Splice this: End-to-end annealing demonstrated in neuronal neurofilaments
While popularly publicized neuroscience research focuses on structural and functional connectomes, timing patterns of axonal spikes, neural plasticity, and other areas of inquiry, the intraneuronal environment also receives a great deal of investigative attention.
One example is the study of cytoskeletal polymers called neurofilaments –intermediate filaments of nerve cells that and a major component of the neuronal cytoskeleton believed to provide the axon with structural support. Neurofilaments are transported into axons where they accumulate during development, causing the axons to expand in girth. This is important because the cross-sectional area of an axon influences the rate of propagation of the nerve impulse. The space-filling properties of these polymers are maximized by spoke-like projection domains called side-arms that function to space the polymers apart. Once in the axons these polymers (which are barely 10 nm in diameter) can grow to reach remarkably long lengths – 100,000 nm (0.1 mm) or more – but how they attain such lengths and how their length is regulated is not known. Recently, scientists at The Ohio State University – who previously showed that neurofilaments and vimentin filaments expressed in nonneuronal cell lines can lengthen by joining ends in a process known as end-to-end annealing – demonstrated robust and efficient end-to-end annealing of neurofilaments in nerve cells. In additions, the researchers reported evidence for a neurofilament-severing mechanism.
The modern lobotomy originated in the 1930s, when doctors realized that by severing fiber tracts connected to the frontal lobe, they could help patients overcome certain psychiatric problems, such as intractable depression and anxiety. Over the next two decades, the procedure would become simple and popular, completed by poking a sharpened tool above the eyeball. According to one study, about two thirds of patients showed improvement after surgery.
Unfortunately, not all lobotomy practition-ers were responsible, and the technique left some patients with severe side effects, including seizures, lethargy, changes in personality, and incontinence. In response, doctors refined their techniques. They replaced the lobotomy with more specialized approaches: the cingulotomy, the anterior capsulotomy, and the subcaudate tractotomy. Studies of these procedures found evidence of benefit for at least one fourth of patients suffering from problems such as OCD and depression.
Even with the risk of side effects, those in the field still say the procedures were by and large successful. “I feel that the principle behind ablative surgery was somewhat exonerated by the research findings, which showed that it worked for very specific indications,” says Konstantin Slavin, president of the American Society for Stereotactic and Functional Neurosurgery, and professor at the University of Illinois at Chicago.
By the 1980s, lobotomies had fallen out of fashion. “In general, the entire functional neurosurgery field moved away from destruction—from ablative surgery,” Slavin says. A then-new technique called deep-brain stimulation made ablative surgery obsolete. In the procedure, a surgeon drills holes in the head and inserts electrodes into the neural tissue. When current passes through the leads, they activate or inactivate patches of the brain. “The attractive part is that we don’t destroy the tissue,” Slavin says. Doctors can also adjust treatment if a patient suffers side effects. They can turn the current down or suspend it altogether—so as to “give the brain a holiday,” as Slavin calls it.
Most deep-brain stimulation is now used to treat movement disorders such as Parkinson’s Disease. The surgical treatment of patients with OCD is FDA-approved but reserved only for extreme cases. Slavin and his colleagues have been examining broader uses in an ongoing study. “Within the next five years, we hope we’ll have a definitive answer of whether or not it works.”
Bacteria, Iron Cooperate to Clean Uranium from Water
Since 2009, SLAC scientist John Bargar has led a team using synchrotron-based X-ray techniques to study bacteria that help clean uranium from groundwater in a process called bioremediation. Their initial goal was to discover how the bacteria do it and determine the best way to help, but during the course of their research the team made an even more important discovery: nature thinks bigger than that.
The researchers discovered that bacteria don’t necessarily go straight for the uranium, as was often thought to be the case. The bacteria make their own, even tinier allies – nanoparticles of a common mineral called iron sulfide. Then, working together, the bacteria and the iron sulfide grab molecules of a highly soluble form of uranium known as U(VI), or hexavalent uranium, and transform them into U(IV), a less-soluble form that’s much less likely to spread through the water table. According to Barger, this newly discovered partnership may be the basis of a global geochemical process that forms deposits of uranium ore.
Read more: http://www.laboratoryequipment.com/news/2013/03/bacteria-iron-cooperate-clean-uranium-water-0
And it’s stuff like this made have an interest in microbiology.
Bio-Batteries Breathe Oxygen
An air-breathing bio-battery has been constructed by researchers from the Institute of Physical Chemistry of the Polish Academy of Sciences. The core element providing the new power source with relatively high voltage and a long lifetime is a carefully designed cathode that takes up oxygen from air and is composed of an enzyme, carbon nanotubes and silicate.
People are increasingly taking advantage of devices supporting various functions of our bodies. Today they include cardiac pacemakers or hearing aids; tomorrow it will be contact lenses with automatically changing focal length or computer-controlled displays generating images directly in the eye. None of these devices will work if not coupled to an efficient and long-lasting power supply source. The best solution seems to be miniaturized biofuel cells consuming substances naturally occurring in human body or in its direct surrounding.
Read more: http://www.laboratoryequipment.com/news/2013/03/bio-batteries-breathe-oxygen
Hell yeah physical chemistry!
The transistors and wires that power our electronic devices need to be mounted on a base material known as a “motherboard.” Our human brain is not so different — neurons, the cells that transmit electrical and chemical signals, are connected to one another through synapses, similar to transistors and wires, and they need a base material too.
But the cells serving that function in the brain may have other functions as well. PhD student Maurizio De Pittà of Tel Aviv University’s Schools of Physics and Astronomy and Electrical Engineering says that astrocytes, the star-shaped glial cells that are predominant in the brain, not only control the flow of information between neurons but also connect different neuronal circuits in various regions of the brain.
Using models designed to mimic brain signalling, De Pittà’s research, led by his TAU supervisor Prof. Eshel Ben-Jacob, determined that astrocytes are actually “smart” in addition to practical. They integrate all the different messages being transferred through the neurons and multiplexing them to the brain’s circuitry. Published in the journal Frontiers in Computational Neuroscience and sponsored by the Italy-Israel Joint Neuroscience Lab, this research introduces a new framework for making sense of brain communications — aiding our understanding of the diseases and disorders that impact the brain.
“Many pathologies are related to malfunctions in brain connectivity,” explains Prof. Ben-Jacob, citing epilepsy as one example. “Diagnosis and the development of therapies rely on understanding the network of the brain and the source of undesirable activity.”
Connectivity in the brain has traditionally been defined as point-to-point connections between neurons, facilitated by synapses. Astrocytes serve a protective function by encasing neurons and forming borders between different areas of the brain. These cells also transfer information more slowly, says Prof. Ben-Jacob — one-tenth of a second compared to one-thousandth of a second in neurons — producing signals that carry larger amounts of information over longer distances. Aastrocytes can transfer information regionally or spread it to different areas throughout the brain — connecting neurons in a different manner than conventional synapses.
De Pittà and his fellow researchers developed computational models to look at the different aspects of brain signalling, such as neural network electrical activity and signal transfer by synapses. In the course of their research, they discovered that astrocytes actually take an active role in the way these signals are distributed, confirming theories put forth by leading experimental scientists.
Astrocytes form additional networks to those of the neurons and synapses, operating simultaneously to co-ordinate information from different regions of the brain — much like an electrical motherboard functions in a computer, or a conductor ensuring that the entire orchestra is working in harmony, explains De Pittà.
These findings should encourage neuroscientists to think beyond neuron-based networks and adopt a more holistic view of the brain, he suggests, noting that the two communication systems are actually interconnected, and the breakdown of one can certainly impact the other. And what may seem like damage in one small area could actually be carried to larger regions.
A break in communication
According to Prof. Ben-Jacob, a full understanding of the way the brain sends messages is significant beyond satisfying pure scientific curiosity. Many diseases and disorders are caused by an irregularity in the brain’s communication system or by damage to the glial cells, so more precise information on how the network functions can help scientists identify the cause or location of a breakdown and develop treatments to overcome the damage.
In the case of epilepsy, for example, the networks frequently become overexcited. Alzheimer’s disease and other memory disorders are characterized by a loss of cell-to-cell connection. Further understanding brain connectivity can greatly aid research into these and other brain-based pathologies.
Saying that the sense of taste is complicated is an understatement, that it is little understood, even more so. Exactly how cells transmit taste information to the brain for three out of the five primary taste types was pretty much a mystery, until now.
A team of investigators from nine institutions discovered how ATP – the body’s main fuel source – is released as the neurotransmitter from sweet, bitter, and umami, or savory, taste bud cells. The CALHM1 channel protein, which spans a taste bud cell’s outer membrane to allow ions and molecules in and out, releases ATP to make a neural taste connection. The other two taste types, sour and salt, use different mechanisms to send taste information to the brain.
Kevin Foskett, PhD, professor of Physiology at the Perelman School of Medicine, University of Pennsylvania, and colleagues from the Monell Chemical Senses Center, the Feinstein Institute for Medical Research, and others, describe in Nature how ATP release is key to this sensory information path. They found that the calcium homeostasis modulator 1 (CALHM1) protein, recently identified by the Foskett lab as a novel ion channel, is indispensable for taste via release of ATP.
“This is an example of a bona fide ATP ion channel with a clear physiological function,” says Foskett. “Now we can connect the molecular dots of sweet and other tastes to the brain.”
Taste buds have specialized cells that express G-protein coupled receptors (GPCRs) that bind to taste molecules and initiate a complex chain of molecular events, the final step of which Foskett and collaborators show is the opening of a pore in the cell membrane formed by CALHM1. ATP molecules leave the cell through this pore to alert nearby neurons to continue the signal to the taste centers of the brain. CALHM1 is expressed specifically in sweet, bitter, and umami taste bud cells.
Mice in which CALHM1 proteins are absent, developed by Feinstein’s Philippe Marambaud, PhD, have severely impaired perceptions of sweet, bitter and umami compounds; whereas, their recognition of sour and salty tastes remains mostly normal. The CALHM1 deficiency affects taste perception without interfering with taste cell development or overall function.
Using the CALHM1 knockout mice, team members from Monell and Feinstein tested how their taste was affected. “The mice are very unusual,” says Monell’s Michael Tordoff, PhD. “Control mice, like humans, lick avidly for sucrose and other sweeteners, and avoid bitter compounds. However, the mice without CALHM1 treat sweeteners and bitter compounds as if they were water. They can’t taste them at all.”
From all lines of evidence, the team concluded that CALHM1 is an ATP-release channel required for sweet, bitter, and umami taste perception. In addition, they found that CALHM1 was also required for “nontraditional” Polycose, calcium, and aversive high-salt tastes, implying that the deficit displayed in the knockout animals might best be considered as a loss of all GPCR-mediated taste signals rather than simply sweet, bitter and umami taste.
Interestingly, CALHM1 was originally implicated in Alzheimer’s disease, although the link is now less clear. In 2008, co-author Marambaud identified CALHM1 as a risk gene for Alzheimer’s. They discovered that a CALHM1 genetic variant was more common among people with Alzheimer’s and they went on to show that it leads to a partial loss of function. They also found that this novel ion channel is strongly expressed in the hippocampus, a brain region necessary for learning and memory. So far, there is no connection between taste perception and Alzheimer’s risk, but Marambaud suspects that scientists will start testing this hypothesis.
Nature Inspires Potential Cancer Drugs
Inspired by a chemical that fungi secrete to defend their territory, MIT chemists have synthesized and tested several dozen compounds that may hold promise as potential cancer drugs.
A few years ago, MIT researchers led by associate professor of chemistry Mohammad Movassaghi became the first to chemically synthesize 11,11’-dideoxyverticillin, a highly complex fungal compound that has shown anti-cancer activity in previous studies. This and related compounds naturally occur in such small amounts that it has been difficult to do a comprehensive study of the relationship between the compound’s structure and its activity — research that could aid drug development, Movassaghi says.
Read more: http://www.laboratoryequipment.com/news/2013/02/nature-inspires-potential-cancer-drugs
I love images of chemical structures!