U.S. Probes Deaths in Japan

Of Kids Who Took Tamiflu

Federal health officials are looking into the deaths of 12 Japanese children who took Tamiflu, as part of an annual safety review of the anti-flu medication and seven other drugs.

There are no reports of deaths in the United States or Europe associated with Tamiflu.

"Based on the information we have right now, we cannot say definitively there is a causal relation between the drug and the children's deaths," said Murray Lumpkin, deputy commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration.

The Japanese deaths were detailed in papers released in advance of a FDA Pediatric Advisory Committee meeting today. The papers also include reports of 32 "neuropsychiatric events" associated with Tamiflu, all but one in Japanese patients. Those cases included delirium, hallucinations, convulsions and encephalitis.

The FDA sought and received more information from the Swiss pharmaceutical company Roche Holding AG, which makes Tamiflu, and from Japanese health authorities. It has not issued any warnings. Roche said in a statement that its own review "concluded that a causal link cannot be established."

Gene Tied to Fear Response

Could Aid Mental Disorders

Scientists may have found a gene for fear -- a gene that controls production of a protein in the region of the brain linked with fearful responses.

The finding, published yesterday in the journal Cell, could lead to new treatments for mental disorders such as post-traumatic stress and generalized anxiety disorders.

The gene, known as stathmin or oncoprotein 18, is highly concentrated in the amygdala, a region of the brain associated with fear and anxiety.

Mice genetically engineered so they would not produce stathmin had brain irregularities and were less able to remember fear-conditioned responses, the researchers reported. And though mice instinctively avoid open spaces, the stathmin-free mice showed no fear and often explored more open areas than normal mice.

The finding "will allow for a better understanding of post-traumatic stress disorder, phobias, borderline personality disorder and other human anxiety diseases," said Gleb Shumyatsky of Rutgers University, who worked on the study.

Fossils Show Grasses

Dating Back to Dinosaur Days

A new discovery debunks the theory that grasses didn't emerge until long after the dinosaurs died off.

Fossilized dung tells the story: The most prominent plant-eating dinosaurs were digesting different varieties of grass between 65 million and 71 million years ago, researchers report today in the journal Science.

Until now, the earliest grass fossils found were about 55 million years old -- from the post-dinosaur era. The new find is a big surprise for scientists, who had never really looked for evidence of grass in dino diets.

Caroline Stroemberg of the Swedish Museum of Natural History and a team of paleobotanists from India analyzed sauropod dung -- the scientific term is coprolites -- found in central India.

The coprolites contained microscopic particles of silica called phytoliths, which form inside plant cells in distinctive patterns that essentially act as a signature.

Amid the expected plants were numerous phytoliths certain to have come from the grass family.

-- From News Services