What We're Learning From Obsessive-Compulsive Mice

For some mice, life produces anxiety—where to nest, which bag of chips to chew through, how to escape human detection. To cope with such crippling panic, these mice groom themselves so thoroughly and frequently that they lick off their fur. These rodents develop bald patches and sores over their bodies. Even in pain, the mouse licks and licks.

Researchers, led by 2007 Nobel prize winner for medicine, Mario Capecchi, found that with a bone marrow transplant, the mice stop their obsessive-compulsive behaviors and live normal lives. Capecchi says this shows a strong connection between the immune system and mental illness.

Capecchi bred the mice with a mutation Hoxb8, giving them the equivalent of human OCD. Hoxb8 originates in microglia, which are immune cells. Most would assume that neurologic cells would control behavioral ticks and the group was surprised to learn otherwise. The mutant mice also had 15 percent fewer Hoxb8 than regular mice. To examine Hoxb8's effect, the researchers injected bone marrow from mice with mutant Hoxb8 mice into healthy mice. The healthy mice began licking themselves compulsively, pulling out their fur and creating sores. In turn, the researchers injected the mutant mice with healthy bone marrow, and these mice became non-obsessive.

Even though bone marrow transplants possess too many risks to make it a viable treatment for OCD, Capecchi says this understanding might help researchers develop drugs that regulate microglia—perhaps providing better treatments for OCD.


The Secret World War II History Hidden in London's Fences

In South London, the remains of the UK’s World War II history are visible in an unlikely place—one that you might pass by regularly and never take a second look at. In a significant number of housing estates, the fences around the perimeter are actually upcycled medical stretchers from the war, as the design podcast 99% Invisible reports.

During the Blitz of 1940 and 1941, the UK’s Air Raid Precautions department worked to protect civilians from the bombings. The organization built 60,000 steel stretchers to carry injured people during attacks. The metal structures were designed to be easy to disinfect in case of a gas attack, but that design ended up making them perfect for reuse after the war.

Many London housing developments at the time had to remove their fences so that the metal could be used in the war effort, and once the war was over, they were looking to replace them. The London County Council came up with a solution that would benefit everyone: They repurposed the excess stretchers that the city no longer needed into residential railings.

You can tell a stretcher railing from a regular fence because of the curves in the poles at the top and bottom of the fence. They’re hand-holds, designed to make it easier to carry it.

Unfortunately, decades of being exposed to the elements have left some of these historic artifacts in poor shape, and some housing estates have removed them due to high levels of degradation. The Stretcher Railing Society is currently working to preserve these heritage pieces of London infrastructure.

As of right now, though, there are plenty of stretchers you can still find on the streets. If you're in the London area, this handy Google map shows where you can find the historic fencing.

[h/t 99% Invisible]

Custom-Design the Ugly Christmas Sweater of Your Dreams (or Nightmares)

For those of you aspiring to be the worst dressed person at your family's holiday dinner, sells—you guessed it—ugly Christmas sweaters to seasonal revelers possessing a sense of irony. But the Michigan-based online retailer has elevated kitsch to new heights by offering a create-your-own-sweater tool on its website.

Simply visit the site's homepage, and click on the Sweater Customizer link. There, you'll be provided with a basic sweater template, which you can decorate with festive snowflakes, reindeer, and other designs in five different colors. If you're feeling really creative, you can even upload photos, logos, hand-drawn pictures, and/or text. After you approve and purchase a mock-up of the final design, you can purchase the final result (prices start at under $70). But you'd better act quickly: due to high demand, orders will take about two weeks plus shipping time to arrive.


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