of other animals. “Our study demonstrated that daily oral meloxicam administration over four weeks provided various levels of pain relief, depending on the amount of the drug the cat was given. Cats that were in treated with the high dosage continued to enjoy pain relief for five weeks after dosage stopped. None of the cats had any side-effects,” Professor Troncy said. “As expected, the drug unfortunately does not appear to reduce pain associated with touch, such as stroking – the same flawing occurs in hypersensitive osteoarthritic people treated with anti-inflammatory drugs.”

The study opens a range of possibilities for the application of the findings. “The touch hypersensitivity occurrence rate of 30% in our osteoarthritic cats sample is quite similar to what is reported in osteoarthritis-affected human beings. In pain research and development, we have so desperately looked for validated translational experimental models, when they could be here, in front of us, with natural diseases in pet animals,” Troncy said.

Nevertheless, the cats were able to regain the rest of their normal life. “Unalleviated chronic pain induces functional limitations, contributes to behaviour troubles and loss of the human-animal bond leading potentially to pet euthanasia or surrender,” Troncy explained. “The development of adapted therapy protocols to correctly treat arthritis associated chronic pain will provide a better quality of life particularly in older cats and will in turn have a direct impact on owners, as their cat will be more active and sociable.” The researchers will now start looking at how brain scans may further improve our understanding of pain in cats, particularly with regards to the neurophysiological hypersensitive process.

Meloxicam will be considered for use in cats by the Europe Medicines Agency on April, 2013.

About this study
This research was supported by funding from the Canada Foundation for Innovation, the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada, the Canadian Institutes of Health Research, the Morris Animal Foundation and by a partnership with the animal health pharmaceutical industry (Boehringer Ingelheim Vetmedica, Inc.). It results from a rich collaboration between the Quebec Research Group in Animal Pharmacology (GREPAQ) and the Centre hospitalier de l’Université de Montréal (CHUM) Research Centre – Musculoskeletal Diseases Axis. The studies were published in Research in Veterinary Science on February 13, 2013 (Moreau M, et alhttp://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.rvsc.2013.01.020 Kinetic peak vertical force measurement in cats afflicted by coxarthritis: Data management and acquisition protocols) and in theVeterinary Journal on February 14, 2013 (Guillot M, et alhttp://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.tvjl.2013.01.009Characterization of osteoarthritis in cats and meloxicam efficacy using objective chronic pain evaluation tools). The University of Montreal is officially known as Université de Montréal.

Media contact:

William Raillant-Clark
International Press Attaché
University of Montreal (officially Université de Montréal)
Tel: 514-343-7593 
w.raillant-clark@umontreal.ca
@uMontreal_News

Fonds de recherche du Québec highlights three stunning students as government slashes budget

If you support government funding for research in Quebec, please join the Je suis Michèle movement

Announcement of the February winners of the Étudiants-chercheurs étoiles Award

Montreal, February 4, 2013 – Québec’s Chief Scientist, Rémi Quirion, is pleased to announce the February winners of the Étudiants-chercheurs étoiles Award, a competition spearheaded by the three Fonds de recherche du Québec.

Award winner, Fonds Nature et Technologies

Michel Lavoie, PhD student in in environmental studies at INRS

Award-winning publication: Influence of Essential Elements on Cadmium Uptake and Toxicity in a Unicellular Green Alga: the Protective Effect of trace Zinc and cobalt concentrations. Published in Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry, 31(7):1445-52, July 2012.

Award winner, Fonds Santé

Jean-Baptiste Pingault, Postdoctoral student at Université de Montréal’s Department of Social and Preventive Medicine.

Award-winning publication: Childhood trajectories of inattention, hyperactivity and oppositional behaviors and prediction of substance abuse/dependence: a 15-year longitudinal population-based study. Published in Molecular Psychiatry, 06-2012.

Award winner, Fonds Société et Culture

Leslie Tomory, Postdoctoral student in history at McGill University.

Award-winning publication: Progressive Enlightenment: The Origins of the Gaslight Industry,1780–1820. Published by Cambridge: MIT Press, mars 2012.

In addition to promoting careers in research, the competition aims to recognize the exceptional research contributions of college and university students, postdoctoral fellows and members of professional bodies who are enrolled in advanced research training programs in the areas covered by the three Fonds de recherche du Québec.

Every month, each Fund will award $1000 to a student researcher. An overview of the recipient’s project and a photo of the recipient will be featured on the Web site www.frq.gouv.qc.ca.

Dr. Quirion sends his congratulations to the winners.

Cancer Rant

I had to tell someone I love last night that lemon juice will not cure his cancer. FUCK antiscientific rumours and false hope. They just distract from the best possible medical healthcare and the reality of the situation a person faces. Hundreds of thousands of people around the world are dedicating their lives, wholeheartedly, to a cure. They publish what they discover in books that anyone can read. When they find something that helps, we all know about it, including front line doctors. There is no evil conspiracy to hide the cure, it’s not hidden a test-tube somewhere in a vault. I wish it was, because it wouldn’t take long for someone else to replicate the result anyway. Next time you see some FUCKING BULLSHIT on the Internet, don’t hesitate to stomp it out.

Researchers prevent autistic behaviours in mice

McGill and Université de Montréal researchers revealed yesterday that autism-like behaviors can be rectified in adult mice with compounds inhibiting protein synthesis, or with gene-therapy targeting neuroligins (a membrane protein that regulates synapse formation between neurons.) Their study is published in the journal Nature.

“The autistic behaviours in mice were prevented by selectively reducing the synthesis of one type of neuroligin and reversing the changes in synaptic excitation in cells,” explained Prof. Jean-Claude Lacaille at the University of Montreal’s Groupe de Recherche sur le Système Nerveux Central and Department of Physiology. “In short, we manipulated mechanisms in brain cells and observed how they influence the behaviour of the animal.” The researchers were also able to reverse changes in inhibition and augment autistic behaviors by manipulating a second neuroligin. “The fact that the balance can be affected suggests that there could be a potential for pharmacological intervention by targeting these mechanisms.”

“Since the discovery of neuroligin mutations in individuals with ASD in 2003, the precise molecular mechanisms implicated remain unknown,” said Christos Gkogkas, a postdoctoral fellow at McGill and lead author. “Our work is the first to link translational control of neuroligins with altered synaptic function and autism-like behaviors in mice. The key is that we achieved reversal of ASD-like symptoms in adult mice. Firstly, we used compounds, which were previously developed for cancer treatment, to reduce protein synthesis. Secondly, we used non-replicating viruses as vehicles to put a break on exaggerated synthesis of neuroligins.”

Autism spectrum disorders (ASD) encompass a wide array of neurodevelopmental diseases that affect three areas of behaviour: social interactions, communication and repetitive interests or behaviors. According to the U.S.-based Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 1 in 88 children suffer from ASD, and the disorder is reported to occur in all racial, ethnic, and socioeconomic groups. ASDs are almost five times more common among boys (1 in 54) than among girls (1 in 252).

Links

To reach Dr. Lacaille

William Raillant-Clark
Media Relations 
Université de Montréal 
w.raillant-clark@umontreal.ca

Stephen Wilshire, an artist with autism, at work on a panorama of London. From his website.

Montreal can become North America’s top university city

I attended an excellent speech given to CORIM (Montreal Council on Foreign Relations) by Prof. Heather Munroe-Blum, who is, in many senses of term, the leader of McGill. Parts of the speech were published on YouTube and the university’s website. It was an uplifting and inspiring speech about Quebec’s social values and how they can help “Montreal become North America’s top university city.” I share the Principal’s transnational perspective and vision for our society, so I am taking the liberty of republishing McGill’s documents here. As a Quebecer with an international background, and as a former foreign student myself (albeit not to Quebec), I felt very touched by her words.

- William Raillant-Clark

Speech delivered to CORIM by Prof. Heather Munroe-Blum
October 19, 2012 

The great historian Marcel Trudel liked to talk about the myths and realities of Quebec’s history. On my side, I’ll talk to you this afternoon about the myths and realities of the international role of Quebec’s universities—a  key role for the success of Quebec.

I’m going to do it in the form of questions and answers. And, because I’m a professor, I’m going to ask the questions and give the answers!

Myth or reality?  International students are a drain on Quebec.

Myth.  International students are essential contributors to Quebec’s success.  We cannot succeed without more well-educated, highly skilled, multilingual people.  People who have knowledge and experience of the major cultures of the world, people who are comfortable with managing complexity, and who are welcoming of change. 

International students are exactly what Quebec needs.  They spend years in our institutions, they speak or are motivated to learn French, they know Quebec’s values, and they are already integrating into our society.  Collectively, we Quebecers have supported a portion of their education with our taxes, and, collectively, we Quebecers benefit from the investment made elsewhere in their early training and from who they are today.

In 30 years, Quebec is expected to have one of the oldest populations in the world.  Quebecers need more health and social services, and more value-added jobs, and, if our population only grows at current rates, there will be even fewer people than today to hold down these jobs.  Who will pay taxes to support the system? 

Add to this crisis the fact that Quebec has the highest debt-to-GDP ratio of any Canadian province or U.S. state.1 Simply put, we have no more gas in the tank.  We cannot sustain our quality of life without change.  Quebec needs all the talented, educated people it can get.

International students are a source of talent and revenue for Quebec.  In Canada, for example, these students have an economic impact of $8 billion.2

Myth or reality?  International students are trained at our expense, and then leave.

That’s another myth.  The Conférence régionale des élus de Montreal estimates that one third of international students stay in Quebec after graduation.  This proportion has been growing since Quebec started awarding Selection Certificates to international students who apply to immigrate after graduation.

Half of McGill’s alumni live in Quebec, including many one-time international students who fell in love with Quebec and never left.  A good example is Aldo Bensadoun, who perhaps you saw on “Tout le Monde en Parle.”  He’s the founder of the Aldo Group.

Aldo was raised in Morocco and France, before heading to the U.S.  He was attracted to McGill.  And after graduation from McGill, he stayed in Quebec and from here, created an extraordinary Quebec multinational shoe company that today has a thousand stores in sixty-six countries around the world.  And thousands of employees here in Quebec.  You might say it’s the Cirque de Soleil of shoes!

Myth or reality?  Higher tuition rates would drive talented Quebec and international students away from our universities.

A deep myth.  Studies across the country are crystal-clear: no link exists between the amount of tuition and attendance in universities.  If low tuition created better access, Quebec would lead the country in the percentage of young people receiving a university degree.  It does not.  It is now amongst the lowest in Canada, behind Nova Scotia (#1) and Ontario (#2), the provinces with the highest tuition, though still reasonable.   

What matters is having both the quality and reputation of our universities, and the availability of effective student support for those in need.  Quality is what international students are seeking; it is also what Quebecers need.  Nobody wants to go to school for a poor quality of education, even if it costs nothing.

Here’s a concrete example of this dynamic: Since tuition was substantially raised in McGill’s MBA program, in order to provide the highest quality education and professional training, we have doubled the number of Quebec students enrolled in the program.  And many of the best-prepared Quebecers, who previously left Quebec to get an MBA, are now studying here.  Let me repeat: Tuition went up, and the number of Quebec students enrolled in McGill’s MBA program doubled.

Why?  Because we now have a guarantee of quality, and of financial aid for students who need it; Thanks to increased tuition, we were able to put in place one of the most generous financial aid programs for MBAs in North America.

Myth or reality?  McGill doesn’t do anything to keep its graduates in Quebec.

False!  McGill is taking serious measures to prevent this from happening.  When I began my first term as principal, many of our Medicine graduates were leaving Quebec to set up medical practices elsewhere.

We took the bull by the horns, and today I’m proud to tell you that 90 per cent of our medical students are from Quebec, and 75% stay to practice medicine in Quebec after graduation.

Of course, talented and educated people have a lot of opportunities.  They’re mobile. The upside?  You can take the graduate out of Quebec, but you can never take the Quebec out of the graduate! 

They’re still assets for Quebec. Not convinced? I’ll give you an example: Five years ago, we launched a major fundraising campaign.  Without that kind of initiative, McGill would not be able to fulfill its research and teaching mission.

I’m proud to announce that half the money we’ve raised is coming from McGill graduates who live outside of Quebec. 

That’s hundreds of millions of dollars being directly injected into our economy. And if they weren’t confident in our good management, all those people wouldn’t be giving a cent to McGill.

Myth or reality?  McGill doesn’t need Quebec.

Another myth.  Without Quebec, McGill would not be McGill, just as Quebec would not be what it is without McGill.

Quebec’s culture and values are in McGill’s DNA.

McGill is proud to be a Quebec institution and also proud of its reputation on the world stage.  For example, we have launched a large project in Montreal: the Quartier de l’Innovation.  In partnership with ÉTS, the three levels of government, and the neighborhood’s residents, we will build, south of downtown, the urban neighborhood of the future: an ecosystem of cultural and social innovation, a place for training and research, an economic and technological hub.

Impact Group ranked McGill and ÉTS on its list of the Top Five Most Innovative Universities in Canada.  We’re putting this expertise to work for Montreal and Quebec.

McGill experts contribute to every aspect of Quebec life, just as they contribute to every Quebec and Canadian economic mission.  Earlier this year, Yves Beauchamp and I joined Canada’s Governor-General David Johnston, a former Principal of McGill, and 28 other university leaders in Canada’s largest ever higher education mission.  This visit to Brazil resulted in McGill signing four new agreements in joint research and student-mobility with four Brazilian universities—adding to the 50 Brazilian collaborations that we already have in place—and Mister Beauchamp signed agreements worth $1 million.  

Who benefits from this?  Quebec and our students.

Unfortunately, in contrast to the only news from this trip that journalists reported back in Quebec, there wasn’t time to hit the sun and sands on the beach of the Copacabana—although I surely need the suntan.  To be clear, this travel more than paid for itself.

Myth or reality? McGill attracts international students to enrich McGill via their tuition.

100% false.  We attract international students because they add to the cultural and intellectual enrichment of our learning community. 

Further, under the Quebec funding system, most of the tuition paid by students from outside Quebec returns to the Government.  With a few exceptions, McGill keeps only a small portion of the fees these students pay to support them in their studies.

Because of this, each year McGill gives back around $55 million of its students’ fees—net—that the Government then redistributes across the rest of the Quebec university system.  $55 million.  Year after year.   

To add to this disincentive, students from outside of Quebec are required to contribute to the Quebec student aid program, but they are ineligible to receive this aid, notwithstanding the special service needs they often have.  This is an inequity.

Universities and the students they welcome are being deprived of significant resources that should be returned to them.  That’s not an invitation for them to do more.

Quebec is competing for global talent from Brazil, India, China and elsewhere against regions around the globe.  Australia, New Zealand and the US each spend more than $10 million annually on international marketing for education.  Canada spends only $1 million.

Countries around the world are also dramatically increasing investments in research universities and graduate education.

The federal government recently commissioned a report from the Advisory Panel on Canada’s International Education Strategy, on which Monsieur André Bisson—former chancellor of Université de Montreal—and Madame Jacynthe Côté both served.  

The report calls for Canada to double the number of full-time international students it recruits, from 239,000 to more than 470,000 in the next decade. 

How many new students today know about and consider Quebec as the best place to study?  How many will come to our universities?  How many will stay after graduation?

Quebec’s share of Canada’s international student population has decreased from 33 percent in 2001, to 25 percent in 2010.  In contrast, British Columbia increased from 10 percent of all international students in Canada to nearly 20 percent. 

Quebec needs a strategy.  A clear strategy for making Quebec a global education and research destination, or we will fall even further behind. 

Some argue that low tuition will attract talent but, as we saw with our MBA program, low tuition does not lead to quality, and quality is precisely what international students are looking for, and what Quebec students need.

Students travel for an educational experience they cannot receive at home.  We face an international race for talent, and, Quebecers are not winning with education as a “bargain-basement” proposition. 

We can only win with incentives for universities to attract, support and retain top talent with quality and accessibility.

Here are my three recommendations to get there:

Number 3:We need the means to increase the number of French language courses offered on our campuses, at least for graduate students.

Number 2: Quebec must increase its share of international students, to at least its previous share of 33 per cent.

We must do this for our regions and for Montreal.  Montreal can become North America’s top university city. 

For this, we require a policy that encourages universities to recruit internationally. The money paid by international students should stay with the universities where they’re studying.

This would be an incentive for Quebec universities to leave a presence on the world stage and to compete with the world’s best.

Make no mistake: Students around the world are dreaming about Canada.  If Quebec doesn’t attract them, other provinces will.

Number 1: Forward-thinking societies create an environment that encourages entrepreneurship, productivity and innovation.

Quebec’s universities are drivers of first-rate economic innovation—yet they’re dramatically under-financed in comparison to their competitors in the rest of Canada, to the tune of $620-million, according to the latest figures from CREPUQ, which have been validated by CIRANO.

Without healthy universities, innovation is impossible. Quebec must remember this when it creates its social and fiscal policies.

This is important, as Quebec prepares for a Summit on Higher Education and a new national policy on research and innovation.

During the last campaign, our premier—and the first woman premier, which I’m pretty proud of—said that we must meet in the middle so that “our institutions rank among the best in the world, and that all Quebecers can access them, regardless of their economic standing.”

This sounds very promising for the upcoming Summit.

To get there, the Quebec government should therefore add the quality of programs, the search for excellence and international recruitment to the Summit’s agenda.

Nothing else is more important for guaranteeing the success of Quebec. In other words, if our performance in recruitment, innovation and productivity stays the same, Quebec will no longer be in the competition.

Quebec is a beautiful place and it should be celebrated worldwide.  It is positioned to win the race for global talent if we move quickly, competitively and with confidence.

Myth or reality?

  1. Quebec is a prime international education destination.
  2. Quebec is where Quebecers want to study, work after graduation and raise their families.
  3. Quebec is known for the quality of its universities.
  4. Quebec is a prosperous nation, caring and also wise.

Do we want these statements to be myths or realities? 

It’s up to us to decide.

Let’s just do it.

Thank you.

Awesome science image by Dorian Pirot, an Université de Montréal researcher. Good graphics are essential part of effective science communications (and the biggest challenge I have in my job). This is entitled « Le soleil magnétique » (The Magnetic Sun). It reveals the immense magnetic fields of the sun, which is in fact composed of highly conductive gases. The image won a competition organized by the Association francophone pour le savoir - Acfas. And of course, because it’s French, they asked a poet to comment on the beauty of the image. :) You can read more about it here (in French).

Awesome science image by Dorian Pirot, an Université de Montréal researcher. Good graphics are essential part of effective science communications (and the biggest challenge I have in my job). This is entitled « Le soleil magnétique » (The Magnetic Sun). It reveals the immense magnetic fields of the sun, which is in fact composed of highly conductive gases. The image won a competition organized by the Association francophone pour le savoir - Acfas. And of course, because it’s French, they asked a poet to comment on the beauty of the image. :) You can read more about it here (in French).

Neuro researchers sharpen our understanding of memories

Scientists now have a better understanding of how precise memories are formed thanks to research led by Prof. Jean-Claude Lacaille of the University of Montreal’s Department of Physiology. “In terms of human applications, these findings could help us to better understand memory impairments in neurodegenerative disorders like Alzheimer’s disease,” Lacaille said. The study looks at the cells in our brains, or neurons, and how they work together as a group to form memories.

Chemical receptors at neuron interconnections called synapses enable these cells to form electrical networks that encode memories, and neurons are classified into two groups according to the type of chemical they produce: excitatory, who produce chemicals that increase communication between neurons, and inhibitory, who have the opposite effect, decreasing communication. “Scientists knew that inhibitory cells enable us to refine our memories, to make them specific to a precise set of information,” Lacaille explained. “Our findings explain for the first time how this happens at the molecular and cell levels.”

Many studies have been undertaken on excitatory neurons, but very little research has been done on inhibitory neurons, partly because they are very difficult to study. The scientists found that a factor called “CREB” plays a key role in adjusting gene expression and the strength of synapses in inhibitory neurons. Proteins are biochemical compounds encoded in our genes that enable cells to perform their various functions, and new proteins are necessary for memory formation. “We were able to study how synapses of inhibitory neurons taken from rats are modified in the 24 hours following the formation of a memory,” Lacaille said. “In the laboratory, we simulated the formation of a new memory by using chemicals. We then measured the electrical activity within the network of cells. In cells where we had removed CREB, we saw that the strength of the electrical connections was much weaker. Conversely, when we increased the presence of CREB, the connections were stronger.”

This new understanding of the chemical functioning of the brain may one day lead to new treatments for disorders like Alzheimer’s, as researchers will be able to look at these synaptic mechanisms and design drugs that target the chemicals involved. “We knew that problems with synapse modifications are amongst the roots of the cognitive symptoms suffered by the victims of neurodegenerative diseases,” Lacaille said. “These findings shine light on the neurobiological basis of their memory problems. However, we are unfortunately many years away from developing new treatments from this information.”

Photo: Memory (1896). Olin Warner (completed by Herbert Adams). Bronze door at main entrance of the Library of Congress Thomas Jefferson Building, Washington DC.

Abandoned Mine Tunnels Might Ferry Geothermal Energy from Deep Underground

Underground mining is a sweaty job, and not just because of the hard work it takes to haul ore: Mining tunnels fill with heat naturally emitted from the surrounding rock. A group of researchers from McGill University has taken a systematic look at how such heat might be put to use once mines are closed. They calculate that each kilometer of a typical deep underground mine could produce 150 kW of heat, enough to warm 5 to 10 Canadian households during off-peak times.

A number of communities in Canada and Europe already use geothermal energy from abandoned mines. Noting these successful, site-specific applications, the McGill research team strove to develop a general model that could be used by engineers to predict the geothermal energy potential of other underground mines.

In a paper accepted for publication in the American Institute of Physics’ Journal of Renewable and Sustainable Energy, the researchers analyze the heat flow through mine tunnels flooded with water. In such situations, hot water from within the mine can be pumped to the surface, the heat extracted, and the cool water returned to the ground. For the system to be sustainable, heat must not be removed more quickly than it can be replenished by the surrounding rock. The team’s model can be used to analyze the thermal behavior of a mine under different heat extraction scenarios.

"Abandoned mines demand costly perpetual monitoring and remediating. Geothermal use of the mine will offset these costs and help the mining industry to become more sustainable," says Seyed Ali Ghoreishi Madiseh, lead author on the paper. The team estimates that up to one million Canadians could benefit from mine geothermal energy, with an even greater potential benefit for more densely populated countries such as Great Britain.

The authors acknowledge support from Vale Company and the Mitacs Accelerate program.

Photo: ”Coal Miners - Drivers, West Virginia,” 1908 photograph by the American photographer Lewis W. Hine. Courtesy of Yale University, New Haven, Conn.

Speed and ecstasy associated with depression in teenagers

A five year study conducted with thousands of local teenagers by University of Montreal researchers reveals that those who used speed (meth/ampthetamine) or ecstasy (MDMA) at fifteen or sixteen years of age were significantly more likely to suffer elevated depressive symptoms the following year. “Our findings are consistent with other human and animal studies that suggest long-term negative influences of synthetic drug use,” said co-author Frédéric N. Brière of the School Environment Research Group at the University of Montreal. “Our results reveal that recreational MDMA and meth/amphetamine use places typically developing secondary school students at greater risk of experiencing depressive symptoms.” Ecstasy and speed-using grade ten students were respectively 1.7 and 1.6 times more likely to be depressed by the time they reached grade eleven.

The researchers worked with data provided by 3,880 students enrolled at schools in disadvantaged areas of Quebec. The participants were asked a series of questions that covered their drug use – what they had used in the past year or ever in their life – and their home life. Depressive symptoms were established by using a standard epidemiological evaluation tool. 310 respondents reported using MDMA (8%) and 451 used meth/amphetamines (11.6%). 584 of all respondents were identified as having elevated depressive symptoms (15.1%). The range of questions that the researchers asked enabled them to adjust their statistics to take into account other factors likely to affect the psychological state of the student, such as whether there was any conflict between the parents and the participant. “This study takes into account many more influencing factors than other research that has been undertaken regarding the association between drugs and depression in teenagers,” Brière said. “However, it does have its limitations, in particular the fact that we cannot entirely rule out the effects of drug combinations and that we do not know the exact contents of MDMA and meth/amphetamine pills.”

The study’s authors would like to do further research into how drug combinations affect a person’s likelihood to suffer depression and they are keen to learn more about the differences between adults and adolescents in this area. “Our study has important public health implications for adolescent populations,” said Jean-Sébastien Fallu, a professor at the University of Montreal and study co-author. “Our results reinforce the body of evidence in this field and suggest that adolescents should be informed of the potential risks associated with MDMA and meth/amphetamine use.”

Images: 1. Depression is also the greatest cause of high school dropouts - Martin Chamberland - La Presse. 2. Albrecht Dürer's engraving Melencolia I, ca. 1514. Wikimedia Commons.

About this study
Frédéric N. Brière, Jean-Sébastien Fallu, Michel Janosz, and Linda S. Pagani published “Prospective associations between meth/amphetamine (speed) and MDMA (ecstasy) use and depressive symptoms in secondary school students” in the Journal of Epidemiology & Community Health on April 18, 2012. The study received funding from Fonds Québécois de Recherche sur la Santé et la Société (FQRSC, 2007-NP-112947). Frédéric Brière is affiliated with the University of Montreal’s School Environment Research Group. Jean-Sébastien Fallu is affiliated with the University of Montreal’s School Environment Research Group, School of Psycho-Education, and Public Health Research Institute. The University of Montreal is officially known as Université de Montréal.

For further information: 
William Raillant-Clark 
International Press Attaché
Université de Montréal 
Tel: 514-343-7593 
w.raillant-clark@umontreal.ca
 
@uMontreal_News

Why do some pain drugs become less effective?

Researchers at the University of Montreal’s Sainte-Justine Hospital have identified how neural cells are able to build up resistance to opioid pain drugs within hours. “A better understanding of these mechanisms will enable us to design drugs that avoid body resistance to these drugs and produce longer therapeutic responses, including longer-acting opioid analgesics”, lead author Dr. Graciela Pineyro said.

Humans have known about the usefulness of opioids, which are often harvested from poppy plants, for centuries, but we have very little insight into how they lose their effectiveness in the hours, days and weeks following the first dose. “Our study revealed cellular and molecular mechanisms within our bodies that enable us to develop resistance to this medication, or what scientists call drug tolerance,” she added.

The research team looked at how drug molecules would interact with molecules called “receptors” that exist in every cell in our body. Receptors, as the name would suggest, receive “signals” from the chemicals that they come into contact with, and the signals then cause the various cells to react in different ways. They sit on the cell wall, and wait for corresponding chemicals known as receptor ligands to interact with them. Ligands can be produced by our bodies or introduced, for example, as medication.

"Until now, scientists have believed that ligands acted as ‘on-off’ switches for these receptors, all of them producing the same kind of effect with variations in the magnitude of the response they elicit," Pineyro explained. "We now know that drugs that activate the same receptor do not always produce the same kind of effects in the body, as receptors do not always recognize drugs in the same way. Receptors will configure different drugs into specific signals that each will have different effects on the body."

Once activated by a drug, receptors move from the surface of the cell to its interior, and once they have completed this ‘journey’, they can either be destroyed or return to the surface and used again through a process known as “receptor recycling.” By comparing two types of opioids – DPDPE and SNC-80 – the researchers found that the ligands (chemicals that enable interaction with the cell) that encouraged recycling produced less analgesic tolerance than those that didn’t. “We propose that the development of opioid ligands that favour recycling could be a way of producing longer-acting opioid analgesics,” Pineyro said.

Pineyro is attempting to tease the “painkilling” function of opioids from the part that triggers mechanisms that enable tolerance build up. “My laboratory and my work are mostly structured around rational drug design, and trying to define how drugs produce their desired and non-desired effects, so as to avoid the second, Pineyro said. “If we can understand the chemical mechanisms by which drugs produce therapeutic and undesired side effects, we will be able to design better drugs.”

Notes:

The study “Differential association of receptor-Gβγ complexes with β-arrestin2 determines recycling bias and potential for tolerance of delta opioid receptor (DOR) agonists" was published in The Journal of Neuroscience on April 3, 2012. The research was funded by the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada and the Canadian Institutes of Health Research. Dr. Graciela Pineyro, MD, PhD is affiliated with the Departments of Psychiatry and Pharmacology at the University of Montreal and the Sainte-Justine University Hospital Center (UHC)’ Research Center. The University of Montreal and the Sainte-Justine UHC’s Research Centre are officially known as Université de Montréal and Centre de recherche du Centre hospitalier universitaire Sainte-Justine, respectively.

Links:

Further information and interview requests:
William Raillant-Clark
International Press Attaché
Université de Montréal
514 343-7593 - w.raillant-clark@umontreal.ca

Image: Opium users in Java during the Dutch colonial period, ca. 1870. Source: Tropenmuseum