Air quality in nursing homes affecting lung health of residents

The indoor air quality in nursing homes has a serious effect on the lung health of elderly residents, according to the findings of a new study. The study, which is published online today (12 March 2015) in the European Respiratory Journal, is the first to detail the negative effects of poor air quality in nursing homes across several countries.



Researchers from the EU-funded GERIE research project collected data on five indoor air pollutants: PM10, PM0.1, formaldehyde, NO2 and O3. These pollutants come from a range of sources including heaters, building materials, furniture, cleaning products, disinfectants and cooling systems. They objectively assessed levels of the pollutants in 50 different nursing homes in seven countries (Belgium, Denmark, France, Greece, Italy, Poland and Sweden).

A total of 600 residents aged over 65 years (82 years in mean) were used in the study. Each participant underwent a number of clinical tests including lung function testing and a health questionnaire.

The results showed that exposure to high levels of PM10 and NO2 was significantly associated with breathlessness and cough. High levels of PM0.1 were associated with wheeze during the last year and high concentrations of formaldehyde were linked with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). The associations were even seen with moderate concentrations of indoor air pollutants that did not exceed the existing international guidelines. The findings were also enhanced in homes with poor ventilation and in residents over the age of 80.

With life expectancy increasing, more people are living in nursing homes. As a person ages their body becomes more susceptible to the risks of air pollution and they are also exposed to higher levels of indoor air pollution due to their reduced activity.

Dr Isabella Annesi-Maesano, lead author of the study, commented: “Our findings have shown an independent effect of several indoor air pollutants on the lung health of the elderly living in nursing homes. This is a worrying problem since the body’s ability to cope with harmful air pollutants decreases as we age. Nursing homes should do more to prevent indoor air pollution by limiting its sources and by improving ventilation in their buildings. The respiratory health of residents should also be checked on a regular basis.

Dan Smyth, Chair of the European Lung Foundation, said: “The majority of lung diseases are preventable therefore we must focus on strategies that target the risk factors linked to these diseases. These findings add to a body of evidence confirming that indoor air pollution is one of these risk factors. We must raise awareness of this, through campaigns such as Healthy Lungs for Life, to ensure that the public, patients, healthcare professionals and policymakers understand the importance of breathing clean air to help prevent disease.

The authors believe that further investigations are now needed to assess more nursing homes in different countries and to conduct intervention studies to assess which prevention methods are most successful.

Semaine du Cerveau 2015 (Brain Awareness Week 2015): 16–22 March

The 16th edition of Brain Awareness Week will take place in France and in 62 countries around the world from 16 to 22 March 2015. Throughout this week, members of the public can meet researchers from Inserm to gain a better understanding of the brain and learn about the latest research developments in this area. This week will enable the public to better understand how the brain works and what happens when it malfunctions, to discover techniques for exploring it, and to learn about the new technologies used to “repair” it.

The inaugural conference, “Comprendre et manipuler le cerveau par la lumière” (Using light to understand and manipulate the brain), will be held in Paris:

on Monday 16 March at 6:30 pm in the auditorium of the Brain and Spinal Cord Institute (ICM), Pitié Salpêtrière Hospital, 47 Bd de l’Hôpital, Paris 13th Arrondissement

Registration: gro.etutitsni-mci@uaevrecudeniames

In the company of:

Roland Salesse, coordinator of Brain Awareness Week

Alexis Brice, General Manager of the Brain and Spinal Cord Institute (ICM)

Jean-Marie Laurent, President of the French Federation for Brain Research (FRC)

Researchers from Inserm will be involved in many regional events organised in over 32 towns and cities in France:

See the complete programme on the French Neuroscience Society website

Etienne-Hirsch-portraitEtienne Hirsch

Director of Aviesan’s Thematic Institute for Neurosciences, Cognitive Sciences, Neurology and Psychiatry, sets out the challenges for brain research


What are the scientific challenges for brain research?

Our nervous system is made up of 100 billion neurons, which are interconnected by millions of kilometres of connectors (the axons). The number of contacts formed between the neurons is of the order of 10,000–100,000 billion.

The main challenge for the neurosciences is to analyse and integrate the complexity inherent to all levels of the nervous system’s organisation, so as to understand the neural basis for the higher cognitive functions and behaviours.

What are the medical challenges for brain research?

Data from the World Health Organization (WHO) show that diseases of the nervous system represent over a third of all diseases in wealthy countries. In Europe, 380 million people are directly affected by these diseases. Thus 23% of healthy life years are lost following brain diseases, as well as 50% of life years in poorer health.

Understanding the causes, mechanisms and physiopathological processes underlying neurological and psychiatric and sensory organ diseases is therefore an essential step in developing symptomatic or curative treatments for these diseases.

Thursday 12 March: French National Ear Care Day

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), more than 5% of the world population, i.e. 360 million people, suffers from disabling hearing loss (hearing loss greater than 40 decibels (dB) in the better hearing ear in adults, and 30 dB in the better hearing ear in children), or 328 million adults and 32 million children.

Worldwide, 328 million adults and 32 million children have disabling hearing loss

This hearing loss may be due to genetic causes, complications at birth, some infectious diseases, use of certain drugs, exposure to excessive noise, or ageing. In most cases, primary prevention could prevent this loss.

The 18th National Ear Care Day will take place throughout France on Thursday 12 March 2015. On this occasion, public institutions and non-profit organisations are taking initiatives to welcome the public and inform both the young and not-so-young on risks to their hearing and how to look after it.

Throughout the year, the researchers at Inserm Unit 1159, “Minimally Invasive and Robotic Surgical Rehabilitation of Hearing” work to find new strategies for prevention, diagnosis and treatment.

Repairing the cerebral cortex: it can be done

A team led by Afsaneh Gaillard (Inserm Unit 1084, Experimental and Clinical Neurosciences Laboratory, University of Poitiers), in collaboration with the Institute of Interdisciplinary Research in Human and Molecular Biology (IRIBHM) in Brussels, has just taken an important step in the area of cell therapy: repairing the cerebral cortex of the adult mouse using a graft of cortical neurons derived from embryonic stem cells. These results have just been published in Neuron.

The cerebral cortex is one of the most complex structures in our brain. It is composed of about a hundred types of neurons organised into 6 layers and numerous distinct neuroanatomical and functional areas.

Brain injuries, whether caused by trauma or neurodegeneration, lead to cell death accompanied by considerable functional impairment. In order to overcome the limited ability of the neurons of the adult nervous system to regenerate spontaneously, cell replacement strategies employing embryonic tissue transplantation show attractive potential.

A major challenge in repairing the brain is obtaining cortical neurons from the appropriate layer and area in order to restore the damaged cortical pathways in a specific manner.

The results obtained by Afsaneh Gaillard’s team and that Pierre Vanderhaeghen at the Institute of Interdisciplinary Research in Human and Molecular Biology show, for the first time, using mice, that pluripotent stem cells differentiated into cortical neurons make it possible to reestablish damaged adult cortical circuits, both neuroanatomically and functionally.

These results also suggest that damaged circuits can be restored only by using neurons of the same type as the damaged area.

This study constitutes an important step in the development of cell therapy as applied to the cerebral cortex.

This approach is still at the experimental stage (laboratory mice only). Much research will be needed before there is any clinical application in humans. Nonetheless, for the researchers, “The success of our cell engineering experiments, which make it possible to produce nerve cells in a controlled and unlimited manner, and to transplant them, is a world first. These studies open up new approaches for repairing the damaged brain, particularly following stroke or brain trauma,” they explain.


© A. Gaillard/Inserm. An illustration showing the integration of neurons transplanted into the brain following injury, two months after transplantation. Specific projections of the adult brain (red) into the transplanted neurons (green)

This project was funded by the French National Research Agency (ANR-09-MNPS-027-01).

Sleep reduces the brain’s predictive ability

Why are we not aware of external noises while we sleep? A study carried out at NeuroSpin (French Atomic Energy Commission [CEA]/Inserm), in collaboration with the Sleep and Alertness Centre at Hôtel-Dieu Hospital, Paris (AP-HP), the Brain and Spinal Cord Institute (ICM), Collège de France, and Paris-Sud and Paris Descartes Universities, has shown that even though sounds continue to penetrate the auditory cortex, sleep disrupts the brain’s ability to anticipate them. The researchers have demonstrated that the brain is no longer capable of making predictions during sleep, because the predictive signals coming from the higher cortical areas seem to be eliminated. These results are published in the American journal PNAS, on 2 March 2015.

While listening to a melody during wakefulness, the brain uses the regularities in the sound sequence to predict the future sounds. This predictive ability is based on the functioning of a hierarchy of areas in the brain. If a sound breaks the regularity of the sequence, the brain then generates a series of “prediction error” signals responsible for, among other things, reactions to novelty or reactions of surprise. Previous studies using electroencephalography (EEG) have made it possible to describe at least two consecutive error signals, mismatch negativity (MMN) and P300. MMN has already been observed in subjects in an unconscious state (including a comatose state), whereas P300 may be specific for conscious processing, since it reflects the integration of information over a vast brain network, beyond the auditory regions.

During sleep, ambient sounds are not consciously perceived. However, we do not know the extent to which the integration of these sounds by the brain is disrupted, or whether the brain remains capable of perceiving their regularities and anticipating them. This particular aspect of brain function was tested by the NeuroSpin team (Inserm/CEA), in collaboration with the Sleep and Alertness Centre at Hôtel-Dieu Hospital, Paris (AP-HP), the Brain and Spinal Cord Institute (ICM), Collège de France, and Paris-Sud and Paris Descartes Universities. The researchers used electro- and magnetoencephalography (E/MEG) to study the prediction error signals (MMN and P300) in subjects during sleep and wakefulness.

The researchers invited volunteers to go to sleep inside NeuroSpin’s magnetoencephalography machine, in the presence of repetitive sounds. Results confirmed that P300 is a specific marker for conscious processing of sounds, since it disappeared as soon as the volunteers fell asleep, from which time the subjects no longer reacted to sounds. In contrast, MMN was observed at all stages of sleep (slow-wave sleep and rapid eye movement [REM] sleep). However, this signal is only partially retained, since some areas of the brain, which are normally activated during wakefulness, no longer respond to the sound stimulus. Indeed, the peak of activity resulting from a predictive error in an awake individual disappears during sleep. The only remaining phenomena are those of passive sensory adaptation, and confined to the primary auditory areas.

The researchers have thus shown that, due to a defect in communication between its different areas, the brain can no longer make predictions during sleep.

However, it remains capable of representing sounds within the auditory areas, and can get used to them if they are frequent, explaining why we are awakened by an alarm but not by the ticking of a clock.


©S. Dehaene. Reconstruction of the sources of error signals in the brain based on magnetoencephalographic recordings. The signals that indicate predictive error; the intermediate component of MMN and P300, disappear during sleep. Only passive mechanisms for sensory adaptation (the early and late components of MMN), confined to the auditory areas, remain. (Times are expressed in milliseconds, and measure the time taken to respond to the sound).

Médecine/sciences (m/s) journal is 30 years old

To celebrate this occasion, a colloquium, “30 Ans Déjà” (30 Years Already) has been organised by Inserm and the publisher EDK/EDP/Sciences on the theme “How do we read, why do we write, how do we handle and how will we handle biomedical advances conceived in French in médecine/sciences?”


médecine/sciences (m/s) journal is the monthly French-language publication for excellence in biological, medical and health sciences research. As a journal that reviews and educates, it offers its readers a wide variety of writing on advances in national and international biological and medical research.

médecine/sciences (m/s) journal today

Inserm, which owns the title, is continuing the mission entrusted to médecine/sciences at its inception, and clearly summarised in its title: a continuous flow between “sciences” as knowledge production, and “medicine,” as a source of knowledge in itself; m/s is an academic journal for the communication of academic knowledge and learning, unlike any other and probably with no equivalent in Europe. In its political and international francophone dimension, it occupies a position at the heart of modern science and medicine, with an increasingly marked social awareness.

The journal, in hard copy and electronic versions, has always been produced in France.[1]
médecine/sciences is open access 1 year after publication. For the first year of publication, access to articles is restricted to subscribers, mainly scientists via their research organisations (Inserm, CNRS [French National Centre for Scientific Research], EFS [French National Blood Service], etc.) or their universities (Laval, Sherbrooke, Liège, etc.).
A database of the m/s archives, produced by Inserm on the iPubli website, offers open access to the journal’s archives, other than the current year, for which issues can be accessed on the publisher’s website.

Steady growth has been observed in the number of visits to the website and the number of article downloads during the last three years. In 2014, visits to the website were as follows: 11,700 unique users per month (45% of visits from France, followed by the United States and China); and 120,000 article downloads in PDF format per year. Analysis of connection sources suggests that half of visits are from France and half from the rest of the world.

A brief history of a resounding success

In the very early 1980s, programmes of action launched by the French and Quebec governments led to the creation of médecine/sciences (m/s), an international French-language journal reviewing biomedical research.
Professor Jean Hamburger, a pioneer and dedicated supporter of the project, surrounded by a team of young researchers and clinician researchers (Xavier Bertagna, Laurent Degos, Serge Erlinger, Jean-Pierre Grünfeld, Axel Kahn, Claude Matuchansky), would specify its content.
Four sections: an editorial, review articles making up the body of the journal, science news, and original research notes.
Research and higher education institutions would also join the effort for the “Promotion of French, a language of science, and dissemination of scientific and technical culture,” one of the 7 motivational programmes of the Framework Act for Technological Research and Development in France.
An international memorandum of understanding between the French and Quebec governments was signed in May 1984.
In March 1985, m/s was launched in France by Hubert Curien, French Minister of Research and Technology, and in Quebec by Bernard Landry, Quebec Minister of International Relations.
The memorandum would be regularly renewed until February 2006. At this time, the m/s title became the property of Inserm.


  • A Magazine section, reflecting current science news (a dozen articles);
  • Reviews (6-8 per issue), feature articles that provide an overview of a scientific issue, written by authors specialising in the field;
  • A Forum that covers diverse articles on the history of science, reflection on issues affecting society, social sciences and public health, facts and figures, or reactions to published articles, all written with considerable freedom of expression;
  • Critical analyses and reviews of published works.

In addition, m/s publishes at least one Special Issue per year, and one or more Thematic Series consisting of articles spanning several issues, comprehensive states of the art, each covering a single rapidly expanding medical subject.

The médecine/sciences readership 

Researchers, hospital academics, physicians, educators, and especially students, doctoral students and post-doctoral fellows.

The French and Quebec founding members of médecine/sciences

For France: Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Ministry of Research and Technology; National Ministry of Education (DBMIST); Inserm; CNRS; and Haut Comité de la Langue Française (High Commission for the French Language), subsequently the Délégation à la Langue Française (Delegation for the French language).

For Quebec: Ministry of International Relations; Conseil de la Langue Française (French Language Council); Quebec Health Research Fund (FRSQ); and Ministry of Higher Education, Science and Technology.

[1] Under a public service delegation contract (DSP) between Inserm and a private publisher, successively Flammarion Médecine, John Libbey, Masson, EDK since 2002 and EDK/EDP Sciences since 2012.