The genetics behind cleft lip and palate in dogs

Scientists studying birth defects in humans and purebred dogs have identified an association between cleft lip and cleft palate – conditions that occur when the lip and mouth fail to form properly during pregnancy – and a mutation in the ADAMTS20 gene.

“These results have potential implications for both human and animal health, by improving our understanding of what causes these birth defects in both species,” said Zena Wolf, BS, a graduate student at the University of California, Davis School of Veterinary Medicine.

Lentil, a French Bulldog born with cleft lip and palate.  Photo by CNN.  Read more about Lentil's story here

Lentil, a French Bulldog born with cleft lip and palate. Photo by CNN. Read more about Lentil’s story here

In both humans and dogs, cleft lip and cleft palate occur naturally with varying degrees of severity, and can be caused by various genetic and environmental factors. Since purebred dogs breed only with each other, there is less genetic variation to consider, making cleft lip and cleft palate easier to understand in these populations, Ms. Wolf explained.

From previous studies, the researchers knew that a mutation in the dog genes DLX5 and DLX6, which are involved in face and skull development, explained 12 of 22 cases of cleft palate. However, a mutation in the corresponding human genes accounted for just one of 30 cases in the study sample.

To search for additional genes that may be involved, Ms. Wolf and colleagues performed a genome-wide association study (GWAS), a study that compares the genomes of dogs with cleft lip and cleft palate to those of dogs without it. They found that the conditions were associated with a mutation in the gene ADAMTS20 that caused the protein it encodes to be shortened by 75 percent. Previous studies had shown that ADAMTS20 is involved in the development and shaping of the palate, but no specific mutations that occur in nature had been identified. A similar GWAS in people with cleft lip and cleft palate suggested that mutations in the human version of the ADAMTS20 gene may also increase the risk of these conditions.

“Cleft lip and cleft palate are complex conditions in people, and the canine model offers a simpler approach to study them,” Ms. Wolf said. “Not only does this research help people, but it helps dogs, too,” she added.

Future directions include searching for additional genes that may be associated with cleft lip and cleft palate, and extending the research to other breeds of dogs, such as Labrador Retrievers and Whippets.

Source:  The American Society of Human Genetics press release

 

Wordless Wednesday, part 52

Thanks for the toys and the newspaper Oct 2014Blog Hop

Animal therapy’s positive effects on college students

Animal-assisted therapy can reduce symptoms of anxiety and loneliness among college students, according to researchers at Georgia State University, Idaho State University and Savannah College of Art and Design. Their findings are published in the latest issue of the Journal of Creativity in Mental Health.

German Shepherd Sophie is a trained assistance dog.  Photo courtesy of Georgia State University

German Shepherd Sophie is a trained assistance dog. Photo courtesy of Georgia State University

The researchers provided animal-assisted therapy to 55 students in a group setting at a small arts college in the southeastern United States.  They found a 60 percent decrease in self-reported anxiety and loneliness symptoms following animal-assisted therapy, in which a registered therapy dog was under the supervision of a licensed mental health practitioner.

Eighty-four percent of the participants reported their interaction with the therapy dog, Sophie, was the most significant part of the program.

The group sessions were held twice monthly during an academic quarter. Students were invited to stop by and interact with the therapy dog as long as they wished, up to two hours. They were allowed to pet, hug, feed, brush, draw, photograph, sit near and play fetch with the therapy dog.

Dr. Leslie Stewart of Idaho State, who led the study, began the research as a Ph.D. student at Georgia State. She collaborated with Drs. Franco Dispenza, Lindy Parker and Catherine Chang of Georgia State and Ms. Taffey Cunnien of Savannah College of Art and Design.

The prevalence of anxiety and loneliness on college campuses has increased, placing extra demands on college counseling centers. Budget strains have made it necessary for these centers to find creative ways to meet the needs of their students.

This study suggests animal-assisted therapy could be an effective way for college counseling centers to meet the growing demands of their students. It is one of the first to apply animal-assisted therapy in a group, college setting and use a systematic form of measurement.

“College counseling centers are also becoming more and more reflective of community mental health agencies,” Dispenza said. “That’s something that’s been noted in the field in probably the last 10 to 15 years. College counseling centers aren’t seeing students struggling with academics, which major to pick or how to study. They’re coming in with post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety disorders, pervasive mood disorders and considerable contextual strains that are happening out in the world, such as poverty and experiences of homelessness, as well as a history of medical issues and family health issues.”

To become a registered therapy dog, the animal and handler must complete a series of evaluations and courses, which involve their grooming, temperament, previous training and relationship with their handler. Dogs can be ideal therapy animals because they have become so domesticated and the seeming ability to read cues between dogs and humans is probably the most pronounced. For instance, a dog can tell when a human is sad, Dispenza said.

“The presence of a therapy dog facilitates a therapeutic connection between the client and the mental health professional,” Parker said. “When you’re trying to do mental health work with someone, establishing that therapeutic relationship and rapport is so important. Any way to do it faster or more effectively only helps facilitate the therapeutic process.”

Source:  Georgia State University media release

The human-animal bond using functional MRI

How closely does the relationship between people and their non-human companions mirror the parent-child relationship? Credit: © christingasner / Fotolia

How closely does the relationship between people and their non-human companions mirror the parent-child relationship?
Credit: © christingasner / Fotolia

It has become common for people who have pets to refer to themselves as  “pet parents,” but how closely does the relationship between people and their non-human companions mirror the parent-child relationship?  A small study from a group of Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH) researchers makes a contribution to answering this complex question by investigating differences in how important brain structures are activated when women view images of their children and of their own dogs.  Their report is being published in the open-access journal PLOS ONE.

“Pets hold a special place in many people’s hearts and lives, and there is compelling evidence from clinical and laboratory studies that interacting with pets can be beneficial to the physical, social and emotional wellbeing of humans,” says Lori Palley, DVM, of the MGH Center for Comparative Medicine, co-lead author of the report.  “Several previous studies have found that levels of neurohormones like oxytocin – which is involved in pair-bonding and maternal attachment – rise after interaction with pets, and new brain imaging technologies are helping us begin to understand the neurobiological basis of the relationship, which is exciting.”

In order to compare patterns of brain activation involved with the human-pet bond with those elicited by the maternal-child bond, the study enrolled a group of women with at least one child aged 2 to 10 years old and one pet dog that had been in the household for two years or longer.  Participation consisted of two sessions, the first being a home visit during which participants completed several questionnaires, including ones regarding their relationships with both their child and pet dog. The participants’ dog and child were also photographed in each participants’ home.

The second session took place at the Athinoula A. Martinos Center for Biomedical Imaging at MGH, where functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) – which indicates levels of activation in specific brain structures by detecting changes in blood flow and oxygen levels – was performed as participants lay in a scanner and viewed a series of photographs.  The photos included images of each participant’s own child and own dog alternating with those of an unfamiliar child and dog belonging to another study participant.  After the scanning session, each participant completed additional assessments, including an image recognition test to confirm she had paid close attention to photos presented during scanning, and rated several images from each category shown during the session on factors relating to pleasantness and excitement.

Of 16 women originally enrolled, complete information and MR data was available for 14 participants.  The imaging studies revealed both similarities and differences in the way important brain regions reacted to images of a woman’s own child and own dog.  Areas previously reported as important for functions such as emotion, reward, affiliation, visual processing and social interaction all showed increased activity when participants viewed either their own child or their own dog.  A region known to be important to bond formation – the substantia nigra/ventral tegmental area (SNi/VTA) – was activated only in response to images of a participant’s own child.  The fusiform gyrus, which is involved in facial recognition and other visual processing functions, actually showed greater response to own-dog images than own-child images.

“Although this is a small study that may not apply to other individuals, the results suggest there is a common brain network important for pair-bond formation and maintenance that is activated when mothers viewed images of either their child or their dog,” says Luke Stoeckel, PhD, MGH Department of Psychiatry, co-lead author of the PLOS One report. “We also observed differences in activation of some regions that may reflect variance in the evolutionary course and function of these relationships.  For example, like the SNi/VTA, the nucleus accumbens has been reported to have an important role in pair-bonding in both human and animal studies. But that region showed greater deactivation when mothers viewed their own-dog images instead of greater activation in response to own-child images, as one might expect. We think the greater response of the fusiform gyrus to images of participants’ dogs may reflect the increased reliance on visual than verbal cues in human-animal communications.”

The investigators note that further research is needed to replicate these findings in a larger sample and to see if they are seen in other populations – such as women without children, fathers and parents of adopted children – and in relationships with other animal species.  Combining fMRI studies with additional behavioral and physiological measures could obtain evidence to support a direct relationship between the observed brain activity and the purported functions.

Source:  Massachusetts General Hospital media release

Secret Service guard dogs are in spotlight after latest White House fence jumping

Meet the special dogs guarding The White House in Washington DC…

Secret Service K-9 Hurricane - black Belgian Malinois, left, and Jordan - black/tan Belgian Malinois. (Courtesy of U.S. Secret Service)

Secret Service K-9 Hurricane – black Belgian Malinois, left, and Jordan – black/tan Belgian Malinois. (Courtesy of U.S. Secret Service)

Secret Service guard dogs are in spotlight after latest White House fence jumping

Pet food mislabeling – it happens!

Researchers in Chapman University’s Food Science Program have recently published a study on pet food mislabeling. The study focused on commercial pet foods marketed for dogs and cats to identify meat species present as well as any instances of mislabeling. Of the 52 products tested, 31 were labeled correctly, 20 were potentially mislabeled, and one contained a non-specific meat ingredient that could not be verified.

“Although regulations exist for pet foods, increases in international trade and globalization of the food supply have amplified the potential for food fraud to occur,” said Rosalee Hellberg, Ph.D., and co-author on the study. “With the recent discovery of horsemeat in ground meat products sold for human consumption in several European countries, finding horsemeat in U.S. consumer food and pet food products is a concern, which is one of the reasons we wanted to do this study.”

Chicken was the most common meat species found in the pet food products. Pork was the second most common meat species detected, and beef, turkey and lamb followed, respectively. Goose was the least common meat species detected. None of the products tested positive for horsemeat.Pet Food Fig. 1 Color

Of the 20 potentially mislabeled products, 13 were dog food and 7 were cat food. Of these 20, 16 contained meat species that were not included on the product label, with pork being the most common undeclared meat species. In three of the cases of potential mislabeling, one or two meat species were substituted for other meat species.

In the study, DNA was extracted from each product and tested for the presence of eight meat species: beef, goat, lamb, chicken, goose, turkey, pork, and horse.

“Pet food safety was another area of concern, particularly with pet foods that are specifically formulated to address food allergies in both cats and dogs,” continued Dr. Hellberg.

The pet food industry is a substantial market in the United States. Nearly 75 percent of U.S. households own pets, totaling about 218 million pets (not including fish). On average, each household spends $500 annually on their pets, equating to about 1 percent of household expenditures. In the past five years, pet industry expenditures have increased by $10 billion, with $21 billion spent on pet food alone in 2012.

The foods developed for pets are regulated by both federal and state entities. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration Center for Veterinary Medicine regulates animal feed and pet foods. While the U.S. Department of Agriculture regulates the interstate transportation and processing of animal products, as well as the inspection of animal product imports and exports.

While a seemingly high percentage of pet foods were found to be potentially mislabeled in this study, the manner in which mislabeling occurred is not clear; nor is it clear as to whether the mislabeling was accidental or intentional and at which points in the production chain it took place.

The study was published in the journal Food Control and was completed with Chapman undergrad student Tara Okuma.

I contacted Dr Hellberg to see if she would disclose the brands of foods that were mislabeled.  She replied “It was not our intention to single out pet food brands, but rather to investigate the issue as a whole. Therefore, we will not be releasing the names of the brands or specific products that were tested in this study.”

Kathleen Crisley, specialist in dog massage, rehabilitation and nutrition/food therapy, Canine Catering Ltd, Christchurch, New Zealand

Source of content:  Chapman University media release

Wordless Wednesday, part 51

Photo courtesy of Annie Thorne

Photo courtesy of Annie Thorne

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