Insights from MDPI Top 5 Picks: May 2024

This month’s Top Picks of most highly accessed MDPI articles cover a range of exciting topics published in a variety of journals including Healthcare, Animals, Endocrines, Nutrients, and Antioxidants. These highly accessed articles explore topics from the fields of taxonomy and cell biology, mental health studies and neurology. Read on to discover more about this exciting research and what some of the authors have to say about their work.

1. Biomarkers of Neurodegeneration and Alzheimer’s Disease Neuropathology in Adolescents and Young Adults with Youth-Onset Type 1 or Type 2 Diabetes: A Proof-of-Concept Study

Published in: Endocrines

Alzheimer’s disease (AD) is a type of neurodegenerative disease and the most common cause of dementia. Many aspects within the field of neurodegenerative disease and AD have been widely studied. Current research includes the prevention of early-onset neurodegeneration. This includes understanding how and why this occurs. It also encompasses an understanding of how other diseases can impact the risk of acquiring early-onset AD and other neurodegenerative diseases.

Previous research has confirmed that adults who have diabetes have an increased chance of neurodegeneration and AD. In an original article published in Endocrines by Shapiro et al., they explore this concept further. However, they look at young adults instead. This study is one of the first to look at how diabetes in young adults can influence the risk of getting AD or other neurodegenerative diseases.

‘Very little is known about the risk for dementia and AD in young people with diabetes’, says Dr. Shapiro. ‘The current study took a first step in examining the potential risk of people who have lived with diabetes from a young age, or youth-onset diabetes (diabetes diagnosed <20 years old).’

The study included analysis of key components that have been previously established as predictive biomarkers for AD.

‘We found that, compared to age similar young people, those with youth-onset diabetes had significantly different blood levels of the measured biomarkers.’ Dr. Shapiro explains. ‘The observed differences were in what we would consider the pathological direction. (…) The key takeaway from our study is that people with youth-onset diabetes may be at elevated risk of cognitive impairment due to neurodegenerative disease of AD as they get older.’

These findings add to the current body of research on neurodegenerative disease. Although further research is needed to affirm the findings, it is another step toward understanding the pathophysiology of neurodegenerative disease, and importantly, the effects of youth-onset diabetes.

2. A New Species of Genus Takydromus (Squamata: Lacertidae) from northeastern Guangxi China

Published in: Animals 

Takydromus Guilinensis, Guo et al., 2024

Similar to April’s Top Picks, this month’s selection also includes an article within the fascinating field of taxonomy.

Taxonomy is the field of study dedicated to the identification and organization of all living organisms. This is essential for our knowledge of biodiversity and its preservation. Published in Animals, Guo et al., provide a comprehensive article on their discovery of a new species Takydromus Guilinensis, a type of reptile  There were 24 known species of this type of genus, with this new discovery bringing it up to 25 species. All of the species are restricted to different locations in East and Southeast Asia.

As part of the study, the researchers obtained 10 specimens of Takydromus, and analyzed their morphology and mitochondrial DNA. Here, they confirmed and identified clear differences that distinguished the species from previously known species of Takydrom

3. Ketogenic diet-induced shifts in the gut microbiome associated with changes to inflammatory cytokines and brain-related miRNAs in children with Autism Spectrum Disorder

Published in: Nutrients 

The gut microbiome has taken the spotlight in many aspects of biomedical research, including its influence on cognitive disorders, such as autism spectrum disorder (ASD).

An article published in Nutrients by Allan et. al., explores how changes in the gut microbiome can influence inflammatory components in children with ASD. We asked Dr. Manauka, co-author of the article, to explain a bit more about this research and why it was important:

‘Despite its pervasiveness, there is minimal understanding of the underlying biology of ASD and thus how effective treatments work (…) an increasingly popular diet shown to have an impact on ASD is the ketogenic diet.’ A ketogenic diet (KD) is a diet that is ‘high in protein but low in carbohydrates (to induce) ketosis metabolism.’

However, obtaining a KD diet comes with some challenges.  ‘KD is a highly restrictive diet and, in combination with the often already restricted diets of patients with ASD, may not always be feasible or easy to follow. Thus, an understanding of how the promotion of ketosis affects the ASD brain may allow for less restrictive, but equally effective, treatments.’

Dr. Mauwake explains that in their study they looked at Butyrate, a ketone body. ‘[This] can be produced by microbes in the gut, has established anti-inflammatory properties, and can cross the blood‒brain barrier.’

They further explained in what way and why specifically they were interested in this component: ‘We were interested in how gut-derived butyrate might systemically influence the brain via the periphery, through inflammation and more permanent epigenetic changes. A better understanding of the mechanisms of butyrate activity in the brain would contribute to overcoming barriers to its use as an oral supplement in ASD.’

This type of basic research creates the foundation for future research on ASD and is key in understanding how diet can impact behavioral changes in children with ASD.

4. Two-and-a-Half-Year Follow-Up Study with Freedom on Water through Stand-Up Paddling: Exploring Experiences in Blue Spaces and Their Long-Term Impact on Mental Well-Being

Published in: Healthcare

SUP activity, used with permission from Surf & SUP Denmark (Photo: Jakob Gjerluff, Gjerluff Photography).

A plethora of research has shown that being in outdoor spaces is beneficial for mental health, helping with feelings of anxiety and low mood.

In an interesting study by Ostegaard et al., published in Healthcare, they analyze and discuss the effect that blue spaces have on the mental health and well-being of people dealing with mental disorders. Blue spaces are environments with water such as oceans, lakes, streams, and rivers. ‘Throughout history, humans have sought out blue spaces (…) for habitation, physical activity and relaxation’, the paper discusses.

Previous research has shown the short-term effects of blue water spaces on mental health. So, the new study aimed to address the gap in current research on mental health by carrying out a first-of-its-kind two-and-a-half-year follow-up study on the same subjects. We turned to Dr. Ostergaard to ask about the results of the study and why they were important.

‘The study revealed a long-term life-changing impact on participants’ well-being, mental health, and social life’, explains Dr. Ostergaard. ‘One of the participants said, “I couldn’t have done without it”’.

Dr Ostergaard further explains just why it was so impactful for the subjects:

‘The participants learned that stepping out of their comfort zone and balancing between challenges and skills gave them gateway experiences of success and broadened their horizons (…) they felt (they were) a part of something bigger’.

Fostering a sense of community is known to be beneficial for mental health. ‘They built up a colleagueship within this group, they made new friendships.’ Alongside this, there was a deeper appreciation of nature and its positive impacts.  ‘Nature had become a greater part of their lives, improving their mental health and overall well-being with feelings of calmness, safety, (thoughts of) ‘everything will be all right’, positivity, healing, and a sense of freedom.’

The research shows just how impactful being in both blue spaces and around the community is, especially on a long-term basis. ‘Our findings are important because they meet the need for long-term research in the area of blue space interventions. No other studies have considered long-term effects for more than one year,’ says Ostergaard.

Understanding the benefits of these types of activities is important for people to deal with overall mental health, well-being and mental disorders. Promoting mindfulness exercises like this can be fundamental in healing both mind and body.

5. Physical activity and oxidative stress in aging

Published in: Antioxidants 

This review runs through the relationship between physical activity and oxidative stress during the aging process. The review discusses how different levels of physical activity influence oxidative stress and their effect on aging. The authors mention how exercise can promote antioxidant effects, but high levels of physical activity can result in increased production of reactive oxidative species (ROS).

ROS have key roles in cellular processes including cellular signalling and enzymatic activities, but also contribute to the aging process, An accumulation of ROS leads to high levels of oxidative stress. Oxidative stress in the body is ‘one of the key underlying mechanisms of aging’, but the mechanism is complex. The review discusses the possible reasons for the increased production of ROS and oxidative stress. One of these reasons is mitochondrial dysfunction, producing high levels of ROS rather than ATP, a key molecule used as an energy source for cellular function

The paper also runs through the different effects that physical activity has on the body, and how it can help maintain optimal biological functioning, such as cognitive function and bone density. They explain the possible link between physical activity and aging by suggesting that regular levels of physical activity ‘keeps oxidative stress at low levels.’

Research like this is important to understand the importance of exercise and the mechanisms by which it is involved in the aging process. Importantly, untangling these key concepts is a step toward understanding how and why age-related diseases occur.

May’s round up of top picks explores a range of different topics. MDPI publishes research covering in a variety of different fields. See the journal list to find out more.